Tag Archives: TRS

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 3, 2020

Educators across the nation have stepped up and are working at light speed on solutions for distance learning, showcasing their creativity, ingenuity, and care for students. As we approach the days we used to call “the weekend,” check out the latest education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes sent a letter to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath this week requesting statewide action regarding educator appraisals. Dr. Holmes stressed that it is important to protect and preserve the validity and fidelity of educator evaluations and that current conditions will not yield fair and valid appraisal results. Read more in this ATPE press release.

Gov. Abbott explains a new coronavirus executive order during a press conference with other state leaders, March 31, 2020.

Mid-March, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order to close Texas schools through today. This week, Abbott extended school facility closure for an additional month through a new executive order, which also asks Texans to stay at home and only go out for essential services and activities. At the earliest, school buildings could reopen on May 4th, but many educators and families are dubious that school facilities will reopen at all this school year. Today, Austin ISD became the first major Texas school district to announce that it will close “indefinitely.” Superintendent Paul Cruz wrote in a message that the district would “compensate all staff through the end of the contract and/or fiscal year.” Dallas County has also extended its local stay-at-home order through May 20, as announced today. Please be aware that educators are considered essential critical infrastructure workers, as they facilitate distance learning and/or perform other essential functions while school buildings are closed. To learn more about expectations for educators in responding to this crisis, refer to ATPE’s Coronavirus FAQ and Resources.

TEA public health campaign digital poster.

After Gov. Abbott cancelled this year’s STAAR tests, the education community anxiously awaited a federal announcement that states would be off-the-hook for testing and accountability requirements. Last Friday, Texas was approved by the federal government to waive statewide testing and accountability. For the 2019-20 school year, all districts will be “Not Rated: Declared State of Disaster.” This information can be found on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) coronavirus resource page, which is updated almost daily. It has several resources on instructional continuity, special education, assessment, graduation, TELPAS/LPAC, accountability, school improvement, educator evaluations, and more. The agency has also launched a “Stay Well, Texas” coordinated public health campaign that they have asked school districts to help implement. Remember, parents can use TEA’s new “meal finder” tool and pick up meals without their children being present in the vehicle.

In Washington, D.C., Congress has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or CARES Act. The two aid packages include billions in funding for education and children, student loan interest deferment, paid leave support, school meal service flexibility, and Department of Education waiver authority. The CARES Act also provides for direct cash payments to eligible individuals, which the federal government plans to begin distributing this month. Read more about the CARES Act provisions in our Teach the Vote blog post from last week. Also, check out ATPE’s analysis of the FFCRA to learn about expanded paid leave benefits.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos joined President Donald Trump at his White House press briefing last Friday evening. She announced that the department is requesting funding from Congress for “microgrants” for students, families, and teachers. DeVos’s argument for funding the microgrants matches her recent pitches for a federal tax credit scholarship voucher program. Read more about the microgrant proposal in this blog post by the ATPE lobby team.

For the latest ATPE guidance on dealing with COVID-19, we encourage you to visit ATPE’s frequently updated Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page.  Also, follow the ATPE lobbyists here on Teach the Vote and on Twitter for related legislative and regulatory news.


Even in the midst of widespread stay at home orders, Texas agencies continue to move forward with their work. That includes the Texas Sunset Commission, which put out its sunset recommendations for the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) this week. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter provided this overview.

Each state agency must go through a “sunset” review process every few years in which the commission takes a look at the work that agency is doing and determines if the agency should continue to exist and what changes should be made.

Unlike most agencies that are created by statue, TRS exists due to a provision in the Texas Constitution and therefore isn’t subject to being abolished by the sunset process. However, the legislature still uses the sunset review process to identify changes they would like to see in an agency and then incorporate those recommendations into a major piece of legislation in the following legislative session.

The Sunset Commission has identified four issues, with corresponding recommendations for TRS to address them. The commission’s top issues include a need for TRS “to repair Its relationship with Its members by focusing on their needs,” and a need for “more effective contract management and oversight.” Some of these recommendations stem from TRS’s recent controversy over lease space, but the commission’s report delved beyond any single controversy to look at root issues that impact multiple interactions and operational decision points that are affected by these underlying areas the commission feels are in need of improvements.

Tune in to our Teach the Vote blog next week for additional analysis of the TRS sunset report.


ELECTION UPDATE: Late yesterday, the Texas Secretary of State ordered local elections officials to postpone all municipal elections to November 3. While many local officials had already followed Gov. Greg Abbott’s suggestion to postpone their municipal elections regularly scheduled for May 2, some small and mid-sized cities had yet to do so. In ordering local municipalities to comply, the secretary of state referred to the governor’s latest executive order issued this week in which he recommended all Texans stay at home unless performing essential business and services.

Meanwhile, the 2020 Democratic National Convention has been delayed until August. National and state parties are rushing to adjust their schedules and programming in response to the need for social distancing and the unpredictable times in which the nation finds itself.

For more on campaigns and elections, read yesterday’s election roundup blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. Remember that you can research candidates here on Teach the Vote to learn more about their views on public education. The ATPE lobby team will continue to update the site with additional candidate info between now and November.


Response rate as of March 31, 2020 (source).

