Tag Archives: U.S. Senate HELP Committee

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.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 23, 2018

Happy Student Voting Day! Here’s your update from the ATPE lobby team on what’s been happening in Texas this week:

ELECTION UPDATE: Early voting for the 2018 Texas primary elections began this week and continues through Friday, March 2. Election day is March 6.

Today, Feb. 23, 2018, is Student Voting Day in Texas, as designated by Secretary of State Rolando Pablos. Pablos issued a proclamation for Student Voting Day and has encouraged Texans to urge eligible students to vote today. We applaud all of the educators and parents who have worked hard to help students learn about and exercise their right to vote.

If you know a student voter or if you are new to voting in Texas, we’ve got some helpful basic tips on voting in this primary election. Check out this blog post from ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz, newly updated with some additional guidance about the prohibition on using cell phones in the voting booth. Looking for background information about those Republican and Democratic party ballot propositions? We’ve got a list of all the non-binding party platform propositions here, along with some analysis from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter here.

Have you checked at our new series of blog posts for Teach the Vote on Why March 6 Matters? ATPE’s lobbyists are writing about some of the top legislative issues at stake in the primary elections happening now, explaining why the choices made by voters at the polls over the next week and a half will have a gigantic impact on the future success or failure of bills dealing with teacher pay, retirement benefits, private school vouchers, and more. Check out the posts we’re published so far and watch for more analysis of “Why March 6 Matters” on the Teach the Vote blog next week.

ICYMI: ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was quoted in today’s brand new PolitiFact article about a claim made in one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s re-election campaign ads. Patrick raised eyebrows with the radio and television ads in heavy rotation right now when he claimed to have proposed a $10,000 pay raise for teachers last session. The journalists of PolitiFact investigated and rated the claim as “mostly false” on its Truth-o-Meter, concluding that “Patrick made no proposal to direct more of the state’s education budget to teacher salaries,” instead touting a preference for an unfunded mandate on school districts that did not pass. Read the full analysis here.

ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey and Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the school finance commission on Feb. 22, 2018.

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met again in Austin on Thursday, Feb. 22, and ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey was one of the witnesses invited to testify at the hearing. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and provided a report on the day’s discussions, which focused on the importance of the teacher pipeline and early childhood education. Godsey, joined by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter, urged the commission to consider recommendations for strengthening educator preparation, support, compensation, and retention in order to avoid the high cost of teacher turnover. Read more in Mark’s blog post here.

By now readers of our blog are probably familiar with the antics of Empower Texans, the dark money group that in addition to trying to influence elections through massive campaign spending has been at the center of efforts to intimidate educators and shut down get out the vote (GOTV) efforts within the education community. We’ve written recently on our blog about how Texas educators responded to the group’s threatening “whistleblower” letters with their own #blowingthewhistle social media campaign. Today, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus also took to social media and penned a newsletter urging educators to vote this weekend and expressing his support for our coalition efforts to create a culture of voting in school districts across the state.

This week we learned that Empower Texans is under criminal investigation for highly questionable tactics it has employed in an effort to convince Ft. Worth residents to vote against one of their state legislators, Rep. Charlie Geren. Geren is presently facing a challenge in the primary election by an Empower Texans-funded candidate, and the group has attacked the incumbent for being married to a lobbyist. As reported by the Texas Tribune, prosecutors are looking into a postcard mailed to voters in Rep. Geren’s House District 99 that was designed to look like an official state document and sent by an entity called the “Texas Ethics Disclosure Board.” The mail piece was paid for and sent by Empower Texans, which recently filed documents with the Secretary of State to use the name “Texas Ethics Disclosure Board” as an alias, giving unsuspecting voters the impression that the postcard was sent by an official government agency, which does not exist.

