Tag Archives: suicide prevention

House Public Education Committee hears 35 bills on school safety

On Tuesday, March 26, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard 35 bills on various issues related to school safety. Some bills focused on student-centered measures such as mental health supports and counseling services; some focused on administrative structures such as threat assessment teams and trauma-informed care policies; some focused on school hardening and increasing the presence of law enforcement in schools; and a few focused on funding.

Those who testified during the lengthy hearing yesterday tended to fall into three camps. Those with an interest in mental health, counseling, educational equity, and disability rights overwhelmingly supported bills that focus on the care of students, citing research that shows these intervention methods work to make schools safer. Other testifiers were interested in gun rights aspects of the bills and either wanted to ensure that the Second Amendment was upheld in school safety policies or wanted to keep increased levels of firearms out of schools. Lastly, some witnesses, such as those representing school districts, expressed the long-term needs for both school-hardening structural changes and programmatic and service changes relating to counseling, mental health, and emotional health.

North East ATPE President Laura Herrera testified in support of a school safety bill during the House Public Education Committee hearing on March 26, 2019.

Rep. Greg Bonnen’s (R-Friendswood and the Speaker’s brother) House Bill (HB) 17 was the largest bill of the day and incorporated many of the concepts that other bills on the agenda also offered. Rep. Bonnen shared a newer version of his bill with the committee that would do the following:

  • Allow the Commissioner of Education to create rules on best practices for safe and secure facilities.
  • Require local mental health authorities (LMHAs) to employ a non-physician mental health professional as a resource for school districts.
  • Require that a trauma-informed care policy be included in school district improvement plans and address awareness and implementation of trauma-informed practices through TEA-approved training for new employees (which may also be incorporated into staff development).
  • Create an exception for minimum minutes of operation so that educators can attend a school safety training course.
  • Require multi-hazard emergency operations plans to incorporate the work of the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) and follow stringent preparedness guidelines. District multi-hazard plans would be reviewed and districts would be given a chance to make corrections. If districts fail to submit or correct the plan, they would be subject to conservatorship, just as with accountability sanctions.
  • Require a district that receives notice of noncompliance for their security and safety audit or their multi-hazard plan to hold a public hearing and provide information to the public.
  • Require that school safety and security committee participants include a variety of new individuals, including law enforcement representatives, a teacher, and parents.
  • Establish threat assessment teams for each campus, which would be responsible for determining the appropriate method of assessment and intervention, as well as identifying and reporting students who risk a serious threat of violence to others or themselves. The TxSSC must create model threat assessment team policies and procedures, including procedures for the referral of a student to an LMHA, health care provider, or special education evaluation.
  • Create a “school safety allotment” at an unspecified amount to be used to improve school safety and security through school facilities and technology, law enforcement and school marshals, and training and planning (including prevention such as mental health personnel).
  • Allow bonds to be issued for retrofitting school buses or purchasing/retrofitting other vehicles for safety or emergency purposes.

ATPE did not testify orally on any of the bills heard yesterday, but did register a position in support of the following bills:

  • HB 1312 (Moody, D-El Paso): Would allow a district to contract with a LMHA to provide mental health services. The Human Health and Services Commission (HHSC) would let school districts enroll as providers so that they can receive Medicaid reimbursements for providing the services.
  • HB 1496 (Metcalf, et al., R-Conroe): Would require law enforcement officials who learn of a school violence threat to let the superintendent know as soon as possible. The superintendent would then notify appropriate personnel.
  • HB 1754 (Bonnen, G., et al., R-Friendswood): Would create a $50 per student “school safety allotment” that can be used for school hardening and prevention and treatment programs for addressing adverse childhood experiences.
  • HB 2511 (Allen, D-Houston): Would require campus improvement plans to include goals and methods for bullying prevention and dropout deterrence, including providing teacher continuing education and materials or training for parents.
  • HB 2994 (Talarico, et al., D-Round Rock): Would require the commissioner to develop mental health training materials for school districts to use. The commissioner must consult with teachers and mental health professionals and make the training available through various methods.
  • HB 3411 (Allison, R-San Antonio): Would amend the list of programs created by TEA, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), and Education Service Centers (ESCs) to include programs and practices in early mental health and substance abuse prevention and intervention, positive school climate, and suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention (healing). The suicide prevention programs should include components that prepare personnel to assist students in returning to school following a mental health concern or suicide attempt. The bill would require districts to develop practices and procedures regarding the programs on the list.

The following bills were also heard by the committee:

