Tag Archives: U.S. Congress

Texans in Congress cosponsor federal bill to double teachers’ tax deduction

There is good news to report from the nation’s capital, as some members of Congress are looking to double a popular tax deduction that benefits educators. H.R. 878, the Educators Expense Deduction Modernization Act, was filed by Democratic Congressman Anthony Brown of Maryland and has garnered support from some members of the Texas delegation.

The bill as filed would allow teachers to deduct up to $500 from their federal taxes (instead of $250 under current law) for any classroom supplies that they purchase. The permanent tax deduction also would be adjusted for inflation.

The following Texans have signed on as cosponsors of H.R. 878:

  • Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-018)
  • Rep. Eddie Johnson (D-TX-030)
  • Rep. Filemon Vela, Jr. (D-TX-034)
  • Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX-015)
  • Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX-23)

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX-23)

In signing on to become a cosponsor of H.R. 878 today, Texas Congressman Will Hurd appears to be the first member of the Republican party to do so nationwide. Hurd issued a press release lauding the bill and noting ATPE’s support for it.  “There’s no good reason why our teachers should pay out of their own pockets for the resources needed to do their jobs, which is why I’m proud to cosponsor this bill today,” said Rep. Hurd.

ATPE recognizes that many of our members routinely spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars out of their own pockets to help provide students with the supplies they need to thrive in the classroom. We appreciate those among our Congressional delegation who are supporting this bill to help give teachers additional, modest tax relief, and we hope that other members of our delegation will join the bipartisan effort. View ATPE’s press release about the federal tax deduction legislation here.

DeVos, Cruz launch federal voucher push

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U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced the filing of new school voucher legislation Thursday, which is being carried in the Senate by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

Cruz’s bill, S. 634, would create a voucher program estimated to cost as much as $10 billion per year. The measure would allow corporations and individuals to deduct from their federal taxes 100 percent of their contributions to “scholarship funds” for private schools. Tax credit scholarship proposals aim to subsidize private, for-profit schools with taxpayer dollars redirected from free, constitutional public schools.

The credit would be capped at 10 percent of an individual’s adjusted gross income or five percent of a corporation’s net taxable income. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Alabama) has filed a similar version in the House with a $5 billion price tag. State-level legislation of the type Devos, Cruz, and Byrne are aiming to encourage by proposing federal tax credits has previously been filed in Texas, but has been opposed by Texas educators and has failed to pass. State leaders have repeatedly said similar voucher proposals will not be a priority this session. Many believe this is largely due to 2018 Texas election results, which were widely seen as a rejection of privatization efforts. For this reason, state legislators in Texas have yet to file a major voucher bill during the current state legislative session.

President Donald Trump appointed DeVos, who has used her family’s vast wealth to advocate for the privatization of public schools. During her time as education secretary, DeVos has led a number of efforts to promote vouchers and voucher-like policies.

Fortunately, there is slim chance that the current Congress will pass any voucher legislation. Some Senate Republicans have expressed concerns over voucher legislation, and a voucher bill is unlikely to find traction in the Democratically-controlled House. To read more about the new Cruz bill and send a message to your elected officials in Washington, DC about it, visit ATPE’s Advocacy Central.

Congress sends CTE overhaul to President Trump

Congress passed legislation this week to rewrite the primary federal law concerning career and technical education (CTE). The bill now goes to President Trump for his signature.

On Monday, the Senate passed its version of a bill to reauthorize the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act by a voice vote. The upper chamber amended a reauthorization bill already passed by the U.S. House, H.R. 2353, with substitute text containing the Senate’s preferred language to reauthorize the law. The U.S. Senate education committee chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), said the bill limits the role of the Department of Education (ED), giving states more freedom to make decisions about how to utilize federal CTE funding.

The House quickly responded on Wednesday by agreeing to the Senate’s changes and sending the bill to President Trump’s desk for his signature. The Trump Administration has been increasingly supportive of the legislation. White House advisor Ivanka Trump has actively supported passage of the legislation and President Trump released a statement on Wednesday saying that “by enacting it into law, we will continue to prepare students for today’s constantly shifting job market, and we will help employers find the workers they need to compete.”

Still, groups like the Association for Career and Technical Education and Advance CTE and the American Association of School Administrators have expressed opposition for varying reasons. The CTE group expressed concern once the Senate bill was passed that it leaves the potential for unambitious state performance targets and low academic standards for CTE students. The administrators have previously called the legislation too prescriptive.

