Tag Archives: vouchers

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.

86th Legislative Session Highlights from ATPE

As the 86th Texas Legislature began its regular session in January 2019, it was dubbed the “session of the teacher” and was marked by abounding promises to fix school finance and provide pay raises to the most important in-school factor contributing to student success: our teachers. Indeed, this session’s legislation included several pro-public education proposals such as a multi-billion dollar school finance and property tax reform bill, efforts to provide an across-the-board teacher pay raise, school safety enhancements, and measures to shore up the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), while mostly avoiding troublesome and divisive topics such as payroll deduction and tactics to privatize education.

However, bills rarely reach the finish line in the same form as they started, while most others don’t make it at all. In fact, there were more than 10,000 bills and resolutions filed this session, but only 1,429 House and Senate bills were finally passed. As a reminder, bills that do finally pass the legislature are still subject to review by the governor. Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed three bills that were on ATPE’s tracking list. The governor vetoed House Bill (HB) 109 by Rep. Armando Martinez (D-Weslaco), which would have required charter schools to give students Memorial Day off as school districts are currently required to do, yet the bill exempted districts of innovation (DOI). Gov. Abbott explained in his veto statement that the bill would have exempted up to 859 school districts, and suggested the legislature draft more targeted legislation in the future. The governor vetoed HB 455 by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston), which would have required the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to develop a model policy on recess that encourages age-appropriate outdoor physical activities. Despite praising the bill’s good intentions, the governor called HB 455 “bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake.” Gov. Abbott also vetoed HB 3511 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), which would have created a “Commission on Texas Workforce of the Future.” The governor called the bill redundant and duplicative of work being done by the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative, which involves the Texas Workforce Commission, TEA, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). 

To learn how education issues fared during the 2019 session that ended on Memorial Day, ATPE offers this comprehensive summary prepared by our lobbyists: Jennifer Mitchell, Monty Exter, Mark Wiggins, and Andrea Chevalier. You’ll also find within this post an update on the actions taken by the 86th Texas Legislature on ATPE’s legislative priorities for 2019.

Here’s a list of the topics covered in this post:


School Finance:

ATPE’s top legislative priority this year was improving Texas’s school finance system, and more specifically, supporting legislation to dramatically improve that system in order to provide every child access to an exemplary public education.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) declared school finance reform to be one of his top priorities and an emergency item for early consideration by the 86th Legislature. Newly elected House Speaker Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) did his part to keep school funding on the minds of state representatives by providing them with cups reading, “School Finance Reform – The Time is Now.” While a handful of school finance bills were filed this session, House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) quickly became the session’s signature piece of legislation. HB 3 was a culmination of selected recommendations from last year’s Commission on Public School Finance that was created by the 85th legislature, as well as other input from education stakeholders such as ATPE.

ATPE supported the version of HB 3 that was approved by a vote of 148-1 in the House chamber. The House-approved bill called for providing billions of dollars to public schools; included important programmatic changes such as full-day pre-K and dyslexia and dual language funding; and it increased the basic allotment. Importantly, the bill as it left the House did not include merit pay provisions ranking teachers competitively or basing their compensation on their students’ performance; nor did the bill tie district funding to the results of student assessments like the STAAR. The Senate sponsor of HB 3, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), pushed forward a revised version of the bill in the upper chamber, which was approved by the Senate on a vote of 26-3 with two senators “present not voting.” As an updated version of the bill progressed through the Senate and ultimately reached a conference committee, ATPE continued to work to keep merit pay and other negative provisions out of the final bill.

State leaders announced on May 23, 2019, that a deal on HB 3 and other key legislation had been reached. Known as the Texas Plan, the final version of HB 3 as passed by the House and Senate now awaits the Governor’s signature as of our writing of this report. It is important to note that the final bill includes approximately $5.2 billion for property tax compression in addition to the $6.2 billion for school resources, and it reduces school districts’ vulnerability to recapture.

In its final form, HB 3 also makes a number of education policy changes that fall outside the scope of traditional school finance legislation, addressing such topics as the creation of a “do not hire” registry for educators who have been accused of misconduct and requiring teachers to demonstrate proficiency in the science of teaching reading. Fortunately, HB 3 as finally passed does not rank educators across or within districts and expressly prohibits compensation being tied to testing in local teacher designation systems. The bill also does not tie school funding to students’ third grade reading scores.

