Tag Archives: Texas Tribune

Texas election roundup: New GOP PAC in town

The big news in Texas politics this week is an announcement by a group of Republican members of the Texas House of Representatives that they have formed a new political action committee (PAC) to fill the void in fundraising created by Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s (R-Angleton) decision not to run for reelection.

Typically, the speaker coordinates fundraising efforts and doles out money to help endangered House incumbents who belong to the majority party. Democrats need just nine seats to win control of the Texas House, which places Republicans in a defensive position. Without Speaker Bonnen playing an active leadership role, Republicans are at a disadvantage. Enter Reps. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio), Four Price (R-Amarillo), and Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), who filed paperwork this week to form Leading Texas Forward PAC. According to the Texas Tribune, the PAC aims to raise $5 million for GOP incumbents and lists none other than GOP strategist Karl Rove as its treasurer.

In other House news, Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee Chair Poncho Nevarez (D-Eagle Pass) announced late last week he would not run for reelection after admitting to a drug-related incident. Nevarez told the Texas Tribune he intends to seek treatment.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced the special runoff elections for House District (HD) 28, HD 100, and HD 148 will be held Jan. 28, 2020. The latter two seats are expected to remain under Democratic control, while HD 28 represents a hotly-contested race over a seat most recently occupied by a Republican.

A new University of Texas-Tyler poll shows President Donald Trump’s approval rating among Texans at 43 percent, compared to 49 percent on respondents who disapprove and 8 percent who have not made up their minds. That poll shows former Vice President Joe Biden leading the pack among Texans’ favored Democratic nominees, followed by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. A separate Politico analysis predicts Trump will win Texas, but lists a number of contested Republican Congressional seats as likely Democratic pickups.

Voting is the most powerful thing you can do as an educator, and ATPE thanks those of you who voted in the Nov. 5 election. Voting in the upcoming 2020 elections will be critical in order to ensure legislators provide schools and teachers with the resources they need to help students grow and achieve. Visit the website for our Texas Educators Vote coalition today and sign up to receive text updates so that you never miss an important election!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 8, 2019

Happy Election Week! Here are your highlights of this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ELECTION UPDATE: Thank you to all who voted in Tuesday’s general election!

All three special elections to fill vacated Texas House of Representatives seats are headed to runoffs. Additionally, of the 10 constitutional amendments on the ballot Tuesday, nine were approved by voters. Check out this election results post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins to learn more about how candidates and ballot measures fared on Nov. 5. Wiggins also has you covered on nationwide election news, including the recent exit from the presidential race of former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke. This just in: State Rep. Poncho Nevarez (D-Eagle Pass) announced late Friday he will not run for reelection in 2020. Nevarez chairs the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee. You can read more about his announcement in this post by the Texas Tribune.

In additional election-related news, our friends at TexasISD.com report that local voters passed 81 percent of the 63 school district bond elections held around the state during Tuesday’s election. When votes were tallied up, more than 93 percent of the total value sought by all districts statewide being approved. These high passage rates are a continued sign that the public overwhelmingly supports their local public schools and additional spending on those schools’ and students’ needs.

If you didn’t get the chance to vote this time, your next opportunity will be the primary election on March 3, 2020. The deadline to register to vote in the primary is Feb. 3, 2020. Check to see if you are registered to vote here. Need some inspiration? Read ATPE Lobbyist and former educator Andrea Chevalier’s voting story.


Do you have a couple of minutes to spare? The ATPE Governmental Relations team invites all ATPE members to take a short, three-question survey about the most recent legislative session and your education priorities. Help us best represent your voice at the Texas Capitol by taking our new “Your Voice” survey on ATPE’s Advocacy Central. You must be signed into the ATPE website as a member to participate in the survey, so call the ATPE Member Services department at (800) 777-2873 if you’ve forgotten your password.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced on Wednesday plans for the state to take over management of Houston ISD and two rural school districts, Shepherd ISD and Snyder ISD. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath cited two reasons for the takeover of Houston ISD: “failure of governance” and the consistent under-performance of Wheatley High School in the district. Houston ISD serves over 200,000 students. The takeover of all three school districts will entail replacement of each elected school board by a state-appointed Board of Managers and the appointment of a state conservator. Learn more in this reporting from the Texas Tribune.


