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:

 
March 19, 2019

The Senate Education Committee met Tuesday to consider several bills and pass its first bills of the legislative session. Members voted the following bills out of committee:

  • SB 244 (6-2, with Sens. ‬Powell and West opposing)
  • ‪SB 477 (8-0, placed on the local and uncontested calendar)
  • SB 811 (6-2, with Sens. Powell and West opposing)

Members heard testimony on a number of bills, including several that revisited educator misconduct issues addressed during the 2017 legislative session.

Senate Bill (SB) 1256 by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) builds upon the original work done by SB 7 from the 85th Texas Legislature. The bill would expand the ability to track teachers who have been involved in illicit relationships with students to non-certified teachers and school employees by creating a separate registry managed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The bill would also allow TEA to close charter schools and revoke district of innovation (DOI) status for districts that fail to comply with the new law. ATPE supported this bill for thoughtfully filling in the gaps left by SB 7, which ATPE supported in 2017.

SB 1230 and SB 1231 by Bettencourt also build upon SB 7 by pulling in private schools and by expanding child abuse and neglect reporting requirements to private schools and charters, respectively. SB 1476 addresses reporting requirements to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) when an educator has been found to be wrongfully accused of misconduct. ATPE supported this bill.

A related bill, SB 933 by Bettencourt, would create an office of inspector general (OIG) within TEA with the ability to investigate districts and charter schools for potential fraud, waste, and abuse. The committee approved an amendment that expanded the inspector general’s purview to include the agency itself, which is in line with other agency offices of inspector general. Sen Kirk Watson (D-Austin) questioned the cost of creating and staffing an entirely new investigatory division and the veracity of the accompanying fiscal note that stated it would cost the state nothing.

SB 458 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) would add sexual abuse, human trafficking, and other maltreatment of children to the list of training topics required of public school board members.

Members also discussed SB 316 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), which would allow the state office of attorney general (OAG) to defend a teacher in a civil suit “as a result of an act that the teacher in good faith believed was incident to or within the scope of the teacher’s duties if the attorney general determines that the teacher acted in good faith.” Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) asked whether a teacher has the ability to waive the attorney general’s offer and use their own representation. Sen. Watson raised important questions about the subjective interpretation of “scope of duties” and “good faith.” ATPE submitted neutral written testimony that raised similar concerns, along with important considerations regarding legal timelines that could leave teachers in the lurch.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) offered SB 54, which addressed students participating in regional day school programs for the deaf; SB 522, relating to the development of a individual education programs (IEP) for a student with a visual impairment; and SB 895, relating to the language acquisition of children eight years of age or younger who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) offered SB 213, which would repeal the sunset on individual graduation committees (IGC). Currently, a student who fails one or more STAAR tests required for graduation may ask for an IGC to weigh their overall student career and potentially allow them to graduate. This ensures children who are otherwise strong students but may have performed poorly on STAAR for a variety of reasons are not handicapped by the refusal of a high school diploma. Under current law, students will lose this option after the 2018-2019 school year. ATPE supported this bill as an important safety measure, in particular when recent investigations have thrown the validity of the STAAR test itself into question.

SB 364 by Sen. Watson would require TEA develop model policies on the recess period during the school day that encourage constructive, age-appropriate outdoor playtime. The model policies must include guidelines for outdoor equipment and facilities on public school campuses that maximize the effectiveness of outdoor physical activity. ATPE supported this bill.

SB 372 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) would allow charter schools to employ security personnel and commission peace officers.

SB 435 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) would add opioid addiction to the list of topics covered by local school health advisory councils (SHAC).

 

 

March 19, 2019

Today the House Committee on Public Education voted to move forward a comprehensive school finance reform bill. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) offered a new committee substitute version of his House Bill (HB) 3 today, which the committee approved by a vote of 13 to zero.

The committee substitute for HB 3 reflects changes that were made in response to testimony on the original bill as filed. As we reported here on our blog, ATPE testified neutrally on HB 3 at last week’s committee hearing. We supported the bill’s provision of additional funding for public schools, tax relief, and other positive measures, but ATPE opposed language in the original bill that would have allowed school districts to exempt themselves from complying with the state’s minimum salary schedule and a controversial merit pay proposal. The substitute version of the bill approved today removes those portions of HB 3, which all four of the state’s major teacher groups and several individual educators opposed in testimony last week. ATPE greatly appreciates the willingness of Chairman Huberty and the House leadership to hear our concerns, and we are happy to support the new and improved version of this important bill as it moves forward.

HB 3 does not include an across-the-board educator pay raise in the same manner as the Senate’s well-publicized Senate Bill 3, but the House bill advanced today would raise the state’s minimum salary schedule by increasing the basic allotment from $5,140 up to $6,030. Additionally, with Chairman Huberty’s striking from HB 3 a controversial merit pay plan that was tied to a $140 million educator effectiveness allotment, school districts will be able instead to use those funds for incentives and pay raises to help staff quality teachers at high needs campuses, in rural schools, and in areas experience a critical teacher shortage. Other bills proposing an across-the-board pay raise for certain educators continue to be debated this session.

View the newest version of HB 3 here, along with the author’s summary of changes made to the bill. View ATPE’s press release on today’s committee vote approving HB 3 here. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on the progress of HB 3, which is expected to be sent to the House floor for its consideration within the next couple of weeks.