With Empower Texans spending so much money to try to unseat legislators that it deems to be too friendly toward public education, it’s no surprise that there has been growing interest in learning more about the sources of money being used by the group. Empower Texans is not required to disclose all of those who contribute money to the organization, but campaign finance reports for the Empower Texans PAC are publicly available, as is the case with all political action committees. One person who has spent considerable time reviewing those campaign finance reports and chasing the trail of money connected to Empower Texans is Chris Tackett, a former Granbury ISD trustee and parent who has written extensively about his findings. This week, we republished Tackett’s article entitled “Following the money in Texas politics: A citizen’s look at the influence of mega-donors in contested elections.” The piece illustrates how a small group of wealthy families have used the Empower Texans PAC and a few other PACs to steer millions of dollars in campaign contributions to certain candidates, giving the impression that they have broader support. Learn more in Tackett’s guest blog post here.

The Dallas Morning News also published an extensive article this week describing how west Texas’s Wilks family, the largest funding source for Empower Texans, has been using its wealth to influence contested races around the state in 2018. That includes nearly half a million dollars spent to help Sen. Bob Hall try to win re-election despite a serious primary challenge and targeted efforts to shape the election of a new Texas House Speaker when the 86th Legislature convenes in January 2019. The same family is profiled in a brand new website sponsored by an unidentified citizens’ group that also appeared this week called WhoOwnsTexas.com.

Voters can learn about candidates vying for their support in the primary elections happening now by checking out our candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote. The profiles include detailed voting records for incumbents, responses provided to our ATPE candidate survey on education issues, links to the candidates’ own websites and social media accounts, and additional information such as endorsements from well-known groups or major newspapers. ATPE does not endorse candidates, so you won’t find endorsements from us, but we’ll tell you which candidates have received the endorsement of Empower Texans and other groups to help you make informed decisions at the polls.


The State Board of Education’s steering committee for the Long-Range Plan for Public Education also met this week. The meeting focused largely on the issue of educator preparation with a goal of improving recruitment and retention. Read more about the conversations in Wednesday’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


Today is the final day to submit comments to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) on reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). As we previously shared, the committee is working to rewrite the federal law that pertains to higher education, and several programs dealing with educator recruitment, training, and retention are housed under the law. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reports that while the Senate committee works to write its bill, its U.S. House counterpart has already advanced legislation to the full House that omits these programs. ATPE submitted comments to the Senate committee expressing our concern over the House omission and stressing the importance of programs like these. “Educator training that is held to high expectations and standards plays a vital role in ensuring every student has access to a well-prepared, productive educator. It also has a lasting impact on retaining those strong educators in the classroom.”

ATPE’s full comments encouraging the committee to maintain federal support of these programs can be read here.



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.

DeVos nomination heads to Senate floor while opposition votes grow


The U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee advanced the nomination of Betsy DeVos to the Senate floor on Tuesday. The 12-11 vote broke down on party lines, with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats opposed to the vote. However, two Republicans expressed some indecision during the hearing and later confirmed they’ll vote against her nomination on the Senate floor.


The partisan breakdown over the nomination of Betsy DeVos has been on display since her confirmation hearing. The vote this week was no exception. HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) continued to express his support for the nominee and denied a request from Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) to delay the vote. Alexander called DeVos the “most questioned” education secretary in Senate history, which again had Murray pointing to the fact that this nominee is different from previous education secretaries and more time is needed in order to adequately vet the nominee.

This time, however, Alexander didn’t seem to have the full backing of all of his Republican colleagues on the committee. Two Republican Senators, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-WA) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), expressed uncertainty with regard to their position on DeVos’s nomination. Both ultimately advanced the nomination to the Senate floor, but acknowledged the nominee had not yet earned their full support.

Today, both Republican senators announced that they have decided to oppose DeVos’s nomination when a vote is taken on the Senate floor. This is a big development as now only one additional Republican would need to join Democrats in opposing DeVos in order to block her confirmation. A simple majority on the Senate floor is all that is needed to confirm DeVos.

