Tag Archives: Thomas Ratliff

SBOE Wrap-Up: November 2016

SBOE logoFriday, Nov. 18, wrapped up a busy November meeting of the State Board of Education (SBOE), which returned to Austin to tackle a wide range of subjects before the holiday break. Here’s a brief rundown of the week’s action.

Mexican-American Studies

The board said “no thanks” to a controversial Mexican-American studies textbook that sparked protests over factual errors and complaints regarding the way Mexican-Americans are characterized in the text. After a morning dominated by demonstrations and a press conference held by opponents of the textbook, the board denied approval and asked for more submissions of ethnic studies materials. The Texas Tribune‘s Aliyya Swaby has a blow-by-blow of the drama that unfolded on Tuesday. Read more about the board’s decision and what it means for both textbook publishers and school districts teaching the elective course in this press release from the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

TEKS in the Crosshairs

Wednesday’s agenda focused primarily on updates to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (curriculum standards) for mathematics, science, English language arts, and reading. On the subject of math, board members heard exhaustive testimony regarding process standards, and whether less emphasis should be given to word problems and process questions both in the curriculum and on standardized tests. Members seemed to generally agree in a reduction in emphasis, but were concerned what the mathematics TEKS would be left with if process standards were done away with altogether.

The committee also heard reports from educator committees assigned to review the science TEKS in several areas, but most of the attention focused on biology. Reviewers recommended edits to the biology TEKS that included sections seen by some on the board as challenging the theory of evolution. In testimony, one biology teacher who sat on the review committee countered that the changes were made for streamlining purposes and preserved encouragement for instructors to engage in healthy debate of scientific theories. The Texas Tribune posted a summary of the arguments.

Bond Guarantees

On Thursday, the Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund delved into a question regarding the use of the fund to guarantee loans for new school buildings. When growing school districts want to build, for example, a new campus, they may not necessarily have the cash on hand to pay for it right away. To get things going, they can issue a bond – basically, a loan – which they can pay off, with interest, over time. Just like you, if a school district has better credit, it can get better financing and pay less interest, which can add up to millions of dollars for a big construction project. In order to get the best financing possible, public school districts with less-than-perfect credit can get the bond “guaranteed” by the $30 billion Texas Permanent School Fund (PSF). It’s a bit like your parents co-signing a loan: You get a better interest rate because they promise to pay the bank if you can’t keep up with your payments.

Dollar fanCharter schools can also take advantage of the Bond Guarantee Program, but on a limited basis. For qualifying charter holders, the amount available under the program is set by a capacity multiplier currently set at 3.25 percent. Charter holders complain the regime creates an annual rush to snap up limited resources. At Thursday’s hearing, they asked the committee to expand the multiplier to 3.5 percent, which would create several hundred million dollars in additional bond guarantees available to charters. Some on the board expressed concern over expanding the debt for which the PSF is liable to charters over which the state has less control. The board gave preliminary approval to raising the multiplier, while halting a related proposal by TEA staff to create additional academic criteria for charter holders to qualify for the program. The Austin American-Statesman‘s Julie Chang has a thorough write-up on the bond program discussion, complete with the following quote from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter:

“The board’s first priority should always be to protect the fund so that it continues to be available to guarantee new bonding for facilities for all Texas students,” Exter said. “We agree with the commissioner on enhancing academic requirements to access the bond guarantee program. Some board members have expressed concerns about expansion by charter holders who have not utilized their current capacity. ATPE encourages those members to continue to ask those sorts of questions.”

SBEC Rules

Friday wrapped with the board taking up several rule proposals sent to them from the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). All SBEC rules must undergo final review by the SBOE board, which can vote to reject and send back proposals or take no action — which has the effect of approving the proposals. All the SBEC proposals received final approval. Learn more about those educator preparation and discipline proposals in this recent blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

Legislative Recommendations

The board also approved its 2017 legislative recommendations, which include a prohibition on vouchers, increased appropriations for TEA staff to adequately oversee and support the TEKS process, support for federal E-Rate support funding, an elimination of TEA’s arbitrary limit on students receiving special education services, and improved student data privacy, among others.

Farewells

This week’s SBOE meeting was the final one for two outgoing board members, Martha Dominguez (D) from SBOE District 1 and Thomas Ratliff (R) from SBOE District 9. Dominguez is an educator and current ATPE member; many of the board members referred to her as the heart or conscience of the board.

Thomas Ratliff

Thomas Ratliff

Ratliff, son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, came onto the board eight years ago, after winning a primary election to replace the former board chair and a divisive figure in curriculum battles, Don McLeroy (R). During his tenure, Ratliff helped usher in one of the most productive and cooperative periods in the history of the SBOE.

Both of these members will be greatly missed, and ATPE thanks them for their service. After Dominguez and Ratliff decided not to run for re-election this year, their respective replacements were determined through this year’s elections to be Georgina Perez (D) and Keven Ellis (R). Perez and Ellis will begin their four-year terms in January

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 18, 2016

Here’s a look at education news highlights from this busy first week of bill filing in Texas:


SBOE logoThe State Board of Education (SBOE) has been meeting this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has compiled an update on the board’s actions this week, which covered topics from textbooks to school finance to educator preparation. This was also the last meeting for two members of the board who are stepping down at the end of their terms this year: Martha Dominguez (D) and Thomas Ratliff (R). Read the full SBOE wrap-up here.

