Tag Archives: Texans for Education Reform

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 19, 2016

Catch up on this week’s education news here:


tea-logo-header-2The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released the 2016 district and school academic accountability ratings this week. While there was a very slight uptick in the number of districts needing improvement, driven in part by a 68.7% increase in the percentage of charters failing to meet standards, the number of campuses rated improvement required, the more important indicator, continued to decrease. From 2013 to 2016, the number of campuses rated Improvement Required has steadily dropped from 768, or 9% of all campuses, to 467, just 5.4% of campuses. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter breaks down the ratings here.

 


capitol building, austin, texas, usa

The Senate Education Committee met on Tuesday to hear testimony and updates on interim charges involving governance and the implementation of bills passed by the Texas Legislature last session that dealt with prekindergarten and educator preparation. The charges included the following:

Examine current school board governance policies and practices and make recommendations that could improve the focus, attitudes, and outcomes of Texas school boards, districts, and students. Study existing board training requirements for public schools and make suggestions to education school board trustees of policies that could achieve better student outcomes, particularly within the framework set for low-performing schools in House Bill 1842 (HB1842)(84R).

Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Education and make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, and/or complete implementation. Specifically, monitor the following:

  • Initiatives to build a high-quality pre-kindergarten grant program; and
  • Legislation to raise standards of teacher preparation programs and establish a more consistent, high-quality accountability system.

In comments to the committee, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath told senators that he has set a goal to cut the number of low-performing schools in half over the next five years. He spoke regularly about the importance of district leadership and said the Texas Education Agency (TEA) will take an aggressive approach to assigning and building district-level interventions, saying he believes that the harsher options are often the most effective. ATPE testified on the charge, reminding senators that while focusing on low-performing schools is important, we can’t do so with merely a band-aid approach. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter told the committee that there are systemic issues that need addressing, and we must look at the inputs of the system in addition to the outputs.

On educator preparation and prekindergarten, the agency and other invited testifiers updated the committee on the implementation of bills falling into these issue areas. There has been significant reporting on the implementation of HB 4, the Governor’s prekindergarten bill from last session. The per-student funding ultimately provided was a level far below expectations, and some districts have turned down the funding because the expense of implementing all of the bill’s quality control requirements exceeds the funding received. Still, others were present to showcase how they are using the supplemental funding to enhance or build their prekindergarten programs. At the hearing on Tuesday, some senators questioned whether the prekindergarten investment was worth it; many senators and testifiers felt it was too soon to see the benefits in Texas and pointed to a body of research on the advantages to prekindergarten.

ATPE has been a leader on raising standards for educator preparation in Texas. Last session, we filed and helped pass several pieces of legislation that raised standards for candidate entrance requirements and preparation programs throughout Texas. The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) and TEA are currently in the process of implementing some of those provisions as well as making additional rule changes. ATPE was once again before the committee this month to support raised standards. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann told lawmakers that ATPE remains focused on the issue because we cannot place ill-prepared teachers in the classroom and expect excellence. She told senators it is critical that we focus on strong training and continue to support teachers as they grow in their practice.

Watch a broadcast of the full hearing here.

 


The often controversial education reform groups Texans for Education Reform (TER) and the Texas Institute for Education Reform (TIER) have officially joined forces, merging to become Texas Aspires. The new group will maintain much of the staff, board members, funding, and priorities previously held by the two groups. Texas Aspires is expected to announce more of its vision next week. Staying on board will be former Texas State Senator Florence Shapiro and many business-focused board members who fund and direct the organization. It is unclear at this time as to whether the group will maintain its almost two-dozen lobby contracts that propelled the group’s influence during previous legislative sessions. Watch for more on Teach the Vote as Texas Aspires begins to position itself ahead of next session.

 


ATPE wishes all educators beginning a new school year a very happy back-to-school! Best wishes to you and all Texas students! Welcome back to school poster

Governor selects Mike Morath to be new Texas commissioner of education

It was announced today that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has tapped Mike Morath to serve as the state’s next commissioner of education. Morath will succeed Commissioner Michael Williams who is stepping down at the end of the year.

Morath is a business executive with a background in finance. He has been a member of the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) board of trustees since 2011. Morath gained notoriety when he joined reformers in voicing strong support for an effort last year to make DISD the first-ever home rule charter district in Texas. That effort, which was underwritten in large part by the Arnold Foundation, failed, as we reported on Teach the Vote. Morath also serves on the advisory board of Texans for Education Reform (TER).

Today’s announcement comes just one month after Abbott also selected Morath to chair the new Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability, which the legislature created to recommend changes to our state’s student testing and accountability systems. The governor’s press release today states that “Morath is a product of Texas public schools” and that he once briefly taught computer science at Garland High School “during a school year when the previous teacher unexpectedly resigned.”

There has been much speculation lately as to whether the governor would select an education insider or a reformer/business leader to head the Texas Education Agency going forward. Morath’s name was not one that was more widely circulated, but his selection sends another signal that Abbott is very interested in the agenda of the education reform and pro-privatization crowd. Morath joins the list of other recent reform-minded appointees we’ve written about on Teach the Vote, such as newly-minted Pension Review Board chair Josh McGee.