Read more about the major changes to school finance and education policy that are contained in HB 3 in this detailed ATPE blog post about the omnibus bill here on Teach the Vote.

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Educator Pay: 

Increasing educator compensation through plans that foster both retention and a robust workforce at every Texas public school was another ATPE legislative priority this session. We advocated for compensation plans that would allow for local flexibility, encourage educator input, involve factors more meaningful than students’ standardized test scores, and align with other efforts to promote and enhance the education profession.

Leading up to the November 2018 Texas elections and heading into this year’s legislative session, Lt Gov. Dan Patrick (R) made teacher pay a central tenet of his communications. During campaign messaging, he first promised educators a $10,000 pay raise before ultimately scaling back his plan to the $5,000 pay raise encapsulated in Senate Bill (SB) 3 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound).

SB 3’s first high-profile hearing by the Senate Finance Committee coincided with the timing of ATPE at the Capitol, our lobby day event held every legislative session, and several ATPE members testified at the hearing. The Senate quickly passed the more than $4 billion bill out of the upper chamber within the first 60 days of session, after Gov. Abbott declared teacher pay to be another emergency item this year. SB 3 as passed by the Senate called for across-the-board pay raises for classroom teachers and librarians.

However, SB 3 stalled in the House as the lower chamber grappled with its larger school finance bill, HB 3. For its part, House members proposed smaller, state-funded, across-the-board pay raises at the district level that would cover all public school employees except administrators in their version of HB 3. Later in the session. SB 3-style pay raise language momentarily regained life in the Senate’s version of HB 3, but did not make it into the final version of the school finance bill. Ultimately, the combination of legislators opposed to across-the-board raises and the prioritization of property tax compression by state leaders, including Lt. Gov. Patrick, doomed the proposal for a $5,000 across-the-board teacher pay raise.

While it does not guarantee an across-the-board, state-mandated pay raise, the final compromise version of HB 3 does contain two significant provisions on educator compensation. The first requires districts to spend 30 percent of the new revenue they receive under HB 3 on compensation. Seventy-five percent of that portion must be spent on teachers, counselors, librarians, and nurses; with a prioritization of spending the money to increase compensation for classroom teachers with more than five years of experience. Districts are not required to give to every employee within this category an increase. The remaining 25 percent of the compensation carve-out may be spent on compensating other full-time staff who are not administrators. Additionally, districts likely can choose to spend these dollars on benefits such as insurance premiums in lieu of salary hikes.

HB 3 also allows districts to assign their teachers performance designations and draw down additional state funding for compensation based on the combination of a teacher’s designation and the student demographics of the campus in which they teach. The additional funding ranges from $3,000 to $32,000, depending on a teacher’s designation and other factors, but the total amount of money budgeted by the state for this program is only $140 million for the biennium, meaning that it may end up being limited to only a handful of districts. Based on the wording of HB 3, state funding under this program will flow to the districts rather than directly the individual teachers who may earn the designations, allowing districts substantial discretion in how they spend the additional money.

For more information on the compensation provisions found in HB 3 as finally passed, view our blog post about the bill’s details here on Teach the Vote.

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Teacher Retirement System (TRS):

ATPE had two legislative priorities for this session that were connected to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Our first priority was preserving educators’ pension benefits, which have remained largely stagnant for several years as a result of the legislature’s failure to inject more money into the system. This year, ATPE actively supported legislative efforts to preserve both the solvency and the defined-benefit structure of the TRS pension program. We also teamed up with Equable, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for pension plan sustainability, to jointly promote legislation that would address the TRS funding shortfall.

ATPE’s other TRS-related legislative priority was funding educators’ healthcare needs. We aimed to help the state and school districts provide active and retired public educators with more affordable and accessible healthcare benefits. With healthcare costs on the rise nationally, active and retired educators alike have seen their medical costs eat up an increasingly larger percentage of their take home pay or TRS annuities.

