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:

 
November 08, 2019

Happy Election Week! Here are your highlights of this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ELECTION UPDATE: Thank you to all who voted in Tuesday’s general election!

All three special elections to fill vacated Texas House of Representatives seats are headed to runoffs. Additionally, of the 10 constitutional amendments on the ballot Tuesday, nine were approved by voters. Check out this election results post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins to learn more about how candidates and ballot measures fared on Nov. 5. Wiggins also has you covered on nationwide election news, including the recent exit from the presidential race of former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke. This just in: State Rep. Poncho Nevarez (D-Eagle Pass) announced late Friday he will not run for reelection in 2020. Nevarez chairs the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee. You can read more about his announcement in this post by the Texas Tribune.

In additional election-related news, our friends at TexasISD.com report that local voters passed 81 percent of the 63 school district bond elections held around the state during Tuesday’s election. When votes were tallied up, more than 93 percent of the total value sought by all districts statewide being approved. These high passage rates are a continued sign that the public overwhelmingly supports their local public schools and additional spending on those schools’ and students’ needs.

If you didn’t get the chance to vote this time, your next opportunity will be the primary election on March 3, 2020. The deadline to register to vote in the primary is Feb. 3, 2020. Check to see if you are registered to vote here. Need some inspiration? Read ATPE Lobbyist and former educator Andrea Chevalier’s voting story.


Do you have a couple of minutes to spare? The ATPE Governmental Relations team invites all ATPE members to take a short, three-question survey about the most recent legislative session and your education priorities. Help us best represent your voice at the Texas Capitol by taking our new “Your Voice” survey on ATPE’s Advocacy Central. You must be signed into the ATPE website as a member to participate in the survey, so call the ATPE Member Services department at (800) 777-2873 if you’ve forgotten your password.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced on Wednesday plans for the state to take over management of Houston ISD and two rural school districts, Shepherd ISD and Snyder ISD. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath cited two reasons for the takeover of Houston ISD: “failure of governance” and the consistent under-performance of Wheatley High School in the district. Houston ISD serves over 200,000 students. The takeover of all three school districts will entail replacement of each elected school board by a state-appointed Board of Managers and the appointment of a state conservator. Learn more in this reporting from the Texas Tribune.


This week the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center released a comprehensive analysis of targeted school violence. The report, focused on K-12 schools for the period of 2008 to 2017, details common trends among the school attacks. One significant finding was that, while there is no typical “profile” of a perpetrator, they do exhibit certain warning signs and traits. These include having been a victim of bullying, an adverse childhood experience, a mental health issue, access to firearms, and motive typically involving a grievance with classmates or school staff. Read a summary of the report from Education Week here, or read the full report here.

Back home in Texas, the House Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety held its third public meeting this week. The hearing took place in Odessa, the site of one of the recent shooting attacks that garnered national attention. The committee heard several hours of testimony from local families and law enforcement, some of whom had lost loved ones in the Midland and Odessa shooting on Aug. 31, 2019. Testifiers pleaded for a more effective background check system and the integration of mental health information into the public safety system. Legislators and law enforcement officials discussed prevention strategies focused on more cohesive communication, such as a regional communications center. A recording of the hearing can be found here. Read more about the hearing from local CBS7 in Midland here.


Next week on Teach the Vote, we’ll be updating all state legislators’ profiles on our website to incorporate voting records from the 86th legislative session. ATPE’s lobbyists have analyzed all the education-related votes taken during the 2019 legislative session and selected a collection of recorded votes that will help Texans find out how their own lawmakers voted on major public education issues and ATPE’s legislative priorities. By sharing this information, we hope to help voters gain insight into legislative incumbents’ views on public education so that they can make informed decisions at the polls during the critical 2020 election cycle.

The candidate filing period opens this weekend for those seeking a place on the ballot in 2020. Once the candidate filing period ends, ATPE will be updating our Teach the Vote website to include profiles of all the candidates vying for seats in the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education. Stay tuned!


 

November 07, 2019

Texas wasn’t the only state that held elections this Tuesday, and political observers across the country have spent the week analyzing the results of the 2019 races in places like Kentucky, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. In Kentucky, the winner of that state’s gubernatorial election used his victory speech Tuesday night as an opportunity to credit educators with turning out to vote and making the difference in that race.

