Tag Archives: special education

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: November 16, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


TEA Commissioner Mike Morath addresses SBOE, November 14, 2018.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met this week to discuss a variety of topics in what would be its last series of meetings before the year’s end.

On Wednesday, the board voted to increase its distribution from the Public School Fund to 2.9%.  This action takes place after a dispute earlier this year between the SBOE and the General Land Office’s School Land Board (SLB). Both the SBOE and the SLB manage investment portfolios that fund public education, but an unusual move by the SLB to bypass the SBOE and put funding directly into the Available School Fund (ASF) means that the SBOE will have less money to support classrooms directly.

Other topics of discussion this week included the streamlining of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for social studies, the board’s final discussion on the Long Range Plan (LRP) for public education, and the SBOE’s legislative priorities for the upcoming session in 2019.

The Board also heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath. The commissioner addressed concerns that the agency’s Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) seeks less state funding than in previous years, telling the board the agency is simply following the funding formulas established by the legislature.

During the Board’s discussion with Commissioner Morath, members also requested updates on issues such as Senate Bill (SB) 1882, a bill passed during the 85th legislative session that allows public school districts to partner with privately-run charter schools; the recent ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the U.S. Department of Education’s punitive actions against Texas for underfunding special education programs; and transparency regarding the instructional materials portal launched in 2017.

 


In a press conference earlier this week, state Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) announced that the race for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives was “over,” as he had secured enough pledges for votes to make him the definitive winner. While the Speaker’s race won’t officially be over until January, when the House convenes for the 86th legislative session and formally votes for the next speaker, that hasn’t stopped Bonnen from proceeding as the presumptive speaker-elect, hiring key staff and putting in place a transition team.

Rep. Bonnen suggested that school finance will be the top priority of the Texas House in the upcoming legislative session, and he has vowed to work with his counterpart across the rotunda. Bonnen and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick released a joint statement this week affirming their commitment to unity and working together in the upcoming session. Rep. Bonnen wrote, “The Lieutenant Governor and I share a strong commitment to doing the people’s business.”


School finance commission working group on revenues meeting, November 13, 2018.

On Tuesday, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on revenues discussed the issue of wealth equalization through recapture, which is commonly referred to as “Robin Hood” under the current school finance system.

Led by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), the group heard testimony from a variety of stakeholders, including former state Sen. Tommy Williams, who testified on behalf of the governor’s office. Williams delivered the first public explanation of the governor’s plan to cap local tax revenue. A detailed account of the meeting can be found in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 

 


Commissioner: School fund management needs structural change

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath Wednesday morning to begin the second day of its November meeting.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath addresses SBOE, November 14, 2018.

Commissioner Morath began by congratulating Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) for his work as the board’s sole representative on the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, and called the recommendations put forward thus far by commission working groups “powerful.”

The commissioner praised the board for its handling of a funding dispute with the General Land Office (GLO) over the Permanent School Fund (PSF), formal oversight of which is split between the SBOE and the GLO’s School Land Board (SLB). Morath suggested legislators should address oversight of the PSF in its entirety. The commissioner pointed out that the PSF portion under the SLB’s stewardship has accumulated a $4 billion cash balance, which is creating a “significant drag” in terms of fund performance. Morath suggested legislators should consider structural changes, which could be worth an additional $150 million per year.

Commissioner Morath recapped the agency’s budget and priority initiatives, and disputed reports that the agency’s legislative appropriations request (LAR) calls for a reduction in state aid. The LAR is a formal budget request each agency prepares for legislators before each legislative session, and TEA’s LAR for the upcoming session seeks less state aid from general revenue (GR). The commissioner explained that this is required by the funding formulas, which have led to the burden shifting from state GR to local property tax revenues.

Member Ruben Cortez (R-San Antonio) pressed the commissioner as to whether that trend will continue. The commissioner repeated that the agency is complying with statute, and suggested this is the central question being addressed by the school finance commission.

Member Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-Converse) asked the commissioner to provide agency guidance for districts participating in or considering merging with charters under Senate Bill (SB) 1882, which was passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. Perez-Diaz noted that there are questions regarding who is formally in charge of schools at the local level after a contract with a charter is executed, and pointed out it seems districts are “building the plane while it’s in the air.” The commissioner said SB 1882 contracts now include 13 districts and 609 campuses.

