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Your chance to talk to the school finance commission!

If you’re a regular Teach the Vote reader (as you should be!), you’ve probably been following our updates from the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Now’s your chance to participate!

The commission was created as part of HB 21, which passed during the special session of the 85th Texas Legislature. The bill was a consolation prize to public education supporters disappointed with the Texas Senate’s decision to kill a school finance reform bill containing $1.5 billion in additional public school funding for the 2018-2019 budget biennium.

The commission’s titular purpose is to discuss and make recommendations for how to improve the state’s “lawful but awful” school finance system. The first few meetings have focused on broad issues such as demographics, funding, educator retention, and charter schools. While some of the invited witnesses – including ATPE executive director Gary Godsey – have provided important perspectives, the commission has also served as a forum for outside actors with a financial interest in promoting vouchers and other schemes that would weaken the public school system.

Members of the public will now get the chance to address the 13-member commission at the upcoming March 19 meeting. This will likely be the only time educators, parents, students, and other community members will be allowed to speak their minds in front of this group.

The commission will present its recommendations to the governor and legislature at the end of the year. These recommendations may include everything from how much to pay teachers to how many students can be assigned to a single classroom, or whether taxpayer dollars should be transferred from the public school system to subsidize private school tuition. Details of the meeting are as follows:

Texas Commission on Public School Finance

Monday, March 19, 2018 – 9:00 a.m.

William B. Travis Building, Room 1-104

1701 N. Congress Avenue, Austin TX

The commission will hear from invited witnesses before opening testimony to members of the public. Public testimony will be limited to three minutes per person. A sign-up sheet will be posted on the commission’s webpage two days prior to the meeting. Sign-up sheets will also be available at the meeting. Those who are unable to attend the meeting can e-mail their comments to schoolfinancecommission@tea.texas.gov. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) will provide a livestream of the meeting that can be viewed here on Monday.

This meeting is expected to last well into the evening, but it is important that educators provide input. Consider that the state currently contributes just 38 percent of the cost for educating our students, down from a roughly 50-50 split a decade ago. As state lawmakers have gradually decreased the share the state chips in, school districts have been forced to increasingly rely on local property taxes to make up the difference. At the same time, some lawmakers are openly discussing ways to remove even more money from the system through vouchers and other forms of privatization. Here are some questions to think about when crafting your message if you plan to testify before the commission:

  1. What resources do you need to meet your students’ needs?
  2. What sorts of programs, benefits, or incentives would help attract and retain quality teachers?
  3. How would you explain the importance of making sure education dollars are spent on our public schools and not funneled out to private entities or used for other non-education purposes?
  4. Are you also a homeowner who pays property taxes? Increasing the state’s share of education funding to at least 50 percent would place less burden on school districts to raise local property taxes in order to keep their schools operating. How might this change help you as a taxpayer while also meeting the needs of our public schools?

There are plenty of resources available if you’d like to do your own research. You can search numerous articles here at Teach the Vote covering the entire universe of public education issues. You can also check out good primers such as this one by the Center for Public Policy Priorities. ATPE members who are considering testifying are also invited to contact our lobby team for any additional guidance.

We hope you take the time to stop by the meeting to testify or e-mail comments if you’re unable to make it. Let’s make sure our teacher voice is heard loud and clear!


From the Texas Tribune: One Texas Board of Education primary result could spell a return to culture wars

Left to right: State Board of Education District 11 incumbent Pat Hardy and her two Republican primary challengers, Feyi Obamehinti and Cheryl Surber. Photos from Facebook campaign pages

Over her 16 years on the State Board of Education, Pat Hardy has rallied for her share of socially conservative measures. She’s endorsed keeping “pro-American” values in history textbooks. She’s backed emphasizing “states’ rights” instead of slavery as the cause of the Civil War. And she’s supported teaching “both sides” of arguments around climate change.

But her Republican challengers in the March 6 primaries — Feyi Obamehinti and Cheryl Surber— are telling voters that they’re even further to the right. (Surber’s campaign Facebook page even refers to her as the “Donald Trump of the Texas State Board of Education” candidate.)

“It’s probably true!” Hardy said. “Which is funny because I’m very conservative. But they are to the right of me.”

The Fort Worth representative, a retired public school social studies teacher, is fighting to keep her seat in one of the most anticipated State Board of Education contests this year. Hardy’s District 11 seat is one of seven up in the 2018 midterms, including three other seats where incumbents are also fending off challengers. Three other incumbents are stepping down, prompting open races.

