Tag Archives: U.S. Senate

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 15, 2020

As this atypical school year winds down and questions linger about the next one, ATPE’s Governmental Relations team is following all of the developments and reporting them here on our advocacy blog. Here’s a look at this week’s news:


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: School calendars and questions of how to plan for the next school year in light of uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 were a popular topic of discussion this week. Since the only certainty of a return to normalcy is based on a vaccine many months down the road, many educators are wondering how safety and learning will intertwine as students return to school in the fall.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) updated many of its instructional continuity resources this week to include new information on intersessional calendar options, a calendar workbook, a COVID response calendar, answers to questions related to the additional days school year (ADSY) provision in HB 3, and three examples of real district calendars. The agency is suggesting districts adopt calendars that would start earlier, end later, and have more built-in “breaks” throughout the year, suggesting that such a plan would provide more opportunities for student enrichment and days out of school in case the virus reinvigorates.

Many districts, including those that became Districts of Innovation (DOI) under a state law passed in 2015, already start their school years earlier than the late-August standard written into statute. One district that has been highlighted by TEA as an example for other districts contemplating school calendar changes is Socorro ISD. The El Paso-area district’s 2020-21 calendar starts July 26 and has two two-week intersession periods, in addition to a week for Thanksgiving and two weeks for winter break. The district’s last day of school is June 3, but the calendar extends into the rest of the summer with several intersessional weeks.

In order to receive supplemental ADSY funding, districts must provide both 75,600 minutes and 180 days of instruction, but the extra funding authorized as part of House Bill 3 is only for elementary students and only provided at half-day for up to 30 days starting in the 2020-21 school year. Making the funding available for additional grade levels would take a legislative change. TEA also uploaded Abilene ISD’s summer learning plan to the agency’s Texas Home Learning resource page.

ATPE is closely eyeing the state’s guidance to school districts on setting their calendars for next year and changes being made at the local level. School districts are empowered to set their own calendars locally, and there are a number of considerations that factor into a school board’s decision. In addition to concerns about the availability of funding for a longer school year or additional school days for which teachers and other staff must be paid, community impact also matters. Businesses are affected by school calendars, as are working parents who must arrange for child care when school is not in session. Across Texas, there are likely to be many different approaches taken to the school calendar issue and a good chance legislators will take a closer look at this issue in next year’s regular legislative session. ATPE hopes to draw more attention to these concerns, as laid out in a press statement today.

Read ATPE’s press statement about school calendar concerns here.

In case you missed it, last Friday we published a comprehensive (as of May 8) COVID-19 recap of legislative and regulatory developments impacting Texas and education since the pandemic began. Here’s what’s happened since then:

    • On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott renewed the disaster declaration for all counties in Texas, which has already been renewed once since its original issuance on March 13 (the declaration may not continue for more than 30 days). A disaster declaration allows public officials to temporarily suspend deadlines and regulations and to request federal emergency funding, among other things.
    • Abbott’s plan to reopen Texas began last Friday as some businesses, like movie theaters and restaurants, were allowed to open their doors to a limited number of customers. The originally announced date for the opening of other Texas businesses, such as gyms and bars, is May 18. Fittingly, Abbott is expected to make new announcements regarding reopening Texas on Monday.
    • Some families may find relief in Abbott’s announcement this week that over $1 billion in food benefits will be provided to those who have lost access to free and reduced lunch options due to COVID-19 school closures. The federal funds which are being administered by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the Texas Department of Agriculture, and the Texas Education Agency (TEA), will be distributed through the federal Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program. The one-time benefit of $285 per child can be used in the same way as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food benefits to pay for groceries. Find more information about child nutrition, including the specifics of the P-EBT program here.
    • Gov. Abbott also waived license renewal fees this week for a number of occupational licenses, including speech-language pathologists and dyslexia therapists.
    • Texas House Committee on Public Education Chairmain Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) wrote an op-ed this week to discuss fears that public education funding will be cut in the upcoming 2021 legislative session. Huberty commended the bipartisan passage of House Bill (HB) 3 and indicated that he feels  bipartisan work will continue so that the gains made under HB 3 are not lost.

For more resources related to the pandemic, visit ATPE’s frequently updated Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page, and follow the ATPE lobby team via @TeachtheVote on Twitter.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) updated its main coronavirus resource page this week to include new information on a variety of topics, including the school calendar issue discussed above. In particular, TEA has provided updates on grading policies, the Texas Virtual School Network (including a waiver of professional development that teachers typically take before teaching a VSN course), and updated instructions for candidates seeking to apply for a probationary certificate as authorized by Gov. Abbott’s March 13 disaster declaration. This week, TEA also announced a partnership with AmplioSpeech to provide speech pathology services to students during the pandemic.

