Tag Archives: sunset

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 10, 2020

For many Texas educators, this week marked the beginning of an uncharted journey into distance learning. Our ATPE Governmental Relations team applauds all the educators who are rising to the unprecedented challenge. As always, we are here to provide the latest in education news. The ATPE state office is closed today, April 10, but our staff will be back in action next week and ready to help you find your way through these uncertain times. We hope you get to enjoy the weekend and this edition of Teach the Vote’s Week in Review.


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: The worlds of the novel coronavirus and education were a bit quieter this week, but many questions remain on the long-term impact of the pandemic. Texas educators are facilitating distance learning and conducting other essential work even though Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the closure of Texas school buildings until at least May 4th, and some localities and districts have extended their closures beyond that date or even for the rest of the school year. Abbott held two press conferences this week, but neither provided further updates regarding education.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has been issuing and updating its guidance for public schools on a daily basis, but numerous questions remain, especially for educators and those working to become educators who are concerned about job security. This week, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier summarized what we know so far about changes to educator preparation and certification procedures in this blog post for Teach the Vote. We also await a response to ATPE’s call for accommodations regarding educator evaluations, on which so many compensation and job-related decisions are based. As we reported last week, ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes sent a letter to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to request statewide action regarding educator appraisals, which are unlikely to yield fair and valid results under current conditions. Read more in this ATPE press release.

For a quick recap of where we stand, here are other notable state-level developments pertaining to the pandemic:

  • After Gov. Abbott cancelled this year’s STAAR tests, Texas sought and was approved by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to waive statewide testing and accountability. All districts will be “Not Rated: Declared State of Disaster” for 2019-20.
  • If you’ve seen a graphic circulating on social media with what looks like “Woody” from Toy Story, it is probably TEA’s “Stay Well, Texas” public health campaign, which school districts are helping to roll-out.
  • Parents can use TEA’s “meal finder” tool and pick up meals without their children being present, thanks to an waiver granted to Texas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • The TEA coronavirus resource page is chock-full of resources (mainly geared towards district leaders) relating to instructional continuity, special education, testing, graduation, and more. New guidance added to the TEA site this week includes FAQs on FERPA, the SAT, ACT, TSIA, and AP/IB tests, FEMA assistance, and Information Technology, plus child care support sample documents, a list of available waivers, and TELPAS and LPAC Guidance.
  • TEA has launched a partially-complete website that includes home learning resources for families, districts, and teachers.

At the federal level, Congress has approved substantial federal aid packages, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or CARES Act, which provide billions in funding for individuals and businesses, along with waivers from various federal laws to facilitate relief. Attempts to advance another piece of coronavirus relief legislation stalled this week in Congress after partisan disagreements. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced this week new spending flexibility waivers under the CARES Act that would purportedly allow school officials to dedicate funds to distance learning and virtual classrooms. As we reported last week, DeVos has also floated the idea of “microgrants” for students and teachers, which are essentially vouchers and have not yet been approved by Congress.

  • ATPE has helpful information about the CARES Act here, including more on the direct cash payments to individuals that are expected to be distributed soon by the U.S. Treasurer.
  • Read ATPE’s information about the FFCRA’s expanded paid leave benefits here.

For guidance on dealing with COVID-19, we encourage educators to visit ATPE’s frequently updated Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page.  Also, follow the ATPE lobbyists here on Teach the Vote and on Twitter for related legislative and regulatory news.


ELECTION UPDATE: The Texas Democratic Party filed a second lawsuit against the state this week over mail-in ballots, this time in federal court. According to a report in the Texas Tribune, Texas Democrats were concerned by Monday’s party-line decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that resulted in Wisconsin voters being forced to vote in person this week in contradiction to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Texas Democrats are asking the state to expand eligibility for mail-in ballots so that voters are not forced to expose themselves to COVID-19 in order to cast a ballot. Current Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey has voiced opposition to expanding mail-in ballots, suggesting that mail handlers could also risk COVID-19 infection. Gov. Greg Abbott stated in March that “everything’s on the table,” but has been relatively quiet on the subject since then.


We reported last week that the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission has released its sunset staff recommendations for the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS). While TRS can’t be abolished through the sunset review process unlike other agencies, the commission staff have identified several issues that the legislature will likely address during the next legislative session in 2021. Check out this new blog post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, which takes a deeper look at one of the major issues raised by the sunset report: a recommendation that TRS should “repair its relationship with its members by focusing on their needs.”


ATPE joined 17 other organizations calling on Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to place a moratorium on charter expansion during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Because charters cannot levy taxes, the state picks up the tab in order to fully fund every charter school student. ATPE believes the expansion of charter enrollment during a pandemic with extremely uncertain financial outcomes would be fiscally irresponsible. In fact, the 94 charter expansion amendments currently on file with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) could cost the state an additional $90 million per year if approved, money that may be sorely needed to shore up budgets of existing public schools across the state. Read more in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins


This week, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar sat down for a virtual conversation with the Texas Tribune to discuss what the novel coronavirus means for our state’s economy. Hegar said that Texas is in a recession but will be able to meet current budget obligations through August 31, 2021. In the summer, Hegar will release an updated revenue estimate that will likely be several billion dollars less. Since the state pumped billions into education during the last legislative session, educators worry that continued funding commitment might be hard to maintain. Read a full rundown in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


Census 2020 self-response rates as of March 8, 2020. (Source)

The 2020 U.S. Census is still underway, and everyone’s response is critical for many important streams of funding, including for public education. Texas’ response rate has increased from 36% last week to over 41% this week, but we are still behind the current national rate of 46%. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, some census work has been delayed, making it more important to push online/phone/mail census completion options that can reduce the need for interpersonal interaction. Learn more about the 2020 Census in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier and find census FAQs here.


