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:

 
August 20, 2018

Earlier this month, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released a letter sent to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) urging the board not to increase TRS-Care premiums for retired educators. Quickly following Patrick’s lead, state Sen. Joan Huffman (R–Houston) released a letter of her own also urging TRS to not increase premiums. Huffman chairs the Senate committee charged with overseeing TRS.

With no TRS board meeting until late September and TRS releasing no additional information regarding potential premium increases, these letters came as a bit of a surprise to both education advocates and to TRS. They were also particularly shocking considering the fact that neither the lieutenant governor nor the Senate over which he presides are known for generosity in spending state dollars on education or educators.

Perhaps, however, when put into the context of an election season in which both retired and active educators are still miffed at the way TRS-Care reform was handled last session, the letters, which otherwise seem out of character, make more sense. For example, Lt. Gov. Patrick’s letter was addressed to the chairperson of the TRS board, but was simultaneously delivered to the press. Chairman Jarvis Hollingsworth and the rest of the TRS board are gubernatorial appointees, not an elected body. They serve at the pleasure of Gov. Greg Abbott. TRS, a state agency, operates under the direction and oversight of the legislature. Working directly with TRS, perhaps in coordination with the governor’s office, especially on an issue that isn’t yet public, would have been every bit as effective as making a public announcement of this type. Additionally, aside from the direct request not to raise premiums, the rest of Patrick’s letter sounds more like a campaign stump speech aimed at voters — claiming accomplishments and making future promises — than it does a typical letter expressing direction to a state agency.

Let’s look at some of those “accomplishments” and promises.

Patrick states, “In the last 4 years the Texas Senate has taken the lead in adding over a billion dollars to TRS Care funding including over $200 million in the Special Session last year.”

First, let’s address the funding from the special session. The special session occurred less than three months after the regular session ended, and the state’s economic picture was virtually unchanged. So what did change that allowed Patrick and the Senate to “find” $200 million dollars that they were unwilling to spend less than three months prior? The passage of the TRS-Care reform bill was one of the last things to happen during the regular session. As soon as the bill passed, news of the dramatic increases in retiree premiums hit like a ton of bricks. Hundreds — if not thousands — of retired educators began to call their elected officials, understandably irate. With a special session on things like the failed bathroom bill already on the horizon, additional money to somewhat lessen the blow to angry retirees was added to the call in an attempt to head off an all-out revolt.

Next, let’s put into perspective the amount spent over the last four years and address the way it was spent. A billion dollars sounds like a lot of money; but over four years it represents only about one quarter of 1% of the Texas budget. Additionally, all but $165 million of that billion was put into the budget as one-time supplemental funding. That is significant because the Senate all but refused to add money to the budget as an increase to the funding formulas instead, which is built into the base budget on an ongoing basis and significantly reduces the need to fight for that funding in future sessions. Not only did the Senate resist increasing the formulas beyond the $165 million, it’s in fact unlikely that any of the money would have been put into the funding formula had the House, under the leadership of Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), not fought for the formula increase.

If the dollars put into TRS in the 2015 session had been budgeted as formula instead of supplemental funding, the shortfall during the 2017 session would have only been about $300 million, instead of a billion. It would have been much easier for advocates to rally legislators to find $300 million dollars as opposed to a billion, and retirees could have likely avoided dramatic premium increases. Finally, had Patrick and the Senate put the money spent in 2015 and 2017 into the formulas, there would likely be little to no shortfall going into 2019.

Unfortunately, since the money spent over the last two sessions was not delivered through increased funding formulas, we do have a significant shortfall in TRS-Care funding going into 2019. However, the lieutenant governor goes on to state that he is “confident that the Senate will support additional funding for TRS Care” and that he “believe[s] additional funding should be the responsibility of the Legislature and not fall on the shoulders of our retired teachers.” Considering how hard advocates and retirees had to fight for funding last session, it’s good — though surprising — to hear that the lieutenant governor is confident that full state funding will be available this session. Hopefully that’s not the type of campaign promise that seems to evaporate as soon as the election is over.

Without a doubt, ATPE and thousands of retired educators would prefer TRS-Care premiums either decrease or remain steady, as opposed to increase. Whether or not that preference becomes reality will be entirely up to the next legislature. Let’s hope that retired and active educators remember how much impact elected officials have on them and their students when they cast a ballot in November and that elected officials remember how impactful active and retired educators are during the next session, after those ballots have been cast.

August 17, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


On Wednesday, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released its inaugural set of “A through F” accountability ratings for Texas school districts. The A through F district rating system has been criticized by education advocates for its overly simplistic nature that relies too heavily on standardized test scores and does not take into account the unique challenges each district may face. ATPE Governmental Relations Director, Jennifer Mitchell, responded to the release of these ratings in this press release saying “It is important not to overestimate the significance of poor grades assigned to some school districts, but it is equally vital to look behind the letter grades of those schools that have shown improvement.” Meanwhile, in an analysis for the Texas Tribune, columnist Ross Ramsey used the release of the the ratings was to remind voters to look further up the “management ladder” and assign grades to their elected officials at the ballot box this November. TEA released its own flurry of press releases to break down the district and campus rating systems as well as commend the 153 districts that received “A” ratings. You can read more about the A through F announcement and ATPE’s response in this post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


Do you know where your party stands on the major issues facing public education? Earlier this summer, Republican and Democrats met at their respective state party conventions to outline their party platforms. ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins breaks down where each party stands on issues such as school finance, privatization, and school security in this blog post. 

