Tag Archives: special education

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 12, 2019

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


On Tuesday, April 9, the Texas Senate passed its version of the state budget for the next two years. The Senate’s substitute version of House Bill (HB) 1 received unanimous approval from the upper chamber.

Like the House, the Senate set aside $2.7 billion in the budget bill for “tax relief,” although it is yet to be determined exactly how the money will be spent to achieve that goal. The Senate also dedicated $6.3 billion to public schools, $4 billion of which is reserved for a $5,000 across-the-board pay raise for all full-time teachers and librarians through Senate Bill (SB) 3. That leaves only $2.3 billion in the Senate’s bill to try to make changes to the larger school finance system.

The Senate’s budget proposal differs from the House’s plan, which delivers more than $6 billion to school districts with instructions to spend the first 25 percent of any increase in the basic allotment, or approximately $2.4 billion, on salary increases for all non-administrative staff. While amounts of such a pay raise, if passed, would vary from district to district, the House’s plan would average out roughly to about $1,300 per full-time employee.

Next, each chamber will appoint members to a conference committee that will work out the differences between the version of HB 1 that the Senate passed this week and the version of the bill that the House passed last month. For its part, the House has already appointed its five members of the critical budget conference committee: House Appropriations Chairman Rep. John Zerwas will chair the committee, joined by Reps. Greg Bonnen, Sarah Davis, Oscar Longoria, and Armando Walle. Once the Senate appoints its conferees, negotiators will have until the session ends in late May to reach an agreement. The budget is the only bill the Texas Legislature is constitutionally required to pass, so any failure to come to an agreement within the 140-day regular session would result in legislators being called back for a 30-day special session to finish the budget.

 


The state’s ongoing difficulty in providing resources for students with disabilities continues to make headlines. On Thursday, April 11, Representative Mary González (D – Clint) and Representative Morgan Meyer (R – Highland Park) held a press conference to address Texas’s consistent underfunding for students with disabilities and lack of compliance with federal spending requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). ATPE and other stakeholder groups representing educators, students, and advocates for people with disabilities participated in the bipartisan press conference.

The state’s inadequate spending on students with special needs could cost Texas as much as $223 million in lost federal funding. Under the IDEA’s maintenance of financial support requirement, each state must spend at least as much on special education as it did in the previous year or face a financial penalty. Read more about the millions in penalties Texas faces here.

 


The Senate Education Committee convened twice this week to take action on bills pertaining to virtual schools and other miscellaneous items. The first meeting of the committee on Tuesday featured testimony about which entity should manage the Permanent School Fund and a discussion of school turnaround options. The committee also heard an ATPE-supported bill by the committee’s chairman, SB 1895 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), that would help educators receive professional development on blended learning.

Among the legislation voted out favorably by the committee on Tuesday were two bills pertaining to virtual schools, which ATPE opposed when they were heard by the committee the previous week. The committee advanced SB 2244 by Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney), which prevents school districts from charging fees for virtual classes and makes it easier to enroll in virtual schools, and SB 1455 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), which also expands virtual schools. ATPE previously submitted written testimony opposing both bills and citing research that calls into question the quality and performance of existing virtual schools. The committee also voted out a number of other bills, including SB 1256 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) that cleans up portions of his educator misconduct bill passed last session.

For a full recap of Tuesday’s committee meeting, check out this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

During the Senate committee’s second hearing on Thursday, the bills discussed were mostly unrelated to each other. ATPE supported bills including SB 426 by Sen. Eddie Lucio,. Jr. (D-Brownsville), which would ensure that counselors spend the majority of their time counselling students as opposed to being assigned other duties such as test monitoring. The committee also took action on some pending bills, including a major school safety bill. Chairman Taylor’s SB 11, which ATPE had also supported, received a favorable vote by the committee on Thursday. SB 11 follows up on recommendations of the Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security that met during the interim last year.

More information on the bills heard and acted upon during Thursday’s hearing of the Senate Education Committee can be found in this additional blog post from ATPE’s Mark Wiggins.

On Tuesday, April 16, the Senate Education Committee is slated to meet again and is expected to hear the House’s major school finance bill, HB 3. ATPE urges educators to contact their senators about this widely support bill and keep up the momentum for passing meaningful school finance reform and an educator pay raise this session.

 


The House Public Education committee held a marathon meeting on Tuesday, hearing 38 bills that mostly pertained to charter schools. Several of the bills were aimed at regulating the expansion of charter schools and how charter schools handle student discipline, eliciting hours of public testimony. Other bills heard on Tuesday included the ATPE-supported HB 228 by Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) that would create new eligibility standards for Districts of Innovation (DOI), and HB 1853 by Rep. Leo Pacheco (D-San Antonio), which would require charter schools to hire certified educators and protect the rights of educators. ATPE also provided neutral testimony on HB 3904 by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), which is considered a clean-up bill for Huberty’s HB 22 that was passed last session.

Find more information on the bills considered and passed by the House Public Education committee in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier. The committee will meet again on Tuesday, April 16, where it will consider a diverse agenda, including some virtual schooling bills similar to those acted upon by the Senate committee this week. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and follow us on Twitter for updates.

 


ATPE is encouraging educators to contact their senators asking them to oppose two bills that would infringe on educators’ free speech rights and limit the ability to teach studentsSB 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) and SB 904 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) both deal with “political advertising” laws and are aimed at limiting the ability of school district employees and school board members to talk about political content while they’re at school.

SB 1569 has been placed on the Senate Intent Calendar for next week, meaning that it could come up for a floor vote as early as Tuesday. SB 904 has not yet been placed on the Senate Intent calendar but may also appear there at any time. While the authors did make some changes to these two bills compared to their versions as filed, ATPE remains concerned about likely negative consequences of SB 1569 and SB 904 and the chilling effect they would have on educators. For additional information, check out this blog post about the bills. ATPE members are urged to visit Advocacy Central for talking points and quick communication tools for reaching out to their senators.

