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August 2014

Contributing to TSTA-PAC: the next step for professional educators

TSTA is active in the political arena because we understand the connection between our political engagement/power and officeholders' decisions, which affect your personal and professional life.

Elected officials make many of the decisions that affect your profession and your students, including the level of salary and benefits you receive and investments in the classroom priorities that build a strong foundation for student learning.

Our Continuing Contributor Program under the TSTA-Political Action Committee is a vehicle for members who are active and engaged in the political process. Because TSTA dues money cannot be used to elect public officials, members use the Continuing Contributor Program to contribute money to help TSTA elect public officials who are supportive of educators and public education and will vote in the best interest of America's schoolchildren.

Every member who contributes increases our collective strength. Sign up now at http://tsta.org/issues-and-action/take-action-at-the-state-level/contribute-tsta-pac


June 24, 2014

Volunteer for a TSTA Committee

TSTA relies on member volunteers to serve on its governing committees. There are three standing committees: Legislative, PAC (Political Advocacy), and Credentials, Bylaws and Elections. In addition, there are the following non-standing committees: ESP, Special Education, Communications and Community Outreach, Governance and Compliance, School Board Policies, Member Advocacy, and Teaching Profession.

The TSTA President Elect has begun the appointment process for 2014-15. All members are eligible to serve. If you are interested in a committee appointment, please contact Neocha Campbell at neochac@tsta.org by July 11. Please indicate your particular area of interest and give a brief explanation of why you would like to serve on a TSTA Governance Committee. Please contact the Center for Executive and Governance at 877-ASK-TSTA if you have any questions.


June 19, 2014

USDOE seeks public comments on minority overrepresentation in special education

The U.S. Department of Education is considering creating a standard definition for what constitutes "significant disproportionality" in special education, and is looking for the public's help in developing that definition, according to a request for information to be published in the June 19 Federal Register.  The move is coming in the wake of a recent report from the Government Accountability Office that said that even though states are required to monitor overrepresentation of minority students in special education in their districts, only a tiny fraction of school districts around the country have actually been deemed to have a problem. Those districts are required to use part of their federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act allotment to provide additional educational and behavioral support for students—with the intent of catching problems before they become entrenched. To read more: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/speced/2014/06/ed_dept_seeking_comments_on_mi.html?cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS3


June 7, 2014

Survey results available June 23

Thank you for taking the TELL Texas survey! Please check the website, www.telltexas.org, for results on June 23.

May 28, 2014

TELL Texas survey extended through June 6!

TSTA encourages all educators to take the anonymous TELL Texas survey by June 6 at the latest. This is your chance to tell education leaders about your teaching conditions!Join the more than 76,000 teachers who already have taken the anonymous survey. Go to www.telltexas.org and request an access code from the New Teacher Center's Help Desk.


February 13, 2014

Giving young Texans a "Great Start"

Today, Sen. Wendy Davis was joined by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro at Leal Middle School in San Antonio’s Harlandale ISD to promote her plan to expand pre-K, support intensive reading programs in early grades, and foster community partnerships to give young Texans a “Great Start.” http://www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/GreatStartGreatTexas.pdf

What do you need to vote?

The Got ID Texas? website will walk you through what documents you will need in order to vote and how to get them. http://www.gotidtexas.org/


February 12, 2014

TSTA applauds Wendy Davis’ “Great Start, Great Texas” plan

The Texas State Teachers Association today issued a news release applauding Senator Wendy Davis for making early childhood education a priority of her gubernatorial campaign.

“Parents and educators know that children who have the opportunity to learn and develop reading skills at an early age are much more likely to be successful academically,” said TSTA President Rita Haecker. “We congratulate Senator Davis for putting forth plans to better prepare our children for success in college and the work force.”

TSTA supports Senator Davis’ proposals to expand half-day pre-kindergarten programs to full days for eligible, low-income children and to make it possible for additional children to enroll at reasonable, sliding-scale costs.

TSTA also supports Davis’s plan to strengthen the foundation reading program for students in kindergarten through third grade. This will include additional professional development for teachers in reading comprehension instruction and the restoration of state funds to allow school districts to rehire teaching aides who specialize in helping children read. Along with pre-kindergarten, this program suffered serious cutbacks as a result of the 2011 school budget cuts.

“In sharp contrast to her opponent, Wendy Davis continues to offer specific plans to strengthen our classrooms and our children’s future,” Haecker said. “Greg Abbott continues to defend an inadequate and unfair school finance system, including $5.4 billion in cuts to local school districts, while courting the support of people who want to take our tax dollars to privatize our neighborhood schools.”

Earlier, Senator Davis laid out plans to encourage Texas’ best students to become teachers and to boost the college and career readiness of high school students.


January 16, 2014

Wendy Davis: the education candidate for Governor

Wendy Davis is making it clear that she is the education candidate for governor. Her first policy proposal was “Great Teachers, Great Texas.” Today, she announced a “Great Pathways” plan to help more students attend college and get dual college and high school credits, which saves families money and makes it more likely a student will attend college or receive timely job training. http://www.wendydavistexas.com/blog/2014/great-pathways-great-texas 


January 9, 2014

Senator Wendy Davis unveils "Great Teachers, Great Texas" plan 

Senator Wendy Davis today announced her first education policy proposal, and she put teachers first. Davis will work to provide incentives to encourage the best and the brightest to become certified, career teachers. The plan also would provide additional support to keep current Texas teachers in the profession by providing local districts funding to get Texas teacher salaries in line with the rest of the country. Today, too many teachers have to take second jobs to make ends meet, and the "Great Teachers, Great Texas" plan is designed to give talented teachers the time and the freedom to teach a growing Texas student population. To read President Haecker’s press release on the plan go to http://www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/TSTAnewsDavisplan.pdf. For more details of the "Great Teachers, Great Texas" plan, go to: http://www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/GreatTexas_summary.pdf.


Wendy Davis: The Education Candidate

 

A Proven Record of Advocating for Public Schools, Students and Educators

• Filibustered against the 2011 school budget cuts. Wendy took a stand against the $5.4 billion cut from Texas schools.

• Led the effort to restore 80% of the formula funding cuts in 2013.  When budget writers proposed restoring between $1.5 and $1.9 billion of the 2011 cuts, Wendy led the effort in the Senate to restore $3.4 billion of the formula funding cuts.

• Worked to reduce the number of standardized tests. The number of end- of- course exams given in high school was reduced from 15 to 5, and limits were placed on practice tests as well. 

• Found money in the state budget in 2013 to provide 67% of retired teachers with their first cost-of-living (COLA) increase in more than a decade. When Senate leaders said there was only enough money to give 30% of retirees a COLA, Wendy found funds to more than double the number of retirees who would benefit.

• Passed a law that lets high school students earn dual credit for courses at community colleges. This law helps families save money and time by letting young people move forward sooner to pursue education and job training.

• Worked to provide better educational support for students in foster care.

• Passed an amendment to HB5 that directed TEA to make the STAAR-Alt exams less burdensome for special needs teachers.

• Worked to give TEA the tools to make charter schools more accountable. Toughened provisions to make it easier for TEA to close charters with poor financial and academic records.

• Blocked a proposal that would have required public schools to sell taxpayer-funded buildings to private charter operators at low prices

• Ensured quality control standards and course-load limits for virtual school operators


Sign the petition for affordable premiums now!

Please “like” this page and sign the petition urging the Teacher Retirement System to rein in health insurance premium increases in TRS ActiveCare. This is the latest step in TSTA’s campaign to make sure all education employees have high quality, affordable health insurance. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Affordable-Premiums-Now/1375356596045638


Keep up with issues that affect you

Take action through NEA's Legislative Action Center, or read and respond on the Education Votes site.


June 14, 2013

Summary of the 83rd session

Education funding, standardized tests, TRS benefits, charter schools, and vouchers.  It's all in Public Affairs Director Ed Martin's legislative session report, now online. http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/83rdLegislativeSessionReport_0.pdf

June 12, 2013

Initial assessment requirements under HB5

Under HB5, high school students are now required to pass five STAAR end-of-course tests to meet the new graduation requirements. www.tea.state.tx.us/news_release.aspx?id=25769805495  

May 26, 2013

State budget heads in right direction; TRS, testing pass

Sunday was the last day for legislation to be approved. We won some key battles and made a couple of marginal bills better, but the well-funded forces of privatization – operating under the cloak of “reform” – will continue to challenge our efforts to preserve public education for every Texan. The battles will likely continue in a special session.

State Budget Approved – Almost $4 Billion in Education Funding Restored
Your work to Stop the Cuts really did make a difference, but we still have more work to do to secure the resources our students need to succeed. However, with the passage of SB1, HB1025 and SJR1, the legislature approved a state budget package that would provide a $3.93 billion restoration of public education funding and $2 billion for a water development fund, although the water funding requires voter approval. The education funding includes:

  • $3.4 billion to the Foundation School program, which would provide an average gain in total M&O revenue per WADA (per student funding) compared to current law of $228 in the 2013-2014 school year and $300 in 2014-15. TSTA staff was emailed official estimates yesterday that show the amount each district could receive.
  • Another $330 million was provided to local districts to cover the cost of the new 1.5% ISD contribution to the TRS Fund – meaning the district’s cost is covered.
  • $200 million for various grant programs, including SSI and Pre-K.

HB5, the Testing/Curriculum Reform Bill approved
TSTA supported the final version of HB5, which will make these key changes, and others:

  • Reduce the number of STAAR tests from 15 to 5 – Eng I and II, AlgI, biology and US history.
  • A district could administer Alg II and Eng III exams for diagnostic purposes only.
  • Satisfactory performance on AP, SAT or Act exams could be used satisfy graduation requirements.
  • STAAR exams would be released to the public.
  • Creates a foundation plan with 22 credits and “flexibility” to allow students and parents to select one of five endorsements that would require 26 credits.
  • All students would have to select an endorsement and could only opt to the foundation plan after the 10th grade with parental consent.
  • All graduates would be eligible to apply to a state university and apply for a TEXAS grant.

SB1458, TRS Bill approved
The TRS Bill would secure the defined benefit plan for TRS members. Thanks to a determined effort by TSTA, key legislators and only a few stakeholders, the bill was improved in both the Senate and the House to include the following provisions.

  • A sliding scale for increased employee contributions will keep active employee contributions lower than the state’s contributions through the next two years.
  • Local ISD’s will be required to contribute 1.5% to the fund starting in FY2015, and the state provided funding to cover that contribution so it will not harm local ISD budgets.
  • Any decrease in the state/local TRS contribution must be matched with an equivalent decrease in the employee contribution.
  • The first COLA for retirees since 2001 – for employees who retired before 2004 (10 years), will provide a 3% COLA for about two-thirds of retirees.
  • Although the retirement age required for full benefits was raised to 62, all employees who will have five years in the system as of 9-1-14 will be grandfathered – meaning those in their third year (or less) now will have this requirement changed in midstream, much to our chagrin. 

SB2 Charter Expansion approved
SB2 would allow a major charter expansion. TSTA opposed SB2. SB2 would allow a rapid expansion charter schools in Texas – authorizing over 300 charters during this decade - more than TEA can regulate.

Several charters close each year and existing charters can operate multiple campuses, so this kind of expansion is not needed. SB2 is not about educational quality - on average, charter campuses do not perform as well as traditional neighborhood school campuses in state ratings. Charters can operate without important state standards, such as class size limits and regulations that protect the rights of students, teachers and parents and the final version of SB2 allows a school district to convert every campus in a high school feeder zone – from elementary schools to high school, or campuses that serve up to 15% of the ISD’s students - into a “district charter” that would not have to follow important state standards like class size limits and important protections for employees, students and parents.

HB1926, Virtual Schools Expansion, approved
TSTA recognizes the value of online learning, but the final version of HB1926 goes too far by paving the way for a massive expansion of the Virtual School Network to for-profit operators.  However, we were successful in preventing the bill from opening the virtual network up to a statewide “virtual voucher” for anyone who wanted to start a for-profit online school.

HB1926 allows state education dollars to be used by private, online vendors to educate students while demanding little, if any, accountability from those private vendors.HB1926 would allow a for-profit, online virtual program that is already in operation to receive tax dollars to educate students full time – with money that would otherwise go into the classroom.

SB 1718 Coming Back In Special Session?
SB1718, the statewide charter “Achievement School District” for low-performing schools, was defeated on a point of order, but may be coming back soon.

Other noteworthy legislation approved today
A number of other bills were approved and we will follow up with a more comprehensive list. The following bills are among the more noteworthy items approved. HB2836 by Rep. Bennett Ratliff would limit the number of tests given in lower grades while conforming to federal requirements. At one time, the Senate added SB1718 Achievement School District language to this bill, but it was removed. HB2012 by Rep. Villarreal, dealing with the collection, distribution and use of information relating to salaries and working conditions of public school teachers.


May 23, 2013

State budget deal update

Last night, the Senate passed HB1025, the supplemental appropriations bill that includes both water project funding and the final $200 million for public education. Also last night, the House passed SJR1, the bill that would allow voters to approve the $2 billion water development fund. 

There are still details to be worked out, but if these bills finally pass, along with the conference committee report on Senate Bill 1 (state budget bill) later this week, a $3.93 billion restoration of funding cuts for public education will be approved.

HB1926, virtual/online network, passed by Senate last night
The Senate amended and passed SB1926 last night, the expansion of the virtual school network. Several changes were made in the Senate, some of which “improved” a bad bill.  Discussions about the final version of the bill are ongoing, and will determine whether the House approves the Senate changes or sends the bill to conference committee. (more details below).

Updates: Test Reform, TRS, Charter Bills Still in Conference Committees
HB5, the Testing/Curriculum Reform Bill, is still in a conference committee, where differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill must be resolved before the final version of the bill can be considered.  Supporters of the SB2 Charter expansion and SB1718 “Achievement School District” bill (the proposed statewide charter district that could take over low performing schools) are attempting to graft their bills on to HB5. Negotiations continue.

SB2 Charter Expansion is oing to Conference Committee. The House and Senate appointed conferees to work out differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill. The House reduced the number of additional charters that could be issued and eliminated a “district charter” provision that would allow a local school district to essentially become a home rule district that would be exempt from state standards like class size limits, employee contract protections, etc. SB2 could also become a vehicle for other bills (SB1718) that have failed to pass.

SB1458, TRS Bill: Today, Speaker Joe Straus appointed House conferees on SB1458, the TRS bill. They are Bill Callegari (R), chair, Roberto Alonzo (D), Phil Stephenson (R), Dan Branch(R) and Alma Allen (D).  The conference committee will be working out details for the final bill.

House Floor Report
The House accepted Senate amendments to the following bills and sent them to the governor:

  • HB866 by Dan Huberty, which would reduce the number of standardized tests for some elementary and middle school students. The bill would make tests optional for students in grades 4, 6, and 7 who achieve a score equal to or greater than the minimum satisfactory adjusted scale score for that assessment in grades 3, 5, and 6. The bill would require the Commissioner of Education to seek federal waivers in any case in which the provisions of the bill violate requirements of federal law.
  • HB2318 by Jimmie Don Aycock, which would require the State Board for Educator Certification to review and, as necessary, update standards and requirements for educator preparation programs. The bill also would require the commissioner of education to determine the satisfactory level of performance required on certification examinations. 
  • HB462 by Dan Huberty, which would prohibit the State Board of Education and school districts from adopting common core standards.
  • HB2201 by Marsha Farney, which would add a course in personal financial literacy to the curriculum.