As we have previously outlined, current funding levels will be continued, and the bill gives states more authority in crafting their goals, as long as they are aligned with requirements under the bill. States will be required to meet those goals within two years or face a potential loss of funding. The bill does provide for some additional funding that will be disseminated to states based on population. President Trump is expected to sign the bill soon.

ATPE meets with lawmakers, congressional staff in Washington

ATPE 2017-18 State President Carl Garner and State Vice President Byron Hildebrand at the U.S. Capitol, June 11, 2018

Carl Garner, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Jennifer Mitchell Canaday, and Byron Hildebrand in Washington, DC, June 12, 2018

A group of ATPE state leaders and lobbyists were in the nation’s capital this week to advocate for pro-public education legislation. ATPE State President Carl Garner, State Vice President Byron Hildebrand, and Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell Canaday joined ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyist David Pore for meetings with our Texas congressional delegation on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Our visiting ATPE group held numerous productive meetings, including visits to the offices of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Representatives Kevin Brady, Beto O’Rourke, Henry Cuellar, Pete Olson, John Carter, Lloyd Doggett, Will Hurd, Roger Williams, and Jeb Hensarling.

Byron Hildebrand, Carl Garner, Rep. Kevin Brady, and Jennifer Mitchell Canaday at the U.S. Capitol, June 12, 2018

The bulk of ATPE’s discussions with our congressional delegation focused on the need to repeal and replace the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) that reduces Social Security benefits for many educators and other public servants. Rep. Brady, who chairs the powerful U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, has been leading an effort to replace the WEP with a different formula that will provide Texas educators with Social Security benefits that are calculated in a more transparent, equitable, and predictable manner. Chairman Brady outlined his vision for a new plan to replace the WEP in a guest post for Teach the Vote back in November. ATPE’s team also visited this week with the staff of the Ways and Means Committee who are working on that new WEP legislation that is expected to be filed soon.

Hildebrand, Garner, Claire Sanderson from Sen. John Cornyn’s office, and ATPE contract lobbyist David Pore in Washington, DC, June 12, 2018

Other topics of discussion during this week’s meeting included school safety, maintaining funding for teacher preparation programs under Title II of the Higher Education Act, and preventing federal vouchers that would send public tax dollars to unregulated private schools. ATPE recently lobbied our congressional leaders to oppose an attempted amendment to a national defense bill that would have created an Education Savings Account voucher for students from military families. ATPE joined a number of military groups in opposing the amendment, which was recently ruled out of order and prevented from being added to the bill.

Hildebrand and Garner at the White House’s Truman Bowling Alley, June 11, 2018

During the trip to Washington, ATPE’s representatives also visited area museums, enjoyed a tour of the U.S. Capitol, and spent a special evening at the White House’s Truman Bowling Alley.

Carl Garner with Rep. Pete Olson in his Washington, DC office, June 13, 2018

 

 

Byron Hildebrand with his congressman, Rep. Henry Cuellar, June 13, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

ATPE succeeds in stopping military voucher amendment

The military voucher proposal that ATPE’s federal and state lobby teams have been working hard to fight in Washington was ruled not in order this week by the U.S. House Committee on Rules. The committee was responsible for determining whether the military voucher would be considered as an amendment on the floor of the U.S. House when the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (NDAA) is set for a vote. While we were successful in stopping this attempt to advance vouchers for military families, we remain focused on future efforts aimed at creating federal vouchers in any form.

ATPE sent a letter to Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) two weeks ago that urged him to reject the misguided legislation as an amendment to the NDAA. The amendment was based on a bill titled HR 5199, the Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act of 2018. We stressed in our letter to Chairman Sessions that “the $2,500 voucher program created by HR 5199 would drain limited dollars from both the public school system in Texas as well the Federal Impact Aid Program, hurting the very military-connected students it purports to help.” Our federal lobby team also spent the last two weeks successfully working with the Texas delegation in Congress to stress our opposition to the bill and build support for rejecting the bill as an amendment.

As we reported last week, the author of HR 5199 was facing stiff opposition from members of Congress, even those in his own party, who didn’t support the bill or the amendment. Despite the pressure generated by ATPE and other groups who strongly oppose the amendment, like the Military Coalition, Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) pressed forward with offering his amendment for consideration by the Rules Committee. Several members of the Texas delegation, including Chairman Sessions, are co-sponsors of the HR 5199, but even with that support the bill as an amendment ultimately failed this time.