In response to a question by Member Ellis regarding a ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a $33 million penalty for failing to properly fund special education, Commissioner Morath indicated that the agency is actively trying to figure out its response moving forward.

The commissioner also fielded a question from Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) regarding the instructional materials portal, which legislators in 2017 ordered the commissioner to create as an online resource for educators. Perez noted there is concern how the portal will interact with the SBOE’s statutory authority to review instructional materials and the potential for creating duplicative processes. Commissioner Morath suggested the portal will evaluate a different set of factors than the SBOE.

Member Barbara Cargill (R-Conroe) also raised concern about transparency with regard to how portal material is evaluated, and clarifying that the board’s process will continue forward unchanged. The commissioner replied the agency is engaged in stakeholder outreach. Member Cargill suggested creating a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 9, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


This past Tuesday was Election Day. All across the country registered voters lined up at polling places (some with hours-long waits) to cast their ballots and make their voices heard. There were a number of impressive wins and historical elections across the country and Texas was no exception. Turnout for this midterm election was nearly double what it was in 2014.

While Texas’s Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz were all able to secure reelection, the margins by which they won were closer than usual. Democrats in the Texas House were able to flip 12 seats, a gain that has implications for the impending race for a new House Speaker, while the minority party in the Senate also gained two seats. Senate Democrats will most likely still face a vacancy for at least the first part of the 2019 legislative session; Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) announced her resignation today following her election to a U.S. Congressional seat on Tuesday. Gov. Greg Abbott must now call a special election to fill the state senate seat within the next couple of months. Additionally, the seat flipping in the state legislature might not be complete at this point as a number of candidates who seemingly lost their elections Tuesday by narrow margins are waiting for provisional and mail-in absentee ballots to be counted. Margins that remain slim following the completion of the vote counting could trigger recounts in a few races.

What we know for sure at this point is that Texans made a statement with this election by electing a myriad of pro-public education candidates to office. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins breaks down the math of this week’s election results in this blog post.

 


A 2012 decision by the state of Texas to spend less money on students with disabilities is coming back to haunt it. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has ruled to uphold a penalty levied by the U.S. Department of Education that withholds $33.3 million dollars in federal funding from Texas’s special education grants. The penalty was imposed after Texas was found to have withheld the same amount of money in funding for special education programs. While the state argued that its special education programs had helped students overcome their disabilities and hence fewer special education services were needed following the 2012 funding decrease, the federal education ageny contended that states can not reduce funding levels from year to year.

You can read more about the ruling and the history behind it in this article from the Texas Tribune.

 


 

From the Texas Tribune: 5th Circuit upholds feds’ $33 million penalty for Texas decrease in special education funding

5th Circuit upholds feds’ $33 million penalty for Texas decrease in special education funding” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Texas’ decision to spend $33.3 million less on students with disabilities in 2012 will likely cost it millions in future federal funding after a Wednesday afternoon 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.

According to the New Orleans-based court, the U.S. Department of Education was within its rights to try to withhold the same amount from Texas’ special education grants, since a 1997 federal statute prohibits states from reducing their funding for kids with disabilities from year to year. Texas had appealed the department’s decision, arguing that statute was vague and unenforceable.

A little more than a month after hearing both sides, and the day after a momentous midterm election, the three-judge panel effectively upheld the education department’s decision to financially penalize Texas in an opinion that called the state’s argument “unpersuasive.” The 13-page opinion questions Texas’ current system for funding special education, saying it could give the state reason to minimize the needs of kids with disabilities in order to save money.

The court also ruled that Texas must pay the federal government’s appeal costs. Texas has not publicly indicated whether it will try to appeal the ruling.

Since 1995, Texas has weighted funding for kids with disabilities, paying schools more to educate kids who have more severe disabilities or need more personalized attention in order to learn. It argued it spent $33.3 million less in 2012 because its special education programs successfully got students to “overcome their disabilities,” decreasing their need. School districts reported students in need of less expensive services that year and so the state allocated less money, lawyers argued.

The federal government’s argument is simple: States cannot decrease their funding from year to year, a provision that ensures they use the additional federal money to enhance services, instead of cutting their budgets.

