The Texas House of Representatives debated its budget bill, March 28, 2019.
During a late night floor session on Wednesday, the Texas House unanimously approved a $251 billion state budget bill, House Bill (HB) 1. The bill includes a $9 billion appropriation for improving the state’s school finance system and providing property relief to homeowners. The public education-related funding increases in the House budget would be implemented via HB 3, Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) omnibus bill that ATPE supports. The full House is slated to debate HB 3 on the floor next Wednesday, April 3.
On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Finance Committee is preparing to approve its budget bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, in the coming days. During a meeting yesterday, the committee decided to add money to its bill to match the House’s $9 billion funding proposal for public education. The two chambers are likely to disagree, however, on how that money should be spent.
Read more about the House’s big budget vote in this article from The Texas Tribune republished on our Teach the Vote blog. We urge ATPE members to use our convenient tools on Advocacy Central to send a message to House members thanking them for their vote on the budget to increase public education funding and urging them all to similarly support HB 3 next week.
ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand testified before a House committee, March 26, 2019.
This week two important bills affecting the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) advanced in both the House and Senate.
House Bill (HB) 9 by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), which increases contributions to TRS and provides retirees with a 13th check, received a hearing the House Committee on Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services on Tuesday. The bill was left pending in committee but is expected to be voted out favorably in the near future. ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand testified in favor of HB 9 during the hearing.
Also, Senate Bill (SB) 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) was voted out of the full Senate by a unanimous vote on Monday. SB 12, which ATPE also supports, raises the contribution rates into TRS, albeit differently from the House’s bill, and provides retirees with a 13th payment, but the payment would be lower. For more information on the differences between the two bills, check out this blog post by ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.
On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), heard a number of bills focused on student discipline issues. ATPE supported bills such as Senate Bill 1451, which prohibits negative action on a teacher’s appraisal solely on the basis of the teacher’s disciplinary referrals or documentation of student conduct, and Senate Bill 2432, which would add harassment to the list of conduct that will result in the mandatory removal of a student from the classroom. For more information on the bills heard, plus other pending bills that were voted on during this week’s committee hearing, check out this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
Meetings of the House Public Education Committee have been known to take on a theme and focus on bills that pertain to the same issue. The theme of this week’s meeting of the committee was school safety. Members of that committee on Tuesday heard 35 bills related to topics in school safety such as school hardening, access to mental health resources, and increased law enforcement on school campuses. ATPE registered a position in support of six bills including House Bill 2994 by Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock), which would require the Commissioner of Education to develop mental health training material for school districts. A thorough breakdown of the bills heard during this committee meeting can be found in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.
FEDERAL UPDATE: On Thursday, March 28, 2019, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos sat before the Senate Appropriations Committee to defend President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget for the Department of Education. DeVos faced questions on her support for increasing federal funding for school choice while eliminating or decreasing funding aimed at teacher effectiveness, special populations, and loan assistance. Watch more coverage of the hearing here for the full scoop.
ELECTION UPDATE: The 86th Texas Legislative session is more than halfway over, and issues like school finance, teacher pay, and school safety remain key topics. This is a direct result of the tremendous educator turnout during the 2018 elections and proof of the power of democracy – informed and engaged citizens holding their elected officials accountable. Practicing and modeling civic engagement require voting in every election. On May 4, 2019, many Texans will have the chance to vote in local elections for school boards, mayoral seats, bonds, and more. Make sure your voter registration is up to date so you will be able to participate. The last day to register to vote in the May election is April 4. Early voting runs April 22-30, 2019. Visit VoteTexas.gov to learn more about how to register and vote.
ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee on March 12, 2019
Members of the House Public Education committee heard more than 12 hours of testimony this Tuesday on House Bill 3 (HB 3), the House’s comprehensive school finance reform bill. Stakeholders from parents to teachers and even children on spring break testified about the $9 billion bill. Many witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing expressed support for the bill, but a number of them shared reservations about its move to roll funding for gifted and talented programs into the basic allotment and a proposed merit pay plan that the commissioner of education would oversee under HB 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood).
ATPE testified neutrally on HB 3 stating that while the bill as filed has many positive qualities and would inject much-needed funding into the public education system, it also includes some troubling changes regarding the state’s minimum salary schedule and using teacher evaluations and student performance data for merit pay. Many witnesses, including ATPE, who expressed concerns about the merit pay plan noted that it would be difficult if not impossible for the commissioner to determine which teachers might receive merit pay under HB 3 without using data from student test scores, even though the bill itself does not specifically call for the use of the STAAR for this purpose. ATPE opposes the use of student performance data, including test scores, as the primary measure of a teacher’s effectiveness for purposes of compensation, which ATPE shared with the committee during our testimony that was delivered by Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter on Tuesday.
Currently, HB 3 is still pending in committee with a substitute version of the bill expected to be discussed next Tuesday, March 19. Read more about Tuesday’s school finance hearing in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.
On Wednesday, the House Public Education Committee reconvened to hear a host of other bills related to topics such as Districts of Innovation (DOI) and school start dates. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 1051, a bill that would make permanent the Goodwill Excel center permanent, a charter school offering a successful dropout recovery program for adult students. ATPE also supported HB 340 relating to full-day pre-k and HB 1276 relating to educator certification. More details on bills heard during Wednesday’s hearing can be found here.
Earlier this week, the White House released the president’s 2020 budget proposal, which is little more than a statement of the president’s priorities given that Congress actually passes the federal budget. The proposal would cut billions from the Department of Education’s budget compared to what Congress previously enacted, while funding controversial programs such as school privatization and performance-based compensation. Read a more detailed analysis of the President’s budget proposal on our Teach the Vote blog here.