The support for this bill from powerful members in Congress is why ATPE continues to stress the importance of educators staying actively engaged in both the state and federal advocacy process. Your voice is meaningful to your members of Congress and state legislators, and it is critical that they hear from you about these important issues. As a reminder, we offer an advocacy tool that allows educators to easily contact their representatives about key issues. The tool, Advocacy Central, offers email templates, phone scripts, tweets, and Facebook posts, that allow you to engage on multiple platforms with your state and federal representatives. On issues just like this one, your representative needs to hear from you! Stay engaged and tuned in to Teach the Vote to know when your voice needs to be heard!

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 11, 2018

From Austin to the nation’s capital, here’s a look at how ATPE’s lobby team has been working hard for you this week:


Early voting starts Monday for Texas’s Republican and Democratic primary runoffs on May 22. This week ATPE continued to highlight races across the state where education has pushed to the forefront of political discourse heading into the runoffs. We encourage you to learn more about the races in your district by visiting the candidates section of TeachtheVote.org and by checking out our runoff spotlights for candidates in House Districts 4, 8, 54, 62, and 121.

Remember, if you voted in a party primary back in March, you may only vote in the same party’s runoff election this month. If you are registered but did not vote at all in March, you may choose to vote in either party’s runoff election. You can find more information on eligibility to participate in the runoffs and what you need to do here.

Early voting for the runoffs is May 14-18, 2018, and runoff election day is May 22,2018.

 


ATPE’s lobby team has been working to prevent a controversial private school voucher amendment from being added to a national defense bill that is on the move. The U.S. House Committee on Armed Services met this week to consider the National Defense Authorization Act. Our Austin- and Washington-based lobbyists have watched the development of this bill closely since learning that discussions of adding a voucher were underway in the House. As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reports today, the potential voucher, in the form of an Education Savings Account (ESA), would funnel existing federal Impact Aid dollars to military families without accountability for how those funds are spent. While the ESA didn’t make it into the bill during committee, it now heads to the floor of the House for debate. There, it could still be added through the amendment process.

ATPE sent a letter this week to Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX), who leads the committee that determines which amendments will be considered on the House floor, asking him not to allow the voucher amendment. The letter highlights that we join the Military Coalition, a group of 25 organizations representing more than 5.5 million active and former members of the U.S. Military, in opposing the voucher. “The $2,500 voucher program created by HR 5199,” ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell Canaday wrote, “would drain limited dollars from both the public school system in Texas as well the Federal Impact Aid Program, hurting the very military-connected students it purports to help.” Read the full letter here and check back for developments on this issue.

 


An article by the Texas Tribune this week explored how charter schools operate in a precarious gray space that makes them a government entity at some times and a private entity at others. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter is quoted in the full-length article by Emma Platoff, which is republished here on Teach the Vote.

 


In an effort to encourage parents, teachers, and school leaders to actively participate in the rulemaking process, TEA sent a letter to school administrators on Wednesday requesting that school districts and open-enrollment charter schools post upcoming rulemaking actions on their websites. Learn more about the request and ATPE’s involvement in rulemaking changes in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


 

House Pensions Committee meeting May 10, 2018, in Dallas.

The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas was one of the many items discussed at Thursday’s meeting of the House Committee on Pensions held in Dallas, TX. The meeting, which focused on the committee’s interim charges, featured testimony from TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie plus a number of active and retired educators. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the hearing and provided full details in his blog post here.

 


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 2, 2018

Happy Texas Independence Day! It’s also the last day of early voting in the Texas primaries. Read the latest election news and more in this week’s wrap-up from ATPE:


ELECTION UPDATE: Today is the last day for early voting in the 2018 Texas primary elections. Election day is Tuesday, March 6. Early voting is the most convenient way to cast your ballot, since you can visit any polling place in your county. On Tuesday, you’ll need to vote in your precinct’s assigned polling location unless your county is participating in the Countywide Polling Place Program.

As a starting point, check out these tips on voting from ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz. You’ll find answers to common questions such as what forms of ID are required and whether you can bring notes into the voting booth with you.

Learn about the nonbinding propositions that will appear at the end of your primary ballot as a way for the state Republican and Democratic parties to develop their official platform positions on certain issues. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter has the scoop on those propositions here.

Most importantly, if you’ve not voted yet, it’s not too late to explore our candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote. The profiles include detailed voting records for incumbents, which are based on official records maintained in the House and Senate journals. Learn more about ATPE’s process for compiling and verifying voting records here. The candidates’ profiles also include their responses to our ATPE candidate survey, where available, links to the candidates’ websites and social media profiles, and more. We even share information about upcoming campaign-related events when requested by the candidates.

Remember that many candidates are looking for volunteers this weekend and especially for election day on Tuesday. Learn more about volunteering to help out a pro-public education campaign in this blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell Canaday.