Texas’ weighted funding system “poses the potential for future abuse” of that statute, the panel said in an opinion written by Judge Jerry Smith, who had expressed skepticism towards the state’s argument in October.

“Though Texas law requires the state to allocate funding based on the needs of disabled children, it is the state itself that assesses what those needs are,” Smith wrote. “Hence, the weighted-student model creates a perverse incentive for a state to escape its financial obligations merely by minimizing the special education needs of it students.”

At a Texas House Appropriations Committee hearing last month, state education officials prepared lawmakers for a potential loss at the 5th Circuit, saying the penalty — which amounts to 3 percent of Texas’ annual federal special education grant — would have minimal impact on their special education programs.

Texas is separately working to overhaul its special education programs after a U.S. Department of Education investigation concluded earlier this year that the state had effectively denied services to thousands of students with disabilities who needed them. Officials estimate spending $3 billion more on kids with disabilities over the next three years, since more students are likely to be eligible for services.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/11/07/texas-special-education-funding/.

 

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

12 Days of Voting: Vouchers

Early voting is underway NOW for the November 6 elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote TODAY! In this post, we’re taking a closer look at vouchers.


When it comes to issues facing public education as a whole, privatization remains one of the most existential threats. The endgame of those who are pushing private school vouchers is to defund the public school system in order to hand our kids over to faceless corporations that will crank them out cheaply and pocket the profits.

Think about it: In 2016, Texas spent $24 billion in state funds to educate our kids. Local taxpayers pitched in even more — $28.8 billion on top of that. It sounds like a lot of money, until you consider it was spread between 5.3 million students. That translated to just $11,133 per student, which puts Texas below the national average and among the states with the most miserly per-student spending.

Despite lagging below many other states, the money spent on Texas public schools is nonetheless a tempting target for predatory opportunists who see only dollar signs. Private schools that can ignore state and federal regulations are viewed by many as a cash cow. A warehouse with a skeleton crew of untrained staff could certainly churn out diplomas and graduate kids unprepared for college and careers for a fraction of the price of a quality public education. Pro-voucher legislators could brag about reducing spending while corporate stockholders rake in billions of taxpayer dollars, perfect for spending on fancy yachts and private planes – and campaign contributions to pro-voucher legislators!

Of course, the kids end up the losers in this scenario. And the 85th Texas Legislature witnessed the despicable lengths to which voucher supporters were willing to go to sell our kids down the road.

The legislative session began with fresh data indicating that Texans firmly oppose spending public taxpayer dollars to subsidize private school tuition. Led by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, voucher proponents instead focused on a voucher targeting students with special needs as a way to open the door. They also used terms like “education savings accounts” and “tax credit scholarships” to describe their voucher plans in the hope of garnering more support from those who traditionally oppose privatization. Voucher promoters even went as far as mailing fraudulent letters to lawmakers to promote their plan.

As ATPE pointed out, special education vouchers are especially troubling and would not come close to covering the full cost of services for children with special needs. In fact, they would give students far less money than the public school system is currently required to spend on their behalf. More importantly, they would force children with special needs to surrender their federal rights and protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Parents of special needs students wisely rejected this cynical attempt to exploit their children for political purposes. With the backing of parents, teachers, ATPE, and the majority of Texans, the Texas House of Representatives led by Speaker Joe Straus stood firmly against each voucher scheme brought forth in 2017. Legislators punctuated their stance with multiple votes on the House floor to reject vouchers.

As payback, Lt. Gov. Patrick killed a bill authored by members of the House that would have provided $1.5 billion in additional funding to benefit all 5.4 million Texas students – signaling how far the lieutenant governor was willing to go to pass a voucher bill against the will of Texas voters.

While voucher supporters were unable to pass a bill in 2017, they have already begun laying the groundwork for a renewed push when the legislature meets again in 2019. The only reason powerful leaders like Lt. Gov. Patrick and Gov. Abbott were unable to pass a voucher bill in 2017 is because Texas voters elected just enough pro-public education legislators to stop those bills from becoming law.

The reality is that unless Texans elect more legislators who promise to actively oppose vouchers, the threat of a voucher bill passing in the future remains high.


Go to the CANDIDATES section of our Teach the Vote website to find out where officeholders and candidates in your area stand on this and other public education issues.

