Tag Archives: suicide prevention

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.

Legislative Update: House skirts payroll deduction issue, suicide prevention bill passes, Senate resurrects bad education bills

Much attention was focused on the Texas House last night, where legislators faced a midnight deadline for most Senate bills to pass the House on second reading. On the calendar for consideration last night were pieces of high-profile legislation including an ethics reform bill declared an emergency issue by Gov. Greg Abbott (R), a controversial college campus carry bill, an agency sunset bill rumored to be a vehicle for an amendment widely viewed as discriminatory, and a divisive abortion-related bill. The House activity garnered most of the attention but resulted in very little impact on educators; meanwhile, the Senate took a number of dismaying actions around the midnight hour that are of real concern to education stakeholders. One of few positive highlights to report today is the advancement of an ATPE-supported bill to try to deter teen suicides.

House activity: ethics reform, campus carry, and retribution

The ethics bill, SB 19 by Sen. Van Taylor (R) was sponsored in the House by Rep. Byron Cook (R). Educator groups watched the House floor debate closely last night after rumors surfaced that legislators might try to add a payroll deduction ban from Sen. Joan Huffman’s (R) SB 1968 onto the bill. No such amendment was proposed last night, but the lengthy and often boisterous debate centered on major differences between the two chambers’ versions of SB 19. The Senate’s version of the bill focused on conflicts of interest, imposing a two-year cooling off period before lawmakers can become employed as registered lobbyists, and incorporating a few odd provisions such as an amendment by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) to require all candidates for public office to undergo drug testing. The House State Affairs Committee, chaired by Cook, replaced SB 19 with its own version, stripping out the drug-testing mandate, aiming to protect lawmakers against secret video recordings, and requiring disclosure of so-called “dark money” contributions, which the Senate opposes. The most vocal opponents of dark money regulations have been conservative groups, typically aligned with the Tea Party, who rely on secret contributions to non-profit organizations that aren’t required to report their political spending and activities to the Texas Ethics Commission in the same manner as highly regulated political action committees. Cook and his colleagues in the House were unsympathetic to dark money groups such as Empower Texans. They voted 96 to 48 to accept the House version of SB 19 with its dark money regulations last night, infuriating the bill’s author and the Senate leadership. (An earlier vote on an amendment by Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R) that would have reverted SB 19 back to its Senate incarnation with no dark money reporting requirements failed convincingly with only 33 representatives in support.) Today, the House approved the bill on third reading by a vote of 94 to 49 after adding one more amendment.

Last night’s ethics debate lasted several hours, to the dismay of conservatives in the House who were anxious to take up bills dealing with hot-button issues of gun rights and abortion. Sen. Brian Birdwell’s (R) SB 11 to allow concealed handgun license holders to carry guns on college campuses, later passed in a compromise format, and time ran out before the House had a chance to debate the abortion bill. With conservatives lamenting the demise of politically charged Senate bills in the more moderate House and Democrats fuming over last-minute attempts to pass legislation unfavorable to gay and lesbian couples, tempers are certainly flaring at the capitol. Debates have been punctuated by name-calling and shouting, with retribution appearing to be the order of the day. A manifestation of the tension today has been a handful of legislators knocking others’ seemingly innocuous bills off the House’s “local and consent” calendar.

Senate activity: ed prep, school turnaround, and supplemental funding

While many were tuned into the House last night, the Senate was quietly and quickly passing bills of major significance to public education. First, the Senate took up HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R), an educator preparation and certification bill being sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Kel Seliger (R). The Senate approved a version of the bill last night that incorporates language from Sen. Seliger’s dead bill, SB 892, that lowers the statutory minimum GPA for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 to 2.5. The Senate initially accepted a floor amendment by Sen. Jose Menendez (D) filed at our request to restore the 2.75 GPA language that is in current law. After taking a break to confer with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Senate stripped off the Menendez language, based largely on the lieutenant governor’s sudden objections to keeping the GPA at 2.75. (Ironically, Patrick was the same person who, as a senator in 2013, had sponsored the bill that raised the minimum GPA from 2.5 to 2.75 and even wrote a letter to state board members encouraging them to raise the educator preparation program admission standards in rule). With Lt. Gov. Patrick’s change of heart, HB 2205 as approved by the Senate last night now represents a watering down of the criteria for entering the education profession. One positive change in the new Senate version, however, deals with training provided by alternative certification providers. HB 2205 now requires 30 hours (up from 15) of field-based experience that must be delivered in a classroom setting (not online) before a candidate may be hired as a teacher of record. A floor amendment by Sen. Seliger stripped out Rep. Ina Minjarez’s (D) House floor amendment creating a school turnaround specialist endorsement for principals and also gives the commissioner of education, rather than the State Board for Educator Certification, the ability set passing standards or cut scores for certification exams. The Senate also added two floor amendments by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) that resurrected a pair of his dead bills. One amendment added his SB 1003 making it easier for school districts to issue teaching permits to non-certified teachers. The other amendment latches Bettencourt’s SB 1222 onto the bill, giving the commissioner of education power to issue subpoenas when investigating educators for possible misconduct.

Next, the Senate took up HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) right at midnight and loaded it up with floor amendments, many representing otherwise dead bills this session. Sen. Larry Taylor (R), who sponsored the school sanctions bill in the Senate, first added to it language from his own SB 1241 calling for the creation of deregulated “innovation zone” schools. Next, Sen. Royce West (R) added his “Opportunity School District” language to the bill. Opportunity School Districts are largely deregulated statewide school districts comprised of certain low-performing schools and typically managed by an appointed superintendent. They’ve been previously called “Achievement School Districts” and are now being referred to, somewhat regrettably, as “School Turnaround Districts” (STDs). Sen. Bettencourt also successfully moved to add to HB 1842 the language from Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 1897, which provides for the expansion of charter and virtual schools. ATPE has opposed all the bills that gave rise to these three amendments now incorporated into HB 1842 – all of which were also being pushed by the well-funded Texans for Education Reform this session. Chairman Taylor did accept a few favorable floor amendments to HB 1842 filed by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D). The House, of course, will still have an opportunity to decide whether to accept the Senate’s dramatic changes to the bill.

Earlier in the evening, the Senate unanimously passed HB 2 by Rep. John Otto (R), sponsored in the upper chamber by Sen. Jane Nelson (R). The supplemental appropriations bill includes much-needed funding in the amount of $768 million to help cover costs of TRS-Care insurance for retirees over the next two years.

For all three of these bills passed by the Senate yesterday, they will return to the House next for either motions to concur in the Senate amendments to the bills or decisions to send HB 2205, HB 1842, and HB 2 to conference committees of senators and representatives who will attempt to work out a compromise.

Update on ATPE’s suicide prevention legislation

HB 2186 by Rep. Byron Cook (R) is a step closer to becoming law after being approved by the full Senate today. It was passed unanimously on the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar this afternoon. As we’ve reported previously, the ATPE-requested bill aims to help educators become trained to spot and react to the warning signs of suicide among students. The bill honors the memory of suicide victim Jonathan Childers, who was the teenage son of ATPE member Kevin Childers. Read more about the Childers family in the latest issue of ATPE News.

Stay tuned for updates as the legislative battles continue.

Legislative Update: With midnight deadline, ethics bill fight could impact educators

Over the long Memorial Day weekend, as many Texans were dealing with devastating rain, flooding, and tornado threats, legislators were at the capitol deciding the fate of numerous bills. We’re only six days away from sine die, and another major session deadline looms large in the Texas House. There is a midnight deadline tonight for the House to pass most remaining Senate bills on second reading. That includes a high-profile ethics reform bill, deemed an emergency issue by Gov. Greg Abbott (R). Rumors abound that some state representatives may try to attach harmful anti-educator language to the bill during today’s anticipated floor debate.

Here’s where things currently stand on education bills of interest:


Funding

HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R) is the state’s appropriation bill. Under a compromise reached by a conference committee of senators and representatives, HB 1 funds enrollment growth and includes $1.5 billion in new money for public education. The bill awaits final approval by the House and Senate. As we’ve previously reported, the budget deal hinged on the House and Senate reaching an agreement on tax cuts. Pieces of that tax cut compromise remain in motion at this point. SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R) is the bill that would raise the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000, if voters approve the measure in November. SB 1 is being referred to a conference committee after the House added an amendment requested by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D) that deals with optional local homestead exemptions and is meant to protect some school districts from losing revenue. The House passed the bill with that amendment by a unanimous vote yesterday. The Senate opted today to appoint a conference committee rather than merely accepting the House’s new version of SB 1. The other part of the tax cut compromise deals with business taxes. The full Senate passed a version of HB 32 on Sunday by a vote of 24 to 6. That bill by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R), reduces the state’s franchise tax by 25 percent. The House must now decide whether to accept the Senate’s version of HB 32 or appoint a conference committee for it. In addition to tax cuts, the 84th Legislature has also been considering bills to curtail state spending. SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R), which would limit the state’s constitutional spending limit to population growth and inflation, is on today’s House calendar.

TRS-Care funding in the amount of about $768 million is provided for in the state’s supplemental appropriations bill, HB 2 by Rep. John Otto (R). That bill is on today’s Senate calendar for debate. With regard to active employees’ health insurance, HB 3453 by Rep. J.M. Lozano (R) calling for an interim study of TRS-ActiveCare options did not make it out of a Senate committee.

Finally, as we’ve previously reported, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock’s (R) attempt at a school finance solution through HB 1759 is procedurally dead.

Payroll deduction

There is good news and bad news on an effort by some conservative legislators to restrict educators and other public employees from using payroll deductions to pay their association dues.

The good news is that Sen. Joan Huffman’s (R) bill, SB 1968, is procedurally dead after it did not make it out of the House State Affairs Committee by this past Saturday’s deadline. As reported this weekend by our friends at The Texas Tribune, Rep. Byron Cook (R), who chairs that committee, said there was not enough time to fix problems with the bill and that “he was concerned that teachers in his rural district would be hurt by the legislation.” ATPE has nearly 1,000 members in Cook’s legislative district, and we appreciate those who reached out to the chairman to express opposition to SB 1968.

The troubling news is that there will reportedly be an attempt to add language from SB 1968 onto a highly controversial ethics reform bill that the House is slated to consider today. SB 19 by Sen. Van Taylor (R) is an emergency bill relating to “the ethics of public officers and employees, the disclosure of certain political contributions, and related requirements and procedures; creating criminal offenses.” The bill covers myriad issues, from a Senate proposal to drug-test all candidates for public office to a House proposal to require disclosure of “dark money” – contributions funneled through non-profit associations for political purposes. The House and Senate versions of the bill differ significantly. A lengthy and contentious floor debate is already anticipated today as the bill must pass the House by midnight tonight in order to remain alive. An amendment to add the payroll deduction prohibition to SB 19 could force a House vote on the issue today; if adopted, the amendment would undoubtedly spur points of order (challenging the bill based on technical violations, such as the addition of amendments not germane to the underlying bill) that could kill the bill if sustained by the House Speaker.