ATPE member Michelle Bish of Pasadena was featured this week in a news story by KHOU 11 news in Houston. While taking care of her own three children, Bish is also implementing distance learning for her third graders and staying in contact with her students’ parents. Bish says it is overwhelming but that we will all get through this together. In the article, she says:

“I cannot wait for this to be over,” she said. “This is not why I signed up to be a teacher. I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to be present. Like, physically be in the presence of my students. You know, at school and being a part of them and teaching.”

We can’t wait for this to end either! In the meantime, we can help each other stay positive. ATPE wants to hear how you are adapting to a new educational environment during the coronavirus pandemic. Click here to email us your stories, best practices for distance learning, or strategies you’re using to stay upbeat during the crisis.


Sunset report recommends TRS improve its member relations

Every state agency in Texas is subject to a period review by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission. When the state creates a new agency, it usually sets a “sunset” date. This is the date when the agency will cease to exist unless the commission decides it should continue. Even agencies that are created by the Texas Constitution and cannot be abolished, such as the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas, undergo cyclical review by the Sunset Advisory Commission to determine ways they can improve and operate more efficiently.

The TRS Sunset Report was released last week, as we reported last Friday here on Teach the Vote. While much of the report addresses standard sunset fare such as integrating best practices and improving transparency and oversight, one issue identified in the report seems likely to resonate with TRS members above the rest: “TRS Needs to Repair Its Relationship With Its Members by Focusing on Their Needs.”

Excerpt from the 2020-21 Sunset Staff Report on TRS

Sunset commission staff points out in the report, “While TRS has a critical fiduciary duty to manage the $157 billion trust fund in the best interest of its members, the agency also has an important responsibility to ensure its members have the support and information needed to be secure in retirement.”

The report goes on to state that in the Sunset Advisory Commission staff’s estimation:

“TRS’ benefit counseling options do not meet members’ needs… TRS has not provided the information and support its members need to be secure in retirement, with overly complex explanations, insufficient retirement information, and inadequate counseling options… TRS also does not provide enough member-friendly financial planning information to ensure members understand what they need to prepare for retirement, such as the importance of additional savings beyond their TRS pension benefits.”

Sunset staff identify core issues and findings, as well as recommendations to address them. In considering sunset recommendations and weighing their merit, it is important to consider that implementing new programs and initiatives comes at a cost, mostly in additional manpower. For TRS, those costs are paid directly out of the same trust fund that provides member benefits.

The sunset staff’s first finding related to the issue of repairing TRS’ relationship with its members is that the agency “has not provided the information and support members need to adequately ensure they are secure in retirement.” With 1.6 million members, most of whom have limited or no access to Social Security benefits and little other retirement savings outside of their TRS pension, simply managing the TRS trust assets and administering pension payments is not good enough without taking a more holistic role in helping TRS members prepare for a secure retirement.

This is particularly true when considering that Texas is last in the country in the percentage of payroll our state puts toward teacher retirement. The state does not provide mandatory cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) on a regular basis and rarely provides funding for even one-time COLAs. Together, these legislatively driven policies mean that a TRS pension alone often will not provide a comfortable — or potentially even adequate — retirement over the duration of an average educator’s retired years.

This makes it even more important for Texas educators to understand the importance of having a supplemental retirement plan and to begin funding that plan early in their careers. Sunset staff point out that other state retirement systems, including the Employees Retirement System (ERS) for Texas state employees, “emphasize retirement planning is a shared responsibility between members and the system.” On the other hand, the report observes that TRS “puts the burden of navigating the complex retirement system primarily on its members.”

To make matters worse, TRS appears to have serious deficiencies communicating in the areas where it does currently engage with its members on retirement issues. Regarding the agency’s written materials, sunset staff found that TRS commonly uses legalistic language and overly complex explanations. While call times have come down significantly, TRS has not yet met its internal goal of answering 80% of calls within three minutes. More troubling, when agency staff do answer a call, internal policy prevents most TRS phone counselors from relaying basic information such as a member’s account balance or estimated retirement benefits — not to mention explanations of how systems such as TRS and Social Security are supposed to interact, which often leaves TRS members confused and frustrated.

To receive more complete information on their TRS benefits, a member must make an appointment — often months in advance — and then travel to Austin for an in-person consultation. Thankfully, TRS is looking into opening a limited number of field offices to do in-person consultations in the future so that some members will not have to make the trek to Austin. Why the agency is only now contemplating this option is somewhat baffling. (TRS has been offering member consultations via video conferencing during the current shutdown period that has been caused by the coronavirus pandemic.)

In order to address these issues, sunset commission staff recommend that the legislature require TRS to develop a communications and outreach plan to help members prepare for retirement. Sunset staff also recommend, with regard to other issues identified in the report, that TRS engage stakeholders and adopt a member engagement policy. Also, the legislature should consider incorporating  recommendations for required stakeholder engagement into the development of TRS’ communications plan.

Continuing on the issue of repairing its relationship with its members by focusing on their needs, the sunset report also recommends that TRS improve its communications with employers, improve  efforts to return contributions to inactive members, and adopt a member engagement policy to increase transparency on key decisions.

The commission staff found that many, if not most, employers of TRS members report that the system TRS uses to collect payroll and other information from them is cumbersome and “plagued with problems,” even three years after its launch. TRS should attempt to resolve the problems with its reporting system and do a better job of providing troubleshooting for employers that are trying to work around such problems until they are resolved.

