Tag Archives: Teach the Vote

ATPE weighs in on proposed Teacher Incentive Allotment rules

House Bill (HB) 3, the landmark school finance bill passed by Texas lawmakers in 2019, included funding for a new Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA). Despite almost certain budget cuts in the upcoming legislative session that call into question the state’s ability to fund the ambitious and somewhat controversial performance pay program, Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has forged ahead with implementation of the program. Administrative rulemaking to implement the new TIA law is currently underway, which affords the public an opportunity to provide input on the program. ATPE submitted formal comments on the proposed commissioner’s rules this week.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) began putting out information on the TIA through its HB 3 in 30 video series back in the fall of 2019. Earlier this year, the agency asked school districts interested in participating in the program to submit a letter of intent and also released guidance on timelines for funding and implementation. Additionally, TEA staff briefed the ATPE Board of Directors on the plans for TIA implementation in February.

On April 24, after more than six months of sharing guidance with the field, TEA published proposed commissioner’s rules on the TIA’s Local optional teacher designation systems. Local optional teacher designation systems are the school district-developed and TEA-approved rubrics by which a district can designate individual teachers for merit recognition under the TIA, giving the district access to TIA merit pay funding from the state.

During the last legislative session, the ATPE lobby team worked hard to ensure the laws creating the TIA program would include certain provisions protecting the confidentially of the teacher evaluation process. We also fought to ensure districts would not be required to use students’ STAAR test scores to rank educators, and that it would be at least mathematically possible under each district’s plan for all teachers to earn a designation if they met the eligibility requirements. In the comments we submitted this week, ATPE requested changes to improve upon the implementation plans and ensure that the fruits of those hard-fought legislative battles would be reflected in the TIA rules. Read more about how the legislature designed the TIA law in this Teach the Vote blog post.

TEA is now tasked with organizing and responding to all comments the agency has received from various stakeholders and potentially modifying the proposed rules accordingly. The commissioner’s rules on the TIA are scheduled to go into effect July 30, 2020.

Texas election roundup: Voter safety and a court ruling

The on-again, off-again saga of whether or not all Texas voters can vote by mail continued this week with a ruling from the Texas Supreme Court yesterday. The state’s highest court agreed with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that a lack of immunity to the novel coronavirus does not constitute a disability that would enable a voter to be eligible to vote by mail.

The issue remains clear as mud, though, as the court left much to voter discretion, saying, “…a voter can take into consideration aspects of his health and his health history that are physical conditions in deciding whether, under the circumstances, to apply to vote by mail because of disability.” Furthermore, in a rejection of Paxton’s request, the court ruled that local officials can’t reject voters who cite an unspecified disability on their application for a ballot by mail.

As we have been reporting here on Teach the Vote, the debate over mail-in voting is also being heard in the federal court system. Through an administrative stay, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has temporarily blocked a lower court’s ruling to expand vote-by-mail options last week. The fight is likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Also this week, Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughes issued a new, recommended minimum health protocol for voters and election workers. Formatted as a checklist, the protocol instructs voters heading to the polls to consider maintaining six feet of separation, self-screening, bringing their own stylus or pencil with eraser, bringing hand sanitizer, and wearing a mask. For those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, voters are encouraged to consider utilizing curbside voting, if they meet the eligibility requirements. Curbside voting is typically reserved for voters with disabilities who are not able physically able to enter polling locations without assistance or who may be likely to injure their health by doing so. The checklist also includes training and safety measures for poll workers and poll watchers, as well as overall sanitation guidelines for the polling place.

As a reminder, be sure to find what’s on your ballot here and mark the following election dates on your calendar:

  • June 15: Last day to register to vote in July 14 elections
  • June 29 – July 10: Early voting for July 14 elections
  • July 2: Last day to apply for a ballot by mail for the July 14 election. Applications must be received by the election administrator by this date (not merely postmarked).
  • July 14: Election day – Primary runoff elections and special election for Texas Senate District 14 (formerly held by Senator Kirk Watson, D-Austin). Last day for county election administrators to receive ballots by mail.

Find additional nonpartisan election information and reminders at the websites of Texas Educators Vote and the Texas League of Women Voters. Lastly, be sure to check out the candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote to see how your candidates answered the ATPE Candidate Survey and view voting records of incumbent legislators.

Dispute over CARES Act funding for private schools intensifies

Secretary DeVos testifies before U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee, Feb. 27, 2020.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued guidance in late April that directed public school districts to use their federal emergency funds under the CARES Act to provide “equitable services” to all non-profit private school students in their bounds. After building strife among education stakeholders and leaders, DeVos has now announced that her department will be “issuing a rule on the topic in the next few weeks and inviting public comments.”

There are two main differences between DeVos’s new interpretation of equitable services under the CARES Act and its strict interpretation under federal education law. Under various titles of federal education law (Title I, Part A; Title II, Part A; Title III, etc.), a school district’s duty to provide equitable services is based on students residing in a public school’s attendance area and the proportion of children who meet the criteria of that title, such as students who are from low-income families, migrants, or English language learners. The provision of services, such as tutoring or teacher professional development, is meant to make the private school option commensurate with the public school option for those students. DeVos’s novel interpretation argues that these eligibility criteria don’t apply for CARES Act funds, even though 90% of the funds are distributed by Title I formulas.

As reported last week by Politico, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, agrees with many others that DeVos’s interpretation differs from what Congress intended. “My sense was that the money should have been distributed in the same way we distribute Title I money,” said Alexander, adding, “I think that’s what most of Congress was expecting.”