  • HB 366 (González, M., D-Clint): Would direct the State Board of Education (SBOE) to adopt age-appropriate and accurate Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) related to relationship, communication, and decision-making skills.
  • HB 567 (Capriglione, R-Southlake): Would adjust a district’s wealth per student by deducting revenue spent on campus security during the previous year.
  • HB 734 (Huberty, R-Humble): Would allow board members and superintendents to carry a concealed or open handgun to a board meeting.
  • HB 876 (Allen, et al., D-Houston): Would require ALL districts with district police or school resource officers (SROs) to adopt a training policy. Current law only applies to districts with 30,000 or more students.
  • HB 973 (Metcalf, et al., R-Conroe): Would require that the TxSSC report to TEA on district non-compliance with certain safety requirements and allow TEA to impose a penalty up to the amount of the superintendent’s salary.
  • HB 974 (Metcalf, et al., R-Conroe): Would change the cycle of the safety and security audit from three to two years and require districts to check the ID of a person who is coming to the school for a non-public event. Current law leaves checking IDs for non-public events up to districts.
  • HB 975 (Metcalf, et al., R-Conroe): Would require trustees to complete school safety training, as developed by the SBOE and the Texas School Safety Center.
  • HB 976 (Metcalf, et al., R-Conroe): Would require trustees and charter school governing board members to complete school safety training and make charters subject to certain safety requirements. The bill also establishes an emergency management coordinator for each district to lead the security and safety committee and creates threat assessment teams.
  • HB 1026 (Bohac, R-Houston): Would require the SBOE to incorporate character trait instruction  into the K-12 TEKS. Adds “gratitude” to the existing list of character traits under current law and requires each school district and charter to adopt a character education program and submit it to TEA. The agency would collect data and designate “Character Plus Schools” that demonstrate a correlation between the program and increase in attendance and decrease in discipline.
  • HB 1106 (Swanson, R-Spring): Would eliminate the current cap on school marshals (not more than the greater of one per 200 students or one per building on each campus) for public and private schools.
  • HB 1143 (Hefner, R-Mount Pleasant): Would prevent districts and charters from regulating the manner in which guns or ammunition are stored in vehicles on school property for those who hold a license to carry.
  • HB 1387 (Hefner, R-Mount Pleasant): Would allow an increase in school marshals by changing the ratio from one marshal per 200 students down to one marshal per 100 students for public and private schools.
  • HB 1467 (Talarico, et al., D-Round Rock): Would mandate ratios of mental health professionals to law enforcement based on school district size, decreasing the ratio for smaller districts, and allow districts to request a TEA waiver if they can’t comply. The waiver would require districts to document that they tried to hire mental health professionals and require that law enforcement complete training.
  • HB 1471 (Darby, R-San Angelo): Would allow, under an optional board policy, veterans and retired law enforcement to volunteer to provide security services and carry a handgun at schools. The program would be included in the district’s multi-hazard emergency operations plan and include training for each volunteer.
  • HB 1623 (Coleman, D-Houston): Would update staff development to require training on trauma-informed practices, which, in addition to suicide prevention training, would have to take place at least once every five years. The bill would update the list of programs that DSHS, TEA, and ESCs create to specify that trauma-informed practices must include training on recognizing trauma in students; recognizing warning signs such as lowered academic performance, depression, isolation; and, learning to intervene effectively. It would make charters subject to the new requirements, require reporting to TEA on the number of personnel trained, and withhold funds for mental health supports if a district or charter doesn’t report.
  • HB 1640 (Martinez, D-Weslaco): Would create a life skills pilot program on each high school campus in certain counties.
  • HB 1825 (Cortez, D-San Antonio): Would require information shared by law enforcement with a superintendent on student offenses to include whether it is necessary to conduct a threat assessment or prepare a safety plan related to the student.
  • HB 1959 (Hefner, R-Mount Pleasant): Would allow those with a license to carry to have their firearm/ammunition in the parking lot for a private school.
  • HB 2195 (Meyer, R-Dallas): Would require an active shooter emergency policy to be included in a school district’s multi-hazard emergency operations plan.
  • HB 2653 (Rosenthal, D-Houston): Would require the establishment of threat assessment teams in charter schools and public school districts.
  • HB 2654 (Rosenthal, D-Houston): For new construction, would require a school district to follow building standards that include a key-less lock on each entrance, narrow classroom door windows, window coverings, a PA system, and security cameras. Charters would also be subject to the regulations for new buildings. The bill would require live feed from the cameras to be available to police, testing the PA system regularly, and storing an active shooter medical kit. School districts wouldn’t be able to seek bond guarantees without following the standards.
  • HB 2655 (Rosenthal, D-Houston): Would require an active shooter protocol to be included in the multi-hazard emergency operations plan and that school law enforcement complete an active shooter training.
  • HB 2997 (Talarico, et al., D-Round Rock): A newer version of the bill offered by its author in yesterday’s hearing would extend suicide prevention training to all school employees and require districts and charters to provide the training once every four years.
  • HB 3018 (Allison, R-San Antonio): Calls for the SBOE to require districts to incorporate digital citizenship instruction into its curriculum, which includes healthy online behavior.
  • HB 3235 (Ramos, D-Richardson): Would require suicide prevention training at least once every two years. Current law leaves the frequency of the training up to TEA, which has determined that employees only have to complete it once.
  • HB 3290 (Toth, R-Woodlands): Would require districts to include a special threat response policy in their multi-hazard emergency operations plan, as coordinated with an emergency services agency. The policy must use “standard nomenclature,” conduct annual drills, be submitted to the commissioner and director of public safety, include protocols for law enforcement, and be consented to by each emergency services agency.
  • HB 3470 (Allen, D-Houston): Would allow the Texas School for the Deaf and school districts to engage with law enforcement for the provision of school resource officers. Outlines that school boards must determine the duties of the school law enforcement and include these in certain documents. The bill would prohibit these individuals from engaging in routine student discipline duties, school administrative tasks, or contact with students not related to law enforcement.
  • HB 3718 (Parker, et al., R-Flower Mound): Would require a trauma-informed care policy to be included in the district improvement plan. The policy should increase staff and parent awareness of trauma-informed care, implement trauma-informed practices, and address available counseling options for students. The training used to implement the policy should be provided through evidence-based programs for new and existing employees. Districts must maintain the names of those who complete the training and make a reasonable effort to partner with a community organization to provide free training if they don’t have the resources.

Next week, House Bill 3, Rep. Dan Huberty’s big school finance bill, heads to the House floor for debate. Considering the large number of legislators in the House who have signed on to the bill, it is expected to pass easily. However, floor debate opens up the bill to amendments that could change it. Follow @TeachtheVote and the ATPE lobbyists on Twitter (@ATPE_AndreaC, @ATPE_MontyE, @MarkWigginsTX, @ATPE_JenniferM) and continue reading our blog posts here for updates!

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.

 

Guest Post: New youth suicide data should spur ISD and state action

Josette Saxton

By Josette Saxton, Director of Mental Health Policy, Texans Care for Children

Both before and after the horrific school shooting in Santa Fe, we’ve been glad to see state leaders and school district officials recognize that student mental health efforts must be included in their work on safe and supportive schools.

New CDC data on suicide attempts among Texas high school students underscore how urgent these efforts are, how widespread mental health challenges are in Texas schools, and that mental health strategies must reach all students on campus.

Nearly one of every eight Texas high school students attempted suicide last year.

Twelve percent of Texas high school students attempted suicide in 2017 according to disturbing new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The 2017 Texas youth suicide rate was substantially higher than the national average of seven percent and higher than the previously reported Texas rate of 10 percent in 2013.

While kids from all backgrounds are at risk, the data show that certain youth have a particularly high risk. Among Texas high school students, 19 percent of black kids and a shocking 44 percent of gay or lesbian kids attempted suicide in 2017.

The report includes a number of other data points on teen health and behavior. It shows an increase in the already-high number of Texas high schoolers who reported feeling sad or hopeless: 34 percent in 2017 compared to 28 percent in 2013. It also shows that many Texas high school students — around 19 percent — reported that they were bullied on campus, similar to the number reported in 2013.

Schools are key to supporting kids’ mental health.

The pain and despair behind these numbers is heartbreaking, but it should also be a call to action. We all need to work harder to understand and address the causes of this crisis. We also need our policymakers to strength our children’s mental health policies, including policies to support students through our schools.