Opposition has grown since DeVos fumbled her confirmation hearing and calls to Senate offices have increased. The opposition has expressed serious concerns over DeVos’s credentials, lack of commitment to public education, understanding of federal law, and financial connections and contributions, among others. Murray asked for Tuesday’s committee vote on the nominee to be delayed in order to have more time to review DeVos’s responses to questions senators were not given time to ask during her confirmation hearing. Answers to most of the follow-up questions asked of DeVos can be found here.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz will now have a chance to vote on Betsy DeVos when her confirmation vote hits the Senate floor. ATPE members can access Advocacy Central to write, call, or contact their senators via social media and express their position on the nomination of Betsy DeVos. A date for the final vote has not been set.

Related Content: The U.S. House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education will meet tomorrow (Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017) for a hearing entitled, “Helping Students Succeed Through the Power of School Choice.” Among the invited testifiers is Former Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams. Read more about the hearing and access to information to view the hearing live here.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 20, 2017

Here are education news highlights for this Inauguration Day edition of our wrap-up:


President Donald J. Trump took the oath of office today on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Immediately upon being sworn in as the nation’s 45th president, Trump gave a rather nontraditional inauguration speech more reminiscent of his days on the campaign trail, painting a bleak picture of the current state of U.S. economic affairs and vowing to help America “win again.” On education, Trump made reference to “an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” Media pundits were quick to respond that measures such as graduation rates have generally shown improvement despite the fact that a majority of states have decreased their education spending in recent years.

The inauguration festivities this weekend cap off a busy week in Washington, where Trump’s cabinet picks have been undergoing confirmation hearings on the hill. Former Texas governor Rick Perry, nominated to head the U.S. Department of Energy, fielded questions yesterday during a low-key and noncontroversial session with the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is expected to face little resistance to his confirmation. The same cannot be said of Trump’s pick to lead the Education Department (ED). Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos failed to temper growing fears at her confirmation hearing earlier this week. The hearing was held late Tuesday in the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. While HELP Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) praised her nomination and his Republican colleagues on the committee seemed in step with advancing her nomination as early as next week, Democrats expressed serious concerns.

As reported by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann in her full report of this week’s hearing, the questions DeVos refused to answer, or in some cases couldn’t answer, are getting the most attention. She failed to promise to preserve funding for public schools and expressed confusion over the nation’s special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Not surprisingly, she also dug in hard on her support for vouchers, refusing to tie apples-to-apples accountability and reporting requirements to public money sent to schools outside of the traditional public school system.

A mandatory ethics review on DeVos was also released today. The review identified 102 potential financial conflicts of interest, from which she has agreed to disassociate. Senators will have until Tuesday to look over information on these conflicts of interest; the committee’s vote is expected to be held that day. Look for more from Kate on the vote and the ethics review next week.

Following the hearing, concerns about DeVos grew outside of the Capitol as well, and the expressed dissatisfaction for her nomination grew significantly on social media. Texans can call or write their senators to register their disapproval for DeVos’s nomination. ATPE members, log in to Advocacy Central to access contact information for Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) if you’d like to send a quick message to your senators about Betsy DeVos.


U.S. Dept of Education LogoThe U.S. Education Department (ED) wrapped up its final days under the Obama administration this week. As we have been reporting on Teach the Vote, it is the department expected to be headed up soon by billionaire Betsy DeVos, who despite nationwide opposition from the education community has ample Republican support to achieve more than the votes needed for Senate confirmation. In the meantime, though, there will be a very temporary change in leadership at ED. It was announced this week that Phil Rosenfelt, the deputy general counsel for ED, will be the acting secretary between the end of Secretary John King’s term as of today, and the confirmation of ED’s next secretary.