Sunset staff also suggest that TRS provide employers and education service centers (ESCs) with training so that school districts and ESCs can help educate TRS members (school employees) on retirement and healthcare issues. While this sounds good in theory, as districts certainly have more access to their own employees than TRS ever will, I am skeptical of most districts’ desire to take on this additional responsibility. Prior to pursuing this recommendation, TRS should communicate with school district leaders to determine if districts would actually utilize any such training or tools TRS might create for them. Policymakers should also consider whether such a communications strategy might be duplicative or confusing for TRS members.

The sunset staff further recommend that TRS be more proactive in returning contributions to inactive members. However, additional effort on the agency’s part has an administrative and staffing cost. Therefore, in considering this sunset recommendation, TRS and the legislature should work to balance the needs of members leaving the retirement system with those who will remain in it.

Certainly, educators have a right to redeem the contributions they have put into the system if they leave it; however, they also bear some responsibility for being aware of their own money. TRS currently sends a refund application to members who have not requested a refund on their own when their membership automatically terminates after seven years of inactivity under Texas law.The report’s description of contributions being “forfeited” after seven years of inactivity could lead some to believe that former members lose the ability to redeem their contributions at some point. In fact, former TRS members remain eligible to withdraw their funds at any time, before or after the seven year mark.

As the sunset staff noted, federal law prohibits TRS from automatically returning funds to an inactive member. Should active and retired members bear the cost of additional staff, the use of credit reporting agencies, or sending out thousands of pieces of certified mail to track down long-time inactive members who have failed to claim their own money?

Finally, the sunset report recommends that TRS “adopt a member engagement policy to increase transparency on key decisions.” Generally speaking, this is an excellent idea. A policy that incorporates increased use of expanded stakeholder groups and a better methodology for clear and timely two-way communication could go along way toward improving TRS functions and educators’  perceptions of the agency. However, it is important that any legislative action around this recommendation stay focused on the broader context of improving overall communications between TRS and its members.

Unfortunately, legislators might end up focusing only on issues surrounding TRS’ abandoned decision to lease a particular property to house its investment division. If this happens, discussions could easily become mired in attempts to assign blame around this single, high-profile issue. Rather, the legislature should consider a more positive approach of trying to holistically improve TRS’ communications and engagement with and trust among its members.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 3, 2020

Educators across the nation have stepped up and are working at light speed on solutions for distance learning, showcasing their creativity, ingenuity, and care for students. As we approach the days we used to call “the weekend,” check out the latest education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes sent a letter to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath this week requesting statewide action regarding educator appraisals. Dr. Holmes stressed that it is important to protect and preserve the validity and fidelity of educator evaluations and that current conditions will not yield fair and valid appraisal results. Read more in this ATPE press release.

Gov. Abbott explains a new coronavirus executive order during a press conference with other state leaders, March 31, 2020.

Mid-March, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order to close Texas schools through today. This week, Abbott extended school facility closure for an additional month through a new executive order, which also asks Texans to stay at home and only go out for essential services and activities. At the earliest, school buildings could reopen on May 4th, but many educators and families are dubious that school facilities will reopen at all this school year. Today, Austin ISD became the first major Texas school district to announce that it will close “indefinitely.” Superintendent Paul Cruz wrote in a message that the district would “compensate all staff through the end of the contract and/or fiscal year.” Dallas County has also extended its local stay-at-home order through May 20, as announced today. Please be aware that educators are considered essential critical infrastructure workers, as they facilitate distance learning and/or perform other essential functions while school buildings are closed. To learn more about expectations for educators in responding to this crisis, refer to ATPE’s Coronavirus FAQ and Resources.

TEA public health campaign digital poster.

After Gov. Abbott cancelled this year’s STAAR tests, the education community anxiously awaited a federal announcement that states would be off-the-hook for testing and accountability requirements. Last Friday, Texas was approved by the federal government to waive statewide testing and accountability. For the 2019-20 school year, all districts will be “Not Rated: Declared State of Disaster.” This information can be found on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) coronavirus resource page, which is updated almost daily. It has several resources on instructional continuity, special education, assessment, graduation, TELPAS/LPAC, accountability, school improvement, educator evaluations, and more. The agency has also launched a “Stay Well, Texas” coordinated public health campaign that they have asked school districts to help implement. Remember, parents can use TEA’s new “meal finder” tool and pick up meals without their children being present in the vehicle.

In Washington, D.C., Congress has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or CARES Act. The two aid packages include billions in funding for education and children, student loan interest deferment, paid leave support, school meal service flexibility, and Department of Education waiver authority. The CARES Act also provides for direct cash payments to eligible individuals, which the federal government plans to begin distributing this month. Read more about the CARES Act provisions in our Teach the Vote blog post from last week. Also, check out ATPE’s analysis of the FFCRA to learn about expanded paid leave benefits.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos joined President Donald Trump at his White House press briefing last Friday evening. She announced that the department is requesting funding from Congress for “microgrants” for students, families, and teachers. DeVos’s argument for funding the microgrants matches her recent pitches for a federal tax credit scholarship voucher program. Read more about the microgrant proposal in this blog post by the ATPE lobby team.

For the latest ATPE guidance on dealing with COVID-19, we encourage you to visit ATPE’s frequently updated Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page.  Also, follow the ATPE lobbyists here on Teach the Vote and on Twitter for related legislative and regulatory news.