The Senate State Affairs Committee met Thursday morning to hear a number of bills. Among them was Senate Bill 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston). SB 12 would increase the TRS contribution rate and get the fund back to a point of actuarial soundness by the end of the biennium. In addition to the increased contribution rate, the bill would also fund a small 13th check of $500 for current TRS retirees. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of the bill. For more background on why TRS contribution increases are now needed, check out this previous blog post about actions taken by the TRS board of trustees in the summer of 2018.
Residents of the San Antonio area’s House District 125 elected Democrat Ray Lopez to represent them in the House in a special election held this Tuesday. Lopez, a former city council member will be serving in the seat vacated by current Bexar County Commissioner and former HD 125 state representative Justin Rodriguez. ATPE congratulates Representative-Elect Lopez and looks forward to working with him. This election was the last in a series of special elections meant to fill seats that were vacated after last fall’s elections. As we reported last week, Houston area residents of House District 145 last week elected Democrat Christina Morales to fill the seat vacated by former representative and now Senator Carol Alvarado.
Last Friday evening the Senate released its version of a school finance reform proposal, Senate Bill 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). While the Senate has worked diligently to pass an across-the-board teacher pay raise bill this session (SB 3), its version of a more comprehensive school finance reform plan is a little less robust than its counterpart in the House. SB 4 includes provisions for outcomes-based funding and merit pay for classroom teachers. Read more information about the Senate bill in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
Hundreds of ATPE members traveled to Austin earlier this week for ATPE at the Capitol, our political involvement training and lobby day event hosted every legislative session year.
On Sunday, Feb. 24, ATPE members gathered at the JW Marriott for a series of training sessions. They heard a welcome message from ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand and learned how to advocate for ATPE’s legislative priorities with help from the ATPE lobbyists and Executive Director Shannon Holmes. Attendees spent the day networking with their colleagues and shopping at the ATPE Boutique for merchandise with sales benefiting the ATPE-PAC.
The day finished with a panel discussion featuring State Board of Education member Keven Ellis (R) and State Representatives Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) and Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint). The closing session was moderated by Spectrum News Capital Tonight political anchor Karina Kling and gave ATPE at the Capitol attendees an opportunity to ask the panel questions about school finance, testing, retirement, and more.
ATPE members boarded buses to the State Capitol early Monday morning, Feb. 25, to meet with their own legislators, sit in on hearings, and share their advocacy messages in support of public education. ATPE at the Capitol attendees gathered for a group photo Monday afternoon outside the Senate’s chamber, which prompted brief appearances by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). ATPE’s state officers also visited with House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
When the full House and Senate convened their floor sessions Monday afternoon, Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) and Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) presented honorary resolutions recognizing ATPE members in each chamber and applauding them for their work on behalf of Texas public schools and students.
This year’s ATPE at the Capitol event coincided with a hearing Monday by the Senate Finance Committee on Senate Bill (SB) 3, which would provide teachers an across-the-board salary increase of $5,000. Many ATPE members attended and even testified before the committee in support of Chairwoman Nelson’s high-profile bill, including ATPE State Vice President Tonja Gray. Read more about the SB 3 hearing below.
At the conclusion of Monday’s hearing on Senate Bill (SB) 3, the Senate Finance Committee voted unanimously to send the high-profile teacher pay raise bill to the Senate floor. The vote came after consideration of a few amendments and hearing from more than a dozen educators who testified on the bill, including several ATPE members. SB 3 has already been placed on the Senate Intent Calendar and could be brought up for floor consideration as early as next week.
During ATPE at the Capitol activities on Monday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made a brief appearance before the crowd of ATPE members at the state capitol and talked about the bill. He shared that he expects SB 3 to be either the first or second bill passed by the full Senate this session. With 27 co-authors already signed on to the bill, it appears evident that SB 3 will make it out of the full Senate with ease and head over to the Texas House for consideration.
SB 3 is likely to face tougher scrutiny in the lower chamber, where House leaders have criticized the bill and expressed a preference for advancing a merit pay proposal similar to what has been recommended by the Texas Commission on Public School Finance and Gov. Greg Abbott (R). ATPE expects the House’s school finance and teacher compensation omnibus bill to be filed within the next few days, as House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty announced plans for a press conference about the House bill on Tuesday, March 5, with committee hearings expected during the week of March 11.
Read more about Monday’s SB 3 hearing and ATPE’s testimony in this blog post. Tune in to Teach the Vote next week for more on the budget and school finance discussions. We’ll have analysis of the anticipated House bill, plus updates on the budget writing process as the Senate take a deeper dive on SB 1 with the appointment of work groups for various sections of the draft budget. As announced by Chairwoman Nelson on Monday, Sens. Paul Bettencourt, Charles Perry, and Royce West will serve on a work group chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor for the public education portion of Article III of the budget.
FEDERAL UPDATE: In Washington, DC this week, education and a Texas elected official were in the news.
On Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) joined U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at a press conference announcing his filing of new bill offering federal tax credits to individuals or corporations who fund private school voucher scholarships. Read more about the voucher push in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
Also in Washington, the House Education and Labor Committee announced five informational hearings to formally launch the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). The HEA was last re-authorized in 2008. The five hearings will cover the cost of college; higher education accountability; costs of non-completion; the roles of community colleges, historically black colleges and universities, and minority-serving institutions; and innovation in degree pathways. The hearings have not been scheduled yet. Conversations around affordability and accountability are also taking place between Ranking Member Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday, Feb. 26, and considered 21 bills over the course of several hours. The agenda included bills pertaining to health and student safety, use of technology and instructional materials funding, recess policies, and more. Read more about Tuesday’s discussions in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier who attended the hearing. Next Tuesday, March 5, the committee will meet again to hear a number of bills relating to student assessments.
