Tag Archives: virtual voucher

Exploring legislators’ 2019 voting records on education: Part I

Last week on TeachtheVote.org, ATPE published a series of voting records for all Texas state lawmakers, analyzing their actions taken on significant education-related legislation. This blog post is Part I of a two-part feature on the record votes. Here, we’re taking a closer look at how the ATPE lobby team analyzed and chose the record votes that are featured on the legislators’ profiles.

Which bills are featured in the 2019 legislative voting records on Teach the Vote, and why were they chosen?

Without question, the most significant bill debated and ultimately passed by the 86th Texas Legislature this year was House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood). This major school finance and public education reform bill, deemed the top priority of the session, resulted in $6.5 billion in increased funding for public education and $5 billion for property tax relief. ATPE’s lobbyists have written extensively about the omnibus bill here on our Teach the Vote blog, and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has also dedicated a set of online resources to helping Texans understand the many components of the bill. With its high profile, HB 3 figures prominently in the 2019 record votes compiled by ATPE. We’ve selected both the House’s and Senate’s votes on HB 3 on “third reading” as the first record vote featured in this year’s list for Teach the Vote.

There are also a few votes on floor amendments to HB 3 that made our list this year. On the House side, we’ve provided representatives’ votes on House Floor Amendment #15 to HB 3, which dealt with charter school transparency and efficiency. The amendment by Rep. Ernest Bailes (R-Shepherd), which passed and was incorporated into the House’s version of HB 3 but later stripped out by the Senate, requires charter schools to undergo an audit of their fiscal management. The Bailes amendment would have required such an audit to be conducted before a charter could expand or open new campuses, and it also called for charter schools to share the results of those audits publicly on their websites.

For senators, we similarly tracked their votes on three amendments to HB 3:

  • Senate Floor Amendment #8 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) attempted to remove from the Senate’s version of HB 3 a controversial merit pay program that ATPE and most of the education community opposed.
  • Senate Floor Amendment #30 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) also failed to pass but aimed to provide a guaranteed pay raise for all professional public school employees. While teacher pay was another high-profile issue debated throughout the 2019 legislative session, most discussions about pay raises at that point in the session had been limited to classroom teachers and librarians.
  • Also, Senate Floor Amendment #66 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) was an unsuccessful attempt to add language to the Senate’s version of HB 3 to ensure that state standardized tests were written at the appropriate grade level. Testing was also a subject of great importance to the education community during the legislative session, particularly after studies found that certain test questions on the STAAR test had been written at reading levels well above the grade level being tested. Although the Menendez floor amendment did not get approved by the Senate, another bill passed during the 2019 legislative session (HB 3906) requires a study of STAAR readability, and results of that study should be released beginning in December.

HB 3 ultimately included some additional funding for increasing educator compensation, but it was not the only bill pertaining to teacher pay that lawmakers debated in 2019. Early in the session, the Senate rallied behind Senate Bill (SB) 3 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), which Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) pledged would be one of the first bills passed by the full Senate in 2019. Although SB 3 was later rejected in favor of the alternative compensation-related language in HB 3, we’ve included the Senate’s third reading vote on SB 3 in our list of record votes due to its early significance.

ATPE also supported a stand-alone bill in 2019 that was designed to fund and strengthen mentoring programs for teachers. The House’s third reading vote on HB 102 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) made our list of record votes this year. HB 102 did not get heard in the Senate, but its language was later incorporated into HB 3.

Another piece of legislation related to educator quality produced one of the record votes published on Teach the Vote this year. The House voted to approve HB 1276 by Rep. Jon Rosenthal (D-Houston) on third reading. HB 1276 was designed to prevent elementary grade students from being assigned for two consecutive school years to teachers who had less than one year of teaching experience or teachers who were not certified in the subject being taught as part of the foundation curriculum. Exceptions would have been provided under HB 1276 for new transfer students and for students whose parent or guardian consents to the non-compliant placement. Also, the bill would not have applied to school districts serving fewer than 5,000 students, those exempted under the District of Innovation (DOI) law, or those districts that received a hardship waiver from the commissioner of education. Unfortunately, this ATPE-supported bill did not get heard in the Senate.