 


House Public Education Committee hears bills on home-schooler UIL participation, health and safety, and more

On Thursday, April 4, 2019, the House Public Education Committee met to hear bills on several topics, including home-schooled students’ participation in UIL, student health, protected speech, and the available school fund.

ATPE supported several of the bills on yesterday’s committee agenda:

  • House Bill (HB) 348 (Nevárez, et al., D-Eagle Pass): Would allow school districts to provide increased compensation to a teacher who completes an autism training provided by a regional education service center. This bill was not actually heard by the committee yesterday due to a last-minute change.
  • HB 1602 (Hernandez, D-Houston): States that a school district may not begin instruction before 8 am and calls for appropriating over $755 million to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for the purpose of offsetting the additional transportation costs associated with the bill. Rep. Hernandez said that 34% of Texas schools start in the 7 am hour, and some students wait in the dark for the bus as early as 5:45 am. A student testified for the bill, saying it would help her get more sleep and receive less disciplinary action. ATPE member Yen Rabe also testified in support as one of several witnesses who cited increased safety and student well-being if the school day were to start later.
  • HB 2738 (Meyer, R-Dallas): Would expand educator misconduct provisions adopted through SB 7 from the 2017 legislative session to also include non-certified employees, such as those who may work in charter schools and Districts of Innovation. The bill would require TEA to create a “do-not-hire” registry of these non-certified persons.

ATPE registered in opposition to HB 1324 by Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls), which would require public schools participating in UIL activities to provide home-schooled students who meet certain eligibility requirements with the opportunity to participate in the activity. Districts would likely incur costs from this mandate, and HB 1324 does not ensure that home-schooled students would be subject to the same requirements and thus on a level playing field with their public school peers. Testimony on this bill was split between those who had concerns about implementation, costs to public schools, and increased government oversight, and those who wanted to be able to participate in UIL activities, especially sports. Read ATPE’s written testimony against the bill here.

The following bills were also heard by the committee yesterday:

  • HB 873 (Allen, D-Houston): Would require the admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) committee to review students’ behavior intervention plans (BIPs) at least annually for those who have a BIP as part of their individualized education plan (IEP). This bill also requires changes to the student code of conduct, including parent notification about the student’s BIP or if the student needs a BIP when violations of the code occur, and it changes law around the use of restraints and time-outs, requiring detailed notification to parents. Lastly, the bill requires that if a school district takes disciplinary action against a student with disabilities that results in a change in placement, the district must conduct a behavioral assessment and develop or revise the student’s BIP.
  • HB 1131 (Cole, et al., D-Austin): Would create the “Texas Public Finance Authority” to act as a “paying agent” under current law for the guarantee and payment of bonds. School districts could also borrow money from the new authority.
  • HB 1906 (Burns, R-Cleburne): Would allow a parent of a student with severe cognitive disabilities to request that the child be exempted from required assessments. The ARD committee would make further determinations on whether the student should be exempted and what the best assessment instrument for the child would be. Special education advocates testified about concerns with making sure someone is still held accountable for growth and progress of these students, and argued that assessments should be fixed rather than removing students from taking assessments altogether.
  • HB 2097 (Krause, et al., R-Fort Worth): This bill would allow only Arlington ISD to withdraw from TRS-ActiveCare under a pilot project. Representatives of the school district testified that healthcare costs for its employees under TRS are too high, but members of the committee were cautious and indicated there should be more study on statewide impact before allowing one district to have special treatment.
  • HB 2244 (González, M., D-Clint): Would define what is protected speech and require school districts to adopt a policy establishing rules regarding students’ right to exercise freedom of the press at school. Testimony supporting the bill included remarks from students, teachers, a professor, and a lawyer.
  • HB 2393 (Burrows, R-Lubbock): Would require the State Board of Education (SBOE) and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to develop a hunter education course for students in grades 7-12 that a school district can use as a part of its physical education curriculum. Rep. Burrows stated that there are barriers to children being able to take hunter education and that many violations have been committed by hunters, presumably as a result of lack of education.
  • HB 2555 (Parker, R-Flower Mound): Would update the guidelines on food allergies and require school boards and governing bodies of charters to update their policies on caring for students with food allergies who are at risk of anaphylaxis.
  • HB 2689 (Dean, et al., R-Longview): Would require each school superintendent to designate a cybersecurity coordinator to serve as a liaison between the district and TEA. Rep. Dean stated that student data, such as social security numbers, are particularly valuable and in need of protection.
  • HB 2739 (Meyer, et al., R-Dallas): Would require private school administrators to report misconduct by educators they employ to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) and allow them to obtain information from SBEC any reports the board has about prior misconduct or criminal histories of such individuals.
  • HB 2740 (Meyer, et al., R-Dallas): Would require the Department of Family and Protective Services to release information regarding child abuse and neglect investigations and allegations to private schools, as it does for public schools.
  • HB 3683 (Dutton, D-Houston): Would allow the commissioner to authorize a charter or campus program to provide a dropout recovery program for grades 9-12, at which 50% of the enrollment must be students who are age 17 or older. Eligible students would include those who have dropped out or been in a disciplinary alternative education setting, as well as homeless students, working students, asylees and refugees, or at parent request. Charter school advocates testified that the bill would improve student retention and completion.
  • HB 4205 (Craddick, R-Midland): Would allow repurposed campuses to be operated in partnership with certain nonprofits that have a successful record of operating a campus or charter. Former Speaker Craddick stated that a school slated for closure has only two options (close the campus or appoint a board of managers), and his bill offers a third option by allowing non-profit charters to partner with the school district to reopen the school. TEA General Counsel Von Byer said the campus would still have to be closed and repurposed, and that the repurposed campus would have to serve a majority of new students and offer a distinctly different academic program.
  • HB 4613 (Shaheen, R-Plano): Would allow parents to request an exemption from state and federal testing requirements for special education students, potentially through a federal waiver. Special education advocates testified with concerns on meeting federal reporting requirements and having accountability for all students, including those with disabilities.
  • HB 4611 (Huberty, R-Humble) and its related House Joint Resolution (HJR) 151 (Huberty, R-Humble): Would propose a constitutional amendment to allow the General Land Office’s (GLO) School Land Board to transfer up to $600 million to the available school fund. The current allowable contribution is only $300 million. Testimony from both the GLO and from Dr. Keven Ellis of the SBOE was neutral, focused on finding avenues to increase funds to the available school fund.