 


The Joint Interim Committee to Study TRS Health Benefit Plans released its report to the 85th Legislature yesterday with recommendations for changes to TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare to address affordability and long-term viability of the programs. The state’s underfunded health care programs have faced ongoing shortfalls, curtailed in the past by a series of supplemental two-year appropriations and short-term measures. Noting the continuing rise in health care costs and the number of annual new retirees, the committee made up of three state senators and three state representatives is recommending major plan changes by the 85th legislature. The proposed changes are not likely to sit well with affected stakeholders. Citing ambiguous “budgetary constraints the state is facing,” the report offers little hope for increased state funding to alleviate the financial burdens that have been placed on active and retired educators, as well as school districts seeking to offer affordable health care benefits to their staffs and their families. But ATPE reminds members that the report is merely a recommendation and that many legislators will be eager to hear from a broad swath of education stakeholders before taking action in the upcoming session. Read more in today’s blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has been conducting a survey regarding state implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The online survey is meant to gather public feedback about the new federal law. Today was the last chance to share input with TEA, as the survey is set to close at 5 pm today, Nov. 18. Read more in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


Monday was the first day of bill pre-filing for the 85th Legislature. ATPE’s Governmental Relations Specialist Bria Moore has been tracking the new bills and shared some statistics for today’s blog. According to the Legislative Research Library, 525 bills were filed on the opening day of pre-filing. While the bills pertained to a number of issues, several focused on hot topics in the education realm such as vouchers and addressing educator misconduct.

ThinkstockPhotos-93490246School privatization has been in the spotlight heading into the 2017 legislative session with vouchers being lauded by both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and President-Elect Donald Trump (R) as a reform priority. HJR 24 by Rep. Richard Raymond (D) moves to tackle the controversial subject by proposing a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the authorization or funding of a school voucher program in Texas. ATPE opposes the privatization of public schools through such programs and has made fighting vouchers a top legislative priority for the 85th legislative session.

Meanwhile, a handful of legislators are filing bills to deal with educator misconduct cases, which were discussed during the interim. HB 218 by Rep. Tony Dale (R) prohibits educators dismissed from their positions in one school district due to sexual misconduct from being hired at another district. Legislation banning this type of action, sometimes called “Passing the Trash,” is another one of Lt. Gov. Patrick’s top priorities for the 2017 legislative session. HB 333 by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R) extends the criminal penalty for educators engaging in inappropriate relationships with students to those educators lacking certifications, which would cover teachers in charter schools who aren’t necessarily required to be state-certified. Meyer’s bill would amend a section of the Texas Education Code that previously only applied penalties to certified educators.

Other notable bills filed on Monday included HB 77 by Rep. Will Metcalf (R) which is an extension of SB 149 from the 2015 legislative session allowing for alternative paths to graduation. ATPE strongly supported Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R) SB 149 last year, which is set to expire without an extension. We’ll be watching Rep. Metcalf’s bill closely, along with any others that help to reduce the emphasis placed on high-stakes testing – another ATPE legislative priority.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and ATPE.org for more coverage of pre-filed bills in the weeks to come.

 


tea-logo-header-2In other TEA news this week, final accountability ratings have been released for the state’s 1,200+ school districts and charters 8,600+ campuses. Preliminary ratings were revealed back in August, as ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reported for Teach the Vote. After that announcement, 104 appeals were filed by districts and campuses. The agency granted appeals and changed ratings for nine school districts and 21 campuses. The overwhelming majority of schools received a “met standard” rating. Read more in this Nov. 17 press release from TEA.

Also from TEA, the agency issued correspondence to school administrators this week reminding them of school district responsibilities under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The letter from Penny Schwinn, TEA’s Deputy Commissioner of Academics, addresses “child find” obligations to identify students potentially in need of special education and consequences for districts that fail to comply. The letter also clarifies IDEA provisions aimed at preventing misidentification and disproportionate representation of students as children with disabilities. The state’s Performance-Based Monitoring Analysis System (PBMAS), under fire recently, is also mentioned in the correspondence along with a reminder that districts should avoid delaying or denying special education referrals in order to complete Response to Intervention (RTI) phases. The agency writes also that it is creating a new unit with the TEA Division of IDEA Support to provide additional support to districts and education service centers, with further details to be provided “at a later date.” Read the complete Nov. 17 letter from TEA here. Also, watch for a guest post with more on these issues next week on the Teach the Vote blog.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 16, 2016

It was a very busy week in the Texas education policy world. Here are stories you might have missed:


The State Board of Education (SBOE) has been meeting this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter and ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz attended the hearings and provided this update.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, the 15-member board heard public testimony from concerned activists, educators, and elected officials from across the state who are opposed to a controversial new Mexican-American studies textbook. It has been reported that over 100 people signed up to testify against the adoption of the book. The controversial text entitled Mexican American Heritage was developed by a publishing company that is overseen by former SBOE member Cynthia Dunbar. The book has been described by its detractors as racist and full of inaccuracies. Opponents of the book say that it cannot be corrected in its current form and should not be adopted by the board. The SBOE will not make a final decision on accepting or rejecting the book until its November meeting.

SBOE logoOn Wednesday, the board discussed the adoption of a work plan outlining the process to be followed in creating a long-range plan for public education. In April, the board voted to hire the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a professional facilitator group that’s been working since June to gather input from SBOE members, various professional educator groups, and other stakeholders. The group’s goal is to come up with a design for the development of a new long range plan with the first phase focused on creating a process to be developed by creating a plan. The second phase could actually involve the creation of the long-range plan itself. Representatives from BCG provided the board with the proposed work plan that is to be followed in developing the long-range plan, and SBOE members approved details of the design process. The board voted to have 18 steering committee members taken from various stakeholder groups and the board itself and agreed that the committee should meet monthly for half-day sessions. Who will be part of the committee is still to be decided, but we know that the committee will include five SBOE members and one representative each from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), Texas Workforce Commission, and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Each of the remaining 10 committee members will be picked by one of the 10 remaining SBOE members who are not on the committee. Watch for the SBOE to discuss committee appointments in more detail at the November board meeting.


