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.
A candidate needs fifty percent of voters plus one in order to get elected to office. The Texas Legislature meets for 140 days, but can’t pass legislation until 60 of those days have passed – unless acting upon an emergency item declared by the governor.
Here’s another equation for you:
The Texas Senate consists of 31 members and requires a vote of three-fifths of those present and voting to pass most major legislation. That means if everyone is present, a bill needs the support of 19 senators to pass. In the current makeup of the Texas Senate, 20 are Republicans and 11 are Democrats.
This actually is an important bit of math for supporters of public education.
In the past legislative session alone, we’ve seen legislation harmful to public education pass along largely party line votes under the direction of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. This includes voucher bills to strip funding from public schools in order to create taxpayer-funded subsidies for private schools. It also includes payroll deduction bills designed to rob teachers of their influence at the Capitol by making it more difficult to join educator associations such as ATPE.
A recent article by the Texas Tribune put the Senate math in the context of the 2018 general election, and pointed out that the outcomes of a handful of races this November could have some very significant ramifications when it comes to the next legislative session.
Multiple senators who voted for vouchers and against teachers last session are currently up for reelection and facing serious challenges this November. The Texas Tribune highlighted three of the most high-profile races in which sitting senators now find themselves in the hot seat, in large part due to their past anti-public education votes: Sens. Don Huffines (R-Dallas), Konni Burton (R-Colleyville), and Joan Huffman (R-Houston).
If just one of those incumbents lose their race, a single Republican could defy the lieutenant governor and stop a voucher bill in its tracks. If two are defeated, the lieutenant governor won’t have enough votes to force through anti-education bills along party lines as he did last session.
In the latter case, members would be forced to work across party lines – and the balance of power would shift away from the lieutenant governor, giving individual members more freedom to vote in the interests of their constituents, rather than party leaders.
There’s also a twist.
The special runoff election underway this week to fill the Senate District 19 seat previously held by a Democrat has attracted the lieutenant governor’s attention; Lt. Gov. Patrick knows flipping that seat would change the math again. That’s why it’s no surprise to see Patrick loudly campaigning for the pro-voucher Republican candidate running in that San Antonio-area special election that will be decided on Tuesday, Sept. 18:
Also, an unresolved dispute between Gov. Greg Abbott and retiring Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) means the 2019 legislative session will begin with the Senate one seat short. That lowers the magic number for passing bills via one party’s super-majority to only 18.
It’s tempting to look at this all in terms of “Rs” and “Ds,” but that ignores important issues like public education, where there are Republicans who disagree with the lieutenant governor, but either don’t number enough to overcome the magic number or fear the lieutenant governor’s current absolute power. Changing the math changes both.
File it under the list of reasons this upcoming general election is important. Maybe your friends aren’t the type to get hyped up about voting. Maybe they just don’t find elections that exciting. I offer an alternative appeal:
Dear TeachTheVote: Where does my party stand on public education?
It’s a great question to ask as we turn our focus to the November elections, and the answer can be found in each party’s political platform.
At the most basic level, party platforms are just a long list of beliefs and policy positions that delegates put together at each party’s state convention. This summer, Democrats met in Fort Worth and Republicans met in San Antonio to decide which issues to focus on. In each case, a handful of delegates cobbled together the platform, which was then submitted to the full convention for amendments and a formal vote for adoption.
Now before we get into the details of this year’s party platforms, there are a few important caveats. First of all, the platform committee responsible for writing the first draft is often composed of that particular party’s most ideological partisans. Sometimes the full delegation decides to water down the language and trim some of the fringe positions before voting to approve the platform, but that’s not always the case. Because of this, the end result can sometimes be a set of values that are not fully aligned to those of the party’s central majority and may be skewed toward the extreme edges of the ideological spectrum.
This ties into the next important point: Platforms have traditionally served as guideposts that indicate the party’s default position on a given issue, not marching orders for the legislative session. Each elected official is first responsible to their local district and the constituents who elected them, which is why platforms aren’t meant to be enforceable documents.
That being said, aggressively enforcing the party platform was the key theme for delegates voting on a party chairman at the 2018 Texas Republican Convention. This means that when the 86th Texas Legislature convenes, many legislators will be under great pressure from their party leaders to obey the platform committee’s positions over those of the voters they serve. That’s why it’s always important for educators to communicate directly with our elected representatives when it comes to public education issues.