Senate Floor Report
The Senate passed the following bills yesterday:

  • HB1926 by Rep. Ken King, which would open the state virtual school network to for-profit vendors. Sen. Van de Putte amended the bill to add language that would: allow a district to prohibit a student from taking an online course if the district offered a substantially similar course; and limit each student to three, instead of four, courses at the district’s expense.
  • HB1751 by Rep. Diane Patrick, relating to the public school educator excellence innovation program.
  • HB2012 by Rep. Villarreal, dealing with the collection, distribution and use of information relating to salaries and working conditions of public school teachers. Sen. Patrick amended the bill to add the language from his SB1403, which would address educator preparation and mentoring programs, professional development and certification examinations.

The Senate also brought back up HB2836, another test limitation bill by Rep. Ratliff, which had passed on Tuesday, and which had been amended by Sen. West to add the language of his SB1718, which would establish the Achievement School District. Sen. West removed his amendment, and the bill was again passed by the Senate.


May 22, 2013

House passes SJR1

Update: Tonight the House passed SJR1 by 130-16, easily surpassing the two-thirds vote needed to send the measure to voters. The Senate has finally passed HB1025 by 28-3 (Patrick, Campbell, Paxton voting no). See the article below for details.

Budget Deal Finally Beginning to Move

After almost three days of delay, the Senate Finance Committee chair plans to bring up and pass HB1025, the supplemental appropriations billthat includes both water project funding and the final $200 million for public education that he promised last week. House Democrats have withheld support for water funding until the commitment for education funds was met. Passage of Williams’ SJR1, the bill that would allow voters to approve the $2 billion water development fund, will likely be passed by the House when HB1025 is adopted in the Senate. 

Should things go as planned, this will clear the way to approve the conference committee report on Senate Bill 1 later this week, which includes a $3.73 billion restoration of funding cuts for public education. When coupled with the $200 million for public education in HB1025, the budget package will restore $3.93 billion to public education through the Foundation School Program.

Supporters Attempting to Revive Achievement School District bill

Yesterday, it was clear that the so-called “reformers” had the votes to pass SB1718, but it went down due to a technical flaw when a point of order was raised against the bill.

Later last night, Senator West revived SB1718 by adding it as an amendment to HB2836 by Rep. Ratliff, a good bill which would require assessment instruments (tests) to be reviewed by an independent entity.  We have heard reports all day that Rep. Ratliff has persuaded Senator West to remove the SB1718 amendment from the bill because the amendment is not germane to the bill and would ultimately cause HB2836 to be killed on a point of order. The message is clear: SB1718 proponents are still looking for a way to pass their bill, which TSTA opposes because:

  • SB 1718 would allow the education commissioner and Austin bureaucrats to take over local neighborhood schools and facilities and hand them over to private charter operators;
  • The bill would create a special statewide, open enrollment charter district to manage and operate schools rated unacceptable for two consecutive years;
  • Although the House committee limited this bill to 5 campuses a year, the Senate version had no limits and left hundreds of campuses eligible for state takeover, a change that could be made in a conference committee; and
  • SB1718 does not include DAEP standards for discipline or contract protections for teachers.

Teacher preparation bill added to HB2012

After time ran out before the House could consider SB1403 last night, Senator Patrick added the SB1403 language to HB2012 as an amendment today. As originally filed by Sen. Patrick, this bill would have eliminated the salary schedule and based a certain percentage of teacher evaluation on standardized test scores. Our allies in the Senate amended the bill to remove those provisions and the House committee kept the bill “clean.” Today’s Patrick amendment tracked the “clean” version of SB1403.

Virtual/Online Network may be considered by Senate tonight

Senators are negotiating on SB1926, the expansion of the virtual school network. A bill could be considered later tonight. Several changes are being discussed that could “improve” a bad bill, but if the bill goes to conference committee, the results could be bad. We have had the votes to block the bill up to this point, and midnight is the deadline for passing a House bill in the Senate. We will keep you updated.

Updates: Test Reform, TRS, Charter Bills to Conference Committees

HB5, the Testing/Curriculum Reform Bill, is still in a conference committee, where differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill must be resolved before the final version of the bill can be considered. Look out for updates and action alerts on this bill.

TRS Bill Going to Conference Committee: As expected, the Senate refused to concur in the House amendments to SB 1458, We remain optimistic that the conference committee will support the expansion of the 3% COLA to a majority of retirees and also support at least one of the other key House amendments – one that grandfathered all active TRS members and another that authorized a 13th check for all retirees if that could be done while maintaining actuarial soundness. 

SB2 Charter Expansion Going to Conference Committee: The House and Senate appointed conferees to work out differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill. The House reduced the number of additional charters that could be issued and eliminated a “district charter” provision that would allow a local school district to essentially become a home rule district that would be exempt from state standards like class size limits, employee contract protections, etc. SB2 could also become a vehicle for other bills that have failed to pass.

House Floor Report

In addition to the bills discussed above, the House has passed:

  • SB1234 by John Whitmire, which would require school districts to employ truancy prevention facilitators or designate other employees to handle truancy prevention measures. 

  • SB460 by Bob Deuell, which would require instruction in the detection of students with mental or emotional disorders to be included in educator certification training.  

  • SB39 by Judith Zaffirini, relating to the education of children with visual impairments.

  • SB306 by Joan Huffman, dealing with how students in a residential treatment facility are counted for school district accountability purposes. 

  • SB401 by Eddie Lucio, which would require a school district to post information about schools that don’t have fulltime certified school counselors. 

  • SB453 by Bob Deuell, dealing with tuition for students holding United States student visas. 

  • SB709 by Eddie Lucio, which would allow either licensed attorneys or non-attorneys with special knowledge of problems encountered by children with disabilities to participate in special education due process hearings. 

  • SB832 by Wendy Davis, which would require a district or open-enrollment charter school to appoint at least one employee to act as a liaison officer to facilitate the enrollment of a child in state conservatorship. 

  • SB906 by Bob Deuell, dealing with alternate assessments of some students. 

  • SB1404 by Dan Patrick, dealing with attendance and high school completion requirements for students in the conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services. 

  • SB1557 by Eddie Lucio, which would encourage businesses and nonprofits to work with early college high schools to maximize job placement for graduates. 

  • SB1590 by Judith Zaffirini, which would require that curriculum and instructional materials developed by the Texas Education Agency, in collaboration with the Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner and the State Securities Board, include information about the use of insurance as a means of protecting against financial risk.

  • SB1658 by Ken Paxton, dealing with how school districts calculate wealth for school finance purposes.

     

Senate Floor Report

Yesterday, the Senate passed the following bills: HB866 by Rep. Huberty, which would reduce testing requirements in grades three through eight, and HB462 by Rep. Huberty, which would prohibit the State Board of Education from adopting and districts from using federal common core standards to provide instruction of the TEKS. We will provide an update tomorrow of bills the Senate passes today and tonight.


May 21, 2013

Update

HB1718, the Achievement School District bill, has died on a point of order.


May 20, 2013

Contact Your State Representative Now

Call your state rep to vote no on SB1718, oppose amendments to SB1403. To get your Representative’s phone and email information go to: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx.

The Achievement School District bill, SB1718, will be considered by the House tomorrow. SB 1718 would allow the education commissioner and Austin bureaucrats to take over local neighborhood schools and facilities and hand them over to private charter operators. The bill would create a special statewide, open enrollment charter district to manage and operate schools rated unacceptable for two consecutive years. Although the House committee limited this bill to 5 campuses a year, the Senate version had no limits and left hundreds of campuses eligible for state takeover, a change that could be made in a conference committee. SB1718 does not include DAEP standards for discipline, class size limits or contract protections for all teachers at ASD campuses.

Teacher evaluation, SB1403, was approved with no changes by the House Public Education and is on the House Calendar tomorrow. As originally filed by Sen. Patrick, this bill would have eliminated the salary schedule and based a certain percentage of teacher evaluation on standardized test scores. Our allies in the Senate amended the bill to remove those provisions and the House Public Education committee kept the bill ‘clean.” TSTA opposes amendments to SB1403, urging the House to adopt the Senate-passed version with no changes to avoid a conference committee that could undo the progress we made on this bill

Updates: testing, virtual school, parent trigger, voucher
HB5, the Testing/Curriculum Reform Bill, is now in a conference committee where the final version of the bill will be developed. Look out for updates and action alerts on this bill.

The virtual school network bill, HB1926, was voted out favorably by the Senate Education Committee Friday but there will probably be enough votes in the Senate it to keep it off the Senate floor unless the Senate author makes changes to conform to the House-passed version of the bill.

The parent trigger bill, SB1263, appears to be dead unless it is added as an amendment to another bill.

SBs 23 and 115, two voucher bills, are dead and it is unlikely they could emerge as amendments to other bills

TRS Update
SB1458 passed the House today on third and final reading today and it will now go to a House-Senate conference committee. As we told you Friday, TSTA and the few stakeholders who kept working for a better bill were able to improve the bill in both the Senate and the House and we are hopeful the final conference committee product will maintain that progress. As it passed the House, SB1458 would:

  • keep active employee contributions lower than the state’s contributions through the next two years; 
  • provide the first COLA for retirees since 2001 – for employees who retired before 2004 (10 years), which will provide a COLA for a majority of retirees.
  • provide a supplemental “13th check” to retirees, contingent upon actuarial soundness; and
  • “grandfather” all current employees under the rules in place when they originally enrolled in TRS to make sure no one would lose benefits they have already earned.

NOTE: One of the last two provisions above could be removed in conference committee if the final state budget does not provide sufficient funding.

State Budget Update
The conference committee report on Senate Bill 1, the state budget that includes a $3.73 billion restoration of funding cuts for public education, is expected to reach the Senate floor Friday or Saturday. A second bill, HB1025, will include another $200 million for public education and funding for a state water development fund. In total, the budget package will restore $3.93 billion to public education through the Foundation School Program.

CSCOPE Update
Today, Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick announced that “the era of CSCOPE lesson plans has come to an end.” Patrick presented a letter from CSCOPE, signed by 20 members of their board, saying they will cease creating lesson plans for the nearly 900 school districts that use them. The entire management and structure of CSCOPE will be revamped, an education service center executive director said.

Education service centers help provide support for school districts, like developing lesson plans. Patrick said his hope was that smaller districts would get help from larger districts in developing lesson plans, a claim that was met with skepticism by the Vice-Chair of the SBOE, Thomas Ratliff, who pointed out that this decision was a reaction to political pressure that will take a valuable tool out of the school box for 875 small ISD’s and their teachers.

House Floor Report

Today, the House passed the following bills:

  • SB553 by Carlos Uresti, which would allow a school district to give an excused absence to a student for serving as a student early voting clerk in an election.
  • SB816 by Glenn Hegar, which would require an evaluation of a student for special education services to be completed by the 45th school day. 
  • SB831 by Larry Taylor, which would require the Texas Education Agency and regional education service centers to include the following in their list of best-practice programs recommended for school districts:  (1) early mental health intervention; (2) culturally competent mental health promotion and positive youth development; (3) substance abuse prevention; (4) substance abuse intervention; and (5) suicide prevention.
  • SB758 by Tommy Williams, which would reverse the delayed school payment accounting trick that the Legislature used in 2011 to help balance the state budget.
  • SB124 by Jose Rodriguez, dealing with criminal penalties for mishandling school data reported to the Texas Education Agency through PEIMS.
  • SB542 by Kirk Watson, dealing with the use of an alternative method for resolving disputes between parents and school districts over individualized education programs.
  • SB1114 by John Whitmire, which would create a progressive sanction model for dealing with school disciplinary issues at school rather than in the courts.

Today, the House concurred with Senate amendments and sent to the governor HB347 by Jim Pitts, which would expand the current limitations on cell phone use in a school crossing zone to the property, such as a parking lot, of a public elementary, middle, or junior high school. Cell phone use would be prohibited during the time a reduced speed limit is in effect for the school crossing zone.  It would not apply to vehicles that are stopped or to drivers using hands-free devices.


May 15, 2013

Legislative Action Alert: House to vote on TRS bill

On Friday, the Texas House of Representatives will vote on Senate Bill 1458, the TRS retirement bill. It is important that you call your state representatives and urge them to support SB1458 and vote for amendments to grandfather all employees and add a 13th check for retirees. Call this number, and we will connect you to your state representative: 1-800-260-5444.

Please call NOW! Leaving a voice message is just as good as talking to your representative or a staff member. Be sure to tell them you are a TSTA member, that you live and vote in their district and that you want them to support Senate Bill 1458 and vote for the grandfathering and 13th check amendments.

This will take only a few minutes of your time, and it will be time well spent. Your state representative needs to hear from you NOW!


May 13, 2013

Locals score impressive school board wins

Congratulations to TSTA local leaders, members, and staff on an excellent election night Saturday. GREAT WORK!

Our most recent count indicates that 17 TSTA locals were involved in 33 school board races, with a record of 22 wins, 7 losses and 4 runoffs (with 2 candidates leading going into runoff). And we may have a runoff instead of a loss in Socorro – pending clarification of Socorro ISD local rules.

In locals where TSTA provided PAC support, in addition to grassroots local efforts and member communication, we won 15 races, lost 2, and have 4 runoffs.

Ysleta – 2 wins, 2 runoffs (one leading)
EPISD - 1 win, 2 runoffs (1 leading)
Socorro – 1 loss or runoff trailing (don’t have rules nailed down)
Harlingen – 1 loss
Pflugerville – 2 wins
Clear Creek – won 1 key at large election, lost 1 district race
LaMarque – 1 win
Dallas – 4 wins
Pt. Arthur – 1 win, 1 loss
Harlandale – 2 wins
Garland – 1 win

In other locals, TSTA organizing staff provided support, assisted with candidate screening, and in most locals, TSTA also provided mail and phone communications to members.

Spring Branch – 1 win, 1 loss
Killeen – 1 loss
San Marcos, 1 loss, bond election passed
Socorro – loss or runoff (local rules not clear)
San Antonio Alliance – 1 win
Southside – 3 wins
Judson – 2 wins, 1 loss (“support” but no formal endorsement)

TRS update: watch for alerts before SB1458 hits House floor

Please be on the lookout for legislative alerts as SB1458 is expected to move to the House floor this week. TSTA is proud of the work our friend in the Senate did to negotiate a better bill that brings additional state funding into the TRS Fund and TRS Care and keeps active employee contributions lower than the state’s contributions through the next two years while providing the first COLA for retirees since 2001, although it only extends to 30 percent of retirees.

In the House, we are aware of two possible amendments that could improve the bill even more.

  • An amendment to provide a 13th check to all retirees.
  • An amendment to grandfather all current employees under the rules in place when they originally enrolled in TRS (the Senate bill only grandfathered those who will have vested with five years by 9–1-14).

TSTA believes SB1458 is a very important bill and we let you know when the bill is set for debate and let you know about specific amendments to the bill.

Stay tuned for updates on bills related to Teacher Evaluation (SB1403), Parent Trigger (SB1263), Virtual Vouchers (HB1926), and of course, the State Budget.