The following pending bills heard during prior meetings were voted favorably from committee on Thursday: HB 851, HB 1026, HB 1517, HB 1639, HB 1640, HB 1823, HB 2511, HB 2984, HB 3007, HB 3217, HB 3323, HB 3435, HB 3966, HCR 59, HB 843, HB 1160, HB 1276, HB 1632, HB 2030, HB 2184, HB 4310, and HB 2210.

The House Public Education Committee will meet again on Tuesday, April 9, 2019, to hear a variety of bills, mostly pertaining to charter schools.

Senate Education committee considers discipline bills

The Senate Education Committee considered a number of bills Tuesday, March 26, many of which focused on various disciplinary issues. The committee also favorably voted out several bills heard previously. Members approved the following bills:

  • CSSB 243 (by a vote of 6-3 with Sen. Lucio, Powell, and Watson opposing), which would enable school marshals to carry guns on them at all times.
  • CSSB 316 (by a vote of 7-3 with Sens. Lucio, Powell, and Watson opposing), which calls for the attorney general to represent teachers in certain lawsuits. ATPE raised concerns when the bill was originally heard that the subjective determinations made by the attorney general could result in teachers effectively losing or delaying their effective representation.
  • SB 406 (by a vote of 9-1 with Sen. Watson opposing), which would clarify that school marshals could carry concealed handguns.
  • CSSB 213, which would make individual graduation committees (IGC) a permanent option for students who struggle to pass end-of-course STAAR exams. This bill and the rest of the pending bills below passed with the committee’s unanimous approval.
  • SB 372 would allow charter schools to hire and commission peace officers.
  • SB 435 would add opioid addiction to the list of topics addressed by school health advisory committees (SHAC).
  • SB 522 deals with individualized education programs (IEP) for students with visual impairments.
  • CSSB 1230 would create a reporting system for private school educator misconduct.
  • SB 1231 would clarify administrative reporting requirements for child abuse and neglect.
  • SB 1476 would clarify reporting requirements when an investigation reveals an accused teacher was not engaged in misconduct.
  • CSSB 364 would require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to develop model policies on recess.

Today, committee members heard testimony on SB 1451 by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), which would prohibit a school district from assigning a a teacher an area of deficiency in an appraisal solely on the basis of the teacher’s disciplinary referrals or documentation of student conduct. The bill would also prohibit a district from disciplining a teacher for documenting bad student behavior. Sen. Taylor introduced a committee substitute that would clarify that a deficiency may still be assigned separately, provided that a third party documents an issue. ATPE supports this bill.

Another bill by Sen. Taylor, SB 2432, would add harassment to the list of conduct that will result in the mandatory removal of a public school student from the classroom. ATPE supports this bill. The following bills were also considered Tuesday:

  • SB 424 by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), relating to determining the appropriate disciplinary action to be taken against a public school student who is in foster care or who is homeless.
  • SB 1001 by Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), relating to the suspension of a student who is homeless from public school.
  • SB 1306 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), which would require a school district to post on the district’s website the name and contact information of each school administrator primarily responsible for student discipline at a district campus.
  • SB 1707 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), relating to the duties of school district peace officers, school resource officers, and security personnel.

A handful of bills heard today were not directly related to discipline. These included SB 926 by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), relating to the operation of a public school transportation system, and SB 1679 by Sen. West, which would ensure that any children who are available for pre-K at the age of three remain eligible for enrollment at the age of four. ATPE supports SB 1679.

 

House Public Education Committee hears 21 bills, approves school finance plan in HB 3

House Committee on Public Education, March 19, 2019

On Tuesday, March 19, 2019, the House Committee on Public Education heard 21 bills on a variety of topics, including compensatory and accelerated education services, elections, and the state’s share of public education funding. Additionally, the committee voted out several bills, including Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Humble) and the Texas House’s plan for school finance, HB 3. Read our blog post on HB 3 here for more information on what’s in the bill.

The following bills were considered by the committee during yesterday’s hearing:

  • HB 462 (Geren et al., R-Fort Worth): This bill enables House Joint Resolution (HJR) 24, which was also on the agenda for Tuesday, and states that the legislature must set base funding and guaranteed funding for each fiscal year at an amount necessary to comply with a minimum state share of education funding at 50% or a greater amount. This bill would cost $10 billion over the next two years. The minimum state share of 50% would be set by HJR 24 (see below).
  • HJR 24 (Geren, R-Fort Worth): Proposes a constitutional amendment requiring the state to pay at least 50% of the cost of maintaining and operating the public school system and prohibits the comptroller from certifying legislation containing an appropriation for public education unless the requirement is met. Constitutional amendments, if passed, are voted on by Texans and require a two-thirds majority for final passage.
  • HB 548 (Canales, D-Edinburg): Would require that districts and charter schools use Texas’s Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) to report truancy information on the number of: children who fail to enroll, children who fail to attend without excuse for 10+ days within a six-month period in same school year, students for whom a district initiates a truancy prevention measure, and parents of students that schools have filed a truancy complaint.
  • HB 735 (VanDeaver et al., R-New Boston): Rep. VanDeaver explained that HB 735 allows districts to lower and raise their tax rate to a maximum that was previously approved by voters in the past 10 years without a tax ratification election (TRE). He stated that this helps districts provide tax relief without worrying about the cost of an election in the future should the district need to raise its tax rate. HB 735 also requires a Comptroller study of the bill.
  • HB 1160 (Johnson, J., D-Houston): Would allow the compensatory education allotment to be used for guidance, counseling, and/or social work services provided by a licensed social worker or licensed professional counselor.
  • HB 1182 (Goodwin et al., D-Austin): Would change personal financial literacy from an elective to a required course. The committee substitute changes the bill so that the number of credits required for graduation would remain the same.
  • HB 1199 (Miller, R-Sugarland): Would change the way the Texas Education Agency (TEA) monitors school district compliance with dyslexia screening and testing to be more stringent. TEA would develop rules to audit, monitor, conduct site visits of all school districts, identify compliance problems, and develop remedial strategies to address noncompliance.
  • HB 1388 (VanDeaver, R-New Boston): Would require, in the student achievement domain of the accountability system for high school campuses and their districts, a measure of students (rather than a percentage of students) who successfully complete a practicum or internship approved by the State Board of Education (SBOE) and students who successfully complete a coherent Career and Technical Education (CTE) sequence.
  • HB 1453 (Bernal, D-San Antonio): Would require that one of the four teachers on the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) has to be a teacher certified in special education with classroom experience. Requires SBEC to propose rules to establish a minimum requirement of field-based experience in which an educator certification candidate actively implements an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Updates staff development requirements to include training on IDEA and proactive and evidence-based inclusive instructional practices. Also allows for remote coaching for teachers in rural areas.
  • HB 1556 (VanDeaver, R-New Boston): Would make changes to law regarding the purchasing of goods and services to increase clarity for districts. Eliminates the phrase “in the aggregate” so that districts are not met with challenges in purchasing smaller chunks of goods.
  • HB 1597 (Lambert, R-Abilene): Would apply to a person whose parent or guardian is active-duty, allowing them to establish residency by providing a military order to the school district. Then, the family must provide proof of residency within ten days after their arrival date. The bill would also make charter schools subject to the same law.
  • HB 1632 (Bell, K. et al., R-Forney): For purposes of a school district’s provision of compensatory education, intensive, or accelerated services, the bill would add the following to the definition of “student at risk of dropping out of school:” student with dyslexia, educationally disadvantaged, has enrolled in 2+ public schools in the same school year for either the current or preceding school year, or has 10+ absences in a school year in the current or preceding school year.
  • HB 1639 (Martinez, D-Weslaco): States that, before December 21, 2024, boards of trustees can change the length of the terms of their trustees to either three- or four-year staggered terms.
  • HB 1664 (King, Ken, R-Canadian): Rep. King said that this bill cleans up some of the implementation issues with last session’s educator misconduct bill, SB 7. The bill states that a superintendent or director is not required to notify SBEC or file a report if they complete an investigation into educator misconduct before the educator’s termination and determine that the educator did not engage in the misconduct.
  • HB 1773 (Middleton, R-Wallisville): States that for districts that have their administration in a permanent building and students in a portable, the district has to put the administration in the portable and make classrooms in the former administration building.
  • HB 1823 (Cortez, D-San Antonio): Would change a the heading in law relating to the payment of school facilities allotments to more accurately reflect current practice.
  • HB 2116 (White et al., R-Hillister): For purposes of a district’s provision of compensatory education, intensive, or accelerated services, adds to the definition of “student at risk of dropping out of school:” student who has been incarcerated or has a parent who has been incarcerated.
  • HB 2210 (Bell, K. et al., R-Forney): Under this bill, students who receive residential services in a state hospital would not be considered in the accountability of the district or campus that the hospital is located in if their parent does not reside in the district.
  • HB 2424 (Ashby, R-Lufkin): Would require SBEC to propose rules to establish and issue micro-credentials for educators, which would be placed on their certificates. The agency would approve Continuing Professional Education (CPE) providers to offer micro-credential courses (which could include school districts).
  • HB 2778 (King, T., D-Uvalde): Would change the joint election agreement regarding election expenses so that it applies to a school district that has territory in at least four counties, each with a population of less than 55,000 (rather than 46,100).
  • HB 3134 (Middleton, R-Wallisville): Would allow a board of trustees to establish and operate a transportation system outside the county or district if students served by the county system or enrolled in the district reside outside the county or district.

The following bill was on the agenda but was not heard:

HB 1679 (Price, R-Amarillo): Would require the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to provide limited student loan repayment assistance for eligible school counselors who apply and qualify.

The following bills were voted out favorably by the committee, which means they will now move on to the House Calendars Committee and face judgement on whether and when they may come before the entire House of Representatives for a vote: HB 3, HB 55, HB 391, HB 613, HB 663, HB 692, HB 808, HB 811, HB 960, HB 961, HB 1133, HB 1480, and HB 2074. Rep. VanDeaver’s HB 1051, which was heard last week and relates to the Goodwill Excel Center, was also voted out after VanDeaver and Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) came to an agreement that there would be a floor amendment to address her concerns about the bill.

House Public Education Committee holds its fourth hearing on bills

On Wednesday, March 13, 2019, the House Public Education Committee held its fourth hearing on bills. With 15 bills on the agenda, the topics covered included school start and end dates in Districts of Innovation (DOI), seizure training requirements, the assignment of students to uncertified teachers, concussion oversight teams, special education due process, suspension of students who are homeless, and adult education programs.