Kristi Hassett

TEA also announced this week the availability of optional end-of-year (EOY) assessments that parents and/or districts can administer to students who are in STAAR-tested grades and subjects, except for Algebra II and English III. Parents will have until June 5 to register their child for the tests, which are available online or in a printable PDF format. TEA has stressed that the data collected by this process will not be used for accountability and will only be used to inform instructional support systems to be used in the future. However, many parents may be concerned about the validity of the data, which will likely not be representative of the entire state and will based on tests that were not administered in a controlled environment. Read today’s guest blog post by parent Kristi Hassett on the optional EOY assessments. Hassett serves on the boards of her local school district and the state organization Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA).


FEDERAL UPDATE: Much of the current conversation about Texas education and the coronavirus is situated on what the return to school in the fall will look like. This conversation is happening at the national level, too, intertwined with a push to return to work and the debate over whether states are opening too quickly.

Social distancing at a hearing on Capitol Hill

This week, four prominent medical and health officials testified before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee in Washington, D.C. The discussion centered on how states should focus on testing as they make decisions about opening schools up in the fall, which could mean that schools would have to facilitate some of the tests.

During the hearing, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ken.) commented that it could be unnecessary and potentially detrimental to keep kids out of school. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for 36 years, responded that we should be careful to consider what we don’t know about the virus, particularly when it comes to how the virus affects children. Neither of Texas’ two U.S. Senators sits on this committee. Video of the hearing and each witness’s testimony can be found here.

Also this week in Washington, D.C., consternation has been brewing about U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s guidance directing school districts to use federal emergency funding to provide “equitable services” to all students attending private schools in their districts, not just those who are low-income (even though Title I formulas were used to distribute the money). Equitable services is a term used in federal education law, but it refers only to a district’s duties to low-income students. The U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote on a new coronavirus stimulus bill today that includes language from House Democrats restricting DeVos’s ability to use additional K-12 relief funds for private schools. Read about DeVos’s other privatization efforts using federal relief funding in our previous reporting about “microgrant” vouchers.


ELECTION UPDATE: The field is set for a special election in Senate District 14, where longtime state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) stepped down from the seat he held since 2007. Two Democrats,  two Republicans, a Libertarian candidate, and an independent have filed to run for the reliably blue seat. The election will take place July 14, 2020, at the same time as the state’s primary runoff elections.

This week also saw more developments in the battle over expanding access to voting by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic. A state appeals court this week upheld a state district judge’s order to expand eligibility for mail-in ballots. Arguing against expansion, state Attorney General Ken Paxton has now asked the Texas Supreme Court to consider the issue. Paxton is also the subject of a new criminal complaint stemming from a letter he sent warning county election officials against complying with the court’s ruling on the matter.

Read more on the latest election news in this week’s Texas election roundup blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


On Monday, Gov. Abbott announced two new appointments to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to fill the seats of two members with expiring terms. Former SBEC chair Jill Druesedow, a classroom teacher, will be replaced by Jean Streepey, a middle school math teacher in Highland Park ISD (Dallas). Citizen member Laurie Bricker will be replaced by Julia Moore of Pflugerville. Of note, Moore works for a lobby and public relations firm that has represented several organizations and candidates advocating for private school vouchers.


Today, the winners of ATPE’s “Work from Home Classroom Makeover Contest” were announced! Congratulations to Beverly Zearley in Region 16, Kimberly Hagins in Region 14, and Susie Andrews in Region 1. See their work from home classrooms below! #TeachersCan

Visit ATPE’s Facebook page to view all the entries.

Texas election roundup: Runoff endorsements and late surprises

As the rest of Texas turns its focus to the primary election runoffs, it turns out there is still a surprise or two left over from last Tuesday’s primary elections. In House District (HD) 47, Justin Berry now appears to lead Don Zimmerman by a single vote for the second spot in the Republican party runoff. Until Wednesday, it appeared Zimmerman held the one-vote lead over Berry. Votes will be canvassed today and a recount seems likely. The winner will face top primary finisher Jennifer Fleck in the Republican runoff in May.