The big national news came over the weekend, as former Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke of Texas announced he was ending his campaign for president. Following the announcement, Texas Tribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey noted that O’Rourke nonetheless deserves credit among Democrats for putting Texas in a competitive position. O’Rourke’s exit leaves former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro as the only Texan remaining in the Democratic presidential primary. Several O’Rourke loyalists have already transferred their support to Castro, who is also struggling to gain traction against higher profile candidates in the Democratic field.

Back in Texas, the state’s three special elections to fill unexpired terms in the Texas House of Representatives will head to runoffs. The winner of those runoffs will face a quick turnaround to defend their seats and win reelection to a full term in 2020. You can read the full results of Tuesday’s state elections here. Additionally, read more voter turnout in Tuesday’s election in this post from the Texas Tribune republished on our blog.

Turning our attention ahead to the 2020 elections, Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) announced Saturday he will run against Sen. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton) next year in Senate District (SD) 19. The district voted for both Clinton and O’Rourke by double digits. Flores won the seat in a special runoff election against former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego in late summer 2018. Gallego edged out Gutierrez in the first round of the special election.

A University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll released this week shows Democrats hoping to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) are largely unknown to Democratic primary voters. Of the nine Democrats, former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell is the best known. Air Force veteran M.J. Hegar, who ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Rep. John Carter in 2018, is the most favored among primary voters. Twelve percent of Democratic primary voters said they’d support Hegar. State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) came in third, with five percent support.

As always, you can visit the website of our Texas Educators Vote coalition here to sign up for voting reminders to make sure that you never miss an important election. Next up will be the special runoff elections in Houston and Dallas, followed by a critical round of March primaries. Stay tuned!

November 07, 2019

This year, 12% of registered voters cast ballots, compared with 6% of the state’s 15 million registered voters who voted in 2017. Photo by Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune

Half of registered Texas voters turned out in 2018. Just 12% turned out this year.” 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.

Texas voters approved nine amendments to the state’s Constitution on Tuesday. Only 12% of registered voters actually cast ballots — a higher percentage from the 2017 election, but still overwhelmingly low overall.

A majority of Texas voters must approve any changes to the Texas Constitution. Getting a proposed amendment on the ballot requires support from more than two-thirds of both chambers of the Legislature.

Voters in some communities also weighed in on important local issues. For example, Houston voters weighed in on a contentious mayoral race, while Travis County voters approved a proposition authorizing 2% of the hotel occupancy tax to go toward renovating the Travis County Exposition Center.

Turnout is — and has always been — historically low in elections that take place during odd-numbered years. Here’s what it looked like this year.

How easy is it to amend the Texas Constitution?

It’s fairly simple.

That simplicity, in part, is because few people vote in constitutional amendment elections. This year, 12% of registered voters cast ballots, compared with 6% of the state’s 15 million registered voters who voted in 2017. By comparison, 59% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the latest presidential election.

Unsurprisingly, turnout relies heavily on what’s on the ballot. Turnout in 2015 was higher than normal in part because of a Houston mayor’s race and a state ballot proposition dealing with property taxes. In 2005, nearly 18% of registered voters cast ballots. That year, voters overwhelmingly approved writing a ban on same-sex marriage into the state’s Constitution. Twelve percent of registered voters voted in 2003, when a controversial amendment limiting lawsuit damages was on the ballot.

Do people vote on the whole ballot?

For the most part, yes. But they don’t have to.

Proposition 4, which would make it harder to enact a state income tax, received the most votes by a hair — roughly 1.97 million Texans who cast ballots weighed in on this change to the Constitution.

The closest race on the ballot was Proposition 9, which would allow the Legislature to create a property tax exemption for precious metals in state depositories like the Texas Bullion Depository. Proposition 9 also had the lowest turnout, with only 1.89 million Texans casting ballots — 79,057 fewer votes cast than there were on Proposition 4.

In 2005, more than 2.2 million people voted on the proposition concerning same-sex couples. The proposition with the fewest number of votes — an item focused on clearing land titles in Upshur and Smith counties — had only 1.9 million votes.

Turnout is hard to chart during constitutional amendment elections because of how the Texas secretary of state compiles data. A spokesman with the agency said voter turnout data is compiled based on a designated turnout race, even if it’s not the race with the most votes. This year, the designated race is Proposition 1.