Retired teachers can rest a little easier knowing that the passage of Sen. Joan Huffman’s (R-Houston) SB 12 (pending the Governor’s signature, of course) will provide a much needed increase in contributions to TRS, making the fund actuarially sound and ensuring that the primary retirement income for many Texas educators will be viable for decades to come. Read more on the details of changes made to TRS, including the provision of a 13th check for current retirees, in this ATPE blog post for Teach the Vote.

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School Safety and Student Health: 

One of the most sweeping bills the legislature passed this session was SB 11 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), which was aimed at improving school safety in the aftermath of the 2018 deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. School safety and mental health were among the issues that Gov. Abbott declared as emergency items for the 86th legislative session, following round-table discussions his office held with stakeholders, including ATPE state officers, during the interim.

Although SB 11 and a related mental health bill, SB 10, took a meandering path through the session, legislators ultimately placed a specific focus on improving students’ mental health and assigning specialized teams at each campus to identify individuals who may pose a threat to themselves or others. The bill’s largest component sends $100 million to school districts over the next two years through a school safety allotment for use on facilities and security programs. Read the rest of what SB 11 does in this ATPE blog post for Teach the Vote.

Other school safety-related bills that were passed this session include HB 1387 by Rep. Cole Hefner (R-Mt. Pleasant), which removes caps on the number of school marshals who can serve a public or private school, and HB 2195 by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas), which requires that a school district’s multihazard emergency operations plan include a policy on responding to an active shooter situation. Freshman Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Ft. Worth) also passed a bill that pertains to the information law enforcement officials are required to share with school districts when a student is arrested. Her SB 2135 helps superintendents and school boards work together with law enforcement  agencies to exchange information that can be used to conduct a threat assessment or prepare a safety plan related to a student who may pose a threat.

Another noteworthy bill that passed this session and could be directly attributed as a reaction to recent school shootings was HB 496 by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio). It sets forth protocols for the provision and use of bleeding kits in public schools, as well as training of students and staff to respond to traumatic injuries.

A couple of education-related bills were passed this session that aim to prevent or respond to the growing problem of child sex trafficking. HB 111 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint), calls for school district employees’ training to include recognizing the signs of sexual abuse and sex trafficking of children with significant cognitive disabilities. HB 403 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) similarly requires superintendents and school board trustees to undergo training in identifying and reporting sexual abuse, human trafficking, and other maltreatment of children.

Lawmakers also approved bills this session that address students’ mental health, HB 18 by Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo) is a bill that grew out of interim recommendations and strives to help school employees be aware of and provide interventions for students with mental health challenges, substance abuse, or a history of trauma. HB 19, also by Rep. Price, requires mental health professionals in each Education Service Center (ESC) region to provide training and resources to help address public school students’ mental health. Additionally, Rep. Todd Hunter’s (R-Corpus Christi) HCR 137 designates the month of September as Suicide Prevention Month for the next 10 years. Also, SB 435 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) requires local school health advisory councils to recommend appropriate opioid addiction and abuse curriculum that can be used by the school district.

Finally, there are some student health-related bills that passed and are worth mentioning. This session Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) finally passed HB 76, a bill he has carried for several sessions aimed at providing student athletes access to cardiac assessments before they participate in certain activities sponsored by the University Interscholastic League (UIL). Rep. Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches) also passed HB 684 enabling school nurses and other trained public school employees to provide assistance to students with seizure disorders. Likewise, HB 2243 filed by physician and Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Houston) aims to help school nurses administer asthma medication to certain students. SB 869 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) calls for an ad hoc committee to consult with the commissioner of education on updating guidelines for the care of students with food allergies who are at risk for anaphylaxis.

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Student Testing:

A handful of bills pertaining to student testing are on their way to the governor’s desk as of our writing of this report. Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R-Amarillo) bill to continue Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs), SB 213, has already been signed into law by Gov. Abbott. The ATPE-supported bill originally aimed to make the IGC law permanent, but its final version simply extends the sunset date for the law to September 1, 2023, making it ripe for consideration again during the 2021 or 2023 legislative session.

The largest testing bill that passed this session is HB 3906 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), which makes a variety of changes to how state assessments are administered and the content of the tests. Additionally, HB 1244 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) changes the end-of-course exam for U.S. History to include 10 questions from the civics test used in the naturalization process; and HB 1891 by Rep. Lynn Stucky (R-Denton) will allow those who reach a required score on high school equivalency exams to be exempt from taking the Texas Success Initiative assessment.