 


Former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallegos (left), a Democrat, and Republican Peter Flores are running for state Senate District 19. Photo by Bob Daemmrich: Gallego/Campaign website

September 18th has been chosen as the date to hold the special election for Senate District 19, which was vacated by Sen. Carlos Uresti earlier this year. Having narrowed down a list of eight candidates to two final contenders, voters will now be making a choice between Pete Gallego (D) or Pete Flores (R). Early voting for the special election will be held September 10-14.

 

 

 

 

 

 


August 16, 2018

Dear TeachTheVote: Where does my party stand on public education?

It’s a great question to ask as we turn our focus to the November elections, and the answer can be found in each party’s political platform.

At the most basic level, party platforms are just a long list of beliefs and policy positions that delegates put together at each party’s state convention. This summer, Democrats met in Fort Worth and Republicans met in San Antonio to decide which issues to focus on. In each case, a handful of delegates cobbled together the platform, which was then submitted to the full convention for amendments and a formal vote for adoption.

Now before we get into the details of this year’s party platforms, there are a few important caveats. First of all, the platform committee responsible for writing the first draft is often composed of that particular party’s most ideological partisans. Sometimes the full delegation decides to water down the language and trim some of the fringe positions before voting to approve the platform, but that’s not always the case. Because of this, the end result can sometimes be a set of values that are not fully aligned to those of the party’s central majority and may be skewed toward the extreme edges of the ideological spectrum.

This ties into the next important point: Platforms have traditionally served as guideposts that indicate the party’s default position on a given issue, not marching orders for the legislative session. Each elected official is first responsible to their local district and the constituents who elected them, which is why platforms aren’t meant to be enforceable documents.

That being said, aggressively enforcing the party platform was the key theme for delegates voting on a party chairman at the 2018 Texas Republican Convention. This means that when the 86th Texas Legislature convenes, many legislators will be under great pressure from their party leaders to obey the platform committee’s positions over those of the voters they serve. That’s why it’s always important for educators to communicate directly with our elected representatives when it comes to public education issues.

Now that we’ve gotten all of that out of the way, let’s take a look at what this election season’s platforms have to say about education issues. For reference, you can find the full 2018 Republican Party of Texas Platform here and the 2018 Texas Democratic Party Platform here.

School Finance

The 2018 Republican Party of Texas Platform calls for ending “Robin Hood,” limiting increases in public education funding, and replacing school district property taxes with a consumption tax.

Each plank in the Republican platform is numbered. Plank 164 calls for “a simple, fair, and efficient method for financing our public school system” and opposes the Robin Hood system of recapture in which some money from property wealthy districts flows to property poor districts. The Republican platform explicitly opposes the Edgewood I and Edgewood II court opinions, in which the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the school finance system at the time was unconstitutional because it relied too heavily on local property taxes without any adjustment for rich and poor areas, which resulted in vastly unequal funding for children living in different communities.

When it comes to additional funding, the platform states, “Before receiving additional dollars through the school finance formulas, school districts must spend at least 65 percent of their current funding in the classroom.” According to the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) 2016-2017 Pocket Edition statistics, districts spent an average of 56.7 percent of all funds directly on instruction and another 15.6 percent on support. Administration accounted for 3.1 percent of district spending.

Plank 166 states, “We call upon the Texas Legislature to use surplus revenue to buy down the school maintenance and operation property tax rate as a prelude to replacing it with a broader based consumption tax.” The most common consumption tax is the sales tax.

The 2018 Texas Democratic Party Platform calls for reducing the reliance on Robin Hood, funding schools in a way that reflects differences in costs between students and districts, and restoring funding that was cut in 2011 and 2017.

Individual planks are not numbered in the Democratic platform, but follow a narrative structure utilizing bullet points. The Democratic platform lays current funding deficiencies at the feet of Republican leadership, and declares restoring the $5.4 billion cut from public education funding in 2011 and $1.7 billion cut in 2017 “a legislative budget priority.” With regard to design, the platform advocates for “a 100% equitable school finance system with sufficient state revenue to provide every child the opportunity to learn in an exemplary program” and that “state funding formulas should fully reflect all student and district cost differences and the impact of inflation and state mandates.”

Private School Subsidies

The Republican platform states, “Texas families should be empowered to choose from public, private, charter, or homeschool options for their children’s education, using tax credits or exemptions without government restraints or intrusion.”

The Democratic platform states Democrats “oppose the misnamed ‘school choice’ schemes of using public tax money for the support of private and sectarian schools; believe ‘school choice’ is a deceptive marketing frame that purports to advocate something that already exists – school choice – but whose true purpose is to divert public school funds to vouchers or tax credit systems supporting private and sectarian schools; [and believe] that adoption of any vouchers or tax credit schemes would unavoidably financially and academically damage public schools.”

Teachers

The Republican platform calls for an end to payroll deduction and converting certain government pensions from defined benefit to defined contribution plans.

Plank 49 states, “Texas should prohibit governmental entities from collecting dues for labor unions through deductions from public employee paychecks.” Although the language mischaracterizes how payroll deduction works and refers specifically to unions, the 2017 legislative session showed that this plank is in fact aimed at non-union educators, including ATPE members, in an attempt to weaken teachers’ voices at the Capitol.