Great job, Texas! Our 2020 U.S. Census response rate has increased from 24% last week to over 36% this week, but we are still behind the current national rate of 41%. Census counts determine many important streams of funding, Including for public education. Unfortunately, the census collection now faces its own battle against the effects of the coronavirus, including timeline delays that could push any census work involving human interaction deeper into the heat of the summer. In a state like Texas, which has a large hard-to-count population, it is more important than ever that we push online/phone/mail census completion options to reduce the need for hand-delivered packets and in-person counting. For this week’s celebration of Census Day on April 1, 2020, find resources, updates, reminders, and play with an interactive census map in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier. Find useful FAQs on the 2020 Census here.


During April, we observe National Child Abuse Prevention Month to increase awareness and curb the incidence of child abuse and maltreatment. In 2018, over 63,000 children in Texas were victims of maltreatment, with over 11,000 of these under one year of age and 75% of all Texas cases due to neglect only. Across the nation, 92% of child abuse perpetrators were parents, and teachers are often on the front lines in observing and reporting troubling situations. As reported by the Texas Tribune, child abuse reporting has drastically slowed due to school closures and the newly created distance between teachers and their students. Additionally, families are enduring heightened stress and many of the protective factors that help to mitigate child abuse, such as social connections, support, and social-emotional learning, are also lacking during this time. TEA has recently updated guidance on reporting abuse to clarify that educators are still obligated to report suspected abuse and neglect. Visit childwelfare.gov for resources, tools, and even profile picture borders and email signature graphics to promote National Child Abuse Prevention Month.


ATPE wants to hear how you are adapting to a new educational environment during the coronavirus pandemic. Click here to email us your personal stories, tips on best practices for distance learning, or strategies you’re using to stay upbeat during the crisis. If anything positive has come out of the pandemic, it is confirmation that teachers love their students! Choir teacher Kelly Moss in Richardson ISD created this YouTube video to reach out to her students with song since they couldn’t be together in person. Get your tissues ready…


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 13, 2020

School closures, election news, the census, how to wash your hands – many important topics are circulating right now. Rest assured, the ATPE Governmental Relations team has your education news update.


The ever-developing impacts of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 have left many educators feeling uncertain. To help you navigate these uncharted waters, ATPE has a new FAQ page to answer your questions, including information about districts’ ability to keep staff at home and how to deal with students who may be infected. As developments occur, check ATPE’s FAQ page frequently and watch for updates here on Teach the Vote and via our Twitter account.

Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency due to the effects of the novel coronavirus on March 13, 2020.

During a midday news conference today, Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency in response to the crisis. As the number of confirmed cases in Texas continues a slow rise, many schools are implementing extended spring breaks, investigating options for online instruction, cleaning facilities, and taking other preventive measures. Some experts recommend proactive school closures to stem the spread of the virus, but recommendations have been mixed and local districts are making their own decisions.

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has increasingly been in the spotlight as districts seek guidance on how to respond to the virus. In his Texas Tribune interview last Friday and in his testimony to the House Public Health committee (see 1:40:00) this week, Morath erred on the side of “local control,” leaving it up to districts to coordinate with local health authorities on how best to serve students. The commissioner added that low attendance waiver policies remain in effect and other measures could be taken to address low attendance should Gov. Abbott declares a state of public health disaster, which he did today at the press conference that Commissioner Morath also attended. Some are already urging the state to consider testing waivers, too, with STAAR assessments looming. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has set up a landing page with resources, including the latest guidance for districts that provides specific information regarding district decision-making and communication; funding questions; potential attendance waivers; special populations, and online learning.

Commissioner Mike Morath testifies before the House Public Health committee, March 10, 2020.

In addition to concerns about childcare, missed instruction and testing, and how to pay teachers, one of the biggest questions facing schools is how to feed children who rely on their schools for nutrition. As noted by Gov. Abbott during his press conference today, the state is also seeking federal waivers to help schools continue to provide meals to students who need them, even in the event of an extended closure. According to reporting by the Texas Tribune, some school districts are considering paying hourly employees to pass out food for students at a central location while others are considering options similar to food operations during the summer. Some districts already have begun operating mobile meal delivery stations for students. Another concern in light of anticipated school closures is the number of households that do not have the Internet access that would facilitate online instruction. According to Gov. Abbott, at least one private Internet provider is waiving fees to help its customers obtain access.

Elsewhere, TRS announced they are no longer taking walk-in appointments to their Austin headquarters, and numerous state legislative hearings and state capitol meetings have been postponed in an abundance of caution. In Washington, D.C., President Donald Trump also held a press conference this afternoon to make a national emergency declaration, which provides additional resources for states. Flanked by executives of companies such as Walgreens and Walmart, the administration announced plans to launch a screening website and new testing resources facilitated by the private retailers. Pres. Trump also said there would be a temporary waiver of interest on student loans during the crisis. Congressional leaders are also working to negotiate legislation could potentially provide relief in the form of sick leave, tax cuts, and aid to schools.

ATPE issued a press statement today and will continue to update our online resources as additional information about dealing with COVID-19 becomes available to us.