Read more about the payroll deduction bill and our opposition to it here.

Accountability and “A through F” ratings

HB 2804 is an accountability overhaul bill by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R). It includes a controversial provision, which ATPE has opposed, calling for “A through F” grading of public school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. Yesterday, the Senate unanimously approved its version of the bill. The House must now decide whether to accept the Senate’s version or send the bill to a conference committee.

HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) deals with school accountability sanctions and interventions. The bill provides for alternative management options, as well as other school turnaround strategies, for schools considered low-performing. HB 1842 is on the Senate’s calendar today awaiting a debate, and most likely, a number of floor amendments.

SB 1200 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) is an ATPE-supported bill that calls for creation of a committee to recommend a new system for student assessment and public school accountability. It is on today’s House calendar for final passage, if time allows.

ATPE-supported bills promoting the use of a community schools model for turning around struggling schools as an alternative to reconstitution or privatization appear to be dead. These included HB 1891 and HB 1892 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D), and SB 1483 and SB 1484 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D).

Educator preparation and certification

HB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R) has been sent to the governor. The ATPE-backed bill requires educator certification candidates who are exempted from the state’s minimum GPA requirement to pass a content exam prior to admission to an educator preparation program.

HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R) is on the Senate’s calendar today awaiting a debate. 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 changes 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). In its current form, HB 2205 would also decrease the state’s current statutory minimum GPA requirement for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 back down to 2.5, which ATPE opposes.

SB 892 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) is likely dead. The bill was filed with the intent to increase the rigor of educator preparation, but the Senate amended the bill with language requested by some alternative certification programs to water down standards for becoming a teacher. SB 892 passed the full Senate and the House Public Education Committee, but did not get placed on a House calendar in time for tonight’s deadline.

Student testing and curriculum

The legislature enacted and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed into law SB 149 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R), which allows individual graduation committees to decide if certain students may be graduated from high schools despite failing a required STAAR test. ATPE supported the bill.

HB 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) attempts to reduce the amount of time spent on state-mandated testing in grades three through eight and limit the breadth of curriculum standards (TEKS) covered by those tests. HB 1164 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) would eliminate state-mandated STAAR writing tests and instead have school districts assess students’ writing ability using locally-approved methods. The Senate passed an amended version of both bills yesterday; they will head back to the House now for a vote to concur in (accept) the Senate amendments or send the bills to a conference committee.

HB 2349 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) also relates to student testing and curriculum standards. The bill already passed the House unanimously. It’s been amended and placed on the Senate’s special calendar for local and uncontested bills for an expected vote tomorrow, May 27. The Senate Education Committee also approved HB 2811 by Rep. Ken King (R) relating to curriculum standards and instructional materials, recommending it for the local and uncontested calendar. HB 1431 by Rep. Susan King (R) calls for development of an industry-related course to train students to communicate in a language other than English for business purposes; it’s been placed on the Senate’s regular calendar.

SB 313 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) was considered by the full House yesterday and today. It is another bill ATPE has supported that deals with narrowing the curriculum standards, state testing, and instructional materials. The Senate passed the bill unanimously on May 5. Yesterday, the House removed language in the bill calling for a diagnostic assessment (the Texas Success Initiative) to be administered to students in the 10th grade. They also added a statement to clarify that a State Board of Education review of the curriculum standards should not result in a need for new instructional materials in any subject other than English language arts. Rep. Ron Simmons (R) offered an amendment today to allow students in special education a means to opt out of STAAR testing requirements, to the extent allowed under federal law. Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock (R), who is sponsoring the bill in the House, expressed concern that the new language might run afoul of federal testing requirements but allowed the House to vote on the measure, which passed. The bill was finally passed this afternoon, as amended, by a vote of 125 to 19. The Senate will have an opportunity next to decide whether to accept the House’s changes to the bill.

HB 742 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) would have eliminated the requirement for an eighth-grade social studies STAAR test, but that bill already died on the House calendar.

Suicide prevention

An ATPE-backed bill to improve the training for educators in spotting and responding to the warning signs of suicide is sitting on the Senate’s calendar today. If not approved by the Senate today, the bill has also been placed on tomorrow’s local and uncontested bill calendar in the Senate. Rep. Byron Cook (R) filed HB 2186 in memory of Jonathan Childers, who committed suicide in 2013. Jonathan was the teenage son of Coach Kevin Childers, an ATPE member from Fairfield ISD. Read more about the Childers family in our latest issue of ATPE News.

Other health and safety bills

SB 66 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D) deals with the use of epinephrine auto-injectors, also known as epi-pens, to treat anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction. SB 66 requires each school district and open-enrollment charter school to adopt a policy on epi-pen use, including training and authorizing school employees to administer an epi-pen, and notify parents of the policy. The bill is awaiting Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature.

HB 767 by Rep. Wayne Smith (R) calls for cardiac assessments of students participating in UIL athletic activities. It passed the House but was left pending by the Senate Education Committee and appears unlikely to move.

SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D), a bill requiring school districts to equip self-contained classrooms serving students in special education programs with video surveillance cameras, has been recommended for the House’s local and consent calendar.

Breast-feeding accommodations for school employees

On Sunday, the Senate amended and finally passed HB 786 by Rep. Armando Walle (D), which requires schools and other public employers to provide accommodations for employees to express breast milk and prohibits workplace discrimination against such employees. ATPE supports the bill. The Senate’s vote on third reading this weekend was unofficially reported to be 21 to 9, with Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R), Konni Burton (R), Donna Campbell (R), Brandon Creighton (R), Craig Estes (R), Bob Hall (R), Lois Kolkhorst (R), Jane Nelson (R), and Charles Perry (R) voting against the bill. The House must decide whether to accept the Senate’s version or send HB 786 o a conference committee. (SB 1479 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D), a similar measure that applies specifically to school employees, has not made it through.)

Commissioner’s subpoena power

SB 1222 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) would give the commissioner of education power to subpoena documents when investigating educators accused of misconduct. The bill did not get placed on a House calendar by today’s deadline, which makes the measure unlikely to pass this session unless it’s amended onto another bill.

Paperwork reduction

HB 1706, a paperwork reduction bill by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R), has been approved by the House and is awaiting a vote by the Senate. The ATPE-supported bill has been recommended for placement on the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar.

Early childhood education

HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) is an ATPE-supported bill to increase funding to pre-kindergarten programs that implement certain quality control measures. It’s been passed and sent to Gov. Abbott for approval. Abbott has already signed into law SB 925 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R), another ATPE-supported bill that creates literacy achievement academies for reading teachers.

Private school vouchers

Despite highly publicized efforts by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and other conservative legislators to push through a voucher bill this session, none of the proposals have made it through the legislative process. SB 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) called for creating a tax credit for businesses that contribute money to private school scholarships. As we reported previously, the Senate approved SB 4 by a vote of 18 to 12, but the House never gave the bill a committee hearing. The House also denied a committee hearing for SB 1178 by Sen. Don Huffines (R), calling for an interim study on the possible use of another type of private school vouchers known as an education savings account. A virtual voucher bill, SB 894 also by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), never made it past the Senate.

Teacher salaries and evaluations

SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) and HB 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) called for eliminating the state minimum salary schedule for teachers and imposing new requirements for appraisals and personnel decisions. Both of those bills aggressively promoted by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and Texans for Education Reform (TER) are now procedurally dead.

Deregulation of low-performing schools

Multiple bills pursued by Texans for Education Reform (TER) with help from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), to deregulate and privatize the management of certain low-performing schools have failed to make it through the legislative process. SB 1241 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) would subject low-performing schools to the possibility of alternative management through the creation of “Innovation Zones.” It did not get placed on a House calendar, making it impossible for it to pass by tonight’s deadline. Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) parent trigger expansion bill, SB 14, also died after the House Public Education Committee left it pending. Several bills calling for creation of a statewide, deregulated “Opportunity School District” for low-performing schools also died for lack of action; those included HB 1536 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D), SB 895 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), and SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D). Lastly, SB 1012 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R) and HB 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) were bills to modify existing state laws allowing for the creation of privately managed home rule charter districts, to be called “local control school districts” instead. SB 1012 did not make it out of the Senate Education Committee, while HB 1798 died on the House floor by a vote of 59 to 76. ATPE opposed all these bills.

Home-school students participating in UIL

SB 2046 was Sen. Van Taylor’s (R) so-called “Tim Tebow bill,” which would require school districts to permit area home-schooled students to participate in UIL activities at the public school. ATPE opposed the bill, which the Senate passed but the House Public Education Committee opted not to hear.

Charter schools

Quite a few charter-related bills have faltered this session. SB 1897 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) to allow for the expansion of charter schools and virtual charters did not get granted a hearing by the House Public Education Committee. Other charter-related bills that appear to be dead for lack of action are HB 3347 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) and SB 1898 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) to modify procedures for revoking a charter and SB 1900 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R) providing for funding of charter facilities. Additionally, HB 4047 by Rep. Alma Allen (D) was an ATPE-requested bill to ensure that charter school teachers have the right to join or not join a professional association and the right to be politically active in the same manner as teachers at traditional public schools. It narrowly missed the deadline for passing the House a couple weeks ago.

Some bills dealing with regulation of and funding for charter schools remain pending. Rep. Marsha Farney (R) filed HB 1170 to classify certain charter schools as local governmental entities and HB 1171 relating to immunity provisions for charter schools. HB 2251 by Rep. Rafael Anchia (D) would accelerate funding for charter schools experiencing enrollment growth. All three bills passed the House and remain alive in the Senate where they’ve been recommended for the local and uncontested calendar.


Tune it tomorrow for another blog update about today’s action, especially in the House where much of the attention will be focused on tonight’s deadline and consideration of the ethics reform bill as a possible vehicle for an amendment to prohibit payroll deduction for educators. For breaking news, follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter.

Legislative Update: The rundown on education bills at week’s end

With 10 days remaining until the legislature adjourns sine die, it’s time to look at where major education bills stand in the 84th legislative session.


Budget, TRS, and school finance

HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R) is the state’s appropriation bill and the one piece of legislation that must pass this month in order to avoid a special session. HB 1 was sent to a conference committee for representatives and senators to work out a compromise on what amounts the state should spend on public education and other needs. A major sticking point in the negotiations was how and how much money to provide for tax cuts, which numerous legislators made campaign promises to pursue this session. The House version of the budget contained funds for enrollment growth as well as an additional $2.2 billion aimed at increasing equity within the public education system; the proposal assumed that the legislature would pass a school finance reform bill, which is discussed below. The Senate’s version provided for an additional $1.8 billion in new revenue after their property tax cuts were factored in. The Senate’s version also assumed that the cost of enrollment growth would be covered by increases in property tax revenue. Under the HB 1 compromise announced this week and voted out by the conference committee last night, the budget funds enrollment growth and includes $1.5 billion in new funding for public education, which is far less than the amount the House had proposed in its version of the budget. The bill will go next to the House and Senate for an up-or-down vote in each chamber.