The runoffs have already brought a fresh round of endorsements. In the Senate District (SD) 27 Democratic party runoff, former Texas Parent PAC endorsed candidate Ruben Cortez endorsed Sara Stapleton Barrera on Friday. Stapleton Barrera is challenging longtime Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. in the runoff. Emily’s List endorsed former congressional candidate M.J. Hegar in the Democratic runoff for U.S. Senate against state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas). The winner will face Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in November. There was also one highly unusual anti-endorsement in the Republican runoff for State Board of Education (SBOE) District 5. All 10 Republican sitting members of the SBOE endorsed Lani Popp over former Travis County GOP Chair Robert Morrow. Morrow won 40% of the vote in the primary, but is an extremely controversial figure who has been the source of no small amount of angst for Republicans.

In the Texas Senate, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt have each announced they are running for the seat being vacated by state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) in SD 14. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has appointed Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) to the Senate Education Committee to replace Watson, whose resignation will be effective April 30, 2020. Gov. Greg Abbott has not yet set a date for the special election to fill the SD 14 seat.

Some interesting statistics have emerged from last week. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that Democrats outvoted Republicans in typically conservative Collin and Denton Counties. Across four Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan counties, 22% more Democrats than Republicans voted in this year’s primary elections. While Democratic turnout was up, Republican turnout was down 43% from 2016. According to Jeff Blaylock of TXElects.com, this year marked the third time in Texas history that 4 million Texans voted in a primary election. The other two times that happened were in the 2008 and 2016 presidential election years. Turnout in last week’s primaries was about 25%, which is the third highest since 1992. Turnout in Texas was historically higher before then, with a spike above 35% back in 1978. Thanks, Jeff, for crunching those numbers.

The runoffs offer educators a chance to cast the most influential vote of the year. You can read more about why that is, as well as see who’s running, in this post about runoffs here on Teach the Vote. You can also sign up for important election reminders by visiting our coalition website for Texas Educators Vote.

Rural schools get a temporary reprieve on loss of federal funds

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has backed down, at least temporarily, on her department’s plan to cut federal resources currently flowing to more than 800 low-income rural schools. The move comes after a bipartisan group of U.S. senators sent a letter in opposition to the plan this week. The announcement also follows the secretary’s appearance at a tense congressional hearing on Feb. 27 to defend the Trump Administration’s education budget proposal.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testified before a U.S. House Committee on Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Feb. 27, 2020.

The proposed cut in federal funding was due to the department’s decision to change its internal rules on the type of poverty data it would accept to determine eligibility for the Rural Low-Income Schools Program (RLIS). The program is one of two sub-grants under the Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP), which senators who who wrote the letter to DeVos describe as “the only dedicated federal funding stream to help rural schools overcome the increased expenses caused by geographic isolation.”

Under REAP, which was enacted in 2002, school districts seeking RLIS grant funding would prove their eligibility based on census poverty data. However, upon recognizing in 2003 that adequate census data often was not available to the districts the act was meant to help, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) changed its course. By rule, ED began to allow school districts to substitute census data with the same internal data on the percentage of their students eligible for free and reduced lunch, which is used to determine Title I eligibility. The department has allowed the use of this substitute data ever since.

After receiving significant legislative push-back to the proposed change, ED has shied away from making the change for now. As reported by Bloomberg Government, a spokesperson for the department explained the rationale for the change as follows:

“We have heard from States the adjustment time is simply too short, and the Secretary has always sought to provide needed flexibility to States’ [sic] during transitions. This protects States and their students from financial harm for which they had not planned.” The spokesperson added, “[D]ue to the States’ reliance on the Department’s calculations for the past seventeen years, the secretary has concluded the Department can use its authority to allow alternative poverty data to be used for an additional year.”

Clearly, ED is still positioning itself to be able to make this change in the future, which would negatively affect hundreds of rural schools short of some additional action by Congress or the administration. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for future updates from ATPE’s federal lobby team.

Texas primary election results for 2020

Texas held its Republican and Democratic primary elections yesterday, March 3, 2020. The “Super Tuesday” primaries brought out a record number of voters in parts of the state, with some voters reportedly waiting in line until after midnight to cast their votes.

Texas early voting turnout from Feb. 18-28 was slightly higher at 12.87% than early voting in the 2016 presidential primary. However, during these four years, Texas added 2 million voters to its rolls. The total turnout percentage during early voting and election day looks to be slightly lower than in 2016, with over 4 million Texans casting votes.

Some precincts in Texas have still not reported final numbers, and there have been discrepancies noted between the vote counts reported on the Secretary of State’s website and various county voter registrar’s totals, particularly for larger metro areas. As a result, some race results are still unknown, and some races are so close that a recount is nearly certain.