This week the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center released a comprehensive analysis of targeted school violence. The report, focused on K-12 schools for the period of 2008 to 2017, details common trends among the school attacks. One significant finding was that, while there is no typical “profile” of a perpetrator, they do exhibit certain warning signs and traits. These include having been a victim of bullying, an adverse childhood experience, a mental health issue, access to firearms, and motive typically involving a grievance with classmates or school staff. Read a summary of the report from Education Week here, or read the full report here.

Back home in Texas, the House Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety held its third public meeting this week. The hearing took place in Odessa, the site of one of the recent shooting attacks that garnered national attention. The committee heard several hours of testimony from local families and law enforcement, some of whom had lost loved ones in the Midland and Odessa shooting on Aug. 31, 2019. Testifiers pleaded for a more effective background check system and the integration of mental health information into the public safety system. Legislators and law enforcement officials discussed prevention strategies focused on more cohesive communication, such as a regional communications center. A recording of the hearing can be found here. Read more about the hearing from local CBS7 in Midland here.


Next week on Teach the Vote, we’ll be updating all state legislators’ profiles on our website to incorporate voting records from the 86th legislative session. ATPE’s lobbyists have analyzed all the education-related votes taken during the 2019 legislative session and selected a collection of recorded votes that will help Texans find out how their own lawmakers voted on major public education issues and ATPE’s legislative priorities. By sharing this information, we hope to help voters gain insight into legislative incumbents’ views on public education so that they can make informed decisions at the polls during the critical 2020 election cycle.

The candidate filing period opens this weekend for those seeking a place on the ballot in 2020. Once the candidate filing period ends, ATPE will be updating our Teach the Vote website to include profiles of all the candidates vying for seats in the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education. Stay tuned!


 

From The Texas Tribune: Half of registered Texas voters turned out in 2018. Just 12% turned out this year.

This year, 12% of registered voters cast ballots, compared with 6% of the state’s 15 million registered voters who voted in 2017. Photo by Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune

Half of registered Texas voters turned out in 2018. Just 12% turned out this year.” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Texas voters approved nine amendments to the state’s Constitution on Tuesday. Only 12% of registered voters actually cast ballots — a higher percentage from the 2017 election, but still overwhelmingly low overall.

A majority of Texas voters must approve any changes to the Texas Constitution. Getting a proposed amendment on the ballot requires support from more than two-thirds of both chambers of the Legislature.

Voters in some communities also weighed in on important local issues. For example, Houston voters weighed in on a contentious mayoral race, while Travis County voters approved a proposition authorizing 2% of the hotel occupancy tax to go toward renovating the Travis County Exposition Center.

Turnout is — and has always been — historically low in elections that take place during odd-numbered years. Here’s what it looked like this year.

How easy is it to amend the Texas Constitution?

It’s fairly simple.

That simplicity, in part, is because few people vote in constitutional amendment elections. This year, 12% of registered voters cast ballots, compared with 6% of the state’s 15 million registered voters who voted in 2017. By comparison, 59% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the latest presidential election.

Unsurprisingly, turnout relies heavily on what’s on the ballot. Turnout in 2015 was higher than normal in part because of a Houston mayor’s race and a state ballot proposition dealing with property taxes. In 2005, nearly 18% of registered voters cast ballots. That year, voters overwhelmingly approved writing a ban on same-sex marriage into the state’s Constitution. Twelve percent of registered voters voted in 2003, when a controversial amendment limiting lawsuit damages was on the ballot.

Do people vote on the whole ballot?

For the most part, yes. But they don’t have to.

Proposition 4, which would make it harder to enact a state income tax, received the most votes by a hair — roughly 1.97 million Texans who cast ballots weighed in on this change to the Constitution.

The closest race on the ballot was Proposition 9, which would allow the Legislature to create a property tax exemption for precious metals in state depositories like the Texas Bullion Depository. Proposition 9 also had the lowest turnout, with only 1.89 million Texans casting ballots — 79,057 fewer votes cast than there were on Proposition 4.

