Tag Archives: U.S. House of Representatives

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.

ATPE weighs in as Congress hashes out differences on tax bill

Over the weekend, the U.S. Senate passed a $1.5 trillion tax bill designed by the upper chamber’s Republican leaders. The measure passed largely on a party line vote, with just one Republican joining Democrats in opposition, and it comes after the U.S. House passed its own version of a bill to reform the tax code last month. Now, the Senate and House must reconcile their respective differences and develop a bill that can pass both chambers before it heads to President Trump for his signature.

ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday wrote members of the Texas Congressional delegation to weigh in on two provisions in the House and Senate bills that affect educators and their classrooms. The first pertains to the educator expense deduction, which currently allows educators to deduct up to $250 dollars from their tax bills when personal money is spent on classroom supplies and materials. The bill passed by the House eliminates the deduction altogether, while the Senate’s bill increases the deduction to up to $500.

ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday

“While not the ideal approach to filling budget shortfalls or equalizing access to supplies and materials among students,” Canaday writes, “the deduction offers some form of reimbursement to educators who dip into their own pockets to purchase materials for students, classrooms, and schools that might otherwise go without.”

The second issue ATPE highlighted in its letter to Texas members of Congress involves the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS). The House tax bill would apply a new tax, the Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT), to public pension investments, including the TRS trust fund.

“Weakening the financial soundness of the TRS trust fund by subjecting it to new additional tax liability on the front end, in addition to the taxes already paid by individual retirees, is a cost that neither the State of Texas nor the teachers who spent their working years serving our state can afford,” wrote Canaday.

In both instances, ATPE asks members of the Texas delegation to encourage House and Senate leaders and other members of Congress currently negotiating a final bill to retain the Senate approach: doubling the Educator Expense Deduction (or, at a minimum, maintaining the current $250 deduction) and forgoing the inclusion of language applying the UBIT to public pension investments.

Read the full letter here, and check back for more as the U.S. Congress continues its work to reform elements of current U.S. tax law.

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.


Federal Update: Efforts to protect educators’ Social Security benefits

An Update from David Pore, ATPE’s Washington, DC-based lobbyist

David Pore

David Pore

For many years, your ATPE Governmental Relations team has worked to fix two provisions in federal law that unfairly reduce the Social Security benefits of some retired educators and other public employees. The Government Pension Offset (GPO) reduces the spousal benefits of some educators based on their eligibility for a government pension, and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) reduces the individual benefits of public retirees who have worked in jobs covered by Social Security in addition to their non-covered teaching careers. The WEP hits Texas educators particularly hard because the vast majority of our school districts in Texas do not pay into the Social Security system.

Every Congress, legislation is introduced to fully repeal both the WEP and the GPO. So, what’s the problem you ask? Why won’t the Congress repeal these unfair offsets and bring much-needed relief to retired public educators, cops, and firefighters living on fixed incomes? In short, it’s about the money, the politics, and the policy. Full repeal of the GPO and WEP would cost the Social Security trust fund tens of billions of dollars and create new inequities in the benefits formula, which in turn would create new winners and losers.

While ATPE has supported federal legislation to fully repeal these offsets, we have done so with the knowledge that passage of a full repeal bill is extremely unlikely in the current fiscal and political climate in DC. Therefore, consistent with our ATPE values, we have been working on bipartisan legislation that will take a huge first step in the right direction by repealing the arbitrary WEP and replacing it with a much fairer formula that will base your Social Security benefits on your service and contributions, just like everyone else. In the last Congress, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX)  and Rep.  Neal (D-MA) introduced HR711, the Equal Treatment for Public Servants Act.  Working through a coalition of other associations, including the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA), ATPE had significant input on this important bipartisan legislation that would have also provided a modest annual rebate check to current retirees who have had their benefits reduced by the WEP. We were able to get 29 of Texas’s 36 U.S. House members to cosponsor HR711, and in July of last year, it was scheduled for consideration by the House Ways and Means Committee, which Congressman Brady chairs.  Unfortunately, the bill stalled when one organization in the coalition demanded changes that would have upset the careful funding balance necessary to repeal the WEP going forward and provide current retirees some relief as well.

ATPE's Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

This year, we have been working with Chairman Brady, his committee staff, and the coalition to reach a consensus that will allow the bill to be reintroduced in the near future and hopefully attached to larger package of “must-pass” legislation. ATPE’s lobbyists have been in frequent contact with the Chairman and his committee staff and have been assured as recently as yesterday that reintroduction and passage of this bill is Chairman Brady’s top Social Security priority as Ways and Means Chair and will happen during this Congress. Meanwhile, the Congress continues to grapple with enormously challenging reform of our healthcare and tax systems, which has delayed consideration of other federal legislation.