 

Federal races

The presidential race at the top of the ballot drew a number of voters, particularly on the Democratic side where multiple candidates have been vying to become the party’s nominee. Here in Texas, former Vice President Joe Biden earned the most votes, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders. Texas awards its delegates proportionally, so both candidates will benefit. On the Republican side, more than 94% of the votes predictably went to President Donald Trump. A crowded field of Democratic candidates seeking a place on the November ballot opposite Sen. John Cornyn (R), as well as some hotly contested congressional races also captured voters’ attention.

 

State Board of Education (SBOE)

In contested races for the State Board of Education (SBOE), results in the race for one open seat in central Texas raised eyebrows. In District 5, candidate Rebecca Bell-Metereau won the Democratic nomination, while the Republican primary resulted in a runoff between second-place finisher Lani Popp and controversial figure Robert Morrow, who earned the most votes despite barely mounting a campaign for the seat.

In District 6, another open seat, Democratic candidates Michelle Palmer and Kimberly McCleod are advancing to a runoff. Marsha Burnett-Webster earned the Democratic nomination for District 10, and in District 15, incumbent and former ATPE State President Sue Melton-Malone easily won the Republican primary.

 

 

“Winner take all” primaries

As we reported in our “Primary Colors” blog series last month, there were several Texas House races in which all candidates who filed to run for the seat were affiliated with the same political party, meaning there would be no remaining contest for the seat in November. Here are the unofficial results in those “winner take all” primaries:

  • House District (HD) 9 Republican primary: Rep. Chris Paddie with 77.8% of the vote easily defeated Mark Williams.
  • HD 30 Republican primary: Rep. Geanie Morrison earned 78.7% of the vote to defeat her challenger, Vanessa Hicks-Callaway.
  • HD 36 Democratic primary: Rep. Sergio Munoz garnered 68.2% of the vote, surviving another challenge by Abraham Padron.
  • HD 37 Democratic primary Rep. Alex Dominguez appears to have narrowly survived a challenge, earning 51.4% of the vote, just 340 votes more than his challenger, Amber Medina.
  • HD 59 Republican primary: Rep. J.D. Sheffield was the second-place finisher in this three-person race that now heads to a runoff. Chellenger Shelby Slawson earned the most votes at 45.6%, followed by Sheffield’s 30.4%. Candidate Cody Johnson garnered 24.1% of the vote. The winner of the runoff will become the presumptive winner of the seat with no other candidates vying for it in November.
  • HD 72 Republican primary: With 87% of the vote, Rep. Drew Darby easily defeated challenger Lynette Lucas.
  • HD 76 Democratic primary: Claudia Ordaz Perez is the presumptive winner of this open seat. She earned 56.4% of the vote, compared to the 43.6% of votes that went to Elisa Tamayo.
  • HD 80 Democratic primary: Rep. Tracy King is headed for another term in the Legislature after earning 68.4% of the vote to beat repeat challenger Danny Valdez.
  • HD 100 Democratic primary: Rep. Lorraine Birabil, who only became the incumbent in this district last month after winning a special election runoff, is facing yet another runoff. Birabil earned 29.2% of the vote in this crowded primary against five challengers. Second-place finisher Jasmine Crockett also made the runoff with 25.9% of the vote.
  • HD 131 Democratic primary: Also cruising to another term in the House is Rep. Alma Allen, who earned 78.9% of the vote against her two challengers, Carey Lashley and Elvonte Patton, who won 10.6% and 10.5% of the vote, respectively.
  • HD 141 Democratic primary: Rep. Senfronia Thompson unsurprisingly beat her challenger, Willie Roaches Franklyn, with 81% of the vote.
  • HD 147 Democratic primary: Finally, with 61.1% of the vote, Rep. Garnet Coleman survived a challenge by two candidates, Aurelia Wagner and Colin Ross, and will land another term in office.

 

Hot races

We also reported last week on our blog about a half dozen state legislative races deemed to be the “hottest” and most competitive in Texas, per the Texas Tribune. Here’s a look at how those hot Texas legislative races shook out last night:

  • In the Democratic primary for Senate District (SD) 27, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. faced off against two challengers: current SBOE member Ruben Cortez and attorney Sara Stapleton Barrera. Sen. Lucio almost won the primary outright, but with 49.8% of the vote, he’ll head to a runoff against Barrera, who earned 35.6% of the vote.
  • In the Republican primary for HD 2, Rep Dan Flynn (R-Van) is facing a runoff with repeat challenger Bryan Slaton. Flynn earned 44.5% of the votes, compared to Slaton’s 35.2%. Dwayne ‘Doc’ Collins was the third candidate in the race.
  • In the HD 59 Republican primary, Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville) faced two challengers: Cody Johnson and Shelby Slawson. As we mentioned above, this race is headed to a runoff between Slawson and Sheffield. Since no other candidates filed to run for this seat, the winner of the runoff in May will become the winner of the seat.
  • The open seat being vacated by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) in HD 92 drew a number of candidates. In the Republican primary, the candidates were Jeff Cason, Taylor Gillig, and Jim Griffin. Cason won the Republican nomination outright with 54.1% of the vote, compared to Griffin’s 36.6% and Gillig’s 9.3%. In the Democratic primary, was a contest between and Jeff Whitfield was the winner with 56.2% of the vote, defeating Steve Riddell.
  • In HD 132, Rep. Gina Calanni (D-Houston) will face a rematch in November against former representative Mike Schofield, after he earned 53% of the vote to defeat Angelica Garcia for the Republican party’s nomination.
  • Finally, in the Democratic primary in HD 148, Rep. Anna Eastman (D-Houston), who just won a special election for this seat in January, faced four different primary opponents: Adrian Garcia, Cynthia Reyes-Revilla, Emily Wolf, and Penny Morales Shaw. Eastman earned 41.8% of the vote and is headed to runoff with Shaw, who earned 22.2%.

 

Runoffs

Below are the races in which no candidate earned a majority of the votes last night, leading the top two candidate to a runoff that will take place on May 26, 2020:

Texas Senate races headed to a runoff.

  • SD 19 Democratic primary: Xochil Peña Rodriguez vs. Rep. Roland Gutierrez
  • SD 27 Democratic primary: Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. vs. Sara Stapleton Barrera

Texas House races headed to a runoff.

  • HD 2 Republican primary: Rep. Dan Flynn vs. Bryan Slaton
  • HD 25 Republican primary: Ro‘Vin Garrett vs. Cody Vasut
  • HD 26 Democratic primary: Suleman Lalani vs. Sarah DeMerchant
  • HD 26 Republican primary: Matt Morgan vs. Jacey Jetton
  • HD 45 Republican primary: Carrie Isaac vs. Kent “Bud” Wymore
  • HD 47 Republican primary: Jennifer Fleck vs. Don Zimmerman*
    *Zimmerman beat a third candidate, Justin Berry, by only a single vote, which means this race most likely will be subject to a recount.
  • HD 59 Republican primary: Shelby Slawson vs. Rep. J.D. Sheffield
  • HD 60 Republican primary: Jon Francis vs. Glenn Rogers
  • HD 67 Democratic primary: Tom Adair vs. Lorenzo Sanchez
  • HD 100 Democratic primary: Rep. Lorraine Birabil vs. Jasmine Crockett
  • HD 119 Democratic primary: Elizabeth “Liz” Campos vs. Jennifer Ramos
  • HD 138 Democratic primary: Akilah Bacy vs. Jenifer Rene Pool
  • HD 142 Democratic primary: Rep. Harold Dutton* vs. Jerry Davis.
    *The Secretary of State reported that Dutton won the primary outright, avoiding a runoff by only a single vote, but the numbers reported by the counties in this district were different. Further counts may be needed to verify the outcome of this one.
  • HD 148 Democratic primary: Rep. Anna Eastman vs. Penny Morales Shaw

 

 

Ballot propositions

The primary elections are also an opportunity for the state political parties to poll their voters on major issues in order to help shape the party’s platform. Both the Republican and Democratic party primaries included a set of these non-binding ballot propositions asking voters for their opinions. In the Democratic primary, voters overwhelmingly supported all 11 of the position statements set forth by the state party, covering topics ranging from healthcare to immigration. Republican primary voters similarly favored all 10 of the state GOP’s position statements on the ballot, which addressed such issues as school prayer and “taxpayer-funded lobbying.”

 

View complete election results from last night’s primaries on the Secretary of State’s website here, keeping in mind that the results remain unofficial and are still being verified and updated. ATPE thanks all those who voted in the primary election.

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 7, 2020

Check out what happened this week in education news from Texas and the nation’s capital, courtesy of the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ELECTION UPDATE: Voting in the Texas primary elections will begin in less than two weeks. Early voting starts February 18, 2020, which is also Educator Voting Day, and ends February 28. Our state’s primary elections on “Super Tuesday” will be March 3, 2020.