Even in the midst of widespread stay at home orders, Texas agencies continue to move forward with their work. That includes the Texas Sunset Commission, which put out its sunset recommendations for the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) this week. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter provided this overview.

Each state agency must go through a “sunset” review process every few years in which the commission takes a look at the work that agency is doing and determines if the agency should continue to exist and what changes should be made.

Unlike most agencies that are created by statue, TRS exists due to a provision in the Texas Constitution and therefore isn’t subject to being abolished by the sunset process. However, the legislature still uses the sunset review process to identify changes they would like to see in an agency and then incorporate those recommendations into a major piece of legislation in the following legislative session.

The Sunset Commission has identified four issues, with corresponding recommendations for TRS to address them. The commission’s top issues include a need for TRS “to repair Its relationship with Its members by focusing on their needs,” and a need for “more effective contract management and oversight.” Some of these recommendations stem from TRS’s recent controversy over lease space, but the commission’s report delved beyond any single controversy to look at root issues that impact multiple interactions and operational decision points that are affected by these underlying areas the commission feels are in need of improvements.

Tune in to our Teach the Vote blog next week for additional analysis of the TRS sunset report.


ELECTION UPDATE: Late yesterday, the Texas Secretary of State ordered local elections officials to postpone all municipal elections to November 3. While many local officials had already followed Gov. Greg Abbott’s suggestion to postpone their municipal elections regularly scheduled for May 2, some small and mid-sized cities had yet to do so. In ordering local municipalities to comply, the secretary of state referred to the governor’s latest executive order issued this week in which he recommended all Texans stay at home unless performing essential business and services.

Meanwhile, the 2020 Democratic National Convention has been delayed until August. National and state parties are rushing to adjust their schedules and programming in response to the need for social distancing and the unpredictable times in which the nation finds itself.

For more on campaigns and elections, read yesterday’s election roundup blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. Remember that you can research candidates here on Teach the Vote to learn more about their views on public education. The ATPE lobby team will continue to update the site with additional candidate info between now and November.


Response rate as of March 31, 2020 (source).

Great job, Texas! Our 2020 U.S. Census response rate has increased from 24% last week to over 36% this week, but we are still behind the current national rate of 41%. Census counts determine many important streams of funding, Including for public education. Unfortunately, the census collection now faces its own battle against the effects of the coronavirus, including timeline delays that could push any census work involving human interaction deeper into the heat of the summer. In a state like Texas, which has a large hard-to-count population, it is more important than ever that we push online/phone/mail census completion options to reduce the need for hand-delivered packets and in-person counting. For this week’s celebration of Census Day on April 1, 2020, find resources, updates, reminders, and play with an interactive census map in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier. Find useful FAQs on the 2020 Census here.


During April, we observe National Child Abuse Prevention Month to increase awareness and curb the incidence of child abuse and maltreatment. In 2018, over 63,000 children in Texas were victims of maltreatment, with over 11,000 of these under one year of age and 75% of all Texas cases due to neglect only. Across the nation, 92% of child abuse perpetrators were parents, and teachers are often on the front lines in observing and reporting troubling situations. As reported by the Texas Tribune, child abuse reporting has drastically slowed due to school closures and the newly created distance between teachers and their students. Additionally, families are enduring heightened stress and many of the protective factors that help to mitigate child abuse, such as social connections, support, and social-emotional learning, are also lacking during this time. TEA has recently updated guidance on reporting abuse to clarify that educators are still obligated to report suspected abuse and neglect. Visit childwelfare.gov for resources, tools, and even profile picture borders and email signature graphics to promote National Child Abuse Prevention Month.


ATPE wants to hear how you are adapting to a new educational environment during the coronavirus pandemic. Click here to email us your personal stories, tips on best practices for distance learning, or strategies you’re using to stay upbeat during the crisis. If anything positive has come out of the pandemic, it is confirmation that teachers love their students! Choir teacher Kelly Moss in Richardson ISD created this YouTube video to reach out to her students with song since they couldn’t be together in person. Get your tissues ready…


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 4, 2019

It’s been a busy week for the ATPE Governmental Relations team. Here’s a look at our lobbyists’ latest reporting for Teach the Vote:


Today, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met in Austin to discuss several items that would implement legislation passed by the 86th legislature earlier this year. These include the repeal of the Master Teacher certificate as required by House Bill 3, regulations pertaining to educator misconduct and reporting requirements, and new rules to allow military spouses licensed in other states to teach in Texas. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier submitted written testimony to encourage the board to explore options for Master Teacher certificate holders, so that they can maintain their current teaching assignments once their certificates expire. ATPE also testified in support of expanded criteria for considering “good cause” in determining potential sanctions against educators who abandon their contracts. Additionally, ATPE joined the board in mourning the loss of board member Dr. Rex Peebles, who passed away last week. Watch our blog here on Teach the Vote early next week for a full recap of the meeting.


ELECTION UPDATE: In this week’s election roundup post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, read the latest announcements on the “who, what, and where” of various contested races on the 2020 ballot, including a retirement announcement from a member of the State Board of Education. Check out the full post here. Also, don’t forget to register by Monday, Oct. 7, if you want to vote in the Nov. 5 election. Voters statewide will be considering proposed constitutional amendments that day, and a few districts have an opportunity to elect new state representatives.

On our Teach the Vote blog this week, we’re also taking a closer look at the special election for House District 28 in the western suburbs of Houston. ATPE’s Wiggins shares information about the education stances of the candidates and why the race is drawing widespread attention. Check it out here.