ELECTION UPDATE: Even if you didn’t vote in the March primary election, you may still be able to vote in a runoff on May 26, 2020. The deadline to register to vote in a primary election runoff is April 27, and early voting will begin May 18. Learn more about who is on the ballot and the rules regarding eligibility to vote in a runoff in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

Election news continues to come out this week. Check out updates from the campaign trail here, including some big endorsements and a new Central Texas race shaping up to succeed state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin). With Sen. Watson resigning next month to become dean of the University of Houston’s new Hobby School of Public Affairs, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick this week appointed Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) to fill his seats on the Senate Education and Senate Higher Education committees. These are committee posts Sen. Zaffirini held previously. She has taught at the higher education level and is a former chairperson of the Senate Higher Education committee.

As always, visit TexasEducatorsVote.com for election resources created especially for educators, and use our features here on Teach the Vote to learn more about the candidates.


Money matters graphic from Villanueva’s CPPP report on HB 3

The Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) released a new report this week analyzing House Bill (HB) 3, the major school finance bill passed during the 2019 legislative session. The report written by Chandra Villanueva, CPPP’s Economic Opportunity Program Director, is entitled, “There’s a new school finance law in Texas… now what?” Villanueva’s report lauds the successes of HB 3, such as increased streams of funding for dual language, college and career readiness, and early education, but she argues there are aspects of the bill that could be improved to enhance equity. Villanueva stresses throughout the report that the legislature’s focus on reducing property tax collections and recapture while increasing funding commitments to school districts may hamstring future legislatures from being able to adequately fund schools. By highlighting the lack of new revenue sources to help Texas appropriators fill the gaps, the report reflects the apprehensions many educators feel about the sustainability of HB 3. The report also makes several useful policy recommendations, including full-day pre-K funding and regular adjustment of the basic allotment for inflation (which would trigger regular teacher pay raises).


In late 2019, the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM conducted a State of Teaching Survey of more than 5,000 teachers around the world. The study highlighted several findings that likely resonate with all teachers. First, teachers feel overwhelmed, undervalued, and believe they are not treated as professionals. Teachers work long hours, take work home, pay for supplies out-of-pocket, and don’t feel they have the resources (including administrator support) to adequately address factors such as student behavior. Second, and on the positive side, teachers do feel they have access to curriculum, planning time, and professional learning resources. Lastly, the role of social media is rapidly evolving as teachers increasingly rely on resources such as Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest for curriculum and professional learning. These findings underscore the importance of continuing to advocate for supportive working conditions in schools, adequate pay and benefits, and opportunities for collaboration and creativity among teachers.


Checked your mail lately? By April 1, households across America will receive an invitation to complete the 2020 Census. The census, conducted once every 10 years, counts EVERY person living in the United States. Getting a complete count will help to ensure Texans have fair representation in our state legislature and in Washington, D.C. Plus, census counts determine many important streams of funding, such as for roads, emergency services, and public education! Your response to the census is just as crucial as helping to spread the word to others. Read more in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 28, 2020

Today is the last day of early voting in Texas! Whether you’ve already had your close-up with the ballot box or plan to vote on March 3, catch up on the latest education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: Today, Feb. 28, is the last day of early voting. Voter turnout has been steady in the state’s largest counties. Texas’ primary elections on “Super Tuesday” will be March 3, 2020. For the latest news on races in Texas, check out ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’ “election roundup” blog post.

If you haven’t made it to the polls yet, we’re bringing it back to basics to get you vote-ready.

    • WHO? Visual learner? Watch this video to learn how to view 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. If your favorite candidate has not answered our survey, encourage them to contact ATPE Governmental Relations for additional details. It’s not too late!
    • WHAT? We’ve received many questions about the party-based, non-binding propositions that are on your primary ballot. Learn more about these philosophical statements proposed by the state’s Democratic and Republican parties in this Teach the Vote blog post. These measures won’t change the law, but they help state party leaders learn more about their voters’ opinions on key issues.
    • WHERE? Use Vote411.org to find your polling location and build a customized ballot that you can print out and take with you to the polls. (You won’t be able to use your phone inside the voting booth.)
    • WHEN? Today or March 3! Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to view an election countdown, get text reminders, and find additional election-related resources created for educators.
    • WHY? Did you know that some races are determined entirely by the primaries? Read more about why it is important to vote in the primaries in Part I and Part II of Teach the Vote’s “Primary Colors” blog series.
    • HOW? Get the scoop on how to vote, including guidance on new balloting systems in use in many polling places. Click here for tips!

Want even more? Read all the fantastic election features in our latest issue of ATPE News for Spring 2020 and find additional election reminders and tips on ATPE’s main blog at atpe.org. As you’re researching candidates and building your ballot, check out video of the recent candidate forums conducted around the state by Raise Your Hand Texas to learn more about the candidates’ views on public education.


FEDERAL UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Education has released the federal teacher shortage areas for Texas in 2020-21, which are largely consistent with those listed in 2018-19 and 2019-20. These include Pre-K-12 bilingual education, special education, and computer science, plus 7-12 career and technical education and mathematics. Since 2019-20, computer science as a shortage area has been expanded from only at the secondary level to covering all grades, likely reflecting career and technical needs across the country in our changing economy. The nationwide teacher shortage areas have implications for federal loan forgiveness and deferment options.