Remind your colleagues also about the importance of voting and making informed choices at the polls. While it is illegal to use school district resources (like your work e-mail) to communicate information that supports or opposes specific candidates or ballot measures, there is NO prohibition on sharing nonpartisan resources and general “get out of the vote” reminders about the election.

Early voting in the 2018 general election runs Monday, October 22, through Friday, November 2. Election Day is November 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!

From The Texas Tribune: Federal officials tell Texas to go beyond plan for special education overhaul

By Aliyya Swaby, The Texas Tribune
Oct. 19, 2018

Federal officials tell Texas to go beyond plan for special education overhaul” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Jean Gearhart gives a tearful statement with her husband Troy Gearhart to the panel about her special needs child. U.S. Department of Education officials held a meeting in Edinburg on their tour of Texas to hear community members’ experiences with special education. Photo by Eddie Seal for The Texas Tribune

Federal officials said Texas should be doing even more to improve special education — and they’re planning a visit early next year to check.

In a letter Friday, officials from the U.S. Department of Education dissected Texas’ proposed plan for overhauling special education for kids with disabilities — in many cases urging state officials to do even more than they had originally planned. Earlier this year, a thorough investigation found Texas had failed to provide students with disabilities with a proper education, violating federal special education law, and demanded it undertake a long list of corrective actions to shape up.

After finalizing a plan in April, the Texas Education Agency has to date dramatically changed the structure of its departments overseeing special education, hired about 40 people to staff them (including a new special education director), and posted a long list of grants totaling more than $20 million to help school districts overhaul their policies. It anticipates spending an additional $3 billion over the next few years as more students enroll in special education.

“TEA has already completed more than half of the required activities in that Corrective Action Response,” Commissioner Mike Morath said in a statement Friday. “We continue to adhere to a commitment to transparency and engagement throughout the plan’s implementation.”

In Friday’s letter, federal officials okayed some parts of Texas’ improvement plan, which they noted outlines many “necessary steps” the state is taking to address their findings.

But they also said Texas should do more to make sure school districts understand how to comply with federal special education law. The investigation uncovered many educators who misunderstood what the law said about identifying students with disabilities and providing them with the right educational services.

The letter said TEA should take a “representative sample” of school districts and thoroughly review their policies and procedures for identifying students who may need special education. It also should specify how it will identify and hold accountable school districts that do not comply with federal law.

Parent advocates have argued school districts don’t make information available to them about how to make sure their children can access the appropriate special education services.

The Department of Education told the TEA to ensure state officials provide information to parents on their rights and responsibilities under federal special education law in their native languages, unless it’s “clearly not feasible to do so.” The TEA should also come up with a specific process for how it will make sure school districts communicate with families of students who may have been denied special education services in the past, “through means other than postings on websites.”

Federal officials plan to review the progress Texas has made and will work with the TEA to schedule an in-person monitoring visit in early 2019.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/10/19/federal-officials-tell-texas-go-beyond-plan-special-education-overhaul/.

 

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 14, 2018

It’s been a busy week in Austin. Here are highlights from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


SBOE meeting Sept. 14, 2018.

Today culminates the end of a jam-packed week for the State Board of Education (SBOE), and ATPE’s lobby team was there throughout the week to testify and provide updates on the board’s activities for our Teach the Vote blog. Here are some highlights:

First, on Tuesday the body began its week by convening to discuss controversial social studies TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) that have been the subject of much political debate and social media attention. The board also took time on Tuesday to discuss its Long Range Plan for Public Education (LRP), which sets objectives for education through the year 2030. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was on hand to commend the group on its thoughtful process, but also to suggest that the board take steps to increase the rigor of Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs) and insist that teacher pay not be too closely linked to evaluations and test scores. Perfecting amendments to the plan, most of which were in line with ATPE’s desired outcomes, were offered by SBOE Chairwoman Donna Bahorich.

The board kept its momentum going into Wednesday when it discussed special education and school funding. With an update from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, the board learned that quite a bit of progress had been made on the state’s corrective action plan for special education with 70% of vacant positions filled. Morath also announced that TEA would be reviewing its contracting process, which comes after the Texas State Auditor’s office lobbed criticism at the agency for questionable contracting practices. Morath briefed the board on the A-F ratings that were given to school districts earlier this year. He also noted the decline in “IR” or “Improvement Required” districts across the state. Lastly, Morath informed the board of TEA’s Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR), which included two exceptional requests for funding for compensatory services for districts (in order to help them comply with the SpEd corrective action plan) and $50 million in funding for health and safety, $20 million of which is to be earmarked to comply with the governor’s school safety plan.

