Tag Archives: Texas Tribune

From The Texas Tribune: Texas’ coronavirus strategy is a patchwork of different local rules

While other states fighting coronavirus enforce widespread closures, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott goes with a patchwork system

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has employed a mostly decentralized approach, giving cities, counties, school districts and universities the discretion to respond to the new coronavirus however they see fit. Photo credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

As the COVID-19 pandemic worsens, states across the country are increasingly taking a more heavy-handed approach to contain the new strain of coronavirus — shuttering schools, bars and restaurants and deploying state militaries.

Nearly 30 states have mandated temporary school closures, for example, with some orders applying even to private institutions. In Texas, though, only half of school districts have ordered students to stay home after spring break.

That’s because Gov. Greg Abbott has clung so far to a mostly decentralized approach, giving cities, counties, school districts and universities the discretion to respond to the virus however they see fit. The result has been a patchwork of local policies that differ from county to county, with leaders setting various limits on public gatherings and other putting in place other regulations meant to encourage “social distancing.”

Over the weekend, Abbott said he was confident that cities will make the best decisions for their communities. And he appeared to double down on that approach Monday at a news conference in San Antonio, where he praised Mayor Ron Nirenberg for opening the state’s first drive-through testing facility and choosing to go well beyond almost every other Texas city in banning public gatherings of more than 50 people, following recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Those are smart strategies that will prove effective,” he said.

To be sure, Abbott has taken notable steps to combat the spread of the virus. Last week, he declared a state of disaster — as every state has — and directed state agencies to provide flexible and remote work options to employees. He restricted visitation to high-risk facilities including nursing homes, hospitals, day cares and jails. Amid panic buying, he waived regulations on the trucking industry to streamline the flow of goods to depleted grocery stores. And on Monday, amid bipartisan pressure from state lawmakers, he waived standardized testing requirements for public schools, saying it would be impossible to administer the STAAR tests as planned given the closure of more than 560 districts and charter schools beyond spring break.

Overall, though, Abbott’s cumulative actions stop short of those taken in many other states, including neighboring Arkansas, New Mexico and Louisiana, whose governors shuttered schools across the board, mobilized their militaries and implemented travel restrictions.

According to the National Governors Association, about 20 state leaders have activated their national guards and limited travel of state employees or citizens, and about 17 have passed legislation to divert state funds to the response effort. (Abbott promised Monday that federal money is on the way.) More than a dozen have also ordered restaurants and bars to close to in-house patrons — a policy various cities and counties, including Houston and Dallas, enacted Monday.

Local decision-making

Abbott’s office, asked about the local protocols, said Monday that cities and counties “have done a very good job of doing what is right for their municipalities” and nodded to how helpful local decision-making can be in a state as large as Texas. That approach is in stark contrast to Abbott’s recent attitude toward local control. In the past few years, he has routinely sparred with mayors and backed several laws that chipped away at the power of cities and counties.

“Texas is so diverse that what is right in Houston and Harris County and Dallas and San Antonio may not be the best approach in Amarillo,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman said. “These cities and counties are following the proper protocol and guidance that they are receiving from their local health departments.”

Abbott’s push for local decision-making comes as the nation’s top infectious disease expert said the most effective way to stop spread of COVID-19 may be a 14-day nationwide shutdown.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House task force on combating the spread of the new coronavirus, said Sunday that “Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing.”

On Sunday, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told superintendents and lawmakers that decisions on extended school closures would be left up to locals.

That means that policies may differ even among neighboring school districts.

Public-health experts said such a patchwork approach can be confusing and make it difficult to gauge the effectiveness of containment policies. They also said governors have sufficient authority to ensure such consistency during emergencies.

It “makes people feel that they don’t really know what’s going on and that the people who are in charge don’t really know what’s going on,” said Mary Bassett, director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University.

Leaders should be consistent not only in policy, said Bassett, who was New York City health commissioner during the Ebola and Zika outbreaks, but also in messaging, “otherwise people aren’t confident that they’re being given good advice.”

She noted that President Donald Trump has largely deferred to governors on COVID-19 response strategy.

Because the U.S. Constitution doesn’t mention health care, it’s an authority that largely resides with the states, and some have more decentralized approaches than others, said Claire Standley, a researcher with the Center for Global Health Science and Security and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Georgetown University.

That can be a good thing, particularly when the federal government’s response is inadequate, Standley said, noting that New York was able to expedite COVID-19 testing before federal guidelines were finalized.

But having many different response policies across a state might make it difficult to manage the crisis, too.

“I honestly think it’s more about coordination between central level and peripheral level and having that trust in place,” she said. “If people don’t trust their authorities, they’re not going to comply with regulations, which is largely what we’ve been seeing so far with a few exceptions.”

Elected officials respond

Abbott has also been in frequent contact with members of the Texas Legislature and other local officials since the spread of the virus reached a fever pitch last week. The governor’s office has organized a number of conference calls already in an attempt to get state lawmakers and local players on the same page as new information becomes available.

Many Republicans and some local officials have lauded Abbott’s decentralized strategy so far, thanking his office for his leadership approach, giving local governments the flexibility to operate as they see fit on most matters.

“I have not been one who has been bashful about criticizing Abbott in the past,” said Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, who has previously criticized Abbott for micromanaging county spending. “But I think he’s doing a fantastic job and giving us the flexibility to do what’s right for our areas. I don’t see any politics in this deal; I see [Abbott] really trying to tackle a difficult issue and recognizing the importance of the fact that this is a huge state.”