The budget deal between the House and Senate hinged on reaching an agreement on tax cuts. Differences in opinion about whether to focus on property tax reductions, lowering sales taxes, or slashing the business franchise tax held up a compromise not only on the main budget bill, but also on supplemental appropriations, including money for retired educators’ healthcare. Yesterday, May 21, the House Ways and Means Committee passed SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R) containing the Senate’s favored proposal to increase the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000; that bill is subject to voter approval in a November election. On Wednesday, May 20, the Senate Finance Committee voted to approve HB 32 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R), which permanently reduces the state’s franchise tax by 25 percent. The compromise means the House get its preferred franchise tax cut while the Senate gets some of the property tax relief it sought. The impact on typical taxpayers is likely to be minimal (less than $200 saved per year), while there are serious concerns about the potential loss of revenue for public education and other state services as a result of the cuts. As we’ve reported before, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced early in the legislative session that he would veto any budget that did not include a business tax cut. It appears that the House and Senate finally landed on a deal that will help them avoid the governor’s veto pen or a special session.

In addition to tax cuts, the 84th legislature has also been considering multiple measures to curtail state spending. For instance, the House Appropriations Committee today passed a version of SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R), which is designed to limit the state’s constitutional spending limit to population growth and inflation. It is believed that most of these bills restricting future appropriations would have a negative long-term impact on public education funding.

Much-needed funding for TRS-Care is addressed in the state’s supplemental appropriations bill, HB 2 by Rep. John Otto (R). The House passed HB 2 back on April 1.The Senate Finance Committee kept the bill on hold pending negotiations on the main budget bill, HB 1, until today. The committee voted this morning to approve HB 2 and send it to the Senate floor. The bill includes an extra $768 million for retirees’ health care.

With regard to active employees’ health insurance, HB 3453 by Rep. J.M. Lozano (R) establishes a joint interim committee to study TRS-ActiveCare, including options for allowing districts to opt out of the program and for allowing regional rates to be created. Currently, districts cannot opt out of the plan, and the TRS Board only adopts statewide premium rates, instead of differentiated, regional rates. The House passed HB 3453 as amended on May 11 by a vote of 121 to 12. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on State Affairs, but not yet scheduled for a hearing. The bill’s companion, SB 1232 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), was never heard by a Senate committee.

As for bills affecting the TRS pension fund itself, few serious legislative proposals have been offered this session after changes were made in 2013 to ensure that the fund and the benefits it provides are secure. The House Pensions Committee heard some bills a few weeks ago that would increase benefits for current retirees – either through a one-time 13th check or a cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA). However, all of those bills were left pending in the committee.

Finally, it appears that another session will go by without a serious school finance fix. Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R), chairman of the House Public Education Committee, filed HB 1759 in an attempt to reform the state’s school finance system, which has been ruled unconstitutional. The bill was approved by the House Public Education Committee, but failed to gain enough traction to make it all the way through this session. On May 14, the last day for the House to pass major House bills on second reading, Aycock laid out HB 1759 for floor debate but ended up withdrawing the bill from the day’s calendar as a favor to other legislators needing to pass bills before the midnight deadline. Aycock was facing the certainty of hours of debate by the House; numerous contentious amendments, including some that would try to add vouchers to the bill; and several planned points of order (technical challenges to the bill). Additionally, Aycock expressed doubt that the Senate would give the bill any real shot at passing and would therefore be a waste of the representatives’ time on such a critical day. The fact that many education advocates believed the bill would not do nearly enough to help underfunded school districts was undoubtedly another factor in the chairman’s decision.

Private school vouchers

SB 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) has been heavily promoted by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) as the Senate’s signature voucher bill, but as we were hoping, the bill has received a chilly reception in the House. SB 4 calls for creating a tax credit for businesses that contribute money to private school scholarships. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 18 to 12 on April 21. All Democratic senators voted against the bill except for Sen. Eddie Lucio (D), who voted for it. All Republican senators voted for the bill except Sens. Konni Burton (R) and Robert Nichols (R), who opposed it; Sen. Kel Seliger (R) was absent on the day of the SB 4 vote. Voucher supporters pushed hard for House Speaker Joe Straus (R) and other state representatives to move the bill forward in the House. Despite the intense lobbying and paid advertising efforts, the bill has not been heard by the House Committee on Ways and Means. We appreciate all the ATPE members who’ve called their legislators to oppose this harmful bill. Click here to read more about ATPE’s opposition to SB 4.

Likewise, the House Public Education Committee has not allowed a hearing for SB 1178 by Sen. Don Huffines (R). That bill originally called for creating a private school voucher program through the use of education savings accounts that parents could tap into in order to pay their children’s private school tuition or home-schooling expenses. Facing strong opposition, SB 1178 was converted into a mechanism to simply study the idea of education savings accounts during the interim. The Senate passed SB 1178 on May 11 by a vote of 21 to 10. Even as a study proposal, the bill appears stalled.

A virtual voucher bill, SB 894 also by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), also appears doomed. It is a costly bill to expand home-schooled and private school students’ access to the state’s Virtual School Network and part of a package of controversial reform proposals favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and pushed by Texans for Education Reform (TER). ATPE opposed the bill in committee. SB 894 has bounced on an off the Senate Intent Calendar and struggled to to gain enough support for a floor hearing. Even in the conservative Senate that is friendly to voucher bills, SB 894 faced significant hurdles with legislators questioning its large fiscal note. Taylor is also carrying a charter school bill, SB 1897, that includes language allowing for expansion of virtual charter schools and was approved by the Senate, but the House Public Education Committee has not opted to hear that bill. Read more below in our section on charters.

Student testing and curriculum

There is one major student testing-related bill that has already made it through the legislative process and become law. SB 149 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) allows for individual graduation committees to decide if certain students may be graduated from high schools despite failing a required STAAR test. ATPE strongly supported the bill. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed SB 149 into law on May 11, and the bill took effect immediately.

This week the Senate Education Committee heard and passed a trio of other testing-related bills that ATPE has supported this session: HB 743, HB 1164, and HB 2349. HB 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) attempts to reduce the amount of time spent on state-mandated testing in grades three through eight and limit the breadth of curriculum standards (TEKS) that are included on those tests. The bill also calls for auditing of the state’s contracts with test vendors. HB 743 previously passed the House on May 4 with Reps. David Simpson (R) and Jonathan Stickland (R) opposing the bill. HB 1164 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) would eliminate state-mandated STAAR writing tests and instead have school districts assess students’ writing ability using locally-approved methods. It passed the House by a vote of 142 to 6 on April 30. HB 2349 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relates to student testing and curriculum standards; it already received a unanimous vote in the House on May 11.

The Senate Education Committee also approved a couple of House bills this week that relate to curriculum. Yesterday, the committee heard and voted out HB 2811 by Rep. Ken King (R) relating to curriculum standards and instructional materials, along with HB 1431 by Rep. Susan King (R) which calls for development of an industry-related course to train students to communicate in a language other than English for business purposes

A bill that did not make it through this session is HB 742 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R), which would have eliminated the requirement for an eighth-grade social studies STAAR test. As filed, the bill called for eliminating state tests in writing, social studies, and U.S. history that are not required by federal law. The House Public Education Committee amended the bill so that it would only eliminate the eighth-grade social studies test. ATPE supported the measure, but it died on the House calendar last week for lack of a floor debate and vote.

Accountability and “A through F” ratings

ATPE has opposed legislative proposals calling for “A through F” grading of public school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. The original bill on “A-F” ratings was Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 6, which was a major component of a reform package being pursued by Texans for Education Reform (TER) and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). ATPE opposed SB 6, which the Senate passed but the House left pending in committee, opting instead to add “A-F” language to HB 2804. (Two identical companion bills, HB 2109 and HB 2176, were not heard.)

HB 2804 is a comprehensive accountability overhaul bill by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) that now includes a requirement that school campuses be rated using “A-F” accountability grades. The A-F language was not part of Aycock’s original bill as filed, but hoping to reach a compromise with the Senate, he added it to HB 2804 in committee, despite objections from several committee members and testimony from ATPE and other groups opposing the idea. The House passed the ATPE-opposed bill late last week by a vote of 102 to 26. It’s a bill that barely survived the House’s strict calendar rules, having passed the House on second reading with only 25 minutes remaining before the midnight deadline on the last day for it to be considered.  As we reported last week, the House floor debate was robust; several amendments were considered, including bipartisan efforts to try to strip out the A-F language from the bill, resulting in very close, but ultimately unsuccessful votes. Some amendments that were added to the House version of the bill included ATPE-requested language requiring the commissioner to consult with ATPE and other education groups in developing the new campus accountability grades, and an amendment requiring school ratings to factor in the percentage of an elementary school’s students assigned for two consecutive school years to a first-year or improperly certified teacher. Unfortunately, both of those amendments have been stripped out of the Senate’s proposed new language for HB 2804. The Senate Education Committee heard and voted out its substitute version of HB 2804 yesterday. ATPE similarly testified against the bill during yesterday’s hearing. The committee’s vote was unanimous, although Sens. Royce West (D) and Sylvia Garcia (D) stated that they were “begrudgingly” voting for HB 2804. The committee also recommended that the new version of HB 2804 be placed on the Senate’s special “local” calendar for uncontested bills, a rather surprising move considering the opposition the bill has faced from many stakeholders.

HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) deals with school accountability sanctions and interventions. The bill provides for alternative management options, as well as other school turnaround strategies, for schools considered low-performing. The House passed HB 1842 last week by a vote of 143 to 1, with Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R) casting the lone vote against the bill. The Senate Education Committee heard the bill this week and proposed a comprehensive substitute for HB 1842. The committee voted its version of the bill out unanimously today, with Chairman Larry Taylor (R) calling it “still a work in progress.” It will head next to the Senate floor for consideration, and most likely, a number of floor amendments.

SB 1200 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) is an ATPE-supported bill that calls for creation of a committee to recommend a new system for student assessment and public school accountability. It has passed the Senate unanimously on April 30, and the House Public Education Committee approved it yesterday. The bill is a rare one that is supported by a variety of stakeholders, including educator groups such as ATPE and reform groups such as TER. (Its identical companion bill, HB 4028, was never heard.)