On Thursday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sat before the U.S. House Appropriations education, health, and labor subcommittee to defend President Donald Trump’s education budget proposal, which we wrote about here on Teach the Vote. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reports that members of Congress questioned the secretary on several issues, including spending and scandals associated with charter schools, discipline practices for vulnerable students, concerns about child vaping, and the mechanics of the proposed consolidation of 29 federal programs into one block grant. Secretary DeVos defended much of the proposal by stating that the department’s intent is to give more spending freedom and flexibility to states.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies before a subcommittee of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, Feb. 27, 2020 (Source).

Much of the hearing was devoted to criticism and defense of the proposed “Education Freedom Scholarships” and the civil rights risk associated with the department’s lack of commitment to ensuring non-discrimination. DeVos insisted that, because the scholarship program would be administered through the U.S. Department of Treasury, the voucher-like tax credit was not federal funding. This would free the program from being tied to federal protections for students such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and it seemed apparent that many committee members understood this impact. View video of the hearing here.


The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) conducted a survey of Texas public school districts on salaries during the fall of the 2019-20 school year. Just under half (49%) of districts responded, representing 84% of the estimated teacher population in Texas. According to respondents, the median starting salary for a new teacher is $44,000. This increase of 7.3% from 2018-19 is largely due to the passage of House Bill (HB) 3 and represents a one-time bump in salaries unless the Texas legislature increases the public school basic allotment again. A similar superintendent survey conducted by TASB showed a 3.1% increase in the average superintendent’s salary from 2018-19. See the full TASB teacher compensation survey for more information, including stipend trends and substitute pay. In both surveys, educators who work in larger districts were shown to receive higher pay.


In December 2019, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reviewed Part I of a recent readability study of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). Mandated by the Legislature as part of last year’s House Bill (HB) 3, the findings in Part I left many questions unanswered. Chevalier reports that with the recent release of Part II, the study is now complete, but it still leaves us wondering if STAAR tests are written at the appropriate grade-level, as the results are mostly the same as in Part I.

Using 2020 STAAR assessments, researchers found that 99.5% of test items were aligned to the TEKS curriculum standards. As in Part I, researchers could not answer if items were at a grade-appropriate readability level due to a lack of confidence in methods and analysis. Lastly, the passage readability results were mixed, with researchers reporting multiple methods of analysis that lead to different conclusions.

Because this non-peer-reviewed study is entirely inconclusive on item readability and presents unclear results on passage readability, many questions remain as to the appropriateness of the use of STAAR in high-stakes decisions. As noted by Chevalier, if a student cannot understand a question because it uses vocabulary outside the scope of the student’s common knowledge, the child cannot be expected to answer it correctly.


Texas Senate Finance committee meets Feb. 25, 2020

The Senate Finance Committee met in Austin this week. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that among other agenda items, the interim hearing included a review of the investment strategies and performance of funds invested through the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), the Permanent School Fund, and university funds. The committee has been charged during the interim with making recommendations to better coordinate and leverage Texas’ purchasing power to maximize investment income for the state.

The committee also added to its agenda an examination of the long-term facility plans of TRS, including specifically examining the facility space costs of housing TRS’s Investment Management Division. TRS Executive director Brian Guthrie delivered two presentations to the board: the first on TRS investment strategies and the second on long-term space planning for the agency.


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.


Healthcare and office space discussions dominate February 2020 TRS meeting

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) Board of Trustees held its first meeting of 2020 in Austin this week. In addition to receiving typical reports on market trends and internal processes, such as the agency’s new diversity program, the board took action on two major issues regarding TRS space planning and healthcare for both the active and retired educator population.

TRS office space plans

The first day of the board’s two-day meeting was dominated by a discussion of TRS’s space planning needs, including issues surrounding the immediate future location of the TRS Investment Division, which has been in the news as of late. After a lengthy discussion of the history of the agency’s housing over the last two-plus decades, TRS staff recommended the Investment Management Division renew its current lease at 816 Congress Avenue in Austin (an option that was not previously available due to insufficiency of available space in the building). This would be a seven-year lease with a one-time right to terminate the lease if a new headquarters is found to house all of TRS. The recommendation also calls for TRS to sublet space it recently contracted to lease at the new Indeed Tower in downtown Austin. After the board’s vote to accept the recommendation, TRS Board Chairman Jarvis Hollingsworth released the following statement:

“Today, the board considered additional options that recently became available and approved a solution that meets the space needs of our growing investment division, while also demonstrating sensitivity to member concerns.”

The agency will also move forward with consideration of building a new main campus outside of downtown Austin to house at least the staff currently located at the current main campus on Red River Street, potentially bringing all TRS staff back under the same roof.

Healthcare

During Friday’s meeting, TRS staff presented a recommendation, which the board approved, on the network providers for all of the major heath insurance funds managed by the board. TRS released the following press release about the changes, which they say could save the combined health insurance programs of TRS as much as $754 million  over the next three to five years.

Staff also updated the board on the TRS-ActiveCare listening tour that is designed to get feedback from the field on the healthcare program for active educators. TRS will use the information it receives to focus their efforts on what are determined to be priority improvements to the system. These discussions include consideration of creating more regional options in addition to the statewide plan.

ATPE will continue to monitor TRS developments and actively engage with the TRS staff and board on the policies impacting active and retired teachers in Texas.

 

ATPE advocacy never stops. Get involved outside the legislative session.