Texas state senators were in town this week for a full slate of interim hearings that had many Capitol insiders remarking that it felt a lot like a legislative session. ATPE lobbyists were there to provide testimony on a variety of issues and monitor all the discussions, which are an insightful preview for the upcoming legislative session and battles likely to take place over controversial bills. Check out ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post for more details on this week’s Senate hearings, which are also summarized below.

The Senate Committee on State Affairs took up an interim charge on public employees’ use of payroll deduction for association or union dues and whether the state should prohibit that practice. It’s a rehash of a bill that died last session, and ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday was on hand to urge senators to focus on real challenges next session rather than non-issues like this one that solve no problems and only serve to hurt the morale of hardworking public employees like teachers, police officers, and firefighters.

Monty_TWC_vouchers_Sept16

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter spoke to TWC News following Wednesday’s voucher hearing by the Senate Education Committee.

Also, the Senate Education Committee held two consecutive days of meetings to discuss new voucher proposals, digital learning and broadband access, and implementation of 2015 laws relating to school accountability sanctions; Districts of Innovation (DOI); calculating minimum instructional time in minutes rather than hours or days; and individual graduation committees for high school students who fail certain STAAR tests – a law set to expire unless extended next session. ATPE’s Monty Exter gave testimony on several of those issues.

Duron_CPS_press_Sept16

Superintendent Jodi Duron, flanked by elected officials and education advocates, spoke to reporters during an anti-voucher press conference organized by the Coalition for Public Schools on Monday.

The voucher talks, which took up the most time, were preceded by a press conference that the Coalition for Public Schools (CPS) hosted at the Capitol on Monday. The event was an opportunity for diverse coalition members and several pro-public education lawmakers to shed light on the problems posed by education savings accounts and other voucher proposals being floated by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and a number of senators ahead of the legislative session. Among the speakers were Elgin ISD Superintendent and ATPE member Dr. Jodi Duron, CPS Coordinator Dr. Charles Luke, Rev. Andy Stoker representing Pastors for Texas Children, SBOE Vice-Chair Thomas Ratliff (R), and Sens. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) and Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston). Read more about the voucher debate in this story from The Texas Tribune‘s Kiah Collier, and check out Monty’s news interviews with KEYE-TV and Time Warner Cable. You may also watch archived video of the Senate Education hearing here.

CPS_press_conf_Sept_16

Pro-public education voices spoke against vouchers at CPS press conference on Sept. 12, 2016.


SBOE and TEA officials hosted a day-long conference on Monday, Sept. 12, centered on the difficulties of educating students in high-poverty schools. ATPE Lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann attended the event billed as the “Learning Roundtable – Educating the Children of Poverty.” The conference included presentations by researchers and policymakers on educational challenges that have resulted from an increase in the number of economically disadvantaged students here in Texas and elsewhere. Presenters included national experts in such diverse fields as educational equity and neuroscience.

The conference was scheduled as a work session for the SBOE’s Committee of the Full Board. ATPE’s Monty Exter called the roundtable event “an example of the SBOE under the leadership of Chairwoman Donna Bohorich (R) promoting increased cooperation with the commissioner of education and expanding its use of the bully pulpit to further important conversations surrounding Texas public education between policymakers, stakeholders, researchers, and the public.” More than 200 people attended the conference Monday, which was also live-streamed. Exter added, “The biggest takeaway running through many of the day’s presentations was that the barrier to successfully educating these hard-to-teach populations is not a lack of knowing what to do; it’s a lack of doing what we know.”

Archived footage of the educational poverty conference can be viewed here.


By now you’re probably familiar with the 2015 law that requires school districts to place cameras in classrooms serving some students in special education programs. Here on Teach the Vote, we’ve been reporting on the bill and its implementation through rulemaking by the commissioner of education. Earlier this week, Texas Attorney General (AG) Ken Paxton (R) released an AG’s opinion responding to questions from TEA about Senate Bill (SB) 507. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter contributed the following report on the opinion.

In answering Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s questions, the AG has interpreted the new law requiring the cameras very broadly. The result is that any school district staff members, whether or not they are connected to an affected classroom (or any classroom at all), may request that the cameras be placed in classrooms in the district. Such a request triggers a requirement that cameras be placed in every eligible classroom in the district as defined by the statute, even if the request only references a single specific classroom. Once installed, the cameras must be maintained and operated in virtual perpetuity in every classroom that continues to meet the definition of a special education setting under the law, regardless of whether or not the person making the request or student benefiting from the request continues to be affiliated with the district.

The implications of this AG’s opinion are dramatically higher costs of a mandate for which the state provided no additional funding to districts when it passed the bill last year. Additionally, the opinion may hamstring a district’s ability to acknowledge and accommodate, where possible, any parents whose strong preference is not to have their children subject to video surveillance in the classroom. The bill’s author, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), and House sponsor, Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), both indicated that these interpretations by AG Paxton were not their intent when passing the bill and that they meant for the law to require installation of cameras only in the classroom in which the affected child attends class. Paxton responded by writing in his opinion that letters from the bill’s authors written after the legislature had passed SB 507 would likely be given “little weight” by the courts.