May 8, 2013

We made a difference! Improved TRS bill passes Senate

Your calls and emails do make a difference!  TSTA kept the pressure on and Senators Watson, Davis and West worked with the Senator Duncan, the author of SB1458, to negotiate a better TRS bill that was approved by the Senate today.

For the next two years, SB1458 would set a TRS state contribution rate that is higher than the rate paid by employees.  The changes in the “new” TRS bill are listed below.
• Secures almost $100 million in additional state funding for TRS to bring the state contribution rate to 6.8% in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 and FY 2015. The previous version of the bill did not increase the rate to 6.8% until FY 2015.
• The previous version of the bill would have increased the employee contribution rate dramatically to 7.7% in FY 2015 - a sudden jolt to take home pay - but the bill passed today would keep the current 6.4% employee contribution rate for FY 2014 and then phase in the increase to just 6.7% in FY 2015.
• When the employee rate increases to 7.2% in FY 2016 and 7.7% in FY 2017 (assuming something better isn’t done next session), any decrease in the state contribution would have to be matched by an equivalent decrease in the employee rate, assuring employees that the employee rate could not exceed combined state and local ISD contribution.
• The COLA and grandfather provisions would remain the same as in the previous version of SB1458 that was agreed to by TRTA and ATPE. All current employees who are now in their 4th year in the system (vested by 9-1-14) would be grandfathered. All retirees who retired by 1999 would receive a 3% or $100 COLA.
• The Senate also added approximately $80 million to the TRS Care fund.
• This bill should help secure the TRS defined benefit plan

We will continue working with legislators in an effort to find additional funding sources that would allow the COLA to be expanded to benefit more retirees and allow all employees could be grandfathered, but the revisions made today to SB1458 have improved the bill significantly and warranted passage by the Senate. SB1458 now goes to the House.

You made a difference. Please thank your Senator for their efforts to improve SB1458.

Notes
• Rates could be changed again after FY 2015 by the next Legislature before higher rates are phased in.
• Any decrease in the state contribution would have to be matched by an equivalent decrease in the employee rate, assuring employees that their contribution could never exceed the combined contribution rate of the state and local school districts.

House Floor Report

Today, the House passed the following bills:

  • HB308 by Dwayne Bohac, which would allow the expressions Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Holidays to be used for educational purposes in public schools. It also would allow for displays for winter celebrations as long as more than one religion is displayed or one religion and at least one secular scene or symbol is displayed. 
  • HB647 by Diane Patrick, dealing with employment of teachers and educational aides by open-enrollment charter schools.
  • HB1122 by Eric Johnson, which would create a pilot program for students in Dallas ISD who wish to obtain a high school diploma after three, instead of the traditional four, years of high school.
  • HB1784 by Marsha Farney, which would allow a public junior college to partner with a public technical institute to provide, as part of the dropout recovery program curriculum, career and technology education courses that lead to industry or career certification. 
  • HB2012 by Mike Villarreal, which would require TEA to collect and post on its website comparative school district salary data from around the state. 
  • HB2450 by Richard Raymond, which would authorize schools in Webb County to operate an alternative discipline pilot program for drug and alcohol-related offenses
  • HB2483 by Carol Alvarado, which would add oral diseases to the list of coordinated health programs from TEA. 
  • HB2707 by Mike Villarreal, which would require ballot language for a school tax rollback election to include the purpose of the proposed tax increase.
  • HB3573 by Jimmie Don Aycock, which would add a teacher certification for health science technology education courses. 
  • HB3907 by Linda Harper-Brown, which would exclude from school dropout and completions rates any student who is reported as a dropout, reenrolls, and drops out again, regardless of how many times the cycle is repeated.  
  • SB1538 by Leticia Van de Putte, dealing with dropout recovery schools and how their student achievement is measured.
  • SB620 by Leticia Van de Putte, which would allow audiologists and speech language pathologists to participate in a loan repayment program if working in public schools. 
  • HB887 by Eddie Lucio III, which would create a sports injury pilot project to be administered by TEA to study concussion injuries suffered in UIL sporting events.

Update from yesterday - Total Cost of HB500 Tax Breaks: $667 million not available to Public Schools

House Public Education Committee Report

Last night, the House Public Education Committee approved the following bills:

  • SB185 by Bob Deuell, dealing with the Texas Education Agency’s collection of information on dyslexic students.
  • SB260 by Wendy Davis, which would require a school district to grant five days of excused absences to students whose parents have returned from or are getting ready to leave on a military deployment of at least four months.
  • SB377 by Eddie Lucio, which would exempt unsatisfactory scores by students of limited English proficiency from counting toward a school’s accountability rating if the students have been in the United States less than three years.
  • SB435 by Robert Duncan, dealing with costs of taking certain courses.
  • SB542 by Kirk Watson, regarding the use of an individualized education program as an alternative dispute resolution method between a school district and a parent of a student with a disability.
  • SB709 by Eddie Lucio, which would allow a student with disabilities and his or her parents to be represented in a due process hearing by a specialist in problems of disabled children or by an attorney.
  • SB715 by Eddie Lucio, which would clarify the use of the term, "school counselor."
  • SB914 by Eddie Lucio, dealing with the inclusion of behavior improvement plans as part of students’ individualized education programs.
  • SB1541 by Leticia Van de Putte, dealing with the authority of bus drivers to discipline students on a school bus.

May 7, 2013

House Public Education to hear Senate bills tonight

Later today and tonight, the House Public Education Committee will hear the following bills. We will let you know which bills are approved by the committee in our next legislative report.

  • SB119 by Jose Rodriguez, which would require El Paso ISD to operate a special program to help students recover from the recent cheating scandal in which the former superintendent was sentenced to federal prison. TSTA supports this bill.
  • SB122 by Jose Rodriguez, which would give a district judge the authority to remove a school board member from office. TSTA supports this bill.
  • HB760 by Steve Toth, which would require a regional service center to get SBOE approval of services or products related to student curriculum.
  • SB172 by John Carona, which would require the education commissioner to include at least two multidimensional assessment tools for use in diagnosing the reading development and comprehension of kindergarten students.
  • SB503 by Royce West, would allow for expanded learning opportunities during an extended school day, an extended school year, or structured learning programs outside of the regular school day. Establishes an Expanded Learning Opportunities Council to study issues concerning expanded learning opportunities for this state's public school students.
  • SB504 by Bob Deuell, which would allow each public school the choice of participating in the spinal screening program for children in grades 6 and 9 or of providing information developed by the Department of State Health Services on abnormal spinal curvature to parents or guardians of the children.
  • SB547 by Kelly Hancock, which would authorize an open-enrollment charter school to be considered as a local government and political subdivision for the purposes of participating in interlocal cooperation contracts, participating in Texas political subdivisions' uniform group benefit plan, and providing self-insurance as a governmental unit. An open-enrollment charter school also would be able to extend workers' compensation benefits to employees of the school by any method available to a political subdivision.
  • SB684 by Bob Deuell, which would remove the requirement that a school district annually assess the physical fitness of students enrolled in grades 3 and higher. Instead, it would require annual physical fitness assessments in grades 3-5; once in grades 6-8; and once in grades 9-12.
  • SB816 by Glenn Hegar, which would require a written report and initial evaluation of a student for purposes of special education services to be completed by  the 45th school day, rather than the 60th calendar day, except for a kindergartner.
  • SB833 by Wendy Davis, which would require TEA to aggregate data on students in foster care in the PEIMS system.
  • SB1142 by Robert Duncan, which would require the commissioner to establish an adult high school diploma and industry certification charter school pilot program.
  • SB1365 by Robert Duncan, which would allow good students to receive credit by exam for some courses and bypass EOC requirements.
  • SB1380 Dan Patrick, which would require school districts to place video monitoring cameras in self-contained classrooms in which students receive special services.
  • SB1474 by Robert Duncan, which would require school districts to give employees and members of the public the opportunity to comment before adopting major curriculum initiatives. The board also would have to provide information on the cost of an initiative and any alternatives that were considered.
  • SB1509 by Kel Seliger, which would include college readiness standards in applied STEM courses defined in the Education Code and include courses offered for dual credit purposes.

TRS Bill, SB1458, Could be Debated Tomorrow

At this time, we have no news about an agreement on a “better” TRS bill that would not require a 1.3% contribution increase be taken from the paychecks of active teachers for the TRS Fund - or leave 70% of retired teachers out of any meager benefit increase. That’s what the latest version of SB1458 would do, and its sponsors insist the state can do no more to fund TRS, even as the legislature considers hundreds of millions of dollars additional tax breaks for business interests – tax breaks that take money out of state funds used for education. We are hopeful changes might be agreed to that would make SB1458 a “better” bill before it would come before the Senate for floor debate. In the meantime, to contact your state senator and urge them to amend the SB1458, call 1-800-260-5444, and we will connect you.

Voucher and Virtual Voucher Bills Still Lack Votes in the Senate
Three bills, SB23, the “Tax Credit Scholarship” voucher bill; SB115, the Special Education voucher bill; and SB1298, the “Virtual Voucher” bill, each lack sufficient votes in the Senate at this time. Thanks for your efforts to defeat vouchers.

State Funding Update
The House-Senate conference committee on SB1, the proposed state budget, has begun meeting in work groups. The House version “restored” $2.5 billion of the $5.4 billion cut from Public Education (a separate bill, HB1025, “restored” $500 million). The Senate version “restored” only $1.5 billion, but during debate on SJR1, a Senate proposal to use the Rainy Day Fund for water, roads and education, Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams pledged to add another $1.4 billion to education from funds generated by local property tax wealth increases. The House has not committed to using that $4.4 billion for education Bottom line: Best case scenario for fund restoration from SB1 appears to be around $3 billion.
The House approved another $500 million restoration of education cuts in HB1025, a supplemental Appropriations Bill that the Senate has not yet considered. Those funds would flow to schools in the current budget year.
The Senate approved a proposed Constitutional Amendment, SJR1, which subject to voter approval, would fund water and road projects and provide another $800 million for education. The House has not approved Rainy Day funding at this time

House Update

House Debates Tax Cut Bill, HB500, which reduces Revenue Available for Schools
Today, the House is debating HB500, a bill that, before amendments were offered, would cut the state business (“margins tax”) tax by roughly $400 million. Margins tax proceeds go into the fund that supports public education, and the Vice Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Sylvester Turner, has argued that HB500 would reduce the funding available to public schools. The bill is expected to pass unless it is derailed by a procedural point.

House Public Education Committee Stops Home Rule, Evaluation Bills
Perhaps the biggest news from the House Public Education Committee meeting Monday night was what the committee didn’t do.  It didn’t take action on several bad bills, including HB2977, which could have linked high-stakes test results to teacher evaluations; and HB3611, which could have made it easier to create home rule school districts and give those local districts the authority to ignore standards in the state education code governing class size limits, teacher contracts and other teacher protections. Since Monday was the last day the committee could approve a House bill, the House versions of those bills are dead for the session. However, we must remain vigilant lest these ideas pop up in the form of amendments to other bills.

In other action, the House committee approved the following Senate bills:

  • SB1538 by Leticia Van de Putte, which would allow public schools designated as dropout recovery schools to be more accurately evaluated under the accountability system. The dropout recovery designation would allow schools to continue to serve students who have, at first, not succeeded for one reason or another, and it would give those students a chance to continue and graduate ready for postsecondary education and/or the workforce.
  • SB123 by Jose Rodríguez, which would allow the education commissioner to investigate a school district for allegations of inaccurate data reported through PEIMS or other reports required by state or federal law.  This would include data used by the Texas Education Agency to make decisions on school accreditation.  The bill also would allow the commissioner to issue subpoenas during investigations initiated for these purposes.   
  • SB376 by Eddie Lucio, which would require schools with 80 percent or more of their students qualifying for a free or reduced-price breakfast to offer a free breakfast to each student. 
  • SB1365 by Robert Duncan, which would increase opportunities for good students to obtain course credits and promotions by examinations.
  • SB1142 by Robert Duncan, which would create an adult charter high school diploma and industry certification pilot program for approximately 150 adults, aged 19 to 50. 

House Floor Report
Thursday is the last day for the House to approve House bills on 2nd reading. After that, only Senate Bills, conference committee reports and Senate amendments to House bills can be considered in the House. A number of Senate bills, including SB2, the charter expansion bill, will be debated in the House during the next two weeks.
 
Today, the House approved the following bills:

  • HB2694 by Mike Villarreal, which would require a school district to select, if available, at least four examinations approved by the State Board of Education (SBOE) for each subject for advanced student placement or for credit for secondary school subjects.
  • HB3327 by Garnet Coleman, which would require the list of recommended best practice-based health programs provided to public schools to include programs in mental health promotion and positive youth development, substance abuse prevention, and substance abuse intervention, as well as programs in early mental health intervention and suicide prevention.
  • HB462 by Dan Huberty, which would prohibit the State Board of Education or any school district from adopting Common Core standards for instruction in essential knowledge and skills. It also would prohibit the education commissioner from adopting a recommended teacher appraisal system based on any national appraisal criteria. The Texas Education Agency also would be prohibited from adopting or developing a statewide standardized test based on Common Core state standards.

Senate Education Committee Report
Today, the Senate Education Committee approved the following bills:

  • SB1304 by Sen. Davis, relating to a requirement for school districts to report disciplinary actions to the commissioner of education.
  • SB1310 by Sen. Davis, relating to standards for school district, public school campus and open-enrollment charter school performance ratings.
  • HB525 by Rep. Aycock, dealing with collecting data on military-connected students through the Public Education Information Management System.
  • HB1264 by Rep. Huberty, relating to information regarding the number of public school students with dyslexia.
  • HB2016 by Rep. Keffer, dealing with a school board’s consideration of a detachment or annexation petition.
  • HB2058 by Rep. Allen, relating to the administration of a high school equivalency examination.
  • HB2137 by Rep. Fletcher, relating to summer school enrollment eligibility.
  • HB1952 by Rep. Thompson - relating to professional development training for certain public school personnel regarding student disciplinary procedures.

May 6, 2013

Senate okays HB5, testing/accountability reform

Today, the Texas Senate adopted its version of House Bill 5, which would reduce the number of high stakes, standardized End of Course exams (EOC’s) from 15 to 5, the same number of EOC’s that were approved by the House when it approved HB5. The Senate made changes to the House-passed version regarding curriculum and diploma paths and campus ratings, differences that will likely be worked out by a House-Senate conference committee. TSTA supports HB5. 

Key provisions of the Senate version of HB5 include:

  • Reduces the number of End of Course from 15 to 5, with a limit of two benchmark tests for each EOC exam students would be required to pass. EOC’s would be required in Algebra I, Biology, English I, English II, and U.S. History;
  • Adopts a “4x4 Flex” curriculum in an effort to maintain rigor while providing flexibility to students to fit their career plans;
  • Guarantees that all high school graduates will have access to TEXAS Grants and post-secondary education; and
  • Preserves the current campus rating system (exemplary, recognized, acceptable, and unacceptable) and, unlike the House version, limits the new “A-F” rating system to districts and not campuses out of a concern that the A-F rating could attract a stigma to an individual campus.