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies before the House Public Education Committee on March 13, 2019

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of House Bill (HB) 1051 by Representative Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), which would improve and make permanent the Goodwill Excel Center, a public charter school that is currently a pilot program. Exter testified that while no program is perfect, this one is “as close as you can get” and has married Goodwill’s 501(c)(3) dollars with state dollars to do more for students. Exter stated that the program gives more money back to its students than the system takes in state funding. Goodwill covers about 41 percent of the cost of operating the school. Furthermore, the leaders of the program have taken the time to create exceedingly high standards. Under HB 1051, these standards would be locked into law should the program be expanded. In closing, Exter testified that this program serves a unique set a students who are current not served by the public education system, adult dropouts, many of whom are over the maximum age which an ISD can enroll students. The Goodwill program found a gap that sorely needed to be filled.

ATPE also supported, but did not testify on, the following bills heard on Wednesday:

  • HB 340 (Cortez, D-San Antonio): Would require students in full-day preK and K-3 to have at least 30 minutes of recess. Many registered in support of this bill, testifying on the importance of recess and play in child development.
  • HB 1276 (Rosenthal, D-Houston): Would prohibit a teacher who has less than one year of teaching experience and does not hold the appropriate certificate from being assigned to teach students in grades 1-6 for two consecutive years. This provision would exempt small districts by applying the restriction to districts with 5,000 or more students.

ATPE registered against HB 1133 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), which would change the calculation of K-4 class size limits to use a campus-wide average for each grade level rather than a hard cap applied to individual class rooms. ATPE supports state mandated class size and caseload limitations for all grade levels and instructional settings. This allows for optimal learning environments. ATPE also recommends that the state limit class size waivers and require full public disclosure of requests for class size waivers. Using the average calculation proposed by HB 1133 would mask the size of individual classes and allow for increases in some classes while maintaining a limited average. This opens the door to compromised educational quality and less individual attention for students in classes above the average. Rep. Stickland expressed that the bill was for Arlington ISD and said that he would be willing to bracket the bill to Arlington ISD. However, ATPE recommends maintaining current law on class size limits.

The committee also considered the following bills, on which ATPE took no position:

  • HB 233 (Krause, R-Fort Worth): Would prohibit DOIs from exempting themselves from school year start and end date requirements. Tourism and recreation industry representatives supported the bill, and expressed that the ability of districts to change their start and end dates negatively impacts their business, as well as the physical health of students. Those against the bill, mainly school districts, expressed that it is important for districts to retain local control over their calendar and that a shorter summer helps lessen the “summer slide” in student learning retention.
  • HB 684 (Clardy et al., R-Nacogdoches): Would require seizure recognition and related first aid online training for nurses and school district employees who have regular contact with students. Rep. Clardy calls this bill “Sam’s Law,” and said that nearly 50,000 public students have epilepsy.
  • HB 692 (White, D-Hillister): Would prohibit students who are homeless from being placed in out-of-school suspension (OSS). Rep. White suggested that the campus behavior coordinator, if available, may work with district’s homeless liaison to find an alternative. All testimony was in support of the bill and spoke to the importance of the school for students who are homeless in providing stability and quality of life.
  • HB 808 (Dutton, D-Houston): Would require that, in districts with 1,000 or more African American males, only the performance of African American male students may be considered for purposes of accountability ratings. The purpose is to track the educational progress of this specific demographic group. Chairman Dutton made changes to the bill and stated that the bill would now just require disaggregation of accountability measures by race/ethnicity and gender, to unmask certain sub-populations such as African American males.
  • HB 811 (White, D-Hillister): Would require that, in making disciplinary decisions (suspension, expulsion, Discipline Alternative Education Programs (DEAP), and Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs (JJAEP)), the school district board of trustees must also include in the student code of conduct that consideration will be given regarding a student’s status in the conservatorship of DFPS or as a student who is homeless. The testimony on HB 811 mirrored that of HB 692.
  • HB 880 (Calanni et al., D-Katy): This bill states that the board of trustees of a school district may not make a severance payment to a superintendent that is greater than one year’s salary under their terminated contract and eliminates text requiring that the commissioner of education reduce a district’s Foundation School Program (FSP) funding by the amount of the severance payment. This bill led to discussion about how some superintendent’s receive “big payouts” to leave districts, and that this takes away funds from students.
  • HB 960 (Howard, D-Austin): Would allow a school nurse to remove a student from certain activities if they suspect the student had a concussion. Rep. Howard and testifiers expressed that a nurse is highly qualified to make these determinations and that the bill does not change who can make the ultimate decision for a student to return to play.
  • HB 961 (Howard, D-Austin): Would require that school districts and charters that employ a school nurse include the nurse on the concussion oversight team, if requested by the nurse. Would also require that nurses on these teams take a concussion training course every two years to remain on the team. The testimony on this bill mirrored that for HB 960.
  • HB 1093 (Moody, D-El Paso): Would prohibit the Commissioner or TEA from adopting or enforcing a rule that establishes a shorter period than the maximum federal timeline for filing a due process complaint regarding special education and requesting an impartial due process hearing. Testimony was mixed on this bill, with parents and advocates supporting testifying that HB 1093 aligns state law with federal law and creates equity. Those against the bill felt that the current legal system works well enough.
  • HB 1132 (Ortega, D-El Paso): Would allow a school district that currently holds its trustee election on a date other than the November uniform date to change the date to the November date before December 31, 2024. Rep. Ortega specifically expressed that El Paso ISD faced this issue.
  • HB 2074 (Wu, D-Houston): Would prohibit districts from requiring a school counselor to assume a disciplinary role or have duties relating to student discipline that are inconsistent with their primary responsibilities. Testimony on this bill was positive, focusing on the idea that the counselor’s role is not to discipline students but rather to advocate for students.

At the end of the hearing, Chairman Huberty stated that the committee would meet again at 8:00 a.m. next Tuesday. The next hearing will likely begin with the committee substitute to House Bill 3, the school finance bill.

House Public Education Committee hears bills and testimony on assessment

On Tuesday, March 6, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard six bills related to testing and the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR).