School safety was another high priority issue debated during the 2019 legislative session. The key piece of legislation on keeping schools safe was SB 11 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), aimed at driving funding to implement school safety improvements and provide mental health resources. We’ve featured on our website the third reading vote taken on this bill in both the House and Senate chambers. Also on our list is the House’s treatment of House Floor Amendment #8 by Rep. Steve Allison (R-San Antonio) to SB 11, aimed at improving mental health support by requiring the state to identify regional resources that schools could use to address their students’ mental health needs. Legislators were considering a number of different measures pertaining to mental health resources in the context of the debate about school safety. Particularly in the House, some lawmakers were openly skeptical of efforts to link students with outside mental health professionals, worried about privacy concerns, and generally opposed to perceived government overreach. The controversy surrounding those issues had seemingly killed another high-priority bill aimed at addressing mental health earlier on the same evening that SB 11 was being debated. House leaders used Rep. Allison’s floor amendment as a vehicle for resurrecting the lost bill. Thus, Allison’s original amendment to SB 11 passed, was reconsidered, got amended to include language from the other mental health bill that had already been voted down, and then Floor Amendment #8 passed again. We provided data on both votes approving Floor Amendment #8 since there were some representatives who opted to change their position on the Allison amendment after it was expanded.

The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) also garnered attention during the 2019 session and was an ATPE legislative priority. Lawmakers approved Senate Bill 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which increased the contribution rates for the TRS pension fund. ATPE included the third reading votes on this bill taken by both the House and Senate among our record votes compilation. The legislature’s passage of SB 12 resulted in immediate actuarial solvency for the fund, which made it possible for TRS to issue a one-time 13th check to retirees in Sept. 2019. Read more about the TRS bill here.

Another ATPE legislative priority for 2019 was opposing vouchers and stopping the privatization of public schools in any form. Few voucher bills were considered this session, but the full Senate did take a vote on Sen. Taylor’s SB 1455, which we included on our list of record votes. The bill would have expanded full-time virtual schools and created a “virtual voucher.” Despite passing the Senate, SB 1455 did not make it out of a committee on the House side.

The House also took a record vote on HB 1133 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), which is included on our list. That bill produced one of the most dramatic debates but did not garner enough votes to pass the House. HB 1133 would have weakened the existing 22:1 cap on elementary school class sizes by moving to a campus-wide, grade-level average. Many ATPE members reached out to their legislators in opposition to this bill, which would have allowed class sizes in the lower grades to dramatically expand.

Finally, there are a few record votes on our list this year that pertain to efforts to restrict legislative advocacy by school districts or dissuade educators from being politically active. One such bill was SB 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper), which the Senate voted to approve on third reading but the House left pending in committee. ATPE staunchly opposed SB 1569, which would have restricted educators’ First Amendment rights to engage in political speech, limited their ability to teach students about elections, and unreasonably subjected educators to criminal penalties. Another troubling bill was SB 29 by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), which tried to prohibit school districts and other local governmental entities from funding legislative advocacy efforts or paying membership dues to organizations that engage in legislative advocacy. SB 29 made our record votes list in two places. First, the Senate voted to approve the bill on third reading. Later, the House voted the bill down. Interestingly, the vote to defeat SB 29 on the House floor became even more significant after the legislative session ended, when certain Republican lawmakers who opposed the bill were seemingly targeted for retribution by their own party leadership in a taped discussion between House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and the head of the controversial dark money group, Empower Texans. The scandal resulted in Bonnen’s announcing that he would not seek re-election, opening the door for election of a new speaker when the 2021 legislative session convenes.