The basic thrust of HB5 remained intact, although Senators offered and adopted numerous floor amendments.  One amendment, supported by Lt. Governor Dewhurst and offered by Senator Williams, would apparently allow a local district to require two additional “diagnostic” tests. We will provide you additional details when we have had the opportunity to analyze the amendments adopted today.  Again, all these issues will ultimately be resolved in a House-Senate conference committee.

TRS negotiations continue in Senate

A number of Senators are still working to reduce the financial burden SB1458 would place on active teachers and to provide a benefit for the 70% of retirees who would get nothing from Senator Duncan’s latest version of SB1458. TSTA believes there are sufficient state funds available to allow the state to contribute to TRS at a higher rate, which could take some of the burden off active members and could make a broader benefit possible, but working to achieve that outcome would require a united effort from all stakeholders.

House floor report

Today and over the weekend, the Texas House approved bills expanding the Virtual School Network to for-profit vendors and authorizing school districts to select a teacher or other employee at each campus for specialized firearms training.

TSTA opposed the Virtual School Network (VSN) bill, HB1926 by Ken King, because it is a vendor bill that would increase profits for some private companies without necessarily improving learning opportunities for public school students. The bill would allow a student to take as many as three online courses a year to be paid for by the school district. A district would be able to deny a request only if the district offered a substantially similar course as part of its regular curriculum. For the first time, TEA would be able to contract with for-profit companies for the VSN courses. Our efforts did prevent the inclusion of a “virtual voucher” provision in HB1926 similar to the one in the companion Senate bill that would have allowed home school and private school students to take online courses paid for with state funds.

HB1009 by Jason Villalba, the so-called “school marshal” bill, would allow a school district to designate a teacher or other employee at each campus to receive 80 hours of firearms training and to have a loaded firearm on campus, ostensibly to improve campus safety in the event an armed intruder attacked the school. The training would be longer and more intensive than the eight hours of training now required for someone to receive a concealed handgun license. The decision to hire or designate a “school marshal” would be optional with each school district, and training costs would be borne by the district. TSTA didn’t take an official position on this bill, although we believe that arming teachers or other school employees is not the most effective way to protect students and school employees from armed campus assaults.

The House also approved:
HB1751 by Diane Patrick, which would replace the educator excellence awards program with the educator excellence innovation program. The new program would be designed to improve educator quality and effectiveness through improved and innovative school district-level recruitment, preparation, hiring, induction, evaluation, professional development, strategic compensation, career pathways, and retention. The bill would authorize a district to seek waivers from the commissioner exempting some campuses from statutory provisions relating to educator appraisals and incentives, staff development, and the minimum salary schedule for certain professional staff. But waivers could be sought only to carry out improvements in accordance with the district's local educator excellence innovation plan.

HB801 by Sergio Munoz, which would allow school districts to request the Texas Department of Transportation to place signs warning hunters to be careful near schools. The districts would have to pay for the signs. The bill also would require the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to include awareness of school property in any hunting safety instruction it provides. The bill was prompted by a recent incident in which students at a middle school reportedly were injured by stray bullets from an individual engaging in target practice near the school.

House committee deadline – bills could be voted on late tonight

Today, Monday, is the deadline for House bills to be reported from committee in the House.  If a House bill has not been approved by a House committee today, it is dead.  The rule, however, does not apply to Senate bills. The House Public Education will meet later tonight and could vote out House bills before the deadline. Two bills that TSTA has opposed are eligible for a vote, but have not yet been announced as bills to be considered.

HB 3611 is a “Home Rule” that would set lower standards for converting to a home-rule school district charter, requiring only a majority vote of the school board, instead of the 2/3rd requirement in statute now. Home-rule school districts, if approved, would allow the district to operate outside required state standards and provisions of the Texas Education Code, such as class size limits, employment contracts, certification standards, etc.  We are hopeful than this bill can be defeated.

HB2977 is a “teacher evaluation” bill that was potentially more harmful when filed, but is now limited to a local option “pilot program.” We will update you on committee action in the morning.


May 3, 2013

Keep calling to demand changes in TRS Bill

Senate Bill 1458, a bill that would make major changes in the TRS retirement plan by taking more money out of the paychecks of active members and providing no benefit increase for the vast majority of retirees, is still pending before the state Senate. A vote could come as early as Monday, and it is important that you call your state senators and tell them to vote AGAINST Senate Bill 1458, unless it is amended to be fairer to TRS participants. To contact your state senator, call 1-800-260-5444, and we will connect you. You can call anytime TODAY, TONIGHT, OR TOMORROW. Leaving a voice message is just as good as talking to your senator or a staff member. Be sure to tell them you are a TSTA member, that you live and vote in their district and that you OPPOSE Senate Bill 1458 unless changes are made. This will take only a few minutes of your time, and it will be time well spent. Your state senator needs to hear from you NOW! For more information about SB1458, go the link at: http://tsta.org/news-center/education-news#NOW


May 2, 2013

On tap tomorrow in the House

HB1926 by Rep. Ken King, a Virtual School Network bill, will be considered on the House floor. The bill opens the door for more private online vendors to offer courses with less stringent accountability than is required for traditional public schools. TSTA opposes this bill
 
Contact Your Senator NOW: TSTA Opposes latest version of TRS Bill - SB1458
Note: Meetings are underway at the Capitol regarding SB1458 at this time. We will update you if the issues change. In the meantime MAKE YOUR VOICES HEARD and encourage your Senator to OPPOSE SB 1458 UNLESS SIGNIFICANT CHANGES ARE MADE TO THE BILL.
 
NOBODY WINS - SB1458 asks too much of active employees and does too little for retirees.
Over two thirds of retirees would not qualify for a COLA, leaving 200,000 retirees without a COLA for 12 years and counting
This bill would hit Texas teachers in the pocketbook, when they already feel disrespected by the state after enduring budget cuts, layoffs and classroom time lost to high stakes standardized tests. This proposal could drive more good teachers from the profession - simply because the state will not step up and do its part.

Asks Too Much
SB1458 proposes an increase in the employee contribution – from 6.4% next year to 7.7% in the following year – coupled with an increase for local ISD’s to a 1.5% contribution. The combination would amount to a take home pay cut for current employees, especially if local districts were having to kick in more to the TRS fund and were unable to provide a pay increase to cover the drain on teachers’ paychecks.
The bill only grandfathers only those teachers vested for five years instead of all teachers, which unfairly impacts 190,000 active employees who would have the rules changed on them in the middle of the game.

Does Too Little
The nominal COLA (3%, capped at $100) for employees who have been retired for 15 years would cover less than one third – only about 30% - of all retirees. The COLA is not guaranteed – COLA depends on how these changes would impact soundness

We Can Do Better – The Legislature Should:
Enact active employee contributions in steps over 3 years to cushion the impact of moving from 6.4 percent to 7.7 percent in one year. If this is about long term actuarial soundness, a phased in step increase would meet that goal, and the state should match such increases;
DO WHAT TRS ACTUARIES RECOMMENDED - provide for a higher state contribution by adding the provisions of HB1383 by Rep. Jim Keffer, raising the state contribution rate to 6.9 percent in fiscal 2014 and 7.4 percent in fiscal 2015 and then maintaining that 7.4 percent rate; and
include the provisions of SB643 (Duell) and HB103 (Larry Gonzalez) to provide a benefit for all retirees in the form of a 13th check during the upcoming biennium.

House Floor Report – Testing Bill Among Those Approved

Today, the House approved the following education bills:

HB866 by Dan Huberty, which would reduce STAAR testing requirements for students in grades 3-8 who met certain performance thresholds. It would eliminate the requirement that students in grades 4, 6, and 7 be assessed in mathematics and reading. It also would eliminate the writing exams in grades 4 and 7 and the grade 8 social studies exam.  Third graders would continue to take mathematics and reading exams. Fifth graders and eighth graders would continue to take mathematics, reading, and science exams. Students who did not achieve a minimum performance threshold on any of their grade 3 or grade 5 STAAR tests would be required to take the same subject-area tests in grades 4 and 6. Students who failed in grade 6 to meet a performance threshold would be retested in the same subject in grade 7. TEA would be required to develop new science tests to be administered in grades 6 and 7 to students who failed to meet performance thresholds in grades 5 and 6, respectively. The bill also would give school districts and open-enrollment charter schools discretion to administer the appropriate grade-level tests to any student in order to determine whether students who were not required to test were performing at a satisfactory level. These optional tests would be administered in the same manner and at the same cost as tests administered to students who were required to test. TEA could not count the scores of students administered optional tests for campus or district accountability ratings.  If any portion of the bill were to violate federal testing requirements, the education commissioner would be required to seek waivers from the federal requirements.  TSTA supports this bill.

HB590 by Elliott Naishtat, dealing with how to diagnose and evaluate children with visual impairments for special education programs. TSTA supports this bill.

HB274 by Carol Alvarado, which would require a school district granted waivers from the 22-1 class size cap for K-4 because of financial hardship to report to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) the number of students in the largest class for each affected grade level at that campus and to include this information in the required content of TEA's regional and district level report.  TSTA supports this bill.

HB842 by Cecil Bell, dealing with college credit programs for career and technical students.

HB1018 by Diane Patrick, which would require the local school health advisory council of each school district to establish a physical activity and fitness planning subcommittee to make policy recommendations to increase physical activity and improve fitness among students.

HB1454 by Naomi Gonzalez, which would require El Paso ISD to hold an event once each school year in which local nonprofit diabetes prevention organizations visit each school campus to educate students in the third through 12th grades about Type 2 diabetes prevention and awareness.

HB1781 by Ken King, dealing with food sales for student fund-raisers.

HB2318 by Jimmie Don Aycock, which would require the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to require an educator preparation program to provide candidates for teacher certification with information concerning skills and responsibilities required of teachers, expectations for student performance based on state standards, the current supply of and demand for teachers in Texas, the importance of developing classroom management skills, and the state's framework for appraisal of teachers and principals.

HB2549 by Diane Patrick, dealing with periodic review of college and career readiness standards in public education.

HB3357 by Bill Callegari, which would make a number of changes to the administration of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. Among other things, it would make employees of charter schools and regional service centers eligible for appointment to the TRS board by the governor. It also would require the board to adopt a code of ethics applicable to trustees, employees, and contractors.

Senate Floor Report
In addition to spending a great deal of time preventing a floor vote on SB1458, the TRS bill, until the issues mentioned above could be addressed, the Senate passed SB 1775, by Senator Royce West, which would require more detailed posting of information about the availability of student transfer opportunities at public and charter schools


May 1, 2013

TRS Update

In an effort to secure the votes needed to bring SB1458 to the Senate floor, Senator Duncan has suggested some possible changes to the bill, including grandfathering all current employees so only new employees would be subject to the age 62 retirement provision. However, that would come with a price: an increase in the employee contribution – from 6.4% next year to 8% in the following year – coupled with an increase for local ISD’s to a 2% contribution. That combination would amount to a take home pay cut for current employees, especially if local districts were having to kick in more to the TRS fund at the same time. We have responded by suggesting that the bill should be changed as follows:

  • amend the bill to guarantee that the employee contribution rate could never exceed the state-local contribution rate (Duncan is OK with this);
  • include the provisions of SB643 and HB103 to provide a benefit for all retirees in the form of a 13th check during the upcoming biennium;
  • provide for the higher state contribution recommended by the TRS actuaries by adding the provisions of HB1383 by Rep. Jim Keffer, raising the state contribution rate to 6.9 percent in fiscal 2014 and 7.4 percent in fiscal 2015 and then maintaining that 7.4 percent rate (which would allow the local contribution to be reduced to 1%); and
  • enact active employee contributions in steps to cushion the impact of moving from 6.4 percent to 8 percent in one year.

Please encourage your Senator to oppose SB1458 until such changes are addressed! Find contact information for your Senator and Representative at:
http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx

Senate Approves SB1718, Achievement School District Bill
On a 26-5 vote, the Senate adopted SB1718, which would create a statewide “Achievement School District” run by an appointed superintendent who would be named by the appointed Education Commissioner. The district could operate campuses that have been rated low-performing for two consecutive years, removing them from local accountability to parents and taxpayers. The Commissioner would have the authority to remove the campuses from the jurisdiction of their local school districts, although that option would not be mandatory.

TSTA attempted to get Senator West to make major changes to SB1718, and although the bill did include provisions that attempt to provide protection for employees at those campuses and a requirement that allows local input, the bill still would allow charters to operate these campuses. This would effectively remove them from state requirements and protections regarding employment protections, discipline and other state standards that apply to neighborhood schools. The bottom line: ultimately, the appointed Commissioner and superintendent would have the discretion to run these campuses from Austin, as they see fit. As many as 38 low performing campuses could be subject to ASD takeover immediately, and another 492 could be eligible if they are low performing for another year.

TSTA will work to defeat this bill in the House because: it removes campus governance from the community, leaving parents and local taxpayers with no decision-making authority about the way the campus would be reconstituted and run; it leaves too much discretion to the appointed superintendent and Commissioner, who would be empowered to replace staff or contract with a charter or other “alternative management group.”

We will issue you timely alerts before House action is taken, and we encourage you to contact your state representative now to express your opposition to SB1718.

House Public Education Committee approves charter expansion bill
Late Tuesday, the House Public Education Committee approved a version of SB2, the charter expansion bill, that is “less-offensive” than the version previously approved by the Senate. But TSTA still opposes the bill because: it would increase the number of charter schools while leaving neighborhood public schools under-funded ; and  expansion would hamper TEA’s already inadequate ability to effectively regulate academically unacceptable charters, which are more common than academically unacceptable traditional neighborhood schools.

The bill, which could be considered soon by the full House, would:

  • remove the home rule “district charter” provision approved by the Senate;
  • gradually raise the cap – now at 215 -- on the number of open-enrollment charter schools that can operate in Texas;
  • beginning with the 2014-15 school year the cap would increase by 10 new charter operators in the first two years plus an additional 10 charters a year after that to a maximum of 275 (the original Senate bill would have eliminated the cap and the Senate-passed bill would allow for a maximum of 305 new charters);
  • give the education commissioner greater authority to revoke the charters of academically unacceptable schools;
  • provide that charters be reviewed only once every 10 years by TEA; and
  • require charter schools designed for at-risk students to remain under the state’s accountability system and be rated each year like traditional public schools (the Senate version of SB2 does not include this requirement).

The Public Education committee also approved the following bills:

  • HB1775 by Ed Thompson, relating to the authority of the University Interscholastic League over activities involving sports officials.
  • HB1122 by Eric Johnson, which would allow Dallas ISD to establish a pilot program for high school students who wish to graduate in three, instead of the traditional four, years. The district would set curriculum for the program with review by SBOE and approval by the education commissioner. State funding saved from the shorter graduation period would be allocated toward pre-kindergarten.
  • HB2483 by Carol Alvarado, which would add oral diseases to the list of coordinated health programs from TEA.
  • HB2542 by Roland Gutierrez, which would direct TEA to study the cost benefit or efficiency of consolidating school districts in Bexar County.

House Floor Action
Today, the House passed.