March 15, 2019

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


ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee on March 12, 2019

Members of the House Public Education committee heard more than 12 hours of testimony this Tuesday on House Bill 3 (HB 3), the House’s comprehensive school finance reform bill. Stakeholders from parents to teachers and even children on spring break testified about the $9 billion bill. Many witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing expressed support for the bill, but a number of them shared reservations about its move to roll funding for gifted and talented programs into the basic allotment and a proposed merit pay plan that the commissioner of education would oversee under HB 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood).

ATPE testified neutrally on HB 3 stating that while the bill as filed has many positive qualities and would inject much-needed funding into the public education system, it also includes some troubling changes regarding the state’s minimum salary schedule and using teacher evaluations and student performance data for merit pay. Many witnesses, including ATPE, who expressed concerns about the merit pay plan noted that it would be difficult if not impossible for the commissioner to determine which teachers might receive merit pay under HB 3 without using data from student test scores, even though the bill itself does not specifically call for the use of the STAAR for this purpose. ATPE opposes the use of student performance data, including test scores, as the primary measure of a teacher’s effectiveness for purposes of compensation, which ATPE shared with the committee during our testimony that was delivered by Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter on Tuesday.

Currently, HB 3 is still pending in committee with a substitute version of the bill expected to be discussed next Tuesday, March 19. Read more about Tuesday’s school finance hearing in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

On Wednesday, the House Public Education Committee reconvened to hear a host of other bills related to topics such as Districts of Innovation (DOI) and school start dates. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 1051, a bill that would make permanent the Goodwill Excel center permanent, a charter school offering a successful dropout recovery program for adult students. ATPE also supported HB 340 relating to full-day pre-k and HB 1276 relating to educator certification. More details on bills heard during Wednesday’s hearing can be found here.

 


Earlier this week, the White House released the president’s 2020 budget proposal, which is little more than a statement of the president’s priorities given that Congress actually passes the federal budget. The proposal would cut billions from the Department of Education’s budget compared to what Congress previously enacted, while funding controversial programs such as school privatization and performance-based compensation. Read a more detailed analysis of the President’s budget proposal on our Teach the Vote blog here.

 


The Senate State Affairs Committee met Thursday morning to hear a number of bills. Among them was Senate Bill 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston). SB 12 would increase the TRS contribution rate and get the fund back to a point of actuarial soundness by the end of the biennium. In addition to the increased contribution rate, the bill would also fund a small 13th check of $500 for current TRS retirees. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of the bill. For more background on why TRS contribution increases are now needed, check out this previous blog post about actions taken by the TRS board of trustees in the summer of 2018.


Residents of the San Antonio area’s House District 125 elected Democrat Ray Lopez to represent them in the House in a special election held this Tuesday. Lopez, a former city council member will be serving in the seat vacated by current Bexar County Commissioner and former HD 125 state representative Justin Rodriguez. ATPE congratulates Representative-Elect Lopez and looks forward to working with him. This election was the last in a series of special elections meant to fill seats that were vacated after last fall’s elections. As we reported last week, Houston area residents of House District 145 last week elected Democrat Christina Morales to fill the seat vacated by former representative and now Senator Carol Alvarado.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-465016790_moneyLast Friday evening the Senate released its version of a school finance reform proposal, Senate Bill 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). While the Senate has worked diligently to pass an across-the-board teacher pay raise bill this session (SB 3), its version of a more comprehensive school finance reform plan is a little less robust than its counterpart in the House. SB 4 includes provisions for outcomes-based funding and merit pay for classroom teachers. Read more information about the Senate bill in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


March 15, 2019

Senate Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) filed Senate Bill (SB) 4 at the end of last week, which was the deadline to file most bills for consideration during the 2019 legislative session.

The Senate has focused on property taxes early on this session and also quickly passed SB 3 on March 4, proposing to give teachers and librarians a $5,000 pay raise across-the-board. For its part, the House spent most of the first half of the session preparing to unveil its comprehensive school finance reform plan. After the House released its major school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 3, many were waiting to see how the Senate would respond. SB 4 represents the Senate’s stab at a similar school finance plan.

In its current form, SB 4 is a rough draft with many portions left incomplete. As with the original version of HB 3 as filed, ATPE believes SB 4 as filed includes a mix of favorable and unfavorable proposals. Among its positive aspects, SB 4 would create a full-day pre-K program and allow educators’ children to participate in that. It would also provide professional development materials for implementing blended learning. Below are some additional details on the Senate’s school finance proposal:

SB 4: OUTCOMES FUNDING

The Senate’s bill includes a controversial outcomes-based funding model that would provide school districts additional money for students who perform well on standardized tests. Specifically, SB 4 would create a new third-grade reading allotment that would give districts an unspecified amount of funding for each “educationally disadvantaged” student who performs well on a third-grade reading test chosen by the commissioner of education. The commissioner would determine what it means to be educationally disadvantaged for purposes of this bill.

ATPE and other education stakeholders have continuously pointed out the consensus view of the education community: outcomes-based funding rewards schools that are already performing well, while denying resources to poorly performing schools that need those resources in order to improve. The third-grade reading allotment under SB 4 would likewise leave poorly performing schools to fend for themselves, while sending the resources they need in order to improve to districts that are already doing well.

SB 4: MERIT PAY

Regarding teacher compensation, SB 4 would create an “educator effectiveness” merit pay program. The program would require participating districts to provide merit salary increases based upon the educator’s performance under a new evaluation system that must include student surveys and student academic growth, which is generally measured through standardized test scores. The number of educators who can participate would be restricted to a small percentage of the statewide teaching population, and salary increases under this program would be higher for educators who are assigned to campuses with poor overall or domain performance ratings under the A-F accountability system. While districts would be given a degree of flexibility in designing these programs, the commissioner of education would ultimately have the sole discretion to determine what sort of program meets the criteria.