This week on our blog, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter shared information about education-related recommendations in the ballot propositions being put to voters by the Texas Republican and Democratic Parties in this primary election. The ballot propositions help each political party fine-tune its platform based on views expressed by voters in the primary election on various issues. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins looked at some of the latest campaign fundraising news, takeaways from the Iowa caucuses earlier this week, and more in his election roundup blog post from yesterday.

With the primary elections inching closer, ATPE is focusing on helping educators find resources that will help them learn more about the candidates vying for their votes. Read up on the people running for the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education in 2020 by viewing their candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote. The profiles include candidates’ responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey, legislators’ voting records, campaign contact information, and additional information. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey project and share information for their profiles that appear on Teach the Vote. Watch this new instructional video to learn the different ways you can search for candidate information using Teach the Vote.

For additional resources to help you prepare for early voting, visit TexasEducatorsVote.com, or attend one of the “For the Future” education-themed candidate forums being hosted by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. Click here for details on the events.


FEDERAL UPDATE: President Donald Trump delivered his State of the Union (SOTU) address on Tuesday, the third of his presidency. In the speech, as ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reports for Teach the Vote, the president expressed his opposition to public schools and called on Congress to pass a school voucher bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). The bill in question, S. 634, proposes to divert taxpayer dollars that may otherwise go to public education away from local schools and use those tax dollars to subsidize private and for-profit programs. The president cast public schools disparagingly as “failing government schools.” It’s worth noting the Texas Constitution guarantees a right to a free public education as being key to a healthy democratic society, and our state has a long history of independent school districts run by the communities they serve. ATPE’s Wiggins spoke to the Houston Chronicle and previewed the president’s remarks on Tuesday in this blog post.


Last year’s House Bill (HB) 3 included a Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA) intended to provide additional funding to school districts that create an incentive pay system for teachers. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reports that districts interested in creating a TIA program were asked to submit letters of intent to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) by January 24 of this year. Anecdotal reports indicate that more than 700 of the state’s over 1,000 school districts have responded to date. TEA is implementing this initiative with a series of presentations to stakeholders around the state, and the agency is expected to publish rules in March 2020.

ATPE successfully lobbied the 86th Legislature to ensure that districts would not be required to use the STAAR test to measure teacher performance as part of a TIA program, but questions remain over the degree to which these programs may rely on student test scores. We will be paying close attention during the rulemaking process to see how these programs are allowed to be structured in order to qualify for the additional state funding. You can read more about TIA programs from TEA here.


Members of the ATPE Governmental Relations team gave a presentation on advocacy at this week’s Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) Convention and Exposition in Austin. Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell, Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, and Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier spoke to attendees about the implementation of major bills passed in 2019, what’s at stake in the 2020 elections, and ways educators can get involved in advocacy efforts.

ATPE lobbyists Wiggins, Mitchell, Exter, and Chevalier at the TCEA Convention, Feb. 4, 2020

Pres. Trump to pitch vouchers in SOTU speech

President Donald Trump is expected to voice his support for a federal voucher bill filed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in tonight’s State of the Union (SOTU) address, according to the Houston Chronicle.

U.S. Secretary of Education and Trump appointee Betsy DeVos, whose past privatization efforts wrought havoc on public schools in Michigan, has backed Cruz’s voucher legislation. The proposal would allow individuals and businesses to divert public tax dollars that could otherwise go toward public schools, using them to subsidize private and for-profit academies instead. President Trump touted the bill himself during his 2019 SOTU address, and he is expected to delve deeper into the subject during this year’s speech.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is also an important backer of Cruz’s voucher bill. Some privatization supporters hope Trump’s remarks tonight will renew the voucher debate in Texas, where a majority of voters oppose spending public money on private schools that are unaccountable to taxpayers and can refuse to serve many Texas children. Opposing private school vouchers has long been an ATPE priority and a component of the ATPE Legislative Program which is approved annually by our members. In most cases, a voucher would not adequately cover a child’s tuition or transportation for private schooling. Such a program would divert money away from local public schools to provide a tax break to parents, many of whom likely plan to send their children to a private school already, with or without a voucher.

Democratic and Republican voters alike issued a scalding rebuke of voucher legislation in the 2018 Texas elections, when several pro-voucher legislators were swept out of office and replaced with a bipartisan class of pro-public education lawmakers.

“I think most legislators in Texas have gotten the message that parents don’t want a dollar-off coupon to a private school across town. They want their neighborhood schools to be the best they can be, and that means giving resources to schools so they can be the best they can be,” ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins told the Houston Chronicle.