When people think about public education advocacy, many naturally think about the legislature and the 140-day legislative session that occurs every two years. To be sure there is a lot of action during session, but there are also plenty of ways for public education advocates, including ATPE’s professional lobby team and members of the general public who care about the issue, to stay engaged outside of a legislative session.

Two primary areas of engagement during the interim are interacting with state regulatory boards and agencies and following interim charges to legislative committees.

Boards and agencies, such as the State Board of Education or the Teacher Retirement System, do the day-to-day work of implementing the laws enacted by the state legislature. This work happens year-round and these entities have a huge impact on shaping the law through their interpretation and implementation of it. Stakeholders can share their input with boards and agencies through administrative rulemaking processes and at public meetings.

State board and agency rules are contained in the Texas Administrative Code. Each week, proposed and newly adopted rules are published in the Texas Register through the Secretary of State’s office. Both resources are available to the public.

For example, just this week ATPE submitted comments on multiple administrative rules.

  • ATPE formally commented on proposed changes to commissioner’s rules governing school district-charter partnerships under Senate Bill 1882 of 2017.
  • We joined with the Texas Association of Future Educators in recommending rule revisions by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) that could benefit high school students who are interested in careers in the classroom.
  • ATPE also shared concerns about SBEC rules relating to master teacher certificates that are slated to be eliminated as a result of 2019’s House Bill 3 (2019).

In addition, we attended this week’s State Board of Education meetings, as ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has reported on here and here for Teach the Vote. These are examples of advocacy efforts that, while related to actions taken by the legislature, take place in entirely different arenas. Rulemaking happens at the federal level, too. Through our Washington, DC-based lobby team, we are able similarly to stay on top of federal regulatory actions that might affect ATPE members.

Legislative committees have also begun conducting interim hearings that will continue to ramp up over the summer. These hearings give lawmakers an opportunity to monitor the implementation of recent legislation and to discuss the House interim charges and Senate interim charges. Public testimony is often allowed at these meetings, and committees may also invite expert witnesses to sit on panels or speak about an issue. Interim charges, and the hearings at which they are discussed, often provide the basis for major legislation in the upcoming legislative session. Becoming involved in the shaping of bills before they are ever filed puts savvy advocates way ahead of the game.

ATPE will engage in these and many other advocacy opportunities throughout the interim on behalf of our 100,000 members, and we encourage educators and others who care about public education to do the same. Take the time to share your input with decision-makers during this important, sometimes overlooked advocacy period. ATPE advocacy never stops!

Compensation, testing, and TRS top issues in ATPE’s “Your Voice” survey

From November 2019 through early January 2020, ATPE members had the opportunity to take a short, three-question survey through Advocacy Central. Powered by a service called Voter Voice, Advocacy Central is a tool that ATPE members can use to be active advocates for Texas education policy.

Respondents were asked to choose their three top education policy issues from a comprehensive list. These issues were ranked most important by survey respondents:

#1 – Educator Compensation and Benefits

#2 – TIE: Standardized Testing / Teacher Retirement System (TRS)

In this blog post, we dive deeper into each of these issues, highlighting recent legislative actions and policy considerations. Then we’ll look at what’s next and pinpoint specific ways that educators can actively influence the treatment of these issues in the future.

Educator Compensation and Benefits

The issue of teacher pay skyrocketed as a priority among Texas legislators and state leaders after educators hit the polls in 2018 – from Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick including teacher pay raises in his campaign messaging, to Governor Greg Abbott declaring teacher pay an emergency item, to a non-negotiable inclusion of teacher pay into school funding proposals. Teacher pay is obviously a major factor in the state’s ability to recruit and retain a high-quality teaching workforce. Also, with healthcare costs on the rise, educators’ take-home pay has a direct influence on their health and wellness, which impacts productivity and absenteeism along with costs to the employer.

Due to its far-reaching importance in the short- and long-term, increasing educator compensation has been an ATPE legislative priority. In the 2019 legislative session, the ATPE lobby team advocated for compensation plans that included educator input, meaningful factors other than students’ standardized test scores, and alignment with other efforts to promote and enhance the education profession.

House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), the major school funding proposal passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor in 2019, did several things that impact educator compensation and benefits. The bill made it possible for many school districts to access substantial additional funding, such as through allotments for mentoring and incentive pay for teachers,  money for extending the school year, and an increase in the basic allotment to facilitate pay increases for classroom teachers and other full-time employees in non-administrator roles. HB 3 also raised the state’s minimum salary schedule (MSS) for teachers and other certified educators, up to $5,500 to $9,000 per year of service. This change to the MSS lifted the base pay for many educators, provided raises for some, and increased the state’s share of TRS pension contributions while lowering the district’s share.

As it stands, most (but not all) Texas public school teachers received a pay raise due to increased school funding under HB 3. The bill mandated that districts use 30% of their state funding increase on compensation, with a special priority for teachers with more than five years of experience. The jury is still out on what those raises looked like across the state and whether teachers feel positively impacted by their raise, if any. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is expected to begin gathering data from districts on compensation with a report to legislators in March of 2020. See what some districts have done for their teacher raises in this blog post from our “New School Year, New Laws” series.