The committee began by hearing seven panels of invited testimony from superintendents and other district leaders, teachers, Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff, and parents. Their comments generally centered around the reliability of STAAR testing in light of recent articles reporting that reading tests are written at a grade level above that of the students being tested (Texas Monthly, The New York Times, Washington Post, Houston Chronicle). Many issues arose during the rich discussion, including the misalignment between the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum standards and how the TEKS are tested; the misalignment of expectations between TEA and school districts; the negative impact of testing on students; and the flawed public narrative that inaccurate tests create.

The first panel was composed of superintendents from Alief ISD, Northside ISD, San Marcos ISD, and Granger ISD. The general sentiment among the panelists was that the state should have assessments with appropriately rigorous standards, but make sure they are valid, fair, meaningful, and timely. Additionally, witnesses testified that the tests should undergo rigorous review and field-testing. The danger lies in misalignment between the expectations of test and the expectations of standards, as well as misalignment with other assessments and what teachers know about tests. This results in the STAAR tests creating an inaccurate narrative and in students giving up on their passions.

The second panel included Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who stated that the STAAR tests were meant to predict post-secondary outcomes. Morath emphasized that National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) outcomes have remained flat or declined over the past decade, and he defended the reliability of the STAAR tests. He did admit that the Texas student population has increased significantly over time and grown progressively poorer. Appearing with Morath were three reading experts, one of whom was from the organization that developed lexile scores, Meta-Metrics. Dr. Sanford-Moore of Meta-Metrics explained that lexiles are based on a computer algorithm and measure language structure based on the number of ideas in a sentence and the vocabulary used.

Reps. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), Morgan Meyer (R-Highland Park), and Mary Gonzalez (D- Clint) all made compelling points about the tests. VanDeaver stated, “These are children and not machines. What happens when we reach that level that goes beyond challenging and becomes frustrating and the child shuts down?” Similarly, Meyer shared a story of his fourth-grade daughter, who cried on the way to school the day of the STAAR test and came home defeated. Meyer said, “You call it challenge, I call it frustration.” Gonzalez reiterated her previous comment that it is imperative for the public purpose of the tests to be clear.

This led to a flurry of discussion, bouncing from issue to issue within the educational system, including the A-F accountability grading system; expectations for teachers and district leadership to understand the STAAR test; the use of tests for grade promotion and teacher evaluations; teacher and student stress; curriculum; professional development; and educator preparation. Overall, the range of topics that arose seemed to point to a disconnect between the agency’s expectation of teachers, districts, and students, and the practices and understandings of school districts.

At the four-hour mark of the hearing, the testimony of the third through seventh panels proceeded much more quickly. Another panel of superintendents from Comal ISD, Wylie ISD, and Frisco ISD testified that they used multiple interim assessments and instructional quality improvements to perform well on the STAAR. Additionally, Dr. Mike Waldrip of Frisco ISD said that the timing of the STAAR test at the end of the year wasn’t particularly useful for making preparations for the next year. A fourth panel composed of district leaders in literacy and learning expressed a key takeaway: that there is a disconnect between the reading level of instruction using the TEKS versus the reading level of assessment. The fifth panel, composed of teachers and an interventionist, was deemed the best panel of the day by Rep. Dr. Alma Allen (D-Houston), a long-time member of the committee who is also an educator. Notably affecting the committee members, one of the panelists announced that the time elapsed in the hearing was about the same amount of time students sit for a STAAR test. This panel also spoke to the needs of students and teachers in having the appropriate tools to provide relevant and effective instruction so that students can succeed on state tests. The sixth and seventh panels, which included other district leaders, parents, and stakeholders echoed much of the sentiments in of the previous panels, such as the negative impact of testing on students.

After nearly six hours of testimony from the invited panelists, who provided invaluable insights on the reliability, validity, and usefulness of testing to the state’s educational system, the committee turned its attention to hearing the bills posted on the agenda.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testifies in the House Public Education Committee, March 5, 2019.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified neutrally on House Bill (HB) 671 by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian). HB 671 would eliminate end-of-course (EOC) examinations and replace them with a school district’s choice of  either the TSI or a nationally recognized, norm-referenced assessment such as ACT or SAT, to be administered in grade 11. Under the bill, the commissioner would contract with a vendor to administer the assessment. HB 671 also mandates that each district require students to attend a preparation course to succeed on the test and defines college readiness. Chevalier expressed that while ATPE supports the reduction in mandated state tests, we want to ensure that any test used to replace the STAAR is both appropriate as an input into the state accountability system and provides the appropriate accommodations for students receiving special education services, students under a 504 plan, and English language learners.

ATPE registered positions in support of the following bills:

  • HB 525 (Tinderholt, R-Arlington): Would limit the required assessments to just mathematics, reading, and science (eliminating writing, social studies, English II, and US History tests)
  • HB 851 (Huberty, R- Kingwood): Would eliminate the September 1, 2019 expiration date of the law authorizing Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs)
  • HB 1480 (VanDeaver, R- New Boston): Would create an accelerated learning committee (ALC) for students who do not perform satisfactorily on third, fifth, or eighth grade reading or math assessments. Also would allow accelerated instruction to be provided to the student in the following year. The ALC would develop an educational plan for the student, provide assistance to student, and perform additional duties if the student doesn’t meet the standard for a second time after accelerated instruction. HB 1480 would also eliminate the requirement that assessments are used for promotion. The bill would eliminate social studies and US History assessments and require the commissioner to gather input from districts on an assessment schedule that minimizes disruption and maximizes instruction time.

Other bills heard in committee were:

  • HB 843 (Springer, R-Gainesville): Would allow for the inclusion of optional post-secondary readiness assessments in Algebra II and English III in the accountability system under the student achievement domain
  • HB 1244  (Ashby, R- Lufkin): Would eliminate the US History EOC and create an electronic civics test as a requirement for graduation, which would contain all questions on the U.S. Citizenship test in a multiple-choice format.