Research shows that student performance on standardized tests is not a scientifically valid measure of educator effectiveness, especially since the tests were not designed for that purpose. ATPE continues to warn that tying educator pay to student test scores will create a perverse set of incentives that only increases concerns about “teaching to the test.” ATPE supports programs that offer higher pay to educators who volunteer to serve at struggling campuses, take on campus leadership roles above and beyond their classroom duties, or who obtain advanced or high-needs training and certifications. Recognizing that what works for one district doesn’t necessarily work for every district, ATPE recommends that these differentiated pay programs be designed at the local level with input from educators, and not be tied to a single set of agency-approved criteria.

SB 4: OTHER CHANGES

The Senate’s school finance bill also includes school district funding for each student in kindergarten through grade three who is educationally disadvantaged or in a bilingual or special language program. It would create a new allotment to provide district funding for each educationally disadvantaged student who demonstrates college, career, or military readiness.

SB 4 would make the following additional changes:

  • Create new weighted funding for dual language instruction and students with dyslexia.
  • Expand career and technology education (CTE) program funding to the eighth grade.
  • Convert transportation funding to mileage-based from a linear density-based formula.
  • Order a study of the new instructional facilities allotment (NIFA).
  • Create new small and midsize and fast growth allotments.
  • Codify the state’s 60×30 graduation goal and order a biennial progress report.
  • Require students to fill out a FAFSA before graduation.
  • Eliminate intensive summer programs for students at risk of dropping out.
  • Adjust the equalized wealth level under Chapter 41.

The bill would eliminate the high school allotment, gifted and talented allotment, and outdated cost of education index (CEI), presumably to roll them into the basic allotment. Placeholder language in the bill indicates Sen. Taylor intends changes to other formula weights as well, but an estimate of the bill’s cost cannot be completed until those numbers are included.

SENATE PRIORITY BILLS

In the Senate, bills that are important to the lieutenant governor receive the lowest bill numbers. As one of the first five bills in numerical order, SB 4 is considered a major priority bill. The top five includes SB 1, which is the Senate budget that includes $3.7 billion to cover the $5,000 raise proposed in SB 3 — another priority bill. The addition of librarians to SB 3 raised the price tag of that pay raise bill to $3.9 billion.

The Senate’s property tax relief program consists of SB 2 and SB 5. Filed by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), SB 5 would increase the amount of state funding to local school districts in order to raise the individual homestead exemption from $25,000 up to $35,000. This would ease some of the burden on homeowners, who have paid for an increasing share of the cost of public education as property values have risen and the current funding formulas have allowed the state to decrease its contributions.

Also filed by Sen. Bettencourt, SB 2 would cap the annual revenue growth of local taxing entities, including school districts, at 2.5 percent. If local tax collections increase more than 2.5 percent due to an increase in property values, then the local taxing unit most lower the tax rate or hold an election asking voters if they can exceed the 2.5 percent cap. Cities and counties have argued that this could imperil their ability to provide basic services, including first responders.

The Senate has already passed SB 3, but an across-the-board teacher pay raise has faced a chilly reception in the Texas House. SB 2 faces an uncertain future, with members raising serious concerns over the impact the 2.5 percent cap would have on public safety and local services. At this time, SB 2 has yet to be scheduled for debate on the Senate floor. SB 4 and SB 5 are the most recently filed bills, and both await hearings in their respective committees. Keep checking back on here at TeachtheVote.org for updates.

March 14, 2019

Credit: CNN.com

In each fiscal year (FY), which runs October 1 through September 30, the President releases his vision for the country’s budget. It really is just that- a statement on how the President believes money should be spent based on his (or her) priorities. Actual fiscal determinations are made by Congress. For example, past presidential budgets have proposed eliminating Title II of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which provides over $2 billion in grants to states to improve teacher effectiveness. However, Title II has remained intact because Congress will not eliminate it.

The 2020 presidential budget proposal includes $62 billion for the Department of Education (ED) to provide K-12 and higher education programs and funding, which is an $8.5 billion or 12% decrease compared to what Congress enacted in the last budget. President Trump’s budget plan cuts K-12 education by $5.1 billion and calls for eliminating at least 16 programs. While maintaining current levels of funding for large programs such as Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the President’s budget pushes multiple controversial programs such as school privatization marketed as “school choice,” charter school expansion, and performance-based compensation, as well as funding for magnet schools and school safety. The proposal includes the following:

  • Creating a federal tax credit costing up to $50 billion over 10 years for donations to scholarship programs for families of elementary and secondary students to subsidize private school tuition
  • $500 million (an increase of $60M) to fund the opening, expansion, and facilities of charter schools
  • $107 million to expand magnet schools
  • $50 million in new funding for districts participating in the Title I student-centered funding pilot, which allows districts to to use federal, state, and local funding for public school choice
  • Raising the percentage of Title I dollars states can use to fund expanded educational choice for disadvantaged students from 3% to 5%
  • Increasing the funding for the DC Opportunity Scholarship program, which awards scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools in Washington, DC

While the bulk of Title II under ESSA would be eliminated yet again, the FY 2020 Presidential budget proposes two main initiatives that affect teachers:

  • $200 million for the Teacher and School Leader Incentive grant program, which would support performance-based compensation systems and human capital management systems that include either mentoring of new teachers or increased compensation for effective teachers
  • $300 million (an increase of $170M) for Education Innovation and Research, mainly for studying teacher-driven professional development (PD) and providing stipends for teachers to attend PD

As for school safety, the budget includes:

  • $700 million ($354M increase) in Department of Education, Justice, and Health and Human Services grants to give states and school districts resources to implement the recommendations of the Federal Commission on School Safety (FCSS)
  • $200 million (increase of $105M) will go to ED for School Safety National Activities, which provides grants to states and school districts to develop school emergency operations plans, as well as counseling and emotional support. $100M of this will be used for a School Safety State Grant program to implement the recommendations of the FCSS

Other points of interest include TEACH grants, which award annual amounts up to $4,000 to eligible undergraduate and graduate students to become full-time teachers in high-need areas for at least four years. The Presidential budget proposes cutting funding to this program by $3.1 million. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which allows the cancellation of federal student loans for non-profit and government employees after 10 years of on-time payments, is also eliminated in the budget.

In addition to the aforementioned maintained levels of Title I and IDEA funding, the FY 2020 Presidential budget proposal would maintain current levels of funding for many programs including state assessments, English language acquisition programs, migrant education, neglected and delinquent education, education for homeless children and youths, and rural education.

The budget would decrease funding to Indian education programs and impact aid, which helps to offset revenue loss to districts that serve areas that include federal lands. The budget plan also shifts around more than $12B in IDEA funding, cutting some programs entirely while increasing funding to others.

Lastly, the budget proposes elimination of many programs, including arts in education, full-service community schools, Promise neighborhoods, and Special Olympics educational programs. However, don’t despair! Remember, the president’s proposed budget is a suggestion and a statement of his priorities. Given the split control of the U.S. House of Representatives, it is even less likely that President Trump’s proposals as described here ultimately will be enacted.

The entire proposal includes all areas of funding across the government. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, check out the administration’s three-page overview. Keep in mind that these documents were created by the White House and do not represent an objective analysis.

ATPE will continue to monitor and report on the federal budget discussions in Washington with assistance from our DC-based federal lobby team. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

March 14, 2019

On Wednesday, March 13, 2019, the House Public Education Committee held its fourth hearing on bills. With 15 bills on the agenda, the topics covered included school start and end dates in Districts of Innovation (DOI), seizure training requirements, the assignment of students to uncertified teachers, concussion oversight teams, special education due process, suspension of students who are homeless, and adult education programs.

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies before the House Public Education Committee on March 13, 2019

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of House Bill (HB) 1051 by Representative Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), which would improve and make permanent the Goodwill Excel Center, a public charter school that is currently a pilot program. Exter testified that while no program is perfect, this one is “as close as you can get” and has married Goodwill’s 501(c)(3) dollars with state dollars to do more for students. Exter stated that the program gives more money back to its students than the system takes in state funding. Goodwill covers about 41 percent of the cost of operating the school. Furthermore, the leaders of the program have taken the time to create exceedingly high standards. Under HB 1051, these standards would be locked into law should the program be expanded. In closing, Exter testified that this program serves a unique set a students who are current not served by the public education system, adult dropouts, many of whom are over the maximum age which an ISD can enroll students. The Goodwill program found a gap that sorely needed to be filled.

ATPE also supported, but did not testify on, the following bills heard on Wednesday:

  • HB 340 (Cortez, D-San Antonio): Would require students in full-day preK and K-3 to have at least 30 minutes of recess. Many registered in support of this bill, testifying on the importance of recess and play in child development.
  • HB 1276 (Rosenthal, D-Houston): Would prohibit a teacher who has less than one year of teaching experience and does not hold the appropriate certificate from being assigned to teach students in grades 1-6 for two consecutive years. This provision would exempt small districts by applying the restriction to districts with 5,000 or more students.

ATPE registered against HB 1133 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), which would change the calculation of K-4 class size limits to use a campus-wide average for each grade level rather than a hard cap applied to individual class rooms. ATPE supports state mandated class size and caseload limitations for all grade levels and instructional settings. This allows for optimal learning environments. ATPE also recommends that the state limit class size waivers and require full public disclosure of requests for class size waivers. Using the average calculation proposed by HB 1133 would mask the size of individual classes and allow for increases in some classes while maintaining a limited average. This opens the door to compromised educational quality and less individual attention for students in classes above the average. Rep. Stickland expressed that the bill was for Arlington ISD and said that he would be willing to bracket the bill to Arlington ISD. However, ATPE recommends maintaining current law on class size limits.

The committee also considered the following bills, on which ATPE took no position:

  • HB 233 (Krause, R-Fort Worth): Would prohibit DOIs from exempting themselves from school year start and end date requirements. Tourism and recreation industry representatives supported the bill, and expressed that the ability of districts to change their start and end dates negatively impacts their business, as well as the physical health of students. Those against the bill, mainly school districts, expressed that it is important for districts to retain local control over their calendar and that a shorter summer helps lessen the “summer slide” in student learning retention.
  • HB 684 (Clardy et al., R-Nacogdoches): Would require seizure recognition and related first aid online training for nurses and school district employees who have regular contact with students. Rep. Clardy calls this bill “Sam’s Law,” and said that nearly 50,000 public students have epilepsy.
  • HB 692 (White, D-Hillister): Would prohibit students who are homeless from being placed in out-of-school suspension (OSS). Rep. White suggested that the campus behavior coordinator, if available, may work with district’s homeless liaison to find an alternative. All testimony was in support of the bill and spoke to the importance of the school for students who are homeless in providing stability and quality of life.
  • HB 808 (Dutton, D-Houston): Would require that, in districts with 1,000 or more African American males, only the performance of African American male students may be considered for purposes of accountability ratings. The purpose is to track the educational progress of this specific demographic group. Chairman Dutton made changes to the bill and stated that the bill would now just require disaggregation of accountability measures by race/ethnicity and gender, to unmask certain sub-populations such as African American males.
  • HB 811 (White, D-Hillister): Would require that, in making disciplinary decisions (suspension, expulsion, Discipline Alternative Education Programs (DEAP), and Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs (JJAEP)), the school district board of trustees must also include in the student code of conduct that consideration will be given regarding a student’s status in the conservatorship of DFPS or as a student who is homeless. The testimony on HB 811 mirrored that of HB 692.
  • HB 880 (Calanni et al., D-Katy): This bill states that the board of trustees of a school district may not make a severance payment to a superintendent that is greater than one year’s salary under their terminated contract and eliminates text requiring that the commissioner of education reduce a district’s Foundation School Program (FSP) funding by the amount of the severance payment. This bill led to discussion about how some superintendent’s receive “big payouts” to leave districts, and that this takes away funds from students.
  • HB 960 (Howard, D-Austin): Would allow a school nurse to remove a student from certain activities if they suspect the student had a concussion. Rep. Howard and testifiers expressed that a nurse is highly qualified to make these determinations and that the bill does not change who can make the ultimate decision for a student to return to play.
  • HB 961 (Howard, D-Austin): Would require that school districts and charters that employ a school nurse include the nurse on the concussion oversight team, if requested by the nurse. Would also require that nurses on these teams take a concussion training course every two years to remain on the team. The testimony on this bill mirrored that for HB 960.
  • HB 1093 (Moody, D-El Paso): Would prohibit the Commissioner or TEA from adopting or enforcing a rule that establishes a shorter period than the maximum federal timeline for filing a due process complaint regarding special education and requesting an impartial due process hearing. Testimony was mixed on this bill, with parents and advocates supporting testifying that HB 1093 aligns state law with federal law and creates equity. Those against the bill felt that the current legal system works well enough.
  • HB 1132 (Ortega, D-El Paso): Would allow a school district that currently holds its trustee election on a date other than the November uniform date to change the date to the November date before December 31, 2024. Rep. Ortega specifically expressed that El Paso ISD faced this issue.
  • HB 2074 (Wu, D-Houston): Would prohibit districts from requiring a school counselor to assume a disciplinary role or have duties relating to student discipline that are inconsistent with their primary responsibilities. Testimony on this bill was positive, focusing on the idea that the counselor’s role is not to discipline students but rather to advocate for students.

At the end of the hearing, Chairman Huberty stated that the committee would meet again at 8:00 a.m. next Tuesday. The next hearing will likely begin with the committee substitute to House Bill 3, the school finance bill.

March 13, 2019

On Tuesday, March 12, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard over 12 hours of testimony from 116 individuals on the House school finance plan, House Bill (HB) 3. Testifiers ranged from elementary school students to superintendents and teacher associations. There were 187 individuals registered, with 131 for the bill, 46 neutral (including ATPE), and 10 against. Public comment was largely positive, with concerns bubbling to the surface on the teacher merit-based-pay portion of the bill, increased inequity between property wealthy and property poor districts, and the integration of the current gifted and talented allotment into base funding.

Every testimonial began with gratitude for the many aspects of the bill that improve school funding. These include reimbursements for real costs associated with administration of SAT/ACT and certifications for career and technical education (CTE) students, a substantial increase to the basic allotment from $5,140/student to $6,030/student, new dual language and dyslexia weights, the extension of CTE funding to middle school students, increases to early childhood through the early reading allotment, and efforts to target funds to schools serving students in concentrated poverty.

The majority of testimony, including that from parents and children, focused on the bill’s proposal to roll the gifted and talented (G/T) allotment into the basic allotment instead. Currently, G/T students are funded at a 0.12 weight, but district enrollment is capped at 5%. Most, if not all, districts enroll the maximum of 5% of students. Therefore, districts receive the maximum funding for G/T students. By rolling G/T funding into the basic allotment, the base level of funding is raised and all districts still get the money and are still statutorily required to provide the G/T program. Testifiers advocating for G/T expressed concern that districts would no longer implement G/T programs to fidelity without the allotment, even with the ability under HB 3 for G/T funding to be 100% stripped should a district opt not to certify that it is providing a G/T program.

The concern with the merit-based teacher pay portion of the bill was mainly voiced by teacher groups such as ATPE, the Texas- American Federation of Teachers, the Texas State Teachers Association, and the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, along with a number of teachers who took time to come to Austin to personally express similar disapproval of the inclusion of merit pay in the bill. Testifiers stated that the bill gives the Commissioner of Education (who is un-elected) too much power, assumes that data exists to evaluate all teachers in every subject area, allows for very subjective and potentially biased student surveys to be used for evaluating and ranking teachers, and does not include factors for teachers’ years of experience. Several witnesses told the committee that teachers deserve an across-the-board pay raise before legislators discuss a state framework for differentiated pay, which is similar to but far more acceptable than traditional notions of merit pay. Another area of concern in HB 3, which ATPE noted in our testimony yesterday, is that the bill complicates state laws regarding the minimum salary schedule – creating a new, separate salary schedule for most teachers while keeping counselors, nurses, and librarians on the minimum salary schedule currently found in law – and would allow any school district to simply opt out of using the state’s minimum salary schedule.