Meanwhile, a number of Democrats have offered muted praise for Abbott’s crisis management, though some have suggested the governor could be doing more to offer guidance for local governments.

State Rep. Erin Zwiener, a freshman Democrat from Driftwood, said she thinks clearer guidance at the state and federal levels would better position local governments to respond to the virus.

“I’ve observed confusion from my local decision makers,” Zweiner told The Texas Tribune. “I see my city councils, my city administrators, my county commissioners desperate for answers on what the right thing to do is, and they’re not getting answers; they’re getting general advice.”

Another House Democrat, state Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso, told the Tribune that the best thing leaders can do is “give to the people of Texas consistency, uniformity and predictability, because that’s not coming from any other direction.”

“To the extent we can give people some normalcy … and whoever has the most authority to do that as swiftly as possible, should do it,” Moody said. “They should do it with an understanding that no one expects them to be perfect right now, but that we expect them to act quickly so that we remain ahead of the virus.”

But Republicans said Abbott has handled the situation appropriately — and that he has rightly shifted certain responsibilities to local governments.

“In terms of a crisis, we don’t need somebody to act like a dictator and push all of that information down to people,” said state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster. “We need those empowered local officials to make the detailed decisions, and the governor has empowered local officials to make those judgments.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/03/17/experts-say-texas-patchwork-strategy-coronavirus-problem/.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 6, 2020

Election day was this week on Tuesday, March 3, and Texas is abuzz with the results. The ATPE Governmental Relations team has the scoop on what happened at the polls and other education news. Also happening this weekend: don’t forget to move your clocks forward one hour on Sunday!



BREAKING NEWS: Austin Mayor Steve Adler and other city officials held a press conference this afternoon to announce the decision to cancel the massive SXSW conference slated to begin next week amid concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus. Conference organizers quickly issued a statement indicating that they are exploring options for rescheduling the event and/or changing some of the programs to an online format. The cancellation also includes SXSW EDU, in which ATPE was slated to participate. We will report additional details about the cancellation as we learn them.

Meanwhile, school officials in Texas have been closely watching developments with the coronavirus. During an interview with the Texas Tribune on Friday, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath repeated that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) continues to monitor the virus. TEA sent a memorandum to school administrators last Friday advising that the agency is monitoring media reports and information shared by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and working with other state agencies to provide guidance to local school districts. The memo included the following list of general practices that will help prevent the spread of the illness:

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • If you’ve not already gotten one, a flu shot is encouraged.

Today, TEA sent updated correspondence to school districts offering guidance on dealing with students and staff who may travel over the spring break. TEA also used today’s letter to urge schools to deep clean and disinfect their facilities over the break.

According to news reports, a school district in San Antonio undertook a major cleaning of one of its elementary schools after learning that an employee of the school also worked in a local mall where an infected person reportedly visited. A spokesperson for Northside ISD told KSAT that the district took the step in order to “get ahead of false information.” In the Houston area, where a 70-year old Fort Bend man was diagnosed with the first local case of coronavirus, Pearland ISD announced this week that it would suspend perfect attendance rules for the remainder of the school year, as well as exam exemption criteria. Fort Bend ISD has not canceled any classes, and Fort Bend County has set up a hotline with information regarding the virus. Read more in this article from the Houston Chronicle.


ELECTION UPDATE: The percentage of voters who turned out during Texas’ primary elections on “Super Tuesday” was slightly lower than in the 2016 primary, with over 4 million casting votes. The number of voters in each party’s primary was split nearly 50-50.

In many races, Tuesday’s primary winner will be unopposed or face weak opposition in the November general election in November. Other races are headed to a runoff, including those of four incumbents in the state legislature. Read more on the results here.

Even if you didn’t vote in this primary election, you may still be able to vote in a runoff to make your voice heard on May 26, 2020. The deadline to register to vote in a primary election runoff is April 27, 2020, and early voting will begin May 18. Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to view an election countdown, get text reminders, and find additional election-related resources for educators. Also, remember that you can view candidate profiles and responses to ATPE’s candidate survey here on Teach the Vote. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey.


On Wednesday, March 4, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the launch of the School Safety and Victims’ Services Research Survey, to be distributed to approximately 500,000 educators across Texas. Read more about the survey in this article from the Texas Tribune. A link to the survey, which is said to take 20 minutes to complete, will be sent directly to educators. The results will provide invaluable educator input regarding school safety and will inform policy at the state level. Be sure to weigh in on this important topic!

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has also begun distribution of a voluntary survey aimed at high school counselors. School districts will receive the High School Counselor Survey and forward the link to their high school counselors in order to send information back to the TEA and the American Institutes for Research, “about the resources, activities, and tools that their teams use to assist students.” Read more about the High School Counselor survey from TEA here.


FEDERAL UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Education has announced a delay in changes that would reduce funding for many rural schools. Hundreds of rural schools around the country were facing funding cuts pursuant to a new federal interpretation of eligibility criteria for Rural Low-Income Schools (RLIS) grants. The department announced this week that it would postpone the change for at least another year, following criticism Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos received from members of Congress. Read more in this Teach the Vote blog post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.


ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reports that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) is sharing examples of some new STAAR test questions. House Bill (HB) 3906 passed by the Texas legislature in 2019 eliminated the STAAR writing tests given in grades 4 and 7. However, this change won’t take effect until Sept. 1, 2021, which means the grades 4 and 7 writing assessments will stay the same until the 2021-22 school year. Instead of standalone writing assessments, writing content will be assessed in the reading and language arts STAAR tests, as discussed below.