Schools play a critical role in addressing children’s mental health because they are so central to our kids’ lives. A growing number of Texas school districts have recognized the importance of addressing student mental health in order to prevent suicide, boost academic performance, improve behavior, and support children’s healthy development. State leaders also increasingly recognized the importance of addressing student mental health. Governor Abbott emphasized the importance of student mental health in the plan he recently released for safe and supportive schools, for example.

The new data is further evidence that significant mental health challenges are very common among Texas kids. Providing more students with access to mental health professionals is critical, but because these challenges are so common it is also important to go beyond only serving those students with the most visible and acute needs.

Schools – with state support – should offer mental health professionals and implement campus-wide strategies for all students.

We encourage more Texas school districts to implement school-wide practices that support all students’ mental well-being and help them develop skills for managing feelings of sadness, stress, anger, and conflict. If students are struggling with depression or anxiety, schools can provide or help connect students and their families to mental health services they need to be safe, healthy, and engaged in school. We are pleased to see that a number of school districts are already implementing these strategies.

The Legislature should help more school districts take action. Just as the Legislature established a Texas School Safety Center to help districts handle security issues, it should establish a center that focuses on positive school climates and school-based prevention and intervention strategies to reduce the likelihood that students will face barriers to their learning and health, like mental health concerns, substance use, challenging behavior, and violence. The Center would give districts and the state a trusted place to turn for training and technical assistance on practices shown to create safe and supportive school climates. The Legislature should also provide funding for mental health professionals, such as counselors and social workers, as Governor Abbott suggested.

We look forward to working with educators, district officials, legislators, parents, and other Texans on this critical issue.


Texans Care for Children is a statewide, non-profit, non-partisan, multi-issue children’s policy organization that seeks to drive policy change to improve the lives of Texas children today for a stronger Texas tomorrow.

To learn more, visit txchildren.org or follow @putkids1st on Twitter.

House Public Education Committee hears cyberbullying bill

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to consider and vote on several bills, including a high-profile bill aimed to reduce cyberbullying.

HB 306 by state Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) would crack down on bullying and cyberbullying. The bill defines “cyberbullying” as “bullying that is done through the use of electronic communication, including through the use of a cellular or other type of telephone, a computer, a pager, a camera, electronic mail, instant messaging, text messaging, a social media application, Internet website, or other Internet-based communication tool.” Cyberbullying may occur outside of a school or school-sponsored event if it interferes with a student’s educational opportunities or substantially disrupts the orderly operation of a classroom, school or school activity.

State Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) lays out anti-cyberbullying bill.

State Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) lays out anti-cyberbullying bill.

The bill would further require districts to provide for anonymous reporting of bullying behavior. HB 306 would allow for a student to removed or expelled if they encourage a minor to commit suicide, incite violence through group bullying or threaten to release intimate visual material of a minor. The bill would require schools to report bullying to police, and would hold parents liable for damages and legal fees if their child engages in bullying another child. The bill would create a new Class A misdemeanor criminal offense for “inducing suicide or attempted suicide of a minor by nonphysical bullying.”

Last session, ATPE successfully advocated for HB 2186, which required suicide prevention training for school staff. Suicide is the second highest cause of death for high school-aged children, and it is often prompted by bullying. Several parents of children who committed suicide after being bullied offered emotional testimony in support of HB 306. ATPE also testified in support of the bill.

Before adjourning, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) led the committee in advancing several bills. Chairman Huberty indicated the committee would vote on additional bills in a formal meeting Thursday upon adjournment of the House. The committee approved the following bills Tuesday:

  • HB 61, which would include metrics regarding the academic performance of students formerly receiving special education services on the list of performance indicators utilized by the “A through F” public school accountability system.
  • HB 156, which would establish a pilot program in a certain South Texas high schools for placement of students in Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) programs as an alternative to placement in disciplinary or juvenile justice alternative education programs.
  • HB 209, which would require every high school to make voter registration applications available to students and employees.
  • HB 441, which would ban schools from providing student instruction on Memorial Day.
  • HB 1057, which would add pre-AP and pre-IB participation to the performance indicators under the “A through F” system, along with the percentage of student who have received credit by examination, the percentage of students who have been promoted over their grade level and the percentage who received a diploma in three years or less.
  • HB 1114, which would reduce the number of service days required of teachers in a district that anticipates providing less than 180 days of instruction, while preserving the teacher’s salary. Rep. King voted no.
  • HB 1174, which would add the percentage of students who have successfully completed on “OnRamps” dual enrollment course to the list of performance indicators under the “A through F” accountability system.
  • HB 1336, which would require school districts to include in their annual financial management reports the costs associated with administering assessments required by state law.
  • HB 1500, which would add the percentage of students who earn an associate degree to the list of performance indicators under “A through F.”
  • HB 1540, which would add the importance of quickly selecting a major or field of study into the list of post-secondary education information required to be provided to high school students.
  • HB 1583, which would extend epinephrine auto-injector regulations, privileges, grant eligibility and immunity from liability to private schools.
  • HB 1638, which would order TEA and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to develop statewide goals for dual credit programs, along with a program to evaluate them.
  • HB 2614, which would waive the requirement that school districts administer a free nationally norm-referenced preliminary college preparation assessment instrument to students entering high school and students in the 10th grade.
  • HB 2623, which would require schools to create a personalized transition program for students returning after missing 30 instructional days or more because of placement in a juvenile center or hospital care.
  • HB 3145, which would require each district’s board of trustees to adopt a school recess policy with a minimum number of minutes.
  • HB 3318, which would require a district of innovation (DOI) to post its innovation plan online and maintain it in public view on the district’s website.
  • HB 3369, which would require additional training and supports for special education teachers and district personnel responsible for determining eligibility for special education programs.
  • HB 3381, which would order the governor to designate a Texas Military Heroes Day in public schools.

The hearing began with HB 1010 by state Rep. Roberto Alonzo (D-Dallas), which would give rules, bylaws and written policies adopted by a local school district’s board of trustees the force of law in relation to the district. Under current law, parents are often forced to file a challenge in a state district court if a school district does not comply with its own stated policy. The bill could allow parents to seek relief instead from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner. According to the fiscal note, HB 1010 would cost roughly $365,000 a year. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 3209 by state Rep. Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock) would require TEA to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the regional day school programs for the deaf regarding performance evaluation requirements for accountability purposes. The fiscal note estimates HB 3209 would cost about $107,000 per year.