Last Friday, Feb. 22, the State Board for Educator Certification held its first meeting of 2019. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier attended the meeting and provided this summary of the board’s discussions.
Related to educator preparation and certification, it’s almost time for new teachers and principals to share their feedback on educator preparation programs (EPPs). The Texas Education Agency (TEA) will be collecting data from principals of first-year teachers and all first-year teachers to help assess the effectiveness of various EPPs. The results of the principal survey will be used for EPP accountability. Both principals and teachers will have access to training modules before completing the surveys. The surveys will become available on April 3, 2019. Find more detailed information about the surveys here.
Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a rally at the Capitol for school choice January 24, 2017. Both Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick spoke in favor of expanding school choice options. Students, educators, activists and parents marched on the south lawn to show their support for expanding school choice options during National School Choice Week. Photo by Laura Skelding for The Texas Tribune
Two years ago, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick stood on the steps of the Texas Capitol before a throng of waving yellow scarves and urged lawmakers to vote for programs that give parents state money to attend private schools.
This Wednesday, those two top Republicans may not even attend the rally for National School Choice Week, let alone have speaking roles.
Though “school choice” supporters will still excitedly don their signature bright yellow scarves Wednesday, they will likely be fighting an uphill battle the rest of this session to get support in the Capitol.
In the months after 2017’s rally, House lawmakers unequivocally voted to reject school vouchers or similar programs that allow parents to use public money for private education. In 2018, a key election ousted some of the programs’ largest supporters, including Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, one of the loudest cheerleaders in the House. And as state Republicans tour the state making constituents a new set of education-related promises, many have swapped the words “school choice” for “school finance.”
So far, even Abbott and Patrick have rarely brought up their former pet issue without being asked directly — beyond Abbott’s routine proclamation for this year’s School Choice Week. The new House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, said last week that the House would not pass legislation approving vouchers — and that he had consistently voted no on similar bills.
“I’m not willing to say, ‘hey, this issue is dead.’ But leadership seems to be saying that, at least for this particular session,” said Monty Exter, lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, one of the biggest opponents of those programs.
The issue was politically divisive last session, with public school educators arguing it would siphon money from public schools. The Senate passed a diluted version of the bill that would allow parents of students with disabilities to pay for private school and homeschooling, with supporters arguing it would empower families to make the best educational choices for their kids. Facing resistance in the House, Senate leaders refused to approve an overhaul of the school finance system without those subsidies — forcing a stalemate.
Abbott demanded lawmakers pass both in a summer special session. Both failed to pass again.
Randan Steinhauser, who along with her husband Brendan has helped lead the fight for voucher-like programs in Texas, said both Abbott and Patrick have been invited to support the cause from the stage at Wednesday’s rally. But they aren’t scheduled to give formal speeches. Sen. Ted Cruz and Land Commissioner George P. Bush, both Republicans, are expected to speak and, she said, “having one elected official after another is not the most engaging thing for our audience.”
In 2017, Steinhauser helped start an organization called Texans for Education Opportunity, which hired about a dozen lobbyists to push the benefits of giving parents taxpayer money to use for private school tuition and homeschooling. This year, Texans for Education Opportunity has no lobbyists registered.
Steinhauser and Texans for Education Opportunity founder Stacy Hock both say they are instead focusing on organizing families to speak directly to lawmakers.
“Thankfully, we will not be doing a huge lobby effort this session,” Hock said. ‘What has become apparent to me is that the most important voice in this discussion is that of Texas families.”
Steinhauser rejects the idea that lawmakers got kicked out of office for supporting the issue.
“If that were the case, Dan Patrick would have lost. He’s the biggest champion in the state and he’s coming back for another term,” she said. “No one won or lost on the issue of school choice.”
But lawmakers appear to be putting distance between themselves and the issue, at least for the time being.
Sen. Larry Taylor, the Friendswood Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee, told a group of free-market conservatives earlier this month that school choice “is not going to be the focus this session” and “not part of the school finance bill.” That’s a far cry from 2017, when he authored the Senate’s bill for private school tuition subsidies.
But he’s not alone in his change of tone. Two years ago, sporting a yellow scarf of his own atop a navy blue suit, Patrick expressed his disappointment with the Texas House in front of thousands of students and family members from charter schools and private schools.
“We want a vote up or down in the Senate and in the House this session on school choice,” he said, amid loud cheers. “It’s easy to kill a bill when no one gets to vote on it.”
This year, when asked whether the issue would return to the Senate, Patrick was less direct: “We’ll see, we’ll see. It’s a long session.”
Disclosure: Stacy Hock and the Association of Texas Professional Educators have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
After more than a year of voter mobilization efforts aimed at making an impact on the Texas Legislature, educators sprinted across the finish line Tuesday with plenty to be proud of.