The House Public Education Committee plans to meet again next week. On Tuesday, March 12, the committee will to hear Chairman Huberty’s comprehensive school finance reform bill, HB 3, filed earlier this week. Chairman Huberty also said he expects HB 3 to reach the House floor by the first week of April. Over half the members of the Texas House have already signed on as co-authors for HB 3. The committee also expects to meet next Wednesday to hear other bills. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and follow us on Twitter for updates.

House Public Education Committee hears first bills of the 86th session

Today, the House Public Education Committee heard the first education bills of the session. The bills spanned topics including prekindergarten class sizes, educator preparation and training, assessment, and special education. ATPE supported several bills on the agenda, including these:

  • House Bill (HB) 55 (Gonzalez, D-Clint) Limit prekindergarten class-size and class size ratios to align with high-quality standards.
  • HB 108 (Gonzalez, D-Clint) Create a digital portfolio assessment pilot program.
  • HB 109 (Martinez, D-Weslaco) Allow charter schools to have a holiday on Memorial Day.
  • HB 111 (Gonzalez, D-Clint) Create educator training requirements on recognizing the abuse and maltreatment of students with severe cognitive disabilities.
  • HB 116 (Gonzalez, D-Clint) Improve educator preparation and training to better prepare teachers to serve students with disabilities.
  • HB 120 (Gonzalez, D-Clint) Add an extra year of delay to testing for recent immigrants who are learning English.
  • HB 165 (Bernal, D-San Antonio) Increase equity and the ability of special education students to receive high school endorsements.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testifying before the House Public Education Committee, Feb. 19, 2019

In addition to the bills above, ATPE’s newest lobbyist, Andrea Chevalier, testified in support of HB 102 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio). The bill would improve and fund mentoring programs for teachers. As noted in our testimony, the ability of school districts to access additional funding to pay mentor teachers is a great way of providing differentiated pay that rewards the service and expertise of experienced teachers. Additionally, mentor programs have been shown to improve the effectiveness of beginning teachers, as well as teacher retention.

Other bills on the agenda today, for which ATPE did not take a position, included the following:

  • HB 65 (Johnson, E., D-Dallas)- Would require districts to report information on out-of-school suspensions.
  • HB 128 (Hinojosa, D-Austin)- Would require that districts send the results of student physical assessment to parents.
  • HB 134 (Swanson, R-Spring)- Limits bond elections so that only one project or category of projects can be included within each proposition.
  • HB 187 (Reynolds, D-Missouri City)- Alters the composition of the Fort Bend ISD School Board so that one member is at-large and the rest of the members are elected from single-member districts.

 

Major Texas education groups agree on charter school policy agenda

This month, 15 major education groups in Texas agreed on a policy agenda for charter schools.

The groups include the Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE), the Texas State Teachers Association, the Texas Association of School Administrators, the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, the Texas American Federation of Teachers, the Texas Association of School Boards, the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association, the Coalition for Education Funding, Pastors for Texas Children, Raise Your Hand Texas, the Fast Growth School Coalition, the Texas Association of Community Schools, the Texas Association of Midsize Schools, the Texas School Alliance, and the Intercultural Development and Research Association.

In Texas, 5.5% of students attend charter schools yet they receive 10% of state funding for education. Because charters cannot levy taxes, charter schools are 100% funded by the state. Each charter school student generates the sum of the statewide average adjusted allotment (basic allotment adjusted using various weights for special populations and circumstances) and the statewide average property tax revenue across school districts. Last session, charters gained access for the first time to $60 million in facilities funding, or about $200 per student.

While charters are subject to the same accountability as traditional school districts, there are many differences in how charters operate. Texas law allows charters to accept and expel students based on academics and discipline, to employ non-certified teachers, and to choose whether or not to employ any counselors or school nurses. Additionally, the majority of charter expansion is under the charter amendment process, which allows for uninhibited growth of charter schools.

The joint policy agenda of the groups listed above focuses on increasing the transparency and efficiency of charter schools through seven recommendations for lawmakers:

  1. Allow for public transparency and input before any new charter amendments are approved in a certain community.
  2. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) should consider creating a standard charter application process and maintain an accurate charter school wait list to correctly document the number of unique students desiring charter admission.
  3. Charters should not be able to admit and expel students based on academics and discipline, as this creates inequality between charters and traditional school districts despite the fact that both receive public funds and are expected to educate all students.
  4. The Commissioner of Education should adopt procedures to analyze and report on the expected fiscal, academic, and program impact of each new charter school in order to maintain efficiency of the entire public school system.
  5. Since charters receive nearly $3 billion in public funds each year, they should publicly disclose their financial dealings, including leases, mortgages, contracts, and bond debt.
  6. Parents need to make informed decisions about where to enroll their children and should therefore have access to information on each charter school’s website such as student rates of expulsion, teacher certification and attrition rates, and the percentage of special education students.
  7. Charters received an estimated $882 million more than the school districts in which they reside during the last biennium. It is important to equalize this funding and require charters to pay into the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) just as districts do in order to create parity.

ATPE and others testify on school finance commission recommendations

This week, the House Public Education Committee received feedback from various stakeholders regarding recommendations of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Tuesday and Wednesday, committee members heard testimony from panels including three former House Public Education Committee chairs, superintendents, trustees, teachers, and representatives of education associations. Rural, suburban, and urban districts were represented, as well as charter and traditional public schools.

The overwhelming majority of testifiers expressed support for the commission’s recommended increase in the spectrum weight and the dual language weight. These would help create equity by funding certain student populations at higher levels. Most witnesses also commended the commission’s recommendation to fund early childhood education, but were concerned with its sustainability and with tying it to third-grade reading scores.