In 2005, more than 2.2 million people voted on the proposition concerning same-sex couples. The proposition with the fewest number of votes — an item focused on clearing land titles in Upshur and Smith counties — had only 1.9 million votes.

Turnout is hard to chart during constitutional amendment elections because of how the Texas secretary of state compiles data. A spokesman with the agency said voter turnout data is compiled based on a designated turnout race, even if it’s not the race with the most votes. This year, the designated race is Proposition 1.

Why was Proposition 4 so popular?

The proposition, authored by state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, and state Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, drew considerable attention in the lead-up to Election Day.

Supporters of the amendment said they wanted to provide assurance to residents and outsiders interested in doing business in Texas that the state is committed to a business-friendly environment; those in opposition argued the measure could tie the hands of future generations as they look to fund areas like education and health care.

Several left-leaning groups, including the Center for Public Policy Priorities, rallied against the proposal. CPPP says it launched digital ads in “targeted areas of the state” and sent a mail piece to tens of thousands of households.

Which counties had higher turnout than others?

Among the 10 counties with the most registered voters, Harris, Fort Bend and Travis counties had the highest turnout. Harris County had a 15.69% turnout this year, compared with 6.46% in 2017. Fort Bend County had a 14.69% turnout, compared with 6.6% in 2017.

One of the reasons for Harris County’s higher turnout is because its county seat, Houston, is the only major Texas city that holds its mayoral race in November. (Dallas and San Antonio held their elections in May.)

This year’s Houston race drew considerable attention as first-term Mayor Sylvester Turner sought to fend off several challengers, including high-wattage trial attorney Tony Buzbee, who self-funded his campaign to the tune of $10 million. It’s also the first mayoral race to take place since Hurricane Harvey ravaged the Texas coast. Turner received 47% of the vote, compared with Buzbee’s 28%, sending the two to a runoff election slated for next month.

In addition to the rollicking mayoral race, Houston-area voters living in two state House districts had high-profile special elections on the ballot.

After the resignations of state Reps. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, and Jessica Farrar D-Houston, some voters in the Houston-area districts voted for their next state representatives. (Only Houston-area voters living in District 28 and District 148 cast ballots in these two races.)

Farrar’s seat is solidly blue; Zerwas’ seat, meanwhile, was a target for Democrats well before he announced he was resigning and joining the University of Texas System. Eliz Markowitz is the sole Democratic candidate in the race. Six GOP candidates have also lined up for the seat.

In Farrar’s former district, Democrat Anna Eastman and Republican Luis La Rotta are headed to the next round; in Zerwas’ former district, Markowitz and Republican Gary Gates will go to a runoff.

Carla Astudillo contributed to this story.

Disclosure: The Center for Public Policy Priorities, Tony Buzbee and the University of Texas System 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/2019/11/06/texas-2019-election-voter-turnout/.

 

Texas Tribune mission statement

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

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 1, 2019

Happy Friday! Here are your highlights of this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ELECTION UPDATE: Today is the first day of November, but it’s your last day to vote early in the constitutional amendment election slated for Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.

ATPE is urging all educators to learn what’s on the ballot. (Since you’ll be turning back your clocks this weekend, you’ve got an extra hour to read up on the proposed amendments!) If you miss your chance to vote early today, be sure to go vote on Election Day next Tuesday.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has written an update today on a closely watched special legislative election that is also taking place on Tuesday. Additionally, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter has written a post for our blog this week on how to build a culture of voting and get into the habit of voting in every election. Don’t miss your chance to shape the future of public education in Texas. Go vote!


The House Public Education Committee was in town this week for an interim hearing on the implementation of House Bill (HB) 3 and other recent legislation. Monday’s hearing featured invited testimony only, including a presentation by Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. Read more about the meeting in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


Members of the Texas State Senate received their homework assignments this week. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, formally released the Senate’s interim charges on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. The charges direct members of the Senate’s various committees to spend the rest of the legislative interim studying particular issues and making recommendations for any new legislation that might be needed in 2021 to address those issues. The interim charges related to public education include a range of topics including teacher recruitment, student discipline, and restricting educators’ political activities. Learn more about what’s in the Senate interim charges in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) issued a formal report to the legislature this week about Houston ISD, the largest public school district in Texas. Following an investigation, TEA is recommending that  a board of managers be appointed to oversee the district in place of its current elected school board. The school district, meanwhile, has gone to court seeking injunctive relief to prevent Commissioner of Education Mike Morath from taking that action. The lengthy TEA report shared with lawmakers on Wednesday cites improper contracting procedures and violations of the state’s open meetings laws by HISD’s board of trustees. Learn more in this reporting from the Texas Tribune.


On Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, the Texas Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety met again to take testimony from experts and discuss two of its charges. The emphasis of this meeting was on the role of digital media, the dark web, and culture on violence and policy regarding the wearing of masks. Panelists and senators discussed how social media, video games, mental health, and juvenile justice policies have impacted violent occurrences and explored potential legislative actions. Watch the archived hearing here.


 

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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


 

ATPE attends Texas Tribune Festival

The Texas Tribune held its annual TribFest event in Austin this past Friday and Saturday, Sept. 27-28, 2019. The festival brought together state and national candidates, officeholders, policymakers, and thought leaders to discuss a range of topics, including public education, in a series of panels and one-on-one interviews over the course of the event. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier and Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter were on hand to engage with policy makers and other key advocates while taking in the panel discussions regarding Texas public education

At the Texas Tribune Festival, Evan Smith discussed “The Future of Education” with Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, Texas 2036 co-founder Margaret Spellings, 2018 Texas Superintendent of the Year Dr. LaTonya Goffney, and former President of UT Brownsville Juliet Garcia.

This year’s education line-up for the festival included panels discussing how states can more effectively work with the U.S. Department of Education, reforms coming out of Dallas ISD, challenges for rural schools and the importance of solving them, school finance considerations following the passage of House Bill 3, the “Future of Education,” and four Texas teachers giving their take on Texas public education, school choice partnerships, and standardized testing.

Texas Tribune education reporter Aliyya Swaby moderated a panel made up of four Texas teachers.

Click here to access archived live-streams of the festival’s keynote addresses and many of the one-on-one interviews, including those with Texas Congressman Will Hurd, Senator Ted Cruz, and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 30, 2019

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


On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a new report lauding efforts aimed at “Improving School Safety in Texas.” The school safety update details recent legislative and administrative actions taken, including the approval of 17 new laws and $339 million in state funding. Additionally, the report highlights a 37% increase in the number of teachers and school resource officers (SROs) being trained in mental health first aid; improvements to communications between various state agencies that deal with school safety issues; and new authority for charter schools to hire security personnel. Read more about the new report in this blog post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.

Also this week, ATPE’s lobbyists posted the second installment of our “New School Year, New Laws” blog series here on Teach the Vote with a look at school safety legislation. Check out Monday’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier to learn more about bills that were passed during the 2019 legislative session to address safety issues such as student mental health, school marshals, and school preparedness for emergencies and traumas. Next week we’ll be posting an update on new laws pertaining to curriculum and instruction.


A product of the 85th Texas Legislature, Senate Bill 1882 that was passed in 2017 allows public schools that are at risk of being shut down to partner with charter schools for turnaround initiatives. In the recently released “A-F” accountability grades for school districts and campuses, seven of the 12 public school campuses that have partnered with charters or nonprofits received an “F” rating.

While it may be too soon to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of the partnerships, and there are serious questions about the utility of the A-F system, the accountability ratings offer an early glimpse at how the partnership program is working. Our friend Aliyya Swaby at the Texas Tribune wrote about the findings in this article republished on our Teach the Vote blog this week.


We’ve reached that point in the year when campaign announcements are coming out practically every day. Find out which legislators have announced their re-election bids in our latest election update from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. This week Mark offers insights on the districts where contested races are shaping up and highlights new resources available from the Texas Educators Vote coalition. Read the newest election news roundup here.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) continues its “HB 3 in 30” video series with two new video presentations uploaded this week. The latest entries in the series highlight funding changes under this year’s major school finance and reform bill for charter schools and Gifted and Talented programs. View the HB 3 video resources here.