As we reported last month, the commissioner’s rules on cameras in the classroom have already taken effect at this point, but it’s likely that the agency will look at future revisions in light of Paxton’s differing interpretation of what the statute requires. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on the implementation of this high-profile law.


ThinkstockPhotos-128960266_voteWith so many hot topics being discussed already at the State Capitol, it should be obvious why your votes in the Nov. 8 general election are critical. Electing pro-public education candidates will increase our likelihood of defeating reckless proposals like vouchers that will place even greater financial pressure on our public schools and weaken the overall quality of Texas’s education system. If you are alarmed by the willingness of lawmakers to hand over public tax dollars to unregulated private schools or punish public servants who voluntary choose to join professional associations by taking away their rights to use payroll deduction, then join the education community in making a statement at the polls in the upcoming election. Oct. 11 is the deadline to register to vote in the general election, and early voting begins on Oct. 24. Click here to learn more about the election and to make sure you are registered to vote before it’s too late! 


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 20, 2016

Important runoffs are happening in some parts of the state. We’ve got your election news and more in this week’s wrap-up:


Early vote pic from EAToday, May 20, is the last day to vote early in primary runoffs for Republican and Democratic races in which no candidate earned more than 50 percent of the votes on March 1. Polls close at 7 p.m. tonight. Several legislative and State Board of Education (SBOE) seats are up for grabs on Tuesday’s runoff election day.

Read our early voting blog post for a list of districts that have runoffs, tips on where to find your polling places, and more. Don’t forget to check out the runoff candidates’ profiles, including voting records and survey responses, using our 2016 Races search page.


Hotly contested runoffs capture attention of voters, political action committees, and media

Whether or not you live in SBOE District 9, chances are you’ve heard about the high-profile runoff contest taking place in that northeast corner of Texas. In the open seat to replace Thomas Ratliff (R), who is not seeking re-election, candidates Mary Lou Bruner and Dr. Keven Ellis are vying for the Republican nomination. Bruner attracted early attention from local and national media with her Facebook claims (as reported by The Texas Tribune and others) that President Obama had been a gay prostitute and drug addict. Those early Facebook posts have since been shielded from public view, but candidate Bruner has continued to shock voters with questionable assertions about public schools, including accusations about the number of substitutes holding teaching positions in a local school district and the percentage of students in special education.  Earlier this week we republished a story from The Texas Tribune about a meeting with area school superintendents who challenged Bruner on her dubious claims.

Following that meeting, an influential Tea Party group announced this week that it was retracting its earlier endorsement of Bruner. Grassroots America – We the People said in a statement, “We are all disappointed to have to take the strong measure of withdrawing our endorsement for a candidate. Since the institution of this organization in 2009, we have never had to take such an action; however, this organization requires accountability and personal responsibility from the candidates it endorses…. Unfortunately, once we viewed the raw, unedited video of Mrs. Bruner speaking to Region 7 Superintendents on May 4th and read her written statement, we had no choice but to start the process of reconsidering the endorsement.”

The fact that another Texas Tea Party group recently chose not only to reject Bruner but even to endorse Dr. Keven Ellis in this race underscores the serious concerns that many have expressed about Bruner’s ability to serve effectively on the SBOE. The publishers of the Texas Tea Party Voter Guide stated that Bruner “has gone too far and is making us all look like idiots. If she gets elected she will do more damage to the conservative movement than anything she might accomplish, so we are supporting Keven Ellis.” Interestingly, Ellis also earned the endorsement of Texas Parent PAC.

Bruner earned 48.4 percent of the vote in the March 1 primary compared to Ellis’s 31.05 percent. However, both candidates were relatively unknown at that time, and media interest in the race has put it on the radar of more voters and education stakeholders throughout the state. With Ellis appearing to capture increasing support from such diverse interests, this race will certainly be one to watch on Tuesday.

Also in the spotlight are runoffs for Senate Districts 1 and 24. SD 1 is an open seat, where incumbent Sen. Kevin Eltife (R) is not seeking re-election. Republican candidates and current state representatives David Simpson and Bryan Hughes are locked in a tight race with dueling endorsements, matching pleas for smaller government, and efforts to appeal to education voters. Simpson received the coveted endorsement of the pro-public education group Texas Parent PAC and is airing radio ads in which he touts his support for school funding and opposition to cuts to the public education budget. Hughes, meanwhile, is the only non-incumbent senator to be formally endorsed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), after Patrick originally stated that he would not get involved in the primary races. Education reform and pro-privatization groups such as the Texas Home School Coalition and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility (Empower Texans) have backed Hughes, but he’s also using campaign ads to try to appeal to retired educators by featuring photos of his meetings with local retired teachers. This is a winner-take-all race on Tuesday since no Democrats or third-party candidates have filed to run for the open seat; Tuesday’s winner will take office in January 2017.

SD 24 is another open seat race worth watching on Tuesday night. State representative Susan King (R) and Dr. Dawn Buckingham (R) are vying for this Senate seat currently held by Sen. Troy Fraser (R), who announced plans to retire. This race featured a crowded six-person field in the Republican primary on March 1. King earned 27.25 percent of the vote, while Buckingham brought in 24.76 percent. Expect another close match-up in Tuesday’s runoff for the Republican nomination. The winner will face Democrat Jennie Lou Leeder in November.