Why was Proposition 4 so popular?

The proposition, authored by state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, and state Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, drew considerable attention in the lead-up to Election Day.

Supporters of the amendment said they wanted to provide assurance to residents and outsiders interested in doing business in Texas that the state is committed to a business-friendly environment; those in opposition argued the measure could tie the hands of future generations as they look to fund areas like education and health care.

Several left-leaning groups, including the Center for Public Policy Priorities, rallied against the proposal. CPPP says it launched digital ads in “targeted areas of the state” and sent a mail piece to tens of thousands of households.

Which counties had higher turnout than others?

Among the 10 counties with the most registered voters, Harris, Fort Bend and Travis counties had the highest turnout. Harris County had a 15.69% turnout this year, compared with 6.46% in 2017. Fort Bend County had a 14.69% turnout, compared with 6.6% in 2017.

One of the reasons for Harris County’s higher turnout is because its county seat, Houston, is the only major Texas city that holds its mayoral race in November. (Dallas and San Antonio held their elections in May.)

This year’s Houston race drew considerable attention as first-term Mayor Sylvester Turner sought to fend off several challengers, including high-wattage trial attorney Tony Buzbee, who self-funded his campaign to the tune of $10 million. It’s also the first mayoral race to take place since Hurricane Harvey ravaged the Texas coast. Turner received 47% of the vote, compared with Buzbee’s 28%, sending the two to a runoff election slated for next month.

In addition to the rollicking mayoral race, Houston-area voters living in two state House districts had high-profile special elections on the ballot.

After the resignations of state Reps. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, and Jessica Farrar D-Houston, some voters in the Houston-area districts voted for their next state representatives. (Only Houston-area voters living in District 28 and District 148 cast ballots in these two races.)

Farrar’s seat is solidly blue; Zerwas’ seat, meanwhile, was a target for Democrats well before he announced he was resigning and joining the University of Texas System. Eliz Markowitz is the sole Democratic candidate in the race. Six GOP candidates have also lined up for the seat.

In Farrar’s former district, Democrat Anna Eastman and Republican Luis La Rotta are headed to the next round; in Zerwas’ former district, Markowitz and Republican Gary Gates will go to a runoff.

Carla Astudillo contributed to this story.

Disclosure: The Center for Public Policy Priorities, Tony Buzbee and the University of Texas System have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/11/06/texas-2019-election-voter-turnout/.

 

Texas Tribune mission statement

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

November 06, 2019

The results from Tuesday’s elections are in, and all three special elections to fill unexpired terms in the Texas House of Representatives will head to runoffs. Voters also approved all but one of the 10 proposed constitutional amendments.

In Fort Bend County, lone Democrat Eliz Markowitz came in first for the special election in Texas House District (HD) 28 with 39 percent of the vote. Markowitz, who is endorsed by the pro-public education organization Texas Parent PAC, will head to a runoff against Republican Gary Gates, who carried 28 percent of the vote. You can read more about the race for HD 28 in this TeachTheVote.org post.

In Houston’s HD 148, Democrat Anna Eastman led a crowded field with 18 percent of the vote, according to numbers available early Wednesday morning. She will face Republican Luis La Rotta, who took 17 percent of the vote.

In HD 100 in Dallas, Democrat Lorraine Birabil will likely face fellow Democrat James Armstrong in a runoff. The two earned 33 percent and 21 percent of the vote, respectively.

You can read more reporting on the special election races in this Texas Tribune post.

Voters rejected statewide Proposition 1, which would have allowed selected municipal court judges to serve multiple municipalities at the same time, while passing the other nine constitutional propositions, including Propositions 4 and 7, which included some impact on public education. Seventy-three percent of voters approved Proposition 4, which added additional hurdles to passing a state income tax beyond existing constitutional prohibitions. Voters also approved Proposition 7, which will allow the State Board of Education (SBOE) and School Land Board (SLB) more flexibility in releasing distributions to the Available School Fund (ASF). You can read more about the information we provided on the proposed constitutional amendments in this TeachTheVote.org post. Per its member-created legislative program, ATPE took no position on any of the constitutional ballot propositions. Read more about the constitutional election results in this Texas Tribune post.