ATPE has also supported a set of bills promoting the use of a community schools model for turning around struggling schools as an alternative to reconstitution or privatization. Unfortunately, those bills appear to be hopelessly stalled. SB 1483 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D), was taken off the Senate Intent Calendar containing bills eligible for floor debate in the upper chamber. The House version of the bill, HB 1891 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D), passed the lower chamber on May 14. It took the addition of a bizarre amendment by Rep. Geanie Morrison (R) stating that community schools would be prohibited from partnering with abortion providers in order for conservatives in the House to support the bill. HB 1891 was only yesterday referred to a Senate committee, leaving practically no time for it to make it through the legislative process at this stage. The community schools language had been added at one point to Chairman Aycock’s HB 1842 through a floor amendment in the House, but that amendment was later stripped out. A correlating bill also by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez to provide for grants to community schools, HB 1892, was voted down in the House 60 to 82, and the Senate version of that bill, SB 1484 by Sen. Garcia, was not heard in a committee.

Teacher salaries and evaluations

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and his friends in the group Texans for Education Reform (TER) have aggressively pursued a pair of bills this session to try to get rid of the state’s minimum salary schedule for teachers. In addition to promoting performance-based compensation for teachers, SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) and HB 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) would impose new state requirements for appraisals and personnel decisions. With any luck, these bills are dead. HB 2543 was heard but never voted out of the House Public Education Committee before its deadline. SB 893 has not been voted out of the House Public Education Committee either, which has a Saturday deadline to act on Senate bills. We appreciate all the ATPE members who helped us lobby against these bills with persistent calls and emails to their legislators. Learn more about the bills here.

By contrast, another salary-related bill was considered this session that ATPE supported. SB 1303 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D) called for teachers to receive a $4,000 pay raise. It was heard by the Senate Education Committee on April 30, but the bill was left pending and is not expected to move. Other pay raise bills have been filed but not heard this session.

Payroll deduction

SB 1968 is Sen. Joan Huffman’s (R) bill to prohibit school districts and some other public employers from offering their employees a payroll deduction option for paying their voluntary association dues. Its co-authors are Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R), Donna Campbell (R), Bob Hall (R), and Van Taylor (R). The bill is being pushed by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (R), conservative activists, and some business groups; ATPE and all of the state’s major teacher organizations have opposed the measure, along with state employees working in a variety of professions. A number of firefighters, police, and EMS workers have also opposed the bill, even though it specifically excludes them from the prohibition on payroll deduction – a differentiation that also renders the bill unconstitutional, in all likelihood. View the full witness list from the Senate committee hearing here to find out who openly supports or opposes the bill.

SB 1968 passed the Senate on May 7 by a party-line vote of 20 to 11. All Republican senators voted for the bill, while all Democratic senators opposed the bill. On May 15, SB 1968 was referred to the House Committee on State Affairs, which left little time for it to be considered. An initial attempt to suspend the rules in order for the committee to conduct a full public hearing on the bill this week failed, as we reported Tuesday. A motion was offered that day to suspend the House rules for notice of hearings in order for the committee to hold a public hearing and take testimony on this bill on Wednesday. That motion, which required a two-thirds vote of the House, failed, but it did not defeat the bill since the committee could still bring up SB 1968 and vote it out in a formal meeting without testimony. Accordingly, the House agreed on Wednesday to hear the motion to suspend once again, approve the motion, and allow the bill be heard with public testimony in a committee hearing on Thursday of this week.

The House State Affairs Committee’s public hearing that followed yesterday on SB 1968 was a limited one. Rep. Byron Cook (R), the committee’s chairman, allowed only a couple hours for testimony, which meant that many witnesses who signed up to speak against the bill – including ATPE’s Brock Gregg – were unable to do so. Read more about the contentious hearing in our Thursday blog post. As of now, the bill remains pending and has not been voted out by the committee. The committee only has until tomorrow, May 23, to vote out and report SB 1968 favorably in order for it to stay alive. We will be watching this one closely and will report on any developments here on Teach the Vote. Read more about the bill and our opposition to it here.

Deregulation of low-performing schools

With the endorsement of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), Texans for Education Reform (TER) has once again pursued a bevy of bills this session that call for certain low-performing schools to be deregulated in similar manner as charter schools and even subjected to alternative management by outside entities. The legislation includes variations on parent trigger actions, converting school districts to home rule charter districts, and creating a special statewide school district with an appointed superintendent. ATPE has opposed the bills, which we consider to be ineffective strategies for turning around schools that are struggling under our standardized test-based state and federal accountability mandates. Fortunately, most of these TER-backed efforts this session have failed, although there is always the risk that school deregulation and privatization language could be added as eleventh-hour amendments to other bills.

One of the only deregulation bills still in play at this point is SB 1241 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), which the House Public Education Committee approved last night. SB 1241 subjects low-performing schools to the possibility of alternative management through the creation of “Innovation Zones.” ATPE has opposed the bill. Previously, the Senate approved SB 1241 on May 11 by a vote of 22 to 9. Those voting against the bill were Sens. Rodney Ellis (D), Chuy Hinojosa (D), Lois Kolkhorst (R), Eddie Lucio (D), Jose Menendez (D), Jose Rodriguez (D), Carlos Uresti (D), Kirk Watson (D), and John Whitmire (D); Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D) first opposed the bill on second reading and then voted for the bill on third reading. SB 1241 must now be placed on a House calendar for floor consideration before time runs out.

A bill that appears not to have made it through this session is Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 14 to expand and expedite the state’s parent trigger law that enables certain low-performing schools to be deregulated and managed by outside entities. ATPE and most educator groups opposed the bill, but Texas PTA did support it, interestingly. The Senate approved the bill in mid-April after adding several favorable amendments to it. The Senate’s floor vote was 25 to 6, with Sens. Rodney Ellis (D), Jose Menendez (D), Carlos Uresti (D), Kirk Watson (D), John Whitmire (D), and Judith Zaffirini (D) voting against it. The House Public Education Committee heard the bill Tuesday, May 19, but left it pending. (A House companion bill, HB 1727, was never heard.)

Legislators also filed several bills this session calling for the state’s lowest performing schools to be placed into a statewide, largely deregulated “Opportunity School District.” Similar bills were attempted last session, when the idea was called an “Achievement School District.” ATPE opposed these TER-backed bills based on concerns about privatizing the management of otherwise public schools and exempting them from education laws aimed at ensuring quality, such as class-size limits and requirements to hire certified teachers. The bills filed this session included HB 1536 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D), SB 895 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), and SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D). HB 1536 made it out of the House Public Education Committee but did not survive the House’s stringent calendar deadlines. Its companion bill, SB 895, was deliberately left pending in the Senate Education Committee, as its author and committee chair, Sen. Larry Taylor, agreed to support SB 669 instead. West’s SB 669 passed the Senate with amendments on May 7 by a vote of 20 to 11. Click here to find out how your senator voted on the measure. Ultimately, the House Public Education Committee opted not to hear SB 669.

SB 1012 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R) and HB 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) were bills to modify existing state laws allowing for the creation of privately managed home rule charter districts. Dallas ISD is the only school district that has attempted to convert to a home rule charter under the existing state law. The two bills filed this session would change the name of home rule districts to “local control school districts,” a rather misleading term considering that locally elected school boards would most likely lose much of their authority to govern the district under these proposals. The bills were also troubling because they would exempt “local control school districts” from many of the quality control measures, such as elementary school class-size limits, found in the Texas Education Code. SB 1012 and HB 1798 were among bills supported by TER while opposed by ATPE and most of the education community. The Senate Education Committee heard SB 1012 on April 16, but left that bill pending. On Wednesday, May 13, the House spent three hours debating Rep. Deshotel’s HB 1798 and considering floor amendments, including some relating to class-size limits and teachers’ contract rights, before putting the bill to a vote. HB 1798 failed to pass by a vote of 59 to 76. Read our May 13 blog post to learn more about amendments that were considered and find out how your representative voted on the “local control school district” bill.

Despite a well-funded lobbying and advertising effort, TER has had little success pushing through its controversial agenda this session. The very public defeat of HB 1798, in particular, was a significant blow to reformers who have tried to strip educators of their salary protections and contract rights, exempt schools from quality control measures such as class-size limits, and remove transparency and accountability to local voters. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter expertly delivered most of our testimony against these deregulation bills in hearings that were frequently contentious with backers of the bill bringing in parents from out of state to testify for the measures. Exter noted that schools already have statutory authority to implement many of the charter-style reforms that proponents of the two bills favored, such as making elementary class sizes larger. He also cautioned against proposals often backed by corporate and charter school management interests that offer parents “false hope” and fail to recognize the larger community’s interest in how schools are operated and the need for both transparency and accountability to voters.

Home-school students participating in UIL

SB 2046 by Sen. Van Taylor (R), often referred to as a “Tim Tebow bill,” would require school districts to permit area home-schooled students to participate in UIL activities at the public school. ATPE opposes the bill and the selective participation of home-schooled students in public school activities, especially when they are not held to equal academic standards as their public school student peers and competitors. The Senate passed SB 2046 on May 11 by a vote of 27 to 4. Those voting against the bill were Sens. Robert Nichols (R), Jose Rodriguez (D), Kel Seliger (R), and Kirk Watson (D). The House Public Education Committee opted not to hear the bill.

Charter schools

An ATPE-requested bill to protect charter school employees narrowly missed the House’s midnight deadline for passage on the last night for consideration of House bills on second reading. HB 4047 by Rep. Alma Allen (D) would ensure that charter school teachers have the right to join or not join a professional association and the right to be politically active in the same manner as teachers at traditional public schools. It unanimously passed the House Public Education Committee on April 23, and it was only three bills away from being debated by the House when the clock ran out on May 14. ATPE sincerely appreciates Rep. Allen’s work to try to pass the bill.

SB 1897 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) would authorize the commissioner of education to grant multiple charters to a charter holder in certain circumstances. In addition to providing for the expansion of charter schools, the bill waters down laws pertaining to charter school accountability measures and sanctions for low-performance. Language was added to the bill relating to expansion of the state’s virtual school network. ATPE opposed the bill, which passed the Senate on Monday, May 11, by a vote of 22 to 9. Check out our earlier blog post for a breakdown of the Senate vote. As we discussed above in our section on private school vouchers, the House Public Education Committee has opted not to hear this particular bill.

Several bills dealing with regulation of and funding for charter schools remain pending. HB 2251 by Rep. Rafael Anchia (D) to accelerate funding for charter schools experiencing enrollment growth has made it through the House and been recommended for the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar. Rep. Marsha Farney (R) has filed HB 1170 to classify certain charter schools as local governmental entities and HB 1171 relating to immunity provisions for charter schools; both bills easily passed the House and are pending in the Senate where they’ve been recommended for the local and uncontested calendar. (Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) carried companion bills to those two measures, SB 1567 and 1569.)

HB 3347 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) and SB 1898 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) would clean up laws passed in 2013 relating to procedures for revoking a charter. HB 3347 didn’t survive the House’s calendar deadlines, and SB 1898 is stalled in the Senate. SB 1900 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R) providing for funding of charter facilities was approved by the Senate Education Committee but hasn’t seen a floor vote either and is likely dead.