As the state’s largest educator association, ATPE looks forward to an opportunity to meet with Morath and share our members’ input and experiences with him. We anticipate that he will want to pursue innovative approaches to regulations dealing with such issues as charter schools, teacher appraisals, and student testing. We hope that Morath will be the type of commissioner who is receptive to educators’ voices in matters of policy and will support local control.

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

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

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


Funding

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

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

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

Payroll deduction

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

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

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

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

Accountability and “A through F” ratings

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

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

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

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

Educator preparation and certification

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

HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R) is on the Senate’s calendar today awaiting a debate. The bill changes the composition of the State Board for Educator Certification and requires one non-voting member of the board to have worked for an alternative certification program. It also makes changes to the accountability system for educator preparation programs. The bill includes language taken from another educator preparation bill, HB 2566 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R). In its current form, HB 2205 would also decrease the state’s current statutory minimum GPA requirement for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 back down to 2.5, which ATPE opposes.

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

Student testing and curriculum

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

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

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

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

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

Suicide prevention

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

Other health and safety bills

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

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

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

Breast-feeding accommodations for school employees

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

Commissioner’s subpoena power

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

Paperwork reduction

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

Early childhood education

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

Private school vouchers

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

Teacher salaries and evaluations

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

Deregulation of low-performing schools

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

Home-school students participating in UIL

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

Charter schools

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

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


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

Legislative Update: Senate committee approves “A through F;” House hears payroll deduction; suicide and early education bills progress while reform bills languish

The clock is ticking on the 84th legislative session. Here’s the latest news on the following legislation we are following closely:


“A THROUGH F” SCHOOL RATINGS

Earlier today the Senate Education Committee heard HB 2804 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R). ATPE Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg testified against the bill this morning. He explained to the committee that the bill contains accountability provisions that ATPE supports but that we cannot support HB 2804 in its current form because of its language requiring “A through F” accountability grades to be used for campus ratings. Gregg said it was “egregious and wrong” to refer to students as failing. ATPE also submitted as written testimony a copy of a column penned by ATPE Governmental Relations Manager Jennifer Canaday for the Summer 2015 issue of ATPE News. In the article entitled “The Failed Rhetoric of Failing Schools,” Canaday contends that “stigmatizing children” by labeling their schools as failing ‘”does nothing to support them or the educators working on their behalf.”

This evening the committee voted out a substitute version of the “A-F” bill. The vote was unanimous, although Sens. Royce West (D) and Sylvia Garcia (D) stated that they were “begrudgingly” voting for HB 2804. The committee also recommended that the new version of HB 2804 be placed on the Senate’s special “local” calendar for uncontested bills, a rather surprising move considering the opposition the bill has faced from many stakeholders.


OTHER BILLS IN THE SENATE EDUCATION COMMITTEE TODAY

The Senate Education Committee also heard today HB 2811 by Rep. Ken King (R) relating to curriculum standards and instructional materials and HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) dealing with interventions and sanctions for low-performing schools. The committee is proposing a comprehensive substitute for HB 1842, and because of its length, Chairman Larry Taylor (R) advised the the committee would not attempt to vote out the bill until tomorrow. HB 2811 was approved by the committee this evening. A late addition to the committee’s agenda for today was HB 1431 by Rep. Susan King (R) which calls for development of an industry-related course to train students to communicate in a language other than English for business purposes. The committee voted out that bill with a favorable recommendation, along with HB 2186 by Rep. Byron Cook (R), the ATPE-backed suicide prevention training bill for educators. Among other pending bills that the committee voted out today were Rep. Gary VanDeaver’s (R) bill eliminating the STAAR test for writing, HB 1164, and Rep. Dan Huberty’s (R) HB 743 pertaining to testing and curriculum standards; ATPE has supported both of those bills.

PAYROLL DEDUCTION

The House Committee on State Affairs held a limited public hearing today on SB 1968 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R), a bill eliminating the payroll deduction option for school and state employees to pay voluntary dues to a professional association. ATPE opposes the bill. Rep. Byron Cook (R), the committee’s chairman, allowed only a couple hours for the hearing, which meant that many of the witnesses who signed up to testify – including ATPE’s Brock Gregg – were unable to do so. While the limitations on testimony upset some members of the committee, Cook stated that he was trying to strike a balance between “folks who think we’re going too slow and folks who think we’re going too fast” in considering SB 1968. Cook called the bill poorly drafted and said that SB 1968 had “languished in the Senate,” had arrived in the House “very flawed,” and would be subject to “a valid point of order” that would kill the bill if his committee sent it to the House floor as written. After hearing two hours of testimony, Cook announced that the committee was adjourning and leaving the bill pending. At this point, no plans have been announced for the committee to meet again prior to Saturday’s deadline for bills to be voted upon and reported out of House committees.

STATE BUDGET

Pieces of the budget puzzle are being filled out as the end of session nears. Conference committee meetings are continuing today on HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R), which is the state’s budget bill. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson reports that the committee is recommending $1.5 billion in new funding for public education, which is far less than the amount the House had proposed in its version of the budget. HB 1 is the only bill the legislature must pass in order to avoid a special session. A deal between the House and Senate hinged on reaching agreement on tax cuts. We reported yesterday that the Senate Finance Committee passed the House’s plan to reduce the business franchise tax. Today, the House Ways and Means Committee passed SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R) containing the Senate’s favored proposal to increase the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000; that bill is subject to voter approval in a November election.