In any legislative session, there are limited votes taken on the record, offering relatively few options for us to showcase how individual legislators voted on education-related bills. However, we believe the votes listed above offer an informative glimpse into the treatment of public education by the 86th Texas Legislature, and we invite you to check out how your legislators voted by looking them up on our search page here on Teach the Vote. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for Part II of this blog feature where the ATPE lobbyists will explain more about the usefulness and limitations of record votes in general.

House Public Education Committee hears Senate bills on virtual schools, school safety

On Tuesday, May 7, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard seven Senate bills on a variety of topics.

ATPE supported several of these bills, including the following:

  • SB 11 (Taylor, R-Friendswood): Would require several provisions intended to increase school safety, including TEA-developed facilities standards, mental health and substance use resources, safety training, improved coordination with the Texas School Safety Center, digital citizenship, threat assessment teams and threat reporting, and district-developed trauma-informed care policies.
  • SB 2042 (Fallon, R-Prosper): Would require TEA to study, evaluate, and report on current industry certifications, certificates being offered, workforce needs and any unmet needs, by each geographic region in Texas.
  • SB 2073 (Taylor, R-Friendswood): Would allow districts providing less than 180 days of student instruction during the school year to reduce the educators’ required days of service in proportion without reducing an educator’s salary. This is to address the state’s shift to minutes, rather than days, of instruction.

ATPE provided written testimony on SB 1455 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). ATPE believes that the bill as it left the Senate would greatly expand virtual schools, which is problematic because a growing body of evidence indicates full-time virtual school programs are a poor substitute for brick-and-mortar classrooms. Students enrolled in full-time virtual schools regularly underperform their peers enrolled in traditional classroom settings, as indicated by the multiple Improvement Required (IR) designations. Read our written testimony here.

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies neutrally on a proposed committee substitute for SB 1455 in the House Public Education Committee, May 7, 2019.

Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) laid out a newer version of SB 1455 in committee this morning, stating substantive changes to eliminate the portions of the bill that he believes constitute a virtual voucher while maintaining the increased accountability for virtual school providers. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified neutrally due to these changes in the proposed substitute bill. Exter explained that ATPE supports accountability standards for virtual schools that eliminate bad actors but is opposed to the expansion of virtual schools due to a significant amount of research on their limited effectiveness in promoting student learning.

The following bills were also heard by the Committee:

  • SB 1453 (Taylor, R-Friendswood): Would require school districts to allow students who are enrolled in courses requiring the use of a graphing calculator to use calculator applications on their phones or other devices.
  • SB 1776 (Campbell, R-New Braunfels): Would allow school district boards of trustees to permit and encourage schools to post the founding documents of the United States and would also require districts to provide a high school elective course on the founding principles of the United States.
  • SB 2180 (Nelson, R-Flower Mound): Would require the State Board of Education (SBOE) to create Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) that include coding, computer programming, computational thinking, and cybersecurity. Would also require TEA to create a computer science advisory committee to develop and provide recommendations for increasing computer science instruction and participation in public schools.

Chairman Huberty noted that the committee will vote on bills this afternoon. Based on tradition and previous statements from the chair, the House Public Education Committee will likely meet again next Tuesday, May 14, 2019, at 8 A.M.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 5, 2019

It was another groundbreaking week in the Texas legislature, and here’s a look at the headlines from ATPE Governmental Relations:


On Wednesday, the Texas House of Representatives passed landmark school finance reform legislation. By a vote of 148-1, Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) House Bill 3 passed the lower chamber, clearing the way for its consideration next by the Texas Senate.

The ATPE-supported school finance bill as finally passed by the House allocates billions in new money for public schools, reduces recapture, and provides homeowners with property tax relief. The House added bipartisan compromise language to HB 3 during Wednesday’s floor debate to ensure that all full-time public school district employees in non-administrator roles will also receive pay raises.

Read more about the bill and Wednesday’s major vote in this blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as attention turns to the Senate to find out how the upper chamber will respond to the school finance bill.