Read more about these bills and others pertaining to testing in this ATPE blog post for Teach the Vote.

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Special Education:

During the interim, special education advocates worked diligently on the state’s Special Education Strategic Plan and Corrective Action Response, which was ordered by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) due to Texas’s artificial 8.5% cap on special education enrollment. Advocates also worked with the Texas Commission on Public School Finance last year, carrying legislators into the session with renewed energy for special education reforms.

To invigorate everyone even more, news broke just before session that our state faced penalties from ED due to the Texas Education Agency’s failure to maintain “state financial support” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Essentially, the state spent $33.3 million less on special education in 2012 than in the year before, and thus, Texas was being assessed a $33.3 million financial penalty by ED. Unfortunately, the state has continued this trend, and it is now estimated that the federal penalty will reach $233 million.

Legislation passed this session hopes to address this issue going forward. The funding changes in the major school finance bill, HB 3, and under the state’s supplemental appropriations bill, SB 500 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), should help address Texas’s issue with maintenance of financial support. HB 3 raises the mainstream weight from 1.1 to 1.15; creates a new dyslexia weight of 0.1; and establishes a special education allotment advisory committee. SB 500, the supplemental budget, includes over $219 million to settle maintenance of financial support costs and prevent future penalties.

Other bills will impact special education beyond funding, such as HB 165 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), which will allow students in special education programs to earn high school endorsements on their transcripts, and SB 139 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso), which will provide parents with clearer notice on special education rights, including information related to evaluation and eligibility. Additionally, SB 522 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) improves the development of individualized education programs (IEPs) for students who are visually impaired, and SB 2075 by Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney) aims to improve school districts’ compliance with dyslexia screening and parental notification.

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Payroll Deduction:

Protecting educators’ right to use payroll deduction for the voluntary payment of their professional association dues was another ATPE priority for 2019. In 2017, ATPE and other groups that represent public employees fought off vigorous, politically motivated efforts to repeal the payroll deduction statute, with the issue being named a top priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and even being added to Gov. Greg Abbott’s list of urgent issues that he felt necessitated a special session that summer. Those efforts failed last session, and ATPE was prepared to fight any similar legislative efforts this session.

Despite frequent pleas from far-right groups like Empower Texans and the Texas Public Policy Foundation to compel the 86th Texas Legislature to do something about the “union dues” issue, ATPE is pleased to report that not a single bill was filed this year aiming to eliminate payroll deduction for educators. There were some efforts in the final days of the session to try to amend language onto other bills that could prevent public employees from using payroll deduction, but those efforts failed.

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Class Sizes:

Early in the session, the House Public Education Committee heard HB 1133 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford). This bill would have changed the current hard cap of 22 students in a single elementary grade classroom to a campus-wide, grade-level average, having the effect of allowing class sizes to dramatically expand. ATPE strongly opposed this bill, but it was unfortunately voted favorably out of the committee. After weeks of inaction on the bill, the language from HB 1133 was abruptly amended as a House floor amendment onto one of Rep. Huberty’s school accountability bills, HB 3904. The next day, this language was stripped from HB 3904 following a third-reading amendment by Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie). What followed was quite extraordinary. Within hours, HB 1133 was added to a floor calendar and set to be voted on by the full House. Rep. Stickland postponed a vote on the bill three times, and when he finally allowed for a vote, the House defeated HB 1133 by a vote of 44 yeas and 97 nays. For more about the debate and to find out how your legislator voted on HB 1133, check out our coverage here on the Teach the Vote blog. ATPE thanks those who called their legislators and helped us oppose this bill in order to protect class-size limits, which are part of ATPE’s member-adopted legislative program.

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Private School Vouchers:

ATPE’s final legislative priority for the 86th legislative session was opposing the privatization of public schools through programs such as vouchers, scholarships, tax credits, education savings accounts, or allowing private entities to take over the authority and accountability vested in locally elected school boards. During the 2017 legislative sessions, private school vouchers were a top priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and voucher legislation easily passed the Texas Senate only to be stalled in the House. The House members’ unambiguous opposition to vouchers last session, combined with the strong statement made in 2018 by educators showing up in higher numbers at the polls, dissuaded lawmakers and even state leaders from pushing a voucher priority this year. ATPE is happy to report that no major private school voucher bills like the ones filed last session were heard in committee this time around.