Sample STAAR revising and editing question, grade 4 (Source: TEA)

TEA will begin field-testing revising and editing questions on the reading/language arts STAAR test as part of the Spring 2020 and Spring 2021 assessments. These items will not impact accountability. To help educators understand what these new test questions will look like, the agency has released sample test questions such as the one pictured here.


Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath spoke Friday, March 6, at a live event hosted by the Texas Tribune and sponsored in part by ATPE. In an interview with the Texas Tribune‘s Evan Smith, Commissioner Morath touched on several topics, including the state’s preparedness for dealing with the coronavirus and implementation of House Bill (HB) 3. ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes, staff lobbyists, and members of our marketing and communications department attended the event. During an audience Q&A portion of the interview, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter asked the commissioner about teacher preparation and certification in light of state laws that exempt many school districts and charter schools from the requirement to hire certified teachers. The the commissioner responded that he believes teachers should undergo “extraordinarily robust training.” Watch video of the full interview with Commissioner Morath here.


Texas primary election results for 2020

Texas held its Republican and Democratic primary elections yesterday, March 3, 2020. The “Super Tuesday” primaries brought out a record number of voters in parts of the state, with some voters reportedly waiting in line until after midnight to cast their votes.

Texas early voting turnout from Feb. 18-28 was slightly higher at 12.87% than early voting in the 2016 presidential primary. However, during these four years, Texas added 2 million voters to its rolls. The total turnout percentage during early voting and election day looks to be slightly lower than in 2016, with over 4 million Texans casting votes.

Some precincts in Texas have still not reported final numbers, and there have been discrepancies noted between the vote counts reported on the Secretary of State’s website and various county voter registrar’s totals, particularly for larger metro areas. As a result, some race results are still unknown, and some races are so close that a recount is nearly certain.

 

Federal races

The presidential race at the top of the ballot drew a number of voters, particularly on the Democratic side where multiple candidates have been vying to become the party’s nominee. Here in Texas, former Vice President Joe Biden earned the most votes, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders. Texas awards its delegates proportionally, so both candidates will benefit. On the Republican side, more than 94% of the votes predictably went to President Donald Trump. A crowded field of Democratic candidates seeking a place on the November ballot opposite Sen. John Cornyn (R), as well as some hotly contested congressional races also captured voters’ attention.

 

State Board of Education (SBOE)

In contested races for the State Board of Education (SBOE), results in the race for one open seat in central Texas raised eyebrows. In District 5, candidate Rebecca Bell-Metereau won the Democratic nomination, while the Republican primary resulted in a runoff between second-place finisher Lani Popp and controversial figure Robert Morrow, who earned the most votes despite barely mounting a campaign for the seat.

In District 6, another open seat, Democratic candidates Michelle Palmer and Kimberly McCleod are advancing to a runoff. Marsha Burnett-Webster earned the Democratic nomination for District 10, and in District 15, incumbent and former ATPE State President Sue Melton-Malone easily won the Republican primary.

 

 

“Winner take all” primaries

As we reported in our “Primary Colors” blog series last month, there were several Texas House races in which all candidates who filed to run for the seat were affiliated with the same political party, meaning there would be no remaining contest for the seat in November. Here are the unofficial results in those “winner take all” primaries:

  • House District (HD) 9 Republican primary: Rep. Chris Paddie with 77.8% of the vote easily defeated Mark Williams.
  • HD 30 Republican primary: Rep. Geanie Morrison earned 78.7% of the vote to defeat her challenger, Vanessa Hicks-Callaway.
  • HD 36 Democratic primary: Rep. Sergio Munoz garnered 68.2% of the vote, surviving another challenge by Abraham Padron.
  • HD 37 Democratic primary Rep. Alex Dominguez appears to have narrowly survived a challenge, earning 51.4% of the vote, just 340 votes more than his challenger, Amber Medina.
  • HD 59 Republican primary: Rep. J.D. Sheffield was the second-place finisher in this three-person race that now heads to a runoff. Chellenger Shelby Slawson earned the most votes at 45.6%, followed by Sheffield’s 30.4%. Candidate Cody Johnson garnered 24.1% of the vote. The winner of the runoff will become the presumptive winner of the seat with no other candidates vying for it in November.
  • HD 72 Republican primary: With 87% of the vote, Rep. Drew Darby easily defeated challenger Lynette Lucas.
  • HD 76 Democratic primary: Claudia Ordaz Perez is the presumptive winner of this open seat. She earned 56.4% of the vote, compared to the 43.6% of votes that went to Elisa Tamayo.
  • HD 80 Democratic primary: Rep. Tracy King is headed for another term in the Legislature after earning 68.4% of the vote to beat repeat challenger Danny Valdez.
  • HD 100 Democratic primary: Rep. Lorraine Birabil, who only became the incumbent in this district last month after winning a special election runoff, is facing yet another runoff. Birabil earned 29.2% of the vote in this crowded primary against five challengers. Second-place finisher Jasmine Crockett also made the runoff with 25.9% of the vote.
  • HD 131 Democratic primary: Also cruising to another term in the House is Rep. Alma Allen, who earned 78.9% of the vote against her two challengers, Carey Lashley and Elvonte Patton, who won 10.6% and 10.5% of the vote, respectively.
  • HD 141 Democratic primary: Rep. Senfronia Thompson unsurprisingly beat her challenger, Willie Roaches Franklyn, with 81% of the vote.
  • HD 147 Democratic primary: Finally, with 61.1% of the vote, Rep. Garnet Coleman survived a challenge by two candidates, Aurelia Wagner and Colin Ross, and will land another term in office.