  • HB642 by Diane Patrick, which would require up to 25 percent of educators’ continuing education include instruction on improving effectiveness in the classroom, recognizing early warning indicators that a student may be at risk of dropping out of school, integrating technology in classroom instruction, educating diverse student populations and increasing knowledge of the subject area taught by the educator. TSTA worked with Rep. Patrick and Rep. Alma Allen to win approval of a floor amendment removing a requirement for annual training. This would give educators more freedom to focus on professional development subject areas.
  • HB697 by Drew Springer, which would provide a sales tax exemption for certain items sold by school booster clubs and support organizations.
  • HB2961 by Dan Huberty, which would prohibit school districts from requiring employees or former employees to allow public access to their social security numbers.

HB580 by Donna Howard, dealing with funding for child care services and transportation for students at risk of dropping out of school.

April 30, 2013

House Public Education Committee meeting now

The House Public Education Committee could vote on the revised charter bill (SB2) tonight. They have started another long hearing, which will include some legislation that TSTA considers harmful to public education, including HB 300 (Home Rule and more) and HB 2976 (“parent trigger”), which are listed below.

We will report tomorrow on House committee action. A new Committee Substitute for SB2, the charter expansion bill has been prepared, and it includes two major changes. Section 2 of the bill, that would have allowed 15% of a school district – or an entire high school feeder patter – to be converted to charter schools that are not subject to numerous legal and employee protections and standards. The number of new charters available each year would be 10, reducing the potential “expanded” number of charters from 305 to 275 by 2019.

Bills being heard tonight include:

  • HB300 by Jason Isaac, which would allow school districts to be exempted from many state standards and regulations -- including important rules governing instruction and employee pay and work conditions -- and turn campuses over to privately run enterprises with little or no public accountability. TSTA opposes this bill.
  • HB2976 by Naomi Gonzalez, which would allow for a so-called parent trigger giving parents the authority to petition for a failing school to be reconstituted – but give parents no say in what happens to that campus when it is reconstituted, a process subject to abuse by private interests. TSTA opposes this bill.
  • SB1406 by Dan Patrick/HB760 by Steve Toth, companion bills that would require a regional service center to get approval from SBOE of any service or product related to student curriculum.
  • HB1201 by Tan Parker, which would require districts to post on their websites information about any local programs and services available to assist homeless students.
  • HB1775 by Ed Thompson, relating to the authority of the University Interscholastic League over activities involving sports officials
  • HB2716 by Craig Eiland, relating to the investment authority of some school districts
  • HB3224 by Garnet Coleman, which would require educator training programs to include instruction in the detection and education of students with mental or emotional disorders.
  • HB3816 by Nicole Collie, which would create a task force to study the referral and evaluation methods for special education services.
  • HB3841 by Eddie Lucio III, which would provide for additional services to districts receiving title 1 funds.

House Floor Action: House Bill 11 blocked; would have spent $2 billion from Rainy Day Fund for water, zero for schools

House Bill 11, which would have scooped up $2 billion of the Rainy Day Fund for water projects but not a cent for public schools, was torpedoed on a procedural point in the Texas House Monday night, following several hours of debate. TSTA is not opposed to funding for Texas water needs, but we opposed HB 11 unless there was also an agreement to use the Fund to restore education funding cuts, and here’s why:
Water is an important issue for Texas, but so are public schools. There is enough money in the $12 billion Rainy Day Fund to begin paying for future reservoirs AND finish restoring the $5.4 billion cut from public schools two years ago.

Two-thirds of Texas voters, according to a bipartisan poll commissioned by TSTA, want legislators to spend part of the Rainy Day Fund to restore the school cuts. By a large margin, voters favor using Rainy Day money for schools over water or highways.

HB11 was blocked on a point of order by Rep. Sylvester Turner of Houston, who also wants to use the fund to pay for schools as well as water. Before Turner stepped in, some Tea Partiers in the House tried to amend the bill to make it even worse. Their amendment would have forced the Legislature to cut $2 billion from other programs, including education, if the Rainy Day bill failed to receive the necessary two-thirds vote.  Had that amendment become law, it could have been crippling for public schools. But Turner’s blow defeated that effort, at least for now.

TSTA thanks all our members who called their state representatives to urge votes against HB11 unless education money was also addressed. Your calls made a difference, but the fight over the Rainy Day Fund isn’t over. So, please watch for future legislative alerts on this issue during the upcoming days and weeks.

Education Cut Restoration Update

The House has voted to restore $3 billion of the $5.4 billion cut two years ago. The Senate has voted to restore $1.5 billion from general revenue, plus another $800 million from the Rainy Day Fund, should a constitutional amendment – SJR1, be adopted by the legislature and the voters.

Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams has pledged to add another $1.4 billion made possible because of increasing property wealth.  Should that $1.4 billion be added to the education budget, the House would have restored $4.4 billion and the Senate $2.9 billion plus a potential $800 million from the Rainy Day Fund. A conference committee writing the final state budget will seek a compromise on those figures, but – without some Rainy Day funding – the effort will fall short of restoring the entire $5.4 billion.

House also approves bill to reduce the number of STAAR tests for 7th and 8th graders

Today, the House approved:

  • HB2836 by Bennett Ratliff, which would eliminate the grade 7 writing and grade 8 social studies STAAR tests, beginning with the 2013-14 school year. It also would require STAAR tests to be designed so that 85 percent of students in grades 3 through 5 could finish in two hours and 85 percent of students in grades 6 through 8 could finish in three hours. The bill also would prohibit the education commissioner from including scores on test questions that assess support knowledge or skills from being used to help determine state accountability ratings.
  • HB671 by Ratliff, which would make it easier for some school districts to reduce their property tax rates.
  • HB885 by Jim Murphy, which would allow charter school applications for bonds, including refunding and refinanced bonds, to be guaranteed by the Permanent School Fund.
  • HB1231 by Helen Giddings, which would exempt students younger than 12 from being charged with criminal offenses for disrupting public school classes or transportation.

TRS: no update

TSTA has been engaged in discussions about possible changes that might improve SB1458 and HB1884. We will let you know as soon as we get any indication that the bill sponsors are willing to make substantive changes.

Senate update: no action on voucher bills

Your calls and emails make a difference. Voucher supporters apparently still lack the votes to bring up voucher legislation on the Senate floor.

Senate Education Committee report

The Senate Education Committee approved two bills today.

  • SB681 by Sen. West, which would allow Dallas ISD to establish a pilot program allowing students to obtain a high school diploma in three, instead of the traditional four, years. DISD would be required to establish curriculum for the program with SBOE review and commissioner approval.  In addition, the WADA the district would have received if the students had stayed for a fourth high school year would be given to the district for use in its Pre-K program.
  • SB 1555 by Sen. Lucio, which require each educator to perform satisfactorily on each section of a generalist examination or each section of a multiple component examination in order to be considered to have performed satisfactorily on the examination as a whole. This is the same language as in Sen. Dan Patrick’s SB1403.

April 29, 2013

Legislative Action Alert: tap into the Rainy Day Fund to restore school money

This afternoon, the Texas House of Representatives will debate House Bill 11, which would spend $2 billion of the Rainy Day Fund on water development projects. Water is an important issue, and so are our public schools. There is more than enough money in the fund to also help restore the $5.4 billion cut from public school budgets two years ago. It is important that you call your state representatives and urge them to vote NO on House Bill 11 until they get a commitment to provide money from the Rainy Day Fund to restore education funding.

To find out who your state representative is and how to contact them, click on the following link and type in your address: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx

Please call NOW! Leaving a voice message is just as good as talking to your representative or a staff member. Be sure to tell them you are a TSTA member, that you live and vote in their district and that you want them to vote NO on House Bill 11 until money from the Rainy Day Fund is used to restore education funding.

This will take only a few minutes of your time, and it will be time well spent. Your state representative needs to hear from you NOW!


April 26, 2013

Test-happy commissioner doesn’t wait for legislature

Also this week, Texas’ test-happy education commissioner, Michael Williams, didn’t wait for the Legislature to complete work on a new accountability system and issued his own. And, despite the widespread parental anger over excessive, high-stakes testing and legislative efforts to curb testing, Williams’ accountability plan would be heavily weighted by testing results.

His plan includes four categories – student achievement, student progress, closing performance gaps and postsecondary readiness. The commissioner says his plan would attempt to improve performances of minority and disadvantaged students and attack the dropout rate. But each category would be heavily dependent on STAAR test scores, which means teachers would be forced to continue teaching to the test, robbing students – especially struggling students -- of critical instruction time essential to their success. TEA plans to issues the first accountability ratings using the new system on Aug. 8.

The commissioner clearly is out of step with most parents and educators, and TSTA will continue to work with the Legislature to reduce the number of high-stakes tests and enact a fairer, more meaningful accountability system that will override the commissioner’s.

Final legislative decisions on testing, accountability and other critical educational issues, including funding and vouchers, will be made within the next few weeks as the legislative session rushes to a Memorial Day adjournment. And, some decisions will be made with little notice. So, keep reading our Legislative Updates and watch out for Legislative Alerts to contact your state senators and representatives when critical votes are scheduled.

To learn who your state senator and state representative are and how to contact them, click on the following link and type in your address: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx

House restores another $500 million in public education funds

Today, the Texas House passed a supplemental Appropriations Bill, HB1025 that restored $500 million to the Foundation School Program to distribute to local school districts for the current fiscal year.  Coupled with the $2.5 million the House added to the Foundation School Program in Senate Bill 1, the House budget writers have now restored $3 billion of the $5.4 billion cut in 2011, and there is still the additional $1.4 billion in funds from increased local property wealth that has not yet been put into the education budget.

Your continued efforts, starting with last year’s “Stop the Cuts” campaign, have played a big role in what we’ve been able to do thus far, and we are not done yet.

The House also passed the following education legislation.

  • HB 2058 by Rep Allen, Alma. Relating to the administration of a high school equivalency examination.
  • HB 897 by Rep. Zerwas. Relating to instruction in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the use of automated external defibrillators in secondary education curriculum.
  • HB 773 by Rep. Farney. Relating to a requirement that students at an open-enrollment charter school recite the pledges of allegiance to the United States flag and the state flag.
  • HB 2137 by Rep. Fletcher. Relating to eligibility of certain persons for enrollment in school district summer school courses.

Late Thursday, the House Public Education Committee approved the following bills:

  • HB462 by Dan Huberty, which would allow the state to continue using its own curriculum standards and would direct the SBOE and school districts not to adopt the national curriculum, Common Core. AP and IB would not be included in this prohibition. It also would prohibit teacher appraisals from being based on national assessments.
  • HB1057 by Jeff Leach, which would prohibit any entity or individual who performs abortions from providing information about abortions in human sexuality or family planning instruction in public schools.
  • HB1415 by Matt Schaefer, which would allow districts to issue "teaching permits" allowing for CTE teachers to receive district permits with commissioner standards in place.  To the extent possible, the commissioner would have to adopt criteria for granting and rejecting a school district teaching permit for career and technical teachers.
  • HB1853 by Bennett Ratliff, relating to a behavior improvement plan adopted for certain students with an IEP.
  • HB2450 by Richard Raymond, which would allow principals to search students and their belongings if they had reasonable suspicion of a problem and parental permission. With parental permission, the principal along with a peace officer or a campus police person would conduct the search. 
  • HB2756 by Dan Branch, which would allow for two additional golden pennies- 6 cents above a district's compressed rate -- to be voted at the local level.
  • HB2872 by Mike Villarreal, which would change the number of allowed student absences to 5 days per semester.
  • HB2952 by Justin Rodriguez, which would give the commissioner of education 240 days to decide an appeal from the district level and an additional 60 days extension if the involved parties agree.

April 24, 2013

TSTA testifies on Senate Bill 2

TSTA spoke in opposition to Senate Bill 2. Here's our testimony:

SB2 would allow school districts to grant campus charter status to campuses serving up to 15 percent of the
students in the district. Campus charters are subject only to the provisions of the Education Code listed in Texas
Education Code Section 12.056(b), so they lack important legal protections not only for teachers and other
educators, but also for the parents and students at the campus. Teacher contracts, certified teachers in the
classroom, and class size limits would no longer be required.

SB2 also focuses on permitting significant open-enrollment charter expansion, while glossing over many critical
issues including research on the charter school movement and performance in Texas. This bill also changes the
charter granting authority over to the Commissioner of Education and away from the State Board of Education.
TSTA further objects to the following provisions in the bill:

• The bill would grant the Commissioner authority to approve 90 NEW charters from now until 2020 in
increments each fiscal year (in addition to those that can be created by colleges and universities or are
eligible for self-replication). TEA has repeatedly indicated that the agency does not have the personnel to
adequately oversee existing charters, much less this kind of expansion.
• The bill allows charters that qualify as special education charters, at-risk charters or out-of-state highperforming
charters to not count against the charter cap, making charter expansion basically unlimited.
• The bill grants automatic renewal of charters after 60 days from submission of a renewal request for both
expedited and discretionary renewals. This practice will practically guarantee that no substantive review
of a charter’s performance will occur before extending a charter.
• The bill grants 10-year terms for charter renewals. In addition to our above concern, this means the
process by which charters should be critically examined will only happen once a decade, if at all. Locking
in a charter holder’s property interest for a decade at a time all but ensures costly litigation in the event
that a charter should need to be terminated.
• Charter schools under the Alternative Education Accountability System (AEA, which requires lower
student performance for a satisfactory rating, though this is not apparent to parents), should be subject to
mandatory revocation procedures for poor performance. SB2 does not make provision for mandatory
revocation of AEA charters.


April 23, 2013

Thanks to your efforts, no voucher votes in Senate

Neither SB23 nor SB115 have come up for a vote in the Senate, an indication that the authors do not have the votes for those bills at this time. Thanks for your efforts and keep the pressure on.

Watch for Senate and House Committee Reports tomorrow

Both the House Public Education Committee and Senate Education Committee are meeting this evening. The House committee is considering Charter Expansion and Virtual School Network legislation, along with a dozen other bills. We will provide you a complete report tomorrow.

TRS Update – Proposed Bills Still Inadequate, Contact Your Legislators

On Monday, the Senate State Affairs and House Pensions Committees approved SB1458 by Sen. Duncan and HB1884 by Rep. Caligari. These are identical bills were filed with the stated purpose of starting an effort to bring the TRS fund up to the statutory definition of actuarial soundness.

However, these bills would take only a small step toward soundness while making major changes in retirement provisions at a cost to many teachers and retirees. In short, the bills ask too much of TRS members for too little in return.

After the committee meetings, TSTA met with Sen. Duncan, Rep. Caligari and TRS staff to discuss the possibility of amending the bills to increase the number of teachers who would be protected from changes by grandfathering clauses. But the legislators refused to negotiate and said the only parts subject to change are the contribution rates that will be set in the final version of the new state budget.

Neither of these bills is favorable to active teachers. They would strip away benefits that have been earned, and they would change the system in mid-stream for those teachers who will not be included in the grandfathering clauses. TSTA opposes both of these bills because of their punitive effect on active teachers.

The only change offered in the bills from the original version was lowering the benefit reduction for teachers who retire before age 62 from 5% per year to 2% per year. Moreover, Sen. Duncan said that the legislature would do nothing during this session to address the imminent shortfall for TRS-Care. Without legislative action now, that fund will be facing a $1 billion shortfall next session.