Plank 151 states, “The Texas Legislature shall enact new rules to begin to transition government pensions for ERS and TDCRS members from a defined benefit pension to a defined contribution retirement plan similar to a 403(b).” While the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas is not mentioned here, the language echoes similar attempts during the 2017 legislative session to deny educators a lifetime retirement benefit by converting TRS pensions to 401(k)-style defined contribution plans.

The Democratic platform opposes prohibitions on payroll deduction and supports “protecting the TRS defined benefit pension system against attempts to turn it into a risky 401-k plan that could put most retirees’ pensions at risk; providing a regular COLA for every retired teacher; repealing the federal government pension offset and windfall elimination provisions that unfairly reduce Social Security benefits for Texas educational employees; and improving the TRS-Care health insurance program for retired educators.”

The Democratic platform includes a plank specifically aimed at teacher recruitment and retention. It advocates that Texas bring teacher pay in line with the rest of the nation, increase the state contribution for teacher health care, restore financial incentives for those interested in pursuing the teaching profession, oppose test-based performance, and guarantee mentors and properly certified teachers in each classroom.

Classrooms

The Republican platform calls for the right to prayer in schools, local control of public education, objective teaching of scientific theories, opposing national core curriculum, teaching American identity, transitioning non-English speaking students to English, and adopting an official position against transgenderism.

Plank 123 addresses prayer in schools, and further states, “We urge the Legislature to end censorship of discussion of religion in our founding documents and encourage discussing those documents, including the Bible as their basis. Students and district personnel have the right to display religious items on school property.”

Regarding local control, Plank 131 states, “We believe that all children should have access to quality education. Under the US Constitution, the power to regulate education is reserved exclusively to the States and to the people. Parents have the primary right and responsibility to educate their children. The classroom should be a place where all viewpoints are welcomed, free speech is celebrated, and ‘person before politics’ beliefs are preached. We support the right of parents to freely choose public, charter, private, parochial, or homeschooling for their children. We support the right of parents to choose the specific public school that their children attend. No child should be forced to attend a failing school. We reject the imposition of federal education standards and the tying of any government funding to the adoption of federal education standards. We reject the intrusion of government in private, parochial, or homeschools. We affirm that the policies, procedures, activities, and finances of public education in Texas at all levels should be fully transparent. To ensure transparency, the check register of all traditional school districts and charter schools should be posted online with the link on the home page. We respect parental authority regarding sex education. We believe that abortion providers and affiliates should be prohibited from providing any curriculum or instruction in schools.”

Plank 135 lists basic standards such as reading and writing, and Plank 136 addresses scientific theories, “such as life origins and environmental change. These should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.”

Plank 137 opposes national core curriculum such as Common Core and C-SCOPE, Plank 139 addresses American identity and assimilation, Plank 140 encourages non-English speaking students to transition to English within one year, and Plank 141 states, “The official position of the Texas schools with respect to transgenderism is that there are only two genders: male and female.”

The Democratic platform supports enforcing class size limits, replacing high-stakes tests with more appropriate diagnostic measurements, rejecting efforts to tie teacher performance to test scores, opposing “A through F” school ratings, promoting multi-language instruction, supporting Title IX protections for gender equity, supporting school meal programs, supporting school-community collaboration, and placing the most highly qualified teachers in areas facing the greatest challenges.

The Democratic platform includes a plank addressing early childhood education, which advocates for universal access to full-day pre-K and kindergarten, as well as classroom resources and quality measures to ensure children are performing at grade level by the third grade.

Democrats include a plank regarding the school-to-prison pipeline in their platform. This includes increasing the budget for school counseling, adding training for staff and law enforcement, and “repealing traditional, exclusionary approaches to discipline, such as expulsion and suspension, which disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minority students, as well as special education students.”

School Security

The Republican platform calls for arming teachers and mandating school security plans.

Plank 72 opposes the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, and Plank 143 urges the legislature to “pass a statute that allows Texas school teachers, or other school employees, who are certified and insured to be authorized to carry a concealed gun on the premises of their assigned school for security and protection purposes.”

Regarding school security plans, Plank 144 states, “The Legislature is urged to adopt as a legislative priority to mandate by state law that all publicly funded school districts be required to submit a viable school security plan as part of an accountability program. The school security plan must explicitly provide for the personal security of students and staff by responding with an equal and opposite force to an aggressor that uses deadly weapons or devices. In an effort to customize plans for each district, a parent oversight commission will be consulted and advised as to the threat assessment status of schools at all times and must be allowed to partake in strategy sessions for the creation of the school security plan.”

The Democratic platform calls for “weapon-free and drug-free” campuses, the right of teachers to remove disruptive students, and efforts to prevent bullying and acts of violence.

Specifically, the Democratic school security plank states, “Implementation of systematic programs should be utilized to identify instances of bullying and implement school-wide positive behavior interventions and supports, to prevent violence, disruption, bullying, and harassment: Eliminate disparities in discipline based on race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression or any other improper grounds.”

Furthermore, the Democratic platform calls for an end to “indiscriminate use of misdemeanor ticketing for minor infractions on campus and indiscriminate expulsion or placement of students in disciplinary alternative education programs for trivial misconduct,” and urges continued strong academic instruction for students placed in disciplinary alternative education programs.

The list of issues related to public education is lengthy and both platforms address many more such topics, including sex education and the role of the State Board of Education (SBOE). You can read more about the 2018 Republican Party of Texas Platform here and the 2018 Texas Democratic Party Platform here.