 

Hot races

We also reported last week on our blog about a half dozen state legislative races deemed to be the “hottest” and most competitive in Texas, per the Texas Tribune. Here’s a look at how those hot Texas legislative races shook out last night:

  • In the Democratic primary for Senate District (SD) 27, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. faced off against two challengers: current SBOE member Ruben Cortez and attorney Sara Stapleton Barrera. Sen. Lucio almost won the primary outright, but with 49.8% of the vote, he’ll head to a runoff against Barrera, who earned 35.6% of the vote.
  • In the Republican primary for HD 2, Rep Dan Flynn (R-Van) is facing a runoff with repeat challenger Bryan Slaton. Flynn earned 44.5% of the votes, compared to Slaton’s 35.2%. Dwayne ‘Doc’ Collins was the third candidate in the race.
  • In the HD 59 Republican primary, Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville) faced two challengers: Cody Johnson and Shelby Slawson. As we mentioned above, this race is headed to a runoff between Slawson and Sheffield. Since no other candidates filed to run for this seat, the winner of the runoff in May will become the winner of the seat.
  • The open seat being vacated by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) in HD 92 drew a number of candidates. In the Republican primary, the candidates were Jeff Cason, Taylor Gillig, and Jim Griffin. Cason won the Republican nomination outright with 54.1% of the vote, compared to Griffin’s 36.6% and Gillig’s 9.3%. In the Democratic primary, was a contest between and Jeff Whitfield was the winner with 56.2% of the vote, defeating Steve Riddell.
  • In HD 132, Rep. Gina Calanni (D-Houston) will face a rematch in November against former representative Mike Schofield, after he earned 53% of the vote to defeat Angelica Garcia for the Republican party’s nomination.
  • Finally, in the Democratic primary in HD 148, Rep. Anna Eastman (D-Houston), who just won a special election for this seat in January, faced four different primary opponents: Adrian Garcia, Cynthia Reyes-Revilla, Emily Wolf, and Penny Morales Shaw. Eastman earned 41.8% of the vote and is headed to runoff with Shaw, who earned 22.2%.

 

Runoffs

Below are the races in which no candidate earned a majority of the votes last night, leading the top two candidate to a runoff that will take place on May 26, 2020:

Texas Senate races headed to a runoff.

  • SD 19 Democratic primary: Xochil Peña Rodriguez vs. Rep. Roland Gutierrez
  • SD 27 Democratic primary: Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. vs. Sara Stapleton Barrera

Texas House races headed to a runoff.

  • HD 2 Republican primary: Rep. Dan Flynn vs. Bryan Slaton
  • HD 25 Republican primary: Ro‘Vin Garrett vs. Cody Vasut
  • HD 26 Democratic primary: Suleman Lalani vs. Sarah DeMerchant
  • HD 26 Republican primary: Matt Morgan vs. Jacey Jetton
  • HD 45 Republican primary: Carrie Isaac vs. Kent “Bud” Wymore
  • HD 47 Republican primary: Jennifer Fleck vs. Don Zimmerman*
    *Zimmerman beat a third candidate, Justin Berry, by only a single vote, which means this race most likely will be subject to a recount.
  • HD 59 Republican primary: Shelby Slawson vs. Rep. J.D. Sheffield
  • HD 60 Republican primary: Jon Francis vs. Glenn Rogers
  • HD 67 Democratic primary: Tom Adair vs. Lorenzo Sanchez
  • HD 100 Democratic primary: Rep. Lorraine Birabil vs. Jasmine Crockett
  • HD 119 Democratic primary: Elizabeth “Liz” Campos vs. Jennifer Ramos
  • HD 138 Democratic primary: Akilah Bacy vs. Jenifer Rene Pool
  • HD 142 Democratic primary: Rep. Harold Dutton* vs. Jerry Davis.
    *The Secretary of State reported that Dutton won the primary outright, avoiding a runoff by only a single vote, but the numbers reported by the counties in this district were different. Further counts may be needed to verify the outcome of this one.
  • HD 148 Democratic primary: Rep. Anna Eastman vs. Penny Morales Shaw

 

 

Ballot propositions

The primary elections are also an opportunity for the state political parties to poll their voters on major issues in order to help shape the party’s platform. Both the Republican and Democratic party primaries included a set of these non-binding ballot propositions asking voters for their opinions. In the Democratic primary, voters overwhelmingly supported all 11 of the position statements set forth by the state party, covering topics ranging from healthcare to immigration. Republican primary voters similarly favored all 10 of the state GOP’s position statements on the ballot, which addressed such issues as school prayer and “taxpayer-funded lobbying.”

 

View complete election results from last night’s primaries on the Secretary of State’s website here, keeping in mind that the results remain unofficial and are still being verified and updated. ATPE thanks all those who voted in the primary election.

 

Texas election roundup: Last chance to vote early!

Friday, Feb. 28, is the last chance to vote early in the 2020 Texas primary elections, so make plans to vote before 7 pm Friday if you’d like to avoid the long lines we’re expecting to see on Election Day, March 3.