DeVos has received negative feedback on this issue from members of Congress, state education leaders, and other groups. Among them is the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), which has argued that the department’s new interpretation is inequitable. Some states, including Maine and Pennsylvania, for instance, have decided to ignore the secretary’s guidance. Others such as Tennessee and Texas plan to require their school districts to heed the secretary’s recommendations, as we have reported here on Teach the Vote. The threat of rulemaking to formally codify DeVos’s interpretation is clearly meant to bring in line those jurisdictions that have objected to expanding the CARES Act funding eligibility.

In a May 22 letter (written in the form of a reprimand), DeVos responded to the opposition from CCSSO, using it as an opportunity to announce her intent to initiate the rulemaking process. The announcement marks a shift in tone and intensity, as the department’s move to a formal rule instead of guidance is much more binding. In the letter, DeVos argues that for purposes of the CARES Act, an interpretation of equitable services that only acknowledges students traditionally served by the provision under federal education law would discriminate against all other private school students, including those who are wealthy or otherwise advantaged. The secretary notes that 90% of the emergency funds appropriated by Congress through the CARES Act are directed toward public school students. While seemingly acknowledging that the CARES Act funds were based on the enrollment of students in public schools and flow through a Title I-based formula, DeVos insists in her letter that all students have been impacted by the pandemic. “The virus affects everyone,” writes the secretary.

As many educators know, equity is not equality. Equity makes up for inequalities in society by directing more resources and supports to those who need them the most. Providing “equitable services” to advantaged students on the grounds that these students are otherwise being discriminated against effectively nullifies the entire intention of equity. The federal government’s new approach to equitable services is actually more likely to widen the opportunity gap between our nation’s students.

ATPE has already communicated with our state’s congressional delegation about this issue will continue follow the rule-making process closely as it develops. Check back on Teach the Vote for updates and follow Teach the Vote on Twitter.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 22, 2020

As the 2019-20 school year winds down, state leaders continue to open Texas back up. While parents, students, and teachers focus on end-of-year tasks and COVID-modified celebrations, many education leaders are already focused on summer learning and how school will roll out next fall. This Memorial Day weekend, we hope our readers will get to take a much deserved break before starting the next chapter.


Gov. Abbott’s May 18th press conference

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: On Monday, May 18, Gov. Greg Abbott held a press conference to announce the further reopening of Texas. Child care centers and youth clubs were allowed to reopen that day, and businesses were allowed to have a limited number of employees back in the office. Today, restaurants may increase their capacity to 50% and bars can open at 25% capacity. On May 31, day camps and certain professional sports (without in-person spectators) can resume activity.

On June 1, schools can reopen to students, according to the governor, but with enhanced safety measures and physical distancing requirements in place. As noted in this article from the Texas Tribune republished on our site this week, Texas schools cannot require students to attend in the summer. Districts can make summer school attendance a condition for grade promotion, but only if they offer a distance learning option.

In conjunction with the governor’s announcement about summer school, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) outlined health and safety considerations for reopening schools next month, such as taking students’ temperatures daily and having students eat lunch at their desks. These overlap with the more comprehensive CDC school considerations, which also emphasize using masks and direct school systems to train their staff, have a back-up staffing plan, and strengthen paid/sick leave policies.

For more coronavirus-related resources from TEA, click here. Visit ATPE’s frequently updated Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page and follow the ATPE lobby team via @TeachtheVote on Twitter for developments on the response to COVID-19. Also, check out our recent recap of legislative and regulatory developments impacting Texas and education since the pandemic began.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is attempting to respond to numerous questions about what next year’s school calendars will look like. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has spoken several times recently about flexible school years, urging schools to consider starting the 2020-21 school year earlier, ending it later, and building in flexible “breaks” to accommodate pandemic-related issues.

TEA’s new school calendar FAQ stresses that calendar changes are local school board decisions, but that the calendar is a “key lever” in addressing student learning loss, even if this causes financial strain on the district. Teacher pay and contracts are also briefly addressed in the new FAQ, which states that, “in most cases, a district can require its teachers to work the extra days if the district: 1) provides additional compensation under existing contracts that permit extended calendar/number of days worked flexibility to the teachers for the extra time required to complete the adjusted school year; and 2) extends by agreement the existing teacher contracts to address the extra time and any associated compensation.”

ATPE member and former Texas Teacher of the Year Stephanie Stoebe told CBS Austin news this week, “I could support us having longer breaks. I could support year-round school, but I definitely believe we need to be in the classroom.” Also featured in the story, ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell noted that difficult school calendar decisions involve considerations such as childcare arrangements and the potential need for more funding that some districts may not have. Read ATPE’s recent press statement about school calendar concerns here.


TEA released new guidance yesterday on CARES Act funding for school districts, which includes information about using federal stimulus funds to provide services to private school students and the ability of districts to use the emergency funds to supplant, not supplement, obligations in their current budgets.

Commissioner Mike Morath

As expected, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath sided this week with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s interpretation of “equitable services” under the CARES Act. DeVos asked states to instruct their public school districts to use Title-I-based federal emergency education funds to provide services (such as teacher professional development and technology) to all non-profit, private school students in their bounds, regardless of income or student residence location. This interpretation differs from the long-established intent behind the equitable services provision in Title I of federal education law, which requires equitable services only for students who reside within a public school’s attendance zone located in a low-income area and are failing or at risk of failing to meet achievement standards.

Read more about the development in this Teach the Vote blog post.


