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:

 
September 14, 2018

It’s been a busy week in Austin. Here are highlights from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


SBOE meeting Sept. 14, 2018.

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.


ThinkstockPhotos-465016790_moneyThis 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.

 

September 14, 2018

The Expenditures Subcommittee of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance met this week to lay out and vote on their recommendations back to the full commission. Based on both the recommendation and what the committee members had to say, it became clear that their primary goal is to drive dollars into increasing the basic allotment. They also have secondary goals of shifting funds out of programs not tied to educational programming and into programs designed to increase educational attainment for harder-to-teach students, particularly economically disadvantaged populations and English language learners.

The committee has not publicly released its report yet, but a summary breakdown of the recommendations can be found below. A video archive of the full subcommittee meeting, which lasted a little under an hour, is also available.

Group 1 – Reallocations of existing programs. This group represents approximately $5.3 billion to be spent on increasing existing initiatives and creating new initiatives.

  • Reallocate the Cost of Education Index (CEI) – $2.9 billion
  • Reallocate the 92-93 Hold Harmless – $30 million. This program only impacts 12 -20 school districts.
  • Reallocate the Ch. 41 Early Agreement Credit – $50 million. Eliminates a program that currently pays property wealthy districts to sign an annual contract by Sept. 1 agreeing to pay the state what they owe in recapture. The discount did not require districts to prepay or early pay.
  • Reallocate the Gifted and Talented (GT) allotment – $165 million. This recommendation eliminates the stand-alone allotment but does not eliminate other requirements to provide GT education from the Texas Education Code (TEC). Currently 99.9% of districts are at the 5% GT cap, meaning the same dollars can be more efficiently flowed out to schools through the basic allotment.
  • Reallocate the High School Allotment – $400 million.
  • Move from prior year to current year property values – $1.8 billion.

Group 2 – Increased spending on existing programs

  • Increase state compensatory education allotment from 0.2 to a spectrum that ranges from 0.225 and 0.275 as part of a tiered system that pays out higher amounts to campuses with more severely challenging populations. Currently, the recommendation is still based on free and reduced lunch but could use a more sensitive metric.
  • Change the transportation allotment to a millage-based approach at 0.83 cents per mile, to be set by appropriations.
  • Allow Ch. 41 districts to get compensated by the transportation allotment at a $60 million cost.
  • Fund the stand-alone small-size and mid-size district adjustment between $0 and $400 million outside the basic allotment, depending on where the basic allotment is set.
  • Increase the New Instructional Facilities Allotment (NIFA) to $100 million. This represents a $76 million increase over last session.
  • Expand Career and Technical Education (CTE) funding to include sixth through eighth grades – $20 million.

Group 3 – New programs

  • Create a dual language allotment of 0.15 at a cost of between $15 and $50 million. This new allotment would be in lieu of (not in addition to) the bilingual allotment; you can either get the bilingual allotment or the dual language allotment, but not both.
  • Create a dyslexia allotment of 0.1 – $100 million.
  • Create a Kindergarten through third grade ELL/economically disadvantaged allotment of 0.1 – $786 million. This money is not tied to outcomes and can be used to fund any program that seeks to improve reading and math on grade level by grade three, including paying for full day Pre-Kindergarten programs.
  • Create a grade three reading bonus of 0.4 – $400 million. This provides incentive money for students meeting grade level in reading on the 3rd grade standardized test.
  • Create a College, Career, and Military Readiness Bonus – no specific weight – $400 million. This is envisioned as a reallocation of the High School Allotment and is aimed to drive the state’s “60/30” goals.
  • Create a teacher compensation program – $100 million. This is the governor’s performance pay program. It is formula-based, not grant-based, and is not subject to appropriation. There will likely be no fiscal note for the program until year three, and it is envisioned to grow over time.
  • Fund an extended year summer pilot program – $50 million. This program is intended to reduce summer learning losses for disadvantaged students.

Additional changes recommended:

  • Change the guaranteed yield on the copper pennies from a set dollar amount to a percentage of the Basic Allotment. When the yield was set, the dollar amount used represented approximately 88% of the basic allotment. Now it is much less. Increasing the guaranteed yield increases state entitlement, which helps property poor districts and recapture districts.
  • Decouple the golden pennies from Austin ISD.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for reporting on future actions of the commission.

September 14, 2018

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) concluded its September meeting Friday with final votes on a number of subjects.

SBOE meeting September 14, 2018.

One of the first orders of business was to approve a draft of the Long-Range Plan for Public Education (LRP). The board will delay final approval until the November meeting in order to give stakeholders longer to review the plan and changes suggested by the board Tuesday night. Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) voiced concern that the board was under pressure from the office of Gov. Greg Abbott to remove the recommendation in favor of “formula funded full-day pre-K.”