The 2018 Republican Party of Texas Platform calls for ending “Robin Hood,” limiting increases in public education funding, and replacing school district property taxes with a consumption tax.
Each plank in the Republican platform is numbered. Plank 164 calls for “a simple, fair, and efficient method for financing our public school system” and opposes the Robin Hood system of recapture in which some money from property wealthy districts flows to property poor districts. The Republican platform explicitly opposes the Edgewood I and Edgewood II court opinions, in which the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the school finance system at the time was unconstitutional because it relied too heavily on local property taxes without any adjustment for rich and poor areas, which resulted in vastly unequal funding for children living in different communities.
When it comes to additional funding, the platform states, “Before receiving additional dollars through the school finance formulas, school districts must spend at least 65 percent of their current funding in the classroom.” According to the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) 2016-2017 Pocket Edition statistics, districts spent an average of 56.7 percent of all funds directly on instruction and another 15.6 percent on support. Administration accounted for 3.1 percent of district spending.
Plank 166 states, “We call upon the Texas Legislature to use surplus revenue to buy down the school maintenance and operation property tax rate as a prelude to replacing it with a broader based consumption tax.” The most common consumption tax is the sales tax.
The 2018 Texas Democratic Party Platform calls for reducing the reliance on Robin Hood, funding schools in a way that reflects differences in costs between students and districts, and restoring funding that was cut in 2011 and 2017.
Individual planks are not numbered in the Democratic platform, but follow a narrative structure utilizing bullet points. The Democratic platform lays current funding deficiencies at the feet of Republican leadership, and declares restoring the $5.4 billion cut from public education funding in 2011 and $1.7 billion cut in 2017 “a legislative budget priority.” With regard to design, the platform advocates for “a 100% equitable school finance system with sufficient state revenue to provide every child the opportunity to learn in an exemplary program” and that “state funding formulas should fully reflect all student and district cost differences and the impact of inflation and state mandates.”
Private School Subsidies
The Republican platform states, “Texas families should be empowered to choose from public, private, charter, or homeschool options for their children’s education, using tax credits or exemptions without government restraints or intrusion.”
The Democratic platform states Democrats “oppose the misnamed ‘school choice’ schemes of using public tax money for the support of private and sectarian schools; believe ‘school choice’ is a deceptive marketing frame that purports to advocate something that already exists – school choice – but whose true purpose is to divert public school funds to vouchers or tax credit systems supporting private and sectarian schools; [and believe] that adoption of any vouchers or tax credit schemes would unavoidably financially and academically damage public schools.”
The Republican platform calls for an end to payroll deduction and converting certain government pensions from defined benefit to defined contribution plans.
Plank 49 states, “Texas should prohibit governmental entities from collecting dues for labor unions through deductions from public employee paychecks.” Although the language mischaracterizes how payroll deduction works and refers specifically to unions, the 2017 legislative session showed that this plank is in fact aimed at non-union educators, including ATPE members, in an attempt to weaken teachers’ voices at the Capitol.
Plank 151 states, “The Texas Legislature shall enact new rules to begin to transition government pensions for ERS and TDCRS members from a defined benefit pension to a defined contribution retirement plan similar to a 403(b).” While the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas is not mentioned here, the language echoes similar attempts during the 2017 legislative session to deny educators a lifetime retirement benefit by converting TRS pensions to 401(k)-style defined contribution plans.
The Democratic platform opposes prohibitions on payroll deduction and supports “protecting the TRS defined benefit pension system against attempts to turn it into a risky 401-k plan that could put most retirees’ pensions at risk; providing a regular COLA for every retired teacher; repealing the federal government pension offset and windfall elimination provisions that unfairly reduce Social Security benefits for Texas educational employees; and improving the TRS-Care health insurance program for retired educators.”
The Democratic platform includes a plank specifically aimed at teacher recruitment and retention. It advocates that Texas bring teacher pay in line with the rest of the nation, increase the state contribution for teacher health care, restore financial incentives for those interested in pursuing the teaching profession, oppose test-based performance, and guarantee mentors and properly certified teachers in each classroom.