ELECTION UPDATE: The on-again/off-again saga of mail-in voting in Texas continues, but appears to be off again for now. The Texas Supreme Court heard arguments this week on whether to expand mail-in voting in light of concerns about the spread of COVID-19. A state district court and appellate court both ruled in favor of expanding mail-in voting, but Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) appealed the rulings.

Also this week, a federal judge ruled that the state’s current restrictions on voting by mail violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and that all registered voters in Texas could apply to vote by mail. Again, at the request of Paxton, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed one day later to temporarily stay the expanded vote-by-mail ruling while it decides whether to substantively overturn the decision.

Read more on the dispute in this week’s Texas election roundup blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) sent a letter this week to state agencies and institutions of higher education asking them to submit a plan to reduce their budgets by 5% for the current biennium.

State leaders suggest cutting administrative costs that are not “mission critical.” The Foundation School Program, school safety, and employer contributions to the Teacher Retirement System, among other essential government functions, are excluded from the call for a reduction.

Looking ahead to the next two-year state budget that lawmakers will adopt in 2021, the letter from “the big three” leaders also warns of additional belt-tightening in the months ahead.

“Every state agency and institution should prepare to submit reduced budget requests as well as strategies to achieve further savings. Furthermore, when the state revenue picture becomes clearer in the coming months, it may become necessary to make additional budget adjustments.”


ATPE wants to hear from you regarding your concerns about returning to campus for the 2020-21 school year. We invite educators to take our short, confidential survey to share your feedback. Your input will help us develop resources and provide support for Texas educators and students during this uncertain time.

This survey is open to any Texas educator, so please share it with your colleagues. The survey may be taken only once from an IP address and will remain open through June 3.

Texas signals it may send federal K-12 dollars to private schools

This post has been updated from its original version to reflect new guidance issued by the Texas Education Agency on May 21, 2020. See details at the bottom.

Federal stimulus funding appropriated by Congress to help states and school districts deal with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic could find its way into the coffers of private schools and virtual education vendors. Even though public schools sorely need the federal emergency funding for their own students, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is calling for districts to set aside an unprecedented amount of their CARES Act funds for use by private schools. While other states have pushed back against that guidance, Texas officials seem more inclined to go along with Devos’s plan.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocated $13.5 billion for the K-12 Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund and another $3 billion for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund for K-12 and higher education needs. While both streams of funding are based to some degree on the number of low-income students, 90% of CARES Act funding aimed at K-12 schools will be distributed using Title 1 formulas. Second only to California, Texas is set to receive $1.29 billion in CARES Act ESSER funds and $307 million in GEER funds.

At the end of April, DeVos issued guidance from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) directing school districts to use their federal emergency funding under the CARES Act to provide “equitable services” to all students attending private schools in their districts, which is a dramatic expansion of the population qualified to receive such services. As districts look to use these funds, questions remain as to whether Texas officials will press districts to adhere to ED’s questionable guidance.

“Equitable services” is a term that has existed in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) since its passage in 1965. It refers to a school district’s duty to a specific population of students — those who live in the attendance zone of a Title I school, are low achieving on the basis of multiple, educationally related, objective criteria, and attend a non-profit private school. After a consultation process and an equitable services agreement with a private school, districts must provide equitable services to eligible students. Services include such things as counseling, professional development for the students’ teachers, or other instructional services that would improve their academic outcomes. DeVos, a long-time supporter of private school vouchers, wants to expand the population of eligible students from those described above to cover all private school students, including those from wealthy areas or not at risk of poor educational outcomes.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

Under federal law, the proportion of funds districts set aside to pay for equitable services agreements is determined based on the number of eligible students living in the attendance zone of the public school district as a percent of total Title I eligible students. DeVos and her ED colleagues, however, have interpreted the CARES Act in such a way as to divorce it from the ESEA’s standard eligibility criteria for equitable services. The interpretation effectively requires public school districts to offer equitable services to all non-profit private school students living in the district. This includes private schools that have never participated in an equitable services agreement in the past. To illustrate the change, the ED guidance includes a simple proportional example in which 10% of the children in a school district’s attendance zone are enrolled in private schools, which would be eligible now to receive 10% of that school district’s ESSER and GEER funds.

The secretary’s privatization efforts are no surprise to the education community, which has witnessed numerous privatization and anti-public school proposals being pushed from the start of DeVos’s tenure, from partnering with Sen. Ted Cruz to promote his federal voucher legislation to her most recent call for microgrant vouchers using federal emergency funds. Unable to garner congressional approval for the Trump administration’s voucher ideas, DeVos appears to be circumventing the legislative process by exploiting perceived ambiguities in emergency legislation that was intended to help public schools address the coronavirus crisis.

An electronic board in the Texas House chamber showed legislators’ votes for a budget amendment prohibiting vouchers in 2017.

The decision on how to use federal emergency funds meant for public schools is now mostly up to governors, state education agencies, and local school districts. As we have been reporting here on Teach the Vote, ED’s parameters for implementation of the CARES Act give governors significant discretion over how their state will spend the stimulus money. There are fears that Gov. Greg Abbott will allow the state’s set-aside of federal emergency funds to be used for private school voucher or virtual voucher programs here in Texas. Such an executive action would fly in the face of numerous polls that have shown little appetite among Texas voters for private school vouchers, not to mention repeated decisions by Texas legislators to reject voucher bills.