If you voted in the November 2019 elections, great job! Voting in these off-year elections is incredibly important as turnout is usually very low and important statewide decisions are made by a relatively small number of people. Sign up for reminders from our partners at the Texas Educators Vote coalition, and you’ll never worry about missing an important election. Then stay tuned for more election-related news here at Teach the Vote.

November 04, 2019

ATPE Lobbyist and Educator Andrea Chevalier

Tomorrow is Election Day, which means we all have the opportunity to share our voices in one of the most important ways possible – voting. In light of tomorrow’s “festivities” and as a former educator, I’d like to share my personal voting story.

When I was growing up, we didn’t talk much about politics. Most of what did spur conversation was from what was shown on the television, like President Clinton’s impeachment trial and the tragedy of September 11, 2001. The patriotism I had as a child didn’t translate into a love of democracy until I became a teacher.

Through teaching, I began to see the world outside of my own bubble. I developed relationships with hundreds of students, each with their own story and gifts to the world. Their parents entrusted me, a stranger, every day to prepare their child for the world and keep them safe. Now that I have my own child, this aspect of teaching is even more incredible.

As a teacher feeling protective of her students, it was the system – which was dominated by non-educator politicians and never seemed to serve my students or colleagues as well as it could – that inspired me to become involved in politics. Before I vote, I look for candidates who are going to support a pro-public education agenda that drives resources and support to students and educators.

Every time educators vote, we make our voices heard. Make sure your voice is heard by voting tomorrow. On the ballot you will find several constitutional amendments, local ballot measures, and potentially a state House of Representatives race! Read more about the ballot in this blog post from ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz.

Create your voting plan by visiting Vote411.org to view and print out a sample ballot showing exactly what will you will be voting on in your area, find where to vote, and see your polling place’s hours!

Have fun!

November 01, 2019

Happy Friday! Here are your highlights of this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ELECTION UPDATE: Today is the first day of November, but it’s your last day to vote early in the constitutional amendment election slated for Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.

ATPE is urging all educators to learn what’s on the ballot. (Since you’ll be turning back your clocks this weekend, you’ve got an extra hour to read up on the proposed amendments!) If you miss your chance to vote early today, be sure to go vote on Election Day next Tuesday.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has written an update today on a closely watched special legislative election that is also taking place on Tuesday. Additionally, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter has written a post for our blog this week on how to build a culture of voting and get into the habit of voting in every election. Don’t miss your chance to shape the future of public education in Texas. Go vote!


The House Public Education Committee was in town this week for an interim hearing on the implementation of House Bill (HB) 3 and other recent legislation. Monday’s hearing featured invited testimony only, including a presentation by Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. Read more about the meeting in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


Members of the Texas State Senate received their homework assignments this week. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, formally released the Senate’s interim charges on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. The charges direct members of the Senate’s various committees to spend the rest of the legislative interim studying particular issues and making recommendations for any new legislation that might be needed in 2021 to address those issues. The interim charges related to public education include a range of topics including teacher recruitment, student discipline, and restricting educators’ political activities. Learn more about what’s in the Senate interim charges in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) issued a formal report to the legislature this week about Houston ISD, the largest public school district in Texas. Following an investigation, TEA is recommending that  a board of managers be appointed to oversee the district in place of its current elected school board. The school district, meanwhile, has gone to court seeking injunctive relief to prevent Commissioner of Education Mike Morath from taking that action. The lengthy TEA report shared with lawmakers on Wednesday cites improper contracting procedures and violations of the state’s open meetings laws by HISD’s board of trustees. Learn more in this reporting from the Texas Tribune.


On Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, the Texas Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety met again to take testimony from experts and discuss two of its charges. The emphasis of this meeting was on the role of digital media, the dark web, and culture on violence and policy regarding the wearing of masks. Panelists and senators discussed how social media, video games, mental health, and juvenile justice policies have impacted violent occurrences and explored potential legislative actions. Watch the archived hearing here.


 

November 01, 2019

Early voting ends today in the statewide Texas constitutional election, as well as three special elections: one in Dallas and two in the Houston area.

According to the Texas Secretary of State, 542,000 out of nearly 16 million registered voters had voted by mail or in person by the time polls closed on Wednesday. This puts total statewide turnout around 3.4 percent. In Fort Bend County, the site of the House District (HD) 28 special election that could prove a bellwether race between Democrats and Republicans, turnout through Wednesday was 4.4 percent.

