Advocacy Blog

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The ATPE Government Relations Team is hard at work to push issues important for educators and public education in Austin and Washington DC.

Follow our advocacy blog (originally published at www.teachthevote.org) for all the latest education news and information:

 
October 20, 2017

Here’s this week’s wrap-up of education news from ATPE:


ThinkstockPhotos-99674144The Senate Education Committee will hold a hearing in two weeks to consider and make recommendations on responses to issues facing Texas public schools as a result of Hurricane Harvey and other natural disasters. The hearing will be held at the University of Houston on Monday, Nov. 6, at 10 am, and will focus on (1) changes to the Texas Education Code to improve recovery efforts and (2) adjustments to school finance calculations or laws that might better address issues resulting from student displacement.

Last week the House Public Education Committee held its own hearing to address Hurricane Harvey, and several other committees in both the House and Senate have conducted related hearings. Senate Education Committee meetings are typically webcast live here. Check back for more on this hearing and other Harvey related updates in the coming weeks.

 


Early vote pic from EANext week begins the early voting window for the Nov. 7 election, featuring proposed constitutional amendments and other local ballot measures. ATPE has published a number of voting resources to help you prepare for the upcoming election, along with the critical primary elections that will be taking place in Texas in March 2018. Check it out in our post for the ATPE blog here.

 


ATPE's Gary Godsey, Jennifer Canaday, Byron Hildebrand, and Carl Garner at CIEA 2017

ATPE’s Gary Godsey, Jennifer Canaday, Byron Hildebrand, and Carl Garner at CIEA 2017

This week, ATPE representatives attended the annual conference of the Coalition of Independent Education Associations (CIEA). The annual event, which was held in Nashville, Tennessee this year, brings together staff members and volunteer leaders from non-union-affiliated educator associations around the country. Conference attendees have opportunities to network and share ideas about topics such as membership recruitment and services, legal and legislative advocacy, and best practices for marketing and communications.

ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey and ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday were presenters at the conference, joined by ATPE State President Carl Garner and ATPE State Vice President Byron Hildebrand.

 



Retirement planning written on a notepad.Texans for Secure Retirement (TSR) held its fourth annual symposium on Texas pension plans this week. ATPE has been a member of the TSR coalition and has held a seat on the TSR board as one of the primary advocates for maintaining the health of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). TRS is the state’s largest defined-benefit pension plan.

The symposium was held in Austin on Thursday, Oct. 19, and ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter attended and provided this summary. The event kicked off with pension consultant Ronnie Jung, former TRS executive director, and investment professional Will Harrell of Robert Harrell, Inc. discussing how to effectively evaluate pension plans.

Next former House Pensions Committee Chairwoman Vicki Truitt moderated a panel that included current state representatives and members of the House Pensions committee Roberto Alonzo and Justin Rodriguez, as well as Houston City Controller Chris Brown. The three of them talked about state and local political issues surrounding the operations and funding of the state’s many public pension systems.

The third presentation was by Phillip Ashley from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts on an innovative approach to funding pension plans using the earning potential of the state’s rainy day fund.

Finally Maura Powers of the American Federation and State, County, and Municipal Employees and Angela Melina-Raab a former adjunct professor of ERISA law at U.T. School of Law spoke about legislation that is being pushed in 26 states and was filed in Texas during the 85th regular session to provide a state-run pension-style plan for private sector employees.

You can watch archived footage of the event at https://www.facebook.com/texansr.org/

 


October 13, 2017

Here’s your “Friday the 13th” edition of our weekly education news highlights from ATPE:


Commissioner of Education Mike Morath exercised his authority this week to authorize an adjustment in average daily attendance (ADA) for certain districts affected by Hurricane Harvey. This report by ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins details the adjustment and eligibility requirements, including the list of more than 150 districts affected by the storm.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) also released guidance this week regarding transportation in the wake of the storm. In some cases, districts may be required to provide transportation between districts. The agency guidance indicates that these costs may be covered by Foundation School Program (FSP) funds.


On Thursday, the House Public Education Committee met to consider interim charges related to Hurricane Harvey. Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) ordered several committees to study the costs of the storm, and look at ways to provide assistance. The committee charged with overseeing public education policy convened for a day-long meeting, and took testimony from Education Commissioner Mike Morath and several superintendents from affected districts.

The committee discussed ways to provide both short-term and long-term relief for districts, and vowed to look at ramifications for the state school accountability system in the coming weeks. This report by ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins recaps the committee’s work this week.