In his final week of work, Secretary King oversaw the issuance of two new non-binding guidance documents (find those here and here) and withdrawal of the controversial proposed rule on “supplement, not supplant.” The latter is a piece of federal law that requires states to show that federal money is only used to bolster a state’s education budget, not replacing any dollars that would otherwise be dedicated to education. ED’s interpretation of the law as it was slightly altered under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) altered the way states must demonstrate compliance. While the department compromised on many elements of the original proposal as it progressed through the rulemaking process, the latest version still garnered considerable disagreement among stakeholders. Most expected the rule to face elimination under the Trump administration. The department explained that it simply ran out of time under the current administration.


Earlier this week, Texas Senate and House leaders shared details on their respective plans for writing the state budget to cover the next two years. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter shared highlights of the two proposals in a blog post earlier this week. The Senate Finance Committee, chaired once again by Sen. Jane Nelson (R – Flower Mound), will commence hearings on its budget bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, next week. The committee is slated to begin taking testimony Tuesday on Article III, the portion of the budget that covers public education, and ATPE’s Exter will be there to share our input. Watch for more coverage of the budget hearings next week on Teach the Vote.

Dollar fanThe House budget proposal calls for spending a bit more money on public education than the Senate’s version, and leaders on the House side have even expressed interest in looking to the state’s Economic Stabilization (“Rainy Day”) Fund for additional resources this session. The House plan includes contingency language that would authorize an extra $1.5 billion for public education if the 85th Legislature passes a school finance bill that reduces recapture and improves equity. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins writes for our blog today, increasing the state’s share of education funding is the key to lowering property tax burdens at the local level, and that is expected to be a prominent talking point during Tuesday’s budget hearing.


The first major private school voucher legislation was filed this week. Senate Bill (SB) 542 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, and its companion House Bill (HB) 1184 by Rep. Dwayne Bohac, are a rehash of the tax credit scholarship legislation filed last session by Bettencourt, Bohac, and others. The tax credits for funding scholarships to be used at private schools are one of several varieties of private school voucher that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and like-minded senators have been pushing for multiple sessions. While a related voucher bill did pass the Senate in 2015 with significant assistance from the lieutenant governor, Bettencourt and others pushing for privatization found little appetite for vouchers in the House.

ATPE circulated this letter to lawmakers in 2015 opposing similar, though not identical, tax credit voucher bills in the 84th session. ATPE continues to oppose this and all forms of voucher legislation during the 85th legislative session and urges lawmakers in both chambers to do the same this year. For a preview of what is likely to the session’s other primary voucher vehicle, Education Savings Accounts, check out ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter’s recent blog post, ESAs: A Bad Deal for Students in Need.

CPS square logoRelated: The anti-voucher Coalition for Public Schools, of which ATPE is a member, will hold a legislative briefing and press conference on Monday, Jan. 23. A pro-voucher rally sponsored by Texans for Education Opportunity, Aspire Texas, and other groups is happening Tuesday at the capitol in connection with National School Choice Week.


Sen. Larry Taylor

Sen. Larry Taylor

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced his Senate committee assignments for the 85th Legislature this week. There were few changes from last session in terms of committee leadership, with Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) continuing to oversee the Senate Education Committee and Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) again chairing the Senate Finance Committee that will write the state’s budget. Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) stays on as chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee, where her bill to take away educators’ right to payroll deduction for their association dues is expected to be heard.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) will no longer serve on the Senate Education Committee, having been tapped instead to chair the Senate Committee on Administration. She is one of three senators from last session’s education committee roster being replaced; also gone are Sens. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) and Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso). The new senators joining the education committee this year are Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), Brian Hughes (R-Mineola), and Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio). These appointments reflect the lieutenant governor’s decision to change the Republican-Democratic split on the committee from 7-4 back in 2015 to its new party breakdown of 8-3. Patrick also stacked the committee with several supporters of privatization, hoping to clear a path for his priority voucher legislation to move quickly through the Senate.

For more on the Senate committee announcement and a link to the full roster, check out this week’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann. House committee assignments have not yet been released.