ATPE continues its Teach the Vote blog series, “New School Year, New Laws,” with a post this week on professional responsibilities. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier highlights bills passed in 2019 that relate to educator misconduct and new records retention requirements that could affect educators who store school-related information on their personal cell phones or other devices. Read the latest post in the series here.


This week’s latest video from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) in its “HB 3 in 30” series offers an explanation of the state’s new teacher incentive allotment. The incentive pay plan was one of the most hotly debated aspects of the school finance bill when it moved through the legislative process earlier this year. After ATPE and other stakeholders urged the legislature to reject earlier versions of the bill that relied too heavily on student test score data in setting the criteria for merit pay, legislators struck a deal late in the session that would offer school districts more flexibility.

Parameters of the new incentive program are spelled out in Texas Education Code (TEC), Sec. 48.112, offering school districts additional funding based upon their employment of educators designated as “recognized,” “exemplary,” or “master” teachers. Lawmakers prescribed some requirements for educators to become eligible for those merit designations in TEC Sec. 21.3521. HB 3 calls for school districts that participate in the incentive program to create a “Local Optional Teacher Designation System” containing specific criteria that each district will use to award the merit designations, but the bill also authorizes the commissioner of education to establish performance standards for those local systems.

This week, TEA issued correspondence to school administrators outlining the agency’s plans for implementation of the new teacher incentive program, sharing timelines, and providing additional resources. TEA also sent school districts and open-enrollment charter schools a survey this week, which solicits information on what type of student growth measures and other criteria are being used locally for teacher appraisals. The survey results will help guide the agency’s implementation of the Local Optional Teacher Designation System, including the commissioner’s adoption of those performance standards required by HB 3.

It is important to note that the Local Optional Teacher Designation System associated with the  allotment is only “optional” in the sense that a school district does not have to choose to seek the teacher incentive funds made available under HB 3. However, any district that does pursue funding through the teacher incentive allotment in the spring of 2020 is required to develop a Local Optional Teacher Designation System. The locally-developed designation systems “must include teacher observation and the performance of a teacher’s students,” along with any additional measures that are adopted locally,” such as evidence of teacher leadership or student surveys,” as noted in the TEA correspondence this week. HB 3 specifies that the criteria for awarding a designation must allow for the mathematical possibility that all eligible teachers may earn the designation (in other words, not limiting eligibility to a fixed percentage of the district’s teachers) and that the commissioner may not require districts to use STAAR tests to evaluate their teachers’ performance for purposes of the merit pay program.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) will face a sunset review in the next legislative session. Under state law, the sunset review process gives the legislature an opportunity to routinely examine the work of various state agencies and determine whether they should continue to exist. TRS is a constitutionally-mandated agency, which means it is not subject to potential closure through the sunset review process, but the review allows an opportunity for the legislature to consider recommended changes to various TRS-related laws. Before the legislature weighs in on TRS next session, the state’s Sunset Advisory Commission will gather data, take testimony at public hearings, and compile a detailed written report about TRS including recommendations for possible legislative changes affecting the agency. Between now and Dec. 6, 2019, members of the public may share their feedback about TRS with the Sunset Advisory Commission’s staff as they prepare their report. Read more about the TRS sunset review here.


In case you missed it, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter took to our Teach the Vote blog this week to share highlights from the Texas Tribune Festival. The festival that took place last weekend in Austin featured a number of high-profile speakers and panelists. Read more about some of the sessions relating to public education in this blog post.


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 22, 2017

Happy holidays! Here’s your week in review from ATPE Governmental Relations:


Earlier today, President Donald Trump signed into law a major tax overhaul bill approved by Congress this week. The president also signed off on a short-term funding bill to keep the federal governmental operational for a few more weeks until longer-term legislation can be passed. The final $1.5 trillion tax bill omits some provisions that were worrisome for educators employed in public schools, which ATPE urged our congressional delegation to remove from earlier versions of the legislation. For more on the tax law that was approved, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.


Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) has announced his appointments to two key state commissions. First, the speaker revealed his picks to serve on the new Texas Commission on Public School Finance, authorized by the legislature earlier this year. The House appointments include Reps. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), and Ken King (R-Canadian). Fittingly, all three of the representatives chosen by the speaker also hold leadership roles on the House Public Education Committee: Huberty as committee chair, Bernal as committee vice-chair, and King as chair of the Subcommittee on Educator Quality. Also appointed to serve on the commission is Nicole Conley Johnson, who is currently employed as Chief Financial Officer for Austin ISD. Additional members of the school finance commission were previously announced by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Yesterday, Straus also announced that Reps. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), Stan Lambert (R-Abilene), and Poncho Nevarez (D-Eagle Pass) would serve on the Sunset Advisory Commission, along with public member and retired accountant Ron Steinhart of Dallas. The commission is charged with overseeing and making recommendations to the legislature on periodic reviews of various state agencies.


Twenty Texas school districts will have an opportunity to take part in a pilot program using locally designed accountability measures. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath named the districts selected earlier this week from a pool of 50 applicants. The pilot program falls under Rep. Dan Huberty’s House Bill 22 passed earlier this year. For more on the local accountability pilot study, view information on the Texas Education Agency’s website here.



 

Sunset Commission adopts controversial recommendation to abolish SBEC

As it prepares for the upcoming legislative session, the Sunset Advisory Commission—a state commission charged with reviewing state agencies and boards in order to recommend ways to eliminate waste, duplication, and inefficiency—met yesterday to finalize and approve its recommendations to the legislature. Among the state entities being reviewed were the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). The Sunset Commission voted to adopt all TEA- and SBEC-related recommendations preciously drafted by the Commission’s staff with no changes or additions. These include a recommendation that the legislature abolish SBEC and transfer its powers and duties to the Commissioner of Education, which is a proposal that ATPE strongly opposes.