But experts say Hardy’s race in particular could help determine whether the board will retain its recent political equilibrium or return to a more polarized iteration characterized by frequent head-butting among the board’s liberal, moderate Republican and social conservative factions, which has earned it national notoriety for decades.

“With three open seats, this is a really important election for the state board, because the board has moved closer to the center over the last several election cycles,” said Dan Quinn, spokesperson for left-leaning state board watchdog Texas Freedom Network. “The question is whether it will continue to do that or if we’ll see a swing back to the fringe politics that have dominated the board for the last 20 years, or longer than 20 years.”

Whoever wins will be responsible for setting curriculum standards and making textbook recommendations for schools across the state, deciding what 5.4 million Texas students learn.

Over the next couple of years, the new board’s responsibilities will include the politically fraught duty of tackling a full revision of health standards, including how schools teach sex education, informing the content for textbooks Texas teachers will use for years.

“What students learn about contraception in a state with one of the highest rates of teen birth rates in the nation will be up for debate,” Quinn said.

Challenging a swing vote

The State Board of Education has 15 members, each representing nearly 2 million Texans. Though the board is made up of 10 Republicans and five Democrats, its debates often divide the board three ways — between Democrats, moderate conservatives and social conservatives.

Hardy describes herself as a Republican who doesn’t always fit the mold, often a swing vote on the board.

“You have a balance on the board, which means that each of those three groups are compelled to work with one of the others to accomplish their goals,” said David Anderson, a longtime education lobbyist at Hillco Partners. “If you lose Pat to one of the other two candidates, you lose a critical part of that balance.”

Hardy’s district covers Parker County and parts of Dallas and Tarrant counties.

Hardy does not believe Texas should subsidize private school tuition for parents. “I’ve always felt the public school was a unique thing that historically set us apart from other countries because we had free education,” she said.

Her opponents argue parents should be able to use state money to go to any type of school they want. Obamehinti, a former public school teacher and current education consultant from Keller, also homeschooled her daughter for 11 years and wants to make it easier for other parents to have the same option.

The board has no jurisdiction over whether to approve vouchers or similar programs, but candidates’ views on this issue may indicate whether they want to improve the current public education system or overhaul it in favor of a more free-market approach.

Obamehinti also supports teaching creationism in science classrooms and is skeptical of the idea that the state should approve a Mexican-American studies course, a current consideration on the board. She argues she can do a better job of reaching out to constituents than Hardy has done. “I live in District 11, and I have never had any outreach in 16 years,” she said.

Surber said she would never be a swing vote on the board. “I’m like the Donald Trump of this race. I want to hear various sides, even sides that might disagree with me,” she said. She said she is not in favor of a Mexican-American studies course for Texas because students are “in the United States of America. We’re not in Mexico. We’re not in Canada. We need to learn American history.”

She holds extreme views on many subjects and often affirms various conspiracy theories on her personal Facebook page. This week, she put up a few posts suggesting survivors of the Parkland, Florida, mass shooting who have publicly advocated for gun control measures are “crisis actors,” not students, a notion that has been widely debunked.

Two Democrats are also running for Hardy’s seat: Carla Morton, a pediatric neuropsychologist and special education advocate in Fort Worth, and Celeste Light, who has no campaign website set up and has not responded to media requests for comment.

Decisive primaries

Three State Board members — Beaumont Republican David Bradley, Dallas Republican Geraldine “Tincy” Miller and Fort Worth Democrat Erika Beltran — are stepping down this year. In all three seats, a candidate from the incumbent’s party is running unopposed in the primary: Matt Robinson in Bradley’s District 7, Pam Little in Miller’s District 12, and Aicha Davis in Beltran’s District 13.

Given their voting history, those districts are unlikely to change party hands, meaning those three candidates will win, said Mark Jones, political science professor at Rice University. “We often talk about how the primaries are decisive. In the State Board of Education, they’re 100 percent decisive,” he said. “There’s no doubt whatsoever about who’s going to win in November because of the way the districts have been drawn.”

Bradley, one of those incumbents, is widely considered one of the most socially conservative and most divisive members on the board, supporting abstinence-only education and creationism in science classes.

“I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” he said, before the board voted to adopt more right-leaning social studies curriculum standards in 2010. “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”

In 2016, he sent an email proposing board members walk out of a discussion about a Mexican-American studies textbook that advocates and academics considered racist, in order to “deny the Hispanics a record vote.”

Bradley’s likely replacement is Robinson, a Friendswood ISD board member and physician, the only Republican running for the District 7 seat. Bradley endorsed Robinson a few months after he filed paperwork to run.

“Generally speaking, if you voted for David Bradley in the past, you’d feel good about voting for me,” Robinson said. “If you didn’t, you might still be happy with me.”