The concern over linking teacher pay to student performance metrics, which most see as little more than paying for STAAR scores, is especially concerning amidst ongoing reporting that STAAR has been shown to be unreliable. This spurred discussion from Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), who repeatedly argued that the bill does not mandate the use of the STAAR test for the teacher designations and merit-pay outlined in the bill. However, a reading of the bill clearly outlines the criteria for the tests that can be used, as well as the requirement for the commissioner to use comparative state data to create forced rankings of teachers.

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee on March 12, 2019

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified neutrally on HB 3, echoing many of the same concerns and was able to tease out many of the push-backs from committee members. Exter expressed that although the bill has some very positive qualities in that it manages to provide at least some level of funding increase for almost all districts while also increasing funding for special populations, a nearly herculean task, aspects of HB 3 that promote merit pay tied to testing are not appropriate for stimulating educational improvement. Exter noted for the committee that ATPE members through the member written and adopted legislative program, “oppose the use of student performance, including test scores as the primary measure of a teacher’s effectiveness, as the determining factor for a teacher’s compensation or as the primary rationale for an adverse employment action.” As with other witnesses testifying on behalf of teachers yesterday, ATPE’s testimony included the fact that we are aware of no other common metric shared by districts across the state that the commissioner could use to rank teachers for purposes of the proposed merit pay program other than STAAR test results.

In the end, Exter implored the committee not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, noting that the few parts of the bill educators oppose, including merit pay, are not integral to the functioning of the larger bill; if those parts of the bill were removed, Exter tstified, Texas educators could very likely enthusiastically support HB 3. Watch Exter’s full exchange with the committee here beginning at the 5 hour and 24 minute mark. Exter’s testimony was preceded by ATPE member and former Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year Stephanie Stoebe. ATPE State Vice president Tonja Gray also testified later in the hearing. View ATPE’s written testimony on HB 3 here.

Other education stakeholders focused their testimony in yesterday’s hearing more on concerns surrounding financial equity. While we won’t get into the weeds about tax effort and the guaranteed yield of different tax rates (and thus, golden and copper pennies), the general sentiment expressed was that HB 3 would increase inequity between property wealthy and property poor districts over time. For much more detailed information on this issue, please see testimony provided by the Equity Center and the Center for Public Policy Priorities on HB 3.

In addition to the tax inequity aspect, small and midsize districts and their representatives argued against moving the small and midsize adjustment, which adjusts the basic allotment to a higher amount to account for diseconomies of scale, to an allotment under HB 3. In current law, the adjustment is applied to the basic allotment before additional  funding weights (compensatory education, bilingual education, special education) are applied for various types of students, adding more money. Under HB 3, the adjustment would be applied to the basic allotment just like any other student weight, which advocates argue would reduce overall funding for specific student populations.

Yesterday’s hearing was likely to be the only opportunity for public comment on this version of HB 3 in the House. Once HB 3 is brought up in the House Public Education Committee again, which we expect to happen next week, it will likely be in the form of a committee substitute (a changed version) and the committee is not required to take additional testimony before voting on the bill. Follow ATPE Lobbyists on Twitter @ATPE_AndreaC, @ATPE_MontyE, @ATPE_JenniferM, and @MarkWigginsTX to get up-to-date news on HB 3 as it moves through the legislative process.

March 08, 2019

Here’s your wrap-up of the week’s major education headlines coming out of Austin and Washington, DC, as reported by the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


House leaders announced the filing of HB 3 on Tuesday, March 5, 2019.

On Tuesday, leaders of the Texas House of Representatives held a press conference to announce the filing of House Bill (HB) 3.  The much-anticipated school finance reform bill was filed by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee, with the support of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton). Numerous state representatives from both parties signed on to co-author the bill immediately upon its filing.

HB 3 aims to provide $9 billion for a combination of school finance changes and property tax relief. HB 3 would lower the property tax bills of many homeowners by funding four cents’ worth of school property tax compression per $100 of property value. The bill injects additional funding into certain areas, including emphasizing pre-Kindergarten programs and help for students with dyslexia and other special needs, but HB 3 in its initial version also includes a number of provisions that are concerning to ATPE and other educator groups.

HB 3 does not include an across-the-board pay raise like Senate Bill (SB) 3, which has already passed the full Senate. HB 3 instead provides funding for a statewide merit pay program and calls for changes to the structure of the state’s 20-year minimum salary schedule (MSS). The changes outlined in the bill include an increase in the MSS steps for fully certified teachers (excluding those working under a probationary or emergency type of certificate). However, HB 3 also authorizes school districts to adopt their own performance-based salary schedule for teachers in lieu of following the state’s MSS.

HB 3 contemplates a statewide merit pay program through which the top one-third of teachers who meet certain other criteria may earn additional compensation upon receiving “recognized, exemplary, or master teacher designations.” The commissioner would establish most criteria for this program. Designations would only be available to a teacher of record who also holds a leadership role and would be based upon criteria that include student assessments, student perception surveys, and appraisal data. Designations earned by a teacher would be valid for a five-year period and noted on the teacher’s virtual certificate. HB 3 allows SBEC to revoke or suspend a teacher’s designation and also allows the commissioner to revoke, suspend, or modify a district’s own criteria for participating in the program. Interestingly, HB 3 states that the 22:1 class-size limit currently found in law would no longer apply to classes taught by any teacher who earns a designation under this program.