Your state senators and state representatives need to keep hearing from you. There still is time to get these bills amended, but only if active and retired TSTA members flood their legislators’ offices with phone calls and emails before these bills are debated by the full House and the full Senate. If you don’t know who your state representative or state senator is, click on the following link, type in your address to learn who they are and how to contact them: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx

If passed in their current form, the TRS bills would:

  • raise the minimum age of retirement to 62, with a grandfather clause that would include those eligible for retirement under the current system within the next five years;
  • impose a benefit reduction for those who retire before age 62 of 2 percent per year;
  • impose a 1 percent charge to ISDs not currently paying into Social Security – a cost to ISDs of about $220 million a year;
  • reduce the amount of interest paid on idle accounts from 5 percent to 2 percent;
  • set a minimum age of 62 to enter TRS-Care, with the same grandfathering provision set out for retirement;
  •  eliminate TRS ActiveCare III; and
  • propose a COLA of 3 percent to those retirees who have been retired for 20 years or more when the Fund becomes actuarially sound.

Senate Approves Additional Education Funding

After hours of negotiation, the Senate approved Senate Joint Resolution 1, which, if approved by the voters next November, would provide Rainy Day Funding for roads, water and education funding. The original SJR1 did not include funding for education. SJR1 provisions include:
$4.9 billion for roads and water funds, and an additional $800 million for public education - $500 million for formula funding and $300 million for the DATE program (merit pay)

TSTA opposed diverting of $300 million to merit pay and several amendments were offered to the bill, including: Senator Wendy Davis offered amendments that would have put all $800 million into formula funding; Senator Kirk Watson offered an amendment that would have “evened out” the funding at $2 billion each for water, roads and education. The Davis and Watson amendments were not approved.

Senator Royce West offered a successful amendment that targeted the DATE funding for educators working at low performing, hard to staff campuses.

Perhaps most importantly, Senator Williams indicated that increasing property wealth would result in another $1.4 billion in state education funding in addition to the $800 million from SJR1 and the $1.5 billion from SB1.

TSTA will monitor legislative action to make sure that money is added to SB1 funding and not substituted for it. If all this funding goes as discussed today, Senate action could restore $3.7 billion of education funds if the $300 million in DATE funding is included. Of that total, $3.275 billion would be restored directly to districts from formula funding of the $1.4 billion were restored to formula funding, $125 million would be added to TEA grants (some pre-K and SSI).

Finally, if the $1.4 billion were added to current House funding levels for HB1, which go entirely to formula funding, the House could restore $4.4 billion without Rainy Day Fund money ($2.5 billion in SB1, $500 million in a pending supplemental appropriations bill and $1.4 billion from property wealth increases).

The differences in House and Senate budget bills will be worked out in a conference committee

House Defeats, then Approves, Lottery Commission Sunset (and Education $)

Today, the full House considered HB2197, the Lottery Commission Sunset bill. The bill was initially defeated, which could have eliminated the lottery and the $2.2 billion the lottery generates for a public education budget of roughly $43 billion in state funding in the two year budget.
TSTA acted immediately, urging the House to reconsider the vote. The vote was reconsidered and the Lottery Commission Sunset bill was approved with 101 votes in favor, securing the $2.2 billion for public education generated by the lottery.


April 22, 2013

Alert: call senators about voucher bills!

This week, the state Senate could vote on Senate Bills 23 and 115, two voucher bills that would spend state tax dollars on tuition for students to attend private schools. It is important that you call your state senators and tell them to vote against Senate Bills 23 and 115, to vote against taking tax dollars from public schools to benefit private schools. To contact your state senator, call 1-800-260-5444, and we will connect you.

You can call anytime TODAY, TONIGHT OR TOMORROW. Leaving a voice message is just as good as talking to your senator or a staff member. Be sure to tell them you are a TSTA member, that you live and vote in their district and that you oppose spending tax dollars on private school tuition.

This will take only a few minutes of your time, and it will be time well spent. Your state senator needs to hear from you NOW!


 

April 19, 2013

SBOE tells legislators to stop diverting education funds

On a 10-5 vote, the State Board of Education has adopted a resolution rejecting all attempts to divert public dollars away from public schools: “RESOLVED, That the Texas State Board of Education calls on the Texas Legislature to reject all attempts to divert public dollars away from public schools in the form of vouchers, taxpayer savings grants, tax credits, or any other mechanisms that have the effect of reducing funding to public schools.”


April 17, 2013

Make your voices heard!

Virtual vouchers, A-F ratings, Achievement School District, tax credit scholarship voucher, and testing bills could hit the Senate floor soon. A number of major bills – many of which could have a harmful impact – could be considered on the Senate floor within the next week to 10 days. Be on the lookout for Legislative Alerts ,and please contact your senator about these bills. Contact TSTA if you want more information on these bills.

  • SB1298 – Virtual Voucher/Vendor Bill – would open the door for private online learning companies to pop up, potentially costing teacher jobs as private companies enroll more students on line, outside the traditional classroom. Online learning has value, but it should not become a welcome wagon for profiteering.
  • SB1408 – A-F Accountability Ratings - SB1408 provides the Commissioner complete discretion to set the A-F school rating criteria without any guidelines set by the Legislature. A similar A-F regime is also provided in HB5 (the testing/accountability bill), but it links the ratings to curriculum and accountability criteria. Grading schools with an A-F designation could attach a stigma to schools that could benefit private school operators seeking to take over campuses.
  • SB23 – Tax Credit Voucher Scholarships – this is Senator Patrick’s voucher bill that we have described in detail before. We believe we have the votes to block this bill but please keep up the pressure.
  • SB1403 – Teacher Evaluation – this bill originally eliminated the salary schedule and could have mandated the use of test scores for a % of teacher evaluation. Those provisions were eliminated and weakened, but could be added back onto the bill by amendment.
  • SB1718 – (see more detailed description below) Senator West has modified his “Achievement School District” bill substantially to try to provide protections, but it still would set up a statewide school district, run by a superintendent appointed by the Commissioner, that would govern campuses deemed low-performing for two consecutive years.
  • SB218 – (see description below) the TEA Sunset bill is an all-encompassing bill that could be loaded up with any of the bills listed above, and more, by amendment.

Demand Rainy Day funding to restore education cuts!

SJR1 would ask Texas voters to approve $6 billion from the $12 billion Rainy Day Fund to establish water and road-building funds.  Contact your Senator with this message.

  • SJR1 should also use the Rainy Day Fund to restore public educations made in 2011.
  • Polls show that 66% of Texas voters believe the RDF should be used to fully restore the education cuts, twice as many as support using the Fund for water and roads.
  • The Senate version of SB1, the state budget bill, restored $1.5 billion of the cuts, $2.5 billion short of restoring the education formula cuts and $3.9 billion short of fully restoring all education cuts.
  • Should the Senate fail to use the RDF for education while putting $6 billion into water and roads, the Senate’s priorities will be at odds with those of Texas voters.
  • The state has the money to provide adequate funding for our schools and the infrastructure needs addressed in SJR1. For too long, students and teachers have been asked to do more with less. Texas must do more to provide the resources needed to educate a growing student population.

To find your Senator, go this website, type in your name and address, and you will be given the Senator’s contact information: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx

Senate Passes SB1263 Parent Trigger Bill

SB1263 passed today on a 26-5 vote. TSTA opposed the bill. We will oppose the bill in the House because of the following concerns.

  • None of the options available in response to a parent trigger petition – repurposing the campus, alternative management, or closure - has been consistently successful in improving school or student performance.
  • The parent trigger allows parents to voice discontent with a school, but it provides no way for them to choose the kind of positive reforms that might promote the best practices for parent involvement from the ground up.
  • Texas has a better option available in Sec. 12.052 of the Education Code, which allows a substantial majority of parents and teachers at a campus to develop a campus charter within the school district, an option that provides genuine parental involvement in a school-community partnership.
  • By contrast, the parent trigger process can pit parents against teachers and undermine home-school partnerships, which are critical to student success
  • SB1263 also creates a potential for abuse, disruption and divisiveness to school communities when “outside” interests provide support for petitioners in an attempt to get a campus converted and turned over to a private or charter contractor. 

Senate Education Committee Approves Testing/Accountability Bill

Yesterday, the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday approved a revised version of HB5, a bill already approved by the House to make significant changes in testing, curriculum and accountability. Committee Chairman Dan Patrick substituted the bill passed by the House with a committee substitute that includes portions of his own SB3 and SB1724. The revised HB5 would:

  • Reduce the number of end-of-course (EOC) exams for high school graduation from 15 to five, including English I and English II, Algebra I, biology and U.S. history. The House version of HB5 did not include an English I test but would divide English II into separate reading and writing exams.
  • Require high school juniors to take the ACT or SAT college entrance exam at state expense.

The committee also added amendments that would address the issues of tracking, diploma requirements, and comp ed funds used for remediation purposes. Neither the committee substitute nor the amendments were immediately made available for analysis.

TSTA supported HB5, specifically provisions that would reduce the number of EOC tests, eliminate the requirement that EOC scores count toward 15 percent of course grades and eliminate the cumulative score requirement.

The Education Committee also approved:
SB218 by Sen. Patrick, the TEA sunset bill, would abolish the State Board for Educator Certification and move all responsibilities of the board to the Commissioner of Education with an appointed advisory committee.  The bill also would give TEA broad and sweeping subpoena power in its investigations of certified personnel.  TSTA opposed the bill because these proposed changes would remove teachers from their own governing board and would give TEA subpoena power that would be broader than what any other agency or court currently can exercise.

SB1718 by Sen. West, which would establish a statewide Achievement School District. The ASD would be overseen by a single superintendent, appointed by the Commissioner (with no accountability to local taxpayers). Hundreds of campuses could be transferred to the ASD, which could decide to turn them over to charter management, after the next academic ratings are released.

The ASD could require any school rated academically unacceptable for two consecutive years to be transferred to its jurisdiction.

Despite attempts to remedy this problem, the bill fails to allow for campus-based parent-teacher charters under Sec. 12.052 as currently established, leaving that decision up to the Commissioner instead of the local school board

Sen. West introduced a committee substitute that would prohibit private educational management organizations from managing any of the schools in the ASD and would require community consultation before the Commissioner could consider transferring a school to the ASD.

However, employees and students of this district could lose a number of legal protections unless additional changes are made. 

Finally, the bill does not specify how a school may gain an acceptable level of performance and be released from the ASD.

The Senate Education Committee also approved the following bills:

SB1309 by Sen. Davis, dealing with assessment alternatives or accommodations for public school students in special education programs.
SB1557 by Sen. Lucio, relating to business participation in supporting early college high schools.
SB376 by Sen. Lucio, relating to breakfast for certain public school students.
SB1243 by Sen. Hegar, dealing with the issuance of interest-bearing time warrants and certain notes by school districts.

Marathon House Public Education Committee Meeting Report

During a 14 hour meeting that lasted until the early morning hours Wednesday, the House Public Education Committee heard about 20 bills, some favorable and some that are part of the “Texans for Education reform” privatization agenda.

The good…
HB3495 by Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso, is a TSTA-supported bill that would take steps to head off another test-driven cheating scandal (like the recent El Paso ISD scandal) by prohibiting a school district from offering any employee a financial incentive based on student performance on assessment tests, such as STAAR. To boost his paycheck with a $56,000 bonus, EPISD’s former superintendent manipulated the administration of standardized tests. He ended up in federal prison, and many students suffered disruption in their educations or dropped out as a result of his greed. EPISD now operates under the control of a board appointed by the state education commissioner, and TSTA – through the El Paso Teachers Association -- is supporting three candidates who are committed to teaching, not testing, in the May 11 school board elections.

The bad…
TSTA testified against HB2977 by Rep. Jason Villalba, which would require the education commissioner to link teacher evaluations – and pay – to student scores on standardized tests. TSTA supports meaningful teacher evaluations, which should be fair, include trained evaluators and be properly funded. The bill was left pending.

TSTA also opposed:

HB1926 by Rep. Ken King, which would expand the Virtual School Network to include non-profit, private or corporate providers and allow students to take an unlimited number of electronic courses with no district intervention. It was left pending.
HB3611 by Rep. Gary Elkins, which would lower the vote threshold for a district to become a home rule school district and remove certified teachers and Chapter 21 requirements from home rule provisions. It also was left pending.

TSTA supported the following bills, which the committee left pending:

HB462 by Rep. Dan Huberty, which would prohibit the commissioner from incorporating the results of student test scores when adopting or recommending a new appraisal process.
HB742 by Mark Strama, which would create a summer grant program for districts with high enrollments of educationally disadvantaged students. It would be limited to 10 school districts, focus on pre-K through eighth grade and provide additional compensation for teachers working during the summer.
HB1319 by Sylvester Turner, relating to cardiac assessments of participants in extracurricular athletic activities sponsored or sanctioned by the University Interscholastic League.
HB2607 by Dan Huberty, which would provide for telephone conference calls in grievance proceedings.
HB3809 by Marsha Farney, which would clarify the use of the term, "school counselor."
HCR68 by Marsha Farney, a resolution that would designate first full week of May as Texas Teacher Appreciation Week.

The committee also heard the following bills, and all were left pending:

HB296 by Eddie Rodriguez, which would require a school to provide a free breakfast to each student if more than 80 percent of the school’s students qualify for free or reduced-price breakfasts.
HB945 by Debbie Riddle, which would abolish the county board of education and office of county school superintendent in Harris County.
HB1122 by Eric Johnson, which would allow Dallas ISD to create a pilot program under which some students could obtain a high school diploma in three, instead of four, years.
HB1751 by Diane Patrick, which would change the Educator Excellence Awards Program to the Educator Excellence Innovation Program.
HB1899 by Craig Eiland, which would allow a school district that contracts for windstorm and hail insurance to receive an allotment equal to the required premium for the insurance, not to exceed an amount specified by commissioner rule.
HB2057 by Alma Allen, dealing with information provided to parents in disputes over individualized education programs for students with disabilities.
HB2450 by Richard Raymond, relating to school searches of students with parental consent and disciplinary measures that may arise from such searches.
HB2594 by Mark Strama, dealing with academic or fine arts competitions among high schools that take place on Sundays.
HB3776 by Jason Isaac, relating to payments made in lieu of ad valorem taxes.
HB3802 by Dwayne Bohac, dealing with parental requests for transfers from one campus to another.
HB3907 by Linda Harper-Brown, which would prohibit students who drop out of school, re-enroll and then drop out again from being counted in dropout and completion rates, regardless of how often they repeat the cycle.

The Committee also approved the following bills, which had been heard and left pending in previous meetings: HB343, HB1230, HB274, HB284, HB647, HB946, HB1831, HB2004, HB3573, HB2367, HB2610, and HB2824.


April  12, 2013

Demand Senators Use Rainy Day Fund to Restore Education Cuts

Senate Finance Committee OK’s Using Rainy Day Fund for Water, Roads – Not Education

Thursday morning, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams laid out SJR1, a proposal to ask Texas voters to approve $6 billion of the $12 billion to start two funds, one to support water projects and the other to support roads and highways. Williams initially hinted that he might consider adding funds to restore education cuts in response to questioning from Senator Wendy Davis, and Senator Royce West offered an amendment that would have added $2.4 billion for public education, but he withdrew the amendment and the committee approved Williams’ proposal.