Robinson said schools should teach abstinence-only sexual education: “I think that should be the limit of what they do.”

He supports state subsidy programs that would help parents pay for private schools, such as vouchers or education savings accounts — generally opposed by public education advocates, who see the subsidies as a potential financial drain on public schools.

But, unlike many conservatives who support these subsidies, Robinson argues a child who takes state money to a private school should have to take the state standardized test or participate in some other form of state accountability. “It would not really be fair to have no restrictions or oversight whatsoever for private schools where state dollars are going,” he said.

Miller, also leaving her seat at the end of the year, is generally considered more moderate than Bradley and is best known for pushing the state’s first law mandating schools serve kids with dyslexia. Miller has endorsed her likely replacement, Pam Little, who is a retired regional vice president at publishing company Houghton Mifflin. Little said she supports abstinence as the first approach to sex education, and has not yet made up her mind on whether health standards should include education on contraception.

When Little ran for Miller’s seat in 2012, she said that local communities should be able to decide whether to offer any additional sex education, given the state’s high teen pregnancy rate.

Beltran endorsed Davis, her likely replacement, upon retiring from the board. A 2011 transplant to Texas, Davis has been a middle and high school science and engineering teacher for the past decade.

Disclosure: Hillco Partners and Rice University have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/02/23/texas-board-education-primary-could-spell-return-culture-wars/.


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.

ATPE testifies before school finance commission

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met this morning, Feb. 22, in Austin to consider another round of testimony, this time largely focused on teacher quality. Chairman Justice Scott Brister began the meeting by announcing subcommittee assignments.

Texas Commission on Public School Finance meeting, Feb. 22, 2018.

The Revenue Committee will be led by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and include state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), Nicole Conley Johnson, Elvira Reyna, and Justice Brister. The Expenditures Committee will be led by state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) and include state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), state Sen. Larry Taylor, State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin), and Justice Brister. The Outcomes Committee will be led by Todd Williams and include state Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), Dr. Doug Killian, Melissa Martin, and Sen. Taylor.

The first to testify was Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez, who presented information that $28.8 billion of combined state, local, and federal funding was spent on instruction in 2016, which comprised 47.7 percent of total education spending. Rep. Huberty, who chairs the House Public Education Committee, pointed out that when factoring in instructional materials and other classroom supports, the 47.7 percent figure does not accurately capture the percentage of funding spent directly on students in the classroom.

Rep. Bernal, who is vice-chair of the House Public Education Committee, asked about the cost to the state that can be attributed to teacher turnover. Austin ISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley Johnson answered that each teacher who leaves her district costs between $7,000 and $12,000, which doesn’t even address the negative impact on students. Teacher turnover has been estimated to cost the nation $2.2 billion per year.

The commission heard next from Dr. Eric Hanushek, a professional paid witness who has made a living for decades testifying in court against efforts to increase and equalize school funding, as well as advocating for private school vouchers. Hanushek laid most of the blame for poor student performance at the feet of teachers, but argued against increasing teacher pay. Member Ellis contended that there is a strong statistical relationship between total school spending and results, and that how much is being spent is at least of equal importance as the manner in which the money is spent. Several other commission members, including Conley Johnson and Rep. Bernal, pushed back on Hanushek’s attempts to minimize the importance of adequate school funding.

Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojisa testified regarding his district’s efforts to implement a robust performance-based pay system. The Dallas system provides teachers significant tiered pay increases based on performance. Rep. Huberty lauded the concept, but raised questions about cost and affordability. Hinojosa conceded that the program is unsustainable going forward, and as such is being “recalibrated” in order to bring costs under control. Hinojosa also pointed out that public school districts offer many “school choice” options, which include magnet schools and district transfers. According to data presented by Todd Williams, who advises Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings on education policy, implementing Dallas ISD’s ACE program costs $1,295 per student, or roughly $800,000 per campus. The commission heard from several more witnesses describing various performance pay programs.

ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey and Lobbyist Monty Exter testify before the school finance commission.

ATPE executive director Gary Godsey testified before the commission, and began by stating the obvious: Texas schools need more money. Godsey informed the commission that teachers often experience low morale, difficult working conditions, and the feeling they are underappreciated. Teacher turnover costs Texas an estimated $500 million per year. Some initiatives, such as mentorship programs, could reduce turnover with a minimal impact on school budgets. Regarding pay, Godsey testified that teachers are very concerned about efforts to repeal the minimum salary schedule (MSS), which guarantees a minimum level of pay for educators that increases over time. In addition to other low-cost initiatives to reduce turnover, Godsey suggested modifying funding weights and tracking the distribution of teacher quality. Regarding performance pay programs, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified that incentive pay must be complemented by adequate base pay and should not be tied solely to student test scores. Exter added that any incentive pay program must be financially viable in the long term in order to achieve buy-in from educators and administrators.