Candidates in the special elections were required to turn in their 8-day out campaign finance reports this week. Lone Democrat Eliz Markowitz, who has been endorsed by pro-public education group Texas Parent PAC, out-raised the rest of the field combined during the 30-day period between September 27 and October 26. Markowitz raised $294,000, compared to $122,000 raised by the six Republicans in the race. The top Republican fundraisers were Anna Allred with $66,000 and Tricia Krenek with $55,000. Republican Gary Gates, who has run several unsuccessful races including a shot at the Texas Railroad Commission, spent $555,000 in the same period. This is more than the rest of the field combined. He was followed by Krenek spending $205,000, Markowitz spending $190,000, and Allred spending $104,000.

You can learn more about the HD 28 race in our earlier post on TeachTheVote.org. Read more about what’s on the constitutional election ballot here. Election Day is Tuesday, November 5. Sign up to get election reminders and help making your voting plan at TexasEducatorsVote.com.

October 31, 2019

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Texas) released interim charges for state senators late Wednesday. The Senate interim charges for the 86th Texas Legislature include language mirroring that used to justify a pair of bills this past session that were aimed at discouraging educators from being politically active.

After every legislative session, the Senate and House each release their own set of interim charges. Individual charges are assigned to each legislative committee and represent those legislators’ “homework” before returning to Austin for the next session. The idea is that members of each committee will study those charges, conduct hearings during the interim, and return the following legislative session prepared to file bills on those topics. The charges also typically include directions to monitor the implementation of bills recently passed into law and recommend any adjustments that may need to be made during the next legislative session.

The 2019 Senate interim charges include studying educator recruitment, preparation, and retention; a review of disciplinary alternative education programs (DAEP); studying the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) corrective action plan for special education; a review of how investments are made by the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) and the Permanent School Fund (PSF); monitoring school districts’ implementation of the increases to teacher compensation ordered under House Bill (HB) 3; and investigating advocacy by local communities and public schools misleadingly characterized as “taxpayer lobbying.”

Of particular note is a charge directing the Senate State Affairs Committee to “ensure compliance with laws that prohibit school trustees and employees from improperly using public funds to advocate for or against any candidate, measure, or political party.” While ATPE fully agrees that public funds should not be used for electioneering, unfounded accusations targeting educators were used during the 2019 legislative session to justify a pair of bills aimed at chilling educators’ political speech. It is particularly worth noting that these accusations were leveled by officials who have taken positions opposed to public education in the past and were made following a 2018 election cycle in which the public education community was acknowledged to have played a major role in electing pro-public education candidates.

Senate Bill (SB) 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) would have dramatically expanded the legal definition of electioneering solely as it applies to educators. It would have subjected educators to criminal penalties for violating “political advertising” laws if they engage in the act of discussing anything of a political nature on school property, regardless of whether that conversation occurred in private, between friends, or off the clock. A similar bill, SB 904 by state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) would have imposed cumbersome restrictions on e-mail signups and public WiFi systems. You can read more about those bills here and here. Notably, Sen. Hughes has recently been appointed by Lt. Gov. Patrick as the new chairman of the State Affairs Committee that will conduct this investigation during the interim and would likely hear any such bills filed next session.

The following list includes excerpts from the 2019 Senate interim charges that may be of interest to educators. The charges are broken up by committee, each of which is listed in bold. You can read the full list of all interim charges released on Wednesday here.

Senate Committee on Criminal Justice

Crimes Against Students with Disabilities: Examine whether current laws are effectively protecting students with disabilities. Make recommendations to improve student safety, while also protecting educators’ abilities to maintain order and safety for everyone in the classroom.

Senate Education Committee

Teacher Workforce: Examine best practice models to recruit, prepare, and retain highly effective teachers. Review teacher professional development, continuing education, and training for teachers, and recommend improved training methods to improve student academic outcomes.

Alternative Education Students: Study current local, state, and national policies and programs for alternative education student populations. Make recommendations to strengthen existing programs and encourage the development of new innovative models.