A few of Tuesday’s House runoffs are also winner-take-all races, in which the primary winner will face no opposition in November. In HD 5, Republicans Cole Hefner and Jay Misenheimer are in a runoff to determine who will succeed Rep. Bryan Hughes (R). HD 73 features a runoff between Rep. Doug Miller (R) and challenger Kyle Biedermann (R). In HD 120, the winner of the primary runoff between Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D) and Mario Salas (D) will decide who takes this House seat previously held by Ruth Jones McClendon (D) in January 2017; this is despite the fact that another, separate election is taking place this year to determine who fills McClendon’s vacant seat for the remainder of this year. HD 139 is another open seat for which both regular and special elections are taking place in 2016. After a vacancy was left for the House seat of Sylvester Turner (D), now mayor of Houston, Jarvis Johnson (D) won a special election earlier this month to serve out the remainder of Turner’s term, but Johnson faces a runoff on Tuesday against Kimberly Willis (D) for the upcoming full term to begin in January 2017.

Check out profiles of these and other runoff candidates using our 2016 Races search page.


Related: Supreme Court’s school finance ruling highlights importance of 2016 elections

Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

A week has passed since the Texas Supreme Court ruled that our state’s school finance system meets the constitutional minimum standards. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson writes about why your vote is the only thing left to compel legislators to take any action to improve the way we fund our schools. Josh also explains why discussions of two legislative committees this week about the possibility of new spending restrictions are another cause for concern. Check out his latest blog post here.


Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

FEDERAL UPDATE

It was a busy week for education in Washington, D.C., as discussions continued over how to implement the nation’s new federal education law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has written an update on ESSA, including the latest debates over the law’s “supplement not supplant” language, as well as new legislation relating to school nutrition. View Kate’s blog post here.

 


RULEMAKING UPDATE

In his first few months on the job, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has put forth administrative rules pertaining to a number of controversial topics. First, the commissioner finalized rules begun by his predecessor to implement the state’s new recommended teacher appraisal system known as T-TESS. ATPE has filed a legal challenge against the T-TESS rules, arguing that they violate existing state laws, the Texas Constitution, and public policy expectations. That petition has been referred to the State Office of Administrative Hearings so that an Administrative Law Judge can decide the merits of ATPE’s case. In the meantime, be sure to check out our T-TESS resource page on ATPE.org to learn more about the new evaluation rules and how they might affect you.

Related: The Hawaii State Board of Education voted this week to remove student test scores from its teacher evaluation system. Hawaii was one of several states that had incorporated student growth measures into a new teacher evaluation system in recent years, partly in order to satisfy criteria for an NCLB waiver. Texas’s T-TESS rules were similarly design to match NCLB waiver conditions that are no longer applicable, which ATPE cited in our requests for Commissioner Morath to revise T-TESS and reconsider the student growth measure language in the rules.

Commissioner Morath has also proposed rules for Districts of Innovation (DOI), implementing 2015 legislation that allows acceptably-rated school districts to claim exemptions from numerous education laws. ATPE has submitted comments on the proposed rules, urging the commissioner to address serious concerns about implications for educators’ and school districts’ immunity protections in school districts that claim entitlement to blanket waivers of all exemptible laws in the Texas Education Code. We’ve got updated information on some of the districts that are pursuing DOI status on our comprehensive DOI resource page on ATPE.org.

Also in the works at the Texas Education Agency (TEA) are rules to implement a 2015 law that requires video surveillance equipment in certain classrooms serving students in special education programs. Yesterday, TEA officials held a public hearing on proposed commissioner’s rules for implementing Senate Bill 507. ATPE previously submitted written comments on the proposed rules, which have not yet been finalized. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these and other rules as developments occur.

Related: The Texas Tribune hosted an interview with Commissioner Morath on Tuesday. The event was sponsored in part by ATPE. View video from the event here.


Next week, the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability meets Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Austin. View the commission’s agenda here. We’ll have more on the meeting next week, along with complete results of Tuesday’s big runoff election day, here on Teach the Vote.

ThinkstockPhotos-485333274_VoteIf you live in a runoff district, don’t forget to go vote early today or vote on Tuesday!

From The Texas Tribune: Allegations of Fearmongering in Education Board Runoff

by Kiah Collier, The Texas Tribune
May 17, 2016

Mary Lou Bruner and Keven Ellis are hoping to represent District 9 on the State Board of Education. Northeast Texas voters will pick between the two Republicans in a May 24 runoff election. Whoever wins the nomination will face Democrat Amanda Rudolph in November.

Mary Lou Bruner and Keven Ellis are hoping to represent District 9 on the State Board of Education. Northeast Texas voters will pick between the two Republicans in a May 24 runoff election. Whoever wins the nomination will face Democrat Amanda Rudolph in November.

CANTON — Today’s schoolchildren favor socialism over the free market. Common Core educational standards — banned in Texas — have crept into the classroom. And Texas schools should “teach the knowledge and skills that made the United States the leader of the world,” including cursive, phonics and multiplication tables.

State Board of Education hopeful Mary Lou Bruner’s fear-inducing, back-to-basics talking points have not changed much during a GOP runoff campaign that began after she nearly won a three-way primary to represent northeast Texas on the panel that sets state curriculum and adopts textbooks.

Neither, though, have Keven Ellis’.

Despite finishing a distant second to Bruner in the March 1 primary, when GOP voters demonstrated a strong preference for far-right candidates, Ellis has deliberately stuck to his policy-focused message: He wants to support educators by working with them rather than against them, narrow a curriculum he describes as “a mile wide and an inch deep” and overhaul the current standardized testing regime. That is, when he’s not urging voters to ignore Bruner’s message of alarm.