17_web_Spotlight_ATC_RegistrationOpenFinally, ATPE members are reminded to register for ATPE at the Capitol, our upcoming political involvement training and lobby day event in March. This is the best chance for educators to learn more about the high-profile education bills being deliberated this session with presentations from ATPE’s lobbyists and legislative leaders like Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor. Best of all, ATPE members will be empowered to add their voices to the debate, meeting with their lawmakers face-to-face on Monday, March 6, at the Texas State Capitol. The registration deadline is Feb. 3, and complete details for ATPE at the Capitol are available on our website here.

DeVos confirmation hearing fuels concerns

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, faced her confirmation hearing yesterday in the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee. The hearing, which was scheduled for late-in-the-day and allowed for each senator to ask only one five-minute round of questions, hardly resulted in a serious vetting of DeVos’s credentials and policy positions, but still provided a look at the potential-next-secretary’s agenda.

HELP committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) opened the hearing with praise for DeVos, pointing to her efforts to expand charter schools and push vouchers in states throughout the country, which he called “mainstream” ideas in public education policy. With his Republican colleagues largely in agreement and Democrats pressing her on concerns about her record, the hearing became a partisan debate that failed to offer specifics on many major education policy issues. In fact, while the hearing offered some perspective on the agenda DeVos would support, it was what she wouldn’t or, in some cases, couldn’t answer that offers the most perspective.

DeVos often turned to some version of the response “I look forward to working with you on that” when answering questions. She used the reply to dig in on her support for vouchers, dodging a question from Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) regarding whether she would promise to prevent funding cuts to public education or privatization of the system. She also leaned on the reply when asked about universal childcare for working families and whether all schools receiving federal funding (think vouchers) should be required to report instances of harassment, discipline, or bullying.

DeVos similarly failed to state whether all schools receiving federal funding should be held to the same accountability standards, instead diverting to the lack of apples-to-apples accountability standards traditional public schools and charter schools currently face.

Another regularly asserted answer by DeVos was that certain education policy issues are better left to states, a response that raised eyebrows when she was asked whether all schools receiving federal money should meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The federal law is the nation’s second largest federal education program and distributes about $13 billion in funding to states. When DeVos later admitted that she “may have confused” the law, one senator and many following the hearing expressed concern over her lack of familiarity. In another exchange, DeVos had trouble deciphering the difference between student growth and student proficiency when using tests to measure student performance.

Democrats on the committee advocated strongly for an additional round of questioning, an opportunity afforded to senators vetting cabinet picks in other committees, but the request was denied by Chairman Alexander who reminded committee members that the same process was used for several previous education secretaries as they faced confirmation. Still, Democrats argued unsuccessfully that those picks had been individuals with established credentials in education, unlike DeVos.

Per the chairman’s instructions, senators have until Thursday evening to submit any additional questions to DeVos in writing. She committed to attempting to answer those questions prior to the committee’s vote on her nomination, which is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, Jan. 24. Committee members were assured that the vote would only take place if the final Office of Government Ethics letter is sent to the committee by this Friday, giving senators time for review the relevant information about potential conflicts of interest.

Despite the above, DeVos has the support of Republicans, which is enough to garner the simple majority needed for her to sail through confirmation in both the HELP committee and on the floor of the Senate. If confirmed, she will take the reins of the Department of Education having no professional experience in our public schools, never attended public schools, and never enrolled her children in public schools.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 13, 2017

The 85th legislative session began this week. Here are highlights from the week:

Tuesday marked the opening of the 85th legislative session. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided a report on the first day’s activities, including the unanimous election of Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) to a record-tying fifth term as Speaker of the House. Over on the Senate side, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) will preside once again and is actively pursuing a number of controversial priorities he wants lawmakers to enact this session. Patrick’s 2017 wish list includes private school vouchers, naturally, and politically motivated bills to ban educators from using payroll deduction for their association dues.