There were a handful of bills considered this session that ATPE and others deemed to be virtual voucher bills. The primary bill in this group was SB 1455 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). SB 1455 would have eliminated statutory limitations on a student’s ability to demand access to more than three virtual school courses in a semester. The bill also called for expanding the number of full-time virtual school programs and access to those programs for students in grades K-2. Virtual school programs while accessed through a school district or charter school are operated almost exclusively by private, often for-profit, providers. Research has consistently shown that such full-time programs do a poor job of educating students compared to traditional brick-and-mortar schools, but they are a source of large profits for the providers at the expense of taxpayers. Other similar bills were filed this session by Sens. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) and Bob Hall (R-Edgewood). Thankfully, all of these ATPE-opposed virtual school expansion bills failed to make it out of the House Public Education Committee this session.

Although not technically a “voucher” bill, ATPE believes it is worth mentioning this session’s version of the so-called “Tim Tebow” bill. Session after session, lawmakers have filed bills named in honor of the famous athlete who was home-schooled. The bills attempt to force public schools to allow home-schooled students to participate in their activities through the University Interscholastic League (UIL). The latest iteration was HB 1324 by Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls), which ATPE opposed based on our member-adopted legislative program. During its hearing by the House Public Education Committee, ATPE submitted written testimony against HB 1324, expressing our concern that there was no assurance under the bill that home-schooled students would be required to meet the same prerequisites for UIL participation as public school students. The bill was expected to be brought up for a committee vote a couple weeks later, but was left off of the vote list, likely in response to growing opposition to HB 1324. ATPE appreciates the members, educators, parents, coaches, and other stakeholders who called their legislators to oppose this bill.

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Charter Schools:

In the previous regular legislative session of 2017, charter schools walked away with $60 million in first-time state facilities funding and the ability to operate school district campuses and receive financial benefits through “1882 partnerships,” a reference to the enabling legislation, SB 1882 (2017). While charter school legislation did not take center stage this session, several bills affecting charter schools are headed to the governor’s desk.

Some bills that passed this session have the effect of treating charters in the same manner as traditional public schools. HB 109 by Rep. Armando Martinez (D-Weslaco) prohibits charters from operating on Memorial Day; HB 2190 by Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) allows children of charter school employees to attend their parents’ school; and SB 372 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) allows charter governing bodies to employ security personnel, commission peace officers, and enter into agreements with law enforcement to assign school resource officers. Additionally, SB 2293 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) subjects charter school employees to the same collective bargaining and anti-striking laws as all other public school employees. SB 2293 also creates a common application for charter school admission and a requirement that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) maintain and report on the nebulous “charter waiting list” often cited by charter school proponents as justification for their further expansion.

While the above-referenced bills do bring some parity between charters and traditional public schools, ATPE also supported several bills this session that would have had an even greater impact but did not pass. For instance, HB 43 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) would have prohibited charters from using exclusionary admission policies based on students’ discipline history, and HB 1853 by Rep. Leo Pacheco (D-San Antonio) would have required charter schools to employ certified teachers.

Other bills that passed this session will impact charter school finance and expansion. The previously discussed omnibus school finance bill, HB 3, affects charter school funding, including requiring charters to pay their fair share into TRS and removing the charter benefit of the small and midsize adjustment. SB 668, a mandate relief bill by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), allows charters to submit an expansion approval request up to 18 months before expanding and requires that charters notify school superintendents affected by the expansion. Unfortunately, this is a pared-down version of stricter notification requirements that were included in the bill as it left the House. Other related bills that passed include HB 4258 by Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston), which provides the attorney general with the sole authority to approve the tax-exempt status of charter school bonds, nixing the authority of municipalities. Lawmakers also approved SB 2117 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), which provides the financial benefits of 1882 partnerships to previously established partnerships in Spring Branch ISD and Aldine ISD that were formed prior to the final implementation of SB 1882. Lastly, SB 1454 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) improves the transparency of the sale, lease, and disposition of closed charter schools and their assets.