 

From The Texas Tribune: Texas lets struggling schools partner with nonprofits or charters for improvement. But many got Fs this year.

Kate Yetter teaches fifth grade writing at Ogden Academy in San Antonio ISD, which has been low-performing for seven years in a row. Photo by Laura Skelding for The Texas Tribune

Adrain Johnson was one of five Texas school superintendents last year to take a Hail Mary pass in order to improve two low-performing schools: He let a new nonprofit take over the management of Hearne ISD’s elementary and junior high, both of which had failed to meet state academic standards for years.

The partnerships, an idea lawmakers approved in 2017, are supposed to give the outside organizations — charter groups, private nonprofits or universities — flexibility to try out new educational models and hopefully lead to major gains in student test scores. In return, the low-performing schools get more money per student and a two-year pause from any state penalties, which are required after a school has underperformed for five years or more in a row.

But after a year being run by Hearne Education Foundation, and managed by a separate appointed school board of regional educators, Hearne Elementary School received its seventh consecutive failing rating from the state this month, meaning it may have to shut down unless it passes over the next couple of years.

In fact, seven of the 12 schools across the state in similar partnerships with nonprofits or charters received F ratings this year, including four that, like Hearne Elementary, that could face state sanctions if they don’t pass in the next couple of years. All 12 schools serve student populations that are between 70% and 100% economically disadvantaged, in school districts with higher rates of teacher turnover than state average.

Partnerships with charters and nonprofits show mixed results

The 2017 Texas Legislature allowed public schools to partner with charter groups and nonprofits, giving them two years to demonstrate progress and avoid shutdown. After the first year, the direct effect of the partnerships is unclear.

Hearne Junior High, a rural Central Texas school with 100% economically disadvantaged students, had actually managed to improve significantly before the partnership even started and its performance remained relatively steady this year. That means it’s safe for now from any state penalties.

Johnson said he’s proud of the district’s improvement, given the challenges an underperforming school faces in being able to overcome the stigma of working or learning there. It’s hard to convince high-quality teachers to work in a school that may close within a few years. And the elementary school’s new principal didn’t have much time to build relationships with staff members and students before the next round of state tests came.

“It’s like running against the wind. You can be a good runner, but if you’re running against the wind, it makes it hard for you to perform well,” he said.

Texas recently switched its school assessment system to give schools and districts letter grades based almost entirely on state standardized tests, especially in the elementary and middle schools, replacing a previous pass/fail system. And alongside the new report card came higher stakes and drastic penalties for the schools that perform poorly year after year.

But lawmakers gave school officials a life raft from those penalties by incentivizing them to partner with private or governmental groups — a last ditch effort at improvement before the schools are forced to completely shutter. Any school can be under a partnership; underperforming schools get the benefit of a temporary pause on having their ratings count against them.

Transforming a long-struggling school into a top-rated one requires more than just a focus on academics. It also requires a massive cultural shift: stopping teachers and principals from leaving at such high rates, figuring out better ways to manage student behavior and erasing a negative reputation earned over the course of several years.

“This first year would’ve been great if all our partnership schools would have done amazing. But this kind of change and these turnaround strategies don’t happen overnight,” said Bibi Yasmin Katsev, executive director of the Texas District Charter Alliance, which advocates for district-charter partnerships.

She warned against coming to conclusions too soon about the value of the partnerships.

“Just looking back on this one year, we are really hopeful and we really think a lot of these schools will improve themselves after the next year,” she said. “If not, we really need high-quality partners.”

The challenges a school district faces don’t just go away with a new partner. Ector County ISD, in West Texas’ oil-rich Permian Basin, is missing almost 20% of needed teaching staff, starting the year with 349 vacancies, said Scott Muri, the new superintendent. Housing is extremely expensive in the area and teachers have turned jobs down because they can’t afford to live there.

“You can get a good wage job here. The oil industry pays. But in education, we have a hard time competing,” he said.

In Waco ISD, where five low-performing campuses were turned over to a new nonprofit, administrators said many teachers jumped ship at two of the schools before the partnership even began. That left the nonprofit starting at a disadvantage finding high-quality educators — a key goal of the partnership.