Pro-public education candidates for the Texas House of Representatives, both Democrats and Republicans, had a great night. When the dust settled, 74 percent of candidates supported by ATPE-PAC won their races. Conversely, many candidates backed by the infamous group Empower Texans lost their races last night. Forty-two candidates endorsed by the pro-public education entity Texas Parent PAC were victorious, including these new representatives-elect:
HD 4—Keith Bell, R-Forney
HD 8—Cody Harris, R-Palestine
HD 46—Sheryl Cole, D-Austin
HD 47—Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin
HD 52—James Talarico, D-Round Rock
HD 62—Reggie Smith, R-Van Alstyne
HD 105—Terry Meza, D-Irving
HD 113—Rhetta Bowers, D-Garland
HD 114—John Turner, D-Dallas
HD 115—Julie Johnson, D-Addison
HD 118—Leo Pacheco, D-San Antonio
HD 121—Steve Allison, R-San Antonio
HD 126—Sam Harless, R-Houston
HD 136—John H Bucy III, D-Round Rock
Democrats gained 12 seats in the Texas House, which lowers the mathematical advantage for Republicans to 83-67 from the more lopsided 95-55. This shouldn’t matter on most issues, but it could be extremely significant when it comes to dealing with highly partisan legislation such as vouchers or another anti-teacher payroll deduction bill, which the Republican Party of Texas has declared a top legislative priority despite resistance from within the Republican caucus. This new math could also influence the selection of a new House speaker to replace retiring pro-public education Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio).
Over to the Texas Senate, the addition of two pro-public education members marks a slight improvement over the last legislative session. Beverly Powell defeated incumbent state Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) 52-48%, and Nathan Johnson defeated incumbent Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) 54-46%. Their election helps offset the loss of a Democrat-held seat won by Republican state Senator-elect Pete Flores during a summer special election for Senate District 19.
The GOP majority in the Texas Senate now changes to 19-12 from 21-10, however Republicans will hold a 19-11 advantage for the majority of session due to U.S. Representative-elect Sylvia Garcia’s (D-Houston) refusal to resign her state senate seat on time to hold a replacement election before the legislative session begins.
Under the Senate’s 3/5 rule, 19 votes are needed to pass most major legislation, and just 18 votes will be needed until Garcia’s seat is filled. This is very significant math in the Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Texas) was able to push through multiple anti-public education bills, including voucher legislation, along largely party-line votes last session. However, there is reason to be optimistic that the results of this election cycle may embolden some pro-public education Republicans in the Senate to stand up to the lieutenant governor on these divisive issues.
Speaking of the lieutenant governor, Texas voters awarded him four more years Tuesday night. Despite his extremely anti-public education policies, Dan Patrick won reelection with a 51-46% victory over Democratic businessman Mike Collier. Patrick’s support roughly tracked with his GOP colleagues on the statewide ballot. Patrick, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton each received about 4.2 million votes. Gov. Greg Abbott received the most votes at 4.6 million.
The results up and down the statewide ballot were fairly consistent despite vast differences in the amount spent in each race. Cruz’s Democratic challenger, Congressman Beto O’Rourke, raised a staggering $70 million. His performance at the polls was largely mirrored by his statewide Democratic colleagues who raised a fraction of that amount. Democrats dominated the state’s largest urban areas and were thereby able to flip several local seats, but their numbers were not sufficient to overcome rural Republicans’ advantage in statewide races.
Now begins the process of dissecting the polling data to try and derive additional insights. At a general level, the Democratic strategy relied in part on mobilizing Democratic voters to achieve presidential election-level turnout while hoping Republicans turned out at typical midterm election levels. What happened instead was both Democrats and Republicans turned out at levels approaching a presidential election.
A total of 8.3 million Texas voters turned out for the 2018 midterm elections, compared to just 4.6 million voters for the 2014 midterms. Tuesday marked the highest turnout for a midterm election in Texas history, overall second only to the 2016 presidential election in which just shy of 9.0 million Texans voted. Looking deeper, about 400,000 fewer people voted for Cruz in 2018 than voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Conversely, O’Rourke received roughly 400,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton.
Registration of eligible voters increased to 79.40 percent in 2018 from 74.15 percent in 2014. This year’s turnout of 52.70 percent marked a 59 percent increase in turnout from 33.70 percent who participated in 2014. Turnout for the 2016 presidential election was 59.39 percent. In raw numbers, turnout compared to the last midterm election was nearly double.
So what does this all mean? It means that overall, educators did a great job electing local candidates who will stand up for public education. Through your hard work, you’ve made a positive difference on the political math within the Texas Legislature. Notwithstanding this success, arguably the largest challenge facing educators will be the retention of statewide leaders who have not taken the most education-friendly stances in the past. Will close calls during this election and the increase in voter turnout and enthusiasm among the education community this year provide an incentive for state leaders to become more responsive to and accountable for the needs of public schools? With the elections over, the battle now moves from the ballot box to the statehouse. Educators will need to harness the same enthusiasm to help make the 2019 legislative session a success for our students and classrooms.
In the weeks prior to the upcoming midterm elections, many people across the state have been bombarded with a slew of campaign ads featuring members of both parties vying for the votes of the general public. One such ad features Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick discussing a $10,000 raise that he alleges he championed for educators. But there’s a problem: no such thing ever happened. ATPE Past State President Carl Garner quashes that claim and explains why such rhetoric is offensive in this guest post.
Over the past two weeks of early voting we’ve been highlighting what’s at stake for educators in the 2018 midterm elections. This past week we’ve examined a myriad of issues like why it’s important to elect pro-public education candidates to the State Board of Education and why vouchers are a threat to public schools. Over the years, teachers have had to deal with a barrage of attacks: attempts to limit their ability to join professional associations, school funding cuts, and exorbitant increases in health care costs, to name a few. That has made an already demanding job that much more difficult. With Nov. 6 a few days away, it’s time for educators to asses the hand they’ve been dealt and whether the legislature is holding up its end of the bargain; then vote accordingly.