Williams also made a misleading claim that education was cut by only $800 million in 2011, although it official state documents cite the $5.4 billion cut in state funds. Williams’ proposal will need 21 votes to pass the Senate and 11 Senators could block the bill until education funding is included. Yesterday, TSTA issued a press release that cited our TSTA poll data that indicates Texas voters’ top priority for the Rainy Day Fund is using it to restore the 2011 education cuts.

Be on the lookout for Legislative Alerts and call your Senator now and demand that they include education funding before voting for the Rainy Day Fund proposal.

Senate Approves SB2 Charter Expansion Bill

The Senate approved a charter expansion bill, Senate Bill 2 by Sen. Patrick that now goes to the House.  Although Patrick accepted enough amendments that “improved” some of the worst provisions of the bill and secured its passage, SB2 would raise the cap that allows no more than 215 open-enrollment charter schools and replace that with a rolling cap on charters as follows: the cap would increase by 10 in 2014-15; 15 in 2015-2017; 20 in 2017-20; 15 in 2020-21; and 10 per year thereafter.

Sen. Patrick claims the bill would make it easier to shut down bad charters, but that is unlikely, given that TEA does not have enough personnel to currently keep up with shutting down bad charters under the lower cap and there are no additional funds in the budget for TEA enforcement. Instead, the bill could end up inviting more bad charter operators to Texas. TEA General Counsel David Anderson said during a committee hearing on the bill that, under the current cap, 10 to 15 new charters are available each year to replace closed charters. The bill was amended by the committee to remove Patrick’s original unlimited cap, but the measure is still potentially harmful for Texas school children and taxpayers.
TSTA opposes SB2.

Senate Education Committee Approves Voucher Bill, Despite House Rejection; Moves Teacher Evaluation Bill to the Floor
The Senate Education Committee on Thursday approved two private voucher bills and a teacher appraisal bill, all opposed by TSTA.

• Senate Bill 23 by Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick would give businesses tax credits for money they would contribute to scholarships to help a small number of students attend religious or other private schools. Supporters of the bill call them “tax credit scholarships,” but don’t be misled. They would take tax money that would be spent on public schools and divert it to private schools. An overwhelming House majority has already rejected vouchers, and we believe there are enough votes on the Senate floor to block its passage, but we need you to contact Senators to make sure the bill is defeated.
• The other voucher measure is Senate Bill 115 by Sen. Williams, which would spend tax dollars on private school vouchers for special education students. This also would take tax dollars from public schools, which is where most special education students will continue to be educated.
• The committee also approved an objectionable teacher appraisal bill, Senate Bill 1403 by Sen. Patrick, which could allow STAAR results to be used to evaluate a teacher’s performance. Sen. Patrick removed other language from the bill that would have deleted the minimum salary schedule. But the measure is still bad news for teachers.


The Education Committee also heard the TEA sunset bill, Senate Bill 218 by Sen. Patrick, which would abolish the State Board for Educator Certification and move all responsibilities of the Board to the Commissioner of Education with an appointed advisory committee. The bill would also give TEA broad and sweeping subpoena power to use in its investigations of certified personnel.  TSTA opposed the bill on the basis that these proposed changes would remove teachers from their own governing board and that the broad subpoena power is something that no other agency or court currently has the authority to exercise. The bill was left pending.

The Education Committee also approved the following bills for consideration by the full Senate:

• Senate Bill 906 by Sen. Deuel, relating to developmentally appropriate assessment of special education students.
• Senate Bill 542 by Sen. Watson, relating to alternative dispute resolution methods for students with disabilities.
• Senate Bill 1658 by Sen. Paxton, relating to the effect of certain state aid on school districts required to take action to equalize wealth under the school finance system.

House Approves Two Education Bills

In other legislative action on Thursday, the House approved the following bills and sent them to the Senate for further consideration:
• HB 525 by Jimmie Don Aycock, which would direct TEA to collect data on military connected students through PEIMS. The data could not be used to determine performance ratings.  TSTA supports this bill.
• HB 753 by Mike Villarreal, relating to supplemental education services. TSTA supports this bill.


April 10, 2013

A note of thanks

I want to take a moment to express my appreciation to Government Relations Specialists Portia Bosse and John Grey, who cover the House and Senate respectively for TSTA. They work long hours during session analyzing legislation, attending hearings and testifying on your behalf, and they do a great job. -- Ed Martin, TSTA Public Affairs Director


Senate Bill 2: Charter Expansion Awaiting Senate Floor Action

TSTA and all Texas teacher organizations oppose Senate Bill 2 and we are working together to prevent it from being considered on the Senate floor. Contact your Senator to express your opposition to Senate Bill 2. A copy of the letter sent to Senators expressing our reasons for opposing SB2 can be found here: http://www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/SenateBill2.pdf

TSTA strongly opposes voucher proposals at Senate hearing

Despite the House’s overwhelming rejection of vouchers last week, on Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee Chair plowed ahead and his committee heard two private school vouchers bills – Senate Bills 23 and 1575. Both were strongly opposed by TSTA because it is bad public policy and just flat wrong to divert tax dollars from public schools – which is where the vast majority of Texas school children will continue to be educated -- to pay for unproven privatization schemes. It would be particularly wrong to do so following the $5.4 billion in education budget cuts two years ago, which the Legislature has not yet agreed to fully restore. Advocates of vouchers misleadingly call their bills “choice” legislation, when, in fact, they would offer no choice to most Texas children and their parents. The committee delayed action on both bills.

SB23 by Education Chairman Dan Patrick would allow businesses to receive tax credits for contributing up to 15% of their state tax bill, money that would otherwise go to public schools,  toward scholarships for students to attend private and parochial schools. This plan would cost the state, and public education, $100 million per year. Make no mistake, these tax-credit scholarships would nothing but a new way to pay for private school vouchers.

SB1575 by Sen. Donna Campbell would establish a more direct voucher program. It would give a small number of parents direct grants of state aid that could be used to pay partial tuition at private schools. Sen. Campbell declared vouchers to be the “civil rights issue of our time,” when, in truth, they would steal money from public schools and public school students to enrich private school operators.

Education Committee Approves “Virtual Voucher” bill – contact your Senator NOW!

The Senate Education Committee, over TSTA’s objections, advanced another privatization scheme. It approved Senate Bill 1298 by Sen. Hegar, which would provide for a massive expansion of the Virtual School Network and online education courses. The bill would offer private vendors an immeasurable amount of public education dollars that would be siphoned from public schools, to the detriment of the traditional classroom. A committee substitute to the bill was adopted, but its language has still not been made available. TSTA opposed this bill, along with the Coalition for Public Schools. Please contact your Senator to express your opposition to SB1298 before it comes to the floor for a vote.

The committee also approved the following bills:

  • Senate Bill 709 by Sen. Lucio, which would allow lay advocates, rather than just attorneys, to represent parents in special education disputes with school districts.
  • Senate Bill 914 by Sen. Lucio, which would clarify that a behavior improvement plan for a student with a disability must be provided to a teacher as part of the student’s individualized education program.
  • Senate Bill 1556 by Sen. Seliger, relating to the establishment of the School Safety Advisory Council and School Safety Certification Program.
  • Senate Bill 1062 by Sen. West, relating to the transportation of a student entitled to a public education grant.
  • Senate Bill 1775 by Sen. West, relating to student eligibility to attend public school districts and charter schools, student transfers and the Public Education Grant Program.

TSTA opposes Achievement School District Bill, TEA Sunset Bill

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to heard numerous bills, including two significant measures, the so-called Achievement School District Bill and the TEA Sunset Bill.  TSTA testified against both bills, and both bills were left pending in committee.

The Achievement School District would be created by HB 1957 by Rep. Harold Dutton. The statewide district, which would be run by a superintendent appointed by the state education commissioner, would remove control of failing campuses from local, elected school boards and be run appointed officials, the commissioner and a superintendent he would appoint.

The statewide district would manage a failing campus for at least three years with a goal of improving performance to acceptable levels. TSTA testified that this arrangement could require teachers and parents to take their concerns about campus management to Austin, which, in the case of many schools, would be hundreds of miles away.  We also questioned how failing schools would be administered day-to-day at the local level. Would they be managed by for-profit or non-profit operators? If for-profit operators were allowed to contract with TEA to manage troubled campuses, that would put Texas farther down the road to school privatization, which TSTA opposes. You can read TSTA’s written testimony, which also was submitted to the Committee at: http://www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/TSTAcommentsCSHB1957.pdf

HB 2983 by Dutton, the TEA Sunset Bill, would abolish the State Board for Educator Certification and move all responsibilities of the Board to the Commissioner of Education with an appointed advisory committee.  The bill also would give TEA broad and sweeping subpoena power to use in its investigations of certified personnel.  TSTA testified against both these provisions, pointing out that every other profession, even cosmetology, has a governing board that includes professionals from the industry. And sweeping subpoena power would be an over-reach of authority.

The Committee approved the following bills for consideration by the full House:

  • HB 101 by Kolkhorst, relating to the use of radio frequency identification technology to transmit information about public school students.
  • HB 202 by Stickland, which would allow extra unexcused absences for students to visit with parents or guardians who will be or have been deployed on military duty.
  • HB 343 by Marquez, which would require the filing of financial disclosure statements by trustees of an independent school district with the Texas Ethics Commission.
  • HB 628 by Dale, relating to the right of a school trustee to obtain information, documents, and records from the district.
  • HB 773 by Farney, which would require students at open-enrollment charter schools to recite the pledges of allegiance to the United States flag and the state flag.
  • HB 885 by Murphy, relating to the guarantee of refinanced open-enrollment charter school bonds by the Permanent School Fund.
  • HB 887 by Rep. Lucio, which would limit the number of full-contact practices that may be held by a high school or middle school football team.
  • HB 897 by Zerwas, relating to instruction in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the use of automated external defibrillators in secondary education curriculum.
  • HB 1231 by Giddings, relating to the application of the offenses of disrupting public school classes or transportation to persons younger than 12.
  • HB 1328 by Villarreal, relating to public school accountability for bilingual education, English as a Second Language and other special language programs.
  • HB 1952 by Senfronia Thompson, relating to professional development training for certain public school personnel on student disciplinary procedures.
  • HB 2137 by Fletcher, relating to eligibility for enrollment in school district summer school courses.
  • HB 2318 by Aycock, relating to public school educator preparation and alternative certification programs.
  • HB 2836 by Ratliff, relating to state assessment instruments administered in grades 3 through 8.
  • TSTA opposed the following bills heard by the committee and left pending:
  • HB 1415 by Rep. Matt Schaefer, which would allow districts to issue district teacher permits to people teaching career and technology education classes. Such permits wouldn’t require any TEA oversight.
  • HB 1568 by Rep. Drew Springer, which would financially penalize districts for offering benefits to same-sex partners.

TSTA supported the following bills, which were left pending:

  • HB 2824 by Rep. Bennett Ratliff, which would allow additional campuses to be added to the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium with TEA’s consent.
  • HB 274 by Rep. Carol Alvarado, which would require districts granted class size waivers to report the number of students added to each affected class and the resulting total number of students in each affected class.
  • HB 904 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez, which would require districts to report to TEA the number of students enrolled in each class of each grade level from K through 12 on Oct. 1 of each school year.
  • HB 921 by Rep. Roberto Alonzo, which would provide for a seal to be affixed on diplomas for students satisfying requirements for bilingualism and biliteracy.
  • HB 2004 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez, which would prohibit an unsatisfactory assessment for a student of limited English proficiency during the student’s first three years of enrollment in the U.S.

The following bills also were heard by the Committee and left pending:

  • HB 44 by Rep. Dan Flynn, would impose a temporary moratorium on administering student tests through Sept. 1, 2015.
  • HB 599 Rep. Jose Lozano, would require the commissioner to establish an educator recruitment and retention program through which districts could receive grants for stipends to recruit and retain successful classroom teachers and principals.
  • HB 1374 by Rep. Harold Dutton, which would allow home-schooled students to participate in UIL activities in the districts where they live.
  • HB 1525 by Rep. Matt Krause, which would allow use of school premises for religious purposes if they also are used by non-curricular organizations.
  • HB 2076 by Rep. Dan Flynn, which would allow school districts to assess students in grades 3 through 8 by an alternative system to STAAR, if the commissioner approves.
  • HB 2104 by Rep. Harold Dutton, which would allow a charter to be considered an open enrollment charter high school and assessed as a Dropout Prevention and Recovery Charter High School if certain conditions are met.
  • HB 2182 by Rep. Dan Flynn, would change the deadline for special education services from the 60th calendar day to the 60th school day.
  • HB 2542 by Rep. Roland Gutierrez, would direct TEA to study the cost benefits or efficiency of consolidating districts in Bexar County.
  • HB 2610 by Rep. Jim Pitts, dealing with the issuance of interest-bearing time warrants and certain notes by school districts.
  • HB 2662 by Marsha Farney, which would require the curriculum to include at least half a credit in personal financial literacy.
  • HB 2666 by Rep. Van Taylor, which would repeal the mandatory school start date and set the tax-free weekend for back-to-school clothes and supplies on the third Friday in August.
  • HB 3573 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, would add certification for a health science technology education course.

April 8, 2013

Controversial bills on the agenda this week

A number of controversial bills will be considered in House and Senate Committees tomorrow, including “tax credit scholarship” voucher bills, virtual schools legislation and a statewide “Achievement District” proposal.

The Senate Committee on State Affairs and the House Committee on Pensions met today to hear testimony on the TRS Omnibus bills, Senate Bill 1458 and House Bill 1884. Committee substitutes were offered for both bills, which would substantially alter retirement eligibility requirements and benefits. Notwithstanding these bills, the TRS defined benefit plan does appear to be secure at this time.

No action was taken on the bills today as TSTA, committee members and numerous witnesses from other educational organizations raised a number of concerns.

As the bills relate to active teachers, the bills would attempt to make the Trust Fund actuarially sound, while increasing the burden on active teacher. 
The bills would raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62, while grandfathering in some, but not all, current members. The retirement age change would essentially strip away benefits from many TSTA members who have earned them and are relying on them. TRS members who would retire before 62 and would not be grandfathered in would have their annuity reduced by 5 percent per year. ISDs that do not pay into Social Security to pay an additional 1 percent into the Trust Fund, which could affect a District’s ability to properly fund teacher salaries.

As the bills relate to retiree benefits, some retirees could see a COLA at some point in the future, but there is no guarantee when or if that would happen.
The bills propose a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to those retirees who have been retired for at least 20 years, but the COLA is not guaranteed and is capped at $100 per month. In order for TRS to implement a COLA, the Trust Fund would have to be actuarially sound after the disbursement of the COLA in order to allow the Fund to take on the liability of the COLA. TRS testified that these changes may not make the fund “actuarially sound” (under the current statutory definition) for at least six or seven years, a long time to wait for a potential benefit increase.

TSTA appeared and laid out the above-listed problems with the bill and asked the committees to: expand the retirement grandfathering clause to all current active members; expand the eligibility requirements of the COLA; and guarantee the COLA.


April 5, 2013

TSTA issues release on House budget

“The House budget would restore less than half of the $5.4 billion — about $500 per year per student — cut from our public schools two years ago. That is an improvement over the Senate’s budget, but it still shortchanges Texas’ school children,” said Texas State Teachers Association President Rita Haecker in a news release this morning. Although the House approved a better public education budget than the Senate yesterday, the House version of Senate Bill 1 still would not come close to fully repairing the damage from last session’s education budget cuts.