August 15, 2018

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released the new A-F letter grade ratings for Texas school districts today. Despite concerns from educators and other advocates, the legislature, with strong backing from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, has worked to adopt and finalize the new rating system over the past three legislative sessions.

ATPE was among the education groups to express strong concerns about moving to an A-F rating system, especially considering the basis of any rating depends on the underlying accountability system that is too heavily reliant on state standardized tests. In a press release issued by ATPE, we reiterated our concerns and called for additional study of the new system’s impact.

“Educators across Texas have opposed assigning overly simplistic letter grades that may unfairly label schools and their staff and students as failures,” said Jennifer Mitchell, ATPE Governmental Relations Director. “Many educators worry that A-F will stigmatize schools with accountability grades based disproportionately upon data from high-stakes standardized tests.”

Today’s release of A-F ratings is specific to Texas school districts (campuses are not scheduled to receive A-F ratings until next school year), but campus accountability ratings according to the previous system were also released. While ATPE is happy to see an historic reduction in the number of Texas campuses requiring improvement, we stress that we should be considering more than a letter grade when praising their success.

“ATPE recognizes that under any accountability system so heavily determined by test scores, there will be winners and losers,” said Mitchell. “It is important not to overestimate the significance of poor grades assigned to some school districts, but it is equally vital to look behind the letter grades of those schools that have shown improvement. Additional study, much like research commissioned by ATPE in the past to examine the factors influencing successful school turnaround, is warranted with the roll-out of this new system.”

Mitchell referred to a teacher quality study commissioned by ATPE in 2008, in which researchers from the University of Texas explored strategies implemented at schools that had shown significant improvement in their students’ test scores. The researchers interviewed teachers and school leaders at those schools and found that they were prioritizing such practices as recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers, empowering teachers to make instructional decisions, and providing high-quality professional development and financial resources.

TEA released its own series of press releases on the topic of school accountability ratings, covering a high-level breakdown of the A-F district ratings and the campus accountability ratings. Commissioner Mike Morath also praised the 153 school districts that received an A rating today.

August 15, 2018

Analysis: School districts are getting report cards. They shouldn’t be the only ones.” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

A “Come and Take It” flag depicting an apple instead of the traditional cannon at the Save Our Schools rally at the Texas Capitol on March 12, 2011. Photo by Bob Daemmrich.

It’s time to start grading the papers of the people elected to run the state of Texas, to translate voters’ thoughts and feelings about the way things are going into the job reviews that will be delivered in this year’s general election.

It’s the seasonal cycle of this electoral democracy. We elect them. They do stuff. We decide whether to keep or replace them.

Elected officials adore this sort of judgement when it’s directed at others.

Later today, for instance, the state will issue its inaugural set of A-F grades for more than 1,000 public school districts. That has agitated a lot of Texas educators; when the grades are out, odds are good that it will agitate — in ways both negative and positive — parents, business people and taxpayers. If the politicos are lucky, it will divert angst over public education in Texas away from the folks who’ll be on the November ballot.

Accountability is an admirable thing in politics. It can show citizens where responsibility lies, the better to direct their blame and, more to the point, where to repair or replace policies that don’t work.

It can also diffuse responsibility. When today’s school grades come out, keep an eye on who’s taking the heat and who’s getting the credit. Ask yourself, as it unrolls, whether the right people are getting the right kind of attention.

This is supposed to be a way for the government ministers in Austin and the public across the state to see what results they’re getting for their money. It’s controversial, to say the least. Educators contend the grading system is both too general — not taking the complexity of any given school district into account — and too reliant on standardized tests and other inappropriate yardsticks that don’t give accurate readings of educational progress. Many are not crazy about grades of any kind, but they’re irked that these grades, in their view, will give voters and policymakers false readings about school districts’ performance.

But for a Legislature that can’t muster a consensus for what public schools should do and what they should cost, it’s a way to outsource the blame from the pink building to local “educrats.”

It’s a pre-election test of whether voters trust politicians more than teachers.

Education isn’t the only forum for this sort of deflection. The telling sign is when the people at the top try to separate themselves from the people who work for them, a strategy that allows them to make policy and take credit for passing laws while also blaming someone else when the execution of those instructions falls short.

Maybe the blame should crawl up the management ladder; they’d rather you didn’t make the connection.

Rats, mold and other filth in state buildings? The budgeteers at the Capitol have been skimping on building maintenance and upkeep for years. Multi-billion-dollar contracting troubles at the Health and Human Services Commission? That sort of thing happens if you put all those disparate agencies into one pot and then wander off, forgetting the second part of the business maxim: “Put all your eggs in one basket — and then watch that basket very carefully.”

A federal “zero tolerance” immigration policy that splits adults and children at the border and then cannot reconnect them — whether they’re staying here or being sent home? That is, in fact, a bureaucratic nightmare. But it’s a product of bad design, of putting a policy in place before figuring out how it’s going to work. The blame for that kind of empty-headed governance belongs at or near the top of the organization chart. Roughly 500 of those kids are still unattached to the adults with whom they entered the country. That terrible foul-up took place at the border, but the credit and blame really belong to the high officials who got things rolling.

This is going to be a hard day for some school superintendents and school boards and a great day for others. In both situations, some of them deserve it. Some of them don’t. Examine the results. Make your own judgements. And when you pass out cheers and jeers, think of the people who are responsible for education policy who aren’t on today’s report cards.

