Tag Archives: TEA

From The Texas Tribune: Texas school finance panel approves final report to lawmakers

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

Texas Commission on Public School Finance member Todd Williams of Dallas, left, speaks with Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath and state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, on Jan. 23, 2018. | Photo by Bob Daemmrich for the Texas Tribune

Texas school finance panel approves final report to lawmakers” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

After hours of discussion Wednesday, a state panel studying school finance stripped its final report of language that blamed the state for inadequate education spending — and that added urgency to a need for more money to improve student performance.

The original version of the report, unveiled last Tuesday, included stronger language that held the state accountable for the lack of education funding and urged lawmakers to immediately inject more than a billion dollars of new funding into public schools. Scott Brister, the panel’s chairman and a former Texas Supreme Court justice, led the charge to make those changes, which he said would be more palatable to lawmakers and keep Texas from being sued in the future.

“I do have a problem several places where it says our school system has failed. I do think that’s asking for trouble,” he said.

Some lawmakers and educators on the panel pushed back before agreeing to compromise.

“I think we have failed our schools and we haven’t funded them, in my view, adequately or equitably,” responded state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, who chairs the House Public Education Committee.

Despite the conflict, the 13-member commission unanimously approved more than 30 recommendations on Wednesday aimed at boosting public education funding, improving student performance, cleaning up a messy funding distribution system — and providing property tax relief for Texans.

A final report will be sent to lawmakers, who are convening next month amid calls from state leadership to overhaul a long-embattled school finance system. Gov. Greg Abbott supported the panel’s vote in a statement Wednesday afternoon: “Today’s school finance commission report made clear that the state must reform the broken Robin Hood system and allocate more state funding to education. This session, we will do just that.”

The vote was the culmination of nearly a year of meetings and hours of testimony from school superintendents, education advocates and policy experts.

Panel members have bickered for months about basic foundational concepts, including whether the state had been underfunding public schools and whether they actually need more money in order to improve. The report takes a middle ground approach, promising more money to school districts that meet certain criteria or agree to offer specific programs such as dual language or merit pay for teachers.

Many of the debates among panel members Wednesday reflected their political divisions, with Brister — a conservative and Abbott appointee — arguing against citing a specific amount lawmakers should infuse into the public school funding system and school officials saying the panel should take an explicit stand based on its research.

An earlier version of the report said lawmakers should take the “important first step” of approving more than $1.73 billion in “new funding” for “the vast majority (if not all)” of the proposed programs.

The recommendation the commission approved Wednesday dropped that dollar figure.

Brister said he was uncomfortable sending a report to lawmakers that pressured them into making specific financial decisions.

“I am willing to say we will have to add new money to do these things. I am not willing to say, ‘And the first step is, every dime has to come from new money,” he said.

Nicole Conley-Johnson, chief financial officer of the Austin Independent School District, unsuccessfully argued to keep the paragraph in its original form.

“The spirit by which we were convened is to establish the changes and make recommendations,” she said. “I feel like we need to have the foresight to put in the estimated cost.”

Education advocacy groups criticized Brister’s decision. “There can be no real school finance reform that fails to address adequacy,” said Shannon Holmes, executive director of the Association of Texas Public Educators, in a statement after Wednesday’s vote. “ATPE is disheartened that some members on the commission were unwilling to acknowledge the reality of the limitation of our state’s current funding levels out of fears of sparking litigation.”

The report still includes cost estimates for recommended programs and changes to how funding is divvied up among schools. But it no longer implores state lawmakers to pay for them.

Among the recommendations the commission plans to send to lawmakers are:

  • $100 million a year to school districts that want to develop their own teacher evaluation metrics and tie pay to performance. The total amount available should increase $100 million each year until it reaches $1 billion.
  • Up to $150 million to incentivize school districts to offer dual language programs, which instruct students in both English and Spanish, and to improve their dyslexia programs.
  • $800 million to incentivize school districts to improve students’ reading level in early grades and to succeed in college or a career after graduating high school.
  • $1.1 billion to improve education for low-income students, with school districts that have a higher share of needy students getting more money.
  • Create a new goal of having 60 percent of third-grade students reading on or above grade level and 60 percent of high school seniors graduating with a technical certificate, military inscription, or college enrollment without the need for remedial classes.
  • Cap local school district tax rates in order to offer property tax relief and a small amount of funding for schools —a proposal from Abbott.
  • No extra funding for special education programs until the state has completed overhauling those programs in line with a federal mandate.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/12/19/texas-school-finance-panel-approves-final-report/.