The final panel addressed prekindergarten programs, and witnesses emphasized the importance of pre-K in getting children prepared to learn and excel in elementary school. Witnesses testified that dollars invested in early education are dollars saved in remediation later on in a student’s educational career.

The commission is scheduled to meet next on March 7, followed by a March 19 meeting that will be open to comments from members of the public. Another meeting is scheduled for April 5.

School finance commission holds first meeting

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance held its first meeting Tuesday in Austin following its creation as part of House Bill (HB) 21, which was passed during the 85th Texas Legislature’s first special session. Justice Scott Brister, who was appointed chair of the commission by Gov. Greg Abbott, opened the meeting by reading a letter from the governor.

Texas Commission on Public School Finance meeting January 23, 2018.

In the letter, Gov. Abbott stated three goals for the commission: To change the “defective” structure of school finance, foster innovation in public education, and explore alternatives to the property tax.

In his own opening remarks, Brister suggested the new federal tax law passed in December will increase the pressure to cut property taxes as a result of the elimination of federal income tax deductions for state and local property taxes, which have generally been useful to the owners of more expensive homes who itemize their taxes. The opening remarks quickly illustrated a divide between those seeking a holistic reform and improved outcomes versus those solely focused on cutting property taxes.

House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston) expressed disappointment that the House and Senate were unable to move the ball forward on school finance reform last session and emphasized the fact that school finance reform and property tax relief go hand in hand. Noting that fixing the system is lawmakers’ responsibility, Chairman Huberty expressed hope that the commission will result in meaningful progress.

Brister announced the commission will subdivide into working groups on specific topics. Future meetings will largely be restricted to invited testimony only, although at least one future meeting will be open to testimony from members of the public.

Tuesday’s first witness was Justice Craig T. Enoch, invited to testify on the subject of a school finance legal framework. In his dissenting opinion from the school finance lawsuit known as Neely v. West Orange Cove CISD in 2005, Justice Enoch expressly advocated for school privatization. On Tuesday, Enoch immediately raised questions over whether the amount of spending on public schools correlates with outcomes – a viewpoint at odds with the vast majority of research. Justice Enoch concluded that lawmakers should move away from using property taxes as the baseline funding mechanism.

Next, state demographer Dr. Lloyd Potter addressed the student population in Texas. According to new population estimates, Texas is home to more than 28 million people. The state has added more than three million people over the past seven years, representing a 12 percent growth in population. Within the state, residents are migrating away from rural counties and urban cores and into the suburban rings. The school-age population continues to grow, as does the number of children living in poverty. Significant percentages of students in the Rio Grande Valley, El Paso, and the large urban cores do not speak English at home. Hispanic children represent the largest and fastest-growing ethnicity of children under the age of 18.

The final subject heading involved educational outcomes and featured testimony from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) Commissioner Raymund Paredes, and Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Chair Andres Alcantar. Morath said the TEA maintains a “split focus on inputs versus outcomes,” highlighting the emphasis on “access” to a quality education and the ability of students to “achieve” their potentials. The commissioner explained the state wants graduates who are prepared to be engaged citizens and who are prepared to be productive. These outcomes are evaluated based upon high school graduation rates; college, career or military readiness (CCM-R); college completion; and employment. The main measurement tool is the STAAR test. Student poverty continues to rise, and currently 59 percent of Texas students are economically disadvantaged. Morath indicated poverty is the primary driver behind most poor performance issues, and he noted that prekindergarten has shown to significantly boost outcomes for economically disadvantaged students and English language learners (ELLs).

After a brief lunch break, Morath’s presentation suggested that across-the-board pay raises and improving class-size ratios by hiring additional teachers would have limited effects on improving student outcomes, while concluding that tying increased teacher pay to performance would yield the most significant improvements. Todd Williams, education advisor to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, suggested schools with higher numbers of economically disadvantaged students may need to offer better pay to attract the caliber of educators necessary to achieve positive change. Morath also defended the state’s “A through F” accountability system as a way to identify and replicate high performing schools.

Commissioner Paredes joined Morath in listing poverty and a lack of early childhood education as primary obstacles to student success. Paredes also seemed to make the case for teacher performance pay, citing a study that concluded paying the state’s top teachers $130,000 per year would cost less than remedial programs for students who arrive at college unprepared.