Among the concerns commonly expressed by stakeholders was outcomes-based funding. District leaders said they would like  local flexibility in implementing merit-based, outcomes-based, or performance-based funding mechanisms for their teachers. Apprehension with outcomes-based funding derived from mistrust or lack of confidence in the current assessment system’s ability to accurately capture student learning. In fact, an equal proportion of Tuesday’s discussions seemed to focus on assessment as on school finance. Some leaders expressed that tying funding to tests would reinforce teaching-to-the-test, and some stakeholders suggested that base teacher pay be addressed before additional incentive mechanisms.

Stakeholders representing small and midsize districts (up to 5,000 students) also expressed concern with the commission’s recommendation to move the small and midsize funding adjustment out of formula, which could alter funding to these special student populations, affecting the districts’ ability to meet federal obligations for financial maintenance of effort under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Overall, stakeholders also expressed concerns with any funding changes that were not part of the base formula, given that similar funding approaches in the past have been less reliable. An example cited was Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) funding under House Bill (HB) 4 of 2015, which created an optional grant program should districts decide to offer high-quality Pre-K. Another potential funding change discussed this week was the Cost of Education Index (CEI). While some testified that they were uncomfortable with the idea of the CEI being eliminated, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) reiterated his intent for definite removal of the CEI in any school finance overhaul this session.

While this week’s testimony nearly always touched on teacher compensation, an important aspect of teaching beyond pay arose in the conversations: mentoring. A few witnesses expressed that the best first-year investment is a mentor teacher and that having mentor teachers is another way to provide extra compensation. Special education is another topic that came up during the hours of testimony, even though it was not widely broached by the commission last year other than through a discussion of funding for dyslexia. In testimony, several special education advocates suggested revamping the way special education is funded, which is currently done by placement rather than services. Chairman Huberty was favorable to the ideas presented.

Monty Exter

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, was last to testify Wednesday evening. He shared that ATPE supports the commission’s recommended changes to the weights, local flexibility in spending weighted dollars, and increases to the basic allotment. He expressed concerns with outcomes-based funding and suggested an adequate base increase for teachers and others on the education team first. Exter also offered that inputs should be incentivized as well, in a similar way to how high-quality Pre-K was incentivized through the HB 4 grant program. Lastly, Exter testified that teacher quality is related to educator preparation, another topic that cannot be forgotten when discussing increasing teacher effectiveness.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 8, 2019

Here’s your chilly edition of this week’s education news highlights from the ATPE Governmental Relations staff:


Andrea Chevalier

ATPE is excited to welcome Andrea Chevalier, the newest lobbyist to join our Governmental Relations team.

Andrea joins us most recently from the office of state Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint), where she served as Legislative Director and oversaw a host of issues, including public education. She is also a former classroom teacher with experience working in both the traditional public school and charter school environments. Andrea attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied chemistry; earned her Masters of Education in Secondary Education at the University of North Texas; and is currently working on completing her doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and Policy from UT.

Andrea will be lobbying and reporting on a variety of issues being debated by the legislature this session, working closely with the House Public Education Committee, and covering educator quality regulations considered by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). Watch for her blog posts here on Teach the Vote and follow her on Twitter at @ATPE_AndreaC.

 


On Tuesday, Gov. Gregg Abbott addressed a joint session of the 86th Legislature, delivering his traditional “State of the State” address. He outlined his legislative priorities for the session, punctuated by the declaration of six issues as emergency items that would warrant expedited action by lawmakers. All six of the issues bear close ties to public education, including most notably school finance, school safety, and teacher pay. Abbott’s declaration of these school-related emergency issues is a testament to the impact of the 2018 election cycle in which the Texas public education community was much more noticeably vocal and active. Tuesday was also the day for President Donald Trump to deliver his State of the Union address. That speech, which had been postponed due to the recent federal government shutdown, contained far less education-related content. Read more about both the State of the State and State of the Union speeches in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

 


The two legislative committees that oversee public education policy issues in Texas have begun holding regular meetings and hearing testimony. The Senate Education Committee held its first meeting of the legislative session this week, receiving an overview presentation by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. The committee also learned about the status of special education programs in Texas. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and provided this detailed summary for Teach the Vote.

The House Public Education Committee, which began its work a little earlier this session, held two meetings this week, both heavily focused on the topic of school finance. The committee similarly heard from Commissioner Morath, along with members of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Read more about those hearings in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier. The committee is slated for two more meetings next Tuesday and Wednesday, and the agenda will include testimony by stakeholders about school finance and the recommendations of the commission that studied the issue last year. ATPE has been invited to testify on Wednesday, and we’ll provide details next week here on our blog and on @TeachtheVote on Twitter.

 


On Monday of this week, the House Appropriations Committee announced its subcommittees that will work on various sections of the state budget. Committee members were also briefed by staff of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Teacher Retirement System (TRS). ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and provided an in-depth report here for our blog. On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Finance Committee has also been holding several meetings to review the draft budget. Next week, Senate Finance committee members turn their attention to Article III, which contains the education budget. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter will be there for those meetings starting Monday and will provide updates next week for Teach the Vote.

 


SPECIAL ELECTION UPDATE: Voters in San Antonio’s House District 125 will head to the polls Tuesday to elect a new state representative. Early voting has taken place this week for the special election to fill the vacant seat of former Rep. Justin Rodriguez, after he resigned to serve as Bexar County Commissioner. The five candidates vying for the HD 125 seat are Steve Huerta (D)Ray Lopez (D)Fred Rangel (R)Coda Rayo-Garza (D), and Art Reyna (D).

There also remains a vacancy in Houston’s HD 145, where Democrats Melissa Noriega and Christina Morales have advanced to a runoff in that special election. The date of the runoff election for HD 145 has not yet been announced, but is likely to be held in March. Read more about the two runoff candidates in this article from the Houston Chronicle.