The board also approved Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies, as well as streamlining changes to the social studies TEKSMembers also voted on a number of items from each committee, including finalizing a rejection of problematic rules proposed by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) that would have negatively affected teacher quality. Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) concluded discussion by pointing out that if certain areas are having trouble hiring teachers, the remedy should be more pay — not weakening standards. The SBEC will have a chance to fix the rule and submit changes to the SBOE in November.

Members also finalized a letter to the General Land Office (GLO) regarding a dispute over funding that could short schools roughly $450 million over the next biennium. The board voted unanimously to request the GLO reconsider its actions and provide an additional $500 million in funding for schools.

The board concluded with its annual ethics training. The next meeting is scheduled for November.

 

September 14, 2018

Politics involves a lot of math.

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:

Math!

Now that’s exciting!

September 13, 2018

During a full day of marathon hearings on Wednesday, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath and Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Executive Director Brian Guthrie both laid out their agencies’ Legislative Appropriations Requests (LARs). The presentations were made to a panel of staffers representing the Governor’s and Lt Governor’s offices, as well as House and Senate budget writers.

ATPE previously issued a statement about the state’s continued shift in reliance on local property taxes, and away from non-property tax revenue, to fund public education represented in TEA’s LAR. The agency’s LAR predicts a reduction of $3 billion in state aid, or $1.5 billion per year, over the next biennium.

There is an available video archive of Morath’s presentation in addition to TEA’s full LAR document, which lays out much of the commissioner’s agenda for the next two years.

Guthrie laid out his agency’s substantial appropriations request later in the day, which included increased contributions of $1.6 billion for the biennium to cover the decrease in projected investment revenue attributable to TRS’s lowering the assumed rate of return on pension fund investments. The TRS budget request also includes approximately $400 million in additional funding to cover the projected shortfall for TRS-Care, the retired educators’ health insurance program. While funding for the active educator health insurance program flows through TEA, not TRS, Guthrie did bring up the fact that the cost of active educator healthcare was also of concern and would be appropriate to address in the upcoming legislative session. While the funding does not flow through the agency, TRS does administer TRS-ActiveCare, which many districts use to provide insurance to their employees.

A video archive of Guthrie’s presentation is available to watch, in addition to the documents that TRS provided to the Legislative Budget Board for this week’s hearing.

September 13, 2018

The following is a press release issued on Sept. 7, 2018, by the Texas Secretary of State’s office, reminding Texans about the Oct. 9 deadline to register to vote in the November 2018 general election.


Secretary Pablos Reminds Texans To Register To Vote By October 9th, Plan Their Trip To The Polls

“Prepare yourself, inform yourself, and empower yourself”

AUSTIN – Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos today reminded all eligible Texans to register to vote by October 9th and to make all necessary preparations to be able to cast a ballot in the upcoming November 6 General Election.

Secretary Pablos encouraged all eligible Texas voters to ensure that they:

(1) are registered to vote in their county of residence
(2) are aware of what they need to bring to the polls in order to cast a ballot.

Additionally, Secretary Pablos urged voters to contact their respective county elections offices to become familiar with their ballot, locate their appropriate polling location, and plan their trip to the polls.

With the October 9th voter registration deadline just over a month away, Secretary Pablos issued one last call-to-action by urging Texans to register and take the necessary steps to be prepared to vote.

“Don’t wait until the last minute, make sure you are registered well in advance of the October 9th voter registration deadline so that you cast a ballot in the November General Election,” Secretary Pablos said. “The Texas Secretary of State’s office wants to ensure that all eligible Texans can cast their ballots with confidence this November, and the first step in doing so is to make sure you are registered and ready to make your trip to the polls.”

Eligible Texans who are not already registered to vote may complete and print a voter registration application here, or request an application from their county elections administrator. Once completed,  eligible Texas voters may submit the application to the county voter registrar in their county of residence. Completed voter registration applications must be postmarked by October 9th, 2018 in order to be accepted. Texans may check to see if they are already registered to vote through the Texas Secretary of State’s web site or by visiting www.votetexas.gov.

“Prepare yourself, inform yourself, and empower yourself,” Secretary Pablos said. “As a Texas voter, you can set an example for your fellow Texans by showing your commitment to civic engagement. We will continue working with election officials across the Lone Star State to make sure all eligible Texans have the information and resources they need to register to vote and make their voices heard.”

To avoid longer waiting times on Election Day, the Texas Secretary of State encourages eligible registered voters to vote during the early voting period from Monday, October 22nd to Friday, November 2nd, 2018. During the early voting period, Texas voters can cast a ballot at any location in their county of registration.