The Republican platform calls for the right to prayer in schools, local control of public education, objective teaching of scientific theories, opposing national core curriculum, teaching American identity, transitioning non-English speaking students to English, and adopting an official position against transgenderism.
Plank 123 addresses prayer in schools, and further states, “We urge the Legislature to end censorship of discussion of religion in our founding documents and encourage discussing those documents, including the Bible as their basis. Students and district personnel have the right to display religious items on school property.”
Regarding local control, Plank 131 states, “We believe that all children should have access to quality education. Under the US Constitution, the power to regulate education is reserved exclusively to the States and to the people. Parents have the primary right and responsibility to educate their children. The classroom should be a place where all viewpoints are welcomed, free speech is celebrated, and ‘person before politics’ beliefs are preached. We support the right of parents to freely choose public, charter, private, parochial, or homeschooling for their children. We support the right of parents to choose the specific public school that their children attend. No child should be forced to attend a failing school. We reject the imposition of federal education standards and the tying of any government funding to the adoption of federal education standards. We reject the intrusion of government in private, parochial, or homeschools. We affirm that the policies, procedures, activities, and finances of public education in Texas at all levels should be fully transparent. To ensure transparency, the check register of all traditional school districts and charter schools should be posted online with the link on the home page. We respect parental authority regarding sex education. We believe that abortion providers and affiliates should be prohibited from providing any curriculum or instruction in schools.”
Plank 135 lists basic standards such as reading and writing, and Plank 136 addresses scientific theories, “such as life origins and environmental change. These should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.”
Plank 137 opposes national core curriculum such as Common Core and C-SCOPE, Plank 139 addresses American identity and assimilation, Plank 140 encourages non-English speaking students to transition to English within one year, and Plank 141 states, “The official position of the Texas schools with respect to transgenderism is that there are only two genders: male and female.”
The Democratic platform supports enforcing class size limits, replacing high-stakes tests with more appropriate diagnostic measurements, rejecting efforts to tie teacher performance to test scores, opposing “A through F” school ratings, promoting multi-language instruction, supporting Title IX protections for gender equity, supporting school meal programs, supporting school-community collaboration, and placing the most highly qualified teachers in areas facing the greatest challenges.
The Democratic platform includes a plank addressing early childhood education, which advocates for universal access to full-day pre-K and kindergarten, as well as classroom resources and quality measures to ensure children are performing at grade level by the third grade.
Democrats include a plank regarding the school-to-prison pipeline in their platform. This includes increasing the budget for school counseling, adding training for staff and law enforcement, and “repealing traditional, exclusionary approaches to discipline, such as expulsion and suspension, which disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minority students, as well as special education students.”
The Republican platform calls for arming teachers and mandating school security plans.
Plank 72 opposes the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, and Plank 143 urges the legislature to “pass a statute that allows Texas school teachers, or other school employees, who are certified and insured to be authorized to carry a concealed gun on the premises of their assigned school for security and protection purposes.”
Regarding school security plans, Plank 144 states, “The Legislature is urged to adopt as a legislative priority to mandate by state law that all publicly funded school districts be required to submit a viable school security plan as part of an accountability program. The school security plan must explicitly provide for the personal security of students and staff by responding with an equal and opposite force to an aggressor that uses deadly weapons or devices. In an effort to customize plans for each district, a parent oversight commission will be consulted and advised as to the threat assessment status of schools at all times and must be allowed to partake in strategy sessions for the creation of the school security plan.”
The Democratic platform calls for “weapon-free and drug-free” campuses, the right of teachers to remove disruptive students, and efforts to prevent bullying and acts of violence.
Specifically, the Democratic school security plank states, “Implementation of systematic programs should be utilized to identify instances of bullying and implement school-wide positive behavior interventions and supports, to prevent violence, disruption, bullying, and harassment: Eliminate disparities in discipline based on race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression or any other improper grounds.”
Furthermore, the Democratic platform calls for an end to “indiscriminate use of misdemeanor ticketing for minor infractions on campus and indiscriminate expulsion or placement of students in disciplinary alternative education programs for trivial misconduct,” and urges continued strong academic instruction for students placed in disciplinary alternative education programs.
