ATPE News Magazine

Winter 2016 | Volume 37 | Issue 2

Feature

Education Issues for the 85th Legislature

Education Issues for the 85th Legislature Priorities and Pitfalls

With the start of the 2017 legislative session right around the corner, ATPE is preparing to address several public education priorities.

Alleviating the Pressure of Student Testing

From test administration glitches to timing bathroom breaks, concerns about STAAR were a perennial news story during the last school year. The 85th Legislature will consider interim recommendations from the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability, while also discussing whether to continue an ATPE-supported bill that helped some students graduate high school despite failing a mandatory STAAR test. At the same time, teachers who will be evaluated under the new T-TESS rubric this year remain concerned about what role student test scores might play in their appraisals. All of this points to student testing as a high-priority issue for the 2017 session.

ATPE supports reducing the time and emphasis placed on high-stakes testing. We oppose the use of state standardized test scores as the primary measure of student achievement, educator effectiveness, or school performance. Texas’s use of test scores as the basis for “grading” our schools, compensating and making career decisions about educators, and concluding which opportunities should be afforded to students is disheartening an already test-weary population of students, parents, and teachers.

Improving School Finance

Earlier this year, the Texas Supreme Court ruled our school finance system constitutional, but encouraged lawmakers to fix what it deemed an “undeniably imperfect” system. “Texas’s more than five million school children deserve better,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Don Willett in the opinion, and we wholeheartedly agree. For years, the system has received only short-term tweaks to meet minimal constitutional standards and to address complaints from school boards struggling under the state’s complicated “recapture” system for equalizing funding. Those measures have created a patchwork of “hold harmless” provisions that merely exacerbate the inequity of school funding in the long run. With climbing enrollment and recent reports about the impact of poverty on our state’s education system, it’s time for real change through the adoption of suitable funding levels overall and better weights that will prioritize resources for our most pressing needs.

ATPE supports legislation to dramatically improve the state’s school finance system. Every child deserves access to an exemplary public education rather than one that meets only minimum standards. We urge lawmakers to provide the resources necessary for Texas to fulfill the economic and moral imperative to help all students reach their full potential.

Saving Payroll Deduction

Some lawmakers are again looking to prohibit educators and other public employees from paying their voluntary association dues through payroll deduction. A similar politically charged bill was stopped in 2015. ATPE will fight to save our members’ rights to take advantage of this convenient payment method that produces no cost for state taxpayers or school districts.

ATPE opposes politically motivated efforts to take away school employees’ right to use payroll deduction for safe, reliable, and convenient payment of association dues. Texas is a right-to-work state in which employees are free to choose whether to join a professional association at their own cost. Attempts to prohibit payroll deduction serve only to hurt professional associations and public servants who choose to join them.

Funding Educators' Healthcare

Texas educators benefit from one of the healthiest pension funds in the country, but they are being squeezed by the rising costs of their own healthcare and state funding that hasn’t kept up. Lawmakers have not raised the state’s $75 per employee contribution for health insurance since the inception of the program in 2001.

ATPE supports measures to provide educators with more affordable healthcare benefits through the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). We urge the legislature to address the rising cost to TRS members for benefits that have lagged behind those offered to educators in other states and those employed in other professions. ATPE believes the state should provide sufficient funding to meet the healthcare needs of active and retired educators while preserving the solvency and defined benefit structure of TRS.

Opposing Vouchers and other Privatization Plans

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) is once again leading a charge in the Texas Senate to push private school vouchers, claiming students have a “civil right” to attend a private school of their choice at taxpayers’ expense. While ATPE supports parents’ right to choose their children’s educational setting, we will continue to fight against sending public funds to schools that are not held accountable for how they spend the money and not required to comply with state and federal laws that protect students.

ATPE will also oppose legislation that takes state dollars away from our public schools and places the money instead into an Education Savings Account (ESA), which essentially lets parents use a state-funded debit card for any expense they feel is warranted for their child’s education, including home and private school costs. The best way for Texas to adequately and equitably fund the education needs of our children is by focusing on neighborhood public schools—not by paying for a parallel system of unregulated private schools.

ATPE opposes the privatization of public schools. We urge the legislature to reject any voucher, scholarship, tax credit, education savings account, or similar program that directs funding away from the public schools and toward unaccountable, often inferior educational settings. We also oppose using public tax dollars to pay private entities to operate Texas public schools and take over the authority vested in locally elected school boards.

Fostering Educator Quality

The educator pipeline remains a high priority, and ATPE will continue to advocate for laws that will help us build and support an esteemed workforce and provide fulfilling career options for those who choose to enter the vital teaching profession.

ATPE supports improving educator quality through selective recruitment and rigorous training of future educators combined with supporting and rewarding teachers in order to maximize retention. We recommend raising the standards for educator preparation and certification; state-funded mentoring for all new teachers; increasing teacher compensation while preserving the integrity of the state’s minimum salary schedule; and evaluating teachers in a manner that is fair, transparent, statistically valid, and meaningful.

Limiting and Monitoring Regulatory Exemptions

In 2015, legislators gave late approval to a law that permits acceptably rated school districts to exempt themselves from various state regulations through a District of Innovation (DOI) declaration. Dozens of districts have undertaken the process to become a DOI and started claiming exemptions from state laws covering the school start date, teacher certification requirements, class-size limits, and a host of other standards. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath recently finalized rules to implement the DOI law, which gave the commissioner extremely limited oversight. ATPE and some lawmakers have expressed concerns about the breadth of the DOI law and the possibility it will result in declining educational outcomes and an erosion of parents’ and educators’ rights.

ATPE supports limiting, repealing, or adding safeguards to regulatory exemptions that have been granted to some public schools. We urge lawmakers to consider potential negative effects of broad DOI exemptions and take proactive measures to prevent a decline in classroom quality if districts exempt themselves from research-based statutes that were put in place for the benefit of students. At the very least, the DOI law should require enhanced state oversight for districts that take such actions as hiring uncertified teachers not regulated by the State Board for Educator Certification, exceeding statutory limits for elementary class sizes without parental notice, and employing teachers without annual contracts.

Stay informed throughout the legislative session. ATPE is fighting for your rights, and Advocacy Central is the place to keep a close eye on hot-button issues.

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