The Commission met in November to hear input from Commission staff, Texas Education Agency representatives, and members of the public. ATPE testified at that hearing and submitted written comments regarding several of the recommendations. Read the Commission’s December 2014 staff report, including responses to input on the recommendations received from ATPE and others.

Weigh in on Sunset

At yesterday’s meeting, the recommendation to abolish SBEC was voted on separately from most other sections in the sunset report. One member of the Commission spoke in opposition to the recommendation and voiced concerns expressed by many educators, including the potential for the profession to be governed by someone with little or no prior education experience. (There is currently no requirement in law that the Commissioner of Education have a background in education). Ultimately, only two members of the Commission voted against abolishing SBEC, and the recommendation was finally adopted by the Commission. It goes next to the 84th Legislature for consideration.

ATPE believes educators should have the right to govern their own profession. Restructuring SBEC to reflect an independent board of Texas educators elected by their peers would better serve the profession. SBEC currently consists entirely of members appointed by the governor and is an entity closely affiliated with TEA. Many professions are afforded the right to govern their own profession and have a governing board comparable to what ATPE supports for educators. Texas lawyers, for example, are governed by the Texas State Bar, an independent board of Texas attorney elected by the members of their own profession.

Other recommendations adopted by the Sunset Commission yesterday include removing the power of the State Board of Education (SBOE) to review and reject SBEC rules and giving TEA administrative subpoena power when investigating certified educators for possible disciplinary sanctions. ATPE opposed the recommendation to do away with SBOE’s veto power, because allowing the SBOE an opportunity to review SBEC rules at a public hearing gives stakeholders an additional opportunity to be heard and participate in the rule-making process. In the event that the legislature goes forward with abolishing SBEC and giving its authority to the Commissioner of Education, the SBOE veto will become even more important. ATPE has supported giving TEA limited subpoena power only as long as information gathered through investigations is properly and fairly shared with the educators facing possible sanctions. Among recommendations by the Sunset Commission that ATPE supports are providing for enhanced transparency and stakeholder participation throughout TEA and improving regulations that pertain to educator preparation programs.

It is important to note that these recommendations are not yet law. The legislature will convene in January to begin considering these proposals in the form of a sunset bill. ATPE will work with legislators to advocate for the adoption of positive recommendations in the report and against the harmful ones. The TEA and SBEC sunset recommendations will not be new to most legislators when the 2015 session convenes because they saw many of the same recommendations last session. State agencies and boards typically face sunset review once every 12 years, and the Sunset Commission reviewed both TEA and SBEC in 2012 and made similar recommendations to the 83rd Legislature. ATPE helped defeat sunset bills in the 2013 session, primarily because they called for abolishing SBEC. The defeat of those bills necessitated another limited-scope sunset review of TEA and SBEC this year, which will culminate in the filing of new sunset bills for the 2015 legislative session.

Stay tuned to the Teach the Vote blog for updates on the sunset bills as they move through the legislative process.

SBEC meets to address GPA requirement, sanction authority and new certification exams

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met in Austin last week—Friday, Oct. 24—to address a broad agenda. The meeting included final adoption of minor changes to SBEC’s disciplinary authority, a discussion of the State Board of Education’s (SBOE) decision to veto a recently modified SBEC rule that includes a minimum GPA requirement for educator preparation program (EPP) candidates, an update from Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff on new certification exams, and more.

Adoption of changes to SBEC’s sanctioning authority over Texas educators:

ATPE testified both orally and in writing before SBEC at its August meeting in opposition to two proposed amendments that sought to change rules surrounding SBEC’s sanctioning authority of Texas educators. ATPE expressed concern that the proposed amendments removed the “willfully or recklessly” limitation in current rule for certain violations relating to an educator’s duty to report information to SBEC or TEA. We further relayed that without these limitations, educators could be sanctioned for not reporting information of which they may not have been aware. At the August meeting—where SBEC took a preliminary vote on the proposed language of one of the amendments and voted on final adoption of the other—we were able to make small revisions to the proposal that received final adoption but still found the deletion of the language troubling.

Last week, as the board voted on final adoption of the second proposal, ATPE was pleased to see the inclusion of additional changes. In response to our comments at the August meeting and the comments submitted by others after the conclusion of that meeting, TEA staff presented SBEC with substitute text for the proposed rule change. While the substitute text maintained the removal of “willfully and recklessly,” it narrowed the scope of what an educator is required to report in order to avoid certain violations, which ATPE views as a productive revision. SBEC approved the substitute language and adopted the amendment.

Discussion of SBOE’s recent rejection of the minimum GPA rule for EPP candidates:

Earlier this year, SBEC began rewriting several provisions in 19 TAC Chapters 227, 228, and 229, relating to educator preparation. Included among the changes was language pertaining to the minimum GPA requirement for most candidates seeking admission into an EPP. The rule change was prompted by the passage of House Bill (HB) 2012 by the Texas legislature in 2013, a comprehensive teacher quality bill that ATPE supported. ATPE has published several updates regarding the many developments of this rule change, which included an initial decision by SBEC to raise the minimum GPA requirement, a subsequent reversal of that decision by SBEC, and, most recently, the SBOE’s rejection of the ultimate SBEC decision maintaining the state’s existing minimum GPA requirement of 2.5 or lower for EPP candidates. An overwhelming majority of SBOE members agreed with ATPE and other stakeholders that the current GPA floor is too low and urged SBEC to return to the drawing board.