Additionally, Secretary Pablos has proclaimed the first Friday of the early voting period (October 26th) to be Student Voting Day in the State of Texas, when all eligible Texas students are encouraged to cast their ballot in their county’s nearest polling location during times that do not conflict with their scholastic obligations.

Secretary Pablos also reminds Texas voters who possess one of the seven approved forms of photo ID that they must present that ID at the polls. Voters who do not possess and cannot reasonably obtain one of the seven forms of approved photo ID may execute a Reasonable Impediment Declaration form (PDF), available to them at each polling location, and provide a supporting form of identification. Additionally, certain voters may qualify for certain exemptions to presenting an acceptable form of photo identification or following the Reasonable Impediment Declaration (PDF)procedure.

The seven forms of approved photo ID are:

With the exception of the U.S. Citizenship Certificate, which does not expire, the acceptable photo ID must be current or, for voters aged 18-69, have expired no more than four years before being presented for voter qualification at the polling place. A voter 70 years of age or older may use a form of acceptable photo ID listed above that has expired for any length of time if the identification is otherwise valid.

If a voter does not possess one of the forms of acceptable photo identification listed above, and the voter cannot reasonably obtain such identification, the voter may fill out a Reasonable Impediment Declaration form (PDF), which will be available at each polling location, and present a copy or original of one of the following supporting forms of identification:

  • a government document that shows the voter’s name and an address, including the voter’s voter registration certificate;
  • a current utility bill;
  • a bank statement;
  • a government check;
  • a paycheck;
  • a certified domestic (from a U.S. state or territory) birth certificate; or
  • a document confirming birth admissible in a court of law which establishes the voter’s identity (which may include a foreign birth document)

The address on an acceptable form of photo identification or a supporting form of identification, if applicable, does not have to match the voter’s address on the list of registered voters.

If a voter meets these requirements and is otherwise eligible to vote, the voter will be able to cast a regular ballot in the election.

Voters with a disability may apply with the county voter registrar for a permanent exemption to presenting an acceptable form of photo identification or following the Reasonable Impediment Declaration procedure at the polls. Voters with a religious objection to being photographed or voters who do not present an acceptable form of photo identification or follow the Reasonable Impediment Declaration procedure at the polls because of certain natural disasters may apply for a temporary exemption to presenting an acceptable form of photo identification or following the Reasonable Impediment Declaration procedure. For more details, voters may contact their county voter registrar.

Voters with questions about how to cast a ballot in upcoming elections can call 1-800-252-VOTE

For Texas voters affected by Hurricane Harvey, click here for additional information and resources.

For more information on voting in Texas, visit www.votetexas.gov

September 13, 2018

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) met in committees Thursday morning to discuss a variety of subjects prior to Friday’s meeting of the full board.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifies before SBOE Committee on School Initiatives.

The Committee on School Initiatives considered a rule change proposed by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) regarding an abbreviated path for a certificate in trade and industrial workforce training.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified against the proposed SBEC rule, which proposed to add certificates in marketing and health sciences to an abbreviated pathway for earning a trade and industrial workforce training certificate created by House Bill (HB) 3349. Along with other concerns, the addition of the two certificates falls well outside the scope of the enacting legislation and carries negative consequences with regard to teacher quality.

This is important particularly because of the interaction with certification by examination, which would allow those who have obtained an abbreviated certificate in one of these subjects to test into additional teaching certifications without the baseline 300 hours of training, including in pedagogy, that is assumed by the certification by examination statute. This would likely have deleterious effects upon teacher quality, which is the most single most critical factor impacting student outcomes.

Several other educator organizations joined with ATPE in asking the committee to reject the rule in its current form and allow the SBEC to produce a rule that maintains high standards for certified teachers and is more in line with statute. While acknowledging the good intentions behind the rule, the committee voted unanimously to reject the rule change, citing concerns over the process and a desire to safeguard high teacher standards.

 

September 12, 2018

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) spent most of its Wednesday meeting dealing with Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for social studies, including an Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies course. As part of the streamlining process for social studies TEKS, the board unanimously adopted verbiage to clarify a section relating to Alamo heroes that had recently become the focus of political and media attention.

SBOE meeting September 12, 2018.

The board approved a number of revisions offered by stakeholders to the TEKS for Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies on second reading and final adoption. The board also approved a number of streamlining revisions on first reading to the social studies TEKS.

In addition to reviewing curriculum, the board approved the permanent school fund (PSF) distribution for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 at a rate of 2.75 percent. Staff had recommended setting a rate of 2.38 percent to 2.75 percent, which is less than previously anticipated because of actions taken by the General Land Office (GLO).