ATPE 2017-18 State President Carl Garner and State Vice President Byron Hildebrand at the U.S. Capitol, June 11, 2018
Carl Garner, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Jennifer Mitchell Canaday, and Byron Hildebrand in Washington, DC, June 12, 2018
A group of ATPE state leaders and lobbyists were in the nation’s capital this week to advocate for pro-public education legislation. ATPE State President Carl Garner, State Vice President Byron Hildebrand, and Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell Canaday joined ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyist David Pore for meetings with our Texas congressional delegation on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Our visiting ATPE group held numerous productive meetings, including visits to the offices of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Representatives Kevin Brady, Beto O’Rourke, Henry Cuellar, Pete Olson, John Carter, Lloyd Doggett, Will Hurd, Roger Williams, and Jeb Hensarling.
Byron Hildebrand, Carl Garner, Rep. Kevin Brady, and Jennifer Mitchell Canaday at the U.S. Capitol, June 12, 2018
The bulk of ATPE’s discussions with our congressional delegation focused on the need to repeal and replace the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) that reduces Social Security benefits for many educators and other public servants. Rep. Brady, who chairs the powerful U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, has been leading an effort to replace the WEP with a different formula that will provide Texas educators with Social Security benefits that are calculated in a more transparent, equitable, and predictable manner. Chairman Brady outlined his vision for a new plan to replace the WEP in a guest post for Teach the Vote back in November. ATPE’s team also visited this week with the staff of the Ways and Means Committee who are working on that new WEP legislation that is expected to be filed soon.
Hildebrand, Garner, Claire Sanderson from Sen. John Cornyn’s office, and ATPE contract lobbyist David Pore in Washington, DC, June 12, 2018
Other topics of discussion during this week’s meeting included school safety, maintaining funding for teacher preparation programs under Title II of the Higher Education Act, and preventing federal vouchers that would send public tax dollars to unregulated private schools. ATPE recently lobbied our congressional leaders to oppose an attempted amendment to a national defense bill that would have created an Education Savings Account voucher for students from military families. ATPE joined a number of military groups in opposing the amendment, which was recently ruled out of order and prevented from being added to the bill.
Hildebrand and Garner at the White House’s Truman Bowling Alley, June 11, 2018
During the trip to Washington, ATPE’s representatives also visited area museums, enjoyed a tour of the U.S. Capitol, and spent a special evening at the White House’s Truman Bowling Alley.
Carl Garner with Rep. Pete Olson in his Washington, DC office, June 13, 2018
Byron Hildebrand with his congressman, Rep. Henry Cuellar, June 13, 2018
The military voucher proposal that ATPE’s federal and state lobby teams have been working hard to fight in Washington was ruled not in order this week by the U.S. House Committee on Rules. The committee was responsible for determining whether the military voucher would be considered as an amendment on the floor of the U.S. House when the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (NDAA) is set for a vote. While we were successful in stopping this attempt to advance vouchers for military families, we remain focused on future efforts aimed at creating federal vouchers in any form.
ATPE sent a letter to Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) two weeks ago that urged him to reject the misguided legislation as an amendment to the NDAA. The amendment was based on a bill titled HR 5199, the Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act of 2018. We stressed in our letter to Chairman Sessions that “the $2,500 voucher program created by HR 5199 would drain limited dollars from both the public school system in Texas as well the Federal Impact Aid Program, hurting the very military-connected students it purports to help.” Our federal lobby team also spent the last two weeks successfully working with the Texas delegation in Congress to stress our opposition to the bill and build support for rejecting the bill as an amendment.
As we reported last week, the author of HR 5199 was facing stiff opposition from members of Congress, even those in his own party, who didn’t support the bill or the amendment. Despite the pressure generated by ATPE and other groups who strongly oppose the amendment, like the Military Coalition, Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) pressed forward with offering his amendment for consideration by the Rules Committee. Several members of the Texas delegation, including Chairman Sessions, are co-sponsors of the HR 5199, but even with that support the bill as an amendment ultimately failed this time.
The support for this bill from powerful members in Congress is why ATPE continues to stress the importance of educators staying actively engaged in both the state and federal advocacy process. Your voice is meaningful to your members of Congress and state legislators, and it is critical that they hear from you about these important issues. As a reminder, we offer an advocacy tool that allows educators to easily contact their representatives about key issues. The tool, Advocacy Central, offers email templates, phone scripts, tweets, and Facebook posts, that allow you to engage on multiple platforms with your state and federal representatives. On issues just like this one, your representative needs to hear from you! Stay engaged and tuned in to Teach the Vote to know when your voice needs to be heard!