BILLS IN THE HOUSE PUBLIC EDUCATION COMMITTEE TODAY

The House Public Education Committee also held its last regular meeting today. Its agenda included hearing one bill that ATPE opposes, SB 1222 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) to give the commissioner of education subpoena power. While we do not necessarily oppose giving the commissioner limited power to subpoena documents, we believe educators who are targeted in an investigation should have equal access to evidence gathered by the commissioner. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann submitted written testimony against SB 1222.

In addition, the committee took votes this evening on several pending bills that have already been heard, including SB 1200 and SB 1241 both by Sen. Larry Taylor (R). SB 1241 is Taylor’s bill to create deregulated “innovation zones” for some low-performing schools, which ATPE has opposed. Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R) educator preparation bill, SB 892, was approved tonight, as was SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) to require cameras in special education classrooms, and a handful of other bills.

EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

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

Additionally, the House voted today to concur in amendments made by the Senate to HB 4, which is Rep. Dan Huberty’s (R) high-profile pre-Kindergarten bill. Today’s unanimous vote sends the bill to the desk of Gov. Abbott, who has been a strong supporter of the measure and who declared early childhood education a priority issue for consideration this legislative session.

BILLS IN JEOPARDY

A pair of ATPE-supported community schools bills appear to be on life support. SB 1483 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D), was taken off the Senate Intent Calendar containing bills eligible for floor debate in the upper chamber. The House version of the bill, HB 1891 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D), passed the lower chamber on May 14, but was only today referred to a Senate committee, leaving practically no time for it to make it through the legislative process at this stage.

Most of the components of a package of priority legislation favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), including several high-profile bills pushed by the well-funded group Texans for Education Reform (TER), appear far less likely to pass this session. One of the bills is Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 14 to expand and expedite the state’s parent trigger law that enables certain low-performing schools to be deregulated and managed by outside entities. The Senate approved the bill in mid-April; the House Public Education Committee heard the bill Tuesday night but left it pending. Neither SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) nor HB 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) to repeal the state minimum salary schedule for teachers has been voted out of the House Public Education Committee, which has a Saturday deadline to act on bills. Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) virtual voucher bill, SB 894, has not garnered enough support for a floor vote in the Senate; Taylor is also carrying a charter school bill, SB 1897, that includes language allowing for expansion of virtual charter schools and has already been approved by the Senate, but the House Public Education Committee has not opted to hear that bill. Similarly, the House Public Education Committee has not heard SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D), which is the TER-backed bill to create a statewide Opportunity School District. With TER’s “local control school district” bill (HB 1798) already defeated by the House, that means the reform group has had little success this session, despite an expensive marketing and lobbying campaign, in attempting to deregulate and privatize the management of public schools it deems to be unacceptable. Last but not least, there is SB 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), the private school voucher tax credit bill lauded by Lt. Gov. Patrick, which has failed to gain traction in the House after passing the Senate by a vote of 18 to 12 on April 21.


This is a critical time for education bills both good and bad. ATPE encourages you to remain actively involved in the legislative process and keep talking to your legislators about bills of concern. For the very latest updates, follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter.

Legislative Update: A flurry of activity this week as session winds down

We are now 13 days away from the end of this legislative session, and numerous education bills remain pending. Much of the attention is focused this week on House committees that have more restrictive deadlines than the Senate for consideration of bills. Specifically, this Saturday is the last day that House committees may report out Senate bills in order to keep them alive in the legislative process. That means a very busy week of hearings as the clock winds down on the 84th legislative session.

Today both the Senate Education and House Public Education committees are meeting to hear major bills with more hearings anticipated this week. First, the Senate Education Committee is hearing the following bills today:

  • HB 767        Smith | et al.          SP: Hinojosa
    Relating to cardiac assessments of participants in extracurricular athletic activities sponsored or sanctioned by the University Interscholastic League.
  • HB 771        Deshotel                SP: Creighton
    Relating to funding for the Texas Academy of Leadership in the Humanities.
  • HB 1170       Farney | et al.         SP: Lucio
    Relating to the applicability to open-enrollment charter schools of certain laws regarding local governments and political subdivisions.
  • HB 1474       VanDeaver | et al.      SP: Eltife
    Relating to the placement of money in the state instructional materials fund and payment of the instructional materials allotment.
  • HB 1559       Parker | et al.         SP: Taylor, Larry
    Relating to public school Internet website information concerning local programs and services available to assist homeless students.
  • HB 1706       VanDeaver | et al.      SP: Burton
    Relating to reducing paperwork and duplicate reports required of a school district.
  • HB 1786       Dutton                  SP: Campbell
    Relating to the transfer of driver and traffic safety education from the Texas Education Agency and the Department of Public Safety to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation; changing the amounts of certain fees; amending a provision subject to a criminal penalty.
  • HB 2349       Aycock                  SP: Kolkhorst
    Relating to public school assessment, performance standards, and course requirements.
  • HB 2610       King, Ken | et al.      SP: Taylor, Larry
    Relating to the minimum number of minutes of instruction for students to be provided by public school districts and the scheduling of the last day of school for students by public school districts.
  • HB 2660       Howard | et al.         SP: Watson
    Relating to Foundation School Program funding for students enrolled in an optional flexible school day program.
  • HB 3106       Huberty | et al.        SP: Creighton
    Relating to the period of time allowed for appointment of a board of managers for a school district.