The 2017 legislative session saw the lengths to which some in the Texas Capitol are willing to go in order to weaken the teaching profession. At the same time, it showed the power Texas educators can wield when we work together to defend our students and public schools. The March 2018 primary and November 2018 general elections will be prime opportunities for educators to show up and make our voices count. This is why ATPE has partnered with other public education supporters through Texas Educators Vote to make teachers the biggest voice in 2018.

The idea is simple: If 100% of educators vote, we can change the outcome of elections. The people you elect decide:

  • How much to fund public schools
  • How much time, money, and attention is spent on standardized testing
  • Whether to support or undermine public education
  • Whether to privatize education in Texas

Visit the Texas Educators Vote website today and sign the oath that you will vote in the March primary AND the general election in November. Texas is at the bottom of the heap when it comes to the percentage of registered voters who actually show up to vote. Teachers can change that. Educators of all political stripes are coming together through Facebook groups like Texans for Public Education and organizations such as Friends of Texas Public Schools. Together, we can make a difference!

 

 

 


Your ATPE Governmental Relations staff is on the road again this weekend visiting regions that have requested a speaker to provide a Capitol update. Staff will be attending meetings in Region 4 and Region 16, with more visits on the calendar. There’s plenty to talk about, so be on the lookout for a region meeting near you!


 

October 12, 2017

The House Public Education Committee met Thursday in Austin to consider interim charges related to Hurricane Harvey. In the wake of the disastrous hurricane that wrecked Southeast Texas and the Coastal Bend, Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) ordered several committees to investigate the costs and potential actions the state could take to aid recovery efforts.

House Public Education Committee meeting October 12, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting October 12, 2017.

“We need to understand what you need,” Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) told superintendents preparing to testify at Monday’s meeting. As of today, all but two of the school districts affected by the storm have reopened, but Port Aransas ISD and Aransas Pass ISD remain closed.

The committee first heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath. Nine districts closed for four weeks or more as a result of the storm, which affected some 1.4 million students. More than 100 schools became emergency shelters during the storm, and the commissioner credited educators with countless “acts of heroism” that saved thousands of lives.

“I think we can all be proud of educators in Texas,” Morath told the committee.

Morath detailed the agency’s efforts to aid district, including creating a website that operates similar to a “wedding registry.” Impacted districts can list needed supplies, such as instructional materials, which can be viewed by other districts interested in making donations.

Four districts have applied for accelerated funding as a result of increased enrollment due to students transferring from storm-affected districts. Morath explained that this is a cash-flow issue which will not have a negative impact on the state budget. However the commissioner has exercised emergency authority to hold districts losing students harmless from funding losses. The measure is expected to cost $250 million in additional state funding, along with $150 million in waived recapture payments, for a total cost of $400 million.

The commissioner noted that lagging appraisals mean affected homeowners are still scheduled to pay the same property taxes this year as if the storm had never occurred, and will not see any reduction in property values until next year. Notwithstanding that, property tax collections could decrease if homeowners abandon or sell their homes. This could have a negative impact on the ability of districts to cover existing bond payments.

Districts receive state formula funding based on expected property tax revenues, which means a rapid decline in actual collections will result in less funding than budgeted. Districts will be able to request reappraisal of property values in order to offset these losses through higher state aid or lower recapture payments, but there will be a lag until the 2018-2019 school year. Chairman Huberty pressed TEA to run reappraisals for all affected districts, which Commissioner Morath agreed to try and provide within the next few weeks.

Chapter 42 districts, which serve 74 percent of students affected by the storm, can only receive additional funding if the commissioner declares there will be a surplus in foundation school program (FSP) funds at the end of the fiscal biennium. Morath cautioned this could create a significant supplemental appropriation requirement when the 86th Texas Legislature meets in January 2019, and suggested TEA could be in a position to determine the existence of any actual surplus in six months. The dilemma sparked earnest discussion among committee members who fought to pass legislation in 2017 to reform the school finance system.

“We’re going to have to have a meaningful conversation sooner, rather than later,” said Huberty.

The state also anticipates spending an additional $266 million as students made homeless by the storm qualify for new categories of weighted funding that the state is obligated to cover. This includes additional enrollment in programs for which homelessness is a qualifying factor, such as pre-Kindergarten.

Morath noted some educator candidates faced State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) paperwork deadlines during the storm, and lamented that he did not have authority to provide waivers or exemptions from SBEC requirements.