Our partners in the Texas Educators Vote coalition would like to remind you that by voting, you pick the people who decide how much to fund public schools; how much the state will rely on standardized testing; whether to use A-F ratings and how grades are determined; how much to fund teacher pay, healthcare, and retirement; and whether to invest in our schools or privatize them. You can be a voice at the polls for the over 5.4 million kids in Texas public schools, most of whom are not old enough to vote, model good citizenship for students, move Texas up from being last (or almost last) in voter turnout, strengthen democracy by being an engaged citizen, exert your power at the polls, and practice what you preach — if first grade students are learning the importance of voting, you should, too!

According to data from the Texas Secretary of State’s website, as of the fifth day of early voting, 322,541 Texans had voted in Texas’ top 10 counties for voter registrations. News outlets report that figure as an increase of 30.7% from the number who had voted by the fifth day of early voting in the 2016 primaries.

Statewide 1,394,488 Texans had cast a ballot by Feb 26, the eighth day of early voting, including 762,290 Republicans primary voters and 632,198 Democratic primary voters.  Texas election data researcher Derek Ryan found that, 20% of those who voted in the Democratic primary through day eight of early voting had voted in a previous general election but were likely voting in a primary for the first time. The share of likely first-time primary voters is greater than Democrats saw in 2018 (18%) and in 2016 (17%). In the Republican primary, 12% of early voters this year had voted in a general election but not in a recent primary. So far, slightly more men than women have voted in the Republican primary, while more women than men have voted in the Democratic primary this time around.

On Feb. 26, the Texas Tribune updated its “hot list” of the most competitive Texas primary races. There are 20 Texas House districts on the list, including five races that earned the distinction of being listed among the “hottest” races in the state. Those five are as follows:

  • In House District (HD) 2, the Republican primary features incumbent Rep Dan Flynn (R-Van) being challenged by Bryan Slaton and Dwayne ‘Doc’ Collins. Slaton challenged Rep. Flynn in the 2018 primary and nearly defeated him.
  • In HD 59, the Republican primary is between incumbent Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville) and challengers Cody Johnson and Shelby Slawson. Rep. Sheffield, a physician, has been endorsed by pro-public education groups like Texas Parent PAC and received campaign contributions from a number of medical associations. Johnson has loaned his own campaign over $1 million as of his last ethics filing.
  • The crowded race to replace infamous Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), who is not running for re-election in HD 92, has contested primaries on both sides of the aisle. In what has become a closely watched swing district, both parties hope to put forth the candidate who will ultimately prevail in November. The Republican primary candidates are Jeff Cason, who also ran for the seat in 2018 and is one of relatively few candidates to be endorsed this year by Empower Texans; Taylor Gillig, and Jim Griffin, who received endorsements from Texas Parent PAC and Gov. Greg Abbott. The Democratic primary is a contest between Steve Riddell, who came close to toppling Stickland in 2018, and Jeff Whitfield, whom the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram endorsed. There are also two third-party candidates who will be on the ballot in November.
  • In the Republican primary in HD 132, former Rep. Mike Schofield faces Angelica Garcia. Each candidate is vying to unseat freshman Rep. Gina Calanni (D-Houston) in November. Rep. Calanni defeated then-incumbent Schofield in 2018, flipping the seat from Republican to Democrat that year.
  • Finally, in the Democratic primary in HD 148, newly elected Rep. Anna Eastman (D-Houston) is defending the seat she won just last month in a special election. Her primary challengers include Adrian Garcia, Cynthia Reyes-Revilla, Emily Wolf, and Penny Morales Shaw. While Eastman is now the incumbent, former Rep. Jessica Farrar, who resigned from the seat after last session, is backing Morales Shaw. A Republican challenger who also ran in the special election will be on the ballot in November, too.

Also of note is the sole Texas Senate race to make the Texas Tribune‘s hot list. Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., a 30-year incumbent, is facing two challengers in the Democratic primary in Senate District 27. One is State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville)., who also received an endorsement from Texas Parent PAC, and the other is Brownsville lawyer Sara Stapleton Barrera.

A new presidential poll released this week by Public Policy Polling and commissioned by Progress Texas shows Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden tied at 24% as the top choice of Texas Democrats. Michael Bloomberg follows at 17%, with Elizabeth Warren at 14%, and Pete Buttigieg at 10%.

With early voting coming to close, ATPE encourages everyone to take a moment to research the races in their local districts and go vote!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 21, 2020

It’s the first week of early voting in Texas! Whether you’ve already voted or are making your plan to vote by March 3, stay up-to-date on the latest education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: Early voting for the 2020 Texas primary election started this week on February 18, which was also Educator Voting Day. Many counties saw record numbers of voters at the polls on Tuesday. The early voting period ends February 28 and Texas’s primary elections on “Super Tuesday” will be March 3, 2020. If you haven’t made it out to the polls yet, be sure to get the scoop on voting procedures and reminders! (Doesn’t that make you want ice-cream?) Also, check out the latest “Texas election roundup” blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins here.

Why vote in the primaries? ATPE’s lobbyists explained why it’s so important in this “Primary Colors” blog series for Teach the Vote. In many cases, the winning candidate is chosen in the primary rather than in the November general election, as ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell described in Part I of the series (with a list of affected races). In  Part II of “Primary Colors,” ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins explains that for educators who face imminent attacks, it is imperative to show up at the polls and make informed choices so that the next legislative session is as positive as our last.

Read up on the people running for the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education this year by viewing their candidate profiles on Teach the Vote, which include responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey project for Teach the Vote. If your favorite candidate has not answered our survey, please let them know it’s not too late! Encourage them to contact ATPE Governmental Relations for additional details.