Failing grade wrinkledOne thing that won’t be on the Senate’s agenda, according to Patrick, is repealing the “A through F” rating system that sparked outrage when school districts got a recent preview of how they might be graded when the system takes effect next year. In a pair of public speeches on Wednesday, the lieutenant governor insisted that A-F is “not going away” and seemed almost giddy about Ds and Fs being slapped on the same school districts that have “met standards” in the current accountability system. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has more about the reactions to A-F in today’s blog post.

The news from the state capitol wasn’t all negative this week. On Thursday, Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) and Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) held a press conference to announce a bill, Senate Bill (SB) 463, to permanently extend the now temporary law on graduation committees. The committees create graduation pathways for students who cannot pass all STAAR tests but are otherwise qualified to move on post-secondary life. Seliger authored the original bill creating the committees in 2015, which ATPE strongly supported.

We encourage ATPE members who are interested in these issues to use our new grassroots tools on Advocacy Central to learn more about what’s at stake, follow related bills as the session continues, and send messages to their lawmakers.

Related: Check out ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey’s Jan. 12, 2017 editorial in the Austin American-Statesman about vouchers and why running public education like a business is a bad idea.


As one of the Texas’s largest areas of expenditure, the public education budget is frequently a target for possible budget cuts, and this session will be no exception, unfortunately.

On the eve of the 85th legislature’s first day in Austin, State Comptroller Glenn Hegar released the state’s biennial revenue estimate (BRE) Monday. The BRE reflects a forecast of future revenues and economic trends for the next two years, and it provides the budgeting framework within which lawmakers have to operate this legislative session. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins wrote for our blog on Monday, the $104.9 billion available for general revenue spending is less than we need and will force lawmakers to prioritize. The hard decisions on those priorities are a stark reminder that elections have consequences.

cutting budget with scissor on wooden backgroundEarlier this week, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) was a featured speaker at a conference hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative advocacy group that has long supported education reforms like privatization, merit pay for teachers, deregulation, and limiting spending. In addition to boasting of the success of “A through F” accountability ratings as a means to a voucher end, Patrick pointed to healthcare and education as areas of the state budget that would be ripe for cuts. If talk of education budget cuts by the state’s second highest ranking elected official don’t alarm you already during this first week of the session, consider also that Patrick’s remark sparked a roomful of applause at the TPPF gathering.

As Mark stated in his blog post, “Get ready to tighten your belts.”


The United States Capitol building

The 115th Congress continued its second week of business this week, one that was originally slated to include the confirmation hearing for President-Elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee was scheduled to conduct the confirmation hearing for billionaire and alt-school-choice supporter Betsy DeVos on Wednesday, but announced late Monday that the hearing had been postponed for a week “at the request of the Senate leadership to accommodate the Senate schedule.” Calls for the postponement of confirmation hearings had surfaced after news broke that the Office of Government Ethics had not completed its ethics reviews for many of Trump’s cabinet picks, including DeVos. The hearing on her nomination to become U.S. Secretary of Education is now scheduled for Tuesday, January 17 at 4 PM CST.

Read more about the start of the 115th Congress and the DeVos hearing in ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post from earlier this week. Kate’s post has been updated to include information on a letter that ATPE sent this week to the two newest members of the Texas Congressional Delegation. The letters welcome Congressmen Jodey Arrington (R) of Lubbock and Vicente Gonzalez (D) of McAllen to Congress and highlight ATPE’s top federal policy goals, namely the passage of Chairman Kevin Brady’s (R-TX) bill to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) for Social Security.

While the Department of Education (ED) awaits the appointment of a new boss, it is looking for qualified individuals to serve as peer reviewers of states’ Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans. The peer review process is required by law and serves to provide recommendations that will inform ED as it reviews states’ plans. ED is looking for teachers, principals or other school leaders, and specialized instructional support personnel, among other qualified educators to serve. Learn more about the peer review process, ED’s call for qualified reviewers, and how to apply here.