Following the commissioner, five panels of school superintendents testified regarding the costs incurred by their individual districts. Fort Bend ISD Superintendent Charles Dupre said more than 1,000 students remain displaced by the storm, and has had many students enroll from other districts. The district already faces $16 million in losses, including $8.5 million for a single school that did not have flood insurance, and will have to dip into its reserves to cover this cost.

Houston ISD Chief Financial Officer Dr. Rene Barajas said more than 200 campuses were impacted by the hurricane, 75 of which were severely damaged. Six elementary schools remain unopened, affecting some 5,000 children. Some of those campuses could require full replacement. Dr. Barajas called $78 million “a very conservative estimate” for the district’s total cost. Barajas suggested the state keep property values frozen for the next two years in order to protect formula funding for Houston and other Chapter 41 districts. According to Dr. Barajas, the district anticipates reappraising property values would have a negative budget impact.

Chairman Huberty also pressed TEA to assist children who newly qualified for free lunches. The committee did not address how the storm may affect school accountability scores, and whether certain state assessments should be delayed. The chairman suggested the committee is prepared to consider accountability at a future meeting in the next two to three weeks.

October 09, 2017

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced Monday that Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has exercised his authority to authorize an adjustment in average daily attendance (ADA) for certain districts affected by Hurricane Harvey.

“Many of our school systems have seen major disruptions in their communities because of Hurricane Harvey,” said Commissioner Morath. “This one-time adjustment is meant to bring some certainty for the remainder of this school year as school leaders face a number of major financial decisions following this devastating storm.”

“Many Texas schools have suffered setbacks following Hurricane Harvey, but Texas is committed to ensuring that our students continue to receive the best education possible,” Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement provided by TEA. “I commend Commissioner Morath and the Texas Education Agency for their efforts to get our students back on track and helping ease the burdens on school districts impacted by the storm. We will continue to work diligently to limit disruption in education while our schools and communities continue to recover and rebuild.”

Under the current school finance system, ADA is a critical component used to determine the level of state funding to which each district is entitled. Many districts lost students as a result of widespread displacement caused by the storm. The resulting decline in ADA means these districts would likely face the loss of state funding or increased recapture rates. The adjustment authorized by Commissioner Morath is intended to prevent major decreases in state funding to these districts during the 2017-2018 school year.

This one-time adjustment applies to eligible districts within the 60 counties listed under Governor Abbott’s state disaster declaration. Eligible districts and charter schools within the Harvey disaster zone must also meet the following criteria:

  • The school district or charter school has had damage to at least one campus which has resulted in a disruption of instruction lasting two or more weeks, OR
  • The school district or charter school had instructional facilities that were closed for the nine or 10 hurricane related waiver days; AND
  • The school district or charter school must complete the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas Worksheet by Oct. 27, 2017.

Additional factors will be considered on a case-by-case basis. In September, the agency promised districts and charters would continue to receive full payments based on their individual Legislative Payment Estimates (LPE). Under the adjustment, according to the TEA, “The commissioner will hold affected districts and charters harmless to a projected ADA number calculated using a three-year average trend from the 2014–2015 through 2016–2017 school years, unless this projection is both 15% higher and 100 ADA higher than the 2017-2018 LPE projections. In the latter case, 2017-2018 LPE will be used.  This calculation is included in the attached spreadsheet.”

“The Texas House wants to make sure that schools are not punished for enrollment declines caused by Harvey,” said Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio). “This decision will provide funding certainty for schools as they continue to cope with Harvey’s aftermath and as legislators look closely at other ways the storm affected public education. I want to thank Commissioner Morath for listening to the concerns raised by House members on behalf of their constituents.”

The agency also released a full list of school districts affected by the hurricane. On the same day, the agency announced additional funding to help provide transportation for students displaced by the storm. More information regarding ADA adjustments can be found on the TEA website. The commissioner has also authorized waivers for missed schools days as a result of Harvey.

October 06, 2017

Here’s the latest education news from Texas and Washington, DC, supplied by your ATPE lobby team:

 


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting in Austin today, Oct. 6,. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter is attending the meeting and has provided this update.

The board is adopting a number of updates to the Texas Administrative Code (containing SBEC rules) both as part of the board’s regular rule review cycle and as the board pursues its role in active oversight of educator preparation programs and educator certification and assignment.

In addition to adopting rule changes, the board also considered today several items outside of their administrative rule review, including updating the Classroom Teacher Advisory Committee; approving modified principal and teacher surveys associated with the Accountability System for Educator Preparation (ASEP); and discussing updates to the board’s mission statement and statement of core principles for better alignment. At the conclusion of the discussion of rule items posted for action, the board heard presentations from Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff on 50 cases of pending or considered litigation.