The commission will meet next on Thursday, February 8.


TEA submits revised federal ESSA plan

Commissioner of Education Mike Morath wrote school administrators yesterday to inform them that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) submitted its revised plan to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The U.S. Department of Education (ED) issued feedback in December to Texas’s original state ESSA plan, which required some revisions and asked for additional clarity.

Morath’s letter to administrators largely focused on how the revised plan would impact the implementation of House Bill (HB) 22, a piece of accountability-related legislation passed by the 85th Texas Legislature, as the major areas addressed by ED involve the new academic accountability system.

“Due to federal timeline requirements, the Agency was forced to make preliminary decisions on the new House Bill 22 (HB 22) accountability system ahead of the timeline for our state rulemaking,” Morath wrote. “I want to emphasize the decisions laid out in our revised ESSA plan do not reflect final stakeholder input and are an effort to comply with federal timelines and requirements.”

Among the changes made to address issues outlined by ED, TEA’s revised plan:

  • alters the long-term goal for ESSA to entail 30 percent growth based on baseline scores from the 2016-17 school year (the original long-term goal didn’t cut it for ED because, for example, it failed to anticipate graduation rate growth for certain student subgroups, in this case white males; proficiency goals are also now based on a meeting grade level expectation rather than the originally proposed approaching grade level expectation);
  • removes writing, science, and social studies test results from the academic achievement considerations (ED interprets the law to say only math and reading/language arts results can be used to calculate this indicator; the other test results will still be used for calculating student success and school quality);
  • aligns the accountability impact for failing to meet the required 95 percent testing participation rate with federal stipulations, which will impact schools where parents opt their students out of state standardized testing;
  • adjusts the federally required summative rating calculation so that either student achievement or progress (the better score of the two) makes up 70% of the rating, while 30% consists of progress towards closing the gaps (the original calculation would have averaged the two percentiles); and
  • changes accountability for recently arrived English language learners so that it begins in their second year in U.S. schools (the original plan would not have included some recently arrived ELL students in some accountability results for the first two years and would have omitted some asylum/refugee students for up to five years).

The revised state plan also adds language to clarify various aspects of the proposal. For example, ED asked for more information on how Texas plans to satisfy a federal requirement to track and publicly report the disproportionate rates at which poor and minority children have access to experienced, qualified educators, an issue on which ATPE has long advocated for change driven by research-based solutions. The revised plan dives deeper into Texas’s landscape and the way TEA intends to calculate and report the data.

The letter goes on to inform administrators that TEA will submit amendments to the plan if additional feedback leads to “decisions different from what is proposed and already submitted in our ESSA plan.” Similar language in the original plan submitted to ED was omitted in the revised plan.

Read Morath’s full letter and access the revised state ESSA plan here.

Texas receives feedback from feds on ESSA plan

Over the holiday break, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) issued feedback to Texas on its final plan to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which it submitted in September. The letter requests that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) revise its plan consistent with the feedback identified by ED and resubmit its plan by Monday, unless the state chooses to request a later date of re-submission.

The full letter, which includes 11 pages of feedback, identifies issues with various aspects of the state’s plan. Among the revisions requested, ED disputes the state’s calculation of graduation rate progress for accountability purposes (for some subgroups, progress is not anticipated); strikes down the exclusion of test results for certain English language learners (recently arrived English language learners would not be included in some accountability results for the first two years and some asylum/refugee students would not be counted for up to five years); and questions whether the state’s inclusion of the new 95 percent testing participation rate requirement is adequate for calculating school accountability (Texas would use it to calculate accountability, but ED isn’t sure it’s being used appropriately within the system).

Another revision noted by ED is one resulting from a strict interpretation of the statutory language. TEA proposes using STAAR results in science, social studies, and writing to calculate results under the Academic Achievement indicator, but ED asks TEA to move those elsewhere in the accountability system because the law states that only reading/language arts and mathematics are permissible under the Academic Achievement indicator. ED also asks for more clarity on the School Quality or Student Success indicator, which TEA would calculate using STAAR math and reading scores in grades 3-8 and college, career, and military readiness indicators in high school.