Adult Education: Identify and evaluate current innovative programs that assist non-traditional students (first-time adult learners, re-enrolling students, working adults, and educationally disadvantaged students) in completing a high school diploma, GED, post-secondary degree, or workforce credential, including a review of adult education charter schools and their performance framework. Make recommendations to help successful expansion with partnered business and education entities.

Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs: Review disciplinary alternative education programs, including lengths of placement, quality of instruction, and the physical conditions of these facilities. Make recommendations to support and promote the academic success of these programs and enhance the ability of public schools to meet the needs of these students through innovative school models.

Digital Learning: Assess the Texas Virtual School Network and recommend model legislation that improves digital learning for students, families, and educators in a 21st Century classroom.

Special Education Services: Evaluate ongoing strategies to continuously improve special education services for students in public schools including, but not limited, to the Texas Education Agency’s corrective action plan.

Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Education passed by the 86th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following: Senate Bill 11, relating to policies, procedures, and measures for school safety and mental health promotion in public schools and the creation of the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium; House Bill 3, relating to public school finance and public education; and House Bill 3906, relating to the assessment of public school students, including the development and administration of assessment instruments, and technology permitted for use by students.

Senate Finance Committee

Investment of State Funds: Review the investment strategies and performance of funds invested through the Teacher Retirement System, the Permanent School Fund, and university funds. Make recommendations to better coordinate and leverage Texas’ purchasing power to maximize investment income to the state.

Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Finance passed by the 86th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following: Senate Bill 12, relating to the contributions to and benefits under the Teacher Retirement System; …House Bill 4388, relating to the management of the permanent school fund by the School Land Board and the State Board of Education and a study regarding distributions from the permanent school fund to the available school fund; House Bill 4611, relating to certain distributions to the available school fund; …District implementation of increases in teacher compensation provided by the 86th Legislature; and Efficiencies in state-funded health care programs that reduce or contain costs and improve quality of care. Assess the quality and performance of health plans that contract with the state, including contract compliance, financial performance and stability, quality metrics, and consumer surveys, among other indicators. Monitor the implementation of Health and Human Services Commission Rider 19 and Article IX, Section 10.06.

Senate State Affairs Committee

Elections: Study the integrity and security of voter registration rolls, voting machines, and voter qualification procedures to reduce election fraud in Texas. Specifically, study and make recommendations to: 1) ensure counties are accurately verifying voter eligibility after voter registration; 2) improve training requirements for mail-in ballot signature verification committees; 3) ensure every voter has access to a polling station, particularly in counties that have adopted countywide polling; 4) allow the voter registrar, county clerk, and Secretary of State to suspend an unqualified voter’s registration or remove an ineligible voter from a list of registered voters; and 5) ensure compliance with laws that prohibit school trustees and employees from improperly using public funds to advocate for or against any candidate, measure, or political party.

Taxpayer Lobbying: Study how governmental entities use public funds for political lobbying purposes. Examine what types of governmental entities use public funds for lobbying purposes. Make recommendations to protect taxpayers from paying for lobbyists who may not represent the taxpayers’ interests.

October 30, 2019

We are approaching the end of the second week of early voting for the Nov. 5 general election. Have you voted yet? If you answered yes, thank you and congratulations! You are among an influential minority of Texans. If you answered no, you are not alone. Also, it’s not too late!

Why is building a culture of voting among Texas educators such an accomplishment and challenge?

Based on years of anecdotal evidence, I have come to believe the vast majority of educators are naturally apolitical. While many educators’ internal values lean toward either the conservative or progressive, the natural tendency is for most to shy away from politics and politicians. This is true even though education is one of the most regulated professions around, with local, state and federal elected officials all weighing in on almost every aspect of an educator’s job. Despite an apparent natural aversion to politics, teachers have begun to vote in larger numbers over the last two election cycles. This has not been an accident, but rather the result of many people and organizations, including ATPE, encouraging educators to use their considerable voices and working to build a culture of voting.

So, how do you instill a culture of voting in yourself? Much like building a lasting culture of fitness or mindfulness or any other positive lifestyle change, building a culture of voting is about setting realistic goals, planning, prioritization, and consistency.

Setting Goals

At the outset of building a new habit or creating a personal culture change, it’s important to set realistic goals. A goal, which is really just envisioning the end or a significant intermediate point at the beginning, helps us to plan back from that point to where we are today so that we know how to get to where we are going. When we fail to set goals, we don’t know where we are going and can’t plan for how to get there. Equally problematic, when we set up unrealistic goals we set ourselves up for failure when we either realize that it’s too hard to get to where we want to go, or else we try to get there and fail.