 

  • Watch this instructional video to learn the different ways you can search for candidate information using Teach the Vote.
  • Learn about the non-binding ballot propositions proposed by the state Democratic and Republican parties that will appear on the primary ballot. These measures don’t affect the law, but they help state party leaders learn more about their voters’ opinions on key issues. Check out this Teach the Vote blog post for more information.
  • Read all the fantastic election features in our latest issue of ATPE News for Spring 2020.
  • Use Vote411.org to build a customized ballot that you can print out and take with you to the polls.
  • Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to find additional election-related resources created for educators.
  • Find additional election reminders and tips on ATPE’s main blog at atpe.org.

This week, Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) announced his plans to resign from the Texas Senate in order to become dean of the University of Houston’s new Hobby School of Public Affairs. Watson has served in the state legislature since being elected to office in 2006, and he was a key member of the Senate Education Committee during the 2019 legislative session. Senator Watson served as mayor of Austin before setting his sights on the legislature. The race to succeed Watson could draw a number of high-profile contenders from the Austin area. State Reps. Donna Howard (D-Austin) and Celia Israel (D-Austin) each indicated this week they are not interested in running for the seat, which is in an overwhelmingly Democratic district. Gov. Greg Abbott will be required to call a special election in order to fill the Senate District 14 vacancy, which could be held on the uniform election dates in May or November of this year.


Two polls of note were released this week that show voter support for public education. A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that Texas voters want increased spending for public education, and lower property taxes, and they believe the quality of Texas public education is excellent or good. Another statewide poll, commissioned by the education-focused non-profit Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation showed that 77% of Texans express trust and confidence in their teachers. Those polled also believe that teacher quality is extremely or very important in overall school quality, teachers are undervalued, teacher pay is too low, standardized tests may not be the best measure of student learning, and public schools have too little money.

These two new Texas polls are consistent with another recent national poll conducted by the National School Boards Action Center, (NSBAC) which we reported on last week. In the NSBAC poll, 64% of the respondents said funding for public schools should be increased, 73% were opposed to public spending on private, religious, and home schools, and 80% expressed favorable opinions of the teachers in their community.


ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified at the Feb. 21, 2020, SBEC meeting.

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today in Austin for its first meeting of the year. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified to urge the board to use its authority to remedy an unforeseen impact of House Bill (HB) 3 on former Master Teacher certificate holders. Under the bill’s repeal of the Master Teacher certificates, Master Teachers will no longer be able to renew their certificates and may face tricky situations trying to keep their current teaching assignments as a result. HB 3 author Rep. Dan Huberty also sent a letter to the board asking for their help in preserving the classroom expertise of Master Teachers.

Read complete details of the meeting in this comprehensive blog post from Chevalier.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas Board of Trustees also met this week in Austin, and ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter covered the meetings. Hot topics of discussion at the meetings on Thursday and Friday, February 20-21, 2020, included healthcare for active and retired educators and plans for relocating the TRS agency staff.

Read Exter’s latest blog post for Teach the Vote here for highlights of the meeting.


Another poll shows strong support for public education

On the heels of a voter survey conducted by the University of Texas/Texas Tribune regarding state funding for public education (republished on Teach the Vote here), the Raise Your Hand Texas (RYHT) Foundation has also released a new statewide poll this week about Texans’ attitudes toward public education. Both polls show support for public schools and educators with a desire for increased funding of public education.

The RYHT Foundation poll found that 77 percent of Texans express trust and confidence in their teachers, and 70 percent believe that teacher pay is too low. The poll also showed that 60 percent of the Texans responding were concerned that our state’s standardized tests may not effectively measure student learning. Half the respondents said they were not confident that Texas’s “A through F” accountability grading system accurately represents school quality. The poll also asked respondents about the top challenges they believe teachers are facing, the biggest problems affecting the public schools in their communities, and what their feelings are about wraparound supports for students, such as mental health services.

In a press release from RYHT, Foundation President Shari Albright said, “We’re pleased to be the first organization in the country to commit to an annual statewide poll about public education issues.” Albright added, “We thought it important to provide this service to Texans on an annual basis, both to understand the challenges and help find ways to improve our public schools.”

Read complete results and additional information about the new RYHT Foundation poll here.

From The Texas Tribune: Most Texans want lower property taxes and more school spending, UT/TT Poll finds

By Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune
Feb. 17, 2020

Illustration by Emily Albracht/The Texas Tribune

Texas voters still think that property taxes are too high and that the state spends too little on public education, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Local property taxes are a key source of funding for public education, and last year’s Texas legislative session was focused on those two issues. Lawmakers sought to increase the state’s share of public education spending and to increase incentives for local school districts to hold down property tax increases.

A majority of Texas voters said they pay too much in property taxes. Only 5% said they pay too little, and 26% said Texans pay about the right amount. Among Democrats, 45% said the property tax tab is too high; 63% of independents and 59% of Republicans said so. The “too much” number among all voters has dropped to 54%, compared with 60% in the June 2019 UT/TT Poll, but remains a majority view.

Overall, 50% of Texas voters said the state spends too little on public education, while 12% said spending is too high and 21% said it’s about right. Democrats, at 69%, were most likely to say spending is too low. Among Republicans, 32% agreed, but another 32% said spending is about right. Only 19% of Republicans said public education spending is too high.

“The results are slightly more positive on property taxes, stagnant on public education,” said Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. The overall on property taxes hasn’t changed dramatically, however. “It’s an article of faith that taxes are too high,” Blank said. “It would take a pretty drastic change for that attitude to move.”