They’ll be on your election ballot a few weeks from now.

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/08/15/analysis-texas-school-report-card-election-2018/.

 

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The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

August 10, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


On Monday, the Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security published it’s interim report covering the charges assigned to it by the Lieutenant Governor in the wake of the Santa Fe High School shooting. Among the recommendations for each of the four charges were increased funding for enhanced school security, updating school building codes, funding school marshal programs, integrating counselor data into school records, and increasing the number of available counselors, among other things. For a more detailed report on the committee’s findings you can read this post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlman. The full report is available here.

 


ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee, August 8, 2018.

Earlier this week the House Public Education Committee met to discuss the last of its interim charges. The hearing featured invited testimony from TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, who discussed the state’s accountability system and “A through F” ratings as well as T-TESS, the state’s teacher appraisal system, and ways in which the state could address the issue of teacher pay. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was on hand to provide testimony suggesting that the state take a more holistic approach to the matter by improving the career pipeline and pay structure. Afterwards the interim charge on charter schools was discussed by members of the committee and TEA staff. It was noted that charter school teachers are not required to be paid according to the minimum salary schedule and contributions to TRS (which are calculated according to the salary schedule) have not risen along with inflation for that group of educators. ATPE Lobbyists Mark Wiggins discusses the hearing in depth in this blog post.

 


The Commission on Public School Finance working group on expenditures met this week to discuss its recommendations. Included in the recommendations were suggestions to repeal allotments like the high school allotment or the Public Education Grant (PEG) allotment; this would be done to move more funding into the basic allotment, giving districts more discretionary spending power. The group also examined how to adjust formula weights and funding tiers in order to best fund districts. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provides a detailed recap of the hearing in this blog post.


TEA announced two new ventures this week that are aimed at keeping parents informed. The first, Answers….In About A Minute, is an online video library that will inform the public about TEA programs and initiatives. The initial series of videos will focus on the “A through F” rating system. The second venture TEA announced this week is the new TEA Time podcast, which will focus on different topics in public education. The first episode is a conversation with TEA Commissioner Mike Morath. According to the TEA website, new content for the Answers video series we be produced as new topics arrive while new episodes of the podcast will be recorded weekly.

 


 

This weekend qualifying school supplies and clothing items will be tax free. Happy back to school shopping!

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

August 09, 2018

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on expenditures met Thursday morning to discuss the group’s recommendations. Group leader state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), who chairs the House Public Education Committee, indicated no vote would be taken Thursday.

The school finance commission expenditures working group meeting August 9, 2018.

The first potential recommendations related to repeals that could free up “pots of money” to be reallocated. Commission Chair Scott Brister expressed confusion over how specific programs are funded, and suggested eliminating most programmatic funding and directing it toward the basic allotment instead. This included a discussion of repealing the high school allotment, the 1992-93 hold harmless provision, the staff allotment, the gifted and talented allotment, the public education grant (PEG) allotment, the transportation allotment, the local option homestead exemption for certain districts, the recapture discount, and the early agreement credit.

The staff allotment provides $250 for each part-time employee and $500 for each full-time not subject to the minimum salary schedule, which includes counselors and librarians – basically anyone who is not a teacher. State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) indicated he would be hesitant to repeal this allotment because he believes it serves its intended purpose. State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis contended that districts would be unlikely to reduce staff if that allotment were to go away.

State Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Galveston), who chairs the Senate Education Committee), proposed repealing the gifted and talented allotment. Sen. Taylor argued that most schools are already receiving five percent of their funding through this allotment, and including it into the basic allotment could allow districts more spending freedom. Sen. West clarified that members are not proposing that this money go away, only that it be delivered through a different mechanism, such as the basic allotment.

The discussion regarding the transportation allotment followed much the same logic. However, Member Ellis noted that rural districts face disproportionate transportation costs due to physical size and population density. Sen. Taylor suggested tying the funding to mileage. Sen. West offered the idea of weighted funding based on mileage. Chair Brister then questioned the value of schools having buses in general, suggesting that some districts would do better to simply encourage parents to carpool.

Rep. Huberty suggested PEG grants should be left alone because they offer a real incentive for districts to accept transfer students. It’s important to note that this is often cited as a key component of the public school choice system.

The group discussed using current year values for Foundation School Program (FSP) calculations, which would affect districts experiencing positive growth and negative growth differently. Rep. Huberty also noted that districts in which a significant portion of the local property wealth is tied to mineral wealth could experience more volatility.

Sen. Taylor suggested that pre-K is one of the areas in which districts could invest general dollars that have been untethered from specific programs, as discussed. The group discussed whether to incentivize half-day or full-day pre-K in order to achieve the goal of getting students reading by the third grade.

The group also discussed changing the equalized wealth level and simplifying the funding tiers, the recapture system in general, and the basic allotment. Brister contended that discussing recapture should be the purview of the working group on revenue, which is led by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). With regard to the basic allotment, members expressed concern over tying the hands of future legislatures by tying funding to a rising cost such as inflation.

Members discussed the adjusted allotment, and Sen. Taylor proposed additional funding for charters. Sen. West quickly voiced opposition to charter expansion and the group quickly moved onto the next topic.

A larger discussion focused on the cost of education index, which was passed in 1984 and last updated in 1991. Member Ellis discussed moving to a more relevant index that includes teacher salaries. Sen. Taylor suggested districts also experience large variations in the cost of transportation, which could play a part in a CEI replacement. Rep. Huberty pointed out that even if the CEI were updated today, it would be out of date again within a few years.