HB 3 also included the “teacher incentive allotment” (TIA), which began as strictly merit pay but was eventually modified to specifically prohibit school districts from being required to use standardized tests to evaluate teachers for purposes of this funding. For districts that are ultimately approved to participate in the TIA, they must create local designation systems that will allow for additional state funding ranging from $3,000 to $32,000. The additional funding from this allotment flows to the district, not directly to the teacher, and is based on the number of teachers in the district who receive certain designations as determined by the district (Master, Exemplary, or Recognized) and where those teachers teach (high-needs or rural campuses draw down more dollars). TEA recently released correspondence to districts regarding their TIA applications to the agency. Some districts that already have incentive programs in place, like Dallas ISD and Austin ISD, will likely apply to TEA to be in the first cohort to receive funding in the fall of 2020.

Learn more about the intricate ins-and-outs of HB 3 in this blog post here on Teach the Vote and in TEA’s “HB 3 in 30” video series, which details several aspects of the bill relating to compensation.

Standardized Testing

Testing is a major issue for teachers, especially when there is so much riding on the results, such as school grades, closures, sanctions, and even teacher pay. Testing also seems unfair for many students who have special needs, are learning English, are new to the country, or have test-taking anxiety. Teachers know that an entire year of their students’ hard work and social, emotional, and academic growth could never be captured on a single day’s standardized test.

The largest testing bill that passed during the 2019 legislative session – HB 3906, by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) – made several changes to state assessment administration and content. Here are highlights of what the bill prescribes:

  • Multiple smaller test sections that can be administered over multiple days (operational by the 2021-22 school year).
  • Elimination of writing tests in grades 4 and 7 (beginning with 2021-22 school year).
  • Prohibiting the administration of State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests to students on the first instructional day of the week.
  • Districts will transition to electronic assessments by 2022-23.
  • By Dec. 2020, TEA will create and share with lawmakers a plan to transition districts to electronic assessments.
  • No more than 75% of any STAAR test can be multiple choice by 2022-23.
  • TEA will establish an integrated formative assessment pilot program that districts can opt in to, which will be used to determine if these assessments improve instructional support and if they could potentially replace current assessments (with a pilot program to launch in the spring of 2021).
  • TEA will develop interim assessments for districts to use as actionable test data.
  • The educator assessment advisory committee, still awaiting commissioner appointment, will provide recommendations to TEA on assessment development.

Read more about HB 3906 from the TEA website here, and learn more about changes to testing that occurred due to the last legislative session in this Teach the Vote blog post from ATPE.

The merits of the STAAR test itself were also questioned heavily by parents, educators, and other stakeholders this past session. As a result, HB 3 mandated that a “readability study” be conducted to ensure that the test items and passages on the STAAR tests are at an appropriate level for the test-taker. The University of Texas at Austin Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk released part one of the study at the beginning of December. In a nutshell, the study (which was not peer-reviewed) was lauded by Commissioner Mike Morath as proving that the tests were on-level, but it left many questions unanswered. Specifically, the study was inconclusive about the grade-level readability of test items, it found that some STAAR test questions did not adequately assess the standards they were meant to address, and the authors noted that a majority of STAAR passages were within or below specified levels for narrativity (which has to do with the use of common vocabulary for a certain age/grade). We expect the second part of this study to come out by Feb. 1, 2020. Read more in this blog post here on Teach the Vote.

Teacher Retirement System (TRS)

After accounting changes adopted by the TRS board of directors in July of 2018, the TRS pension fund was in need of additional funding going into the 2019 legislative session. The 86th Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 12, by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which reduced the funding window for the TRS fund from 87 years to 29 years, and allowed for a supplemental payment or “13th check” to be issued to retirees in September 2019. SB 12 functions by slowly increasing the state’s contribution to TRS up to 8.25% by the year 2024. Additionally, the school district contribution will increase from 1.5% to 2%. Active school employees’ contributions to TRS will remain at the existing rate of 7.7% for the next two years and eventually increase to 8% in the 2021-22 school year and 8.25% the following year.

SB 12 also requires that if the state’s contribution to TRS should decline in the future, then school district and active employee contributions to the fund would be reduced by the same percentage. Additionally, the few school districts that pay into Social Security will no longer enjoy an exemption from paying into TRS.

Read more about TRS and the 86th Legislature in this ATPE blog post here on our blog.

What’s next?

We are not finished with compensation. While HB 3 made great strides in improving school finance, many aspects of the bill that could raise educator pay are left at a school district’s discretion. Compensation and benefits should be increased for educators across-the-board to bring the profession to an appropriate level of pay, ensuring that educators can live balanced, healthy lives.

Likewise, we are far from done with testing. However, this topic has been heavily dictated at the federal level since the implementation of No Child Left Behind, which is now known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The state is limited in how much it can reduce testing and remain in compliance with federal accountability requirements. That being said, there is flexibility built into ESSA that would allow Texas to alter its assessment structure in ways that are more holistic, such as through the use of portfolio or performance assessments. Additionally, we must be vigilant in resisting the use of standardized tests for purposes of teacher evaluation and pay, as these tests have been shown to indicate more about poverty and other student factors uncontrollable by educators than how well students are learning in any given school year.

TRS is not a done deal either. Educators still face exorbitant healthcare costs and family needs. Prioritizing investments in healthcare, particularly with an emphasis on wellness and disease prevention, can pay great dividends in the form of a healthier school employee population. The state needs to increase its share of healthcare costs for both active and retired employees.