Governor Abbott showcased his plan to patch up the state’s school finance system to business leaders and educators earlier this week. Without having received the recommendations of the Commission on Public School Finance, which has not yet concluded its work (although it is expected to report its findings by the end of this year), Abbott has proposed a plan that would limit the amount of property tax revenue school districts can raise and would give school districts financial rewards for improving student performance. The proposal gave pause to Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), vice chair of the House Public Education Committee. Bernal had this to say with regards to the proposal:
“It would be a shame if school finance was merely a Trojan horse for his property tax agenda,” he said. “What that means is that it’s not about the students at all.”
Early voting is underway NOW for the November 6 elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote TODAY! In this post, we’re taking a closer look at vouchers.
When it comes to issues facing public education as a whole, privatization remains one of the most existential threats. The endgame of those who are pushing private school vouchers is to defund the public school system in order to hand our kids over to faceless corporations that will crank them out cheaply and pocket the profits.
Think about it: In 2016, Texas spent $24 billion in state funds to educate our kids. Local taxpayers pitched in even more — $28.8 billion on top of that. It sounds like a lot of money, until you consider it was spread between 5.3 million students. That translated to just $11,133 per student, which puts Texas below the national average and among the states with the most miserly per-student spending.
Despite lagging below many other states, the money spent on Texas public schools is nonetheless a tempting target for predatory opportunists who see only dollar signs. Private schools that can ignore state and federal regulations are viewed by many as a cash cow. A warehouse with a skeleton crew of untrained staff could certainly churn out diplomas and graduate kids unprepared for college and careers for a fraction of the price of a quality public education. Pro-voucher legislators could brag about reducing spending while corporate stockholders rake in billions of taxpayer dollars, perfect for spending on fancy yachts and private planes – and campaign contributions to pro-voucher legislators!
Of course, the kids end up the losers in this scenario. And the 85th Texas Legislature witnessed the despicable lengths to which voucher supporters were willing to go to sell our kids down the road.
The legislative session began with fresh data indicating that Texans firmly oppose spending public taxpayer dollars to subsidize private school tuition. Led by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, voucher proponents instead focused on a voucher targeting students with special needs as a way to open the door. They also used terms like “education savings accounts” and “tax credit scholarships” to describe their voucher plans in the hope of garnering more support from those who traditionally oppose privatization. Voucher promoters even went as far as mailing fraudulent letters to lawmakers to promote their plan.
As ATPE pointed out, special education vouchers are especially troubling and would not come close to covering the full cost of services for children with special needs. In fact, they would give students far less money than the public school system is currently required to spend on their behalf. More importantly, they would force children with special needs to surrender their federal rights and protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Parents of special needs students wisely rejected this cynical attempt to exploit their children for political purposes. With the backing of parents, teachers, ATPE, and the majority of Texans, the Texas House of Representatives led by Speaker Joe Straus stood firmly against each voucher scheme brought forth in 2017. Legislators punctuated their stance with multiple votes on the House floor to reject vouchers.
As payback, Lt. Gov. Patrick killed a bill authored by members of the House that would have provided $1.5 billion in additional funding to benefit all 5.4 million Texas students – signaling how far the lieutenant governor was willing to go to pass a voucher bill against the will of Texas voters.
While voucher supporters were unable to pass a bill in 2017, they have already begun laying the groundwork for a renewed push when the legislature meets again in 2019. The only reason powerful leaders like Lt. Gov. Patrick and Gov. Abbott were unable to pass a voucher bill in 2017 is because Texas voters elected just enough pro-public education legislators to stop those bills from becoming law.
The reality is that unless Texans elect more legislators who promise to actively oppose vouchers, the threat of a voucher bill passing in the future remains high.
Go to the CANDIDATES section of our Teach the Vote website to find out where officeholders and candidates in your area stand on this and other public education issues.
Remind your colleagues also about the importance of voting and making informed choices at the polls. While it is illegal to use school district resources (like your work e-mail) to communicate information that supports or opposes specific candidates or ballot measures, there is NO prohibition on sharing nonpartisan resources and general “get out of the vote” reminders about the election.
Early voting in the 2018 general election runs Monday, October 22, through Friday, November 2. Election Day is November 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!
The Democrat wants to draw teachers and education-minded voters away from the Republican Party. But can he win over enough educators to unseat a powerful incumbent?
Democrat Mike Collier (left) is challenging Republican incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Photos by Bob Daemmrich: Collier/Marjorie Kamys Cotera: Patrick.
TAYLOR — It was a weekday morning, and Williamson County’s retired teachers were back in school.
Dozens of them gathered one October Friday in a large conference room off of Main Street Intermediate School, where the walls were beige concrete blocks, the sunlight was sneaking through the blinds, and the speakers — a slate of Texas candidates — were fighting to keep the room’s interest. Casting a shadow on the projector screen at the front of the room was Mike Collier, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, who was preparing to hit a softball: Does Texas need its state retirement benefits system for teachers?
“Yes,” he said simply. “First of all, it’s the right thing to do. … It’s self-evident.”
He began to make a pulpit of his plastic table.
“And we’re a prosperous state! And we can afford it!” he continued, finger-wagging for emphasis. When he sat down, the room applauded.
On his longshot campaign to unseat incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Collier is hoping he’s popular in a lot of rooms that look like this one — where after hearing from him, education-focused voters in a reliably red county said in interviews that they planned to vote for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, then cross over to back Collier.
Collier, a Houston accountant and a failed 2014 candidate for Texas comptroller, is at a deep, perhaps insurmountable disadvantage in deep-red Texas, where Patrick has served in state government for more than a decade and accumulated about 35 times as much cash on hand.
Still, Collier says he can see a path to victory — and it starts here, in a crowd of retired teachers, scribbling on the bingo card-like sheets they’ve prepared for the occasion, sipping coffee out of teeny foam cups, some nodding along and a few nodding off.