Read more about the filing of HB 3 in this blog post and watch for updates in the next few days as the House plans its first public hearing of HB 3 on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. As with other major school finance and teacher compensation bills that have been filed this session, ATPE views HB 3 as merely a starting point for ongoing discussions in the House. We look forward to working with Chairman Huberty and House leaders on changes to this bill as it moves forward, and ATPE hopes to help the House and Senate reach an ultimate compromise on school funding improvements that will benefit students and educators across the state.


On Monday, the full Senate passed SB 3 to provide a $5,000 across-the-board pay raise for teachers. During the floor debate on Monday, SB 3 author Sen. Jane Nelson amended the bill to include librarians. The bill was passed unanimously. Read more about SB 3 here.

The Senate Education Committee met Tuesday, March 5, 2019, to discuss a major school safety bill and several bills dealing with school marshals. The hearing follows Gov. Greg Abbott’s declaration of school safety as an emergency issue for this legislative session. Among the bills heard was Senate Bill (SB) 11 filed earlier this week by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). SB 11 includes a number of enforcement provisions addressing school safety plans. The bill also includes a loan repayment assistance program for school counselors in high-needs areas. SB 11 requires schools to develop multihazard emergency operations plans and assemble threat assessment teams. ATPE supported the bill during the committee hearing. Read more in this blog post.

 


ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testifies in the House Public Education Committee on March 5, 2019.

On Tuesday, March 6, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard six bills related to STAAR testing. Tuesday’s hearing included hours of invited testimony from teachers, district leaders, parents, and TEA staff. The committee also heard several other bills including HB 851 by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) that would extend the expiration date for the law providing for Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs). Read more about the hearing in this blog post.

 


A new federal bill to provide tax relief for educators is gaining traction and bipartisan support. H.R. 878, the Educators Expense Deduction Modernization Act, would allow teachers to deduct up to $500 from their federal taxes (instead of $250 under current law) for any classroom supplies that they purchase. Four members of the Texas congressional delegation have already signed on as cosponsors of the ATPE-supported legislation. Read more in this blog post.

 


SPECIAL ELECTION UPDATE: Voters in Texas House District 145 have elected a new state representative to fill the seat vacated by former representative and now Senator Carol Alvarado. Democrat Christina Morales, a Houston entrepreneur, beat out challenger and former City Councilwoman Melissa Noriega,securing 59% of the vote in a special election runoff held Tuesday night. ATPE congratulates Representative-Elect Morales and looks forward to working with her for the remainder of this session.

Voting is currently underway for San Antonians living in House District 145. The race to fill the seat vacated by by former state representative and current Bexar County Commissioner Justin Rodriguez is down to two opponents: former City Councilman Ray Lopez (D-San Antonio) and businessman Fred Rangel (R-San Antonio). Today is the last day of early voting. The special election runoff for this seat will take place next Tuesday, March 12.

 


 

March 08, 2019

There is good news to report from the nation’s capital, as some members of Congress are looking to double a popular tax deduction that benefits educators. H.R. 878, the Educators Expense Deduction Modernization Act, was filed by Democratic Congressman Anthony Brown of Maryland and has garnered support from some members of the Texas delegation.

The bill as filed would allow teachers to deduct up to $500 from their federal taxes (instead of $250 under current law) for any classroom supplies that they purchase. The permanent tax deduction also would be adjusted for inflation.

The following Texans have signed on as cosponsors of H.R. 878:

  • Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-018)
  • Rep. Eddie Johnson (D-TX-030)
  • Rep. Filemon Vela, Jr. (D-TX-034)
  • Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX-015)
  • Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX-23)

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX-23)

In signing on to become a cosponsor of H.R. 878 today, Texas Congressman Will Hurd appears to be the first member of the Republican party to do so nationwide. Hurd issued a press release lauding the bill and noting ATPE’s support for it.  “There’s no good reason why our teachers should pay out of their own pockets for the resources needed to do their jobs, which is why I’m proud to cosponsor this bill today,” said Rep. Hurd.

ATPE recognizes that many of our members routinely spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars out of their own pockets to help provide students with the supplies they need to thrive in the classroom. We appreciate those among our Congressional delegation who are supporting this bill to help give teachers additional, modest tax relief, and we hope that other members of our delegation will join the bipartisan effort. View ATPE’s press release about the federal tax deduction legislation here.

March 06, 2019

On Tuesday, March 6, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard six bills related to testing and the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR).

The committee began by hearing seven panels of invited testimony from superintendents and other district leaders, teachers, Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff, and parents. Their comments generally centered around the reliability of STAAR testing in light of recent articles reporting that reading tests are written at a grade level above that of the students being tested (Texas Monthly, The New York Times, Washington Post, Houston Chronicle). Many issues arose during the rich discussion, including the misalignment between the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum standards and how the TEKS are tested; the misalignment of expectations between TEA and school districts; the negative impact of testing on students; and the flawed public narrative that inaccurate tests create.

The first panel was composed of superintendents from Alief ISD, Northside ISD, San Marcos ISD, and Granger ISD. The general sentiment among the panelists was that the state should have assessments with appropriately rigorous standards, but make sure they are valid, fair, meaningful, and timely. Additionally, witnesses testified that the tests should undergo rigorous review and field-testing. The danger lies in misalignment between the expectations of test and the expectations of standards, as well as misalignment with other assessments and what teachers know about tests. This results in the STAAR tests creating an inaccurate narrative and in students giving up on their passions.