Today is the last day to vote early in the primary runoff elections taking place on Tuesday, May 22. Following historical trends, early voting returns have so far been less than stellar.
The May runoff election seems designed to create low turnout. It follows the May uniform election date by only about two weeks. It’s right at the edge of summer when many people, certainly educators and parents, are already distracted and some school districts will have already ended their school year. Also, the types and quantities of the races are much more scattershot, and the rules have many voters confused about whether or not they are even eligible to vote (Hint: if you didn’t vote at all in the primary back in March, you are still eligible to vote in the runoff, as long as you were registered to vote before the deadline.)
All of the reasons above drive down turnout, which is why ATPE and a coalition of education partners are working to instill a culture of voting in the education community. A culture of voting cuts through individual races and impediments and instills a mentality that educators will vote in every election – no matter what. Unfortunately, changing culture is a slow business, and despite the fever of rhetoric about voting that has become a mainstay since 2016, the majority of educators haven’t yet taken the message to heart. However, each election the momentum of the education vote continues to build. Perhaps this, the lowest turnout of all elections, will be the one where you and your group of colleagues will join the movement.
TEA needs you! The Texas Education Agency (TEA) needs “new” teachers to complete a survey to help improve educator preparation. A completed survey is worth 10 Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reports about the TEA survey in her blog post earlier this week, but here are some additional quick details:
What is the survey about and how will responses be used? The survey is designed to determine how well Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs) are preparing teachers to enter the classroom. The results will be used to help improve EPPs and the educational experience of teacher certification candidates who attend those programs.
Who is eligible to take the survey? TEA has invited “new” teachers, which in this case refers to teachers teaching in their first year under a standard certificate, to participate in the survey.
When is the survey open? You should have received an email with a link to the online survey on or before April 18, 2018. You have until June 15, 2018 to complete the survey. If you believe you are eligible to take the survey but did not receive an email with a survey link, please contact TEA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do I get started? Once you receive the email, simply click on the link and take the survey. You can complete the survey in one session or multiple sessions.
Do I receive a benefit for taking the survey?
Once you submit your completed survey, you can download a certificate worth 10 CPE credits.
The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting today in Austin. Its discussion includes creating an accelerated pathway for certain teachers to enter the classroom without satisfying traditional training requirements. It’s the result of House Bill (HB) 3349, a bill by Representative Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, passed by the 85th Legislature last year that requires SBEC to implement the new abbreviated training program for candidates seeking the Trade and Industrial Workforce Training certificate.
The board spent significant time this morning discussing a new rulemaking proposal responsive to the bill. The proposal on today’s agenda, which board members saw today for the first time, was vastly different from an initial proposal discussed at previous meetings. ATPE and other educator groups opposed the new plan and were not part of the unidentified group of “stakeholders” that singularly drove the new proposal. In laying out our opposition to the proposal which we view as weakening teacher training standards, ATPE stressed the board’s recent efforts to raise standards for teacher training in Texas.
Read more in this SBEC wrap-up from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, who attended and testified at the meeting today.
In Washington, DC, educators and military groups have united to defeat a federal voucher proposal for students from military families. ATPE and other groups believe the measure would drain dollars currently sent to public schools that aid those students.
The U.S. House is preparing its annual reauthorization of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Included in the act is the Impact Aid program, which helps fund schools that lose local revenue because their districts contain federal lands, including military bases, which do not pay local school property taxes. An amendment filed by Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) this week would create an Education Savings Account (ESA) voucher for certain military families and would pay for the voucher by defunding the Impact Aid Program.
Banks is facing stiff opposition even from some members of his own party. Stripping the Impact Aid Program would significantly impact the very schools that serve a vast majority of children of active duty military personnel.
ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyists have been working to oppose the addition of the Banks voucher amendment. This week, ATPE sent a letter of opposition to Congressman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) who chairs the powerful House Rules committee, and others. For an amendment like the Banks voucher amendment to be considered on the House Floor, it must first be deemed eligible by Chairman Sessions’s committee. The rules committee will meet early next week to determine which proposed amendments to the NDAA will be in order. ATPE members can click here to reach out to their members of congress on this issue. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for additional updates next week.
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