The Senate Education Committee will also meet tomorrow, May 19, and Thursday, May 20, to hear additional bills. Wednesday’s Senate Education Committee agenda includes suicide prevention training legislation that ATPE has requested this session and some fairly high-profile bills relating to student testing. Here is the full agenda for Wednesday:

  • HB 731        Lucio III               SP: Lucio
    Relating to a pilot program under the foundation school program for funding prekindergarten programs provided by certain school districts with early high school graduation programs.
  • HB 743        Huberty | et al.        SP: Seliger
    Relating to the essential knowledge and skills of the required public school curriculum and to certain state-adopted or state-developed assessment instruments for public school students.
  • HB 1164       VanDeaver | et al.      SP: Garcia
    Relating to the assessment of public school students in writing and English language arts.
  • HB 1171       Farney | et al.         SP: Lucio
    Relating to the applicability of certain immunity and liability laws to open-enrollment charter schools.
  • HB 2186       Cook | et al.           SP: Campbell
    Relating to suicide prevention training for certain educators and other employees of a school district.
  • HB 2251       Anchia                  SP: Hancock
    Relating to an established schedule of payments from the foundation school fund of the yearly entitlement of certain open-enrollment charter schools.
  • HB 2593       Price                   SP: Seliger
    Relating to the sparsity adjustment for certain school districts under the Foundation School Program.
  • HB 3987       Farney | et al.         SP: Garcia
    Relating to programs in public schools designed to facilitate planning and saving for higher education and facilitate personal financial literacy instruction.

For Thursday, the Senate Education Committee is currently slated to hear just one bill, but it’s a very significant one: HB 2804 is the accountability overhaul bill by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) that now includes a requirement that school campuses be rated using “A through F” accountability grades. ATPE opposes the bill, which the House passed late last week.

Meanwhile, the House Public Education Committee today is hearing several bills, including some controversial proposals backed by Texans for Education Reform (TER) to deregulate certain low-performing schools and subject them to alternative management. Those include Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 14 expanding the state’s existing parent trigger laws and SB 1241 to create “innovation zone” schools. ATPE opposes these bills. Other bills on the committee’s agenda today include the following:

  • SB 13         Perry | et al.
    Relating to measures to support public school student academic achievement and career preparation, including measures to improve and support dual credit courses and the development of public outreach materials.
  • SB 14         Taylor, Larry | et al.
    Relating to empowering the parents of students to petition for the reconstitution, repurposing, alternative management, or closure of low-performing public school campuses.
  • SB 107        Whitmire | et al.
    Relating to the designation of campus behavior coordinators to serve at public school campuses and issues to be considered when removing a student from class.
  • SB 168        Uresti
    Relating to temporary waiver of superintendent certification for employment of public school district superintendents.
  • SB 382        Uresti
    Relating to public school educator continuing education credit for instruction on the use of an automated external defibrillator.
  • SB 471        Rodríguez | et al.
    Relating to reviews and investigations conducted by the Texas Education Agency.
  • SB 945        Taylor, Larry | et al.
    Relating to funding under the public school finance system for a school district with a compressed tax rate below the state maximum compressed tax rate.
  • SB 968        West
    Relating to a prescription drug misuse awareness component of the health curriculum used in public schools
  • SB 1200       Taylor, Larry | et al.
    Relating to the creation of a commission to recommend a new system for student assessment and public school accountability.
  • SB 1241       Taylor, Larry
    Relating to authority of school districts, home-rule school districts, and open-enrollment charter schools to establish innovation zones and the authority of school districts to obtain designation as districts of innovation.
  • SB 1309       Menéndez
    Relating to eligibility requirements for issuance of a teaching certificate to an applicant who holds a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps instructor teaching certification.
  • SB 1896       Taylor, Larry
    Relating to providing public school students tutorials through the state virtual school network for end-of-course assessment instruments required for graduation.
  • SB 2062       Watson | et al.
    Relating to authorizing certain charter holders to provide combined services for certain adult and high school dropout recovery programs.

Also this week, a couple of bills dealing with educator preparation and certification are set to be heard by the Senate Committee on Higher Education. The committee will meet tomorrow morning, May 20, to hear several bills including HB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R) and HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R). Click here to learn more about these two bills in our blog post from last week. Another educator preparation bill, SB 892 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R), remains pending in the House Public Education Committee and could still be voted out. ATPE has opposed that bill since it would lower the standards for entrance into an educator preparation program.

Another bill of great interest to educators is SB 1968 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R), a bill to prohibit school districts and some other public employers from offering their employees the payroll deduction option for paying their association dues. ATPE opposes the bill, which has already passed the Senate and been referred to the House Committee on State Affairs. An attempt was made today to suspend the House rules for notice of hearings in order for the committee to hold a public hearing and take testimony on this bill tomorrow. That motion, which required a two-thirds vote of the House, failed. While the House State Affairs Committee will not be holding a public hearing on the bill, that does not prevent the measure from being voted upon without testimony. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates this week as the deadline approaches.