Those schools — J.H. Hines Elementary and G.W. Carver Middle — both improved significantly in 2017-18, but then plummeted to an F this year, with the latter dropping the equivalent of two grades.

But all of Waco ISD’s schools have met state standards for at least one of the last five years, meaning they won’t face state sanctions anytime soon. Waco ISD officials created their own nonprofit to partner with while state education officials were creating rules outlining how the partnership law would work — a serious logistic challenge, according to Kyle DeBeer, the district’s assistant superintendent of communications.

Other districts also faced logistical issues getting ramped up in the first year, with some guidance but little established structure from state education officials.

Besides Hearne Elementary, Ector College Prep Success Academy in Ector County ISD, Ogden Academy in San Antonio ISD, and Mendez Middle School in Austin ISD all need to do better in the next couple of years or else they might be forced to shut down. Shutting down a school is generally extremely unpopular with parents and community members, and requires a school officials to figure out other schools for those students.

Instead of shutting down Ogden Academy, San Antonio ISD handed the management of the elementary school to Relay Lab Schools, a charter organization affiliated with the Relay Graduate School of Education. The school is now a training ground for student teachers, who commit to work in the district for three years after graduation.

“Turnaround is hard and it takes some time and it takes relentlessness,” said Mohammed Choudhury, chief innovation officer at San Antonio ISD.

According to Choudhury, Ogden Academy students started off further behind academically than students at Stewart, another chronically low-performing elementary school that improved significantly the year before its partnership began and then plummeted to a D rating this year. Families of students at Ogden are more likely to have less education and lower incomes.

The 10-year contract with Relay Lab Schools allows school district officials to consider dissolving the partnership if they don’t see needed results within the first few years.

A little-known provision in the partnership law allows low-performing schools to get up to two additional years of a reprieve from state penalties, if the Texas education commissioner approves it. Both Choudhury and Johnson, of Hearne ISD, said they would consider asking the state for an extension from those penalties, if their schools don’t improve.

Johnson said Hearne’s partnership, which has drawn on the expertise of local school district and university educators, allows them to use data more effectively to pinpoint specific weaknesses. Some of the best teachers from local school districts in East Texas and the Houston area have gone to teach Saturday classes in Hearne, and Texas A&M professors helped with professional development for Hearne’s teachers.

Johnson wants those benefits to last.

“We didn’t create this and go into this with it being a two-to-three year and done system,” he said. “We’re trying to build a system that has sustainability.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/08/27/texas-charter-nonprofit-ratings/.

Texas Tribune mission statement

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

From The Texas Tribune: Three Texas school districts face state penalties after 2019 A-F grades released

Three Texas school districts face state penalties after 2019 A-F grades released” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

San Antonio ISD’s Ogden Academy failed to meet academic standards but has a temporary reprieve from state penalties. Photo by Laura Skelding for The Texas Tribune

Three Texas school districts — including the state’s largest — will likely be forced to shut down their chronically underperforming schools or submit to state takeover, based on annual state ratings released Thursday morning.

Houston ISD, Shepherd ISD and Snyder ISD all have at least one school that failed state ratings for five or more years in a row, subjecting them to bruising state penalties created in 2015. School superintendents will be allowed to appeal their ratings by mid-September, and final decisions will be out by the end of the year.

While Houston ISD’s Kashmere High School, the state’s longest-underperforming school, soared from an F to a C this year, Wheatley High School failed to meet state academic standards for the seventh year in a row.

This is the second year that Texas has awarded letter grades to school districts and the first year for schools, replacing a previous pass/fail system. (Schools last year received numeric scores that could easily be translated into grades.) The grades are intended to represent students’ academic performance, based on standardized test scores and other factors such as graduation rates.

For superintendents and principals, the pressure to get a good report card is high: Texas has increased the stakes of the accountability system in recent years, promising harsh penalties for schools and districts that repeatedly underperform.

Schools that fail to meet state academic standards for more than four years in a row will be forcibly shuttered, or the state will take over their school districts.

This year, further raising those stakes, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath instituted a policy change to count a D grade as “unacceptable” performance, which critics argue will only increase the number of schools facing state penalties.