At SBEC’s meeting last week, the TEA staff presented an update on the SBOE decision to reject the GPA rule and outlined three potential scenarios under which to move forward: (1) SBEC can begin new rulemaking and reconsider the GPA requirement, (2) SBEC can seek an opinion from the Office of the Attorney General about the requirements of HB 2012, or (3) SBEC can do nothing and allow the legislature an opportunity to clarify the law. (There has been some disagreement over the intent of the language in HB 2012 relating to the GPA requirement. Some believe the bill requires SBEC to set a minimum GPA no higher than 2.75, while others believe the bill requires 2.75 to be the floor. Both sponsors of the legislation have stated their intent that the minimum GPA be set at 2.75.)

A majority of SBEC members spoke in favor of revisiting the matter and asked TEA staff to provide clarifying and more extensive data on the GPA issue. Again last week, ATPE provided written testimony to SBEC explaining our position in support of a more rigorous GPA requirement, which is based on studies that show we can better prepare Texas teachers and create a higher achieving student body by raising standards for entrance into the profession. We are pleased the board chose to revisit the GPA requirement at its March 2015 meeting and encourage SBEC to initiate rulemaking once again.

Update on new Core Subjects EC-6 and Core Subjects 4-8 tests:

TEA and SBEC have spent the last year developing new Core Subjects EC-6 and 4-8 assessments—another requirement of HB 2012—and an appropriate timeline for implementation of the new certification tests, which will replace existing Generalist exams and will first be administered in January 2015. In response to ongoing feedback from stakeholders, TEA staff informed SBEC last week that they will institute a pilot period beginning in January and will collect data on candidate test performance. During the pilot period, candidates will be able to take the test at no charge. If a candidate fails to pass the exam during the pilot period, he will simply be able to pay to take the old Generalist assessment. TEA will provide SBEC with data collected during the pilot period at its August 2015 board meeting and recommend additional changes to the exams if necessary.

SBEC members were particularly concerned about the amount of time that is required to take the new tests and expressed interest in taking a look at the number of field test questions included on the exam. They also asked to see disaggregated data on pass/fail rates during the pilot period to ensure there is no bias.

Other business:

  • SBEC voted to begin live streaming its board meetings, a change ATPE welcomes as it will increase transparency and provide for more efficient dissemination of information. Watch for more information from TEA on this development.
  • SBEC took a preliminary vote to reduce many of the fees relating to certification services. For example, the fee for an applicant requesting a standard certificate was reduced from $75 to $65.
  • SBEC adopted a statement in response to the Sunset Advisory Commission Staff Report, which in part recommends abolishing SBEC and transferring its power to the Commissioner of Education. The statement opposes the recommendation to dissolve the board and stresses the importance of a governing board made up of education professionals. The Sunset hearing addressing this report will be held on November 12 and 13. ATPE also submitted recent comments to the Sunset Advisory Commission in response to the latest staff report.

SBEC changes course on raising minimum GPA requirement

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met in Austin last week—Friday, Aug. 1—to address, among many items, final passage of a proposed revision to 19 TAC Chapter 227. ATPE strongly supported the revision that would have raised the minimum GPA requirement for admission into an educator preparation program (EPP) from a 2.5 to a 2.75. In May, the board took initial action, following testimony by ATPE, to raise the minimum GPA requirement, but after much discussion on Friday among board members and strong opposition from alternative certification programs (ACP), the board voted to keep the minimum GPA requirement at 2.5.

ATPE, the only group that testified in favor of the rule change despite plenty of support, is a strong advocate for raising standards for entrance into the education profession. In addition to testifying at Friday’s SBEC meeting, ATPE submitted written comments in support of the proposal to raise the minimum GPA requirement earlier last month. Our oral testimony before the board last week was based on research and case studies that show raising standards for entrance into the profession have a positive effect on teacher and student success. We know that countries demonstrating the most international success in student achievement have imposed selective entrance requirements for teachers and that Texas EPPs that voluntarily set a higher bar for admission perform better.

ATPE stressed the importance of high standards for the profession. Raising the standards for teacher preparation will lead to more prestige for the profession and improved prestige will attract more qualified candidates to enter a career in teaching. Further, making the education profession more selective will better equip educators to demand meaningful change such as improved compensation and more support for new teachers entering the classroom.

Those who testified in opposition to raising the minimum GPA requirement all represented for-profit alternative certification programs (ACPs). These programs claimed that raising standards would lead to teacher shortages among certain populations and reduce the number of EPP applicants. ATPE disputes these concerns. As mentioned, research suggests raised standards will attract more candidates to the profession, not detract them. Additionally, the rule includes appropriate safeguards—safeguards ATPE supported and recommended that the board maintain—to ensure potentially great educators do not get overlooked. One exception allows an EPP to waive the minimum GPA rule for 10 percent of candidates who are otherwise exceptional. There is also the option to meet the GPA requirement by looking only at a candidate’s last 60 hours of coursework, where a student’s GPA tends to be higher.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) estimated that approximately 11 percent of candidates admitted in previous years did not have a 2.75 GPA. The 10 percent exception would have covered nearly all of those candidates. However, the ACPs testifying against raising the minimum GPA discussed percentages as high as 40 percent within their own programs who would not be able to satisfy a 2.75 GPA requirement—a troubling percentage of candidates much higher than what TEA found to be the statewide percentage, which merely adds to concerns about for-profit ACPs failing to impose adequate admission standards.