One of the most effective ways for educators to influence future legislative actions around these and other issues is to stay in touch with their own legislators. ATPE members can use our communication tools on Advocacy Central to quickly and easily send messages to their lawmakers at any time.

Your Vote is Your Voice

As the 2020 election cycle proceeds, it is important for voters to be aware of candidates’ positions on these issues, as well as incumbent legislators’ voting records on education bills like the ones mentioned above. The ATPE Governmental Relations team has invited all candidates for the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education this year to participate in our education-specific candidate survey. On TeachtheVote.org, find candidate and legislator profiles to view their survey responses and voting records, where available. Learn more about which of the legislature’s 2019 votes were included on our site and why in this blog post.

As an additional resource, if you’d like to hear directly from candidates and maybe even ask a question, attend a free, public education-focused candidate forum being hosted by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation in several Texas cities this year. Find one near you here.

Voter registration for the Texas primary elections on Super Tuesday, which is March 3, 2020, ends on February 3. Find out if you are properly registered here. Educator Voting Day is slated for the first day of early voting, February 18, 2019.

Find more voting resources and take the Educators’ Oath to Vote on TexasEducatorsVote.com.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 20, 2020

As you end the school year and cozy up for the holidays, please enjoy the last weekly wrap-up of 2019 from the ATPE Governmental Relations team. The ATPE state office will be closed from Dec. 23 to Jan. 4, reopening on Jan. 6, 2020. Expect our next Teach the Vote weekly wrap-up blog post to be published on Jan. 10, 2020.


ELECTION UPDATE: With candidate filing seemingly complete – after a few extensions in races where there were late withdrawals – we’re now getting a good picture of the match-ups that will be on the ballots for the Texas primary election on Super Tuesday, which is March 3, 2020. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins shares some of the insights plus endorsement news in his latest election roundup blog post here. Don’t forget that the deadline to register to vote in one of the primaries is Feb. 3, and you can verify your voter registration status here.

In the Houston and Dallas areas, candidates will be busy trying to garner voters’ support over the holidays for an upcoming runoff election on Jan. 28, 2020. The runoff is for special elections deciding three vacant House seats: Texas House District 28, 100, and 148. Early voting starts Tuesday, Jan. 21. If you live in one of those three districts and are not yet registered to vote, you have until Dec. 29, 2019, to register to vote in the runoff, even if you did not vote in the original special election in November.

We at ATPE join our partners in the Texas Educators Vote coalition in thanking educators for their involvement and helping us spread our “Get Out The Vote” (GOTV) messages around the state. We hope you’ll take advantage of the many election resources available at TexasEducatorsVote.com and prepare to be an informed voter in 2020 by learning about the candidates. ATPE will be updating our Teach the Vote website in January with profiles of all candidates running for the Texas House or Senate, plus the State Board of Education. In the meantime, learn more about your incumbent state legislators, including how they voted in the 2019 legislative session on education issues, by viewing their profiles on Teach the Vote.


ATPE is helping our friends at The Texas Tribune to promote a new resource for Texans to learn about voting in the Nov. 2020 general election: Teach Me How to Texas. Learn everything you need to know about Texas elections in The Texas Tribune’s free five-week crash course. You’ll learn interesting facts about Texas’ past and culture, how different communities and regions in Texas vote, how candidates raise and spend money, how to spot a good poll from a bad one, and how to decode your November ballot. Click here to sign up!


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees met in Austin last week, and ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter attended the meetings. The board discussed space planning needs for the TRS agency, a recent actuarial valuation of the TRS Pension Trust Fund, and a funding policy that will affect future benefits, on which ATPE provided testimony. Read more details about the meeting in this week’s blog post from Exter.


When you have some free time over the holiday break, ATPE encourages all of our members to take a few minutes to log into the ATPE website and answer our “Your Voice” survey on ATPE’s Advocacy Central. It’s a quick, three-question survey about which education issues are most important to you. Let us know which legislative issues you care about the most and want ATPE to work on in 2020 and beyond!

Click on the photo to hear a quick message from ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes about the survey.

 


 

More detail on the last TRS meeting of 2019

As we mentioned here on Teach the Vote last week, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) board of trustees met last Thursday and Friday, Dec. 12-13, 2019. The board opened its final day of meetings for 2019 with public comments before taking up an agenda that included adoption of a new funding policy and considering where the TRS agency should be housed in the future. The TRS board heard testimony last week from ATPE and the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) as well as some individual retirees. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter addressed the association’s concerns with language in the proposed funding policy to be considered for adoption later in the meeting.

Senate Bill (SB) 2224, as passed during the last regular session of the legislature, requires the TRS board to adopt a written funding policy detailing its plan for achieving a funded ratio equal to or greater than 100 percent for the pension trust fund. The original language proposed to the board could have been interpreted as creating a policy that was more prescriptive than current law with respect to cost of living adjustments (COLAs), potentially putting the board at odds with mandates from future legislatures. The legislature, not the TRS board, determines whether or not TRS should grant a COLA to retirees.

After considering the concerns voiced, the board struck the objectionable language before adopting the remainder of the proposed policy. The new funding policy as adopted will require TRS staff to include additional requests for funding in the agency’s legislative funding requests anytime they determine that current funding is not sufficient to keep the pension fund on track toward paying off the balance of its unfunded liability in less than 30 years.