Finally, the board is considering today four agenda items that were posted for discussion only:

  • A proposed amendment to rules in 19 TAC Chapter 227, implementing statutory requirements of SB 1839 and HBs 2039 and 1508 from the last regular legislative session, dealing with educator preparation candidates;
  • Proposed amendments to rules in Chapter 228, implementing SBs 7 and 1839 as well as HBs 2039, 3349, and 1963 with regard to requirements for educator preparation programs;
  • Proposed amendments to Chapter 233 rules regarding categories of classroom teaching certificates; and
  • Implementation of SB 1839 with regard to requirements to provide data to educator preparation programs to help those programs assess their impact and improve program design and effectiveness.

For additional information on the topics above, view the full board agenda and its related materials here.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-177533853Are you curious about efforts to reform Social Security laws that have had a negative impact on some educators when they retire? Read the latest update on our blog from David Pore, one of ATPE’s lobbyists representing our members on Social Security and other federal issues in Washington, DC.

 


Hurricane Harvey remains the focus of interim legislative hearings. On Monday, the House Appropriations Committee met in Houston to discuss the state’s response to the massive storm. The committee heard from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and other state officials about Harvey’s impact and the recovery efforts. For more on that hearing, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. Next Thursday, Oct. 12, the House Public Education Committee will meet to investigate the hurricane’s financial impact on schools and their facilities. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-128960266_voteTexans have only a few days left to register to vote in the next election. Next Tuesday, Oct. 10, is the last day to register to vote for the upcoming election on Nov. 7, 2017. In that election, voters will be asked to weigh in on proposed constitutional amendments, as well as several local ballot measures. Below are some tips from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter on what you can do to prepare for upcoming elections.

While the big election isn’t until March 2018, now is the best time to begin, or continue, developing a culture of voting within the education community. Voting is more than just a right that has been handed down to us through the spilled blood of our forefathers and –mothers, it is also a responsibility of good citizenship, and like all positive behaviors, voting is learned by your students and colleagues through modeling and discussing good habits.

The best way to ensure that your voter registration is complete and up to date is to get into the habit of annually checking your voter status with the Secretary of State. Thankfully, this is as easy as going to the Am I Registered web page, entering one of three simple sets of information, and hitting submit. The site will then pull up your voter registration data and let you confirm that your “voter status” is active and that your name and address information are up to date.

If you have moved within the same county, you can update your address by simply clicking the “change your address” link. If you have moved to a new county, or if your voter status is not listed as active, then you will need to complete and submit a voter registration form. You can complete your voter registration on the Secretary of State’s voter registration page. After you fill out the web form, you will need to print it and drop it in the mail.

ATPE members with questions about voter registration are always encouraged to contact the ATPE Government Relations team at government@atpe.org. Happy voting!

 

October 06, 2017

An Update from David Pore, ATPE’s Washington, DC-based lobbyist

David Pore

David Pore

For many years, your ATPE Governmental Relations team has worked to fix two provisions in federal law that unfairly reduce the Social Security benefits of some retired educators and other public employees. The Government Pension Offset (GPO) reduces the spousal benefits of some educators based on their eligibility for a government pension, and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) reduces the individual benefits of public retirees who have worked in jobs covered by Social Security in addition to their non-covered teaching careers. The WEP hits Texas educators particularly hard because the vast majority of our school districts in Texas do not pay into the Social Security system.

Every Congress, legislation is introduced to fully repeal both the WEP and the GPO. So, what’s the problem you ask? Why won’t the Congress repeal these unfair offsets and bring much-needed relief to retired public educators, cops, and firefighters living on fixed incomes? In short, it’s about the money, the politics, and the policy. Full repeal of the GPO and WEP would cost the Social Security trust fund tens of billions of dollars and create new inequities in the benefits formula, which in turn would create new winners and losers.

While ATPE has supported federal legislation to fully repeal these offsets, we have done so with the knowledge that passage of a full repeal bill is extremely unlikely in the current fiscal and political climate in DC. Therefore, consistent with our ATPE values, we have been working on bipartisan legislation that will take a huge first step in the right direction by repealing the arbitrary WEP and replacing it with a much fairer formula that will base your Social Security benefits on your service and contributions, just like everyone else. In the last Congress, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX)  and Rep.  Neal (D-MA) introduced HR711, the Equal Treatment for Public Servants Act.  Working through a coalition of other associations, including the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA), ATPE had significant input on this important bipartisan legislation that would have also provided a modest annual rebate check to current retirees who have had their benefits reduced by the WEP. We were able to get 29 of Texas’s 36 U.S. House members to cosponsor HR711, and in July of last year, it was scheduled for consideration by the House Ways and Means Committee, which Congressman Brady chairs.  Unfortunately, the bill stalled when one organization in the coalition demanded changes that would have upset the careful funding balance necessary to repeal the WEP going forward and provide current retirees some relief as well.