Later Wednesday afternoon, the SBOE also approved the funding distribution from the Permanent School Fund (PSF) for the 2020-21 biennium. Funds will be distributed at a rate of 2.75%. SBOE members expressed concerns regarding the deposit of funds into the Available School Fund (ASF) by the General Land Office (GLO), a move that will result in districts receiving $225 million less per year than normal. Several members of the board suggested actions in response to this action, including asking the GLO to reverse its actions and requesting that the GLO provide extra funding to cover the interest of the distribution.

On Thursday, the SBOE Committee on School Initiatives met to consider a rule proposed by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) that would offer accelerated paths to certification for certain skill sets. The elected SBOE has statutory authority to review all rule actions taken by SBEC, a board whose members are appointed by the governor. SBOE members may veto SBEC rules but cannot make changes to them; SBEC rules for which the SBOE takes no action automatically become effective. For this week’s meeting, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified against the SBEC rule change regarding certain teaching certificates on the grounds that it exceeded the scope of the 2017 legislation upon which it was based, House Bill (HB) 3349. The rule change, as approved by SBEC earlier this summer, would have allowed certain educators to circumvent 300 hours of training in areas like pedagogy that are essential to normal pathways to certification. Members of the SBOE committee unanimously recommended rejecting the SBEC rule, and the certification rule change was ultimately rejected by a unanimous vote from the full SBOE board today, which will force SBEC to reconsider its action on implementing HB 3349.

Lastly, the full board met today to approve the first draft of language for the LRP, deciding to wait until November for final approval. SBOE members also finalized a formal letter to the GLO requesting that it cover the funding shortfall caused by its actions. Read more about the board’s actions in today’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


As we have reported previously on Teach the Vote, ATPE has been an advocate for programs and resources to help prevent youth suicide. In 2015, we successfully advocated for the passage of an educator training bill aimed at preventing student suicides. Still, suicide, especially among Texans age 15-34, persists as a public health problem despite laws passed to prevent it. In this news feature by CBS Austin’s Melanie Torre this week featuring ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter, Torre examines why the risk of teen suicide is still on the rise in Texas.

 


With the 2018 general election inching closer, and a major special election already underway his week in one San Antonio-area legislative district, ATPE wants to remind educators about the importance of voter turnout. Earlier this week, Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos released a statement urging voters to make sure they are registered to vote before the October 9th deadline. Pablos encourages Texans to plan their trips to the ballot box and to make sure they know what’s on their ballots.

“Prepare yourself, inform yourself, and empower yourself” – Rolando Pablos, Texas Secretary of State.

There’s a lot at stake this fall. We urge educators to view and share ATPE’s nonpartisan election resources here on Teach the Vote, including searchable profiles of every candidate vying for the Texas Legislature, State Board of Education, Governor, or Lieutenant Governor in 2018.

Meanwhile, early voting has already begun and continues through this evening in the special election runoff  to fill the vacant seat in Texas Senate District 19. Those SD 19 residents who miss early voting should play to get out and vote during their last change on Tuesday, Sept. 18th. The candidates in the runoff happening now are Democrat Pete Gallego and Republican Pete Flores. Find polling locations and additional information, courtesy of the Bexar County Elections Department, here.

Tuesday’s special election results and the outcomes of several high-profile races on the ballot in November could dramatically change the outlook for education bills moving through the Texas Legislature, and particularly, the Texas State Senate. In recent sessions, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has used the combination of a Republican super-majority in the Senate and his heavy-handed brand of managing the upper chamber to usher though a bevy of anti-public education bills, such as private school voucher proposals and legislation to take away educators’ rights to use payroll deduction for their voluntary association dues. How those same types of bills fare in 2019 will depend on the outcome of this fall’s elections. In this new post, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins breaks down the calculus of voting this fall.


ThinkstockPhotos-465016790_moneyThis week also proved to be insightful in terms of previewing discussions we’ll hear during the 2019 legislative session about both the state’s education budget and efforts to reform our school finance system.