A plurality of Texans gave good grades to the quality of public education in the state. A total of 46% rated it “excellent” or “good,” while 42% rated it “not very good” or “terrible.” Praise was stronger in Republican quarters, where grades for the schools were 55% good and 34% bad. Among Democrats, the good-to-bad split was 41-47.

Most Texans, 54%, said the state government here is a good model for other states to follow, and they gave relatively positive ratings to two of the state’s top three leaders. Almost half of the voters said Gov. Greg Abbott is doing a good job in office, while 34% disapprove of the work he’s been doing. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick won approval from 39% and disapproval from 35%, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen was given good marks by 19% and bad ones by 27%. Bonnen, caught on tape last year plotting against some of his fellow Republicans in the House, isn’t seeking another term in the Legislature.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points, and an overall margin of error of +/- 4.09 percentage points for Democratic trial ballots. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100% because of rounding.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter 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.

Reference
University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, February 2020 – Day 2 summary
(199.2 KB) DOWNLOAD

Reference
University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, February 2020 – Methodology
(61.9 KB) DOWNLOAD

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/02/17/most-texans-want-lower-property-taxes-and-more-school-spending-poll-fi/.

Texas election roundup: Pro-public education endorsements

Early voting in the 2020 Texas primary elections begins next Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, which is also Educator Voting Day. In Texas election news, a new wave of candidate endorsements that may be of interest to educators were announced this week.

Texas Parent PAC, which exclusively supports candidates who support public education, announced 10 primary election endorsements this week. These include House District (HD) 9 Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), HD 41 Rep. Bobby Guerra (D-McAllen), HD 59 Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville), HD 60 candidate Dr. Glenn Rogers, HD 72 Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), HD 100 Rep. Lorraine Birabil (D-Dallas), HD 119 candidate Jennifer Ramos, HD 127 Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), HD 128 candidate Robert Hoskins (R), and SD 27 candidate Ruben Cortez (D).

Texas Parent PAC is endorsing at least two candidates who are challenging incumbent legislators. Robert Hoskins is facing Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) in the House. Ruben Cortez, currently serving on the State Board of Education, is challenging Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) for a Senate seat. Both races have attracted media attention recently. As the Houston Chronicle reported, Hoskins has the support of nearly all the local officials in his suburban Houston district, while a handful of state representatives from other districts have been stumping for Cain. Meanwhile Sen. Lucio’s office was the site of protests this week by progressive activists who are unhappy with the senator’s voting record, as reported by KGBT.

The Austin American-Statesman endorsed Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) and Republican candidate Bud Wymore in the HD 45 Democratic and Republican primaries, respectively. The newspaper also endorsed Jenny Roan Forgey for the Republican nomination in HD 47, which is held by Rep. Vikki Goodwin (D-Austin), and recommended Jenai Aragona-Hales in the Republican primary for HD 49, a seat held by Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin). While Hinojosa’s seat is safely Democratic, Zwiener and Goodwin both managed to flip seats in 2018 that were previously held by Republicans.

Earlier this week, new Gary Gates (R-Rosenberg), Lorraine Birabil (D-Dallas), and Anna Eastman (D-Houston) were sworn into office as new state representatives for House Districts 28, 100, and 148, respectively. All three won special runoff elections in late January and are on the ballot in 2020 vying for a full term.

In federal election news, the Texas Tribune reported Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg announced plans to employ 24 staffers in Texas after strong finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. Michael Bloomberg, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders all have staff working in Texas ahead of the March 3 primary on “Super Tuesday.”

With early voting just a few days away, it’s important to remember that elections are decided by who shows up! Check out the election-related resources from our coalition partners over at Texas Educators Vote, including text message reminders when an important election is coming up. You can also research candidates in your own local races here at Teach the Vote. Please make plans to vote next week, and encourage your family and friends to do the same!

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

There is just over one week left to ensure you are registered to vote! After you have your voting plan ready, sit back, relax, and check out this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: Early voting for the special election runoffs has been going on this week and continues through today with the election wrapping up next Tuesday, January 28.  So far turnout for most of these elections has been low. In House District (HD) 148, for example, fewer than 500 people had voted either in person or by mail through the first three days of early voting. Even in the race to represent HD 28, the most hotly contested of the races, only about 2000 votes had been cast, a small minority of the districts total registered voters. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins looks at more of the trends in the HD 28 race in this week’s Election Roundup.

With such low turnout in this sort of election, every vote cast is hugely important. We encourage all educators and public education supporters to vote in every election for which they are eligible. For more information on the special election candidates see our recent blog post by ATPE Government Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.

As soon as the special elections wrap up next week all eyes will turn to the Texas primary elections. Early voting for the primary starts in just over three weeks, February 18, 2020, with election day two weeks later on March 3, 2020.

Remember that the deadline to register to vote in the primaries is Feb. 3. You can verify your voter registration status here.

As the primaries get closer, here are some helpful resources for educators and the general public:

  • Learn more about the candidates by checking out their profiles here on Teach the Vote. All candidates running in 2020 for the Texas House or Senate or the State Board of Education are featured on our website, with their answers to the ATPE Candidate Survey (where available) and existing legislators’ voting records on education issues.
  • TexasEducatorsVote.com is another great source for election-related resources, advice, and voting reminders.
  • Additionally, check out the upcoming candidate forums around the state, kicking off next Friday January 29, being sponsored by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. Click here for details and the full list of their “For the Future” town hall events beginning this month.