ATPE's Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

This year, we have been working with Chairman Brady, his committee staff, and the coalition to reach a consensus that will allow the bill to be reintroduced in the near future and hopefully attached to larger package of “must-pass” legislation. ATPE’s lobbyists have been in frequent contact with the Chairman and his committee staff and have been assured as recently as yesterday that reintroduction and passage of this bill is Chairman Brady’s top Social Security priority as Ways and Means Chair and will happen during this Congress. Meanwhile, the Congress continues to grapple with enormously challenging reform of our healthcare and tax systems, which has delayed consideration of other federal legislation.

What can you do? Continue to stay active and informed on the policy issues that affect your profession as well as the retirement benefits you have earned. When the bill is reintroduced, we will need ATPE members to mobilize and contact your Members of Congress and urge co-sponsorship and support to get this legislation to the President’s desk for signature. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more updates on this important topic.

October 02, 2017
House Appropriations Committee meeting October 2, 2017 at the University of Houston.

House Appropriations Committee meeting October 2, 2017 at the University of Houston.

The House Appropriations Committee met Monday at the University of Houston to discuss the state’s response to Hurricane Harvey, which ravaged Southeast Texas and the Coastal Bend in August. The hearing was held in response to interim charges relating to the storm announced by Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio).

Committee Chairman John Zerwas (R-Richmond) opened the meeting with a moment of silence for victims of the deadly mass shooting Sunday night in Las Vegas. Houston was the site of Hurricane Harvey’s second landfall, and saw billions of dollars of damage to homes and infrastructure. The storm first came ashore near Corpus Christi, and Chairman Zerwas announced that the committee would hold future hearings in the Coastal Bend as well.

House Appropriations Chair John Zerwas (R-Richmond) convenes hearing on Hurricane Harvey response October 2, 2017.

House Appropriations Chair John Zerwas (R-Richmond) convenes hearing on Hurricane Harvey response October 2, 2017.

Chairman Zerwas said legislature may need to act to ensure that infrastructure is strong and is rebuilt quickly in the wake of the storm.  When it comes to using the state’s rainy day fund, Zerwas said, “I can’t think of any other type of event” that would be as well qualified for tapping the $11 billion account. The chairman qualified his remarks by adding that before taking action, lawmakers must know what expenses the state will be responsible for and how to leverage federal funds.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was the first local official to testify before the committee. Turner noted that 27 trillion gallons of water fell on the region, and congratulated first responders for doing an “exemplary job” during and immediately following the hurricane. Turner called the storm “indiscriminate,” and announced he has tapped retired Shell president Marvin E. Odum as the city’s chief recovery officer.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner testifies before House Appropriations Committee at the University of Houston.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner testifies before House Appropriations Committee at the University of Houston.

Houston’s top two priorities are debris removal and housing. On housing, Turner said his administration is particularly sensitive to seniors, people will special needs and low-income communities. The mayor testified thousands of people are still living in damaged homes that are in need of assistance.

Turner, who served as vice-chair of the House Appropriations Committee before running for Houston mayor, walked the committee through a detailed breakdown of the city’s costs. The city has received a 90/10 federal match for the cost of debris removal. With the total for debris removal estimated at around $260 million, the city’s share will total roughly $26 million. Working at an “aggressive” pace, the first of three debris removal passes is estimated to be completed within the next couple of weeks. The federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost of emergency and first responder services for the 60 days following the storm, after which the split will also be 90/10. The same match will apply to costs associated with parks and public spaces.

Houston carries a $100 million insurance policy for damage to buildings. In 2008, Hurricane Ike caused the city to file a record $33 million claim. The claim for Hurricane Harvey is anticipated to be north of $175 million.

“The insurance is gone,” said Turner. The city is responsible for a $15 million deductible under its current policy, and will need $10 million to reinsure buildings against another hurricane. Turner explained that these costs, added to the city’s $26 million share for debris removal, were covered by $50 million in state funds unlocked by Governor Greg Abbott on Friday.