 

Texas Tribune mission statement

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

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

From school finance and retirement to school accountability ratings, here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations department:


School finance commission meeting Dec. 11, 2018

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met on Tuesday of this week to begin deliberating recommendations for the body’s final report due at the end of this month. Among the suggestions discussed Tuesday were (1) outcomes-based funding hinged upon early literacy and student preparedness for entrance into college, the military, or a career field without remediation; and (2) a high-quality teacher allotment that would require school districts to develop local, multi-measure assessments of their educators. Those assessments would need to comply with criteria outlined by the legislature.

While some members of the commission bristled this week at the idea of requesting more funding from the legislature, others, including House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Humble), stated that he would refuse to sign a report that did not request more funding. Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), chair of the commission’s working group on revenues, suggested that the full commission adopt Gov. Abbott’s plan to cap property taxes at 2.5% annually. Meanwhile, Leo Lopez, Chief Finance Officer for the Texas Education Agency, pointed out during Tuesday’s hearing that the governor’s plan is more of a property tax relief plan than a school finance reform plan.

A more detailed breakdown of Tuesday’s meeting can be found in this week’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

Other recommendations in the commission’s draft report, which can be previewed here, include prioritizing the state’s “60×30” goal, which is to have 60 percent of high school graduates eligible to enter the workforce with an industry certification, successfully join the military, or enter college without the need for remediation by the year 2030. More technical recommendations include reallocating $5.34 billion in existing revenues and revising the current weights and allotments in order to boost the basic allotment, which provides a baseline of funding for all 5.4 million school children in Texas. Throughout the commission’s year of deliberations, scores of education stakeholders and experts have shared their input, including invited testimony from ATPE back in February.

The commission will meet once more on Wednesday, Dec. 19, to vote on its final recommendations before submitting its report to the legislature as required on or before Dec. 31. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on the final vote.


The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) Board of Trustees met in Austin at the TRS headquarters on Thursday, Dec. 13, and Friday, Dec. 14, for its final meeting of 2018. Board committees met on Thursday. Each committee’s meeting materials can be found below. The full board met Friday morning to consider the following agenda. Video of the board committee meetings and the full board meeting is also available for viewing.

For additional information, view the following TRS board meeting materials:


Today the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) released an updated Pension Benefit Design Study. This recent study augments the body of knowledge generated by a 2012 study on the pension program for Texas educators. The updated study released today by TRS outlines benefits and statistics about the pension system, and includes such findings as these, which are in line with ATPE’s positions on TRS:

• A total of 96 percent of public school employees do not participate in Social Security. For many TRS members, the only source of lifetime income in retirement is their TRS benefit. A lifetime benefit helps mitigate the risk of a retiree who — due to longevity, market volatility or failure to invest adequately — outlives his or her savings.

• A majority of TRS members would end up more financially at-risk by investing on their own in a plan with a defined-contribution component.

• The TRS benefit, as currently designed, replaces roughly 69 percent of a career employee’s pre-retirement income when that person initially retires.

• Alternate plans would be 30 to 124 percent more expensive than the current defined benefit plan to provide the same benefit level upon an employee’s retirement.

More information about the study can be found in this TRS press release, along with a one-pager about the pension program. The full text of the new report can be accessed here.

Preserving the integrity and solvency of the TRS defined-benefit pension plan for educators is one of ATPE’s priorities for the 86th legislature.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has released its final academic accountability ratings for the 2018 year. The ratings include results for 1,200 school districts and charters and over 8,700 campuses within the state. While preliminary ratings were released in August, this final release includes the ratings of districts and charters that contested their initial ratings. More information about the accountability ratings can be found here. To search the ratings by district or campus, visit TXschools.org 

 


 

School finance commission discusses initial recommendations

School finance commission meeting Dec. 11, 2018.

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Tuesday in Austin to discuss recommendations for the commission’s report, which is due to the legislature by the end of the month. The initial draft recommendations can be viewed here, and additional resources can be found here.