We expect to hear soon, perhaps this week, more detail on how state officials intend to use Texas’s CARES Act funds. The Texas Tribune reported in an article published today that Texas will adhere to DeVos’s plan for making at least a portion of the stimulus money available for all private school students, according to the Texas Education Agency. Unlike the other states that have rejected DeVos’s guidance, it appears that Texas state officials are poised to direct school districts to adhere to the ED recommendation, or possibly even take state-level action to funnel CARES Act funds to private schools prior to sending the remaining money to public school districts.

Stay tuned to our blog and @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the latest as developments occur.


UPDATE as of May 21, 2020: The Texas Education Agency published new guidance on CARES Act funding for school districts on May 21, 2020. Confirming the state’s decision to abide by the direction from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to expand eligibility for equitable services, the agency explains in its FAQ document that school districts must use their stimulus funding to offer equitable services to all private nonprofit schools within the attendance zone. TEA adds that the district must provide the services, as chosen by the private school, to any of the private schools who opt to participate. Under this guidance, school districts would not be forced to send the stimulus money directly to the private school for its own discretionary use, but the districts would have to pay for services requested by the private school

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 8, 2020

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! Hardworking educators have been in the spotlight this week, but soon the attention will shift to graduating seniors. Who is ready for virtual graduation ceremonies from home and honking parades of whooping high school seniors down the street? We are excited for the good news this week that teachers and students can celebrate their accomplishments (safely). Here is more of this week’s education news from the ATPE lobby team:


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: For a comprehensive look at the intersection of COVID-19 and education, from the first major event cancellation to the road ahead, ATPE’s lobbyists have compiled a new summary this week of the legislative and regulatory developments since the crisis began. Read the coronavirus recap in this May 8 blog post.

On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott expanded the types of businesses that can reopen in his phased plan to reopen Texas. Today, salons, barbershops, and pools will join malls, movie theaters, retail stores, restaurants, museums, and libraries as those that can reopen their doors to limited numbers of customers. This development is a change from Abbott’s previous declaration that the state would wait two weeks before expanding which businesses can open. It is still expected that gyms, office buildings, and non-essential manufacturing facilities will open (with occupancy limitations) on May 18. Abbott also modified his previous order by allowing weddings with social distancing guidelines.

Commissioner Morath speaks at Gov. Abbott’s press conference, May 5, 2020.

Education Commissioner Mike Morath joined Abbott at his press conference Tuesday to talk about graduation ceremonies. Under Abbott’s orders, graduation ceremonies and grade promotion ceremonies must be approved by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and adhere to certain stipulations. Outdoor ceremonies are allowed in rural counties between May 15 and May 31, and only with social distancing protocols in place. On or after June 1, outdoor ceremonies will be allowed in any Texas county. TEA has also suggested other options such as hybrid ceremonies (where students are video-recorded receiving their diplomas one-by-one and these videos are stitched together for a virtual ceremony), all-virtual ceremonies, and vehicle-based parades and drive-in ceremonies. Perhaps you’ve heard (literally) of some districts already honoring their seniors through “honk lines” or seen yard signs popping up to celebrate graduating seniors. TEA has provided guidance on graduation ceremonies here.

Also this week, TEA updated its main coronavirus resource page on nearly every topic and added new superintendent debriefs. Among many other things, TEA has provided updates to the protocol for employees who are accessing school buildings, the FAQ on optional end-of-year assessments (which will NOT be used for accountability), and the educator certification and preparation FAQ (including answers to questions about probationary certificates, rescheduling cancelled tests, and continuing professional education requirements for educators), plus new guidance on school calendars and start dates for this fall. (Read more on this topic below.)

Yesterday, Commissioner Morath sent a response to ATPE’s April 2 letter asking for a statewide suspension of educator appraisals for the 2019-20 school year due to challenges associated with COVID-19. In his reply, Morath declined to issue a statewide order and stated that, ”The decision to pursue waivers of appraisal requirements is strictly a local decision.” ATPE has yet to receive a response to our joint letter with 17 other organizations regarding a moratorium on costly charter school expansion during the pandemic.

For more resources related to the pandemic, visit ATPE’s frequently updated Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page, and follow the ATPE lobby team via @TeachtheVote on Twitter.


Last week, we reported that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has allocated $180 million of the funding approved by Congress through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act for private school vouchers. In response, ATPE sent a letter in opposition of this development to every member of the Texas congressional delegation, including U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R) and Ted Cruz (R). In particular, ATPE asked for strong congressional oversight of this use of funds and for continued diligence regarding federal funding for vouchers in any future legislation passed by Congress.

At the state level, the Coalition for Public Schools, of which ATPE is a member, sent a letter this week to Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to address recent suggestions made by Republican members of the Texas Senate Education Committee that the state should try to expand virtual school options in Texas, despite the data showing that virtual schools do not perform as well as their brick-and-mortar counterparts.


ELECTION UPDATE: With all the coronavirus news, it’s easy to forget that another election is slowly creeping up on us. On July 14, Texans in various parts of the state will be able to vote in primary runoff elections to choose which candidates will be on the general election ballot this November.

The runoff elections were originally scheduled for May 26, but were postponed by Gov. Abbott over concerns about the safety of voters during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the election has been postponed, many of the deadlines leading up to it have also been shifted. For example, the deadline for registering to vote in time to participate in the runoff elections is now June 15, 2020. Check out this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins for a list of important deadlines as we get closer to voting time.


One of the biggest questions on educators’ minds right now is what the return to school in the fall will look like. The variety in plans being contemplated by school districts for the 2020-21 school year was the topic of a recent article from the Texas Tribune, which ATPE republished here on our our Teach the Vote blog this week. Also this week, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) provided updated guidance on start date and calendar changes to account for student learning loss and a potential resurgence in virus cases this fall.