“I appreciate what the governor did, and I want to thank him,” said Turner, who added that the funds will prevent the need to ask for a local tax rate hike. Turner warned that other federal matches will still incur local costs, and the city must earnestly pursue costly flood mitigation projects to prevent further catastrophe.

Among those are three bayou projects that are shovel ready and awaiting federal money, which Turner testified could have saved thousands of homes. Other projects include $311 million to expand bayou capacity, $400 million for a reservoir in West Houston and a number of detention basins, including a $25-$30 million project to convert an unused golf course into a reservoir capable of holding more water than the Astrodome. Experts have long warned that a hurricane hitting Galveston Bay could wipe out the Port of Houston, and Turner suggested spending $12 billion for the “Ike Dike” or coastal spine would be a frugal investment compared to Hurricane Harvey’s $180 billion estimated cost.

The city has already exhausted its own $20 million economic stabilization fund. Turner emphasized that until money from the state rainy day fund is made available, state agencies should waive administrative fees for federal funds. In addition, Turner suggested lawmakers could tap state Fund 5000. A portion of the dedicated fund’s revenue comes from solid waste disposal and tipping fees, and the mayor argued $133 million from the fund could be made available for recovery efforts in Houston.

Concluding his remarks, Turner emphasized the role of Houston as the state’s economic heart. Urging lawmakers to consider ways to assist, Turner cautioned, “If you stop the engine of this city, you will stop the movement of this state.”

Up next, Harris County Judge Ed Emmitt called attention to the 2.5 million county residents outside of Houston proper. The county costs include $110 million for debris removal. The hurricane damaged 55 county buildings, 19 of which cannot be reopened. The county’s criminal justice center is among the buildings unable to be reopened, which altogether present the county with a $220 million loss. County workers must inspect 190 roads and bridges, as well as 900 traffic signals, at an additional cost of $220 million.

Buyouts for destroyed homes are expected to top $6 billion dollars, and public health costs, such as mosquito spraying, will tally around $7 million. Judge Emmett said that the completion of critical flood control projects already on the books will also be in the billions, and local taxpayers will likely be asked to approve a billion dollar bond package as a result of the disaster. Emmitt concluded that the strain on local governments responsible for storm recovery illustrates the folly of recent legislation that would have made it more difficult for counties to raise property taxes.

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, appointed by Gov. Abbott to chair the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas, opened his remarks by reading a letter from the governor commending local, state and national leaders for their response efforts. Four weeks into the job, Sharp described the commission’s role as finding ways to cut red tape and acting as the main point of contact for coordinating the state’s response. That said, Sharp reminded the committee that individual mayors and county judges hold sole executive authority during a disaster, and the commission is limited to offering advice and facilitating their requests.

Sharp emphasized the importance of counties filing federal paperwork before spending local dollars in order to ensure that federal funds are delivered. Following its recovery work, the commission will produce a report with future recommendations. Responding to Turner’s testimony, Sharp argued that the state does not take an administrative fee from federal disaster funds. Instead, Sharp characterized the money state agencies receive as a separate disbursement from the federal government.

After Sharp, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar testified that the full cost to the state won’t be known for several more months, or possibly years. The state will be able to meet its cash flow needs, but will see a short-term loss in economic output as a result of factories and businesses being knocked out by the storm. Despite this, the state expects a subsequent bump in GDP as a result of the recovery. Regarding state procurement efforts, Hegar raised a concern with the inability of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) staff to provide assurances that specific contract terms and conditions meet FEMA requirements for reimbursement. The comptroller also chided the legislature for failing to pass legislation Hegar suggested that would have invested a portion of the rainy day fund, which Hegar argued could have yielded several hundred million additional dollars for recovery efforts. Importantly, Hegar warned that public education costs could be the most significant area of exposure facing the state.

The committee also heard from top staff at the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). Commissioner Charles Smith fielded a number of pointed questions regarding staff losses, budget cuts and the rollout of the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP). Commissioner Smith pushed back against criticism of the agency’s response to Harvey levied by former staff in a report by the Texas Tribune. Smith estimated a total cost to the agency of $1.3 billion.

Staff from HHSC testified that the commission is working with Texas Education Agency (TEA) to ensure additional counselors are available to go into schools to serve children displaced or affected by the storm, but could not say how many counselors are currently involved or how schools were informed of the additional resources.