Educator preparation and certification

SB 892 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) was originally filed as a bill to increase the rigor of educator preparation by adding a new requirement for each cohort entering an educator preparation program to maintain an overall GPA of 3.0. However, the bill was amended with language requested by representatives of for-profit alternative certification programs and now has the effect of watering down the standards for becoming a teacher. Specifically, SB 892 would lower the individual GPA requirement for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 to 2.5. (The legislature raised the GPA requirement in statute from 2.5 to 2.75 in 2013, but the State Board for Educator Certification that is responsible for implementing the law complained that the new statute was vague and refused to raise its own admission rules to reflect the higher GPA requirement.) The state’s largest alternative certification providers are for-profit companies that seek to maximize their profits through high enrollment numbers; they would obviously benefit from putting lower GPA standards in law, but they also want the legislature to codify current practices that enable them to delay providing their candidates with significant training before they are hired as teachers of record. ATPE believes the watered down standards and weak training requirements do a disservice to would-be educators pursuing alternative certification, since they are placed into high-stakes teaching environments before they have received adequate preparation and often without the necessary content knowledge in the subjects they are teaching. We support higher standards for educator preparation to ensure that all new teachers are well-equipped to meet the rigors of their first classrooms. SB 892 passed the Senate unanimously on April 7. It was approved by the House Public Education Committee last night. Rep. Marsha Farney (R) was the only committee member to vote against the bill, and she did so because of its lowering of the GPA standard. (A companion bill, HB 3494 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R), was left pending in committee.) SB 892 must now be placed on the House calendar for debate before time runs out this session.

Another educator preparation bill is HB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R), which the Senate unanimously passed today. The ATPE-backed bill amends a law that permits educator preparation programs to exempt up to 10 percent of each cohort of candidates from the state’s minimum GPA requirement. The bill as approved requires those exempted from the GPA rule to pass a content exam prior to admission. The House passed HB 1300 last week by a vote of 141 to 2, with Reps. Jonathan Stickland (R) and James White (R) voting against it.

Yet another educator preparation bill filed this session was HB 2566 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R). The bill called for a number of changes to educator preparation rules and the accountability system for educator preparation programs, including requiring consideration of the results of a teacher satisfaction survey. HB 2566 also would require all candidates for teacher certification, including those pursuing alternative certification, to undergo training relating to the instruction of students with dyslexia (currently required only for candidates in traditional educator preparation programs). A version of HB 2566 was unanimously approved by the House Public Education Committee on April 28, but the bill was unable to survive the House’s calendar deadlines. In order to keep the measure alive in some manner, VanDeaver amended some of the language in his more comprehensive HB 2566 onto another bill, Rep. Crownover’s HB 2205. The pieces of VanDeaver’s bill that were added to HB 2205 include the administration of a new teacher survey to assess new teachers’ satisfaction with the training provided by their educator preparation programs; the requirement for alternative certification program candidates to receive training in the detection and education of students with dyslexia; and the establishment of educator preparation program approval and renewal standards, risk factors to be used in assessing the programs, and a process for submitting complaints against an educator preparation program.

HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R) 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 changes to the accountability system for educator preparation programs. The bill adds two indicators to the Accountability System for Educator Preparation (ASEP), which seeks to hold educator preparation programs accountable for their quality and effectiveness at preparing candidates for certification and entering the profession. Those two new indicators are the ratio of field supervisors to candidates and the percentage of teachers employed within one year of completing the preparation program. ATPE supported HB 2205 when it was heard by the House Public Education Committee, which unanimously approved the bill on April 28. The House passed the bill last week by a vote of 126 to 5, after several floor amendments were added to HB 2205. The amendments included one by Rep. Ina Minjarez (D) to create a school turnaround specialist endorsement that may be added to a principal certificate issued by SBEC. HB 2205 was also amended to incorporate language from another bill, VanDeaver’s HB 2566, which is discussed above.

When HB 2205 was sent to the upper chamber, the Senate Education Committee proposed a substitute version of the bill, which ATPE testified against on May 20. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann explained in her testimony that there are several good provisions in the bill (including Rep. VanDeaver’s language that requires a new teacher satisfaction survey, training for all certification candidates in educating students with dyslexia, and a complaint procedure for candidates to pursue against ed prep programs); however, Kuhlmann told the committee that ATPE opposes lowering the standards for entrance into the education profession. HB 2205 would decrease the state’s current statutory minimum GPA requirement for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 back down to 2.5, even though the law and SBEC rules already allow several exceptions to the GPA rule. ATPE supports keeping the minimum GPA requirement at 2.75 while maintaining those exceptions. The Senate Education Committee unanimously voted to approve its committee substitute for HB 2205 on Wednesday, May 20. It must now be approved by the full Senate.

Early childhood education

HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) is an ATPE-supported bill to increase funding to pre-kindergarten programs that implement certain quality control measures. Broadly supported and also declared a priority issue by Gov. Greg Abbott, HB 4 generated controversy after a panel of advisors to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) publicly derided the bill and public schools. Both the House and Senate ultimately passed different versions of the bill. The House voted yesterday, May 21, to concur in amendments made by the Senate. That unanimous vote to accept the Senate’s language sends the bill to the desk of Gov. Abbott, who has been a strong supporter of the measure and who declared early childhood education a priority issue for consideration this legislative session.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has already signed into law SB 925 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R). The ATPE-supported bill calls for the commissioner of education to create literacy achievement academies for teachers of reading in Kindergarten through third grades. In selecting educators who are eligible to participate, preference will be given to teachers at campuses where at least 50 percent of the students are educationally disadvantaged. The bill entitles a teacher who attends a literacy achievement academy to receive a stipend.

Suicide prevention

ATPE has been pursuing legislation this session to try to curtail the epidemic of youth suicide by making available additional training for educators in spotting and responding to the warning signs of suicide. At ATPE’s request, Rep. Byron Cook (R) filed HB 2186 in memory of Jonathan Childers, who committed suicide in 2013. Jonathan was the teenage son of Coach Kevin Childers, an ATPE member from Fairfield ISD. The Childers family’s story is featured in our latest issue of ATPE News. The House passed HB 2186 on May 7 by a vote of 139 to 3 with Reps. Matt Rinaldi (R), Matt Schaefer (R), and Jonathan Stickland (R) voting against it. The Senate Education Committee approved HB 2186 yesterday and recommended that it be placed on the House’s special calendar for local and uncontested bills.  A similar bill, SB 1169 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R), passed the Senate last week by a vote of 29 to 1, with only Sen. Robert Nichols (R) voting against it.

Breast-feeding accommodations for school employees

The legislature is considering a couple of bills relating to accommodations for new mothers working in public schools, and ATPE has been supporting the measures.

HB 786 by Rep. Armando Walle (D) would require schools and other public employers to provide certain accommodations for employees to express breast milk and prohibit workplace discrimination against such employees. The House passed HB 786 by a vote of 90 to 47 on April 27. It passed the Senate’s Business and Commerce committee this week and is on the Senate Intent Calendar for floor consideration as early as today.

SB 1479 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D) is a similar measure that applies particularly to school employees and requires school districts to provide break times and suitable locations for educators to express breast milk. The Senate Education Committee approved the bill on May 5 by a vote of 9 to 2, with Sens. Lois Kolkhorst (R) and Donna Campbell (R) voting against SB 1479. It was placed on the Senate Intent Calendar for floor debate earlier this week, but was removed from the calendar and is facing some opposition.

Epi-pens

SB 66 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D) deals with the use of epinephrine auto-injectors, commonly known as epi-pens, in school settings. Epi-pens are often used to treat anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction. SB 66 requires each school district and open-enrollment charter school to adopt a policy on epi-pen use, including training and authorizing school employees to administer an epi-pen. The bill requires districts and charters to provide parents with annual written notice of their epi-pen policies. Related to the lawful use or non-use of an epi-pen in a school setting, SB 66 also includes immunity protections against liability for school personnel and calls for a state advisory committee to review schools’ usage of epi-pens.

The Senate passed SB 66 on April 15 by a vote of 24 to 7. Sens. Brian Birdwell (R), Konni Burton (R), Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Kelly Hancock (R), Don Huffines (R), and Lois Kolkhorst (R) voted against the bill. The House added one floor amendment and then approved the bill unanimously last Wednesday, May 13. The Senate voted Tuesday, May 19, to accept the lower chamber’s amendments to the bill, which means SB 66 is now headed to the governor’s desk. The vote on the motion to concur was 24 to 7, again with Sens. Brian Birdwell (R), Konni Burton (R), Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Kelly Hancock (R), Don Huffines (R), and Lois Kolkhorst (R) voting against it.

Cardiac assessments for student athletes

On Tuesday, May 19, the Senate Education Committee listened to hours of testimony yesterday, mostly from parents and medical professionals, on HB 767 by Rep. Wayne Smith (R). The bill calls for cardiac assessments of students participating in UIL athletic activities. The House passed HB 767 in mid-April by a vote of 82 to 62.

Cameras in the classroom

The House Public Education Committee voted last night to approve SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D), a somewhat controversial bill requiring school districts to equip self-contained classrooms serving students in special education programs with video surveillance cameras. The Senate approved the bill on May 11 by a vote of 24 to 7, with Sens. Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Don Huffines (R), Jane Nelson (R), Robert Nichols (R), Charles Perry (R), and Charles Schwertner (R) voting against the measure.

Commissioner’s subpoena power

SB 1222 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) gives the commissioner of education power to subpoena documents when investigating educators accused of misconduct. Bettencourt originally accepted and then removed an ATPE-requested amendment to ensure that accused educators would have access to the same information received by TEA investigators through the subpoena process. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann submitted written testimony against SB 1222 to the House Public Education Committee, which considered the bill yesterday. While we do not necessarily oppose giving the commissioner limited power to subpoena documents, we believe educators who are targeted in an investigation should have equal access to evidence gathered by the commissioner. The committee approved the bill today and it will head next to the full House for consideration where amendments are possible. SB 1222 previously passed the Senate on May 4 by a vote of 29 to 2, with Sens. Kirk Watson (D) and Rodney Ellis (D) voting against it.

Paperwork reduction

On Tuesday, May 19, the Senate Education Committee heard HB 1706, a bill by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) to try to reduce school paperwork requirements. The bill was voted out unanimously by the committee today and recommended for placement on the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar, making it more likely to pass. ATPE supports the measure, which the House passed unanimously on May 4.


As a reminder, tomorrow (May 23) is the last day for House committees to report Senate bills. With the House still in session, impromptu meetings could still be scheduled anytime tonight or tomorrow to vote out additional bills. Stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog for updates and follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the latest developments.

Legislative Update: Budget inches closer to completion, payroll deduction bill to be heard, and more

We’re a dozen days away from sine die. Read today’s latest updates on several bills of interest to the public education community.