Last year, Houston ISD was one of 92 school districts that received a waiver from state ratings, because of the damaging effects of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey on students’ academic performance. That waiver saved it last year. No similar waivers were offered this year.

Snyder ISD, in West Texas, and Shepherd ISD, north of Houston, were also at risk of state takeover, each with at least one school that had been failing for four years. Snyder’s junior high school and Shepherd’s elementary and intermediate schools received their fifth consecutive failing ratings this year.

The state offered school districts a life raft: Those that handed the management of their underperforming schools to a nonprofit, university or charter group could get a two-year pause from sanctions.

Without that life raft, at least six districts — Ector County ISD, Lubbock ISD, Hearne ISD, Austin ISD, Beaumont ISD and San Antonio ISD — would have been in trouble. Ogden Academy, one of San Antonio ISD’s elementary schools, received its sixth F in a row this year. But the district’s leaders handed over control of curriculum, hiring and other duties to the Relay Graduate School of Education, giving Ogden more time to improve.

Midland ISD’s Travis Elementary School, in West Texas, also received a fifth consecutive low rating, but it received an exception from the state because it will partner with IDEA, a charter district, in 2020.

But Houston, Snyder and Shepherd ISDs did not enter into partnerships and subsequently failed to improve the performance of their schools. In Houston, community members effectively blocked the school board from using the law, arguing that giving nonprofits or charters control of their low-performing schools would privatize public education.

Even if all of Houston ISD’s schools had improved, the district was looking at likely state takeover due to its dysfunctional school board. A recent preliminary state investigation recommended state education officials take over Houston ISD’s elected school board, plagued by infighting and scandals for years, and replace it with an appointed board of managers.

The move to letter grade ratings, with the higher stakes attached to them, is extremely controversial, especially among many educators.

They argue that letter grades are overly simplistic measures of a long list of complex metrics and mislead parents about the quality of a school or district. They also dislike how much the system is based on students’ standardized test scores, the only consistent statewide evaluation but one widely mistrusted to accurately depict whether students are learning.

Despite the criticism, lawmakers did little to adjust how the state assesses school districts in the legislative session that wrapped up in May.

State officials have argued that the letter grades are more accessible for parents who want to know how well their children’s schools are doing and that they allow the state to better keep tabs on underperforming schools. The state also has updated a public website intended to present the ratings in a more easily digestible way, including new tools that allow for comparisons among schools and districts.

“All of these tools are designed to provide as much transparency to administrators and school leaders, as well as to parents and members of the public,” Morath said at a recent media roundtable.

A higher percentage of school districts that received letter grades were awarded A’s and B’s this year, compared with last year. A smaller percentage of districts received C’s, D’s and F’s.

The grades for schools and districts are determined by ratings in three categories: student achievement, school progress and closing the gaps. Those categories measure how students perform on state tests, how much those scores have improved and how well schools are educating their most disadvantaged students.

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/08/15/texas-schools-grades-accountability/.

 

Texas Tribune mission statement

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

From The Texas Tribune: This session’s biggest mental health bill got killed on a technicality — then resurrected

This session’s biggest mental health bill got killed on a technicality — then resurrected” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, has tried to kill several bills this session. Photo by Juan Figueroa/The Texas Tribune

A major mental health bill prioritized by the state’s top leaders as a way to help prevent school shootings was partially revived late Tuesday night hours after it appeared to have been abruptly killed on a technicality during a dramatic night in the Texas House.

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, raised a “point of order” on Senate Bill 10, which created a Texas Mental Health Consortium aimed at bringing together psychiatric professionals from Texas medical schools and other health care providers to connect children to mental health services. Stickland’s point of order contended that an analysis of the bill provided to lawmakers was inaccurate. After the House recessed for nearly an hour and a half so parliamentarians could analyze the technicality, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, somberly announced a ruling in Stickland’s favor.

But hours later, provisions from SB 10 were added to Senate Bill 11, a school safety bill that the lower chamber passed earlier in the evening. State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, sponsored SB 10 in the House and successfully amended it to SB 11 over Stickland’s objections shortly before a midnight House deadline to advance bills from the upper chamber.