Cruz’s bill is unlikely to go far in the Democratically-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, but the Houston Chronicle reports that 10 Republican members of the Texas congressional delegation have signed on, including Reps. Brian Babin, Michael Burgess, Michael Cloud, Dan Crenshaw, Bill Flores, Kenny Marchant, Pete Olson, Randy Weber, Roger Williams, and Ron Wright.

The State of the Union address is scheduled to air at 8 p.m. tonight, Feb. 4, 2020, on all major networks.

Embed from Getty Images

Texas election roundup: Endorsement news and more

Now that the filing deadline has passed, candidates are turning to the business of campaigning in earnest. This often begins with racking up endorsements from influential people or organizations in order to signal the strength of their candidacy.

A significant endorsement this week comes from the national Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which endorsed M.J. Hegar in the crowded Democratic primary for U.S. Senate here in Texas. Hegar’s primary opponents include state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) and former gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, among others. The winner will face Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the general election.

Elsewhere, Houston mayor Sylvester Turner won reelection to another four-year term as leader of the state’s largest city. Turner previously served as vice-chair of the House Appropriations Committee as a member of the Texas Legislature.

At this point, it appears much of the action in the 2020 primaries will be on the Democratic side of the ticket. In addition to the presidential primary, more than twice as many Democratic state legislators face primary opponents than Republicans this time around. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more information on specific candidates running in your neighborhood coming soon!

As we wrap up the 2019 calendar year, we in the ATPE Governmental Relations Department and our partners in the Texas Educators Vote coalition would like to thank you for your hard work advocating for your profession this year. The 2019 legislative session was a major turnaround from previous sessions, and it was entirely because Texas educators showed up at the polls in 2018 and elected pro-public education candidates. We will need to do the same thing in 2020 to improve upon our gains and keep from losing the incredible progress we’ve made. Congratulations on a successful year, and here’s to an even better 2020!

ATPE goes to Washington

Most education policy happens at the state level, but there are a few issues that are important to educators and  students that are decided by officials in Washington. That is why ATPE maintains a federal lobby presence. While the main ATPE lobby team works year-round here in Texas, lobbyist David Pore also represents our organization in Washington, DC to ensure that ATPE members have the best representation at all levels of government.

ATPE’s Tonja Gray, Monty Exter, and Byron Hildebrand at the U.S. Capitol

In addition to David’s work year-round on behalf of ATPE members, the association also sends a delegation up to Washington at least once a year to promote our federal priorities. This year ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand, Vice President Tonja Gray, Executive Director Shannon Holmes, and Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter made the journey during the week of June 10, 2019.

While in DC, the ATPE group met with key members of the Texas congressional delegation, as well as committee staff and officials with the US Department of Education. We discussed a handful of topics important to ATPE members including our support for the repeal of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO) that reduce many educators’ Social Security benefits; the need for increased Title I and Title II funding; and our opposition to federal voucher programs.

ATPE meeting with Rep. Kevin Brady’s staff in Washington, DC

ATPE has been working with Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), former chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, on legislation to repeal and replace the WEP. Now the ranking member of the committee, Brady is working with the current committee chairman, Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), to reintroduce the bipartisan bill during the current congress.

In addition to meeting with Rep. Brady and his staff, ATPE met with Chairman Neal’s committee staff and with Rep. Jodey Arrington (R–Texas) who represents the Lubbock area and sits on the Social Security Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee. ATPE State Vice President Tonja Gray is a constituent of Arrington, who has become a real champion for WEP reform in Congress. We rounded out our meetings with members of the Texas delegation on the Ways and Means Committee with Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D–Texas), who represents the greater Austin area.

Rep. Jodey Arrington with ATPE’s Tonja Gray in Washington, DC

Texas also has three new members of Congress now serving on the Education Subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor. They are Reps. Joaquin Castro (D–Texas) from the San Antonio area, Ron Wright (R-Texas) from Arlington, and Van Taylor (R-Texas) out of Plano. We spoke to each of these members about the importance of maintaining educator preparation funding in Title II as a part of the pending reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, as well as increasing or at least maintaining formula funding for Title I. As a Title I funded interventionist, Tonja Gray was able to put a personal touch on ATPE’s message.

ATPE’s Byron Hildebrand and Tonja Gray with Rep. Henry Cuellar in Washington, DC

Along with expressing support for funding, we also spoke to each of these members of the Texas delegation about ATPE’s staunch opposition to federal voucher legislation. If the House were to take up any of the Senate’s voucher bills, such a measure would likely be heard in the Education Subcommittee.