Big developments on education bills in the Texas House today, including a defeated “local control school district” bill

We reported yesterday on many of the education bills that are still in motion at the state capitol. A number of high-profile bills were acted upon today by the Texas House, and we’ve provided a few updates below on these topics:


State budget

Negotiators on the budget bill, HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R), may be nearing a compromise, according to media reports. As we reported yesterday, the main sticking points are differences between the House and Senate on how to approach tax cuts. Watch for updates tomorrow.

School finance

We also reported yesterday that HB 1759 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) was not yet listed on a House calendar and in danger of dying. Because of strict end-of-session deadlines, the school finance overhaul bill must be heard by the House no later than tomorrow, May 14. We can now report that HB 1759 has been placed on the calendar for possible floor debate tomorrow, if time permits.

Accountability and “A through F” ratings

HB 2804 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) is still on the House calendar today but hasn’t yet been heard. Aycock’s HB 1842 relating to sanctions and interventions for low-performing schools was approved on second reading yesterday. It was brought up today, May 13, on third reading. An amendment was added without a record vote that stripped ATPE-supported language from the bill allowing for use of a community schools model for school turnaround.  The House finally passed HB 1842 as amended by a vote of 143 to 1, with Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R) casting the lone vote against the bill.

“Local control school districts”

Today the House considered HB 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D), a bill to make it easier for school districts to be converted to home rule charter districts using the proposed new moniker of “local control school districts.” The high-profile school deregulation bill is one that has been backed by Texans for Education Reform (TER) and opposed by ATPE and other educator groups. After three hours of debate, the bill failed to pass by a vote of 59 to 76. Prior to the final vote on the bill, several floor amendments were considered. Rep. Roberto Alonzo (D) offered a floor amendment to require local control school districts to comply with class-size laws, but the amendment was defeated by a vote of 73 to 67. The House approved an amendment by Rep. Donna Howard (D) to increase transparency in petitions to convert a school district to a local control district, but rejected an amendment by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D) to ensure that teacher contract rights would be preserved in local control school districts. The defeat of the bill is a significant blow to education reform groups that have proposed a host of bills to strip educators of their salary protections and contract rights, exempt schools from quality control measures such as class-size limits, and remove transparency and accountability to local voters.

Based on preliminary reports, these are the state representatives who supported educators by voting to kill this bill today: Allen, Alma(D); Alonzo, Roberto(D); Anchia, Rafael(D); Ashby, Trenton(R); Bell, Cecil(R); Bernal, Diego (D); Burns, DeWayne (R); Canales, Terry(D); Clardy, Travis(R); Coleman, Garnet(D); Collier, Nicole(D); Cook, Byron(R); Craddick, Tom(R); Cyrier, John (R); Darby, Drew(R); Davis, Yvonne(D); Farias, Joe(D); Farney, Marsha(R); Farrar, Jessica(D); Frullo, John(R); Giddings, Helen(D); Gonzalez, Mary(D); Guerra, Bobby(D); Gutierrez, Roland(D); Harless, Patricia(R); Hernandez, Ana(D); Howard, Donna(D); Israel, Celia (D); Johnson, Eric(D); Kacal, Kyle(R); Keffer, Jim(R); King, Ken(R); King, Susan(R); Landgraf, Brooks (R); Larson, Lyle(R); Longoria, Oscar(D); Lucio III, Eddie(D); Martinez Fischer, Trey(D); Martinez, Armando(D); McClendon, Ruth Jones(D); Metcalf, Will (R); Miles, Borris(D); Minjarez, Ina (D); Moody, Joe(D); Munoz, Sergio(D); Murr, Andrew (R); Naishtat, Elliott(D); Nevarez, Poncho(D); Oliveira, Rene(D); Otto, John(R); Paddie, Chris(R); Phillips, Larry(R); Pickett, Joe(D); Price, Four(R); Raney, John(R); Raymond, Richard(D); Reynolds, Ron(D); Rodriguez, Eddie(D); Rodriguez, Justin(D); Romero, Ramon (D); Rose, Toni(D); Sanford, Scott(R); Schubert, Leighton (R); Sheffield, J.D.(R); Simpson, David(R); Smithee, John(R); Spitzer, Stuart (R); Thompson, Ed(R); Thompson, Senfronia(D); Turner, Chris(D); Turner, Sylvester(D); VanDeaver, Gary (R); Walle, Amando(D); Workman, Paul(R); Wray, John (R); and Wu, Gene(D).