SB 10 is one of several proposals that the state’s GOP leaders championed in the wake of the deadly shooting last year at Santa Fe High School. Gov. Greg Abbott named it an emergency item in his State of the State address earlier this year, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick designated it one of his 30 legislative priorities.

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, the bill’s author, told senators earlier this year that it was her “best shot” at helping students in the aftermath of school shootings. It had bipartisan backing and cleared the upper chamber unanimously more than two months ago.

“I think it was a well-intentioned bill that had some very bad unintended consequences,” Stickland told the Tribune by phone Tuesday night, an hour after his point of order initially knocked the bill out of contention. “I think it could have been stronger on parental rights to make sure our constitutional rights are protected in the bill.”

Asked if he was bracing for backlash from leadership over killing such a high-profile bill, Stickland said, “I expect it.”

Within a couple of hours, Stickland got it.

As it became clear Tuesday that Stickland’s point of order would torpedo the legislation, key players who worked on SB 10 moved quickly to figure out next steps. Zerwas, a Richmond Republican, walked across the Capitol rotunda into the Senate, where he spoke with Nelson, presumably about news of the bill’s fate.

“It’s unfortunate that there were some people who were getting some negative comments from their constituencies that felt the need to vote against this bill or somehow kill this bill,” Zerwas told the Tribune. “And one of those happened to be Jonathan Stickland, who’s pretty adept in finding points of order and calling them, and he wins some, he loses some, and unfortunately, he happened to win one with Sen. Nelson’s bill.”

Just before 11 p.m., state Rep. Greg Bonnen, a Friendswood Republican and brother of the House speaker, made a motion to revive the mental health bill by amending a sweeping school safety bill passed earlier Tuesday. He offered a cryptic message that there was “an opportunity to do some additional work” in order to “further make safe our schools in the state of Texas.”

Stickland approached the chamber’s back microphone with questions.

“Is this something we’ve seen before?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” Greg Bonnen said.

Stickland attempted to delay the motion, asking procedural questions about how the chamber was going to reconsider a portion of a bill that had already passed. He then gave a speech imploring colleagues not to reconsider SB 11, the school safety bill.

“Maybe you plan on voting for it, and that’s fine,” Stickland said. “But here’s what I can promise you: One day, there’s gonna be something that you care about where you might be in the minority. … You’re going to hope that these rules and our traditions and the way that this House operates protects you and your ability to stand up for your constituents.”

At one point, Stickland and a group of lawmakers huddled at the front dais to discuss his attempts to prevent adding the mental health provisions to the school safety bill.

“I’m sick of this shit,” Stickland could be heard telling Dennis Bonnen.

Zerwas eventually succeeded in reviving major elements of the mental health bill, despite two further attempts from Stickland to prohibit the amendment on technicalities.

Stickland has built a reputation for being a thorn in the side of House leadership, under both Bonnen and former House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. A former member of the hardline conservative Freedom Caucus, which he resigned from earlier this session, Stickland cast the lone “no” votes on several high-priority bills this year, including the House’s school finance reform proposal.

On a number of occasions this session, Stickland has tried to kill legislation ranging from the controversial to the uncontested. In April, for example, he successfully knocked several measures off of that day’s local and consent calendar, which is typically reserved for uncontroversial legislation. Stickland’s reasoning? Liberties were under attack.

On Monday, he used a point of order to successfully halt a bill that would have made it illegal to leave an unattended dog tied up in an inhumane manner. And earlier Tuesday, Stickland unsuccessfully called a point of order on SB 11, the school safety bill that would later be used as the vehicle to revive SB 10.

It was one of two school safety bills that advanced in the Legislature within hours of each other. The Senate also approved a House bill that would abolish the cap on how many trained school teachers and support staff — known as school marshals — can carry guns on public school campuses.

The nonprofit Mental Health America ranks Texas last among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., for youth access to mental health care. According to its 2019 report, The State of Mental Health in America, 71.3% of youth in Texas with major depression go untreated, compared with the national average of 61.5%.

Acacia Coronado, Emily Goldstein, Alex Samuels, Patrick Svitek, Aliyya Swaby and Alexa Ura contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/05/21/texas-mental-health-bill-killed-over-technicality/.

 

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.