HB 1569 by state Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) would require a residential treatment facility to provide a student’s school, behavioral and arrest records to a district or open-enrollment charter school that provides educational services to a student placed in the facility. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 3706 by state Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D-Brownsville) would allow community-based dropout recovery education programs to provide alternative education programs to at-risk students online, in addition to at a campus.

HB 1075 by state Rep. Ed Thompson (R-Pearland) would require sports officials registered with UIL to undergo an additional criminal background check once every three years.

HB 933 by state Rep. Oscar Longoria (D-Mission) would ban rolled or shaved baseball bats for use in University Interscholastic League (UIL) activities. Both are methods of doctoring metal bats. “Shaving” is the process of mechanically thinning a bat’s inner walls, while “rolling” is the process of mechanically compressing a bat’s barrel. Both can significantly increase the power of a metal bat while reducing the bat’s lifespan. Rep. Longoria argued this significantly increases the danger to players on the field.

HB 3887 by state Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) would add physical and emotional trauma training to the mental health training requirements for school staff.

HB 310 by state Rep. Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston) would allow compensatory education allotment funds to be used to fund a district’s school guidance and counseling program.

HB 2767 by state Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio) would allow TEA to delay the implementation of any accountability rule by an additional two years following the school year in which the rule is adopted unless otherwise required by law.

HB 2683 by state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) would exempt school buses from paying a toll for the use of a toll project. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 2014 by state Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) would allow the TEA commissioner to designate a campus as a “mathematics innovation zone.” Such a campus would be exempt from accountability interventions for two years and would be allowed to use a “pay for success” program approved by the commissioner. The bill sets up a framework for creating such pay for success programs funded by private investors. TEA commissioner Mike Morath testified that districts would essentially take out a loan from an investor, and repayment would depend upon achievement of measurable outcomes. According to the fiscal note, HB 2014 would cost the state roughly $10 million per year.

HB 3548 by Rep. Parker would grant immunity from personal liability to a director, officer or employee of the nonprofit corporation established by the Texas Public Finance Authority. The bill would specify that the nonprofit corporation itself is subject to liability only in the manner that applies to school districts.

HB 413 by vice-Chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would allow instructional materials allotment (IMA) funds to be used to pay for educator training and salaries, including counselor salaries.

HB 1451 by state Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) would require SBOE adopt criteria to allow a student to earn one of the two foreign language credits required for high school graduation by successfully completing a dual language immersion program at an elementary school.

HB 884 by Educator Quality Subcommittee Chair Ken King (R-Canadian) would order the State Board of Education (SBOE) to review and revise the foundation curriculum Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) to be narrower and require less time than the TEKS adopted as of January 1, 2017. As part of this process, SBOE would be required to examine the time necessary for instruction and mastery of each TEKS, whether college and career readiness standards have been adequately met and whether each assessment instrument adequately assesses a particular student expectation.

HB 4064 by state Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) would add a digital education requirement to the qualifications for teacher certification and add a continuing education credit for instruction in digital technology. The bill would also include digital learning in the requirements for staff development. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 3434 by state Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas) would require TEA adopt uniform general conditions adopted by the Texas Facilities Commission for use in all building construction contracts made by school districts.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 8, 2016

Here’s your weekly review of education news stories from ATPE and Teach the Vote:


Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson attended this week’s board and committee meetings of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) where topics of discussions included investment strategies, returns, and the upcoming legislative budget process.

TRS regularly evaluates its various investment managers to measure their performance against benchmarks, the market, and their peers. Much like any other investment, the rates of return on TRS investments fluctuate over time, but over the long-term returns have exceeded the 8% return assumption. During the last seven years following the 2008 recession U.S. and world markets have experienced incredible growth, and pension funds, such as your TRS pension, have done very well. The challenge TRS investment staff face is to continue with their diversified asset allocation in order to maintain these returns needed to pay for current and future pension benefits. The data support the TRS board’s strategy and return assumptions, which is good news for public education employees in order to sustain these benefits over time.

The board and staff also discussed the legislative budget process and how the TRS budget, which includes assumptions for public education employee payroll growth as well as employee and state contributions to the pension trust fund, is beginning to be developed for the 2017 legislative session. There is a chance that TRS is going to include in their budget request to the legislature, known as the Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR), the approximately $1.6 billion that is going to be needed to sustain TRS-Care for the next two years. This issue was discussed last week in an interim legislative hearing where ATPE presented information to House and Senate members on the need to craft a long-term solution that does not increase the burden on active employees or retirees. This  issue is going to be ongoing throughout the 2017 legislative session, but it must be addressed if the retiree health insurance program is intended to survive.


Monty Exter

Monty Exter

The State Board of Education (SBOE) and its three committees met this week, and ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was there covering all the activity. According to Exter, the discussion ranged from recent policy and technical issues with STAAR testing to several core subject TEKS, particularly English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR), Math, and Science.

The ELAR TEKS are currently undergoing a scheduled rewrite. The board heard testimony from representatives of organizations representing subject area educators and from representatives of the TEKS writing teams. Subsequently, the board briefly discussed the upcoming streamlining process for the Science TEKS. Board members have until May 6 to recommend to TEA staff nominees to serve on the streamlining writing team. The Board also heard from testifiers during Friday’s meeting about concerns with the new Math TEKS. Particularly, that the new TEKS omit computational requirements in favor of focusing on process. That the shift may violate current law, which prohibits the board from dictating methodology. The Board will likely have an upcoming workshop on this subject.

In addition to testimony on TEKS subject areas, the board heard from parents and educators about validity, reliability, and methodological problems with the STAAR test. The board was very sympathetic to this well-researched and well-delivered testimony and ultimately decided to postpone an item in which they would provide comment for the legislature on the subject. The board postponed the item to its next meeting so that their discussion and comments will be stronger and more robust.


We’ve been reporting on our blog about recent problems with administration of the STAAR tests. Last week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reported on problems experienced by some students whose test answers in progress were lost. Those issue prompted TEA to issue two news releases and advise districts that they were not required to force affected students to retest. This week, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath addressed the testing problems during remarks to the State Board of Education. Morath also shared with SBOE members that the agency is changing its course on asking test administrators to clock students’ bathroom breaks during the test. TEA is expected to release a new press statement about the decision within the next few days. Read Monty’s blog post from Wednesday to learn more about what’s happening with STAAR.