These representatives voted in favor of the TER-backed reform bill, HB 1798: Anderson, Doc(R); Anderson, Rodney(R); Aycock, Jimmie Don(R); Bohac, Dwayne(R); Bonnen, Dennis(R); Bonnen, Greg(R); Burkett, Cindy(R); Burrows, Dustin (R); Capriglione, Giovanni(R); Dale, Tony(R); Davis, Sarah(R); Deshotel, Joe(D); Dutton, Harold(D); Elkins, Gary(R); Faircloth, Wayne (R); Fallon, Pat(R); Fletcher, Allen(R); Flynn, Dan(R); Frank, James(R); Galindo III, Rick (R); Geren, Charlie(R); Goldman, Craig(R); Guillen, Ryan(D); Huberty, Dan(R); Hughes, Bryan(R); Hunter, Todd(R); Isaac, Jason(R); King, Phil(R); Klick, Stephanie(R); Koop, Linda (R); Krause, Matt(R); Laubenberg, Jodie(R); Leach, Jeff(R); Lozano, Jose(R); Meyer, Morgan (R); Miller, Rick(R); Morrison, Geanie(R); Murphy, Jim(R); Parker, Tan(R); Paul, Dennis (R); Pena, Gilbert (R); Phelan, Dade (R); Riddle, Debbie(R); Rinaldi, Matt (R); Schaefer, Matt(R); Schofield, Mike (R); Shaheen, Matt (R); Sheets, Kenneth(R); Simmons, Ron(R); Springer, Drew(R); Stephenson, Phil(R); Stickland, Jonathan(R); Tinderholt, Tony (R); Turner, Scott(R); Villalba, Jason(R); White, James(R); White, Molly (R); Zedler, Bill(R); and Zerwas, John(R).

NOTE: If your state representative is not listed above, he or she may have been absent at the time of the vote. Keep in mind that the list above is not an official record of the vote.

Epi-pens

SB 66 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D) regarding school usage of epinephrine auto-injectors, also known as epi-pens, was passed by the House today. The House added one floor amendment and then approved the bill unanimously. Next, the Senate must decide whether to accept the House changes to the bill or send it to a conference committee.


Your outreach to legislators on these education bills is making a difference, and ATPE encourages you to keep it up! Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates and follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for even more information about pending legislation.

The latest on teacher salary bills: ATPE refutes claims by reform group and urges opposition

ATPE recently sent communications to all legislators to refute misleading claims made by a politically-connected reform group about bills that would eliminate the state’s minimum salary schedule for teachers. SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) and HB 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown) are both pending in the Texas House. SB 893 passed the full Senate but has not yet been heard by a House committee. HB 2543 was heard by the House Public Education Committee but has so far been left pending, thanks to growing opposition to the bill.

Texans for Education Reform (TER) has been the main entity pushing for passage of these two pieces of legislation, along with several other bills that are part of a divisive reform package favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). In addition to fighting for SB 893 and HB 2543 to change teacher pay and evaluations, TER’s legislative agenda includes other bills that ATPE has opposed calling for “A through F” grading of public school campuses (SB 6 and its House companion bills, HB 2109 and HB 2176); expanding and speeding up parent trigger laws making public schools more susceptible to private management (SB 14 and HB 1727); amending the state’s home rule charter district laws to facilitate creation of less regulated “local control school districts” (SB 1012 and HB 1798); creating a statewide Opportunity School District subject to private alternative management for the state’s lowest performing schools (SB 895HB 1536, and SB 669); and spending state money to expand home-schooled and private school students’ access to the state’s Virtual School Network (SB 894).

With so many in the education community opposing these bills, you may wonder who is behind the effort to take away educators’ rights, eliminate quality control measures for schools, and open the door for privatization and vouchers. TER was formed by a group of wealthy business leaders previously involved in tort reform efforts, and its founders include former Sen. Florence Shapiro, who joined the group upon her retirement from the Texas Legislature and her chairmanship of the Senate Education Committee. For the current legislative session, according to reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, TER has employed 22 lobbyists at a reported cost of between $830,000 to more than $1.6 million to help advance its controversial legislative agenda.

While TER’s legislative package has enjoyed support in Texas’s ultra-conservative Senate under Patrick’s leadership, the TER-backed bills have faced stiffer opposition in the House, leading to more aggressive lobbying efforts by the reform group. In an April 14th press release that was widely disseminated, TER claimed that SB 893 and HB 2543 would do nothing to impact the minimum salary schedule and would not lead to appraisals incorporating STAAR test results. ATPE sent a response to legislators pointing out the fallacies of the TER claims and highlighting specific sections of the bills that call for repealing teachers’ portion of the minimum salary schedule and creating a state-mandated framework for personnel decisions based in large part on student performance data.

Read ATPE’s message to legislators on “The Truth about SB 893 and HB 2543.”

ATPE urges members to keep calling their state representatives about these bills, which would facilitate district-level pay cuts for many experienced educators, remove important salary protections in state law that drive teacher retention, and do irreversible harm to teachers’ morale, leading many high-quality, veteran educators to consider retiring early from the profession. Visit our Officeholders page to find out who represents you in the Texas House, or click here to access contact information for all 150 state representatives.

Full agenda today for House Public Education Committee with votes anticipated on bad bills

The House Public Education Committee is meeting now to hear several bills, including Senate Bill (SB) 6 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) calling for public school campuses to be rated with “A through F” accountability grades. While the bill contains improved language supplied in a Senate floor amendment by Sen. Jose Menendez (D), many educators remain opposed to SB 6 and giving letter grades to campuses. Read more about SB 6 here.