Legislative Budget Board (LBB) staff briefed the committee on the state’s spending flexibility through budget execution, which Gov. Abbott had earlier suggested could be utilized to cover recovery costs without immediately tapping the rainy day fund. Funding can be transferred between executive agencies, as well as from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2018. Agencies are required to notify LBB of transfers, but do not need the board’s permission. Currently, most of the HHSC resources transferred for recovery efforts have been redirected from funds set aside for Medicaid.

With regard to the debate over administrative fees, LBB staff indicated that not all agencies receive fees in the same way. Staff volunteered to look into whether administrative fees waived by state agencies would be able to pass through to city governments or be forfeited back to the federal government. Board staff also confirmed Fund 5000 could be utilized for disaster response, and could be accessed without a legislative appropriation through a budget rider that allows the governor to utilize certain dedicated funds for disaster relief with the approval of the comptroller and LBB.

Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) Chief Nim Kidd told the committee Hurricane Harvey is expected to be an $18.5 billion FEMA event. Some 845,000 individuals have registered for FEMA assistance, of which 305,000 have been processed for a current total of $857 million in FEMA funds. Like Mayor Turner, Chief Kidd listed debris removal and housing as the state’s most immediate concerns. In contrast, Chief Kidd testified that administrative fees are drawn down separately and on top of approved federal disaster funds and are used by state agencies to pay for compliance monitoring. Kidd contended that if the state were to waive administrative fees, no additional money would go to local governments and agencies would ask the legislature to pay for compliance monitoring.

The committee also heard from representatives of the Texas Military Forces and Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Executive Director James Bass from TxDOT testified the state incurred about $125 million in damage to roadways alone. Bass said Texas is not in danger of having to compete with Florida, which suffered significant damage from Hurricane Irma, for federal highway dollars.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath testifies before House Appropriations Committee at the University of Houston.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath testifies before House Appropriations Committee at the University of Houston.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath reiterated the comptroller’s warning that the public education system could face significant costs related to the hurricane. The commissioner again commended educators for “unbridled and remarkable acts of heroism” during the chaos, pointing out that many chose to go to work saving lives while their own homes were underwater. As of now, all school systems have reopened except for Port Aransas, Aransas Pass and Aransas County ISDs. Progress notwithstanding, Morath said there are still students who are unaccounted for in a formal educational setting following the storm. Truancy laws remain in place, and Morath said it’s “too soon to tell” how the storm will affect dropout rates. Many districts have extended the school day or begun offering Saturday school in order to make up missed instructional time.

Morath presented the committee with an itemized list of nine major cost centers. Initially, districts receiving students displaced by the storm would normally not see the additional funding accompanying those students until the following year. Fortunately, Morath said the agency is able to shift funding sooner in order to accommodate those districts. Second, Morath said the agency could hold harmless districts losing substantial numbers of students by adjusting the average daily attendance (ADA) for those districts at a cost of roughly $400 million.

The commissioner also highlighted the worrying fiscal impact on districts in which the local property tax base is negatively impacted by the storm. Because the school finance system is based on lagging property tax collections, Morath suggested districts may not see the full impact until 2020. Morath noted the bifurcated maintenance and operations (M&O) and interest and sinking (I&S) funding streams create additional complications, and argued action should be taken to mitigate districts’ losses.

The storm has also had a large impact on facilities. Schools will need to be repaired or replaced, and the legislature will likely be faced with a decision regarding how much to appropriate to districts that have exhausted insurance and federal funds. The storm has also caused many students to become homeless or qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. The additional weighted funding carried by these categories is expected to cost the state $266 million. Newly homeless students will also qualify for pre-Kindergarten programs. Other costs associated with absorbing displaced students include additional transportation and mental health services, and districts will face costs for monitoring compliance with regard to federal emergency funds.

Responding to a question from state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) regarding whether it is correct that the STAAR test will proceed without changes to the administration schedule, Morath answered, “Not entirely.” Morath explained a survey has been sent to affected districts, and indicated a decision whether to delay testing for displaced students has not yet been reached.  The commissioner also suggested affected schools labeled “improvement required” may receive a “bye” year for accountability purposes.

The House Appropriations Committee is expected to hold additional meetings to discuss the ongoing recovery. The House Public Education Committee is scheduled to meet October 12 in Austin to focus in-depth on Hurricane Harvey’s effects on the public school system.

September 29, 2017

Happy Friday from ATPE! Here’s a wrap-up of this week’s education news:

 


17-18_web_HurricaneHarveySenate committees will soon be convening interim hearings to discuss the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Yesterday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued a series of interim charges related to the hurricane for nine Senate committees, including the Senate Education Committee, to study. Read more about the education-related charges in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann. House committees are similarly studying hurricane-related issues in response to interim charges issued recently by House Speaker Joe Straus. One such hearing of the House Appropriations Committee will take place Monday in Houston.