Both the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) laid out their Legislative Appropriations Requests (LARs) to the Legislative Budget Board this week. Details and links to video footage of TEA Commissioner Mike Morath and TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie explaining their respective requests can be found here. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided additional analysis in this blog post.

Also this week, the Expenditures Subcommittee of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance convened to vote on their recommendations for the full commission. A breakdown of the committee’s goals, which include putting more funding into the basic allotment and shifting funds away from programs not directly tied to educational programming, can be found in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.

 

Commissioner updates SBOE on SpEd, contracting, budget

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) opened its Wednesday meeting with an update from Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

The commissioner began by praising the board’s work on the Long-Range Plan for Public Education, and suggested that there is significant overlap with the agency’s own strategic plan.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath testifying before the SBOE, September 12, 2018.

Morath caught members up to speed on the recent debate over a cosmetology course, and indicated that the course is not expected to go away. The commissioner testified he asked staff to look into ways to ameliorate the high cost of the associated licensure.

Regarding special education, Morath claimed progress in a number of areas. The commissioner said the agency has accomplished more than half of the items under the corrective action plan. The agency was tasked with setting up a large field apparatus, and 70 percent of 55 vacant positions have been filled, including all leadership positions. Justin Porter, who helped write the corrective action plan, is the special education director.

A total of 14 grants have been posted, and an additional five have been completed internally and will be finished within the next couple months. Statements of work have been drafted for 15 of the contracts related to strategic plan.

On a separate but related note, Commissioner Morath acknowledged recent contracting issues that resulted in a rebuke from the Texas State Auditor’s office, while defending staff involved. Morath state that starting in November of last year, the agency initiated a top-to-bottom review of contracting practices.

With regard to the agency’s legislative appropriations request (LAR), in which the agency submits its budget requests for the next biennium to the Texas Legislature, Morath noted that the agency is requesting two exceptional items. These consist of $50 million to support districts providing compensatory services in order to comply with the special education corrective action plan, and roughly $50 million for health and safety, $20 million of which is aligned to the governor’s school safety plan.

The commissioner then offered a review of “A through F” school district ratings, which were released in August. Additionally, Morath noted that the state saw a one-year reduction of 247 “improvement required” (IR) campuses. This marks the last set of campus ratings under the “met standard” or IR labeling system, and campuses will instead receive A-F ratings next August.

Finally, Commissioner Morath briefed members on the first TEA annual report on the state of public education in Texas and solicited feedback from members. Relating to teacher recruitment and retention, Morath noted board members will receive a briefing on the Texas lesson study initiative tomorrow.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 25, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


You did it! Tuesday, May 22nd turned out to be a great night for pro-public education candidates in our state, and it’s all because of the concerned educators and members of the public that turned out in the primary runoffs. The power of Texas educators was on full display as 80% of runoff candidates backed by ATPE-PAC or ATPE Direct triumphed over their opponents. A more thorough breakdown of all of the races can be found in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. While these victories may be sweet, remember that the fight isn’t over just yet. The general election in November is right around the corner, and educators must stay engaged!


Despite the concerted efforts of voucher supporters in Congress, ATPE and its federal lobby team in Washington D.C. were able to quell the passage of a voucher aimed at military-connected families. Along with many other opponents of the legislation, including the Military Coalition, we were able to successfully stop the most recent attempt to advance harmful voucher legislation. This most recent attempt would have amended a voucher onto the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (NDAA). More information on the failed amendment and ATPE’s efforts to stop it can be found in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.


 

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before House Public Education Committee May 24, 2018.

The Texas House Public Education (HPE) Committee met on Thursday to discuss its assigned interim charges on special education and standardized testing.TEA Commissioner Mike Morath offered testimony on the STAAR test, the effectiveness of the writing portion of the test, and how that portion is graded.Morath also spoke on the agency’s response to the tragic shooting in Santa Fe, which include providing attendance waivers and seeking federal funds for emergency response. ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter provided testimony on the specificity of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and other topics. The committee also heard from a panel of superintendents, TEA Deputy Commissioner Penny Schwinn, and special education advocates. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provides a thorough recap of the meeting.