In particular, the agency has suggested that districts can become Districts of Innovation (DOI) or add an amendment to their existing DOI plans to allow for an exemption from the law preventing schools from starting earlier than the fourth Monday in August. This exemption is already the most popular one among DOIs, as many districts prefer to start their school year earlier, insert more breaks throughout the year, and end the year later. TEA suggests that this format of an “intersessional” calendar could help to build in breaks that may be used for remediation of students who have fallen into a steep loss of learning on the “COVID slide.”

Other districts may choose to implement a year-round school calendar, which in many ways is easier than obtaining DOI approval. Under this route, districts need only obtain board approval for a new academic calendar and designation as a year-round system, and they must notify their Education Service Center PEIMS coordinator of their intent to operate through a year-round system.

TEA has also suggested using the flexibility in additional school days for elementary students as provided by House Bill (HB) 3 passed in 2019. HB 3 adds half-day formula funding for school systems that want to add up to 30 instructional days beyond the minimum of 180 days, but only for grades PK-5 and only after September 1, 2020.

Related: The COVID-19 pandemic has already dealt an enormous economic blow to our state, resulting in declining state revenue from oil and gas as well as sales taxes. This has many educators worrying about budget cuts next year. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter discussed the financial uncertainty with KXAN this week in this news story about how school districts in Central Texas are preparing for the future.


When SXSW EDU was abruptly cancelled back in March 2020, many in the education community were disappointed to miss the week-long learning event in Austin, Texas. Since then, SXSW EDU has gone virtual. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier attended this week’s virtual keynote address on growth mindset in education  The presentation, entitled “A Science of Human Motivation for the Next Decade,” is viewable here. Read Chevalier’s blog post about the session here.


ATPE member Morgan Castillo received an H-E-B Excellence in Education Teaching Leadership Award.

This week, ATPE member Morgan Castillo of Woodgate Intermediate School in Midway ISD received an H-E-B Excellence in Education Teaching Leadership Award. This award honors teachers with 10 to 20 years in the classroom. Castillo received a $10,000 award for herself and a $10,000 grant for her school. She was one of eight educator winners announced this week and chosen from a group of 40 finalists who received smaller cash awards earlier this year. Castillo and the other award recipients were recognized Tuesday during a virtual “Toast to Texas Teachers” organized by the #TeachersCan initiative as part of several Teacher Appreciation Week festivities.

ATPE has been featuring our “Work from Home Classroom Makeover Contest” during Teacher Appreciation Week. Visit ATPE’s Facebook page to view the entries and cast a vote for your favorite between now and May 13. Winners will be announced on May 15.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 1, 2020

If we’ve learned anything from COVID-19, it is that teaching is more than content; it is relationships. It is important to keep your friends and family relationships strong too. For more on what has happened this week, check out the latest installment of education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a phased plan to re-open Texas businesses, starting today with limited capacity at malls, movie theaters, retail stores, restaurants, museums, and libraries. Establishments are limited to 25% occupancy, although those in counties with five or fewer confirmed COVID-19 cases are allowed up to 50% occupancy. After two weeks, if there has not been a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, the state will move into the next phase, loosening restrictions and opening hair salons, barbershops, gyms, and bars. Phase two could go into effect as early as May 18. One concern expressed by some Texans is that workers heading back to work in phase one are not considered “essential” and may not have access to child care, especially since Abbott has ordered schools to remain physically closed through the end of the school year.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) this week updated its main coronavirus resource page on educator support, academics, student assessment, special populations and waivers, finance, and grants. TEA’s guidance on educator certification and preparation answers questions mainly oriented to last week’s announcement that certain educator certification candidates will be able to apply for a one-year probationary certificate. In particular, candidates will pay the probationary certificate fee now, plus the standard certificate fee later, once they pass the required examinations. Candidates must also meet all requirements for initial certification, which are outlined in the Texas Administrative Code (TAC) Chapter 230, Subchapter B, General Requirements (230.11), with the exception of passing an examination. These requirements include having a bachelor’s degree and submitting to a criminal history review, though candidates who have already been fingerprinted will not have to repeat that process.

Educators in some districts may be confused and even alarmed by renewed talk of end-of-year student testing. Even though this year’s STAAR tests were waived due to the difficulty of administration, and despite the reality that any test results gathered in the current environment would be unreliable, TEA is still encouraging districts to conduct voluntary end-of-year assessments. In addition, the agency will ask districts for another round of voluntary assessments at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. The agency wants these assessments for the purposes of gathering classroom data.

For more resources related to the pandemic, visit ATPE’s frequently updated Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page, and follow the ATPE lobby team via @TeachtheVote on Twitter.


FEDERAL UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced this week that it will use some of the funding approved by Congress through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act for competitive grants to states that may used the money for private school vouchers. The $180 million “Rethink K-12 Education Models” or “REM” grant would be available for implementation of  voucher programs, statewide virtual learning, or other models of remote learning. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a vocal proponent of vouchers, has previously said her department would urge Congress to approve a form of voucher termed a “microgrant,” but many lawmakers were surprised by her decision to use the CARES Act funding, intended to provide coronavirus relief, in this manner. Read more about the development in this blog post here on Teach the Vote.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

DeVos also announced this week that ED would not seek additional waiver authority from Congress on the Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). Additionally, the Department is not requesting further waiver authority from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), but it is requesting various waivers under other federal education statutes such as the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the IDEA, and the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act that mostly pertain to flexibility in using federal funds. The CARES Act required DeVos to notify Congress 30 days after its passage on any additional requests for waiver authority.