Rulemaking continues as part of the process to implement various changes made by the Texas Legislature in 2015. First, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has distributed adopted rules for new suicide prevention training that will take effect on April 17, 2016. The rules implement changes authorized by House Bill (HB) 2186, which Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) filed at the request of ATPE last year to help educators address the epidemic of youth suicides.

ThinkstockPhotos-126983249_surveillanceAlso released this week were proposed commissioner’s rules to implement last year’s Senate Bill 507 requiring video surveillance cameras in certain special education settings. Click here to view the proposed rules. Public comments will be accepted on the rule proposal until May 9. As we reported last week, Commissioner Morath has also requested an Attorney General’s opinion to guide the Texas Education Agency and school districts in complying with the new law.

We are still awaiting adopted rules for implementation of T-TESS, the state’s new recommended appraisal system for teachers. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for rulemaking updates.


Several education-related meetings and events are coming up next week and beyond.

  • On Wednesday, April 13, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) will once again be the subject of multiple interim hearings on a single day. First, the House Pensions Committee will hear testimony related to its charge to study the impact that fluctuations in global financial markets have had on public pension funds. The Senate State Affairs Committee will look at proposed TRS reforms. Also, ATPE will be giving invited testimony about TRS-ActiveCare to the Joint Interim Committee to Study TRS Health Benefit Plans. Watch for updates on these hearings next week from ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson.
  • On Friday, April 15, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) meets. The rather lengthy SBEC agenda includes consideration of requests for waivers of a new law limiting how many times one can repeat a certification exam, discussion of comprehensive changes to be considered this summer for educator preparation program (EPP) rules, and assignment of accreditation ratings to EPPs. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann will be there to follow all of the action and report back to Teach the Vote.
  • If you live in the Abilene area, mark your calendar for April 25, when Pastors for Texas Children (PTC) is sponsoring a community meeting to discuss the value and future of public education in Texas. Rev. Charles Foster Johnson will be the featured speaker. The event is taking place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Pioneer Drive Baptist Church, 701 South Pioneer Drive, Abilene, TX 79605. Register to attend at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/public-education-meeting-tickets-24488621125.
  • Don’t forget, also, that April 25 is the deadline to register to vote in the May 24 primary runoff elections. Learn more about voter registration at VoteTexas.gov, and be sure to check out profiles of the runoff candidates here on Teach the Vote.

ThinkstockPhotos-146967884_teacherThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) shared details this week on math and reading academies planned for teachers starting this summer. The academies are being created as a result of legislation passed last year and supported by Gov. Greg Abbott. They are designed for certain teachers who provide reading or math instruction at specific grade levels, and participating teachers will be eligible for stipends.

TEA will begin launching the academies this summer with assistance from the state’s regional Education Service Centers. Read TEA’s April 7 press release here, and learn more about the academies on the agency’s webpage.


As we mentioned above, April 25 is the deadline to register to vote in the primary runoff elections taking place on May 24. ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday shared her thoughts on the biggest challenge we face heading into these runoffs:

JC

Jennifer Canaday

“While voter apathy and low turnout are challenges we must address in every election, runoffs are notorious for producing extremely small numbers of voters. Active participation and turnout by a relatively small, but engaged group of voters with a special interest can heavily influence the outcome of a runoff. Their influence becomes very significant when the overall number of people voting in that election is expected to be low. The question is, ‘Which group’s voters are going to show up at the polls next month – pro-public education voters who support our students, schools, and teachers, or voters who follow extremist groups such as Empower Texans and Texans for Education Reform that want to cripple, privatize, or starve off funding for public education?’ Some very key races are going to be decided as a result of those runoffs in May, and it’s imperative that educators and our allies make a point to get to the polls.”

ATPE is working with other groups, including the Texas Educators Vote coalition, to help remind educators about the importance of voting not once, but twice, during the month of May. The first election on May 7 covers local ballot proposals and races such as those for school board seats. The second election is the May 24 runoff election for Republican and Democratic primary races in which no candidate earned at least 50 percent of the vote on March 1.

You can learn much more about the upcoming runoffs and determine your eligibility to vote in a runoff by reading ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter’s informative new blog post, “Am I eligible to vote in a runoff?


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 12, 2016

Days away from the start of early voting, the stakes are high for candidates with primary opponents. Read the latest news about the election and education policy developments.



Early voting for the March 1 primary elections begins Tuesday.

Elections 2016 Card with Bokeh Background

It’s vital to remember that in Texas, numerous races will be decided by the upcoming primary election, making the November ballots nearly meaningless in many races since the winners will have already been determined in March. Voter turnout among the education community is essential to positioning ourselves for successful outcomes for public education, especially during the 2017 legislative session. Funding for public schools, student testing, educators’ retirement and healthcare benefits, teacher evaluations, your payroll deduction rights, and private school voucher plans are all issues that are highly likely to be on the table next session. The outcome of those debates depends overwhelmingly on who wins the upcoming primary elections.

We encourage voters who care about public education to check out our legislative and State Board of Education candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote to help you make informed choices at the polls. Click on the 2016 Races button to search for candidates by district, last name, map, or using your address. Our candidate profiles include incumbent legislators’ voting records on major education bills and candidates’ responses to ATPE’s survey. Several additional candidates have responded to the survey in the past week, and their responses can help you determine their stances on education issues that are likely to be discussed during their terms of office, if elected. The profiles also highlight major endorsements.

ATPE members attending last night's Region 2 meeting showed off the oaths they signed to support public education by voting.

ATPE members attending last night’s Region 2 meeting showed off the oaths they signed to support public education by voting.

Because there is so much at stake in these Texas primaries, ATPE has joined forces with other education groups to promote the effort known as Texas Educators Vote. We are urging school districts and school administrators to facilitate early voting and informed voting by all school employees. Read more about ATPE’s participation in the effort here and the latest update from the coalition here. Don’t forget to visit TexasEducatorsVote.com and take the educator’s oath to vote in 2016.

In the coming days, Teach the Vote will feature additional resources to help you exercise your right to vote in these critical primary elections. Check back frequently for new content and updated candidate profiles. Also, be sure to follow @TeachtheVote and @TXEducatorsVote on Twitter for timely election updates.


Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported earlier today on three education hearings that took place in Texas and in Washington, D.C. this week

First, the Texas House Public Education Committee met on Tuesday in Austin to discuss two interim charges pertaining to best practices in middle school grades and educating high-performing students. On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee traveled to McAllen, Texas, for an interim hearing focused on supporting counselors and middle school students, as well as implementation of a new law requiring cameras in some special education classrooms.