The second panel included Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who stated that the STAAR tests were meant to predict post-secondary outcomes. Morath emphasized that National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) outcomes have remained flat or declined over the past decade, and he defended the reliability of the STAAR tests. He did admit that the Texas student population has increased significantly over time and grown progressively poorer. Appearing with Morath were three reading experts, one of whom was from the organization that developed lexile scores, Meta-Metrics. Dr. Sanford-Moore of Meta-Metrics explained that lexiles are based on a computer algorithm and measure language structure based on the number of ideas in a sentence and the vocabulary used.

Reps. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), Morgan Meyer (R-Highland Park), and Mary Gonzalez (D- Clint) all made compelling points about the tests. VanDeaver stated, “These are children and not machines. What happens when we reach that level that goes beyond challenging and becomes frustrating and the child shuts down?” Similarly, Meyer shared a story of his fourth-grade daughter, who cried on the way to school the day of the STAAR test and came home defeated. Meyer said, “You call it challenge, I call it frustration.” Gonzalez reiterated her previous comment that it is imperative for the public purpose of the tests to be clear.

This led to a flurry of discussion, bouncing from issue to issue within the educational system, including the A-F accountability grading system; expectations for teachers and district leadership to understand the STAAR test; the use of tests for grade promotion and teacher evaluations; teacher and student stress; curriculum; professional development; and educator preparation. Overall, the range of topics that arose seemed to point to a disconnect between the agency’s expectation of teachers, districts, and students, and the practices and understandings of school districts.

At the four-hour mark of the hearing, the testimony of the third through seventh panels proceeded much more quickly. Another panel of superintendents from Comal ISD, Wylie ISD, and Frisco ISD testified that they used multiple interim assessments and instructional quality improvements to perform well on the STAAR. Additionally, Dr. Mike Waldrip of Frisco ISD said that the timing of the STAAR test at the end of the year wasn’t particularly useful for making preparations for the next year. A fourth panel composed of district leaders in literacy and learning expressed a key takeaway: that there is a disconnect between the reading level of instruction using the TEKS versus the reading level of assessment. The fifth panel, composed of teachers and an interventionist, was deemed the best panel of the day by Rep. Dr. Alma Allen (D-Houston), a long-time member of the committee who is also an educator. Notably affecting the committee members, one of the panelists announced that the time elapsed in the hearing was about the same amount of time students sit for a STAAR test. This panel also spoke to the needs of students and teachers in having the appropriate tools to provide relevant and effective instruction so that students can succeed on state tests. The sixth and seventh panels, which included other district leaders, parents, and stakeholders echoed much of the sentiments in of the previous panels, such as the negative impact of testing on students.

After nearly six hours of testimony from the invited panelists, who provided invaluable insights on the reliability, validity, and usefulness of testing to the state’s educational system, the committee turned its attention to hearing the bills posted on the agenda.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testifies in the House Public Education Committee, March 5, 2019.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified neutrally on House Bill (HB) 671 by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian). HB 671 would eliminate end-of-course (EOC) examinations and replace them with a school district’s choice of  either the TSI or a nationally recognized, norm-referenced assessment such as ACT or SAT, to be administered in grade 11. Under the bill, the commissioner would contract with a vendor to administer the assessment. HB 671 also mandates that each district require students to attend a preparation course to succeed on the test and defines college readiness. Chevalier expressed that while ATPE supports the reduction in mandated state tests, we want to ensure that any test used to replace the STAAR is both appropriate as an input into the state accountability system and provides the appropriate accommodations for students receiving special education services, students under a 504 plan, and English language learners.

ATPE registered positions in support of the following bills:

  • HB 525 (Tinderholt, R-Arlington): Would limit the required assessments to just mathematics, reading, and science (eliminating writing, social studies, English II, and US History tests)
  • HB 851 (Huberty, R- Kingwood): Would eliminate the September 1, 2019 expiration date of the law authorizing Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs)
  • HB 1480 (VanDeaver, R- New Boston): Would create an accelerated learning committee (ALC) for students who do not perform satisfactorily on third, fifth, or eighth grade reading or math assessments. Also would allow accelerated instruction to be provided to the student in the following year. The ALC would develop an educational plan for the student, provide assistance to student, and perform additional duties if the student doesn’t meet the standard for a second time after accelerated instruction. HB 1480 would also eliminate the requirement that assessments are used for promotion. The bill would eliminate social studies and US History assessments and require the commissioner to gather input from districts on an assessment schedule that minimizes disruption and maximizes instruction time.

Other bills heard in committee were:

  • HB 843 (Springer, R-Gainesville): Would allow for the inclusion of optional post-secondary readiness assessments in Algebra II and English III in the accountability system under the student achievement domain
  • HB 1244  (Ashby, R- Lufkin): Would eliminate the US History EOC and create an electronic civics test as a requirement for graduation, which would contain all questions on the U.S. Citizenship test in a multiple-choice format.

The House Public Education Committee plans to meet again next week. On Tuesday, March 12, the committee will to hear Chairman Huberty’s comprehensive school finance reform bill, HB 3, filed earlier this week. Chairman Huberty also said he expects HB 3 to reach the House floor by the first week of April. Over half the members of the Texas House have already signed on as co-authors for HB 3. The committee also expects to meet next Wednesday to hear other bills. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and follow us on Twitter for updates.