A couple of other charter-related bills passed the legislature, including HB 4205 by Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland), which allows for large charter operators to repurpose a closed public school district campus with the requirement that the same students who were at the campus before it was closed be admitted. Finally, HB 1051 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) makes permanent the Goodwill Excel Center, an adult high school diploma and industry certification charter school pilot program, and codifies its best practices.

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Student Discipline:

Legislators also passed several bills related to student discipline this session. HB 3630 by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) and SB 712 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) are identical bills prohibiting the use of “aversive techniques,” which are described as techniques or interventions intended to inflict pain or emotional discomfort. This includes sprays, electric shocks, using a device to restrain all four extremities, and denial of the ability to use the restroom. Teacher organizations worked with the bill authors to ensure that this legislation would not prevent an educator from using a technique outlined in a student’s behavioral intervention plan (BIP) or from removing a student from class when necessary.

Regarding the removal of students, SB 2432 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) adds criminal harassment against a district employee to the list of conduct that will result in a student’s automatic removal from a classroom. This would mandate that a student who threatens a teacher or sends them harassing electronic communications is immediately removed from class. Another bill also by Sen. Taylor, SB 1451, states that negative action may not be taken against an educator solely on the basis that the teacher made disciplinary referrals or documented student misconduct. ATPE supported these bills.

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School Turnaround:

Lawmakers spent considerable time this session discussing ways to improve student performance at public schools that are struggling under the state’s accountability system. Finding a programmatic “fix” that will dramatically improve performance in a reasonably short period of time, and in particular, one that is capable of being replicated, has long been an elusive goal of state and local policymakers and many education reformers. The latest attempt is called the “Accelerated Campus Excellence” (ACE) approach. The program, which began in Dallas ISD and has spread to a handful of other districts mostly in the DFW metroplex, has shown some promise and caught the attention of lawmakers when it was discussed during interim hearings of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance last year.

In a nutshell, ACE consists of a robust set of wraparound services for students at a persistently struggling campus, along with salary incentives and additional training for the teachers at the campus. The program utilizes a campus reconstitution approach, where a principal, often new to the campus, assembles a team of educators, some of whom are already teaching at the campus but many of whom are new. Many aspects of ACE mirror initiatives that ATPE has long advocated, such as using financial incentives to entice high-quality, often more experienced, educators to work at hard-to-staff campuses; offering robust mentoring and professional development; and providing students with robust wraparound supports. Unfortunately, the high cost of both the educator stipends and the wraparound services has made the longer-term sustainability of an ACE program questionable.

Several bills this session included provisions that would add ACE program language to state law, including both the House and Senate versions of HB 3. Regrettably, most of the provisions included in such bills featured heavy reliance on students’ standardized test performance data, including the use of STAAR data, to select educators for ACE campuses; provisions that rank teachers competitively by district or statewide, again based largely on student performance; and giving the appointed commissioner of education extreme control over the programs and their approval.

Ultimately, the ACE provisions were removed from HB 3, the omnibus school finance bill. However, the legislature did also pass HB 4205 by Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland) which had been amended with language from another stand-alone ACE bill, SB 1412 by Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock). HB 4205 as finally passed contains a watered down and unfunded provision that allows districts, subject to commissioner approval, to use a version of ACE as a turnaround plan for a multi-year IR campus under Section 39.105 of the Texas Education Code.

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Political Speech:

In addition to advancing pro-public education legislation, ATPE worked to stop proposals this session that would have hindered the ability of our schools, teachers, and students to receive the best education possible. Specifically, ATPE worked to block SB 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) and SB 904 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola). These bills would have had the combined effect of subjecting educators to extensive restrictions on political speech that go far beyond those that apply to any other group of public employees. Under these bills, teachers would have faced criminal penalties for all kinds of innocuous activities, including break room conversations of a political nature and teaching students about civic engagement as required by the Texas curriculum standards. Neither bill made it all the way through the legislative process.

ATPE also opposed SB 9, another controversial bill by Sen. Hughes that would have significantly increased the criminal penalties for mistakes made by voters, decreased voter privacy, and made voter registration more difficult. The Senate passed SB 9 on a party line vote, but the measure stalled in the House late in the session where it could not make it onto a calendar for floor consideration.