 


The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue this week. The case centers on a voucher proposal passed by the Montana legislature that was subsequently stuck down by Montana’s supreme court for violating that state’s constitutional provisions against the use of public funding for religious schools. Check out this post on SCOTUSblog.com for more insights on the oral arguments. A decision in the case is expected by this summer.


Thank you to all ATPE members who answered our first “Your Voice” survey this winter on Advocacy Central. The results provided valuable insight into which policy issues our members want lawmakers to work on in the future. For a closer look at the issues ranked highest, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 17, 2020

As you slip into the three-day weekend and celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, take a look at this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: We have just over a month until the Texas primary election on March 3, 2020. Check out ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’s most recent election-related blog post for the latest campaign finance insights and other tidbits. Remember that the deadline to register to vote in one of the primaries is Feb. 3, and you can verify your voter registration status here.

As the primaries get closer, here are some helpful resources for educators and the general public:

  • Learn more about the candidates by checking out their profiles here on Teach the Vote. All candidates running in 2020 for the Texas House or Senate or the State Board of Education are featured on our website, with their answers to the ATPE Candidate Survey (where available) and existing legislators’ voting records on education issues.
  • TexasEducatorsVote.com is another great source for election-related resources, advice, and voting reminders.
  • Learn everything you need to know about Texas elections in the Texas Tribune’s five-week crash course called “Teach Me How to Texas.” It’s free and fun! Click here to sign up.
  • Additionally, check out the upcoming candidate forums around the state being sponsored by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. Click here for details and the full list of their “For the Future” town hall events beginning this month.

RELATED: If you live the Houston or Dallas area, don’t forget about the upcoming runoff election for three vacant House seats in House Districts 28, 100, and 148. Early voting starts Tuesday, Jan. 21. Registered voters in those districts can vote in the runoff even they skipped the first special election back in November. Learn more about the special election candidates on our Resources page.


ATPE’s Monty Exter

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) held a public hearing on Monday regarding proposed new commissioner’s rules affecting expansion of charter schools in Texas. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter joined other education stakeholders, including school district leaders and parents, at the hearing to testify on proposed revisions to the charter performance framework and charter expansion amendment process. Their input focused on concerns about the potential for significant expansion of charter schools with little state oversight or consideration of the fiscal consequences or impact on students.

Specific points offered through the testimony included the following:

  • TEA does not consider proximity to existing campuses when approving new charter school campuses, which can lead to duplication, waste, and inefficiency. Existing school districts near the new charter campus retain fixed costs but receive less funding.
  • State law requires TEA to consider the impact on all students served by the Texas public school system when proposing rule changes like these. This includes the economic impact of a program serving only a small subset of students and the educational impact on students, especially if the local population is not large enough to support robust programming at both the existing school(s) and the added charter campus in the same location.
  • TEA already has approved more than 557,000 seats at charter schools, which exceeds the enrollment level on which the state’s budget is based. If all those seats were filled, it would cost the state more than $11 billion over a two-year period s and consume more than a quarter of the funding under the Foundation School Program. Moreover, this maximum approved enrollment capacity of 557,000 would grow even larger under the commissioner’s proposals.
  • The state’s performance framework should not reward charter operators for things like maintaining their status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, which is already required by law.
  • A charter operator should not be labeled “high quality” if its performance is based on excluding students with disabilities or filtering out other students who are harder to teach. Under federal law, TEA must ensure all public schools identify, enroll, and serve special education students.

ATPE joined more than a dozen other education advocacy groups in submitting formal written comments to the commissioner, as well. Click here and here to read the text of the proposed rule changes that were published in the Texas Register on Nov. 22 and Nov. 29, 2019, respectively.


Thank you to all ATPE members who took our very first “Your Voice” survey this winter. The results provided valuable insight into what our members’ top policy issues are, such as standardized testing, educator compensation and benefits, and the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Look for a blog post diving deeper into these issues on Teach the Vote next week.


On Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, President Donald Trump announced from the Oval Office that nine federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education (ED), would release new guidance regarding religious expression. In public schools specifically, the new guidance clarifies protections for students who want to pray or worship in school and eases access to federal funds for religious organizations that provide social services. The guidance also requires that, in order to receive federal funds under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, school districts must certify with their state agency that they do not have policies in place that would prevent students’ right to pray. Additionally, states must have a process in place to receive complaints against school districts regarding religious expression and must notify ED about such complaints.

Under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, students and teachers have a right to pray in public schools. However, while acting in their official capacities, teachers, administrators, and other school employees are not permitted to lead, encourage, or discourage students from participating in prayer. Read more about the new rules in this reporting by the Washington Post.


On Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020 three Texas voters, the League of Women Voters, and the Move Texas Civic Fund filed a federal lawsuit to challenge Texas’s lack of online voter registration when residents update or renew their driver’s licenses online. Under The federal motor voter law allows for voter registration when obtaining a driver’s license, but in Texas, the law is only carried out in face-to-face interactions. This is the second iteration of the case, which was originally dismissed by a federal court because the plaintiff had become re-registered to vote before a verdict was reached and lost standing to sue. Should the plaintiffs ultimately win this latest case, Texas would have to allow online voter registration through the driver’s license process. Read more about the new case in this reporting from the Texas Tribune.


As ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reported earlier today on our blog, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) has announced his appointment of Rep. Giovanni Capriglione to chair the powerful House Appropriations committee. Read more about the announcement here.