State budget

Legislative leaders appear ready to vote on a budget compromise, which has been held up for a while because of conflicting views on how to cut taxes. Today, May 20, the conference committee for HB 1, the state appropriations bill, is meeting and is expected to begin taking votes on an agreement for the budget. Earlier today, the Senate Finance Committee also voted to approve a bill, HB 32 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R), that permanently reduces the state’s franchise tax by 25 percent. The vote reflects the reported budget compromise in which the House would get its preferred franchise tax cut while the Senate would get some of the property tax relief it has sought. The impact on typical taxpayers is likely to be minimal, while there are serious concerns about the potential loss of revenue for public education and other state services as a result of the cuts. As we’ve reported before, though, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced early in the legislative session that he would veto any budget that did not include a business tax cut. It appears that the House and Senate may have finally landed on a deal that will help them avoid the governor’s veto pen or a special session.

Payroll deduction

SB 1968 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R), a highly controversial bill to eliminate educators’ ability to use payroll deduction for payment of their association dues, is going to be heard by the House State Affairs Committee tomorrow, May 21. ATPE will be testifying against the bill. An initial attempt to suspend the rules in order for the committee to conduct a full public hearing on the bill failed, as we reported yesterday. Today the House agreed to let the bill be heard with public testimony in a committee hearing that will take place at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning.

The committee only has until Saturday to vote out and report SB 1968 favorably in order for it to stay alive. The bill is being pushed by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (R), conservative activists, and some business groups; ATPE and all of the state’s major teacher organizations have opposed the measure. A number of firefighters, police, and EMS workers have also opposed the bill, even though it specifically excludes them from the prohibition on payroll deduction – a differentiation that also renders the bill unconstitutional, in all likelihood. View the full witness list from the Senate committee hearing here to find out who openly supports or opposes the bill. The co-authors of SB 1968 are Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R), Donna Campbell (R), Bob Hall (R), and Van Taylor (R).

Read more about our opposition to the bill here.

Suicide prevention

ATPE-supported bills pertaining to suicide prevention training for educators are still on the move. Today the Senate Education Committee heard HB 2186 by Rep. Byron Cook (R), which passed the House convincingly on May 7 by a vote of 139 to 3. The Senate has already passed a similar measure, SB 1169 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R), by a vote of 29 to 1. In addition to expanding the training available to educators, both bills would honor the memory of Jonathan Childers, who was the son of ATPE member and Fairfield ISD coach Kevin Childers. The family’s story is featured in our latest issue of ATPE News.

Educator preparation

Earlier today, May 20, the Senate Committee on Higher Education heard and voted out two bills pertaining to educator preparation and certification. One bill, which ATPE supports, is HB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R). The bill amends a law that permits educator preparation programs to exempt up to 10 percent of each cohort of candidates from the state’s minimum GPA requirement. The bill requires those exempted from the GPA rule to pass a content exam prior to admission. HB 1300 was unanimously approved by the committee today.

The committee also heard HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R). ATPE supported HB 2205 in the House but testified against a substitute version of the bill in this morning’s hearing. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann explained in her testimony that there are several good provisions in the bill (including language taken from Rep. Gary VanDeaver’s HB 2566 that requires a new teacher satisfaction survey, training for all certification candidates in educating students with dyslexia, and a complaint procedure for candidates to pursue against ed prep programs); however, Kuhlmann told the committee that ATPE opposes the new version of Crownover’s bill that would lower the standards for entrance into the profession. Current law requires candidates for educator certification to meet a minimum GPA requirement of 2.75, although the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) has not yet implemented that requirement. There have been legislative proposals this session to reduce the minimum GPA requirement back to 2.5, even though the law and SBEC rules already allow several exceptions to the GPA rule. ATPE supports keeping the minimum GPA requirement at 2.75 while maintaining those exceptions. The committee unanimously voted to approve the committee substitute for HB 2205 today.

House Public Education Committee actions

On Tuesday, May 19, the House Public Education Committee heard often contentious testimony on a pair of proposals to deregulate certain schools that are low-rated under the state’s accountability system. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified against both bills by Sen. Larry Taylor (R): SB 14 expanding the state’s existing parent trigger laws and SB 1241 to create “innovation zone” schools. Exter warned against proposals often backed by corporate and charter school management interests that offer parents “false hope” and fail to recognize the larger community’s interest in how schools are operated. He also noted that schools already have statutory authority to implement many of the charter-style reforms that proponents of the two bills favor, such as making elementary class sizes larger. Both bills were left pending for the time being.

As we reported yesterday, the House Public Education Committee has one last hearing planned for tomorrow, May 21, and the chairman announced on the House floor today which bills will be heard. The list includes SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D), a somewhat controversial bill requiring school districts to place video surveillance equipment in self-contained classrooms for students in special education programs. Also on the agenda is SB 1222 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R), which gives the commissioner of education power to subpoena documents when investigating educators accused of misconduct. Bettencourt originally accepted and then removed an ATPE-requested amendment to ensure that accused educators would have access to the same information received by TEA investigators through the subpoena process. The other bills on tomorrow’s committee agenda are SB 33 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D) relating to the offense of hazing; SB 811 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D) to provide non-English speaking parents with a translated copy of their students’ individualized education programs; SB 1004 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) pertaining to courses offered at Houston-area school districts by certain public junior colleges; and SB 1494 by Sen. Carlos Uresti (D) to help homeless students with college applications and facilitating course credit and records transfers.

Senate Education Committee actions

On Tuesday, May 19, the Senate Education Committee heard 11 House bills, including HB 1706, a bill by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) to try to reduce school paperwork requirements, and HB 2349 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relating to student testing and curriculum standards. Both of those bills were voted out unanimously by the committee today and recommended for placement on the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar, making them more likely to pass. The committee also listened to hours of testimony yesterday, mostly from parents and medical professionals, on HB 767 by Rep. Wayne Smith (R). The bill calls for cardiac assessments of students participating in UIL athletic activities. The Senate passed HB 767 in mid-April by a vote of 82 to 62. That bill remains pending.

Today, in addition to the suicide prevention training bill, the committee heard testimony on a couple more testing-related bills that ATPE has supported this session. HB 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) attempts to reduce the amount of time spent on state-mandated testing in grades three through eight and limit the breadth of curriculum standards (TEKS) that are included on those tests. The bill also calls for auditing of the state’s contracts with test vendors. HB 1164 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) would eliminate state-mandated STAAR writing tests and instead have school districts assess students’ writing ability using locally-approved methods. The bills are pending.

The Senate Education Committee has one more meeting scheduled tomorrow, May 21, to vote out remaining bills that are pending and hear three House bills that Chairman Larry Taylor has referred to as “meaty.” The committee will hear two high-profile bills by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R): HB 1842 relates to interventions and sanctions for low-performing schools, while HB 2804 is the accountability overhaul that includes “A through F” accountability ratings for school campuses, which ATPE opposes. The committee will also consider HB 2811 by Rep. Ken King (R) relating to TEKS and instructional materials.

Updates on other bills

There have been no new developments on the governor’s emergency bill to increase funding for pre-Kindergarten programs. HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) has been sitting on the House’s “Items Eligible” calendar for more than a week now after getting approved by the House and Senate in different formats. The House will either accept the Senate’s changes to the bill, refer HB 4 to a conference committee to iron out differences between the two versions, or allow the pre-K bill to die on the House calendar if time runs out.

A virtual voucher bill, SB 894 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), has been taken off the Senate Intent Calendar this week. Having been previously juggled on and off the calendar, the bill has struggled to to gain adequate support for a floor hearing on account of its hefty fiscal note and heavy opposition to the bill by stakeholders, including ATPE. Taylor has another bill, SB 1897 dealing with the expansion of charter and virtual schools, that remains pending in the House, but the House Public Education Committee has not set that bill for a hearing with time running out.

Among other bills that also appear stalled – we hope – for the remainder of the session are SB 4, the private school voucher tax credit bill filed by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) and pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), and a bill backed by Texans for Education Reform to do away with the state minimum salary schedule for teachers, SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R). We appreciate all the ATPE members who’ve called their legislators to oppose these harmful bills.

SB 66 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D) regarding the use of epi-pens in schools to treat anaphylaxis will be headed to the governor’s desk soon. After the House passed an amended version of the Senate’s bill, the Senate voted on Tuesday, May 19, to accept the lower chamber’s amendments to the bill. The vote was 24 to 7, with Sens. Brian Birdwell (R), Konni Burton (R), Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Kelly Hancock (R), Don Huffines (R), and Lois Kolkhorst (R) voting against the motion.


Tune in tomorrow for another update here on our blog, and check out @TeachtheVote on Twitter in the meantime for additional reporting from our ATPE lobbyists.

Legislative Update: Feisty debates and narrow votes on A through F ratings, other proposals for struggling schools

This week marked the passage of several significant session-related deadlines that have the effect of dramatically lowering the number of bills still in play in the 84th legislative session. There has already been a growing sense that few education bills will be passed this session – which is not necessarily a bad thing – and the failure of many such bills to survive this week’s deadlines or to overcome the hurdle of a successful floor vote reinforces that sentiment. Here are the latest updates on bills dealing with the following education issues:


State budget

HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R), the state appropriations bill, remains pending in a conference committee. As House members were busy expediting some bills and “chubbing” others (asking questions to prolong debate, often on fairly non-controversial measures, in order to delay consideration of more significant bills of concern), high-level talks were occurring yesterday afternoon behind closed doors. Legislative leaders and the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, and house speaker were meeting Thursday to try to reach a compromise on tax cuts and a few other politically charged issues: border security, the open carry of handguns, and how to prosecute elected officials who violate ethics laws. Differences in opinion over tax cuts – whether to focus on property tax reductions, lowering sales taxes, or slashing the business franchise tax – have been holding up a compromise on the state’s budget and supplemental appropriations, including money for retired educators’ healthcare. By mid-week, many believed the negotiators were getting close to an agreement that would enable the legislature to pass a budget before the session ends, but the failure to announce a deal by the end of this week signaled that those discussions may have slowed down a bit.

School finance

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R), chairman of the House Public Education Committee, filed HB 1759 in an attempt to reform the state’s unconstitutional school finance system, but the plan failed to gain enough traction this session. On Thursday, the last day for the House to pass major House bills on second reading, Aycock laid out HB 1759 for floor debate but ended up withdrawing the bill from the day’s calendar as a favor to other legislators needing to pass bills before the midnight deadline. Aycock was facing the certainty of hours of debate by the House; numerous contentious amendments, including some that would try to add vouchers to the bill; and several planned points of order (technical challenges to the bill). Additionally, Aycock expressed doubt that the Senate would give the bill any real shot at passing and would therefore be a waste of the representatives’ time on such a critical day. The fact that many education advocates believed the bill would not do nearly enough to help underfunded school districts was undoubtedly another factor in the chairman’s decision.