The group took a look at the district size adjustments for small- and mid-sized districts, and Brister expressed the feeling that many smaller districts should be consolidated. Member Ellis noted that many rural districts have already consolidated services such as transportation and food services. Sen. Taylor suggested looking for ways to encourage districts to consolidate.

Regarding special education, Rep. Huberty indicated he did not feel comfortable tweaking weights and arrangements, and special education funding should be based on need. Huberty confirmed there will be more money pumped into special education, and members should wait and see how that funding affects the system before making modifications. Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez said the increased cost of complying with order to serve all qualifying special education students is projected to be $682 million in fiscal year (FY) 2019, $1 billion in FY 2020, and $1.55 billion in FY 2021. Rep. Huberty also asked to explore fulfilling more private placement services within districts; for example, districts could offer incentives to improve retention of high-performing special education teachers.

On the issue of attendance, Sen. Larry Taylor suggested moving away from attendance-based funding requirements. Again, the argument for doing so was to give districts more flexibility, particularly at the high school level.

Members continued to focus on flexibility with regard to career and technical education (CTE), while expressing support for encouraging CTE and expanding middle school programs from eighth to as early as sixth grade. Regarding compensatory education, members discussed moving the identifying mechanism away from using free and reduced-price lunch. Members also looked at expanding the definitions to serve more low-income students who may not technically qualify under the current system. Regarding weights, the group discussed a hypothetical increase to the compensatory education weight to between .225 and .275.

Moving onto English Language Learners (ELLs), Sen. Taylor suggested the state incentive dual language over bilingual education where possible by offering a separate weight, rather than just increasing the bilingual weight.

On the issue of facilities funding, Rep. Huberty pointed out that legislators already voted to increase the new instructional facilities allotment (NIFA), but the system was stretched so thin that the anticipated benefit was not fully delivered. The next step would be to increase the cap from $25 million to $100 million. Sen. West again voiced concern about the saturation of charter schools.

The group then discussed staffing, beginning with a proposal to allow staff members’ children to take advantage of free pre-K. Rep. Huberty then talked about teacher compensation, including programs intended to incentivize top teachers to work at campuses facing the toughest challenges. Lopez suggested a tiered pay program that rewards high-performing teachers would have a low initial startup cost, but would ramp up over time. Member Ellis emphasized the need for local control in setting salaries and implementing locally-developed programs, such as the Dallas ISD program that is often cited as an example of a working performance pay system. Sen. Taylor suggested providing funding for this on the back end for districts that have already put these programs into practice.

Members were unanimous in its support for mental health and wellness programs, but indicated the subject may be beyond the purview of the commission.

The group noted changes to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas ranging from adjusting the anticipated rate of return to rising drug costs and benefit reductions. Chair Huberty also indicated this subject may best be tackled by the relevant legislative committees. Notwithstanding this, the group entertained a discussion of requiring charter schools to pay into TRS at the same rate districts are required to pay. Lopez noted the interaction between district TRS contributions and the CEI, should the CEI go away.

Rep. Huberty asked TEA to pull a report together within the next 30 days, so the working group can schedule another public meeting to formally adopt its recommendations. Brister suggested getting recommendations to the full commission by mid- to late October so that the commission could consider them in November.

August 08, 2018

The House Public Education Committee met Wednesday at the Texas Capitol to discuss interim charges relating to teacher compensation and charter schools. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) began by noting that this meeting concludes the committee’s interim charges, and he does not plan on calling another committee meeting this year.

House Public Education Committee meeting August 8, 2018.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath kicked off the day’s invited testimony with an update on the state’s “A through F” accountability system. The agency is expected to release the first round of ratings for districts on August 15, while campuses will still be rated under the “met standard/improvement required” system until next year. Morath explained a number of adjustments to the system that were made as a result of stakeholder feedback.

Asked by Rep. Huberty how the ratings compare to last year when measured under the current system, Morath said the state lost a total of 260 improvement required (IR) campuses, representing a historic year-over-year improvement. Asked about the impact of the TEA waiver for IR campuses affected by Hurricane Harvey, the commissioner explained that 1,200 campuses were eligible for relief under the Harvey protocols. Of those, “something like 86” campuses that were on track to receive an IR designation instead received a “not rated” designation under the waiver.

Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) expressed concern over the system’s dependence on high-stakes testing, and cautioned members of the committee against using tests in ways for which they are not intended. Morath indicated his belief that summative assessments such as the STAAR are perfectly suited for evaluating campus-level effectiveness.

Morath then shifted to the following interim charge designated by Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio):

Review current state mechanisms for identifying and rewarding educators through state-level strategies. Examine how providing additional funding to enhance compensation in districts facing a shortage of experienced, highly rated teachers would affect retention and teacher quality, in addition to whether it would encourage teachers to provide additional services through extracurricular activities, tutoring, and mentoring.

The commissioner began by laying out the new teacher appraisal system, T-TESS, as well as currently available training and curricular resources. Morath said teachers are the TEA’s first strategic priority, but said compensation is only part of the puzzle. The commissioner highlighted research showing that only 23% of new U.S. teachers came from the top third of their graduating class. Pay is the top reason college graduates choose not to become teachers, and average pay has fallen compared to other professions. Compensation similarly does not grow at the same rate as other professions. Morath praised the performance pay program in Dallas ISD, but Rep. Huberty steered the commissioner toward focusing on how to pay for such programs.