“You will hear her say that children belong to the parents and not the government — and of course they do — but she has also said that if your children go to school saying things like ‘abortion is wrong’ and they don’t believe in global warming, they could get a visit from the school administrator” and put themselves at risk of being taken away by Child Protective Services, Ellis said earlier this month during a sparsely attended GOP runoff forum in the East Texas town of Canton.

Ellis, a 45-year-old Lufkin chiropractor, who has served for three years on the local school board and is now its president, added that the Texas Legislature has already banned Common Core, and the state curriculum still includes cursive, phonics and multiplication tables.

“It’s all about inciting fear,” he said. “Please see through this.”  

Bruner, a conservative activist who worked in East Texas schools for 36 years as a teacher, counselor and educational diagnostician before retiring in 2009, said there’s plenty of reasons to be afraid of “elites in the federal government that are trying to give us a one-size-fits-all, top-down education system.”

“If that is fearmongering, I wish people had spoken out harder and heavier in Germany before Hitler took over,” she said. “We should be scared when they want to take away from us what our government was built upon and totally revamp it and make it like the socialist and communist countries of the world.”

The 69-year-old from Mineola, who won 48 percent of the March primary vote to Ellis’ 31 percent, also bashed reporters for fixating on her conspiracy theory-laden Facebook posts during the primary campaign. Now mostly hidden from public view, they contended that President Obama worked as a gay prostitute in his youth to pay for a drug habit and that the Democratic Party was behind President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

“They always want to smear my name and start with that before they ask me what I want to do on the State Board of Education,” she said, adding in an interview that “I’m really sick and tired of the way they’ve treated me.”

The GOP forum in Canton was one of just a handful of events during the nearly three-month runoff campaign where both candidates were present. Several local conservative groups, which have overwhelmingly backed Bruner, have not invited Ellis to meet with them or speak at their events, according to Ellis and local activists. One of the groups, though, is currently reconsidering its endorsement of Bruner after she made several inaccurate statements in a speech to East Texas superintendents. 

“That is counter to what we should be about,” said Dwayne “Doc” Collins, a Canton activist who founded five local Tea Party groups and organized the forum. The 70-year-old veterinarian said he’s “going to have to break with a lot of my fellow Tea Partiers” to support Ellis.

Ellis “has a lot of positive things he could bring to the state school board,” said Collins, who has known Bruner for years. “He would be quite a bit more cooperative … less confrontational.”

If that is fear-mongering, I wish people had spoken out harder and heavier in Germany before Hitler took over.— Mary Lou Bruner, Republican candidate for State Board of Education

 

But many who attended the forum said it was the first time they had even heard of Ellis or knew there was another candidate in the race besides Bruner. Several said they were leaning toward Bruner after hearing from both candidates because she spoke to their concerns — namely Common Core — and demonstrated conviction.

“She was boisterous. She didn’t back down,” said Patrick Wilson, a retiree who now works as a substitute teacher in Canton.

“She’s my gal,” Jon Smith, another local retiree, told The Texas Tribune at the forum. “She wants to get rid of the Common Core that’s starting.”

Almost every other state has adopted Common Core, the K-12 educational standards championed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Officers — and incentivized when the Obama administration tied their adoption to federal grant eligibility. But Texas’ GOP leaders have rejected the standards for a perceived liberal bias, and the Legislature passed a bill in 2013 banning their adoption or use.

Ellis says he is also opposed to Common Core but described it in an interview as a “non-issue” despite the fact that it’s clearly a concern among his would-be constituents.

Meanwhile, he’s hoping Bruner’s “outlandish comments” will help his cause.

Inaccurate statistics Bruner cited earlier this month during a speech to Region 7 superintendents — including the percentage of students enrolled in special education and the number of substitute teachers working in Lufkin schools — have gotten her in hot water with the influential East Texas Tea Party group Grassroots America — We the People, which endorsed Bruner in the primary.

The Smith County-based group has asked her to “produce her sources” and is “reconsidering” its endorsement, Executive Director JoAnn Fleming said in a text message. The group has also said it doesn’t agree with Bruner’s Facebook posts.

While some of the figures cited in the speech, captured in a cellphone video and circulated online in recent weeks, may have been wrong, Bruner said, “Everything I said is basically true,” including that schools are struggling with teacher shortages and so have to use substitutes.  

“Let me tell you what, the superintendents are not all Republicans,” Bruner said. “Many of them are Democrats, and they have an agenda.”

Bruner confirmed she has not received any endorsements from Texas superintendents. More than 70 of them have endorsed Ellis in the race, as well as statewide teacher groups and the Texas Parent PAC. Ellis also has received endorsements from state Rep. Trent Ashby of Lufkin and outgoing House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen, both of whom are key members of the more moderate bloc of Republicans in the Texas House aligned with Speaker Joe Straus

Whoever prevails in next week’s runoff will face Democrat Amanda Rudolph in the November general election. Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said he doesn’t expect Bruner’s comments to hurt her much.

Ultraconservative GOP runoff voters are “going to focus on the bigger picture of going back to basics — having schools that reflect their values and looking to keep Common Core out of Texas,” Jones said. “Perhaps they wouldn’t say that Obama was a former prostitute financing his drug habit, but they do not have a favorable opinion of President Obama and therefore aren’t going to be turned off by that statement.”

 


Disclosure: Rice University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/05/17/sboe-race-candidates-stick-their-message/.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 4, 2016

As we wind down Texas Public Schools Week, we’re also reflecting on Tuesday’s big elections. Check out our top news stories this week:

 


ThinkstockPhotos-523002181_IVotedOn Tuesday, March 1, we finally starting seeing the results of many months of campaigning for important offices in Texas. Turnout in the Republican and Democratic primaries was impressive, and we believe educators made the difference in many races by getting out the vote in great numbers and being informed voters in support of public education. Many races produced big wins for pro-public education candidates.