But are there enough rooms like this to carry him to victory?
“The most conservative lieutenant governor in the history of Texas”
Patrick is the heavy favorite to keep his seat in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office in more than 20 years. He has the fundraising muscle, the endorsements and, more than likely, the reliable voters of a reliably dominant majority party.
As the leader of the Texas Senate, Patrick is one of the most powerful Republicans in the state, and he’s used his influence to push socially conservative policies through the upper chamber at an impressive clip — abortion restrictions, border enforcement, anti-“sanctuary cities” laws. Republican senators credit him with firm, effective leadership; liberals consider that effectiveness perhaps the state’s greatest threat to their values.
Patrick chaired President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign efforts in Texas, and shared the stage with him at a campaign rally in Houston this week, drawing some of the loudest applause of the night. Patrick is, state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, said at a recent campaign event, “the most conservative lieutenant governor in the history of Texas.”
But his party isn’t without its disagreements. Some have pointed to a split between Patrick, who heads a Tea Party-aligned faction of the party, and retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, a more moderate figure. During the last legislative year, that split emerged in full force when Patrick pushed forward a bill that would have restricted transgender individuals’ access to certain public facilities. Straus condemned it as bad for business, and never brought it to the House floor for a vote — a move that contributed to his censure by the State Republican Executive Committee.
Tensions from the 2017 legislative sessions have bled into this fall’s campaign, if in limited fashion. One example: Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, a Republican who leads Texas’ most populous county, said he plans to vote for Collier.
But a family feud won’t keep a Republican incumbent from getting re-elected, strategists and elected officials predict. Patrick has the public support of Texas’ top Republicans; his campaign boasts the endorsements of both of Texas’ U.S. senators, the governor and all but one Republican state senator.
“There’s no question” that Patrick will win re-election, said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, an ally of the lieutenant governor. Bettencourt represents the Houston district Patrick served until 2014 — heavily overlapping with Emmett’s turf — and said he’s confident that Patrick has the support of the region. “Dan Patrick is going to be re-elected. Dan Patrick is very popular in the Republican party.”
Still, if there are disenchanted Republican moderates to be picked off, Collier is working to endear himself to them.
In a year when even Texas Democrats are running as unabashed progressives, Collier has charted a more careful path. His party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate is a former punk rocker who went viral for skateboarding in a Whataburger parking lot while on the campaign trail. For governor, Democrats have nominated Lupe Valdez, the state’s first openly gay and Latina candidate to win the nod.
Collier does not ride a skateboard. At 57, he’s spent much of his life working as an accountant, and he only recently committed to the Democratic party — he voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. He seems most comfortable talking numbers — “I’m Dan Patrick’s worst nightmare! I’m a Democrat and an auditor!” he likes to say — and seems less sure-footed discussing social issues.
On the death penalty, for example, Collier said he is still “evolving” toward a more liberal point of view. Collier justifies his support for undocumented immigrants in Texas in financial terms, not on moral grounds: They draw about $2 billion in state resources a year, but contribute about $2.7 billion back through property taxes, he says, so, “it doesn’t bother me that they’re here.” His line is similar on LGBTQ rights. In an interview last month, he couldn’t list inclusive legislation he’d push, but said he did “have in mind blocking” measures considered hostile to the gay community, like the so-called “bathroom bill.”
“Tolerance and inclusiveness is good for business,” Collier said, a line he could almost have borrowed from Straus.
“Public enemy number one for public education”
If Collier is positioning himself to draw center-right Republicans back over the line, public education may be his best issue. Patrick is not an uncontroversial figure among teachers, retired teachers and public school parents.
As a former chair of the Texas Senate’s public education committee and as the leader of the upper chamber, Patrick has championed what he calls “school choice” and critics, many of them public school educators, call “vouchers” — programs that would give Texas families subsidies to fund private school tuition for their kids. During last summer’s special session, as the Legislature debated an influx of cash for public schools, the Texas House offered up $1.8 billion — $1.5 billion more than Patrick’s Texas Senate proposed.
“When you have 700,000 school employees, they’re not all going to be on the same page. That said, I do feel like if there’s any one person out there that they’re most unified about it’s probably the lieutenant governor,” said Monty Exter, a lobbyist at the Association of Texas Professional Educators.
As a senator, Exter said, Patrick “was pushing reforms that lots of educators are not necessarily in favor of. He doesn’t seem to favor class-size restrictions and they really, really do. He really does favor vouchers and they really, really don’t. And the funding issues have died in his hands or at his hands.”
Meanwhile, Patrick portrays himself as a champion for public schools. This summer, after his urging, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas opted not to raise health care premiums for retired teachers. In an ad last week, he reiterated his proposal to raise teacher salaries by an average of $10,000.
“Teachers are more valuable than expensive buildings and fancy stadiums,” Patrick says in the commercial, standing on a sunny hill in front of a truck. “It’s my priority, it’s best for our kids and it’s the right thing to do.”
But many in the public education community are skeptical about that plan in a system they say is already underfunded. Tracy Fisher, the president of Coppell ISD’s board and a Republican precinct chair in Dallas County, called the lieutenant governor’s proposal “deceptive.” He is “public enemy number one for public education,” she added.
And the effort hasn’t won Patrick favor from major teachers groups, some of whom have called his efforts disingenuous. Collier won the endorsements of the Texas State Teachers Association and Texas’ chapter of American Federation of Teachers; AFT president Louis Malfaro said Patrick has “tried to browbeat local school districts.” In its first-ever endorsements of statewide candidates, the public education group Texas Parent PAC also backed Collier, calling Patrick a bully and ideologue “who cannot be trusted to protect and strengthen our neighborhood public schools.”