If you are voting in the Republican primary, don’t forget about precinct conventions that will be happening Tuesday evening after the polls close. It’s a chance to become a delegate to the party’s conventions and help further shape the party’s platform on education and other issues. On the Democratic side, there are no precinct conventions but you can sign up to participate in the party’s county-level conventions in April. Learn more in this blog post we republished last month from the Texas Tribune.

For additional election resources for educators, check out the website for our Texas Educators Vote coalition. Kudos to everyone who has helped us create a culture of voting throughout the education community, despite a barrage of attacks from those who feel threatened by the prospect of more educators being actively engaged in the election process and voting for candidates who will stand up for public education.

If you’ve not voted yet, get out there today or make plans to vote on Tuesday! Remind your friends, too!

 


Over the past week, we’ve featured a series of blog posts for Teach the Vote on Why March 6 Matters. We’ve been highlighting just a few of the specific reasons why educators’ votes in this primary election are going to shape the outcome of numerous debates when the Texas legislature meets again in 2019. If you’re still wondering what’s at stake on Tuesday, check out these posts by ATPE’s lobbyists on some of the hottest topics that the people you elect this year will be tackling during the next legislative session in 2019:

 


ATPE’s Kate Kuhlmann testifying at a recent SBEC meeting

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testified at the meeting and provided a report on the outcome of the board’s discussions. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more developments from SBEC in 2018.

 

 


Carl Garner

ATPE is asking Congress to protect teacher training and retention programs as it works on reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided an update on our blog this week about our efforts to ensure that Congress doesn’t strip out Title II program dealing with educator recruitment, training, and retention. Read more about our effort being coordinated by ATPE’s Washington-based lobby team and the letter sent earlier this week to Texas’s congressional delegation from ATPE State President Carl Garner.

 


 

ATPE asks Congress to support teacher training, retention programs

The Higher Education Act (HEA), the federal law outlining higher education policies, was last renewed 10 years ago. As the U.S. Congress works to rewrite the law, ATPE is working with key members to weigh in on Title II of the HEA, where several federal programs pertaining to educator recruitment, training, and retention are housed.

Last week, ATPE submitted comments to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) as education leaders in that chamber develop their bill to reauthorize the HEA. On the other side of the Capitol, the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce has already advanced its version of the bill: HR4508, the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act. That bill still awaits a vote by the full U.S. House, but without change, it would omit Title II of the HEA altogether. ATPE expressed concern over that move this week in a letter to Texas members of the U.S. House and asked them to support the inclusion of Title II as the bill advances.

Carl Garner

“Initiatives like the Teacher Quality Enhancement program, TEACH grants, and loan forgiveness programs specific to educators are important HEA Title II programs that help attract strongly qualified candidates into the profession, prepare our educators in programs that are held to high standards of training, and retain our well-qualified and experienced teachers in the classrooms with students who need them most,” ATPE State President Carl Garner wrote to the Texas delegation.

As we state in our letter, educator training and preparation is a primary advocacy focus for ATPE, because we recognize that we cannot place ill-prepared educators in the 21st century classroom and expect them to achieve excellence. We base this on our strong, evidence-backed belief that quality training and support prior to full certification for all educators supports improved student learning and better rates of educator retention.

“Research consistently shows that access to a high-quality teacher is the most important in-school factor leading to a student’s success,” Garner wrote to the Texas congressional delegation. “Programs like these are a vital piece of the overall landscape that supports student success in the classroom, and the federal government should maintain its valuable role, especially when challenges continue with regard to recruiting and retaining classroom educators.”

ATPE asked members of Texas’s U.S. House delegation to support future and current Texas teachers and students and their peers throughout the country by backing amendments to reinstate HEA Title II under the PROSPER Act. The bill is not currently set to be heard by the full U.S. House. On the other side of the Capitol, the U.S. Senate is expected to release its version of the bill soon. ATPE state officers will make their annual visit to Washington, D.C. in June, where this bill is likely to be among the topics of discussion on our agenda.

U.S. Senate education committee seeks input

The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), the committee that oversees federal policy pertaining to prekindergarten through post-secondary education, is seeking input from stakeholders as it works to rewrite the Higher Education Act (HEA). Included within the HEA are programs aimed at recruiting, preparing, and retaining high quality teachers in classrooms throughout the country, but the U.S. House of Representatives has made initial moves to eliminate those programs.