Read our blog post from Wednesday to learn more the outcomes in the state’s most critical races and which candidates are facing runoffs.

Now, we turn our attention to several runoffs that will be decided on May 24. If you live in a runoff district, please use our resources here on Teach the Vote to learn about the runoff candidates’ views on public education. Click on the 2016 Races button to view candidates’ voting records, their responses to the ATPE candidate survey, lists of their major endorsements, and more.

 


A key race for a seat on the State Board of Education has triggered a high-profile runoff. In SBOE District 9, where incumbent Thomas Ratliff (R) is not seeking re-election, two candidates will be battling it out on May 24 in a runoff that is of great interest to those in and outside the education community.

The front-runner in the Republican primary, Mary Lou Bruner, almost garnered enough votes to avoid a runoff, but now she faces a two-person race for the Republican nomination against second-place finisher Keven Ellis. The race has captured national media attention thanks to controversial statements made by Bruner. Many in the education community fear this runoff election that is already making headlines will put the board back into the position of being the center of unfavorable national attention and bogged down by ideological conflicts. The 15-member SBOE has authority to enact regulations pertaining to curriculum standards, the content of textbooks, student testing, graduation requirements, how the Permanent School Fund is invested and used, and more.

Read more about what’s at issue in the SBOE District 9 runoff in this piece from our friends at The Texas Tribune, which has been republished here on Teach the Vote.

 


We’ve been reporting for some time on the evolution of teacher evaluations in Texas. As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has reported for Teach the Vote, proposed commissioner’s rules to implement the new T-TESS system for teacher evaluations remain pending. Now, the Texas Education Agency has released its similar plan for implementing new principal evaluations through the system called T-PESS. Proposed commissioner’s rules for T-PESS are being published today, and a public comment period will run through April 4. Learn more about the proposed rules here on the TEA website.

In other news, TEA has also shared information this week with principals about the upcoming survey window for evaluating how well their new teachers were prepared to take on their roles. The annual survey is required to be completed by principals as part of the state’s accountability system for educator preparation programs (EPPs). Read TEA’s correspondence with survey details here.

 


Happy Texas Public Schools Week!

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From The Texas Tribune: Outspoken Education Board Candidate Headed to Runoff

by Kiah Collier, The Texas Tribune
March 1, 2016

Right to Left, Top to Bottom: Georgina Perez, Dakota Carter, Mary Lou Bruner, Joe Fierro, Jr., Jasmine L. Jenkins, Keven M. Ellis

Top row, left to right: Georgina Perez, Dakota Carter, Mary Lou Bruner. Bottom row, left to right: Joe Fierro, Jr., Jasmine L. Jenkins, Keven M. Ellis.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.

An East Texas Republican who once claimed President Obama used to be a gay prostitute appears headed for a May 24 primary runoff in the race to represent District 9 on the State Board of Education.

And at least one political scientist believes Mary Lou Bruner could fare even better there than she did on Tuesday.

The 68-year-old retired schoolteacher, who garnered national attention during the campaign because of her over-the-top Facebook posts, was near the 50 percent mark early Wednesday morning in her three-person GOP primary race.

She appears poised for a runoff with Lufkin chiropractor and school board president Keven Ellis, who raised and spent more money than Bruner during the campaign but trailed her by 17 percentage points with 95 percent of precincts reporting. (Bruner had secured about 48 percent of the vote to Ellis’ 31 percent.)

The third candidate in the race, Hank Hering, a friend of Bruner’s, was running third early Wednesday morning. (Bruner told the Tribune she would’ve endorsed Hering in the race if she hadn’t run.)

While runoffs can be toss-ups regardless of what happens in the regular election, Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said Bruner will probably have an edge in May because the movement conservatives backing her are more likely to show up to vote than the more moderate Republicans who are backing Ellis.

Ellis describes himself as a conservative Republican, but — with endorsements from Republicans like outgoing House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen — was seen as the establishment candidate in the race. That has been a difficult label to overcome for candidates up and down the ballot this election cycle with voters showing overwhelmingly preference for outside-the-box over run-of-the-mill.

If Bruner clinches the party nomination, it all but ensures she will win in November, as District 9 is considered safe for Republicans. Whoever prevails in the District 9 GOP primary race will face Democrat Amanda Rudolph, a secondary education professor at Sam Houston State University who is unopposed in her primary.

Observers say her election would reignite the divisiveness on the 15-member education board, which is in charge of crafting curriculum and textbooks for the state’s more than 5 million public schoolchildren. The panel has become more harmonious in recent years as the cadre of fervent right-wing conservative conservatives who used to dominate the board has diminished, with some members retiring or being voted out.

One of those members lost to the current District 9 representative, Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant, one of the board’s more moderate Republican members who decided not to seek re-election.

Observers also have predicted an increase in divisiveness if Democrat Georgina Perez represents District 1 on the education board, which she will after her primary win Tuesday.

Perez, 41, avoided a runoff in the three-person primary race. Finishing behind her were Joe Fierro Jr., a longtime Army soldier, and Lynn Oliver, a retired public school teacher who now lectures in the Department of English at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

There is no Republican running for District 1.

In District 6, Democrats Jasmine L. Jenkins and R. Dakota Carter are headed for a runoff.

Carter, 28, is a child and adolescent psychiatry resident at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. Jenkins, 32, is a former bilingual fourth-grade teacher who now works for a tutoring and test preparation company in Houston.