ATPE meetings with U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R) and Ted Cruz were also productive. Sen. Cornyn’s staff ensured ATPE not only that Title I and II funding are likely to be maintained or increased, but also that there would be no attempts in the current budget cycle to block grant Title I funding. ATPE opposes block granting Title I funding because it would likely result in the dilution of Title I dollars currently delivered through a formula to the campuses with the highest concentrations of disadvantaged students (those eligible for free and reduced lunch).

Our conversation with Sen. Cruz focused largely on the WEP legislation. Sen. Cruz carried the Senate companion to the Brady bill during the last congress and is planning to pick up the Brady/Neal bill again as soon as it is refiled in the House. The senator is currently seeking a Democratic co-sponsor to ensure that the bill has bipartisan authorship in both chambers.

Altogether, ATPE’s 2019 trip to the nation’s capital was very productive and yielded excellent news. As developments continue on ATPE’s federal priorities, we will report those updates here on Teach the Vote.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 3, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today in Austin. As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported earlier this week, the board’s agenda included a controversial proposal to finalize rulemaking for an abbreviated educator preparation program for Trade and Industrial Workforce Training, Marketing, and Health Sciences certificates. Here is Kate’s recap of the board’s deliberations today:

The board adopted the proposal on a voice vote, but not without opposition from board members and stakeholders. ATPE was joined by teacher groups, administrator groups, and educator preparation programs offering opposition that together covered four primary areas of concern: (1) The proposal irresponsibly reduces the number of pre-service hours required of these specific educator candidates; (2) the proposal inappropriately adds the marketing and health science certificates; (3) the proposal allows entities other than approved educator preparation programs to provide some training; and (4) the proposal fails to prevent the certificate holders from seeking other certifications by merely passing an exam without required additional training.

Several board members also expressed concerns about the proposal. Members Suzanne McCall and Laurie Turner, who are teachers, and citizen member Tommy Coleman spoke to the importance of standards and consistency. They voted for an amendment to alter the proposal, but the amendment failed. Along with Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) Assistant Commissioner Rex Peebles, who serves as a non-voting member of the board, Turner and Susan Hull stressed that success in an individual trade is not the same as knowing how to teach that trade to young students. This is why abbreviated pre-service and even overall training hours are concerning; the lowered standard fails to support these candidates and their students with adequate training. While other members of the board argued the proposal was innovative, Coleman countered that as much as he likes innovation, he doesn’t want to see innovation at the expense of standards. The board ultimately passed the proposal on a voice vote. It now advances to the State Board of Education for final review.

 


Following up on its June announcement that districts and charters affected by Hurricane Harvey would be eligible for accountability waivers, TEA announced earlier this week that 109 independent school districts and open enrollment charters would qualify for such waivers. School districts where all campuses are eligible for a Harvey Provision or where 10% or more of the district is eligible for a Harvey Provision that receive B,C, D, or  ratings will be listed as “Not Rated”  in the upcoming school ratings due out in August. The agency also announced that 1,188 campuses directly affected by Hurricane Harvey would qualify for a special evaluation in this year’s accountability ratings. A list of eligible campuses and districts can be found here.

 


Last week the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) reduced the expected rate of return on its pension fund from 8% to 7.25%.This change will make it more difficult for educators to obtain the cost of living increases they so desperately need.  The onus is now on the legislature, which will convene in January of next year, to provide increased funding in order to ensure that the pension remains healthy and can meet the requirement to be fully funded in 30 years as the law says it must. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was on hand to provide testimony and comment to the media. Read more at the links below:

Full coverage of the TRS meeting

From the San Angelo Standard-Times: As changes loom over retired teachers’ pensions, retirees look to Legislature for more money 

From the Austin American-Statesman: Retired Texas teachers face giant hurdle to pension boost 

From KHOU11: Texas teachers urging for better pension system 

 


 

Earlier this week, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) proposed legislation aimed at addressing teacher and principal shortages nationwide. The Preparing and Retaining Educators Act of 2018 aims to expand Teacher Quality Partnership Grants and require colleges and universities to report yearly on the number of licensed educators who graduate from their institutions, among other things. You can read the bill in its entirety here.

 

 


UPDATE: As we reported last week, President Trump signed the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act overhauling the primary laws that govern CTE. Read more about the bill in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlman.

 


After competing in a special election triggered by the early resignation of Sen. Carlos Uresti, Republican Pete Flores and Democrat Pete Gallego will face off in a runoff election later this year. Read more about it in this post from the Texas Tribune.

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