For example, it is as unrealistic to think that deciding to engage is going to immediately change the outcome in every election. That’s about as unrealistic as thinking that a decision to start dieting is going to make you look like a supermodel next week. Likewise, it is unrealistic the think that deciding to go vote means you’re going to have the time or energy to become an immediate expert on every proposition or politician that is on the ballet. Start small. Set a goal to vote in every election from today through next November’s general election.

Planning

While it is unrealistic to think that you are going to become an immediate expert on all things political, you are far more likely to meet your goals if you engage in some simple planning. Figure out where you can vote, and then make a plan on when you will go vote. Additionally, it’s a good idea to look at, or better yet print out, a copy of the ballot for any upcoming election before you go vote. You may not have the time or desire to research every candidate or issue that is on there, but knowing ahead of time what and who is on the ballot will allow you to do some basic research on the issues and candidates you most care about. It will also give you more confidence at the polls, and therefore make you more likely to actually get yourself to the polls. It will also speed up the process once you are there.

A few easy-to-use tools to help you plan for voting include ATPE’s blog posts here on Teach the Vote (like this one explaining what’s on the ballot for the November 2019 election and this one profiling the candidates in Fort Bend County’s HD 28 special election). We also recommend the Teach the Vote candidate and officeholder profiles and the League of Women Voters’ nonpartisan Vote 411 website where you can create and print out sample ballots for your voting area.

Prioritizing

Everyone is busy! You can set a goal and make a plan but if you don’t choose to set aside the time to act, the first two steps will have been for naught. Doing things that are good for us is not often fun, and it’s easy, whether intentionally or unintentionally, to choose to put other things ahead of them on our daily list of priorities. Getting involved in politics may not be your jam, but voting is important. You owe it to yourself, your students, and your fellow citizens to exercise the right and responsibility that others literally died to establish and protect so that you might have it.

Consistency

Informed voting is a habit. Like any habit, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Conversely, the more often you skip doing it, the dramatically easier it becomes to skip in the future. That’s one reason why it’s important to vote not just every four years, or every other year in November, but in every election.

The other reason to make a habit of voting in every election is because a LOT of important things get decided in “off year” elections, May elections, primaries, and runoffs. In the upcoming election you get to decide how to redraft the Texas Constitution! May elections often decide who will serve on your local school board (the people who get to approve your hiring and firing) and enable voters will approve bonds and tax rates that will determine how much money your school district has to spend. In Texas, 85 to 90 percent of all state legislators are chosen in a primary election, while only 10 to 15 percent have competitive races in the November general election. So again, voting in every election absolutely counts.

Hopefully many of you who read this blog regularly already have a personal culture of voting. I encourage you to do just a little bit more – help spread the culture of voting! Its easier than you think. Often all it takes is a willingness to be open to talking about your own commitment to voting and to encourage others on their own journey.

If you haven’t voted yet, set a goal, make a plan, prioritize it, and make this election the first of every election you will vote in from now through November 2020. If you have already voted, thank you. Please share your story, proudly show off your “I voted” sticker, and encourage a friend.

October 30, 2019

House Public Education Committee interim hearing, Oct. 28, 2019.

The House Public Education Committee met on Monday, Oct. 28, to hear an update on legislation from the 85th and 86th legislative sessions and testimony from panels of invited witnesses.

The interim hearing began with an overview from Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath on public school accountability. Specifically, the committee heard about House Bill (HB) 22 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) passed by the 85th Texas Legislature in 2017. That bill shrank the accountability system from five to three domains. HB 22 also created a distinction between campus and district accountability “grades” of “D” and “F,” such that a rating of “D” would represent a “needs improvement” condition rather than a “failing” status. As the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has implemented HB 22, several problematic scenarios have emerged due to multiple interpretations of the law.