Whoever prevails will face Republican board chairwoman Donna Bahorich in November. She has no primary opponent.

Neither do five other board members up for re-election — Tom MaynardBarbara CargillMarty RowleySue Melton-Malone and Ken Mercer — although some will face Libertarian and Green Party challengers in November.


Disclosure: Rice University has been a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/03/01/state-board-races-head-to-runoff/.

SBOE asks commissioner for accountability relief during implementation of new math curriculum standards

The State Board of Education (SBOE) is concerned that the implementation of new curriculum standards for mathematics this year may cause unintended headaches for some schools, educators, and students, and several board members are hoping the commissioner of education will offer assistance.

The board revised the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for math in grades 3-8 in 2012, and those new TEKS are being implemented in schools this year. Some SBOE members fear negative consequences for students, teachers, and schools that have not yet had sufficient time for professional development, incorporating new instructional materials aligned with the TEKS, and adjusting to the new standards, which in some cases require skills to be taught at different grade levels than they were under the prior math standards.

Today, 14 members of the board wrote a letter to Commissioner of Education Michael Williams asking him to consider a temporary “hold harmless” provision in state accountability requirements for campuses and school districts during the initial implementation period. They also asked for additional support from the Texas Education Agency through professional development resources. Board members stated in the letter, “We believe our math standards are important and worth supporting without the counterproductive pressure for students and teachers during the transition.”

The SBOE met for several days this week to swear in newly elected members, appoint board members to serve on particular committees, and elect officers. The board re-elected Thomas Ratliff as its vice-chair and tapped Ruben Cortez to serve as board secretary. (The chairman of the board, Barbara Cargill, is selected by the governor and confirmed by the Texas Senate.) Sue Melton-Malone, who is also a former state president of ATPE, was elected by her fellow members to chair the SBOE’s Committee on Instruction, for which she previously served as vice-chair. SBOE member Patricia “Pat” Hardy will continue in her role as chair of the Committee on School Finance and the Permanent School Fund. Board members also elected Marty Rowley to serve as chair of the Committee on School Initiatives, with Martha Dominguez as his vice-chair. ATPE congratulates all the newly elected members and officers.

Senate Education Committee to discuss private school vouchers on Monday

Before taking the oath of office as Texas’ new Lieutenant Governor in January, Sen. Dan Patrick continues to promote his pro-private school voucher agenda as chair of the Senate Education Committee. Patrick has scheduled a Nov. 17 committee hearing to discuss two interim charges as well as issues relating to school facilities funding.

Senate Interim Charge #3 calls for the committee to review school choice programs in other states, examine the potential budgetary impact of voucher-related tax credits, and review parent trigger and Public Education Grant program laws already on the books in Texas. Under Senate Interim Charge #4, the committee will discuss the implementation of last year’s comprehensive charter school legislation, Senate Bill 2. View the full agenda here and stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates following Monday’s meeting.

On a related note, three well-known voices in Texas politics penned a recent article criticizing school privatization efforts. The authors, former Lieutenant Governor Bill Ratliff, current State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff, and current State Representative Bennett Ratliff, opine that arguments in favor of privatization are based on the myth of students being “trapped in failing schools.” The Ratliffs also lay out reasons that private school vouchers would not be beneficial to teachers or students in Texas. Read the article here.

SBOE approves new graduation requirements

Today the State Board of Education (SBOE) voted 14-1 on final rules to implement new graduation requirements mandated by last year’s House Bill (HB) 5. Facing pressure from many stakeholders with opposing viewpoints, the board struck a compromise today that ATPE believes will allow ample flexibility for school districts and students while helping ensure that students are prepared for post-secondary success.

At the center of the debate was the treatment of Algebra II, which prior to the passage of HB 5, was a statutorily mandated course for graduation under the Recommended and Advanced high school programs. Through HB 5, the legislature created a single high school graduation plan based on a foundation curriculum plus subject-specific endorsement areas. In doing so, legislators eliminated the specific mandate in statute that Algebra II be taken as the third math course required for graduation. Even though the statutes as amended by HB 5 no longer specify Algebra II as one of the required math courses, state law gives the SBOE authority to adopt additional or more specific graduation requirements beyond what the legislature mandates.

The board decided today that only students pursuing a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) endorsement under the new high school diploma structure should be required to take Algebra II. Students pursuing other endorsements may choose to take Algebra II or another math course from among a short list; that list will soon include two new advanced math classes, algebraic reasoning and statistics, which are currently being developed. The lone dissenting vote today came from SBOE District 1 member Martha Dominguez, who felt that Algebra II was an important factor in students’ college success and should be required for all students.

Education stakeholders also voiced much concern in the recent months of SBOE deliberations about the future of speech courses. While not required by law, the SBOE has required students to earn one-half credit in speech as a graduation requirement since 1996. HB 5 did not address the speech requirement, again leaving the board with discretion to decide whether or not to continue its requirement. The board’s preliminary proposal in November would have eliminated the speech requirement altogether. Recent surveys conducted by ATPE and by SBOE District 9 member Thomas Ratliff showed strong support among educators for continuing a speech requirement at the state level, but several school districts urged the board to eliminate the requirement. SBOE members settled this week on a plan to designate Communications Applications—the primary course used to fulfill the current speech requirement—as one of the courses that can satisfy the fourth-year advanced English course required by HB 5. The speech course will no longer be required, but districts must still ensure that all students master certain communications-related skills.

Read the Texas Education Agency’s press release on the new graduation plan approved today. Also, check out today’s press statement by ATPE State President Ginger Franks in response to the vote.