Also on Wednesday, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education held a hearing in Washington entitled “Next Steps for K-12 Education: Implementing the Promise to Restore State and Local Control.” The subcommittee meeting was the first oversight hearing following the passage of the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Read more about the hearings in Kate’s full report on our blog.


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting today in Austin. Its agenda includes acting on rule changes pertaining to educator preparation and certification, assignments, and categories of classroom teaching certificates. Disciplinary rule changes are also being considered, for which ATPE has provided input to the board. In addition, SBEC has an opportunity today to propose a rule change to implement a requirement limiting educator certification candidates to five attempts to pass a certification exam unless they can show good cause to justify an additional attempt. The test-taking limit was mandated by the legislature in 2015 as part of House Bill 2205.

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is attending today’s meeting and will provide additional information for Teach the Vote on any significant actions taken by the board. You can also follow @ATPE_KateK on Twitter for real-time updates.


New Commissioner’s rules have been proposed to implement suicide prevention training for educators. The proposed rules are tied to House Bill 2186 that the Texas legislature passed in 2015. Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) filed the bill at ATPE’s request to help educators become better trained to spot and react to the warning signs of suicide in students. Click here to read the proposed rules. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is accepting public comments on the rules now through Tuesday, Feb. 16.


Finally, here’s an early Happy Valentine’s Day wish to you from ATPE and Teach the Vote!

ThinkstockPhotos-145153410_heart

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 11, 2015

Did you enjoy this shortened work week? Here’s a recap of this week’s top Texas education news.


The State Board of Education (SBOE) met Wednesday through Friday of this week. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter attended the meetings and provided an update for Teach the Vote earlier today. Among topics discussed by the board were the length of STAAR tests, how graduation rates are calculated, and funding a long-range education plan.


As we have reported on Teach the Vote, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is considering changing its rules for becoming certified as a superintendent in Texas. The proposal would eliminate requirements for graduate degrees and prior experience as a teacher and principal. We encourage ATPE members concerned about the controversial proposal to submit written comments to SBEC now through Oct. 5. Click here for instructions on how to submit your comments via e-mail.


hb 2186 testimony infographicNational Suicide Prevention Week has been observed this week. Many Texas public schools marked the occasion with training programs, and several ATPE representatives spoke to the media about renewed efforts to help prevent suicide among schoolchildren.

Earlier this year, ATPE worked successfully to pass House Bill 2186 by Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), which aims to help educators become trained to spot and react to the warning signs of suicide in students. We asked Rep. Cook to carry the bill on behalf of one of our members, Coach Kevin Childers from Fairfield ISD. Coach Childers lost his teenage son Jonathan to suicide in 2013, and their family’s story was featured in a recent issue of ATPE News. The new law that ATPE lobbied to pass this year is officially called the Jason Flatt Act, in memory of Jonathan Childers.

With suicide as the second leading cause of death for teens, prevention and education are critically important. Click on our infographic above to learn more about the teen suicide epidemic and our efforts to stop it. For additional coverage of National Suicide Prevention Week, watch News 4 San Antonio’s interview with Kevin Childers; KGBT’s story on McAllen High School’s #youmatter suicide prevention initiative this week; KXXV’s report on the new training requirements for educators featuring ATPE Media Relations Coordinator Stephanie Jacksis; KWTX’s article featuring ATPE Region 12 Director Jason Forbis talking about how educators can help spot those warning signs; and this week’s post on Inquisitr.com featuring ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey also discussing prevention of teen suicide. Additionally, click here to read ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson’s post about TEA guidance recently issued for implementation of the new suicide prevention training law.

For additional resources to #stopsuicide, please visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention or the  American Association of Suicidology.


Finally, here are a few more highlights you may have missed this week from Teach the Vote and ATPE on social media:

Tweets for 9-11-15 wrap-up

 

Suicide prevention training in schools

There is no better way to show the magnitude of a problem than to put a face to it, to show how the problem could affect anyone at any time. We regularly discuss the many issues that students and educators face every day in our schools while attempting to succeed, although too seldom do we have conversations about a problem that is tragic, irreversible, and growing.

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in high-school-age students.

Since 1960 teen suicide rates have tripled in the United States.

20 percent of all teenagers in the United States Contemplate Suicide every year.

The most important of these statistics is this:

4 out of 5 who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.

And, 90 percent of all teen suicides have been linked to diagnosable and treatable psychiatric disorders.

These numbers clearly show that we have a serious problem that affects too many lives, too many families every year. The good news is that as educators and advocates we have the ability to do something about it. We have the ability to address this plague in a way it has never been taken on before in Texas; through a coordinated approach that brings educators and numerous health-related organizations together to tackle the issue head-on.

In 2015, ATPE worked alongside Coach Kevin Childers – a long-time educator and ATPE member – to pass legislation that would require periodic training in suicide prevention for educators. The result is the Jason Flatt Act, in memory of Jonathan Childers (HB 2186), a monumental step forward at preventing the senseless loss of young lives. HB 2186 requires suicide prevention training for all new school district and open-enrollment charter school educators annually and for existing school district and charter school educators on a schedule to be determined by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

This week the TEA issued guidance on how this new requirement would be implemented, as it required coordination with the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) in identifying and making available best practice information to school districts. A link to the best practice-based programs and guidance for independent review can be found at the TEA Coordinated School Health Website at Coordinated School Health Requirements and Approved Programs.

The official schedule for training will not be adopted until later this fall; school districts and open-enrollment charter schools may begin training new and existing educators as soon as a training program has been selected by the district or school. The sooner training begins, the sooner these proven tools can be used by educators to save precious lives.

Press release: ATPE weighs in on completion of 84th legislative session

Today, ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey issued the following remarks to the media about the end of the 84th regular legislative session:

“For the education community, legislative sessions in Texas–at least in recent years–are when we find ourselves defending the great work that is being done in our schools and fighting off harmful attempts to deregulate and defund the programs that help students, devalue the education profession, and detour state resources for the benefit of private entities and vendors. The 84th was no exception, with some in the legislature choosing to focus their energy on pushing forward vouchers, proposals to convert public schools to privately managed charters with little accountability to local parents and voters, bills lowering the minimum wage for teachers, and vindictive attempts to pass a payroll deduction ban with no public benefit aimed only at discouraging educators from being politically active.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed at the capitol. We were able to defeat harmful legislation while making progress in areas of genuine need for public education. We helped pass bills to further reduce the emphasis on standardized tests and the high stakes those tests have imposed on our students and staff; we enhanced the funding and quality of early education; we secured additional money to help cover retired educators’ rising healthcare costs; and we prioritized students’ well-being through nutritional support programs, suicide prevention, and a host of other health and safety measures.