The Senate Education Committee and House Public Education Committee both held multiple meetings this week to hear a variety of education bills.

The Senate Education Committee’s meeting on Tuesday, April 2, 2019, largely focused on hearing bills pertaining to dual credit. The agenda for Thursday, April 4, included a host of bills relating to virtual schools, including some bills that ATPE opposes. Other pending bills previously heard by the committee were also voted out with favorable recommendations for the full Senate. Read more about the Senate committee’s activities this week in blog posts here and here from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins who covered the hearings.

On the other side of the Capitol, the House Public Education Committee’s Tuesday hearing covered topics ranging from pre-K to technology and educator preparation. The agenda for the committee’s Thursday hearing also featured a wide variety of issues, including one bill that ATPE opposes to require school districts to let home-schooled students participate in UIL activities. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier covered the House Public Education Committee hearings, and you can read her reports on the two meetings from this week in blog posts here and here.


ATPE is urging educators to oppose two Senate bills that would endanger free speech rights and limit the ability to teach students about content that relates to “a political philosophy” or “a matter of public interest.” The bills are Senate Bill 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) and Senate Bill 904 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), and both of them got a favorable nod from the Senate State Affairs committee this week.

SB 1569 and SB 905 would expand current laws that restrict the use of public resources for “political advertising.” The bills are unnecessary, since state law already prohibits using school resources for electioneering which is enforced by the Attorney General, and these two bills will have harmful unintended consequences.

SB 1569 would broaden the definition of political advertising, impose harsh restrictions on political speech by public school employees, and make it nearly impossible to teach students about elections or civic responsibility or anything deemed to fall under the vague category of “a matter of public interest.” SB 904 also tries to limit political speech by restricting access to government communication systems like a school district’s Wi-Fi network. It also calls for fining any third party that sends political advertising to a government email address. SB 904 will unreasonably penalize innocent third parties and have a chilling effect on free speech and political involvement by educators, even making it hard to teach students about anything related to politics.

Both SB 1569 and SB 904 appear to be reactions to the surge in educator participation in elections last year, and both bills are likely to spark constitutional challenges if passed. Based on their obvious targeting of the education community, both bills are reminiscent of unsuccessful efforts last legislative session to dissuade educators from joining professional associations that advocate for public education. With yesterday’s committee vote, these two bills have the potential to reach the full Senate for a floor debate very soon. ATPE is urging educators to contact their senators and ask them to reject SB 1569 and SB 904. Read more about the bills in this blog post. ATPE members can click here to visit Advocacy Central and send a quick message to their senator.


As we have been reporting here on Teach the Vote, the legislature is considering ATPE-supported bills to increase contributions into the TRS pension fund. This week the House Committee on Pensions, Investments and Financial Services considered one of the bills, Senate Bill (SB) 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which the full Senate has already passed unanimously.

SB 12 is being sponsored on the Senate side by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R- League City), who chairs the Article III (education) subcommittee in House Appropriations and is the author of another bill to increase funding for TRS via House Bill (HB) 9. (That bill, which ATPE also supports, was already heard by the House Pensions committee last week.) ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that during this week’s hearing on SB 12, Chairman Bonnen offered a committee substitute version of Senate Bill 12 that would replace its language with the language from his HB 9. After a brief hearing on the bill, the committee took the somewhat unusual step of immediately voting the committee substitute version of SB 12 favorably out of committee and recommending that it go to the full House for further consideration. The bill, which appears to be on an expedited track, will next go to the House Calendars Committee which has the authority to set the bill on a House calendar for a scheduled for debate. Once the bill has been approved by the full House, which it is expected to easily do, it will return to the Senate where Sen. Huffman will likely send SB 12 to a conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate language.