What can you do? Continue to stay active and informed on the policy issues that affect your profession as well as the retirement benefits you have earned. When the bill is reintroduced, we will need ATPE members to mobilize and contact your Members of Congress and urge co-sponsorship and support to get this legislation to the President’s desk for signature. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more updates on this important topic.

Federal Update: New Congress kicks off, preps for DeVos confirmation hearing


UPDATE: After this story was published, the leaders of the Senate HELP committee announced that the DeVos confirmation hearing had been postponed to Jan. 17 at 4:00 PM CST. Chair Alexander and Ranking Member Murray stated that the change was made “at the request of the Senate leadership to accommodate the Senate schedule.”


Congress kicked off a new session last week with two new members from Texas and new members in top ranking positions on committees important to education and educators. This week, Congress is set to proceed with the Senate confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos to become the new U.S. Secretary of Education.

The first education-related item up on the new Congress’s agenda is the confirmation hearing for President-Elect Donald Trump’s education secretary pick, Betsy DeVos. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will meet Wednesday at 9:00 AM CST to begin the billionaire voucher-advocate’s confirmation process. DeVos remains a provocative pick for public education supporters as she has fought for decades on behalf of voucher proposals in several states, led advocacy organizations that pushed alt-school-choice options, and has no meaningful experience in the classroom or our public schools. Still, most Senate Republicans have praised her nomination and only Democrats are expected to show any opposition on Wednesday.


The Senate HELP committee will have the choice to vote to move the nomination to the full Senate or take no action. Since DeVos’s nomination is expected to make it out of committee, the committee will likely report her nomination to the full Senate where she will need a simple majority vote for final confirmation. Watch DeVos’s confirmation hearing live or archived here.

While Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) remain the leaders of the Senate HELP committee in the new Congress, education committees in the U.S. House are experiencing changes in leadership. The U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce will now be led by Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC), replacing the previous chair, Rep. John Kline (R-MN), who retired at the end of the year. The committee’s Democratic leader remains Ranking Member Bobby Scott of Virginia.

The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, which in previous sessions has seen bills to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO), will also have new leadership, but, in this case, only on the Democratic side of the aisle with new Ranking Member Richard Neal of Massachusetts. The House Ways and Means committee continues to be led by Chair Kevin Brady (R-TX), who has worked for years with ATPE and other groups to pass legislation that more fairly distributes Social Security benefits to teachers and other affected employees. ATPE is optimistic that the new ranking member, who co-authored Brady’s Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act (ETPSA) will fight alongside Chair Brady as they work towards repeal of the WEP this year.

Two new members of Congress from Texas also began work after being sworn in last week. Republican Representative Jodey Arrington of Lubbock and Democrat Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen both replace retiring members Randy Neugebauer and Ruben Hinojosa, respectively. ATPE sent letters welcoming Reps. Arrington and Gonzalez to Congress and welcomes all of the new members and leaders to their new roles. Stay tuned for updates from Washington as the new administration and Congress get underway.

Social Security Update: Hearing tomorrow in D.C. on H.R. 711

The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee announced that its members will be hearing and voting on H.R. 711, the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act (ETPSA), on Wednesday, July 13, at 1 pm. As we have reported in the past, the bill was filed by Congressman Kevin Brady of The Woodlands, Texas, who now chairs the committee.

The ETPSA would repeal the existing arbitrary and punitive Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and replace it with a new, fairer formula to calculate Social Security benefits for retirees who receive a separate government pension, such as through the Teacher Retirement System. The new formula would acknowledge the portion of a person’s career that they paid into Social Security, and as such ensure that benefits reflect one’s actual contributions, instead of simply having an arbitrary penalty applied to benefits as exists with the current formula.


Brady discussed the ETPSA with ATPE state officers and lobbyists last month in Washington.

If H.R. 711 passes the committee, it will be sent to the full House of Representatives to be deliberated. This is the most promising Social Security reform we have seen since the WEP was initially put into law in 1983.

ATPE has long advocated for increasing public education employees’ benefits and for using a more equitable system of calculating Social Security benefits. A coalition of employee and retiree associations from across the country, including ATPE, the Texas Retired Teachers Association, and AARP, have worked alongside Chairman Brady to increase benefits and eliminate the WEP; H.R. 711 is a step in the right direction.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on tomorrow’s markup of the bill.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 24, 2016

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of the education news from Texas and Washington, D.C.:

image2A group of ATPE state officers and employees were in the nation’s capital this week for business on Capitol Hill. ATPE State President Cory Colby, Vice President Julleen Bottoms, Executive Director Gary Godsey, and Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann attended numerous meetings, along with ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyists at the firm of Arnold & Porter.

The ATPE representatives’ busy agenda this week included meeting with members of Texas’s congressional delegation and their staffs, along with officials at the U.S. Department of Education. Topics of discussion included the ongoing implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and legislation to improve Social Security benefits for educators. ATPE’s team also attended a hearing of the U.S. Committee on Education and the Workforce yesterday. Read more in today’s blog post from Kate Kuhlmann.