The draft report includes a recommendation that the 86th Texas Legislature “inject significant additional annual state revenue” through new strategic allotments and weights outlined in the commission’s report, including about $1.7 billion in specific areas. The report adds that for the purposes of new funding, members should note that an increase of $500 million in state funding is equal to a roughly 0.9 percent increase over the last budget biennium. This would be formula funding, targeted at the neediest studies, and tied to specific outcomes.

Commission Chair Scott Brister voiced reservations, suggesting that asking the legislature for significant additional funding is not the commission’s job. He later clarified that his chief opposition was to placing a dollar figure on additional funding. Several members pushed back, including House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), who said he would not sign a report that does not call for additional school funding.

The report also calls for reallocating $5.34 billion in existing funds to more impactful spending and greater system-wide equity. The commission recommends significant investment to substantially increase third grade reading levels. Outcomes-based funding would be targeted toward early literacy and post-secondary access of career, military, or higher education without remediation.

The commission is recommending a high-quality teacher allotment, initially funded at $200 million, for districts wishing to offer differentiated compensation to pay their most effective educators higher salaries sooner in their career. This would be contingent on districts creating locally-developed, multi-measure evaluation and compensation systems based on an outline created by the legislature. This includes the state setting a goal that top teachers have a path to a $100,000 salary and incentivizing districts to assign top teachers to the most challenging campuses.

Finally, the draft report calls for statutorily increasing the basic allotment, though it does not specify a specific amount. It calls for increasing the yield on “copper pennies” and compressing the rate in order to provide tax relief, as well as reducing the role of recapture in the school finance system. The report makes no recommendations regarding special education, instead suggesting that the current corrective action plan approved by the U.S. Department of Education should be completed before any additional reforms are discussed.

Discussing the commission’s major findings, Brister acknowledged that schools are being asked to do more than ever before. This includes higher security standards and providing for the physical and mental well-being of students in addition to educating them. He then asked to strike language from the report that says the state has failed to adequately fund public education.

After breaking for lunch, the commission returned for more in-depth discussion on individual recommendations. Commission member Todd Williams of the Commit Partnership in Dallas pointed out that the teacher compensation portion of the plan (Section D) does not include specific funding for strategic staffing such as that implemented by the Dallas ISD ACE program, which is intended to incentivize top teachers to teach at the highest-need campuses. Williams argued the evaluation system and strategic staffing system should be treated as separate and funded accordingly.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) then laid out the recommendations from the working group he chaired on revenues. The group’s primary recommendation is to adopt Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to cap local property tax revenue growth. The plan suggests capping growth at 2.5 percent annually, and replacing revenue lost by school districts with state funding. The governor’s office does not specify how much this would cost or from where the replacement funding would come.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez presented a chart addressing the three plans endorsed by Bettencourt’s group, which suggests that the governor’s plan would reduce local maintenance and operations (M&O) tax collections by nearly $1 billion and increase school district revenue by $300 million in 2020 at a cost of roughly $1.3 billion. By 2023, the governor’s plan is projected to reduce M&O tax collection by $3.7 billion while increasing school district revenues by $74 million. Lopez pointed out that this is primarily a tax relief plan, as opposed to a school finance plan, which explains why future funding is projected to flatten out.

The commission discussed the level of emphasis that should be placed upon the governor’s revenue cap plan. Members pointed out the interrelation of property taxes and school finance, as well as the need to focus on the commission’s statutory charge, which is to fix the school finance system. The governor’s plan alone would not change the fundamental mechanics of the school finance system.

Sen. Bettencourt has argued that the state’s coffers will be flush heading into the next budget cycle based on tax revenue from booming oil and gas production, but the state comptroller has yet to release a formal biennial revenue estimate (BRE) with hard numbers upon which to base a budget. State Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), who represents oil and gas-dependent west Texas, cautioned against relying on oil and gas as a reliable, long-term funding source. A combination of the governor’s plan and the commission’s recommendations for additional public education spending could add up to a price tag north of $5 billion for the upcoming budget biennium.

The commission is scheduled to meet next Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018, to vote on final recommendations. The commission is required by law to submit its report to the legislature by December 31.