It was not a perfect session for public education. The legislature failed to address our broken school finance system, left billions of dollars on the table that could have been used to shore up underfunded schools, and made a few changes we hoped to avoid, such as moving to a system of labeling schools with ‘A through F’ grades. However, we believe those choices will eventually be corrected, and in the meantime, we are thankful for the lawmakers and legislative leaders who stood up for public education. In a session that had the potential to fling public education backward, the small steps forward that were taken have enormous significance.

Despite the attempts of some to use politics to drown out the voices of pro-public education voters, ATPE believes that the majority of the members of the 84th Legislature acted in the best interest of their districts’ schools, students, and school staffs. We are grateful for their dedication to our cause and the progress that was made.”

Download ATPE’s June 2 press release here.

Legislative Update: Sine die edition!

We’ve survived 140 long days and can now wrap up the 84th legislative session! Shortly after noon today, the Texas Senate adjourned sine die. The House followed suit about 20 minutes later, after several speeches and recognition of legislators who are not returning next session. Among those who announced their retirement from the House are Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R), who chaired the House Public Education Committee, and Rep. Sylvester Turner (D), who served since 1988 and held several leadership posts. We’ll have more on our friends’ announcements and will be posting a complete wrap-up of education bills here on Teach the Vote this week. In the meantime, here’s what happened to the remaining school-related bills that saw action over this last weekend of the session.


Money matters

We reported over the weekend on final passage of the state’s appropriations bills. With the budget finalized, there were a few lingering pieces of that compromise still pending. On Friday, May 29, both the House and Senate approved a conference committee report on SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R), which increases the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000, subject to voter approval. It was part of the legislature’s compromise on a combination property tax and franchise tax cut that adds up to almost $4 billion; HB 32 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R), the franchise tax vehicle, was already sent to the governor.

Also related to funding, there was another high-profile bill still pending this weekend to curtail state spending. SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R), was designed to restrict the state’s constitutional spending limit, based on a calculation that factors in population growth and inflation. It languished in a conference committee this weekend until an announcement came that House and Senate conferees could not reach an agreement.

Accountability and “A through F” ratings

HB 2804 is Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock’s (R) bill to overhaul the state’s accountability system and place slightly less emphasis on the role of student test scores in how schools are rated. The Senate adopted a conference committee report on the bill Saturday, and the House followed suit on Sunday. The Senate’s vote to approve the final version of the bill was unanimous. The House’s final vote on HB 2804 was 119 to 17. As finally passed, the bill includes a requirement, which ATPE opposed, to assign “A through F” grades to school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. “Under the bill,” as described in an article by Morgan Smith in The Texas Tribune yesterday, “student performance on state standardized exams would remain the primary measure of school performance. But it would no longer be as dominant a factor in determining a school’s accountability rating. About 45 percent of the rating would take into account a variety of additional information — such as community engagement, AP course enrollment, attendance and dropout rates.”

The legislature also gave final approval to HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R), which deals with a five-year timeline for accountability sanctions and interventions for low-performing traditional and charter schools. The bill includes replacing a school board or charter governing board with an appointed board of managers if the district fails to improve the performance of a persistently low-performing campus. While the bill contemplates potentially much harsher sanctions at the district level, it deletes provisions from current law that mandated or strongly encouraged the indiscriminate removal of principals and classroom teachers from struggling campuses. ATPE has long opposed the current statutory language, which only served to destabilize already struggling schools.

After the House passed its version of HB 1842 with only a single no vote, the Senate passed a substitute version on May 26 that added numerous floor amendments, most taken from other bills that would otherwise have died. The controversial amendments included Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) “innovation zones” school deregulation language from SB 1241; Sen. Royce West’s (R) “Opportunity School District” (now called a  “School Turnaround District”) plan from SB 669; and language expanding charter and virtual schools. On Friday, Chairman Aycock announced that the House would not accept all of the Senate’s changes and sent the bill to a conference committee.

As negotiated by the House and Senate conferees, the final version of HB 1842 preserves the district-wide version of Sen. Larry Taylor’s “innovation zone” plan. ATPE previously opposed both multi-campus and district-wide “innovation zones” in Taylor’s standalone bill; however, of all the numerous alternative management and deregulation proposals that were advanced this session, the “innovation zones” concept was perhaps one of the least objectionable ideas. Unlike the remainder of HB 1842 that focuses on struggling campuses, “districts of innovation” or “innovation zones” are limited to those with acceptable or higher accountability ratings. ATPE will monitor the implementation of the bill should any school district choose to take advantage of the new option. The final version of HB 1842 does not include any of the controversial language creating an “opportunity” or “school turnaround district” (OSD/STD); nor does it include language on charter school closures or reauthorizations or on the expansion of virtual schools.

The Senate’s final vote to adopt the conference committee report on HB 1842 was 26 to 5, with Sens. Chuy Hinojosa (D), Jose Menendez (D), Carlos Uresti (D), Kirk Watson (D), and Judith Zaffirini (D) voting against it. In the House, the motion passed by a vote of 125 to 18; click here to find out how your House member voted on the final version of HB 1842.

Student testing and curriculum

The House and Senate both approved a bill that attempts to reduce the amount of time spent on state-mandated testing in grades three through eight. HB 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) also calls for auditing of state contracts with test vendors and aims to limit the breadth of curriculum standards known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) that are included on standardized tests. The Senate voted 27 to 4 to adopt a conference committee report on the bill on Saturday; Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R), Konni Burton (R), Kelly Hancock (R), and Van Taylor (R) voted against it. On Sunday, the House accepted the conference committee report by a vote of 143 to 1, with Rep. David Simpson (R) casting the only vote against it. As finally passed, the ATPE-supported bill requires state tests to be validated before being administered and also designed so that 85 percent of students can complete the test within an allotted time frame. HB 743 also calls for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to conduct a comprehensive study of the tests and the TEKS.