Monty testifying at a TEA hearingAs we have reported recently on Teach the Vote, Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath is proposing significant changes to the performance standards for STAAR tests. A public hearing was held today to give stakeholders another chance to weigh in on plans to accelerate a jump in the cut scores. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified at today’s hearing with concerns about the proposal. He’ll have a blog post coming up soon with more on the proposed rules and why they are drawing negative reactions from parents, teachers, and school district officials.


17_web_Spotlight_ATC_RegistrationOpenATPE members still have a few weeks left to register for ATPE at the Capitol, our political involvement training and lobby day event set for March 5-6, 2017, in Austin, Texas. There is no registration fee to attend, and incentive funds are available to help defray travel costs. The deadline to register and reserve hotel rooms at our special group rate is Feb. 3. Visit Advocacy Central on the ATPE website (member login is required) to view all the details, including news about our speakers and panelists.



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.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 15, 2016

An ultimately anti-climactic week in Washington and other Texas education news is recapped here:

13501817_10154159653265435_2291324175792778665_nOn Wednesday, the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means was scheduled to mark up and vote on H.R. 711, the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act (ETPSA). Instead, in a disappointing turn of events, the bill was pulled from consideration and postponed as a result of opposition from several national employee associations. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson followed the developments closely this week and reported on them here, here, and here.

If H.R. 711 does not pass, public education employees will continue to be subjected to the punitive Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) that can reduce personal Social Security benefits by over $400 per month. If H.R. 711 passes, a fairer formula, one that considers a worker’s entire career and earnings history, will be used to calculate benefits. Further, retirees would receive a benefit increase and the average future retiree would have benefits increased by an average of $900 per year.

ATPE remains dedicated to ensuring Texas educators receive fair and quality benefits in retirement, and we will continue to work with Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) on increasing benefits for current and future retirees by passing H.R. 711. Stay tuned for future updates.

The United States Capitol building

The United States Capitol building

In other federal education news this week, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) held its fifth of six expected Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) implementation oversight hearings, and the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations held a mark up of the appropriations bill that funds the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

This week’s Senate HELP hearing on ESSA implementation was focused on the Department’s accountability rule proposal. As we reported when it was released, the proposal requires states to have accountability systems in place by the 2017-18 school year, with the goal for states and districts to begin identifying schools in need of support in the following school year. This proposed timeline is unsettling to most because it identifies struggling schools based on data derived from early implementation efforts, rather than data collected once the new state accountability systems are fully implemented. Some also caution that it doesn’t allow enough time for states to truly innovate in their new systems. All of the witnesses invited to share input at this week’s hearing and most senators agreed that delaying the timeline by a year would be beneficial.

Another point of contention in the proposal was the department’s decision to require an overall summative score, rather than allowing states to provide dashboards of information on schools and districts, which provide a more comprehensive look at school accountability. ED is accepting comments on the rule proposal through August 1, and we will continue to provide updates on the proposal as they develop.

In the other chamber of Congress, the House Appropriations Committee marked up its version of the 2017 Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) funding bill, which includes education funding. The bill funds the Department of Education at $67 billion, a $1.3 billion decrease compared to the previous year’s appropriation. Federal special education funding, however, increased by $500 million compared to the previous level, and the bill includes $1 billion for the student support and academic enrichment grants, authorized under ESSA.

Due to the inclusion of party-specific initiatives and disagreements on funding levels, the appropriations bill mostly broke down on partisan lines. Still, the committee reported the bill favorably to the House floor where it now awaits debate and a vote from the full House. The Senate is simultaneously working on its own version of the funding legislation.

Little girl sitting on stack of books.In a story published this week by the Texas Tribune, Kiah Collier reports that a number of Texas school districts (more than 20) have turned down the funding they were to receive under the high quality prekindergarten grant program.

We reported last week that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced it had parceled out a total of $116 million to 578 Texas school systems that qualified as grant recipients. We noted at that time that “considering the money is to be dispersed among a large number of school systems, the per pupil dollar amount will be telling in terms of how far the state needs to go to invest in quality and meaningful early education.” According to the Tribune‘s story, per pupil spending under the program totals $367 per year, a fraction of the $1,500 per student originally expected, and districts are turning down the grant because it will not cover the cost of implementing required quality control measures.