Watch Teach the Vote next week for more on the Texas ESSA plan as TEA meets its deadline to respond. In a statement released last month, education officials in California stated they appreciated the feedback but noted “areas of disagreement over the interpretation of federal statute.” The statement is an example of uncertainty with regard to how ESSA compliance plays out at the state level while the federal government seeks to shift more control to states and sticks to strict interpretation of the law in lieu of rulemaking.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 15, 2017

As you’re preparing for a holiday break, here’s a look at this week’s education news from ATPE:

As ATPE and other associations are working to encourage the education community to get out the vote in the 2018 elections, our GOTV efforts are rankling some officeholders and the special interests that have supported them financially. Seemingly frightened by the prospect of high voter turnout among educators, at least one lawmaker is complaining about school districts fostering a culture of voting among their staffs and students. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported yesterday on our blog, Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) is asking Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to issue a legal opinion to try to stifle the nonpartisan voter education efforts being spearheaded by the Texas Educators Vote coalition, of which ATPE is a member.

ATPE and other groups involved in the movement were quick to defend the nonpartisan work of the coalition, which is comprised of several groups that do not endorse candidates at all. The League of Women Voters, for example, tweeted, “The League’s mission is Empowering Voters. Defending Democracy! We are proud to partner with Texas Educators Votes and support their mission to create a culture of voting in Texas.”

Some educators naturally questioned why a sitting state senator would want to dissuade educators from voting and teaching students about the importance of voting. “Why would a leader not want school boards to adopt a resolution that encourages students, faculty, and staff to #vote?” asked former ATPE State President Cory Colby (@EffectualEdu) on Twitter. Another educator (@drdrbrockman) tweeted, “Looks like @TeamBettencourt doesn’t want educators to turn out to vote. Nothing in the Texas Educators Vote resolution pushes particular candidates or electoral outcomes.” ATPE member Rita Long commented on our blog, “I will vote in every election and encourage every citizen to vote. It is my right and privilege to have a voice in our elections. Educators must use their votes to have a voice in what is happening in public education. Our students are our future. Education issues should be a top priority with every American.”

Responding to the growing criticism on social media, Sen. Bettencourt doubled down on his unfounded claim that the coalition was using public school resources to promote particular candidates or ballot measures. The senator has not yet identified any examples of particular candidates allegedly being promoted by way of the coalition’s GOTV efforts.

By law the Attorney General’s office has six months to respond to Bettencourt’s request for an opinion, but AG Paxton is likely to issue a ruling ahead of the 2018 primaries. Several education groups involved in the coalition efforts will be submitting briefs to the AG’s office in the coming weeks. Stay to tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

Related content: As part of our ongoing effort to encourage educators to participate in the 2018 primary and general elections as informed voters, be sure to check out our candidate profiles right here on our nonpartisan Teach the Vote website. This election cycle, we’re featuring profiles of every candidate running for a Texas legislative seat, State Board of Education, governor, and lieutenant governor. Profiles includes incumbents’ voting records on education-related bills, responses to our candidate survey, contact information for the campaigns, and additional information compiled by ATPE’s lobby team. New information is being added daily as we learn more about the candidates. If candidates in your area have not yet answered our candidate survey, please encourage them to do so. Inquiries about Teach the Vote and our candidate survey may be sent to government@atpe.org.



The U.S. Congress conference committee established to hash out disagreements between the U.S. House and U.S. Senate Republican tax plans has come to an agreement on a final plan. The committee met Wednesday to review the plan in a public hearing. Much of the high-profile provisions of the final plan have been discussed in public and reported by the media. For example, the corporate tax rate would be reduced from 35 to 21 percent, the top tax rate for individuals would go from almost 40 to 37 percent, the Obamacare-era tax fine for those who don’t buy health insurance would be removed, and the state and local taxes (SALT) deduction would be kept but capped at $10,000. Still, many smaller details of the negotiated plan remain unknown. Those include two issues raised in an ATPE letter to members of the Texas delegation: (1) a deduction for educators who use personal money to buy classroom supplies, and (2) a potential new tax for public pension investments, such as those in the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) trust fund.

The details of the bill are expected to be released later today. Follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter and watch for more updates as information becomes available. The tax bill must still receive a final vote of support in both chambers and receive the signature of the president before it becomes law, which Republican leadership hopes to have completed by Christmas.


Students in some school districts affected by Hurricane Harvey will see relief from certain standardized testing requirements. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced Thursday that Commissioner Mike Morath would waive some STAAR requirements for certain students affected by the massive storm. The commissioner has remained reluctant to provide relief in the form of STAAR testing schedules or accountability requirements, but he changed his tune slightly after Gov. Greg Abbott joined the chorus of those in favor of loosening accountability and testing requirements for Harvey-affected students and schools. Morath sent a letter to impacted school districts on Thursday explaining that fifth and eighth grade students who fail to pass the required state standardized tests twice can advance to the next grade level if district educators agree they are ready. Learn more about Morath’s decision to waive some testing requirements in this article from the Texas Tribune.