HB 2349 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relates to student testing and curriculum standards. The bill makes several technical changes to testing requirements that were modified substantially in 2013 pursuant to House Bill 5. The House and Senate passed differing versions of this bill in May. On Friday, May 29, the House voted to accept the Senate’s changes to HB 2349; Reps. Matt Schaefer (R) and David Simpson (R) were the only representatives who opposed the motion to concur. ATPE supported the bill.

SB 313 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) is another bill ATPE supported that deals with narrowing the curriculum standards, state testing, and instructional materials. Yesterday, the House and Senate both voted to approve a conference committee report on the bill. Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R), Bob Hall (R), Don Huffines (R), and Van Taylor (R) voted against the motion to approve the agreed-upon bill in the Senate. The House vote was 86 to 50. The bill as finally passed requires the State Board of Education (SBOE) to review and narrow the content and scope of the TEKS for foundation curriculum subjects. SB 313 also calls for TEA to provide individual students with a detailed performance report for each TEKS standard affiliated with a state test. The conference committee’s final version of the bill stripped out a House floor amendment providing students in special education programs with a means to opt out of STAAR testing requirements, which might have conflicted with federal law.

Educator preparation, certification, and discipline matters

A conference committee was appointed to iron out differences between House and Senate language for HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R). The bill changes the composition of the State Board for Educator Certification and requires one non-voting member of the board to have worked for an alternative certification program. It also makes modifications to the accountability system for educator preparation programs. The bill includes language taken from another educator preparation bill, HB 2566 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R), which requires a survey of new teachers’ satisfaction to be factored into the accountability system, training for all certification candidates in educating students with dyslexia, and a complaint procedure for candidates to pursue against ed prep programs.  As it did with several other bills, the Senate amended several of its own dying bills onto HB 2205 last week, and most of those changes survived the conference committee. Principally, the Senate added language from Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R) SB 892 to lower the statutory minimum GPA for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 to 2.5. The bill adds a new requirement for each cohort entering an educator preparation program to maintain a 3.0 GPA, however. The Senate also integrated Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s (R) SB 1003 making it easier for school districts to issue teaching permits to non-certified CTE teachers and his SB 1222 giving the commissioner of education power to issue subpoenas when investigating educators for possible misconduct. The conference committee stripped out language that would have required 30 hours of field-based experience delivered in a classroom setting before an alternative certification candidate could be hired as a teacher of record. The bill as finally passed also limits retakes of certification exams to four attempts.

Yesterday, the Senate approved the conference committee report on HB 2205 by a vote of 19 to 12. All Democratic senators voted against the motion to approve HB 2205 except for Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) who voted for it; while Sens. Jane Nelson (R) and Robert Nichols (R) were the only Republican senators to break ranks with their party and vote against the motion to approve the conference committee report on HB 2205. On the House side, the final vote was 125 to 16, with Reps. Diego Bernal (D), Garnet Coleman (D), Nicole Collier (D), Harold Dutton (D), Joe Farias (D), Mary Goznalez (D), Roland Gutierrez (D), Abel Herrero (D), Todd Hunter (R), Trey Martinez-Fischer (D), Poncho Nevarez (D), Justin Rodriguez (D), Toni Rose (D), David Simpson (R), Jonathan Stickland (R), and Armando Walle (D) voting against it. While were are disappointed in the decision to lower individual admission standards for alternative certification programs, ATPE appreciates that the bill likely contains more positive changes than negative ones in the long run.

Suicide prevention

ATPE-requested legislation to try to deter youth suicide is heading to the governor soon. HB 2186 by Rep. Byron Cook (R) deals with training educators in spotting and responding to warning signs of suicide among students. The bill honors the memory of suicide victim Jonathan Childers, who was the teenage son of Kevin Childers, an ATPE member from Fairfield ISD. After the upper chamber made minor changes to the bill, the House voted Friday, May 29, to concur in the Senate amendments. The vote was 141 to 5, with Reps. Larry Phillips (R), Matt Rinaldi (R), Matt Schaefer (R), Jonathan Stickland (R), and Tony Tinderholt (R) opposing it.

Breast-feeding accommodations for school employees

HB 786 by Rep. Armando Walle (D) will require schools and other public employers to provide certain accommodations for employees to express breast milk and prohibit workplace discrimination against such employees. The ATPE-supported bill was sent to a conference committee after the House and Senate could not agree on language. However, the committee was later discharged and the House voted unanimously on Saturday, May 30, to accept the Senate’s version of the bill.

School counselors

HB 18 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relates to college and career readiness training for certain public school counselors. The bill would create post-secondary education and career counseling academies for certain school counselors and make stipends available to those who attend the academies. ATPE supported the bill. On Sunday, May 31, the House and Senate both voted to approve a conference committee report on HB 18, which preserves most of the Senate’s language. The final vote on the negotiated bill was 135 to 8 in the House and 30 to 1 in the Senate.

Charter schools

A pair of bills by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) dealing with charter schools were finalized on Friday. First, HB 1170 includes certain charter schools in the definition of local governmental entities in order to allow them to enter into contracts and risk pools with other local entities. The move is meant to allow charter schools to save money on needed purchases, services, and liability insurance. The House voted Friday to accept Senate changes to the bill and finally pass it. The vote was 140 to 2, with opposition coming from Reps. Terry Canales (D) and J.D. Sheffield (R). HB 1171 relates to immunity provisions for charter schools. Once again, the House voted 143 to 1 to accept the Senate’s version of the bill; Rep. Larry Phillips (R) was the only no vote on the motion to concur.

Cameras in the classroom

SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) calls for school districts to equip self-contained classrooms serving students in special education programs with video surveillance cameras, notify parents and staff of the installation of the cameras, and keep recorded video footage on file for at least six months. The House and Senate voted yesterday to approve a conference committee report on the bill. The vote was 23 to 8 in the Senate and 140 to 3 in the House.

Ethics reform

An attempt to pass an ethics reform bill died after House and Senate leaders could not agree on language. SB 19 by Sen. Van Taylor (R) was sponsored in the House by Rep. Byron Cook (R). After the two chambers passed dramatically different versions of the bill, a conference committee failed to reach a compromise. Negotiations fell apart over “dark money,” with the House wanting to shed light on secret contributions to non-profit groups advancing political agendas and the Senate refusing to budge on the contentious issue.


We at ATPE are so grateful to all the members who helped us advocate for legislation to help public education students and staff and stop numerous bad bills from becoming law. Thank you for being engaged educators, parents, and citizens and for reaching out to your legislators with input when others were trying to drown out the voices of pro-public education voters.