Patrick’s campaign said those groups hardly speak for all Texas teachers. But the incumbent’s recent teacher raise ad shows he’s still focused on courting educators.
“While almost all the organizations that represent teachers are left-leaning and Democrat, in fact, Texas teachers tell us that most are Republicans who support border security, property tax reform and the innovative education reforms, including career tech, that have been championed by the Lt. Governor,” said Sherry Sylvester, a top Patrick aide.
Republican strategist Brendan Steinhauser said dissatisfied educators may narrow Patrick’s margin of victory, but they won’t threaten it.
“Do I think that feeling is widespread enough to cause concern for Dan Patrick? No,” he said.
A “sleeping giant”?
There are about 700,000 public school employees in Texas; that number doubles when you include retirees in the system, and multiplies if you add parents who consider public education their top voting issue. Collier is counting on that diverse group to back him as a block — but those voters have a wide range of backgrounds and political leanings. And they don’t always show up.
“The expectation is that teachers just don’t vote,” Exter said. “But I feel like what we’ve been seeing over the last couple of elections is that the enthusiasm and participation of educators is on the rise.”
Last year, in the wake of disappointments at the Legislature, many educators pledged to come together — including, and especially, across party lines — to support pro-public education candidates. In the months since, they’ve moved their advocacy from the Capitol steps to the internet, where nearly 27,000 have joined a Facebook group, Texans For Public Education, whose stated mission is block voting. The group, which color-codes its list of candidates, marked Collier green — “friendly,” “block vote” — and Patrick red: “unfriendly” to public education.
Collier is counting on turning them out to vote for him. But that bet has failed before.
Just ask Jim Largent, who retired as Granbury ISD superintendent this year after a failed primary challenge to state Rep. Mike Lang, a fellow North Texas Republican. Running as the pro-public education candidate, Largent won just 38 percent of the vote. In the Houston area, Fort Bend ISD board president Kristin Tassin suffered the same fate, taking just 27 percent of the vote in a challenge to state Sen. Joan Huffman that Tassin hoped teachers would swing in her favor.
A similar pattern emerged in the lieutenant governor’s race, where Patrick was one of just a few statewide officials to draw a serious primary challenger. Patrick’s opponent was Scott Milder, the founder of the advocacy group Friends of Texas Public Schools, who drew some attention for bad-mouthing Patrick — he called the incumbent a “bully,” a “jackass” and even a “fake conservative” —but remained the clear underdog in financial support and name recognition. Milder pushed the Patrick campaign to spend over $5 million on advertising, but ultimately won just under a quarter of Republican primary voters — a smaller share than either Tassin or Largent. Within days of the loss, Milder endorsed Collier.
Looking back on his attempt, Largent called Texas educators the electorate’s “sleeping giant.” The question, he said, is whether in a general election they’re more likely to wake up.
“I have always thought that Mike had a better shot than I did in the primary,” Milder said. “So few people actually turn out in the primary. … But a much broader base of Texans shows up in the general.”
Collier argues that the pro-public education voting block he envisions is more likely to swing a general election than a primary. Considering Democrats and Republicans who backed Milder, more people voted against Patrick in the primary than for him, Collier likes to point out.
There is also a Libertarian candidate in this fall’s race, Kerry McKennon.
“I do think that my race is as competitive as any,” Collier said. “There are going to be Republicans who stay home because they hate Dan Patrick. There are going to be a lot of Democrats who turn out because they hate Dan Patrick.”
The incumbent’s team isn’t so sure of that, though they did spend some $6.5 million on advertising in the last quarter to make extra sure. They have history on their side — and history suggests they have the numbers on their side, too.
At a rainy get out the vote rally in New Braunfels last week, Patrick projected confidence.
“There are folks like us who are going to keep Texas red — who are not going to let the blue wave take us out,” Patrick promised a cheering, bundled-up crowd.
While introducing Patrick, Campbell, the Republican state senator, summed it up neatly.
“I’ll tell you, they are motivated!” she said of Democrats. “But there are more of us than them.”
Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators, the Texas State Teachers Association and Texas AFT have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
Congress passed a funding bill today that averts a looming government shutdown and, among other spending, includes FY 2019 funding for the U.S. Department of Education (ED). The measure now heads to President Trump for his signature.
Under the spending measure, the overall federal education budget is increased based on current levels, with major programs like Title I and special education seeing program specific bumps. President Trump asked for more than $7 billion in overall budget cuts to ED in his budget request to Congress earlier this year. Congress’s education budget also largely ignores his request to funnel north of $1 billion to various school choice programs, but does include increased funding for charter school grants.
The bill increases funding levels for a grant aimed at creating safer schools. Despite efforts from Democrats, a prohibition on using certain funding under the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA) to arm teachers in schools did not make it into the bill. Texas has been at the center of the debate following questions from Texas school districts asking whether Title IV ESSA funding could be used to arm teachers. At a hearing on ESSA held by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee yesterday, the issue again garnered significant attention. Education Secretary Betsy Devos has maintained that the law offers districts considerable flexibility and does not specifically prohibit spending on arming teachers.
President Trump said earlier today that he will sign the measure, which keeps the government running through December 7 and also funds the Defense, Labor, and Health and Human Services Departments.