ELECTION UPDATE: We reported last week on a Texas district court’s ruling that effectively allowed all Texans to vote by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has now appealed that decision, notifying county officials in a letter today that his appeal prevents the district judge’s ruling from taking effect in the meantime.

By state law, mail-in ballots in Texas have generally been restricted for use only by individuals who are over the age of 65, absent from the county during the election, or suffering from an illness or disability. Travis County District Judge Tim Sulak issued injunctive relief last month to expand opportunities for mail-in voting, treating fear of contracting COVID-19 under the disability portion of the statute and noting in his order, “Time is of the essence.” Representing the state, the attorney general has taken the position that a healthy person’s fear of contracting the coronavirus does not constitute a disability and therefore does not entitle such person to vote by mail. Paxton also used his letter today to warn that anyone advising voters that they can apply for a ballot by mail because of a fear of contracting the virus through in-person voting may be subject to criminal penalties.

In other news, a new poll by Public Policy Polling shows Joe Biden (D) with a narrow 47% – 46% lead over Donald Trump (R) in Texas if the November presidential election were held today. The same poll shows a slim majority of Texans disapprove of the president’s job performance, with 49% expressing disapproval compared to 46% approval. Gov. Greg Abbott’s approval was higher at 58%.

Asked about their feelings regarding the coronavirus pandemic, 45% of Texans said they are “very concerned” about being around others. Another 33% said they are “somewhat concerned,” while 21% said they are either “not very concerned” or have “no concerns.”

A 53% majority of Texans said they are in favor of allowing all registered voters to vote by mail due to health safety concerns, compared to 38% who oppose the idea. Sixty-three percent of Texans said they are either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about voting during the outbreak, yet 88% answered they still plan to vote in person in the November election if voting by mail is not an option.

Most local elections originally slated to take place tomorrow were postponed to November. The runoff election for the Texas primaries, which also would have occurred this month, has been rescheduled for July 14. Check out ATPE’s election resources and candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote to learn about candidates running for office in your area.


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) held its first-ever virtual board meeting today, May 1, 2020. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified live during the video-conferenced meeting, conveying our support for options to address unintended consequences of last year’s House Bill (HB) 3 for Master Teacher certificate holders.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier

HB 3 eliminated the Master Teacher certificates and barred them from being renewed, which means that without action by SBEC, some Master Teachers may not be able to keep their teaching assignments once their certificates expire. SBEC expressed agreement today with ATPE’s position.

The board also voted to approve several proposals to implement the Science of Teaching Reading requirements of HB 3 and discussed effects of the coronavirus on educators. Read a comprehensive summary of today’s SBEC meeting in this blog post today from Chevalier.



May is National Foster Care Month. Did you know there are nearly 17,000 Texas public school students and over 437,000 children and youth in foster care across the nation?

Students in foster care are subject to higher mobility, more absences from school, greater rates of trauma, and are 2.5 to 3.5 times more likely to be identified for special education services. The adverse childhood experiences that children in foster care experience can make learning difficult, which is why it is more important than ever to promote awareness this month as children are separated from some of the only constants and love they may know: their school and teachers.

To learn more about foster care in Texas, view the Texas Education Agency’s foster care student success resources here, information from Texas CASA here, and resources from the Child Welfare Information Gateway including an outreach toolkit with shareable graphics and messaging tools here.


Social distancing is kind of the antithesis of teaching, so teachers are finding creative ways to stay close to their students. From reading to students at a safe distance in the driveway, to special signs in students’ yards and art lessons on the lawn, teachers know their students need love as much as they need content. ATPE member Victoria Norris of Aubrey ISD in northeast Texas shared on social media this week that she made mini cutouts of her Bitmoji to send to students, along with a fun and sweet note. Special actions like these remind students how much their teachers care and lay the foundation for engagement and learning. Thank you, Victoria!

ATPE sends our thanks to all educators who are transitioning to meet the unique needs of students during this time! #TeachersCan

Do you have a story to tell? 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.

DeVos uses federal coronavirus aid to fund “microgrant” vouchers

As we previously reported here on ATPE’s Teach the Vote blog, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a longtime champion of privatization, has been advocating for federal funding of “microgrants,” a relatively new term for a voucher that could be used for private schooling. When Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act in late March, which included an infusion of federal cash into an Education Stabilization Fund, it was at best questionable whether Secretary DeVos could use the federal relief funds provided by the act for her “microgrants” pet project. This week, however, it has become clearer that DeVos intends to use the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to circumvent congressional approval and plow forward with a publicly-funded voucher plan using CARES Act funds.

On the heels of last week’s release of the application for CARES Act funding, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) swiftly announced this week that an additional $180 million would be available to states under a new  “Rethink K-12 Education Models” or “REM” grant program. The department pointed to a provision in the CARES Act that allows it to use 1% of the $30.75 billion allotted to the Education Stabilization Fund for “grants to states with the highest coronavirus burden to support activities under the Act.” The department’s description of the grant program states that it is intended to “address specific educational needs of students, their parents, and teachers in public and non-public elementary and secondary schools.” The funding would flow directly to state education agencies, such as the Texas Education Agency (TEA) here in our state, without any requirement that the state agency send the funding on to local school districts. This raises the distinct possibility of CARES Act relief funds being allowed to flow from states to private schools or vendors.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

Because this is a new program, DeVos has applied a waiver to the REM grants that allows the department to avoid the need for a national public comment period on the grant proposal. The REM grant application package explains that state education agencies must use the grant money for implementation of “microgrant” voucher programs, statewide virtual learning, or other models of remote learning. Each state must also have the written approval of its governor, but it appears that no public comment will be gathered at the state level either.