Below are the other bills slated to be heard by the House committee today:

  • HB 233 by Rep. Jessica Farrar (D) relating to school social work services in public schools.
  • HB 1231 by Rep. Allen Fletcher (R) relating to the membership of school district and open-enrollment charter school concussion oversight teams.
  • HB 1783 by Rep. Joe Moody (D) relating to the right of a school employee to report a crime and persons subject to the prohibition on coercing another into suppressing or failing to report information to a law enforcement agency; creating a criminal offense.
  • HB 1935 by Rep. Ken King (R) relating to additional state aid for tax reduction provided to certain school districts.
  • HB 2017 Rep. Rick Miller (R) relating to permissible locations of open-enrollment charter schools created by institutions of higher education.
  • HB 2151 by Rep. Tracy King (D) relating to consideration by the board of trustees of a school district of parental complaints concerning student participation in extracurricular activities.
  • HB 2156 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) relating to requirements for providers of certain technology services in public schools.
  • HB 2218 by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D) relating to instruction regarding mental health, substance abuse, and youth suicide in educator training programs.
  • HB 2593 by Rep. Four Price (R) relating to the method of determining the average daily attendance in certain school districts.
  • HB 2928 by Rep. Ryan Guillen (D) relating to enrollment in public schools by a child without a parent, guardian, or other person with legal control of the child under a court order.
  • HB 3260 by Rep. Abel Herrero (D) relating to a study and report regarding the use of open-source instructional materials at public schools.
  • HB 3281 by Rep. James Frank (R) relating to public school accountability.
  • HB 3282 by Rep. Ron Simmons (R) relating to the establishment by the commissioner of education of an autism program to provide applied behavior analysis services to students with autism spectrum disorder and to the coordination of autism services in this state.
  • HB 3417 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D) relating to providing for endorsements for public high school students enrolled in special education programs.
  • HB 3546 by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R) relating to the provision of credit by examination for public school students.
  • HB 3815 by Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R) relating to instruction in positive character traits in public schools.
  • HB 3896 by Rep. Sylvester Turner (D) relating to access to school textbooks.
  • HB 4047 by Rep. Alma Allen (D) relating to the extension to open-enrollment charter school employees of certain rights granted to school district employees. This bill was filed at the request of ATPE.

Later today, the committee is also slated to vote on a number of pending bills that have already been heard. These include two bills of great concern to the education community. First, House Bill (HB) 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) deals with the ability to convert public school districts to home rule charter districts that are exempt from many of the laws applicable to other public school districts. Deshotel’s bill changes the name of the privatization mechanism under existing law to “local control school districts” and does away with the requirement in current law for at least 25 percent voter turnout in an election to convert a school district to a “local control school district.” Also scheduled to be voted out today is HB 1536 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D) calling for creation of a statewide Opportunity School District for certain low-performing schools.

Both of these bills, HB 1536 and HB 1798, would facilitate alternative management of public schools by private entities, and they are being pushed forward by the wealthy lobbying group, Texans for Education Reform (TER). The bills promote ineffective school turnaround strategies and eliminate important quality control measures that exist for most other public schools, such as elementary school class-size limits and requirements to hire certified teachers. The alternative management structure envisioned by both HB 1536 and HB 1798 would remove the governing authority of locally elected school board members, which serves to diminish true local control in the long run. Also, neither bill would provide for increased resources or even encourage a reallocation of resources to ensure that the campuses that are struggling the most will receive the most support, which is essential to any successful turnaround effort. For these reasons, ATPE urges members to ask their state representatives and especially members of the House Public Education committee, to vote against HB 1798 and 1536 today.

Fortunately, another TER-backed bill, HB 2543, is not expected to be voted upon by the House committee today. HB 2543 is Rep. Marsha Farney’s (R) bill to do away with the minimum salary schedule for teachers. We appreciate all the ATPE members who’ve been calling their state representatives to oppose this bill.

Vote for candidates who will improve teacher compensation

This is the eleventh post in our A Dozen Days, A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession series.


At issue: Teacher compensation plays an important role in efforts to recruit and retain high-quality teachers, as discussed in a recent editorial by ATPE State President Ginger Franks. Nationwide, the average teacher salary exceeds $56,000, while Texas teachers are paid an average of $48,000. If Texas ever expects to become a global education leader, our teacher salaries must be at least equal to and preferably greater than the national average, which means that we still have a long way to go. Keeping salaries competitive with other professions and private industry is also critical to maintaining an adequate supply of teachers, especially in hard-to-staff subject areas like science and math. Studies have shown that funding additional stipends to entice high-performing college students and professionals to teach those subjects is a successful strategy to improve teacher quality. Differentiated pay for educators who undertake advanced training or other professional duties outside their normal instructional activities, such as mentoring a new teacher, can also help with teacher retention.

The state minimum salary schedule for teachers needs to be protected: While differentiated pay and targeted bonuses can and should be used strategically, it is essential that we maintain an adequate base pay structure for all teachers. The state’s minimum salary schedule (MSS), which fosters teacher retention by ensuring gradual pay increases over a 20-year span, has been under attack in recent legislative sessions. Critics of the MSS, including well-funded reform groups like Texans for Education Reform, Texans Deserve Great Schools and Educate Texas, falsely claim that its experience-based formula prevents school districts from adopting their own pay scales and strategic compensation plans that reward the best teachers. We disagree, and we hear frequently from educators who believe that the MSS provides an incentive to stay in the classroom and who would prefer it to be expanded rather than eliminated.