The commissioner indicated that in order to implement strategic staffing programs like the Dallas ISD ACE program that incentivizes high-performing teachers to teach at the most at-risk campuses, the state could provide additional formula funding through the Foundation School Program (FSP) tied to levels of economically disadvantaged students. Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) suggested the state should raise the base pay, including the minimum salary schedule. Morath indicated part of the challenge of instituting a performance-based pay system is identifying top teachers, but noted that many school systems have done so successfully. The commissioner also indicated that any funding to raise teacher pay should provide administrators a guarantee that funding will continue.

Chairman Huberty asked Morath direcly what it would cost to implement Dallas ISD’s performance pay program across the state of Texas. According to Morath, the program would carry a startup cost of around $50 million and an annual cost of roughly $1 billion over a ten-year period. This would provide average raises between $4,000-5,000, with top teachers able to earn up to six-figure salaries.

Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) repeatedly questioned invited witnesses who cautioned against basing teacher evaluations on their students’ high-stakes test scores to provide an alternative metric to accurately identify top teachers. Representatives from educator organizations noted that standardized tests have not been validated for use evaluating the performance of individual teachers and pointed out there are a variety of alternatives.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee, August 8, 2018.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified that the positive results from the Dallas ISD ACE system are not necessarily correlated with the district’s teacher evaluation system, which is called the Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI). Exter clarified that designating top teachers to utilize under the ACE model could be done equally effectively by utilizing T-TESS or another alternative evaluation system. Chairman Huberty expressed frustration, and indicated any program involving additional money from the state should provide the state with policy input. Asked by Chairman Huberty to offer specific recommendations, Exter suggested that lawmakers must take a systemic approach to directing the best teachers to the campuses facing the highest challenges. Such an approach would begin with the teacher pipeline and include wraparound supports as well as the possibility of differentiated pay.

The committee next considered the following interim charge regarding charters:

Review the charter school system in Texas. Determine if changes are needed in the granting, renewal, or revocation of charter schools, including the timeline for expansions and notification of expansions to surrounding districts. Review the educational outcomes of students in charter schools compared to those in traditional schools, and to what extent schools participate in the alternative accountability system. Monitor the implementation of facilities funding for charter schools. Consider differences in state funding for charter schools compared to their surrounding districts and the impact on the state budget. Consider admissions policies for charters, including appropriate data collection to assess demand for additional charter enrollment, compliance with access by students with disabilities and the effect of exclusions of students with criminal or disciplinary histories. Consider differences in charter and district contributions to the Teacher Retirement System on behalf of their employees and make appropriate recommendations to support the retirement benefits of all public school teachers.

TEA staff opened testimony with an overview of charter school statistics and the metrics for evaluating new charter applications. Chairman Huberty noted that the number of charter school campuses has increased while the number of charter holders has held steady around the statutory cap. Members had several questions regarding the statistics, including how student discipline is handled, the higher percentage of IR campuses than traditional school districts, and types of services offered.

Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez provided information regarding TRS contributions, facilities funding, and the implementation of district partnership contracts through Senate Bill (SB) 1882. Lopez noted that charters are not required to pay teachers the minimum salary schedule. Chairman Huberty pointed out that TRS contributions are not indexed to anything other than the minimum salary schedule, which has been long outdated as a current reflection of teacher salaries. As a result, contributions have not automatically increased along with inflation.

This year, charters will be eligible for facilities funding equaling on average just over $200 per student. This funding is capped at $60 million dollars annually. Regarding the amount of funding charters receive compared to traditional school districts, Lopez contended charters receive both more and less. Lopez noted at the outset that student profiles are different for each. While charters have higher levels of economically disadvantaged students, they have fewer special education students. It is also important to note that there are significant differences even among economically disadvantaged students, and traditional districts continue to serve the most students in extreme poverty.

August 06, 2018

The Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security released its interim report today. The charges were issued by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick following the school shooting at Santa Fe High School. The four charges involved studying (1) school infrastructure and design to address school security; (2) programs within schools aimed at school safety; (3) the root causes of school mass murders; and (4) the effectiveness of protective order laws in Texas and other states.

Interim charge number three, which focused on mental health issues in schools, received a considerable amount of attention in the report. School counselors and other mental health resources are emphasized under the correlating recommendations. The fewest number of recommendations surfaced from studying protective order laws, which involve temporarily restricting firearm access to certain individuals who pose extreme risk. No recommendation was made to enact a version of protective order laws known as a “red flag” law, which Governor Abbott proposed but Patrick strongly rejected. Regarding firearms, there is a recommendation to consider funding for supporting school marshal programs.

The full recommendations from each charge are listed below. The full report cab viewed here.

School infrastructure and design recommendations

  • Consider legislation to allow additional funds for school districts to implement enhanced physical security including metal detectors, alarm systems, cameras, and hardened entrances.
  • Consider updates to school building codes to ensure best practices are used in designing new school facilities.
  • Consider legislation to clarify that school districts must identify a campus administrator who is responsible for identifying and maintaining contact with local law enforcement, local emergency agencies, and fire departments in their security audits.
  • Consider legislation giving TEA oversight to ensure required school security audits are being completed and ensure TEA has the staff necessary to oversee compliance.
  • Direct the State Fire Marshal’s Office to review and provide guidance on procedures and sequences concerning school evacuations for unverified emergencies and the required number of fire drills mandated for schools.