One such scenario pertaining to the timeline for accountability sanctions and interventions has left districts wondering where they stand and waiting for guidance in the form of commissioner’s rules or clarifying legislation next session. Specially, does a “D” rating break up a series of “F” ratings in a manner that would restart the clock for purposes of determining required interventions? Since HB 22 is slated to take full effect in the 2020-21 school year, legislators and TEA officials are facing pressure to find a solution, such as delaying the adoption of rules, for districts grappling with questions like these. Commissioner Morath told the committee on Monday that he will be reaching out to affected districts to try to provide guidance.

Due to issues like these, we can probably expect another accountability clean-up bill to be filed in the 2021 legislative session. The commissioner suggested two statutory changes that may help alleviate the problems. The first is to eliminate required interventions for failure in a domain grade, leaving mandatory interventions in place based on a district’s or campus’s overall grade. The second suggestion is to change the “D” rating so that it continues to advance the intervention clock but would not require school closure or the appointment of a Board of Managers unless performance falls to an “F” and no less than six years have elapsed.

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath

Commissioner Morath also gave the committee an update on the local accountability system pilot, which allows school districts to use additional indicators that their communities find important. Nineteen districts participated in the 2017-18 pilot year and submitted pilot data. The commissioner identified three big challenges that districts faced when creating their systems: would the local accountability system produce 1) reliable results over time, 2) results that accurately measure a desired result, and 3) a reasonable accountability score that was “calibrated” with the state accountability system. The commissioner stated that these challenges were used as the criteria against which districts were rated in determining whether to approve their local accountability system.

Ultimately, only two districts, Dallas ISD and Snyder ISD, had their local accountability systems approved by the commissioner, which prompted committee members to raise concerns during Monday’s hearing. One superintendent who testified during the hearing stated that his district’s application was denied because, according to the TEA, the district had focused too much on “adult behavior” inputs that were not directly measured using student achievement data. The superintendent gave the example of using incentives to increase the use of AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) as part of its local accountability system proposal. ATPE has long advocated for including inputs in the accountability system, such as ensuring that students are taught by educators who are certified in the subjects and grade levels they are teaching. We believe that such measures are more directly controllable by districts and individual educators than other factors and typically lead to better student outcomes. During Monday’s committee meeting, a panel of school superintendents and other public education advocates also gave feedback on implementation of the state’s accountability system, similarly expressing a desire for the inclusion of inputs related to such “adult behaviors.” They also recommended enabling the state accountability system to be more nuanced to account for the correlation between poverty and student tests scores, and they advocated for delaying the adoption of commissioner’s rules until the HB 22 implementation issues can be cleared up with legislation in 2021.

The committee also received an update from the commissioner on the implementation of HB 3, the school finance overhaul bill passed during the 86th session of 2019. Commissioner Morath stated that there was a $635 average increase in per pupil funding as a result of the bill, and he plugged TEA’s “HB 3 in 30” video series, which offers in-depth explanations of various aspects of HB 3. Other updates were given to the committee on the following:

  • The STAAR readability study required by HB 3 is being conducted by the University of Texas at Austin. An initial report is due to the legislature by Dec. 1, 2019, and a second portion of the report is expected by Feb. 1, 2020. The commissioner told the committee that if the study concludes that changes to the test are needed, then those will be made.
  • The commissioner shared that TEA plans to collect data on pay raises resulting from HB 3 starting sometime near January 2020. A report to the legislature would then be expected by March 2020.
  • There has been a 56% growth in students receiving special education services over the past three years, which could reflect more students being identified as having dyslexia.
  • The committee discussed unintended funding consequences for fast-growth school districts and career and technical education (CTE) funding in small/mid-sized districts as a result of HB 3’s changes.

Another panel of public education advocates and practitioners gave feedback on the implementation of HB 3, telling the committee members that more clarity is needed on aspects of the legislation, such as its incentive pay program and related merit designations for teachers. Some panelists expressed concern about the sustainability and mechanisms of funding under the bill, such as outcomes-based funding in which money for one group of students is based on the performance of a previous group of students. As the rulemaking process for implementing HB 3 continues, ATPE will monitor TEA’s interpretation of these concerns.

At the end of Monday’s hearing, Chairman Huberty stated that he did not anticipate any more House Public Education Committee hearings this year. Stay tuned into our blog and keep up-to-date with legislative developments by following ATPE’s lobby team on Twitter via @TeachtheVote, @ATPE_JenniferM, @ATPE_MontyE, @ATPE_AndreaC, and @MarkWigginsTX.