We must elect pro-public education candidates who understand the important function of the minimum salary schedule: Legislators who’ve attempted to repeal the salary schedule dismiss educators’ concerns as “institutional resistance to change” and ignore the fact that the MSS was designed to be merely a floor for teachers’ salaries across their first 20 years of teaching. The MSS was adopted with the intent that districts would pay teachers above the state minimums according to their own locally developed criteria. Most districts do pay above the MSS, with the excess payments often structured as performance-based increases. If the Legislature would comply with its constitutional obligation to adequately fund public education, more districts would probably be able to offer strategic payments above the state minimums. Moreover, in the decades that the school finance system has been in and out of litigation, pay increases for teachers have been few and isolated, but the MSS is what has made it possible to direct funds to the classroom where they are most needed. The MSS also helps stabilize the Teacher Retirement Statement (TRS), which is tied directly to the existing salary schedule.

Your future earnings as an educator depend on the participation of the education profession in this primary election: Too many of our legislators have bought into reformer rhetoric about teacher compensation. Educators cannot afford to remain a silent majority on this issue. View your legislators’ profiles on Teach the Vote to find out how they voted in 2013 on issues such as merit pay (see “Senate Vote #3”) or requiring a state survey of teacher salaries (see “House Vote #4”). Although the March 4 primary elections are only two days away, there is still time for you to talk to your friends and family about what’s at stake in this election. Don’t forget that in 21 legislative races, the November general election will be irrelevant, and the winner will be decided Tuesday. The legislature won’t stand up for better teacher pay unless the members of the education profession send a message now. This Tuesday, vote your profession.

From The Texas Tribune: Education Reform Group Mobilizes for 2014 Elections

An education advocacy group that became a lobbying powerhouse during the 2013 legislative session with the backing of Texas tort reform heavyweights is now turning its sights to the upcoming election cycle.

Texans for Education Reform, whose legislative package included measures to encourage the growth of online education and charter schools, has formed a political action committee, according to filings with the state ethics commission.

The new committee will allow the group, which spent at least $645,000 on a team of 16 lobbyists during its first legislative session, to put some of its resources toward political candidates.

“We advocate legislation that will transform our schools through proven, innovative strategies and provide parents with flexibility and choice,” spokeswoman Sherry Sylvester wrote in a statement emailed to The Texas Tribune. “TER PAC will provide us with another tool, in the political realm, to draw attention to our agenda and help achieve that goal.”

Sylvester declined to provide additional information about the group’s political objectives, noting that further details would be available when the Texas Ethics Commission releases campaign finance reports later this month.

TER PAC’s treasurer is listed as Doug Foshee, who is the former CEO of El Paso Corporation, which was among the largest producers of natural gas in North America until another energy company acquired it in 2011. Foshee is also a trustee of the Houston-based KIPP charter school network.

He is one of many Texas political and business leaders who sit on the group’s board, including homebuilder and tort reform champion Dick Weekley, Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC chairman Dick Trabulsi, former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and former Senate Education Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, a Plano Republican who stepped down in 2011. El Paso businessman Woody Hunt and hedge fund manager Salem Abraham, who is a longtime member of the Canadian Independent School District’s board, are also among its supporters.

Texans for Education Reform’s emergence marked a change in the state’s education advocacy landscape, which has traditionally been dominated by professional associations aligned with educators, administrators and school boards. Its efforts were coupled with those of another newcomer, Texans Deserve Great Schools, a nonprofit coalition that includes the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which has invested millions in Houston and Louisiana charter schools, and the San Antonio-based Brackenridge Foundation, which is part of a $30 million campaign to bring more charters to the city.

Speaking with the Tribune in May, TER adviser Anthony Holm said the group had formed to support new solutions for the state’s public schools, whose progress, he said, had been obstructed by existing advocacy organizations.

“It took me six to eight weeks to realize that most of the other interest groups in this space weren’t advancing agendas; they were restricting bills,” Holm said. “It’s much more difficult to advance affirmative legislation or to come up with solutions.”

TER’s official entry to the political arena sets the stage for a further standoff over education policy that became known as the “battle of the billionaires” among some lawmakers during the 2013 legislative session. In the fight to pass charter school and virtual education legislation, TER was often at odds with Raise Your Hand Texas, another education advocacy group with considerable financial resources.

Founded in 2006 by San Antonio grocery mogul Charles Butt to combat private school vouchers, Raise Your Hand has since become a powerful lobbying force at the Capitol. The organization itself does not make campaign contributions, but Butt is a top political donor in the state who has given substantial sums to both Republicans and Democrats, as well as to the Parent PAC, a public schools-oriented political action committee.

While TER and Raise Your Hand each supported the charter school and virtual education bills that eventually passed during the last legislative session, in both cases, Raise Your Hand successfully pushed versions that significantly limited the reach of initial proposals backed by TER.

A spokesman for Raise Your Hand Texas declined to comment for this story.