 


Texas has finalized its state plan for compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). After considering input from ATPE and other stakeholders on a draft ESSA plan released this summer, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) filed its final plan this week with the federal government. Read more about the plan in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


Comic Speech Bubble, Congrats, Vector illustrationMore than two dozen Texas public schools have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as Blue Ribbon schools for 2017. The elementary, middle, and high schools receiving the honors were nominated by TEA officials in recognition of their performance on student assessments, and all of the recognized schools have a student population that is at least 25 percent economically disadvantaged. ATPE congratulates the students and staffs of these 26 Blue Ribbon schools located in Texas:

  • Amarillo ISD – Whittier Elementary School
  • Banquete ISD – Banquete Elementary School
  • Birdville ISD – Smithfield Elementary School
  • Dallas ISD – Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy
  • Dallas ISD – Dallas Environmental Science Academy
  • Dallas ISD – Irma Lerma Rangel Women’s Leadership School
  • Edinburg CISD – Austin Elementary School
  • Edinburg CISD – Jefferson Elementary School
  • El Paso ISD – Green Elementary School
  • El Paso ISD – Silva Health Magnet
  • Galveston ISD – Austin Middle School
  • Gunter ISD – Gunter Elementary School
  • Houston ISD – Eastwood Academy
  • Houston ISD – Lyons Elementary School
  • Jim Ned CISD – Lawn Elementary School
  • Judson ISD – Crestview Elementary School
  • KIPP Houston – KIPP Shine Prep
  • La Porte ISD – Jennie Reid Elementary School
  • Laredo ISD – Hector J. Garcia Early College High School
  • Los Fresnos ISD – Rancho Verde Elementary School
  • Montgomery ISD – Montgomery Intermediate School
  • Oakwood ISD – Oakwood Elementary School
  • San Antonio ISD – Travis Early College High School
  • Whitehouse ISD – Stanton-Smith Elementary School
  • Wylie ISD (Wylie) – RF Hartman Elementary School
  • Ysleta ISD – Valle Verde Early College High School

 


 

September 29, 2017

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick released his list of interim charges pertaining to Hurricane Harvey on Thursday, Sept. 28. The list directs nine Senate committees to study and make recommendations on a total of 25 issues related to the recent disaster.

Two of those charges were sent to the Senate Education Committee, where the committee will be tasked with addressing recovery efforts for the 60 counties with public schools affected by storm (according to the most recent tally released by the Texas Education Agency). The committee will also look at school finance issues as a result of Hurricane Harvey and future response to natural disasters. The Senate Education Committee interim charges are as follows:

  • Assess and make recommendations for state and local K-12 hurricane recovery efforts. Examine the crisis management response of the Texas Education Agency and identify changes to the Education Code that would expedite the state response to school districts and public charter schools in the aftermath of any disaster.
  • Determine the impact on school finance of possible state actions such as, but not limited to, changes to student enrollment calculations or property valuation. Assess student displacement caused by Hurricane Harvey and consider actions the Commissioner of Education may take to adjust attendance levels or calculations in the wake of a disaster. Make recommendations for legislative action including potential changes to the process and timeliness of payments to districts by private insurers, FEMA and the state.

The full list of Senate interim charges can be viewed here. Speaker Straus released the House interim charges on Hurricane Harvey earlier this month. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on hearings and other news regarding all of the Harvey-related interim charges.

September 27, 2017

tea-logo-header-2The Texas Education Agency (TEA) submitted Texas’s final plan to satisfy the new federal education law, the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA), on Monday. Submission of the plan triggered a 120-day window for the U.S. Dept of Education LogoU.S. Department of Education (ED) to review Texas’s proposal, a process that includes conducting a peer review and an evaluation by ED staff, primarily to ensure our state’s compliance with statutory requirements.

ATPE weighed in with input on the draft Texas plan during the public comment period last month. The plan saw some changes prior to submission to ED, but is largely similar to the draft plan that received public comment. ESSA provided flexibility to states in terms of using federal money to foster innovative approaches to accountability and assessments, among other areas covered under the law. Texas’s plan takes advantage of only some of that flexibility.

More on the final Texas ESSA plan and additional information on ESSA in Texas can be found at TEA’s ESSA web page. All states were required to submit final plans to ED this month (both Alabama and Texas received a deadline extension due to timing of hurricanes and hurricane recovery efforts).