Currently, the $160 billion TRS trust fund is on track to pay off its unfunded liabilities in 29 years. This is largely due to this year’s passage of SB 12, which phases in higher contribution rates for school districts, educators, and the state over the next five years. Prior to SB 12, the fund’s payoff date was more than 87 years into the future, cutting off the possibility of benefit enhancements for retirees for nearly six decades.

With the state of the TRS pension fund significantly shored up after the 2019 legislative session, it is likely that lawmakers will return their focus to improving TRS health insurance. In fact, the Texas House of Representatives recently appointed a new special committee to study statewide healthcare to be chaired by Rep. Greg Bonnen, a neurosurgeon from League City and the co-sponsor of SB 12. Chairman Bonnen was present at the TRS board meeting last Thursday  for a discussion by its Benefits Committee regarding primary care directed models and how to improve outcomes and costs associated with TRS-Care and TRS-Activecare. As the largest single insurer and one that covers members both during their working years and into retirement, TRS is in a unique position to influence a new round of early discussions on improving healthcare in Texas.

TRS has come a long way over the last 30 years. The fund has grown from less than $20 billion to just over $160 billion. Over that same time TRS staff has grown from around 300 employees to more than 700, at the same time that the number of TRS members has increased from around 500 thousand to more than 1.6 million. TRS has moved six times since 1937 before locating the agency in its current home in 1973. Growth in the number of members and exponential growth in the size of the trust fund has pushed TRS’s staffing needs beyond what its current physical location can accommodate.

As the TRS board and staff seek a new home for the agency, they are keeping certain priorities in mind. The space should be centrally located and user-friendly for the members; the new space should provide a long-term solution; and the move away from the current space to a new one should result in a net positive for the fund. These priorities translate into building a new space in central Texas, but outside the downtown Austin business district. Additionally, it means leasing the current TRS space in order to maximize profits for trust fund.

For more on last week’s TRS meeting, click here to view the board materials or watch archived footage.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 13, 2019

Gearing up for the holidays? Take a break from shopping to catch up on this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: The candidate filing period has ended, bringing us one step closer to the Texas primary elections on March 3, 2020. The deadline to register to vote in one of the primaries is Feb. 3, 2020! Check your voter registration status here. Read more of the latest election news in this week’s election roundup blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins here.

If you live in House District 28, 100, or 148, don’t forget that you’ve also got a special election runoff coming up on Jan. 28, 2020. Early voting begins Tuesday, Jan. 21. If you are registered to vote in one of these districts, you may vote in the runoff regardless of whether you voted in the original special election in November. The deadline to register to vote in that special election runoff is Dec. 29, 2019.

Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to get involved, find activities you can do to drive more participation in elections, and sign up for voting updates. Also, be sure to check out your state legislators’ profiles on our Teach the Vote website to find out how they voted on education bills in 2019. Read our recent blog posts to learn more about which education bills are featured and takeaways for using the record votes featured on our site. Teach the Vote will soon include profiles of all the candidates vying for seats in the Texas Legislature and State Board of Education.


Reps. Steve Allison and Ernest Bailes chat with ATPE’s Shannon Holmes on Dec. 12, 2019

A group of educators gathered near Austin this week at the Texas Association of Midsized Schools (TAMS) annual conference. Attendees heard from legislators and education advocates on a number of important topics including school funding, accountability, and educator retirement issues.

ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes moderated a conversation about teacher pay in the wake of this year’s passage of House Bill 3. The teacher compensation panel featured state representatives Steve Allison (R-Alamo Heights) and Ernest Bailes (R-Shepard). House Public Education Committee chairman Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) and Senate Education Committee chairman Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) also participated in a panel during the conference.


The preliminary results of ATPE’s “Your Voice” survey are starting to take shape. Our members are telling us that standardized testing is their number one policy priority. Want to chime in? You still have time to participate in this short, three-question survey, which is meant to gather ATPE members’ opinions on education issues, including results of the last legislative session. ATPE members are encouraged to take our “Your Voice” survey on ATPE’s Advocacy Central. Call the ATPE Member Services department at (800) 777-2873 if you need help logging into Advocacy Central.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees met in Austin for the last time this year on Thursday and Friday of this week. The board contemplated space planning needs for the TRS agency, reviewed a recent actuarial valuation of the TRS Pension Trust Fund, and discussed a funding policy. For more detail, check out this teaser post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter and check back on Teach the Vote next week for a full summary of this week’s TRS meetings.


Last Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) held its final meeting of the year. The board discussed several items, including new teacher and principal surveys, enabling high school students to become certified as educational aides, and other changes to implement bills from recent legislative sessions. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified at the meeting asking the board to help Master Reading Teachers retain their teaching assignments once their Legacy Master Teacher certificates expire under HB 3. Read a full meeting summary in this blog post and watch video of ATPE’s testimony here (located at the 41:00 mark on the archived broadcast).


A new report by the Center for American Progress describes the nationwide trend of declining enrollment and completion in educator preparation programs. The authors dive into Texas and California specifically to explain two different approaches to this issue. In Texas, enrollment has increased due to the proliferation of alternative certification programs, while completion has declined. Read an analysis of the report by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier here.