While both versions of the bill would increase the overall contribution rate into the TRS pension system and provide current retirees with a 13th check, the House language does so by focusing the entire increase on the state’s contribution rate without raising the rates of educators or school districts. Additionally, the House version provides for a substantially larger 13th check, up to $2400 per retiree vs $500 dollars per retiree in the Senate version of the bill.


 

Senate Education committee discusses virtual schools

The Senate Education Committee met Thursday, April 4, to discuss more than a dozen bills, most of which were related to expanding full-time virtual schools in Texas. The committee also approved the following pending bills:

  • SB 863, which would order a study of the costs associated with dual enrollment courses.
  • SB 895, which relates to the language acquisition of children eight years of age or younger who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • SB 933, which would create an office of inspector general (OIG) to investigate the administration of public education. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) introduced a committee substitute that would allow the OIG to investigate the Texas Education Agency (TEA), as well.
  • SB 1276, which relates to an agreement between a school district and a public institution of higher education to provide a dual credit program to high school students enrolled in the district.
  • SB 1731, which would expand the degree requirements for teacher candidates to include those majoring in education.
  • SB 2073, which would allow a school district that provides fewer than 180 days of instruction to reduce the number of days of service required of educators accordingly, without a reduction in pay.

Senate Education Committee meeting April 4, 2019.

Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) led off Thursday’s discussions with two bills related to cybersecurity. Senate Bill (SB) 820 would require school districts to develop cybersecurity networks, and SB 2180 would establish a computer science strategic advisory committee to develop Texas essential knowledge and skills (TEKS) related to cybersecurity.

Other bills heard Thursday included SB 2018 by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), which would eliminate the  committee created last session to dissolve Dallas County Schools, now that the committee’s task has been completed.

SB 713 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) would establish a mentor teacher allotment and additional support programs for mentor teacher programs. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 2431 by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) would create a commission on digital learning that is structured similar to the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. The commission under SB 2431 would meet during the interim to recommend a framework to incorporate digital teaching and learning in public schools.

SB 2433 by Sen. Taylor would move the remaining technology applications courses under the umbrella of career and technical education, which would make additional funding available.

SB 2386 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) would add the completion of a coherent sequence of courses that leads to an industry certification to the indicators of post-secondary readiness under the public school accountability system.

SB 668 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and SB 1376 by Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney) contain provisions of a working group of education stakeholders that met during the interim to agree upon ways to reduce mandates imposed upon school districts. As one of the participating organizations, ATPE registered in support of SB 1376, which includes the majority of recommendations made by the working group.

SB 1252 by Sen. Lois Kolhkorst (R-Brenham) is part of a larger push to reform or eliminate local Chapter 313 agreements, which offer businesses tax incentives to locate in a particular community. SB 1252 would require the education commissioner to reduce state funding to districts that receive supplemental funding as a result of a Chapter 313 agreement. Sen. Kolkhorst suggested that districts would be made whole for that lost revenue.

The bills on virtual schools include SB 380 by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), SB 947 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), SB 2244 by Sen. Paxton, and SB 1455 by Sen. Taylor. Each of these bills would have the effect of substantially expanding full-time virtual schools in Texas. Chairman Taylor offered up a committee substitute for SB 1455 that included some positive provisions regarding vendors, but did not address the large-scale expansion of full-time virtual schools proposed elsewhere in the bill.

ATPE submitted written testimony in opposition to all four bills, pointing to a growing body of evidence that indicates full-time virtual school programs are a poor substitute for brick-and-mortar classrooms. Full-time virtual school programs in Texas have been consistently plagued by performance issues. About 88 percent of the state’s total full-time virtual enrollment, roughly 8,400 students, are served by two providers: Texas Connections Academy, which has been labeled “improvement required” (IR) for three of the last six years, and Texas Virtual Academy, whose campuses have been either not rated or listed as meeting “alternative” standards. The failure rate for virtual schools is far higher than their traditional counterparts. By comparison, just 5.1 percent of campuses statewide were rated improvement required in 2016.