Congress clearly intended CARES Act funding to be funneled to states that have faced the greatest challenges as a result of the pandemic. However, ED has announced that in awarding funds under this new competitive grant program, only 40% of an applying state’s score will be based upon its “coronavirus burden,” which takes into consideration factors such as the number of COVID-19 cases per capita. In a table provided by ED to quantify the coronavirus burden for each state, Texas ranks in the 41st to 60th percentile, behind 22 other states that could apply for the $180 million in REM grants.

Some members of Congress, particularly on the Democratic side of the aisle, have been quick to criticize DeVos for using the coronavirus relief act to fund, without direct congressional approval, other priorities of the secretary and the Trump administration, such as vouchers. Through our federal lobby team in Washington, D.C., ATPE has reached out to our congressional allies to express our concern and opposition to this coronavirus relief program being used for funding either traditional voucher programs or virtual voucher programs. We will be closely monitoring Texas’ actions with regard to seeking this money either as a way to fund a statewide voucher program or statewide virtual schools, which have had a dubious track record on fostering student academic achievement. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as developments unfold.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 24, 2020

Educators won’t see their classrooms filled with students anytime soon, so “emergency remote learning” and teacher parades will have to suffice in the meantime. Here is a look at this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: As we reported on our blog last week, Gov. Greg Abbott is slowly rolling out plans for a gradual reopening of Texas businesses, with more information expected to come from the governor on April 27. Abbott has ordered schools to remain physically closed through the end of the school year, while allowing educators to access school buildings to carry out their duties. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has shared guidance on entering school buildings, which states that teachers should self-screen, maintain social distancing, and wear a face covering, among other things.

TEA has also added to its website a COVID-19 Support page for Texas educators. This resource page has a more limited scope than TEA’s main coronavirus resource section, focusing on topics of interest to educators, such as certification and evaluation.

The educator support page features new guidance this week for individuals pursuing educator certification, including details on a waiver from Gov. Abbott that allows certain educator certification candidates to apply for a one-year probationary certificate. These candidates will have to complete the fingerprinting process, which – while safer for students – will also cause some hiccups as many fingerprinting locations are closed or have limited appointments. TEA announced last week that out-of-state educators who are on a one-year certificate will receive an automatic one-year extension. Next Friday, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is set to discuss other COVID-19-related educator issues, stay tuned to Teach the Vote and @TeachtheVote on Twitter for coverage. Find the May 1 SBEC agenda here.

As we previously reported, the State Board of Education (SBOE) briefly discussed funding concerns associated with COVID-19, a thought that is on the minds of many educators. ATPE is monitoring the Texas economy and has taken action by sending a joint letter to TEA Commissioner Mike Morath requesting the suspension of charter school expansions during this pandemic. Current charter expansions could cost the state $90 million dollars at a time when state agencies and other public institutions foresee budget cuts on the horizon. ATPE has not received a reply to this request, though there was affirmation at the SBOE meeting that TEA would provide a response.

ATPE also hopes to hear back from the commissioner on our request for statewide action in the application of educator appraisals. Several other states have suspended appraisals, while others, like Texas, have left the decision up to individual school districts. Many educators have expressed that they feel like first-year teachers again and some say they haven’t heard from certain students since they last saw them in school. While feedback is essential for professional growth, this unique situation is likely to yield unfair and invalid appraisal results.

For more resources related to the pandemic, visit ATPE’s Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page for frequently updated information for educators, and follow the ATPE lobby team via @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the latest legislative and regulatory news. Also, keep reading below for updates on federal developments pertaining to COVID-19.


FEDERAL UPDATE: More COVID-19 developments at the federal level occurred this week as the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released the long-awaited application for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act funding. The CARES Act provides waivers of various federal laws and $13.5 billion in education-dedicated funding, 90% of which is divvied up through Title I formulas. According to the Learning Policy Institute, Texas is expected to receive on average $264 per pupil for a total of over $1.4 billion dollars from the CARES Act. This amount includes the Texas portion of the $13.5 billion and assumes half of the Texas portion of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, which could send over $307 million to Texas, will go to PK-12 with the other half going to higher education. Without any additional federal funding, a statewide cut to education of just 6% would zap the boost from the CARES Act. Texas has also been approved for federal spending waivers, which will allow districts to move federal funds around more freely to address new expenditures and potential shortfalls in the future (though this will not solve overall cuts).

Congress also passed a fourth coronavirus aid package this week, which sends hundreds of billions of dollars to small businesses and provides assistance for hospitals and COVID-19 testing needs. For more information about how the other coronavirus aid packages impact you, including paid family/sick leave and cash rebates, visit ATPE’s Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) page here and the CARES Act page here.