School safety programs recommendations

  • Consider the appropriate level of funding for and involvement of fusion centers.
  • Review Penal Code Chapter 46.03 and provisions by which school districts authorize individuals to carry concealed weapons onto campus and consider establishing a minimum standard for training hours.
  • Consider legislation to allow additional funds for training for school marshals and individuals licensed to carry under Chapter 46.03 of the Penal Code.

Root causes of school violence recommendations

  • Consider legislation to direct TEA to incorporate school counselor data into PEIMS regarding location and number of students served.
  • Review the effectiveness and unintended consequences of “zero tolerance” polices in Texas schools.
  • Consider methods to increase the availability of school counselors, Licensed Specialists in School Psychology, and school social workers in schools, particularly in rural and remote areas of the state.
  • Consider legislation codifying the duties and responsibilities of school counselors, Licensed Specialists in School Psychology, and school social workers.
  • Consider legislation incorporating threat assessment teams into Health Advisory or School Safety Committees already on campus.
  • Expand the availability of Mental Health First Aid training for all school district employees interacting with students.
  • Review the use of Disciplinary Alternative Placement Education Programs (DAEP) and consider behavior intervention methods.
  • Consider expanding the use of telemedicine and telepsychiatry to help children in crisis obtain access to mental health services before violence occurs.
  • Consider legislation to strengthen the state’s mental health system by leveraging the expertise of state medical schools by creating psychiatry hubs that connect pediatricians seeking consultation with experts in mental health.

Protective order laws recommendations

  • Consider legislation to clarify current statute on whether and when an individual convicted of domestic violence may possess a firearm legally.
  • Consider legislation to clarify current statute regarding the return of firearms to individuals who have been detained and declared to no longer be a risk to themselves or others.
August 03, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today in Austin. As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported earlier this week, the board’s agenda included a controversial proposal to finalize rulemaking for an abbreviated educator preparation program for Trade and Industrial Workforce Training, Marketing, and Health Sciences certificates. Here is Kate’s recap of the board’s deliberations today:

The board adopted the proposal on a voice vote, but not without opposition from board members and stakeholders. ATPE was joined by teacher groups, administrator groups, and educator preparation programs offering opposition that together covered four primary areas of concern: (1) The proposal irresponsibly reduces the number of pre-service hours required of these specific educator candidates; (2) the proposal inappropriately adds the marketing and health science certificates; (3) the proposal allows entities other than approved educator preparation programs to provide some training; and (4) the proposal fails to prevent the certificate holders from seeking other certifications by merely passing an exam without required additional training.

Several board members also expressed concerns about the proposal. Members Suzanne McCall and Laurie Turner, who are teachers, and citizen member Tommy Coleman spoke to the importance of standards and consistency. They voted for an amendment to alter the proposal, but the amendment failed. Along with Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) Assistant Commissioner Rex Peebles, who serves as a non-voting member of the board, Turner and Susan Hull stressed that success in an individual trade is not the same as knowing how to teach that trade to young students. This is why abbreviated pre-service and even overall training hours are concerning; the lowered standard fails to support these candidates and their students with adequate training. While other members of the board argued the proposal was innovative, Coleman countered that as much as he likes innovation, he doesn’t want to see innovation at the expense of standards. The board ultimately passed the proposal on a voice vote. It now advances to the State Board of Education for final review.

 


Following up on its June announcement that districts and charters affected by Hurricane Harvey would be eligible for accountability waivers, TEA announced earlier this week that 109 independent school districts and open enrollment charters would qualify for such waivers. School districts where all campuses are eligible for a Harvey Provision or where 10% or more of the district is eligible for a Harvey Provision that receive B,C, D, or  ratings will be listed as “Not Rated”  in the upcoming school ratings due out in August. The agency also announced that 1,188 campuses directly affected by Hurricane Harvey would qualify for a special evaluation in this year’s accountability ratings. A list of eligible campuses and districts can be found here.

 


Last week the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) reduced the expected rate of return on its pension fund from 8% to 7.25%.This change will make it more difficult for educators to obtain the cost of living increases they so desperately need.  The onus is now on the legislature, which will convene in January of next year, to provide increased funding in order to ensure that the pension remains healthy and can meet the requirement to be fully funded in 30 years as the law says it must. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was on hand to provide testimony and comment to the media. Read more at the links below:

Full coverage of the TRS meeting

From the San Angelo Standard-Times: As changes loom over retired teachers’ pensions, retirees look to Legislature for more money 

From the Austin American-Statesman: Retired Texas teachers face giant hurdle to pension boost 

From KHOU11: Texas teachers urging for better pension system 

 


 

Earlier this week, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) proposed legislation aimed at addressing teacher and principal shortages nationwide. The Preparing and Retaining Educators Act of 2018 aims to expand Teacher Quality Partnership Grants and require colleges and universities to report yearly on the number of licensed educators who graduate from their institutions, among other things. You can read the bill in its entirety here.

 

 


UPDATE: As we reported last week, President Trump signed the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act overhauling the primary laws that govern CTE. Read more about the bill in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlman.

 


After competing in a special election triggered by the early resignation of Sen. Carlos Uresti, Republican Pete Flores and Democrat Pete Gallego will face off in a runoff election later this year. Read more about it in this post from the Texas Tribune.