ATPE supports alternative routes to certification and a growing number of our very successful members received their certification through ACPs. Still, we recognize the GPA issue is extremely important for alternative certification paths where candidates face an expedited training and are often placed in the classroom almost immediately. It is crucial that we know these candidates are entering the program with a certain level of expertise in their content area to ensure that they are not being set up for failure in the increasingly high-stakes work environment facing new teachers. ATPE recently highlighted a national report that unfortunately showed many ACPs in Texas are setting too low bar on GPA admission standards, partly on account of state regulations that are too lax. SBEC had an opportunity to help improve the quality of educator preparation in Texas by raising its minimum GPA requirement, but the board ultimately declined with only two members —teacher Suzanne McCall and public member Laurie Bricker — voting to raise the GPA.

Research shows that access to an effective educator is the most important school-based factor affecting student success, and this is why raising the standards to enter the profession is so important. During debate on the issue, the board discussed a desire to find other ways to raise standards and we hope to see positive outcomes from that discussion. It will be particularly interesting to monitor the board’s upcoming decisions on raising standards in light of the forthcoming Sunset Commission report. The Commission’s 2012 report recommended abolishing the board and referenced a need to raise standards for the profession. Similarly, the Legislature has encouraged SBEC to raise the entrance standards for the profession, and the board has again disregarded those recommendations.

In other SBEC business from the meeting last week, ATPE testified orally and in writing in opposition to two proposed amendments that would change rules surrounding SBEC’s sanctioning authority of Texas educators. The proposed amendments would remove the “willfully or recklessly” limitation in current rule for certain violations relating to an educator’s duty to report information to SBEC or TEA. ATPE expressed concern that without these limitations, educators could be sanctioned for not reporting information of which they may not have been aware. We were able to make small revisions to one of the proposals, but ATPE still finds the deletion of the language troubling. SBEC will vote on final approval of the proposed changes at their October board meeting.

Additional housekeeping news included the election of Dr. Dawn Buckingham as the new vice chairwoman to replace Christie Pogue who resigned her position on the board to take a job with TEA, the addition of Leon Leal as a newly appointed member of the board, and the approval of new members of the Educator Preparation Advisory Committee to be determined by TEA.

ATPE input to Sunset Advisory Commission on TEA, SBEC

The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission is a state commission charged with evaluating most Texas state boards and agencies and proposing recommendations to eliminate waste, duplication and inefficiency where it exists. As part of its 2012 review of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), the Sunset Commission concluded that SBEC was inefficient and unnecessary since the board’s work is largely performed by TEA staff members and is also reviewed by the State Board of Education (SBOE). In 2013, ATPE helped defeat sunset bills that called for abolishing SBEC and transferring authority for regulation of the education profession to the Commissioner of Education. This defeat resulted in the sunset review of TEA and SBEC being held over for the Legislature to consider again in 2015.

In preparation for the 2015 legislative session, the Sunset Commission asked for input on its recommendations for TEA and SBEC. ATPE supplied written input to the commission, outlining our support for maintaining educators’ right to have a separate governing board for their profession and addressing other issues at stake in the ongoing sunset review. Read ATPE’s input here, and stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on the sunset review of TEA and SBEC.

SBEC discusses sunset review and educator preparation

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) held a board workshop Friday, April 4 to discuss possible recommendations to the 84th Legislature. Primarily, SBEC will again be under sunset review in the 2015 legislative session after a sunset bill failed to pass in 2013. The meeting also included discussion on developments following the 2013 passage of House Bill (HB) 2012, a bill by Rep. Mike Villarreal that, among other things, addressed educator preparation program admission and certification standards.

The Sunset Advisory Commission is a 12-member state commission designed to evaluate Texas agencies and eliminate waste, duplication, and inefficiency where it exists. Heading into the 2013 legislative session, the Sunset Commission concluded that SBEC was inefficient and unnecessary because the board’s work is largely performed by Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff and is also reviewed by the State Board of Education (SBOE). Sunset bills subsequently filed in 2013 called for abolishing SBEC and transferring authority for regulation of the education profession to the Commission of Education. However, ATPE and other teacher groups opposed those bills last year and prevented them from passing, which forced the sunset review of TEA and SBEC to be held over for another legislature. Thus, the future of SBEC will again be debated during the upcoming 2015 session.

The SBEC board’s legislative brainstorming at last week’s workshop was focused on working to ensure their survival through this next sunset review. The Sunset Commission will begin another round of exploration of the board’s functions in May, and SBEC members intend to demonstrate their significance. They will hear from TEA officials at their May 2 meeting on what changes have been made to address some of the concerns stated in the Sunset Commission’s original report. The board members feel SBEC is necessary because it serves as a system of checks and balances on certification issues at TEA, it is made up of professionals with experience and expertise in their fields, and the work will be more costly if done solely by TEA or the commissioner.

Other potential legislation ideas discussed by SBEC included giving the investigations department subpoena power and raising compensation for educators. Because teacher pay is out of the board’s authority and the commissioner already has subpoena power on his legislative agenda for next session, the board focused their discussion of legislative preparations on the sunset bill.

The board also discussed HB 2012 from last session and the efforts TEA is taking to address the portion on educator preparation programs. TEA has engaged educator preparation programs throughout the state and held regional field meetings to seek input and feedback. The staff will present final recommendations to SBEC on May 2. HB 2012 requires educator preparation programs to share certain information with their students, specifies admissions requirements for educator preparation programs, and raises some standards for certification. SBEC has some discretion over raising the certification requirements.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these issues following the May 2 SBEC meeting.