Another pair of bills that were of concern to some education groups were SB 29 by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) and HB 281 by Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville), aimed at preventing public entities from hiring lobbyists or paying dues to associations that lobby the legislature. While it is difficult to speculate what impact those bills might have had on groups like ATPE that do not receive their dues dollars from public entities, there is no question that weakening the ability of local schools to communicate their needs to the legislature was one of the authors’ goals. Fortunately, a deluge of messages from public education supporters all over Texas helped convince legislators to reject the bill in a major late-session vote on the House floor on May 20.

It is widely believed that these bills were filed in response to pressure from certain anti-public education groups reacting to the overwhelming pro-public education sentiment expressed by many voters in the most recent elections. Some of these bills came perilously close to becoming law, and ongoing advocacy by educators during the legislative session was among the key determining factors in preventing them from making it to the governor’s desk.

Indeed, if there is a single takeaway for the education community following the 2019 legislative session, it is reinforcement of the fact that political participation by educators is essential for the defeat of anti-public education bills. Stated differently, the engagement of educators in every election cycle and through grassroots communications with their elected officials, especially during a legislative session, is what produces successful outcomes for public education. ATPE thanks all those who helped prioritize the needs of public schools, educators, and most importantly, students during this 86th legislative session.

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 10, 2019

It was another busy week at the Texas State Capitol for ATPE’s Governmental Relations team. Here’s a look at the latest headlines:


Members of the HB 3 conference committee began their deliberations on a final school finance bill, May 10, 2019

This week the House and Senate appointed members to a conference committee for the session’s major school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 3. The conferees are state Reps. Dan Huberty (R-Humble), Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), Ken King (R-Canadian), and Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint); and state Sens. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), Jane Nelson (R-Flower  Mound), Royce West (D-Dallas), Kirk Watson (D-Austin), and Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels).

As the conferees work through the differences between the House and Senate versions of HB 3, ATPE is opposing the inclusion of merit pay and monitoring the final bill’s mechanism for raising teacher pay. Additional information on the bill can be found in this article shared from the Texas Tribune.

With the conference committee beginning its hard work to reach a compromise on the bill, ATPE urges members to keep pressure on their legislators to demand a final version of HB 3 that meets students’ needs without increasing testing or using student performance to determine how schools are funded and how teachers are paid. Visit Advocacy Central (member login required) to send a quick message to your legislator about HB 3.


On Monday, May 13, the House Elections Committee is scheduled to consider Senate Bill (SB) 1569, which would have a tremendous chilling effect on educators’ freedom of speech under the First Amendment and hamper the ability to teach students about legislative processes.

Authored by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper), SB 1569 would prohibit educators from communicating about politics with their colleagues, even if they are on break and in a non-classroom setting. Violators would face a criminal penalty. The Texas Senate approved SB 1569 despite ATPE’s raising these concerns, and added an amendment that would also have the effect of preventing educators from promoting civic engagement as required by the TEKS by encouraging students to communicate with their elected officials.

There is a very high likelihood that the House Elections Committee will vote to advance SB 1569 one step closer to becoming law, which makes it imperative that educators contact their state representatives TODAY and urge them to oppose this bill in any way possible. For more information on SB 1569, read this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. ATPE members can use our tools on Advocacy Central to easily call or write to their representatives about this harmful bill set to be heard on Monday.


The House took a recorded vote on HB 1133, relating to class-size limits on May 9, 2019.

The Texas House delivered a major victory Thursday night in defense of current class-size limits. Members worked until the midnight deadline Thursday, May 9, which marked the last chance to pass bills that originated in the House on second reading. One of the bills on the cusp of passage was HB 1133 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), which would have changed the current hard cap of 22 students in a single elementary grade classroom to an average, having the effect of allowing class sizes to dramatically expand. A vote on the bill was delayed several times yesterday as amendments were considered and the author attempted to drum up support for the measure among his House colleagues.

ATPE joined with other education groups in opposing the bill, and thanks to the many phone calls and letters from teachers all over Texas, legislators scuttled HB 1133 by a vote of 97 nays to 44 ayes on the House floor last night. You can see how your legislator voted by clicking here. If your state representative is listed among the nays, we urge you to write, e-mail, call, or tag them on social media today expressing your THANKS for voting to protect class size restrictions in Texas!