According to staff, the GLO distributed $600 million for the next biennium directly to the available school fund (ASF) instead of to the PSF, which is unusual and limited the amount of funding the GLO could provide. Staff testified this impeded the board’s ability to provide additional school funds through its PSF oversight authority. At a distribution rate of 2.75 percent, staff said districts would receive roughly $225 million less per year than through the normal process.

Several board members, including Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio) and Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) raised serious concern over the GLO’s actions. Chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) led the board in submitting a letter to the GLO requesting the agency reconsider its actions. Member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) invited Land Commissioner George P. Bush to personally deliver news of a reversal at the board’s November meeting. Member David Bradley (R-Beaumont) suggested asking the GLO to provide an additional $500 million in order to cover inflation and enrollment growth to safeguard intergenerational equity.

 

 

September 12, 2018

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) opened its Wednesday meeting with an update from Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

The commissioner began by praising the board’s work on the Long-Range Plan for Public Education, and suggested that there is significant overlap with the agency’s own strategic plan.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath testifying before the SBOE, September 12, 2018.

Morath caught members up to speed on the recent debate over a cosmetology course, and indicated that the course is not expected to go away. The commissioner testified he asked staff to look into ways to ameliorate the high cost of the associated licensure.

Regarding special education, Morath claimed progress in a number of areas. The commissioner said the agency has accomplished more than half of the items under the corrective action plan. The agency was tasked with setting up a large field apparatus, and 70 percent of 55 vacant positions have been filled, including all leadership positions. Justin Porter, who helped write the corrective action plan, is the special education director.

A total of 14 grants have been posted, and an additional five have been completed internally and will be finished within the next couple months. Statements of work have been drafted for 15 of the contracts related to strategic plan.

On a separate but related note, Commissioner Morath acknowledged recent contracting issues that resulted in a rebuke from the Texas State Auditor’s office, while defending staff involved. Morath state that starting in November of last year, the agency initiated a top-to-bottom review of contracting practices.

With regard to the agency’s legislative appropriations request (LAR), in which the agency submits its budget requests for the next biennium to the Texas Legislature, Morath noted that the agency is requesting two exceptional items. These consist of $50 million to support districts providing compensatory services in order to comply with the special education corrective action plan, and roughly $50 million for health and safety, $20 million of which is aligned to the governor’s school safety plan.

The commissioner then offered a review of “A through F” school district ratings, which were released in August. Additionally, Morath noted that the state saw a one-year reduction of 247 “improvement required” (IR) campuses. This marks the last set of campus ratings under the “met standard” or IR labeling system, and campuses will instead receive A-F ratings next August.

Finally, Commissioner Morath briefed members on the first TEA annual report on the state of public education in Texas and solicited feedback from members. Relating to teacher recruitment and retention, Morath noted board members will receive a briefing on the Texas lesson study initiative tomorrow.

September 11, 2018

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) kicked off its September meeting Tuesday with a lengthy day of public testimony regarding revisions to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for social studies.

SBOE meeting September 11, 2018.

Some of the commentary came in response to edits to the portion addressing the Alamo that received a significant amount of news coverage and political attention over the past several days. A member of the TEKS review team, which is composed of educators who are experts in the subject matter and volunteer their time, explained the reasoning behind the edits and suggested the extraordinary attention was due to a misreading of the team’s notes, as well as a lack of outreach to team members for clarification. He offered an alternative phrasing that would satisfy all parties’ concerns, and which board members seemed amenable to adopting.

Testimony also focused on the proper way to treat slavery as the cause of Texas’s secession in the Civil War period, as well as how to discuss the role of religion, specifically Moses, as it pertains to the framing of the U.S. Constitution.

The board concluded the meeting with a discussion of the Long-Range Plan (LRP) for Public Education, which sets the state’s educational goals through the year 2030 and was released Monday. The LRP Steering Committee held ten in-person community meetings and solicited feedback from thousands of stakeholders via an online survey. Educators, parents, and community leaders were consulted at every step of the way. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, who has followed the plan’s development for more than a year, lauded the board for an inclusive and thoughtful process that gave meaningful consideration to input from educators.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifying before SBOE.

Wiggins offered a number of broad recommendations to perfect the plan, including adding language to increase the rigor of Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs). Wiggins also cautioned the board that when discussing programs that aim to place top tier teachers in schools with large numbers of at-risk students by offering differentiated pay, it’s important to ensure that the evaluation programs used to identify those top tier teachers are not based upon student test scores. Wiggins also suggested that due to the short period of time stakeholders have had to evaluate the LRP, the board would be justified in postponing final approval.

Chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) introduced a number of perfecting amendments, many of which addressed elements of ATPE’s general recommendations. The board discussed allowing the public more time to review the proposed amendments before voting on final adoption at the November meeting.