Read the full story for more on this latest prekindergarten development.

16_Web_SummitSpotlightThe ATPE governmental relations team is ready for the ATPE Summit and looks forward to seeing participating ATPE members next week! We hope you will stop by the Advocacy Booth in the ATPE Lounge on Wednesday night to say hello and pick up a variety of advocacy resources. We will be there to answer questions and visit with members from 4 to 7 pm on July 20.

Immediately following, you can find us at the 70s-themed dance party! We will be promoting the ATPE-PAC and selling a fun, tie-dyed t-shirt. Speaking of PAC, if you are an ATPE member and you’re coming to the ATPE Summit, be sure to check out our new online auction. Bidding is open now and your voluntary donations will go toward supporting pro-public education candidates through the ATPE-PAC.

The lobby team will also present advocacy updates during the professional development and leadership training sessions on Thursday. We will offer two general advocacy update sessions that will highlight the latest developments in state and federal education policy. Our team will also moderate in a separate session a conversation with ATPE members Jimmy Lee and Casey Hubbard regarding their recent experiences serving as education advocates in their local communities.

Get ready for an educational, productive, and fun-filled week! We hope to see you there!


Federal Update: ESSA accountability rule proposed, ATPE writes to Secretary King

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) published its rule proposal for the accountability piece of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in the Federal Register yesterday. The proposal addresses state accountability systems, state and district report cards, and consolidated state plans.

As we reported on Teach the Vote, ED is in the middle of the rulemaking process for several aspects of ESSA. Negotiated rulemaking for the assessments and ‘supplement, not supplant’ portions of the law wrapped up in April. Other provisions, including this accountability piece, are being addressed through the typical rulemaking process over the summer.

medwt16002Initial reaction to the accountability rule proposal was mixed. In Congress, the partisan division again hinges on state control and flexibility versus strong civil rights protections. House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced they will each hold hearings on the proposal and threatened to block the regulation through available means if it “doesn’t follow the law,” which aims to decentralize power away from the federal government. Their Democratic counterparts, Ranking Members Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), praised the proposed rule for protecting and promoting equity.

Outside of the Capitol, stakeholders pointed to more specific issues with the proposal, citing concerns about a definition for “consistently under-performing,” the inclusion of specific punitive consequences for low assessment participation rates (in situations where parents opt children out of state standardized tests), the need for guidance on ways to make school report cards more accessible and transparent for parents, and more.

The proposal requires states to have accountability systems in place by the 2017-18 school year, with the goal for states and districts to identify schools in need of support the following school year.

In other ESSA rule proposal news, ATPE submitted a letter last week to U.S. Secretary of Education John King. The letter identified two areas of the new law where ED is asked to pay particular attention to previous ATPE input to Congress when writing rules or issuing non-binding guidance. Those areas of the law pertain to an innovative assessment pilot and a new avenue for potential funding for educator preparation programs.

ATPE’s previous comments on assessments to the Senate HELP committee outline recommendations for giving states “more flexibility to innovate and choose assessment methodologies that better suit the needs of their students, parents, and educators.” ATPE’s comments note that the high stakes testing regime is ineffective and even harmful to students, and suggest that tests “be low stakes, be administered less frequently, employ sampling, and be truly criterion-referenced.” While the new federal education law requires states to maintain the current annual testing schedule, ATPE’s letter encourages ED to allow states piloting innovative assessments to test these recommendations.

In the letter to ED, ATPE also points to previous comments on supporting educators. Particularly, the letter highlights ATPE’s input on “initiatives to encourage more selective recruitment of educators by setting high standards for educator preparation and certification.” ATPE encourages ED to support states through non-binding avenues as they seek to ensure high standards for educator preparation programs.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more updates on ESSA implementation.