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) and State Board of Education (SBOE) will host a free conference on teacher preparation and retention in January. The one-day event will feature roundtable and panel discussions on how Texas can better prepare its future teachers, support those in the classroom, and retain teachers tempted to the leave the field. It will also feature keynote speeches from Doug Lemov, who authored Teach Like a Champion, and Peter Dewitt, the author of Collaborative Leadership: Six Influences that Matter Most.

The conference, titled Learning Roundtable: Recruiting, Preparing and Retaining Top Teachers, will be held at the Austin Convention Center from 8:30 am until 4:30 pm on Thursday, January 25, and will offer up to 5.5 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) to participating educators. To view the full-day agenda, learn more about the event, or register to attend, visit the Texas Education Agency’s conference web page.

Related content: SBEC met last week for its final meeting of the year to discuss a broad agenda that included rulemaking resulting from bills passed during the 85th legislative session. The board also rejected revisiting a controversial and unnecessary pathway for superintendent candidates to seek certification without prior experience in a classroom, school, or managerial role. Read a recap of the meeting from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann who attended the meeting and testified on behalf of ATPE.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board met yesterday and today, and ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was in attendance. As reported in Exter’s blog post, the meeting included a discussion of the annual reports on the actuarial valuation of the TRS pension and healthcare funds.



Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 17, 2017

For many of you it’s the start of a holiday vacation. Take a look at this week’s education news highlights as you plan your Thanksgiving week festivities:

ATPE member Paula Franklin testifies before House Public Education Committee, Nov. 14, 2017.

Earlier this week, the House Public Education Committee heard from educators working in school districts burdened by Hurricane Harvey. ATPE member Paula Franklin, who lives in Pearland and teaches in Galveston ISD, was one of the invited witnesses who shared concerns about testing and accountability requirements for schools and students affected by the history-making storm.

Read more about Paula’s compelling testimony in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. Watch Paula’s testimony beginning at the 23:22 mark on the archived video file from the hearing available here.


The Texas Education Agency released final accountability ratings this week for Texas public school districts, campuses, and charter schools. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins writes in this blog post from Wednesday, these are the last “met standard/improvement required” ratings that school districts will receive before the state’s new “A-through-F” rating system is implemented, as mandated by the Texas legislature.

Did you know that members of the public can share input with TEA about the new A-through-F rating system? In a recent legislative update for members of the Texas Association of Community Schools, our friend Laura Yeager wrote about her experience serving on a parents’ stakeholder committee to advise TEA on the development of the new accountability system. She expressed concern that the agency hasn’t conducted open meetings or adequately solicited feedback from the public about how the adoption of an A-through-F rating system will affect schools, students, educators, and communities. We encourage anyone who would like to share their thoughts on A-through-F to send an email to TEA at feedbackAF@tea.texas.gov.

This week a number of key gubernatorial appointments were announced for education-related boards and committees.

First, Gov. Greg Abbott announced his picks to serve on the new Texas Commission on Public School Finance. The commission was created as a result of legislation passed during this summer’s special legislative session, after the House and Senate were unable to agree on a comprehensive fix to overhaul the state’s troubled school finance system. Abbott’s appointments to the high-profile commission include ATPE member Melissa Martin. Martin is a career and technology teacher in Galena Park ISD. She joins Abbott’s other appointees, attorney Scott Brister; former state representative Elvira Reyna; and Todd Williams, an education adviser to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. Gov. Abbott has tapped Brister to chair the new commission. Other members of the commission include those selected by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick: Doug Killian, who serves as superintendent of Pflugerville ISD, and Senators Paul Bettencourt, Larry Taylor, and Royce West.

Also this week, Gov. Abbott revealed his appointments to fill three vacancies on the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees. The new board members are Missouri City attorney Jarvis Hollingsworth; James “Dick” Nance, a retired coach who worked in Pasadena ISD; and Nanette Sissney, a school counselor in Whitesboro ISD. Hollingsworth will also chair the TRS board.


Have you noticed some updates to our Teach the Vote website this week? We are officially in candidate mode now, ready to highlight profiles not only for current officeholders, but also candidates running for office in 2018. In the next few days, we’ll be uploading 2017 voting records for current legislators, and we are also inviting candidates to participate in our online candidate survey. These resources are designed to help you learn where candidates stand on public education issues. We’re also excited to announce the addition of candidate profiles for the statewide offices of Texas Governor and Lieutenant Governor. Find candidates on our search page here, and check back frequently as we continue to add more information as we receive it. The candidate filing period for the 2018 elections is now open and will continue through Dec. 11, so you can expect to see some additional names added to our site and survey responses published as we receive them.