ELECTION UPDATE: With Texas’ July 14 primary runoff elections on the horizon, many Texans are contemplating the safety of voting in person. The option of mail-in voting, while recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), has become a partisan issue. Ruling on one of two lawsuits filed by the Texas Democratic Party, a Texas district judge sided with voters last week by effectively allowing all Texans to vote by mail. This decision is expected to be appealed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has already refuted the arguments used by the district judge. Do you think all Texans should be allowed to vote by mail? Read more in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

Related: This year’s state legislative elections have even more significance with redistricting on the horizon. The 87th Texas Legislature is set to redraw district boundaries during the 2021 legislative session that begins in January. That’s why it’s important for Texans to respond to the 2020 U.S. Census. Talk to everyone you can about completing the census online, especially if they have small children. The census is crucial for funding public schools and informing redistricting decisions next year. Learn more about the 2020 Census and find FAQs here.


Master Teacher certification was eliminated last year as part of House Bill (HB) 3 passed by the 86th Texas legislature, reportedly to avoid avoid naming confusion with the “master teacher” designation in the new Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA) program. This has left Master Teachers wondering if they can keep their current teaching assignments once their certificates expire. The ATPE lobby team has been working on this issue with state leaders to find a solution and has made significant progress. Read more in this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


ATPE member and award-winning, 17-year teaching veteran Amy McKee of Leander ISD planned to have her annual show week for her dance students this week. McKee’s spring show is the culmination of months of hard work, growth, and team spirit, and is an emotional capstone for seniors who ceremoniously hang up their uniform hats at the end of the show. Not about to let her students miss out on the joys of show week, McKee put her creative skills to work and curated a series of special, “socially-distanced” events to honor her students.

Thank you to all educators who are transitioning to the unique needs of students during this time! #TeachersCan

Do you have a story to tell? 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.

ATPE continues advocacy for Master Teacher fix

While it is not uncommon for Texas teaching certificates to come and go as they keep up with the needs of an evolving education system, the legislature’s abrupt decision in 2019 to eliminate prestigious Master Teacher certificates caught many by surprise. To address this issue, ATPE’s lobbyists have been working diligently with state leaders and officials to ensure that the expertise and value of Master Teacher certificate holders is upheld.

Under House Bill (HB) 3 passed by the 86th Texas legislature in 2019, Master Teacher certificates can no longer be issued or renewed, effective September 1, 2019. The bill also repealed the authorizing statutes for those Master Teacher certificates, which were offered in Reading, Mathematics, Science, and Technology, essentially wiping them from existence. Master Teacher certificate holders will now find their certificates marked with a “legacy” notation, as designated by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC).

This change has left many of our state’s nearly 5,000 Master Teachers perplexed as to the status of their certificates and their teaching assignment prospects. Once their Master Teacher certificate expires, will they be able to continue teaching in their current position? Take the popular Master Reading Teacher certificate as an example (82% of Master Teachers hold this certificate). First issued in 2001, this certificate was designed for those who wanted to go above and beyond – only obtainable by educators who had already been teaching on a standard certificate. Because the certificate is EC-12, in some cases it allows an educator to obtain a teaching assignment for which they wouldn’t otherwise be eligible if they held only their underlying standard certificate. Teachers in this situation who want to maintain their current assignments must either pay to take a test for earning an appropriate credential, request permission to remain in their assignment on an expired certificate, or find another job.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testifies before SBEC, Dec. 6, 2019

ATPE has been working with SBEC, the Texas Education Agency (TEA), members of the legislature, and state leaders to remedy this issue for several months. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier submitted written testimony at an SBEC meeting on October 4, 2019, written and oral testimony at the December 6, 2019 SBEC meeting, and written and oral testimony at the February 21, 2020 SBEC meeting. ATPE also submitted public comments on the rule review of Chapter 239, Student Services Certificates, which is where the original Master Teacher certificates were housed in the Texas Administrative Code.

These efforts have led to important developments, including a letter of intent being shared by House Public Education Committee chairman and HB 3 author Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) and a decision to add a discussion item to the agenda for an upcoming SBEC meeting on May 1, 2020, aimed at finding solutions to the Master Teacher issue. (The May 1 SBEC meeting starts at 8:30 a.m. and will be broadcast here. ATPE will also provide updates on the meeting here on our Teach the Vote blog.)

In unexpectedly dramatic fashion, Chairman Huberty’s letter in response to ATPE’s advocacy was delivered into SBEC members’ hands as ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier was delivering her testimony on the Master Teachers issue during the February SBEC meeting. The letter stated that the intent of the elimination of the Master Teacher certificates was to avoid naming confusion with the newly created “master teacher” designations under the state’s new Teacher Incentive Allotment, also included in HB 3.

“Our intent was never to abandon the expertise of these highly trained educators,” Huberty wrote in the letter. “Holders of legacy master teacher certificates should be entitled to maintain their existing assignments without interruption, additional cost, or the need to seek additional certifications.”

Responding to the requests from ATPE and the letter from Chairman Huberty, SBEC members voted to create a separate agenda item for the May SBEC meeting to discuss options for Master Teacher certificate holders. ATPE has also sent a letter letter to Gov. Greg Abbott expressing our appreciation for his interest in the issue.

Master Teacher certificate holders underwent time-intensive, rigorous, and often costly educator preparation programs in order to receive this extra credential. Their roles are content-specific and include teacher mentoring duties as they support the other professionals on their campus. Master Teachers are also highly educated, with 67% having either a master’s or doctorate degree. In many cases, the Master Teacher certificates (especially the Master Reading Teacher certificate) are highly prized, and at least in the early days of the certificate, were accompanied by stipends. Furthermore, Master Reading Teachers’ focus on literacy is crucial to the reading success of the state and is directly related to many of the aims of HB 3.

As this issue progresses, ATPE will continue to work carefully to preserve the hard work and expertise of Master Teacher certificate holders and share updates here on our advocacy blog.