The Commissioner of Education this week recognized a group of eight school districts that are among the first to adopt and submit their plans to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to become Districts of Innovation (DOI). The DOI law, passed in 2015, allows certain acceptably-rated school districts to adopt innovation plans and exempt themselves from various education laws. ATPE has created a DOI resource page to assist educators and parents in districts that may be considering these new regulatory exemptions. TEA also announced its creation of a website to track which districts have become DOIs with links to their innovation plans. Learn more in our DOI blog post from yesterday.

Donna Bahorich

Donna Bahorich

With the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability approaching its last meeting, members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) want to hear from stakeholders before recommendations are made to the 85th Legislature on student testing and accountability systems. SBOE Chairwoman Donna Bahorich recently announced the availability of a public survey on testing and related issues. The SBOE survey remains open through Thursday, June 30, and we encourage you to share your valuable input. Click here to learn more and access the SBOE survey.

Here’s a look at ATPE’s week in Washington in pictures. (Click each photo to view a larger version.)


Cory Colby, Kate Kuhlmann, Gary Godsey, and Julleen Bottoms on Capitol Hill


ATPE meets with Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX)

ESSA hearing

Attending a House committee on ESSA implementation featuring U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr.


Julleen and Gary at hearing

Julleen Bottoms and Gary Godsey at the meeting of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce

Cory and Julleen at Cornyn office

Cory Colby and Julleen Bottoms at the office of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)


Kuhlmann, Bottoms, Colby, and Godsey at the U.S. Department of Education


ATPE meets with Congressman Roger Williams (R-TX)

Recap of Tuesday’s Social Security hearing in Washington, D.C.

This week I had an opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. for congressional meetings accompanied by ATPE’s Washington-based lobby team. Along with visiting several members of our delegation and their staffs, we attended the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security hearing on Tuesday, March 22, to hear discussion on H.R. 711, the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act (ETPSA).

Filed by Congressman Kevin Brady (R–TX), the ETPSA proposes to eliminate the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), a federal law that reduces the Social Security benefits of anyone who is also eligible for a government pension, such as through the Teacher Retirement System. In place of the WEP, the ETPSA would substitute a new formula to calculate benefits that actually reflects the amount of a person’s career that was spent working in position covered by Social Security. We believe that the ETPSA formula would be considerably better than the arbitrary, punitive WEP formula that currently applies the same maximum reduction to every employee who has between 0 and 20 years of substantial earnings and contributions.

Congressman Brady gave an opening statement at Tuesday’s hearing noting that he has been working since 2004 to replace the WEP with a more equitable formula. He recognized the many organizations that have contributed to this effort, specifically thanking ATPE during the hearing. Click here to watch video of Brady’s opening statement.


ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson with U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) following Tuesday’s hearing

Brady’s ETPSA legislation is bipartisan, with more than 64 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle including 24 members of the Texas congressional delegation. ATPE has been joined by the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA), AARP, and numerous education, law enforcement, and public service associations across the country in supporting this legislation. As was noted during the hearing by Congressman Sam Johnson (R–TX), who chairs the Subcommittee on Social Security, it is past time that these millions of employees received fair treatment in the calculation of the benefits they paid for during their careers. Congressman John Larson (D–CT), a former public education teacher whose daughter is also an educator who will be affected by the WEP , chimed in by stating, “I have long been a proponent of eliminating the WEP… and this bill works toward that goal.”

Brady with Wiggins and Colby

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) pictured last year with ATPE State Past-President Richard Wiggins and ATPE State President Cory Colby

ATPE has long called for fully repealing both the WEP and the Government Pension Offset (GPO), and we have supported federal legislation in the past to accomplish this goal. However, the massive costs to the Social Security Trust Fund have prevented any full repeal legislation from ever having a chance to be enacted into law. Pretending that these long-shot goals are reality and refusing incremental progress in place of a complete repeal are doing a disservice to the thousands of education and public safety employees affected by these laws. If Brady’s ETPSA passes, we will be one giant step closer to a system that is fair and actually allows employees to receive the benefits they paid for and deserve.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on this legislation as they occur.

Reminder: Watch today’s Social Security hearing starting at 9 a.m. CDT

Today, March 22, the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security is meeting in Washington, D.C. to discuss Social Security and how it affects educators and other public employees. The discussion will include consideration H.R. 711, the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act, filed by Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX). ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson is in Washington to attend today’s hearing and will provide a summary after the meeting.committee-seal

To watch the hearing live, tune in here starting at 9 a.m. Central (10 a.m. Eastern). We’ll have a full wrap-up later this week on our Teach the Vote blog. Check out last week’s blog post for additional information about the hearing and H.R. 711, and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for the very latest developments.