Accountability, “A through F” ratings, and community schools

Only 25 minutes before the House’s midnight deadline, HB 2804 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) passed on second reading last night after a robust debate and some very close votes. Aycock filed the bill to try to overhaul the state’s accountability system and place slightly less emphasis on the role of student test scores in how schools are rated. Unfortunately, the bill includes a controversial plan, which ATPE opposes, to assign “A through F” grades to school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. During the debate, Aycock acknowledged that the idea of giving grades to campuses was unpopular among schools and educator groups, but he told his colleagues, “We have to call them something.” The A-F language was not part of Aycock’s original bill as filed, but hoping to reach a compromise with the Senate, he added it to HB 2804 in committee, despite objections from several committee members and testimony from ATPE and other groups opposing the idea. (Sen. Larry Taylor’s SB 6 and two House companion bills, HB 2109 by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R) and HB 2176 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R), also contained the A-F proposal but did not make it through the legislative process.) During last night’s debate, multiple representatives from both sides of the aisle attempted unsuccessfully to strip the A-F language from HB 2804. Rep. Larry Phillips (R) filed an amendment that came closest to passing after he implored his colleagues to “stand up for sanity in our schools” by doing away with the harmful labels. The amendment appeared initially to pass, prompting calls for a verification of the vote count. After verification, the vote was announced as 69 to 75 and the Phillips amendment failed. Rep. Sylvester Turner (D) also made an impassioned plea for the House to pass an amendment to strip out the A-F language; his amendment failed by a vote of 50 to 89.

Altogether, there were seven amendments added to HB 2804 last night, including some favorable changes that ATPE requested. Chairman Aycock added language to require the commissioner of education to report on the correlation between each school’s rating and its student demographics. Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) added an amendment at our request requiring the commissioner to consult with representatives of education groups, including ATPE, in developing rules for assignment of the new letter grades to districts and campuses. VanDeaver successfully added another ATPE-requested change that will allow for schools rated with an “A,” “B,” or “C” to be considered as performing acceptably, rather than only those schools that are graded with an “A” or “B.” An ATPE-supported amendment by Rep. Helen Giddings (D) adds to school ratings consideration of the percentage of an elementary school’s students assigned for two consecutive school years to a first-year or improperly certified teacher. Following consideration of all amendments, the vote to pass HB 2804 to third reading last night was 98 to 44. The House approved HB 2804 on third reading today after adding one technical, non-substantive amendment to the bill. An ATPE-requested amendment to try to hold school districts accountable for equitably distributing Title I funds among their campuses was also laid out today but withdrawn after Chairman Aycock told the House that he was “not real fond of” the idea. The final House vote today on third reading of HB 2804 was 102-26.

As we reported yesterday, Aycock’s HB 1842 relating to sanctions and interventions for low-performing schools was also approved by the House this week. It was amended on second reading to add language from another bill allowing for use of a community schools model for school turnaround purposes, but that amendment was stripped out of the bill on third reading. The main community schools bill is HB 1891 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D), and it also made it through the House this week. ATPE has supported promoting the use of a community schools model for turning around struggling schools as an alternative to reconstitution or privatization. It took the addition of a bizarre amendment by Rep. Geanie Morrison (R) stating that community schools would be prohibited from partnering with abortion providers in order for conservatives in the House to support the bill on second reading late last night. The vote to advance the bill as amended to third reading was 81 to 54, followed by another vote today to pass the bill 69 to 52. (SB 1483 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D) is the Senate’s companion version of this bill, which remains pending on the Senate’s calendar for floor debate.) A correlating bill also by Rep. Rodriguez to provide for grants to community schools, HB 1892, did not survive a vote in the House last night. Representatives voted it down last night 60 to 82, and the Senate version of that bill, SB 1484 by Sen. Garcia, has not been heard in a committee.

SB 1200 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) is another ATPE-supported bill that calls for creation of a committee to recommend a new system for student assessment and public school accountability. It has passed the Senate and is now scheduled for a hearing by the House Public Education Committee on Tuesday, May 19.

Private school vouchers

Despite heavy lobbying and paid advertising efforts by voucher supporters, the Senate’s primary voucher vehicle, SB 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), has not yet been set for a hearing by the House Committee on Ways and Means after passing the Senate on an 18 to 12 vote. The bill, backed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, calls for creating a tax credit for businesses that contribute money to private school scholarships. Click here to find ATPE’s talking points in opposition to SB 4, which you are encouraged to share with your state representatives.

Also pending in the House is SB 1178 by Sen. Don Huffines (R), which has been referred to the House Public Education Committee. That bill originally called for creating a private school voucher program through the use of education savings accounts that parents could tap in order to pay their children’s private school tuition or home-schooling expenses, but SB 1178 was converted into a mechanism to simply study the idea of education savings accounts during the interim. The Senate passed SB 1178 on Monday of this week by a vote of 21 to 10.

Meanwhile, a virtual voucher bill, SB 894 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), remains on the Senate Intent Calendar but has yet to be heard on the floor of the Senate.

Student testing

A bill that might be one of very few education measures enacted into law this session is the ATPE-supported SB 149 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R). Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law on Monday of this week, and it took effect immediately. SB 149 allows for individual graduation committees to decide if certain high school students may be graduated from high schools despite failing a required STAAR test.

HB 742 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) is one of the House bills that died on the calendar this week for lack of a floor debate and vote. The bill would have eliminated the requirement for an eighth-grade social studies STAAR test. Huberty’s other bill aimed at de-emphasizing the role of student testing is HB 743, which already passed the House and is awaiting a committee hearing in the Senate. 

Teacher salaries and evaluations

There has been no movement in the House, fortunately, on SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R), despite ongoing efforts by Texans for Education Reform (TER) and conservatives in the Senate to keep the bill alive. SB 893 proposes eliminating the state minimum salary schedule for teachers in favor of compensation models based more heavily on student performance. Learn more about the bill here.

Payroll deduction

Last week we reported on the Senate’s passage of SB 1968 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R) to eliminate educators’ ability to use payroll deduction to pay dues to educator associations. Late this afternoon the bill was referred to the House Committee on State Affairs, but it has not been scheduled for a hearing. Click here to read ATPE’s talking points against SB 1968.

Parent trigger or “empowerment”

SB 14 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), a bill to expand and speed up existing “parent trigger” laws that make certain low-performing public schools more susceptible to private management, is scheduled for a hearing by the House Public Education Committee on Tuesday, May 19. It is another bill being promoted by Texans for Education Reform (TER).

“Local control school districts”

On Wednesday, the House took up HB 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D), a bill to make it easier for school districts to be converted to home rule charter districts using the proposed new moniker of “local control school districts.” ATPE and most education groups opposed the bill, which had the backing of Texans for Education Reform (TER) and was part of a controversial package of reform proposals being pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. The House spent three hours debating the bill and considering floor amendments before putting HB 1798 to a vote. The bill failed to pass by a vote of 59 to 76. Read our blog post from yesterday to learn more about some of the amendments that were offered and to find out how your representative voted on this controversial bill.

Charter schools

An ATPE-requested bill to protect charter school employees narrowly missed the House’s midnight deadline for passage last night. HB 4047 by Rep. Alma Allen (D) would ensure that charter school teachers have the right to join or not join a professional association and the right to be politically active in the same manner as teachers at traditional public schools. It unanimously passed the House Public Education Committee and was only three bills away from being debated last night when the clock ran out.

SB 1897 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) dealing with the expansion of charter and virtual schools is now pending in the House after passing the Senate on Monday of this week by a vote of 22 to 9. Check out our earlier blog post for a breakdown of the Senate vote. This bill has been referred to the House Public Education Committee but not yet set for a hearing.

Educator preparation and certification

There are several bills pertaining to educator preparation and certification still on the move this session. First, HB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R) amends an existing law that permits educator preparation programs to exempt up to 10 percent of each cohort of candidates from the state’s minimum GPA requirement for future teachers. It requires those exempted from the GPA rule to pass a content exam prior to admission to the educator preparation program. ATPE supported the bill in the House where it passed this week by a vote of 141 to 2 with Reps. Jonathan Stickland (R) and James White (R) voting against the bill. It has been referred to the Senate Education Committee and quickly set for a hearing on Wednesday, May 20.

HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R) also pertains to educator preparation and is a bill that ATPE supported when it was heard in a House committee last month. The bill adds two indicators to the Accountability System for Educator Preparation (ASEP), which seeks to hold educator preparation programs accountable for their quality and effectiveness at preparing candidates for certification and entering the profession. Those two new indicators are the ratio of field supervisors to candidates and the percentage of teachers employed within one year of completing the preparation program. HB 2205 also changes the composition of the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) and requires one non-voting member of the board to have worked for an alternative certification program. After getting unanimous approval from the House Public Education Committee, HB 2205 was passed by the House on second reading yesterday after several amendments were added. The amendments included one by Rep. Ina Minjarez (D) to create a school turnaround specialist endorsement that may be added to a principal certificate issued by SBEC. HB 2205 was also amended to incorporate language from another bill, HB 2566, which is discussed below. Today, the House passed HB 2205 on third reading by a vote of 126 to 5.

Another educator preparation bill that was on the House calendar was HB 2566 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R), which called for several changes to educator preparation rules and the accountability system for educator preparation programs, including a requirement for considering the results of a teacher satisfaction survey. HB 2566 would require all candidates for teacher certification, including those pursuing alternative certification, to undergo training relating to the instruction of students with dyslexia (currently required only for candidates in traditional educator preparation programs). Since HB 2566 was too far down the calendar to beat last night’s midnight deadline in order to stay alive, VanDeaver amended some of the language in his more comprehensive bill onto Crownover’s HB 2205. The pieces of VanDeaver’s bill that were added to HB 2205 include the administration of a new teacher survey to assess new teachers’ satisfaction with the training provided by their educator preparation programs; the requirement for alternative certification program candidates to receive training in the detection and education of students with dyslexia; and the establishment of educator preparation program approval and renewal standards, risk factors to be used in assessing the programs, and a process for submitting complaints against an educator preparation program.

SB 892 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R), a bill that lowers the standards for entrance to an educator preparation program, appears stalled in the House after passing the Senate. With the end of session nearing, watch for possible attempts to append language from SB 892 onto other bills that are still alive.

Pre-kindergarten

A major bill supported by the governor to increase funding for pre-K programs is still pending. HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) passed the House and Senate with differing language provided by each chamber. The House must now decide whether to accept the Senate’s changes or refer HB 4 to a conference committee.

Suicide prevention

ATPE is supporting a pair of bills to try to curtail the epidemic of youth suicide by making available additional training for educators in spotting and responding to the warning signs of suicide. At ATPE’s request, Rep. Byron Cook (R) has filed HB 2186 in memory of Jonathan Childers, who committed suicide in 2013. Jonathan was the son of Coach Kevin Childers, an ATPE member from Fairfield ISD. The House passed HB 2186 on May 7 by a vote of 139 to 3 with Reps. Matt Rinaldi (R), Matt Schaefer (R), and Jonathan Stickland (R) voting against it. HB 2186 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee. A similar bill, SB 1169 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R), passed the Senate this week by a vote of 29 to 1, with Sen. Robert Nichols (R) voting against it. SB 1169 has been referred to the House Public Education Committee.