Today culminates the end of a jam-packed week for the State Board of Education (SBOE), and ATPE’s lobby team was there throughout the week to testify and provide updates on the board’s activities for our Teach the Vote blog. Here are some highlights:
First, on Tuesday the body began its week by convening to discuss controversial social studies TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) that have been the subject of much political debate and social media attention. The board also took time on Tuesday to discuss its Long Range Plan for Public Education (LRP), which sets objectives for education through the year 2030. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was on hand to commend the group on its thoughtful process, but also to suggest that the board take steps to increase the rigor of Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs) and insist that teacher pay not be too closely linked to evaluations and test scores. Perfecting amendments to the plan, most of which were in line with ATPE’s desired outcomes, were offered by SBOE Chairwoman Donna Bahorich.
The board kept its momentum going into Wednesday when it discussed special education and school funding. With an update from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, the board learned that quite a bit of progress had been made on the state’s corrective action plan for special education with 70% of vacant positions filled. Morath also announced that TEA would be reviewing its contracting process, which comes after the Texas State Auditor’s office lobbed criticism at the agency for questionable contracting practices. Morath briefed the board on the A-F ratings that were given to school districts earlier this year. He also noted the decline in “IR” or “Improvement Required” districts across the state. Lastly, Morath informed the board of TEA’s Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR), which included two exceptional requests for funding for compensatory services for districts (in order to help them comply with the SpEd corrective action plan) and $50 million in funding for health and safety, $20 million of which is to be earmarked to comply with the governor’s school safety plan.
Later Wednesday afternoon, the SBOE also approved the funding distribution from the Permanent School Fund (PSF) for the 2020-21 biennium. Funds will be distributed at a rate of 2.75%. SBOE members expressed concerns regarding the deposit of funds into the Available School Fund (ASF) by the General Land Office (GLO), a move that will result in districts receiving $225 million less per year than normal. Several members of the board suggested actions in response to this action, including asking the GLO to reverse its actions and requesting that the GLO provide extra funding to cover the interest of the distribution.
On Thursday, the SBOE Committee on School Initiatives met to consider a rule proposed by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) that would offer accelerated paths to certification for certain skill sets. The elected SBOE has statutory authority to review all rule actions taken by SBEC, a board whose members are appointed by the governor. SBOE members may veto SBEC rules but cannot make changes to them; SBEC rules for which the SBOE takes no action automatically become effective. For this week’s meeting, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified against the SBEC rule change regarding certain teaching certificates on the grounds that it exceeded the scope of the 2017 legislation upon which it was based, House Bill (HB) 3349. The rule change, as approved by SBEC earlier this summer, would have allowed certain educators to circumvent 300 hours of training in areas like pedagogy that are essential to normal pathways to certification. Members of the SBOE committee unanimously recommended rejecting the SBEC rule, and the certification rule change was ultimately rejected by a unanimous vote from the full SBOE board today, which will force SBEC to reconsider its action on implementing HB 3349.
Lastly, the full board met today to approve the first draft of language for the LRP, deciding to wait until November for final approval. SBOE members also finalized a formal letter to the GLO requesting that it cover the funding shortfall caused by its actions. Read more about the board’s actions in today’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
As we have reported previously on Teach the Vote, ATPE has been an advocate for programs and resources to help prevent youth suicide. In 2015, we successfully advocated for the passage of an educator training bill aimed at preventing student suicides. Still, suicide, especially among Texans age 15-34, persists as a public health problem despite laws passed to prevent it. In this news feature by CBS Austin’s Melanie Torre this week featuring ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter, Torre examines why the risk of teen suicide is still on the rise in Texas.
With the 2018 general election inching closer, and a major special election already underway his week in one San Antonio-area legislative district, ATPE wants to remind educators about the importance of voter turnout. Earlier this week, Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos released a statement urging voters to make sure they are registered to vote before the October 9th deadline. Pablos encourages Texans to plan their trips to the ballot box and to make sure they know what’s on their ballots.
“Prepare yourself, inform yourself, and empower yourself” – Rolando Pablos, Texas Secretary of State.
There’s a lot at stake this fall. We urge educators to view and share ATPE’s nonpartisan election resources here on Teach the Vote, including searchable profiles of every candidate vying for the Texas Legislature, State Board of Education, Governor, or Lieutenant Governor in 2018.
Meanwhile, early voting has already begun and continues through this evening in the special election runoff to fill the vacant seat in Texas Senate District 19. Those SD 19 residents who miss early voting should play to get out and vote during their last change on Tuesday, Sept. 18th. The candidates in the runoff happening now are Democrat Pete Gallego and Republican Pete Flores. Find polling locations and additional information, courtesy of the Bexar County Elections Department, here.
Tuesday’s special election results and the outcomes of several high-profile races on the ballot in November could dramatically change the outlook for education bills moving through the Texas Legislature, and particularly, the Texas State Senate. In recent sessions, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has used the combination of a Republican super-majority in the Senate and his heavy-handed brand of managing the upper chamber to usher though a bevy of anti-public education bills, such as private school voucher proposals and legislation to take away educators’ rights to use payroll deduction for their voluntary association dues. How those same types of bills fare in 2019 will depend on the outcome of this fall’s elections. In this new post, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins breaks down the calculus of voting this fall.
This week also proved to be insightful in terms of previewing discussions we’ll hear during the 2019 legislative session about both the state’s education budget and efforts to reform our school finance system.
Both the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) laid out their Legislative Appropriations Requests (LARs) to the Legislative Budget Board this week. Details and links to video footage of TEA Commissioner Mike Morath and TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie explaining their respective requests can be found here. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided additional analysis in this blog post.
Also this week, the Expenditures Subcommittee of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance convened to vote on their recommendations for the full commission. A breakdown of the committee’s goals, which include putting more funding into the basic allotment and shifting funds away from programs not directly tied to educational programming, can be found in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.
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