Senate Education committee holds final interim hearing

The Senate Education Committee met today in its final interim hearing before kicking off the legislative session in 2019. The agenda included a discussion on mandate relief and innovation as well as an update on the implementation of two bills pertaining, respectively, to the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) program and educator misconduct.

The committee spent the majority of their time on the mandate relief discussion, which was guided by the following interim charge:

Mandate Relief/Innovation: Review, modify, or abolish chapters of the education code. Specifically, study cost-drivers, unnecessary mandates, reduction/elimination of inefficiencies, focus on policies or opportunities targeted to improving student outcomes, and better utilization of taxpayer resources.

The invited panel of witnesses primarily included members of a work group convened this year by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. The group was tasked with agreeing to changes to the Texas Education Code that provided mandate relief or innovation. The group consisted of a variety of education stakeholders, including ATPE, and ultimately agreed upon 20 recommendations (only unanimously agreed upon recommendations were advanced) for the 86th Legislature to consider in 2019.

The group’s work included considerations on data reporting, school operations, teacher quality, and classroom conduct, among other categories. The work did not include mandate discussions related to accountability or assessments. The official work group report will be released soon.

Regarding the innovation piece of the charge, ATPE member Aletha Williams testified in her capacity as a Teach Plus Texas fellow. She spoke about the importance of quality mentoring programs for teachers, saying that “when teachers receive quality mentoring at the beginning of their teaching career, they are much more likely to stay in the profession and become highly qualified educators.” While Texas has seen mentoring programs in the past, such a state-wide, funded program would currently be a new and welcomed addition.

The committee also monitored the implementation of last year’s Senate Bill (SB) 22 pertaining to the P-TECH program and SB 7 regarding inappropriate relationships between students and educators. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) offered invited testimony on the educator misconduct piece, saying the number of reports has risen since SB 7 was enacted, and increasing the reporting was the intent of the legislation. TEA also highlighted the issue of uncertified educators, which are on the rise due to laws like Districts of Innovation that enable many districts to exempt themselves from requirements to hire certified teachers. TEA and the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) lack jurisdiction over these uncertified school employees when it comes to sanctioning inappropriate relationships and other educator misconduct.  Some senators again raised their desire for a “Do Not Hire Registry,” confirming a bill to implement such a registry would be filed in the upcoming session.

An archived video of the full hearing can be found here.

SBOE tackles school funding, legislative priorities

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) voted preliminarily to increase the distribution rate from the Permanent School Fund (PSF) to 2.9 percent from 2.75 percent, based upon concern that some of the portion of the PSF managed by the General Land Office’s (GLO) School Land Board (SLB) has been held back from public schools. The total distribution will generate $2.38 billion and provide an additional $177 per student, down from $186 per student during the current biennium.

PSF Committee Chair David Bradley (R-Beaumont) said the percentage, while an increase from the rate discussed at previous SBOE meetings, does not fully make up for the reduction in funds created by the SLB’s decision to withhold funds from its distribution. Member Tom Maynard (R-Florence) described the decision as one that would increase the funds available to public schools while protecting the corpus of the PSF, which has been threatened by the GLO’s decision to engage in a “financial game of chicken” with the SBOE.

The board continued its streamlining of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for social studies after a full day of testimony Tuesday and discussions stretching into Wednesday’s meeting. Members also discussed the forthcoming Proclamation 2020 and cybersecurity courses.

Late Wednesday, the board discussed the Long-Range Plan for Public Education, which the board has spent more than a year compiling. Members made a few technical edits to the language, which can be found here, and discussed delivering the final report to members of the 86th Texas Legislature, which meets in January 2019.

The board discussed potential legislative priorities for the 2019 legislative session. Ideas considered included funding to support TEA’s TEKS review and textbook adoption process, funding for literacy and math academies, exceptional budget items for special education ad school safety, competitive teacher salaries and supports, new governance structure for the PSF, implementation of the recommendations of the school finance commission regarding dyslexia and dual language programs, and funding support for education service centers (ESC).

Member Marty Rowley (R-Amarillo) proposed asking for authority to raise the threshold textbooks must meet to earn the board’s approval to 100 percent from 50 percent of the required TEKS. Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) concurred, arguing that if students, schools, and districts are expected to earn an “A” for accountability purposes, the same should be expected of textbook publishers.

Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin), the board’s representative on the school finance commission, elaborated on the commission’s recommendations. While the recommendations are not final and one working group has yet to deliver its recommendations, members of the commission have proposed creating a 0.1 weight for dyslexia and a 0.15 weight for dual language programs. Ellis also updated the members on a recommendation heard by the Sunset Commission Wednesday to change the SLB to a five-member body, with one of the two additional members being appointed by the attorney general and one by the governor, with both selected from a list of members provided by the SBOE.

Chair Donna Bahorich (R-The Woodlands) emphasized that SBOE members should be ready to walk the halls for items that make the final list, and requested the PSF governance be placed at the top. Members closed out the meeting with year-end updates from each of the board’s three standing committees: Instruction, School Initiatives, and School Finance/Permanent School Fund.

Commissioner: School fund management needs structural change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Texas Tribune mission statement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Texas Tribune mission statement

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

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct.12, 2018

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


The deadline to register to vote for the upcoming general election was on Tuesday, October 9. Texas saw a record breaking surge in registered voters with 15.6 million people registering to vote by Tuesday’s deadline. Now that the deadline to register has passed, it’s time to get down to the heart of the matter: the candidates and the issues. Texans, educators especially, owe it to themselves to walk into polling stations fully informed on where candidates stand on issues like teacher pay, school finance, health care, and retirement. Use the “Candidates” section of TeachtheVote.org to learn more about the candidates in your district. You can also use Vote411.org to generate a personalized sample ballot ahead of election day. Knowing is half the battle.

 


The House Appropriations committee met on Tuesday to discuss school safety measures and the progress of TEA’s corrective action plan for students with special needs. Hearing testimony from Santa Fe ISD administrators on how they’ve implemented improved school safety measures following the tragic shooting there earlier this year. TEA Commissioner Mike Morath testified to the committee that the agency had requested a $54 million exceptional item as part of it’s legislative appropriations request (LAR) but members questioned how far that amount would go when spread statewide. With regards to the corrective action plan aimed at providing children with special needs the access to the services they require staff testified that additional funding would be needed and that at this time there is not enough trained staff available to evaluate children for special needs services. Find out more in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


 

SBEC meets to discuss trade and industrial certification, superintendent certificate

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting in Austin today. ATPE is here to testify and cover the meeting, with a particular focus on two agenda items.

The first item is one that we have reported on thoroughly. The 85th Texas Legislature passed HB 3349 in 2017, which created an abbreviated educator preparation program (EPP) pathway for certain candidates interested in obtaining a new certificate titled the Trade and Industrial Workforce Training Certificate. As SBEC worked to implement the bill via rule, ATPE expressed significant concerns with pieces of the rule that failed to maintain high standards for EPPs in Texas. SBEC ultimately adopted the language without the changes we and other teacher organizations requested. However, as the State Board of Education (SBOE) reviewed the rule, members of the board shared ATPE’s concerns and unanimously rejected the proposal, sending it back to SBEC for further review.

SBEC adopted a new proposal today, and ATPE appreciates that the changes address many of our concerns. Specifically, the proposal addresses three key concerns:

  1. It now maintains a focus on critical pre-service hours by honoring the same 180-hour structure that is required of all other candidates entering the classroom.
  2. It no longer expands the abbreviated program path to the Marketing and Health Science certificates.
  3. It now ensures only EPPs are able to provide training.

The fourth issue we raised, regarding the fact that the proposal fails to prevent these new certificate holders from becoming certified in any other field simply by taking a certification exam without the additional training required of all other candidates, will be addressed at a future SBEC meeting.

ATPE also closely watched an agenda item today regarding a review of the rules pertaining to the Superintendent Certificate. This rule has seen a lot of action in recent years with some seeking to create a non-traditional pathway that fails to require prior experience in public education (including teaching experience) and advanced education. ATPE has consistently opposed such a pathway for Superintendents and recently submitted comments to the board encouraging them to reject any efforts to create the pathway. The Texas Association of School Administrators also attended the meeting today and shared ATPE’s position to maintain the current rule without changes. The board had a positive conversation regarding the importance of administrators as instructional leaders. We will continue to monitor this issue to ensure teaching experience, along with strong managerial experience and educational background, is stressed as key to the success of superintendents.

SBEC meets again in December.