Other health and safety bills

SB 66 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D) regarding the use of epi-pens in schools to treat anaphylaxis, passed the Senate earlier this session and passed the House this week. Since the two chambers passed different versions of the bill, the Senate must decide whether to accept the House changes to the bill or send it to a conference committee.

On Tuesday, May 19, the Senate Education Committee is scheduled to hear HB 767 by Rep. Wayne Smith (R) relating to cardiac assessments of students participating in UIL athletic activities. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 82 to 62 back in mid-April.


The last two weeks of the session will be critical, and ATPE encourages you to keep communicating with your legislators about bills of concern. Don’t forget to follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter and stay tuned to Teach the Vote for further updates from the capitol next week.

Legislative Update: Senate committee tackles teacher pay and pre-K, graduation bill heads to governor’s desk, anti-suicide bill gains support

Today the Senate Education Committee is hearing House Bill (HB) 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty, a bill to increase funding to pre-kindergarten programs that implement certain quality control measures. ATPE supports HB 4, which Chairman Larry Taylor (R) says he expects the committee to vote on later today. The bill represents one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s legislative priorities but has been at the center of recent tensions among state leaders after a panel advising Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) blasted the bill and referred to public schools as “Godless.” (For related content, check out this week’s op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman by Charles Johnson of Pastors for Texas Children responding to the group’s remarks about the pre-K bill and criticizing the Senate’s passage of several “bills designed specifically to demoralize teachers.”)

The Senate committee will also hear Senate Bill (SB) 1303 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D), a bill calling for teachers to receive a $4,000 pay raise. Read ATPE’s press statement in support of SB 1303. Teacher salaries have been a hot topic for debate this session, as two high-profile bills to do away with the state minimum salary schedule for teachers are languishing over on the House side.

Other bills on today’s Senate Education Committee agenda include SB 625 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D) on prohibiting the use of tasers against public school students, SB 1004 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) regarding certain dual-credit courses offered by junior colleges in the Harris County area, and SB 1058 also by Sen. Hinojosa on superintendents’ requirement to report information about educators in their districts who engage in certain misconduct. The committee may vote out other bills that are pending and have already been heard when it reconvenes later today.


Following a motorcycle accident that necessitated surgery, Sen. Kel Seliger (R) returned to the Senate this week in time to see his SB 149 sent on its way to the governor’s desk. The bill allows for the creation of individual graduation committees to determine if certain students should graduate high school despite having failed a mandatory STAAR test. The Senate voted yesterday, April 29, to concur in amendments added to the bill by the House of Representatives. The final Senate vote on the ATPE-supported bill was 29 to 2, with Sens. Kelly Hancock (R) and Charles Schwertner (R) voting against the motion. SB 149 now awaits the governor’s signature.


A bill to do away with educators’ ability to use payroll deduction to pay dues to educator associations and for other conveniences remained on the Senate’s calendar, but did not get called up for a floor debate today. The bill is SB 1968 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R). Additionally, Sen. Larry Taylor’s virtual voucher bill, SB 894, was placed on the Senate Intent Calendar earlier this week but then removed. Senators appear to be having second thoughts about the bill’s hefty fiscal note and lack of accountability measures. ATPE has opposed both measures.


The House Public Education Committee held another nine-hour meeting on Tuesday, April 28, during which numerous bills were put to a vote. The committee heard lengthy debate on SB 6 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), the bill calling for “A through F” accountability grades to be assigned to public school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. Most education groups offered testimony against the bill, including ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter who described SB 6 as worthless and emphasized the need to “dig down deeper than the indices” to make real changes to the accountability system before merely tinkering with labels. He added that “oversimplification in the name of transparency” would be “unproductive” for public school students. Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock (R) surprised some members of the committee by announcing that he was incorporating the “A through F” campus ratings into his accountability overhaul, HB 2804, which the committee then voted out favorably on a 7 to 4 vote. Aycock was later quoted as saying, “I’m personally willing to swallow ‘A through F’ if we get a better accountability system out of it.”

The committee also approved a duo of controversial bills that ATPE and similar education groups opposed based on concerns about privatizing the management of public schools and exempting them from state education laws. One bill is HB 1536 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D) calling for the establishment of a statewide Opportunity School District for low-performing schools, which passed on a vote of 9 to 2. The other bill is a substitute version of HB 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) relating to local control school districts. Deshotel’s bill changes the existing home rule charter district law to make it easier for districts to opt out of state regulations; HB 1798 made it out of committee on a vote of 8 to 3.

Here are some of the other bills that got a nod of approval from the House Public Education Committee on Tuesday evening:

  • HB 18 by Chairman Aycock relating to college and career readiness training for certain public school counselors.
  • CSHB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R) relating to the required qualifications of persons admitted to educator preparation programs.
  • CSHB 1842 by Chairman Aycock relating to the assessment of intervention in and sanction of a public school that does not satisfy accreditation criteria.
  • CSHB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R) relating to educator preparation programs, including the appointment of a member of the State Board for Educator Certification with experience and knowledge of alternative educator preparation programs.
  • CSHB 2566 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) relating to educator preparation programs.
  • CSHB 3347 by Chairman Aycock relating to revocation of a charter for an open-enrollment charter school and procedures for the disposition of property owned by a charter school after revocation or surrender of a charter.
  • CSHB 3987 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) relating to programs in public schools designed to facilitate planning and saving for higher education and facilitate personal financial literacy instruction.

The House Public Education committee also heard but left pending HB 4047 by Rep. Alma Allen (D), a bill that ATPE requested to ensure that charter school employees retain the right to participate in political activities and join educator associations, if they choose.


Childers Senate Ed 04-28-15Also on Tuesday of this week, the Senate Education Committee heard SB 1169 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R) relating to suicide prevention training for educators. The bill is very similar to HB 2186, which ATPE urged Rep. Byron Cook to file on behalf of our member, Coach Kevin Childers, who lost his son Jonathan to suicide two years ago. The Childers family was on hand Tuesday to testify in support of SB 1169, which the committee passed on a vote of 6 to zero.

The Senate Education Committee also voted to send to the floor SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D). The controversial bill would require schools to video-tape classrooms upon the request of a parent of a student with special needs. Video would have to be kept on file by the school district for at least a year, and the bill would cost millions to be implemented statewide. It is worth noting that school districts already have the ability to videotape classroom  interactions, and several of them already do so.


Ina_MinjarezFinally, ATPE congratulates Rep. Ina Minjarez, who was officially sworn in this afternoon as a member of the Texas House of Representatives. Following a string of special elections, today’s ceremony marks the first time this session that the 84th Legislature has been full. San Antonio’s Minjarez won a special election to fill the unexpired term of former representative and now Sen. Jose Menendez, who gave up his HD 124 House seat in order to run for the Senate.

Legislative Update: From school finance to suicide prevention, a slew of bills set for hearings this week

The House Public Education Committee has moved up its usual meeting time to allow for more bills to be heard on a single day. Starting at 8 a.m. tomorrow, April 14, the committee will consider 19 bills, including Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock’s (R-Killeen) school finance overhaul, HB 1759. Originally filed as a placeholder bill, Aycock revealed details of his school finance plan last week and will hear public testimony on the bill this week.

Other legislation on tomorrow’s agenda include bills by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) promoting the use of a Community Schools Model to turnaround struggling schools, along with a less favorable bill by Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) calling for alternative management of certain low-performing schools through a statewide Opportunity School District. The Senate Education Committee already heard and took action on some of the same proposals last week, as we reported previously on our blog.

Also on the agenda for the House Public Education Committee tomorrow is HB 2186 by Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), a bill pertaining to suicide prevention training for certain school district employees. ATPE asked Rep. Cook to carry the bill on the request of one of our members, Coach Kevin Childers from the Fairfield Independent School District.

hb 2186 testimony infographic

Coach Childers lost his teenage son Jonathan to suicide in 2013 and plans to testify in support of HB 2186. The bill aims to modify existing law that requires certain educators and school district employees to be trained in recognizing possible warning signs for suicidal thoughts by students; HB 2186 attempts to ensure that the training occurs on an annual basis. The bill is being referred to as the “Suicide Prevention Training Act in memory of Jonathan Childers.” Click on our infographic to the right to learn more about the teen suicide epidemic and our efforts to help prevent it.


The Senate Education Committee will meet at 9 a.m. tomorrow, April 14, to hear bills relating to charter schools and a handful of other matters. View the full agenda with links to the individual bills here. Remember also that you can watch live or archived video of most education committee hearings through Texas Legislature Online.


A private school voucher bill is on the move and headed for a likely floor debate this week or next. ATPE has urged its members to contact their senators about SB 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). Read more about the bill here. Also likely to be considered on the Senate floor this week is the upper chamber’s version of House Bill 1, the state budget.


The House Committee on Ways and Means has a high-profile hearing planned for Tuesday, April 14, too. The committee will take up a number of bills calling for tax cuts. ATPE has joined forces with other groups affiliated with Texas Forward, a revenue coalition that promotes a balanced approach to state budgeting, and is calling on legislators to consider these proposals very cautiously. Many education stakeholders are concerned that the loss of potentially five billion dollars in state revenue through tax cuts this session would greatly reduce the funding available for public schools and other critical needs.


Adding to tomorrow’s busy schedule, watch for the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) to mark up its new bipartisan proposal for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The hearing begins at 1:30 p.m. (Central Time) and can be viewed through the committee’s website. Read more about the new “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015” in ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s recent blog post.


Later this week, watch for the House Public Education Committee’s Subcommittee on Educator Quality to consider several bills relating to educator preparation and certification. The agenda for the 8 a.m. hearing on Thursday, April 16, includes HB 3494 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Humble), which is the House companion to SB 892 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), a bill dealing with educator preparation. ATPE originally supported SB 892 as filed, but the Senate version was changed recently to make educator preparation program admission standards and training requirements less rigorous. Read more about SB 892 in one of our recent blog posts here.


STS April 18th Rally Poster

Finish off your week of grassroots advocacy by visiting the State Capitol on Saturday to participate in this year’s Save Texas Schools rally along with other representatives of ATPE and supporters of public schools from around the state. The rally will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on April 18, featuring guest speakers and live music. Visit SaveTXSchools.org to learn more and register to attend the rally.

Public education supporters are also encouraged to help promote the rally this week by tweeting with the hashtag #WhyIRally. Use the hashtag to share your own thoughts on why it’s important to prioritize public education during the 84th legislative session, and Save Texas Schools will retweet you.