 


 

House committee looks at testing, special ed issues

The House Committee on Public Education met Thursday morning at the Texas Capitol to discuss interim charges related to testing and special education. The interim charges are assigned by Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) and are generally composed of a detailed list of topics for each standing committee to research and discuss before the next legislative session. The following charges were on Thursday’s agenda:

  • Examine research-based options for evaluating student achievement beyond standardized test scores, including adaptive and portfolio assessments. Examine the scope of the current Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)in grades with the state assessment, including the format, assessment calendar, and the limits of instructional days, if any. Determine if it is appropriate to limit TEKS to readiness standards that can be taught in less than the school year. Review current Student Success Initiative testing and make recommendations on its continuation or repeal. Review the ability of the state to waive standardized testing for students with significant cognitive disabilities.
  • Examine programs in public schools that have proven results meeting the needs of and improving student achievement for students with disabilities, with an emphasis on programs specializing in autism, dysgraphia, and dyslexia. Recommend ways to support and scale innovative programs for these students, including providing supplemental services, or incentivizing public-private partnerships or inter district and charter school collaborations. Monitor the implementation and funding for the pilot programs authorized in H.B. 21 (85R) and review the Texas Education Agency’s compliance with S.B. 160 (85R), which prohibits special education student caps.

After updating the committee on the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) response to the Santa Fe school shooting and recent STAAR test glitches, Commissioner Mike Morath began his testimony by summarizing the overall design of the STAAR test and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) upon which tests are based. Morath pointed to one idea, splitting the STAAR test into sections to allow more flexible scheduling, that he suggested may require legislative guidance before ordering further agency research.

House Public Education Committee meeting May 24, 2018.

Members of the committee raised questions about the writing test, in particular with regard to grading methods. Morath indicated that a writing program created as a result of legislation by state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) has yielded useful information, and noted that additional appropriation to continue the program would be a positive step.

Rep. VanDeaver asked Morath how much money could be saved by eliminating standardized tests that are required by the state, but not by federal law. House Bill (HB) 515 filed by VanDeaver during the 2017 legislative session would have eliminated tests not mandated under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and was estimated to result in a savings of $7 million. The bill was ultimately unsuccessful.

Other invited testimony included a panel of superintendents who testified to the overreliance on standardized tests for everything from student advancement to school accountability. Granger ISD Superintendent Randy Willis asked the committee to consider eliminating a single summative assessment at the end of the year in favor of multiple formative assessments and reducing the number of assessed standards. Doug Williams, Superintendent of Sunnyvale ISD, voiced support for dividing the STAAR into sections, ongoing diagnostic assessments, and making substantial changes to the writing portion of the exam. Part of the panel discussion touched on allowing teachers to directly grade writing exams, in other to provide better feedback and analysis.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the committee on the specificity of the TEKS, teaching versus testing, and corollary applications to the teacher pipeline. Other public testimony focused on portfolio assessments, such as rubrics developed by the New York Performance Standards Consortium.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before House Public Education Committee May 24, 2018.

After a brief break, the committee turned its focus to special education. TEA Deputy Commissioner Penny Schwinn walked members through the corrective action plan prepared by the agency to address the de facto cap on special education enrollment that resulted in a federal rebuke. Schwinn emphasized that current and future guidance indicates students with dyslexia should not be arbitrarily confined to Section 504 programs, but may qualify for special education services depending on the individual.

A number of advocacy organizations were invited to testify regarding the agency’s actions. Among the concerns raised by special education advocates was the timeline for implementation. Chris Masey with the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities presented the dichotomy between progress at the policy level and frustration felt by parents looking for meaningful results. Masey also noted there hasn’t exactly been a surge in special education enrollment after the cap was lifted. Heather Sheffield with Decoding Dyslexia suggested policymakers explore a way to enforce the Dyslexia Handbook developed by TEA.

Additionally, advocates asked for per-pupil funding for dyslexia, as well as having adequate instructional time and funding for both training and staffing. One advocate testified that training alone for a special education teacher can top $5,000. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter thanked the committee for the work done last session to address the cap, as well as funding weights for special education. Exter drew the committee’s attention to districts’ ability to provide external services already. While therapeutic and educational services are both available, the primary focus of special education should be on educational services, and any therapeutic services covered by district or state funds should be in furtherance of the educational objectives.