Senate Education Committee meeting, May 9, 2019

Members of the Senate continued hearing bills sent over from the House this week. During a meeting of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, May 7, committee members turned their attention to bills focusing on mental health.

Among the bills heard by the committee on Tuesday, HB 18 would compel districts to use evidence-based practices in counseling and encourage positive behavior interventions. HB 906 would form a “collaborative task force on public school mental health services” to study current practices and their impact. ATPE supported a number of bills, including HB 111, which would create training for educators that equips them with the skills to recognize abuse and maltreatment of student. Despite opposition by ATPE and other education groups, the Senate Education Committee also voted to advance SB 947, which would expand full-time virtual schools. This bill was then approved by the full Senate on Friday by a vote of 29-2. For more on the bills heard during Tuesday’s committee meeting, check out this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

The Senate Education Committee reconvened on Thursday, May 9, to hear even more bills from the House, including HB 455, a bill supported by ATPE that would require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to develop a model policy on recess that encourages age-appropriate outdoor physical activities. The committee passed nine bills during its Thursday meeting, including HB 18, the omnibus mental health bill heard earlier in the week. For a rundown of Thursday’s hearing, check out this additional blog post.


The House Public Education committee also met on Tuesday, May 7. ATPE supported several of the bills heard during this meeting, including SB 11 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), which contains several provisions to improve school safety standards. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter also gave neutral oral testimony on Sen. Taylor’s SB 1455. The original version of the bill would have greatly expanded virtual schools in the state of Texas; however, a committee substitute laid out by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) reins in some of the objections ATPE had voiced about the bill. For more on this hearing of the House Public Education Committee, read this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


 

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: March 29, 2019

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


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 billHouse 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.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 15, 2019

Here’s your wrap-up of education highlights from another busy week for the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


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.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-465016790_moneyLast 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.

 


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 1, 2019

Read the latest legislative and education news for this “ATPE at the Capitol” week from your ATPE Governmental Relations team:


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.

For more coverage of ATPE at the Capitol, be sure to check out our photo album on ATPE’s Facebook page.

 


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.

 


 

DeVos, Cruz launch federal voucher push

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U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced the filing of new school voucher legislation Thursday, which is being carried in the Senate by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

Cruz’s bill, S. 634, would create a voucher program estimated to cost as much as $10 billion per year. The measure would allow corporations and individuals to deduct from their federal taxes 100 percent of their contributions to “scholarship funds” for private schools. Tax credit scholarship proposals aim to subsidize private, for-profit schools with taxpayer dollars redirected from free, constitutional public schools.

The credit would be capped at 10 percent of an individual’s adjusted gross income or five percent of a corporation’s net taxable income. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Alabama) has filed a similar version in the House with a $5 billion price tag. State-level legislation of the type Devos, Cruz, and Byrne are aiming to encourage by proposing federal tax credits has previously been filed in Texas, but has been opposed by Texas educators and has failed to pass. State leaders have repeatedly said similar voucher proposals will not be a priority this session. Many believe this is largely due to 2018 Texas election results, which were widely seen as a rejection of privatization efforts. For this reason, state legislators in Texas have yet to file a major voucher bill during the current state legislative session.

President Donald Trump appointed DeVos, who has used her family’s vast wealth to advocate for the privatization of public schools. During her time as education secretary, DeVos has led a number of efforts to promote vouchers and voucher-like policies.

Fortunately, there is slim chance that the current Congress will pass any voucher legislation. Some Senate Republicans have expressed concerns over voucher legislation, and a voucher bill is unlikely to find traction in the Democratically-controlled House. To read more about the new Cruz bill and send a message to your elected officials in Washington, DC about it, visit ATPE’s Advocacy Central.

From The Texas Tribune: Momentum for “private school choice” in Texas fades in 2019

In 2017, top Texas lawmakers were galvanized for “private school choice.” This year, momentum has faded.

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

In 2017, top Texas lawmakers were galvanized for “private school choice.” This year, momentum has faded.” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/01/23/momentum-school-choice-vouchers-texas-fades-2019/.

 

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Educators gain friendly statehouse seats in midterms

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.