Learn more about how you can help shape the future of Texas in the pivotal 2018 elections by visiting our coalition partner website at TexasEducatorsVote.com.



House panel weighs Harvey accountability fixes

ATPE member Paula Franklin testifies before House Public Education Committee, November 14, 2017.

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday morning, Nov. 14, in Austin to hear from educators about the effects of Hurricane Harvey on the public school accountability system, including testimony from ATPE member Paula Franklin from Pasadena. The hearing focused on the following interim charges set by Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio):

  • Recommend any measures needed at the state level to prevent unintended punitive consequences to both students and districts in the state accountability system as a result of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath.
  • Examine the educational opportunities offered to students displaced by Hurricane Harvey throughout the state and the process by which districts enroll and serve those students. Recommend any changes that could improve the process for students or help districts serving a disproportionate number of displaced students.

Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Humble) gaveled the committee together Tuesday to hear from teachers, administrators and state agency staff. Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath testified that a survey of school districts showed roughly two-to-one in favor of keeping the current test administration dates unchanged. Morath suggested waiving tests altogether would violate both state and federal laws, and would hinder the ability to track student performance. The commissioner indicated a decision whether to delay the testing schedule would be forthcoming within the next two weeks.

Morath listed a number of disruptions experienced by students affected by the storm, including displacement and homelessness, instructional setting disruption, and disruption of staff. The commissioner suggested these three categories of disruption will be factored into decisions how to address accountability in individual affected districts, which could be modified through the agency’s rulemaking authority.

“Is this the most effective way to help kids? Or is there a more effective way?” asked state Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas), noting impacted students and staff are already under enough stress before factoring in test-based accountability.

Morath suggested a one-year accountability waiver for affected districts could jeopardize federal funding, which accounts for roughly ten percent of the state’s overall public education budget. The percent of federal dollars directly tied to testing is in fact much less than that. Rep. Koop pointed out TEA issued a “non-rating” for West ISD after a fertilizer plant explosion devastated the Central Texas town. While acknowledging this precedent, Morath warned such measures could delay state interventions for districts with failing campuses. Chairman Huberty requested Morath formally ask for a federal testing waiver for districts affected by Hurricane Harvey.

On the financial side, Chairman Huberty voiced complaints raised by districts that have still not received replacements for textbooks lost in the storm. State Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) chided the agency for not being a more proactive advocate for such districts. The agency set up a portal to allow other districts to donate textbooks, but some districts continue to wait for needed instructional materials. Morath testified this is a cash flow issue, which the agency doesn’t have the authority to adjust. At the chairman’s request, the commissioner agreed to poll districts on outstanding needs and explore ways to provide a one-time purchase.

The commissioner testified that the agency does not have the authority to order automatic reappraisal of property values in districts affected by the storm, but indicated that the state could shoulder the cost of reappraisals. Whether such a reappraisal would be beneficial appears to vary from district to district. Finally, Chairman Huberty requested TEA keep tabs on facilities damage not covered by insurance and FEMA for the purpose of submitting a supplemental appropriations request for the 86th Texas Legislature.

Considering the level of trauma caused by the storm, Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers suggested that testing in affected districts may not necessarily yield useful data. Chambers testified that whether or not assessments are waived, the agency should think twice about how that data is used, in particular with regard to accountability in the short term.

“Right now we’re dealing with issues that accountability doesn’t have the capacity to account for,” said Chambers.

Galveston ISD Special Education Instructional Specialist and ATPE member Paula Franklin shared her own community’s experience before the committee. Franklin described the catastrophic damage to teachers’ homes caused by the storm, and testified that some teachers are putting off needed repairs over fears of missing class and the negative consequences of the state accountability system. Additionally, Franklin suggested that districts would be unlikely to risk federal dollars under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are untethered to testing requirements, and would likely be safe in the event of a dispute between the state and federal government over accountability.

While noting that some tests continue to serve a purpose, panelists overwhelmingly voiced concerns over the negative consequences of holding students impacted by the storm to the same accountability standards as those who were unaffected. Chambers pointed out that the issue is compounded by the fact that administrators are already dealing with the rollout of a complex new “A through F” accountability system, and suggested the state consider potential accommodations on a year by year basis. Chambers emphasized, “I just think the stakes are too high.”

Chairman Huberty pointed out there is already precedent for holding certain districts harmless from state accountability ratings from 2006, following Hurricane Katrina. He suggested the precedent will likely be cited in a letter from the committee addressed to TEA in the next few weeks. Chairman Huberty indicated that the committee’s next interim hearing will be in the first quarter of 2018.