The HEA contains several key programs pertinent to educators: the Teacher Quality Enhancement program, which supports strengthening educator preparation programs that work to fill high-needs schools and fields; TEACH grants, which invest in students training to be teachers; and various loan forgiveness programs specific to educators.

While the U.S. Senate HELP Committee works to develop its version of a bill to rewrite the law, on the other side of the Capitol the U.S. House of Representatives is waiting to debate its own. The House proposal, which has already advanced out of that chamber’s education committee, would eliminate Title II of the HEA, where these programs focused on educator preparation and retention are housed.

Stakeholders like ATPE are concerned that the elimination of such programs would set back efforts to attract and retain strong educators in the profession. Check back next week for more on ATPE’s submitted comments to the committee and other key legislators. For those interested in submitting their own comments and suggestions, do so by emailing the U.S. Senate HELP Committee at HigherEducation2018@help.senate.gov. The deadline to submit comments is Friday, February 23.

Guest Post: It’s Time to Fix the WEP

U.S. Representative Kevin Brady (R-Texas)

By Kevin Brady, Chairman
U.S. House Ways and Means Committee

The Windfall Elimination Provision or “WEP” is unfair. It’s unfair to public servants in Texas and across the nation, including places like California, Massachusetts and Ohio.  I’ve been working to repeal and replace the WEP for a decade. This is something we must do for our teachers, firefighters, police, and other public servants.

You probably know the history: When Social Security was created in 1935, state and local governments were excluded from participating due to Constitutional concerns.  Later, the law changed to allow state and local governments to offer Social Security to their employees.

As a result, many teachers, police, and firefighters still contribute to these longstanding retirement plans instead of Social Security since these substitute plans are often tailored to their chosen careers.  But many of these public servants also hold second (or third) jobs or have a second career where they’ve paid Social Security taxes. These folks rightfully expect to receive their earned Social Security benefits when they retire.  However, due to the WEP, their Social Security benefits end up being much lower than they were expecting.

Although the WEP may have been well intentioned in the start, today it’s simply unfair. Those affected by the WEP are subject to a different benefit formula than all other workers.  This arbitrary formula is based on a 1980’s one-size-fits-all Washington compromise and ignores a person’s actual work history.  The WEP also makes it harder to plan for retirement since the reduction doesn’t show up on a worker’s Social Security statement. When you are nearing retirement, surprises are never a good thing.

I think we can all agree that our teachers, police, and firefighters deserve better.

Working with my Democratic colleague from Massachusetts, Representative Richard Neal, and teacher, police, firefighter, and retiree groups, we’ve come together on a solution for addressing the WEP based on fairness, equal treatment and personal work histories.

Here’s how it would work.  The new proposal repeals the WEP as it exists today. Instead of only counting Social Security earnings as the current WEP does, we count all earnings of workers. This helps tailor benefits to your real-life work history.  This “proportional approach” calculates Social Security benefits using all earnings and then adjusts this amount based on the percentage of earnings that were subject to Social Security taxes.  This way, two workers with the same average earnings receive a Social Security benefit equal to the same percentage of their Social Security earnings.

Let’s look at an example for two teachers – one from Virginia who paid Social Security taxes on all of her earnings and another from Texas, who paid into a substitute retirement system like TRS but also tutored and paid Social Security taxes on these earnings.  Both teachers had average monthly earnings of $4,000.  The Virginia teacher had all of these earnings counted for Social Security purposes, while the Texas teacher only had $2,285 credited toward her Social Security benefits.

Under today’s law, the Virginia teacher would receive an initial monthly benefit of $1,776 if she claims at her full retirement age. That represents about 44 percent of her pre-retirement Social Security earnings.  On the other hand, because of the WEP the Texas teacher under today’s laws would only receive a monthly benefit of $800, which represents about 35 percent of pre-retirement Social Security earnings.

Under the new proposed “proportional approach”, the Virginia teacher would still receive a monthly benefit of $1,776.  But the Texas teacher would receive a monthly benefit of $1,015, which represents 44 percent of her pre-retirement Social Security earnings – or the same percentage as the Virginia teacher.

While the new proportional formula addresses the WEP for future retirees, we cannot leave current retirees behind. Our plan provides Social Security relief to current retirees affected by the WEP by providing special payments to these retirees. That’s only fair.

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey met with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017 to discuss fixing the WEP.

Over the years – with the help of groups like the Association of Texas Professional Educators, Texas Retired Teachers Association and Mass Retirees – we have taken important steps toward finally fixing the WEP.  With your help, we will finally ensure equal treatment for our teachers, firefighters, police, and other public servants.

This is a top priority for me, and we will not rest until we have a solution in law.