“The Legislature must use all available funds, including part of the $12 billion Rainy Day Fund, to restore all of the school funding, and that can be done without raising anyone’s taxes. Most Texans expect their lawmakers to do the right thing, and that is to give our students and teachers the resources they need to succeed,” Haecker added.

Haecker applauded House members who voted 103-43 for an amendment by Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, to prohibit spending tax dollars on private school vouchers. That amendment was added to Senate Bill 1 with strong support from both Republicans and Democrats.

“Legislators need to fully fund our public schools, not divert tax dollars to unproven privatization schemes,” she said.

A recent bipartisan poll commissioned by TSTA showed that two-thirds of Texas voters believe that restoring the school funding cuts should be a top priority for using the Rainy Day Fund. The support was strong among Republicans, Democrats and independents.

The House budget would restore $2.5 billion — or 46 percent — of the education cuts. Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts plans to add another $500 million in a supplemental appropriations bill, but that would still fall short of restoring school budgets. The Senate budget would restore only $1.5 billion — about 28 percent — of the cuts.


April 3, 2013

Call today or tomorrow!

Please call your state representative today, tonight or tomorrow. Call 1-800-260-5444, and we will connect you. On Thursday, the Texas House will debate its version of Senate Bill 1, a budget plan that would restore less than half (only 46%, or $2.5 billion) of the $5.4 billion cut from public schools two years ago. This is an improvement over the Senate plan, which restored only $1.5 billion (28%) of the cuts. It is important that you call your state representatives and urge them to vote to restore the entire $5.4 billion, either in Senate Bill 1 or in a Rainy Day Fund or supplemental budget bill to be debated later.

To contact your state representative, call 1-800-260-5444, and we will connect you. You can call anytime TODAY, TONIGHT OR TOMORROW. Leaving a voice message is just as good as talking to your representative or a staff member. Be sure to tell them you are a TSTA member, that you live and vote in their district, that the funding cuts have hurt the quality of education for your students and they must vote to restore ALL of the education cuts.
This will take only a few minutes of your time, and it will be time well spent. Your state representative needs to hear from you NOW!


Senate Education Committee Discusses School Ratings, Teacher Evaluation; Commissioner Williams Announces Change in School Rating System

In an appearance before the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, Education Commissioner Michael Williams announced that he intended to change the current accountability rating system, switching to an A-F system from the current Exemplary to Academically Unacceptable system. The Commissioner announced that he would make the change beginning in 2014 -- without the approval of the Legislature.

TSTA Opposes Senator Patrick’s Anti-Teacher Bill

The committee also considered but left pending several major bills, including Chairman Dan Patrick’s SB1403, which would make major changes to teacher salaries and evaluations. TSTA testified against the measure.

SB1403 would:

  • Eliminate the minimum salary schedule and place the annual salary floor at $41,000, with no guarantee of step increases, and allow for salary reductions for teachers who make more than the minimum.
  • Require multiple measures for evaluations, but STAAR results would account for 25 to 50 percent of a teacher’s overall evaluation.
  • Seek to implement incentive pay for teachers, which would be tied to STAAR results.

In testimony against SB1403, TSTA focused on the bill’s provisions that would tie a proposed evaluation system to student performance on standardized tests and the elimination of the salary schedule.

The committee also heard testimony on and discussed other bills without taking action. Two bills require close attention.

SB1718 by Sen. West, which would establish the Achievement School District. The ASD would be overseen by a single superintendent, appointed by the Commissioner. The Commissioner would be able to require any school that has received an academically unacceptable rating for two consecutive years to be transferred to the jurisdiction of the ASD. Sen. West introduced a committee substitute that eliminated several objectionable portions of the bill. The substitute would prohibit private educational management organizations from managing any of the schools in the ASD. The substitute also would require community consultation before the Commissioner could consider transferring a school to the ASD, and it would protect the jobs of teachers who would be affected by a transfer of their school to the ASD.

TSTA testified and expressed several concerns with the bill. For one, the ASD could potentially have as many as 530 schools after the next academic ratings are released, and all of these schools would be overseen by one superintendent – an extremely ambitious and difficult undertaking. Also, the bill doesn’t say how a school could gain an acceptable level of performance and be released from the ASD. In short, this model poses a number of serious concerns.

Sen. West invited TSTA and other stakeholders to work with him on language that would address problems with the bill.

SB1298 by Sen. Hegar, which would create a massive expansion of the Virtual School Network and online education courses. The bill would offer private vendors an immeasurable amount of public education dollars that would be siphoned from public schools -- to the detriment of the traditional classroom. TSTA and the Coalition for Public Schools opposed this bill. Be prepared for Legislative Alerts should this bill reach the Senate floor

Other legislation considered included:

  • SB503 by Sen. West, which would establish the Expanded Learning Opportunities Council to study and make recommendations for expanded learning opportunities for public school students.
  • SB1062 by Sen. West, dealing with the transportation of a student entitled to a public education grant.
  • SB1406 by Sen. Patrick, dealing with the State Board of Education’s oversight of regional education service center services and student curriculum products.
  • SB1474 by Sen. Duncan, relating to the adoption of major curriculum initiatives by a school district.
  • SB1775 by Sen. West, dealing with student eligibility to attend public school districts and charter schools, student transfers and the Public Education Grant Program.
  • SB929 by Sen. Paxton, relating to equal opportunity access by home-schooled students to University Interscholastic League sponsored activities.

House Approves School Transfer Bill
The full House on Wednesday approved HB222 by Rep. Huberty, which would allow a student to transfer to another public school in the same or a different district if 50 percent or more of the students at the student’s current school fail to perform satisfactorily on state assessments for two consecutive years. Current law sets a failure requirement of two of the preceding three years.


House Public Education Committee Holds Marathon Tuesday-Wednesday Meeting
Meeting until the early morning hours on Wednesday, the House Public Education Committee heard about two dozen bills, including measures dealing with discipline, charters and sex education curriculum.  All were left pending. The bills were:

  • HB284 by Rep. Zedler would require a school district to maintain the transaction register for its checking accounts in a searchable electronic spreadsheet with check information on the district’s website.
  • HB308 by Rep. Bohac would allow for the use of the greetings -- Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Holidays -- for educational purposes in public schools. It also would allow for displays of winter celebrations to include religious symbols as long as more than one religion is displayed or one religion and at least one secular scene or symbol is displayed.
  • HB343 by Rep. Marquez would require school trustees to file financial statements required of other state officers with the local board of trustees and the Texas Ethics Commission. Failure to file would be a Class B misdemeanor. TSTA supported this bill.
  • HB344 by Marquez would require an exit interview questionnaire for a superintendent leaving a district and require TEA to conduct an exit audit upon receipt of the questionnaire. TEA also would be required to assess the condition of the district once the superintendent leaves and review any complaints made against the superintendent relating to equal opportunity for persons of all ethnic groups, women or persons with disabilities.  TSTA supported this bill.
  • HB504 by Rep. Hernandez Luna would prohibits TEA, SBOE or any school district from requiring administration of a standardized criterion-referenced or norm-referenced assessment instrument, including an achievement test, to students in pre-kindergarten or kindergarten.   TSTA supported this bill.
  • HB853 by Rep. Susan King would allow for a student with limited English proficiency to be granted an exemption from or postponement of a STAAR assessment for up to three years after initial enrollment in a school in the US. A student would be granted another two-year exemption if he or she was an unschooled asylee or refugee. TEA would be required to seek a waiver from the federal government, if necessary.  TSTA supported this bill.
  • HB866 by Rep. Huberty would amend testing requirements for mathematics in grades three and five; reading in grades three, five and eight; writing in grades five and eight; social studies in grade eight; and science in grades five and eight. TEA would determine the minimum satisfactory adjusted score. Students not performing satisfactorily at those grade levels would have to be retested at the next grade level. The commissioner would have to seek a waiver from any conflict with federal law.  TSTA supported this bill.
  • HB887 by Rep. Lucio would limit high school and middle school football teams to one full contact practice per week.
  • HB918 by Rep. Walle would require districts to report yearly to TEA all data describing the total number of citations issued to and arrests made of students for the preceding school year, organized by campus.
  • HB946 by Rep. Giddings would require districts to report annually to the commissioner information about each offense not involving the use of a weapon committed on school property by students younger than 12.
  • HB1057 by Rep. Leach would prohibit any person or entity that performs abortions from providing human sexuality or family planning instruction or instructional materials in public schools. TSTA opposed this bill.
  • HB1230 by Rep. Giddings would prohibit districts from assigning a teacher in grades K through 6 who does not hold the appropriate certificate for two consecutive school years. It would apply to grades 7 through 12 for courses tested in STAAR. TSTA supported this bill.
  • HB1231 by Rep. Giddings would exempt students younger than 12 from being charged with the offense of disrupting public school classes or transportation.
  • HB1501 by Rep. Raymond would require a minute of silence at public schools every year on Sept. 11.
  • HB1952 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson would require principals and other administrators overseeing student discipline to attend professional development training at least once every three years.   TSTA supported this bill.
  • HB2040 by Rep. Giddings would prohibit districts from issuing citations against students younger than 17 for alleged criminal actions on school property. Districts instead would have to file complaints with a criminal court.
  • HB2318 by Chairman Aycock would require educator preparation programs to provide candidates for teacher certification with information concerning the following: (1) skills and responsibilities required of teachers; (2) expectations for student performance based on state standards; (3) the current supply of and demand for teachers in this state; (4) the importance of developing classroom management skills; and (5) the state's framework for appraisal of teachers and principals. The bill also would require periodic review of educator prep and alternative cert programs.  TSTA supported this bill.
  • HB2367 by Rep. Alma Allen would give bus drivers the authority to discipline students on school buses.
  • HB2582 by Rep. Linda Harper-Brown would allow renewal of a charter upon expiration of a term unless the commissioner decides not to renew based on listed statutory guidelines.  TSTA opposed this bill.
  • HB2694 by Rep. Mike Villarreal would require the commissioner to establish a state level program for students in public secondary education to receive credit by examination for any course required or offered by Texas public high schools.
  • HB2836 by Rep. Ratliff would require development of criterion referenced assessment instruments.   TSTA supported this bill.
  • HB3319 by Rep. Crownover would expand the charter cap to 10 additional new charters each year.  It also would allow for streamlining the expansion process for existing charters, allow out of state charters easier access to Texas and provide for a revocation process.  TSTA opposed this bill.
  • HB3808 by Rep. Farney would require the commissioner to evaluate the student population when assigning a performance rating to a dropout recovery school or a campus or open-enrollment charter school that is a residential facility. TSTA supported this bill.
  • HB3810 by Rep. Farney would require all disciplinary actions resulting in the removal of student from any part of the regular school program to be reported to TEA.

March 26, 2013

House Bill 5 passes House, charter debate still to come tonight in committee

Please go to http://tsta.org/news-center/education-news for details.


March 21, 2013

House Appropriations approves plan to restore $3 billion of education funding cuts

The House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the new 2014-2015 state budget today, by voting on two bills that would restore $3 billion of the $5.4 billion cut from public schools two years ago. That would be twice the amount that the Senate voted to restore in its version of the budget approved on Wednesday.

The full House is expected to debate the budget, SB1, on April 4.

The House version of SB1 would restore $2.5 billion of the money cut in 2011. In addition to the $1.5 billion the Senate approved yesterday, the committee added another $1 billion in an amendment offered by Chairman Pitts. The committee also approved an additional $500 million for public schools in a separate, supplemental appropriations bill that would cover needs in the current fiscal biennium.

TSTA considers the House committee version of SB1 a significant improvement over the Senate-passed budget, and we will continue working to secure full restoration of the education funds cut in 2011.

The House version of SB1 also would increase the state contribution rate for TRS to 6.6 percent.

Chairman Patrick changes, delays vote on charter expansion bill

Also today, Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick postponed a committee vote on his SB2, which would lift the cap on the number of charter schools in Texas. Patrick said he would take a vote during next Tuesday’s committee meeting and laid out a committee substitute designed to overcome continuing opposition to the bill.

Patrick’s committee substitute would delete a provision in the original bill that would:
replace a provision to require school districts to let charters buy or lease their unused facilities for $1 a year and establish instead  a lease/buy provision at fair market value with  charters having the first right of refusal;
institute a “rolling cap” for the number charters;
provide that three members of a new seven-member Charter School Authorizing Authority be members of the State Board of Education; and
change the term of charter renewal from 20 years to 10 years and make closure of a charter mandatory after three years of poor performance. 

Patrick also laid out an amendment that he said would keep historically bad charter operators from opening schools.

In other action, the Senate Education Committee approved:

  • SB547 by Sen. Hancock, which would provide immunity to open-enrollment charter schools in the same manner as ISDs and would classify open-enrollment charters as governmental units under the Civil Practices & Remedies Code. The bill also would allow charter schools to pool for insurance purposes.
  • SB832 by Sen. Davis, which would require each school district to appoint at least one employee to act as liaison officer to facilitate the enrollment or transfer of a child in the conservatorship of the state. The bill also would require TEA to maintain a list of district liaisons and provide training. The bill was sent to the Local & Uncontested Calendar.
  • SB833 by Sen. Davis, which would require TEA to aggregate data on students in foster care in the PEIMS system. This bill also was recommended for the Local & Uncontested Calendar.

The Committee also heard SB1538 by Sen. Van de Putte, dealing with the performance evaluation of a dropout recovery school or a campus or open-enrollment charter school that is a residential facility. In such cases, the commissioner would be required to adjust the criteria on which performance is evaluated to appropriately evaluate the student population, so as to not downgrade a school that does not fit into traditional public school parameters. This bill was left pending.

Sen. Davis to hold two education town halls on April 6

If you are in Tarrant County, Sen. Wendy Davis, a strong supporter of public education, is holding two town halls on Saturday, April 6 to hear your views on the state of public and higher education in Tarrant County and discuss current proposals in the Legislature, one in Arlington at the Mac Bernd Professional Development Center (Arlington ISD), beginning at 9:30 a.m., and the other in Fort Worth at Martin Hall on the campus of Texas Wesleyan University, beginning at 2 p.m.


March 20, 2013

Haecker says Senate neglecting students

TSTA President Rita Haecker said today that she hopes the House does a better job than the Senate in addressing the needs of Texas public schools, educators, and students. “Our state senators should not be congratulating themselves for neglecting the school children of Texas. The budget plan they approved doesn’t come close to restoring the $1,062 that the Legislature cut from each student two years ago,” Haecker said.

“Legislators must use all available funds, including the $12 billion Rainy Day Fund, to finish repairing the damage inflicted on the schools in 2011. This money belongs to the taxpayers, and most taxpayers expect lawmakers to spend part of it on their local public schools. There is enough money in the Rainy Day Fund to restore all the education cuts and meet other important state needs without raising another dime from Texas taxpayers,” Haecker added.

A recent bipartisan poll commissioned by TSTA showed that two-thirds of Texas voters believe that restoring the school funding cuts should be a top priority for using the Rainy Day Fund. The support was strong among Republicans, Democrats and independents.

The Senate budget plan would restore only $1.5 billion, about one-fourth, of the $5.4 billion slashed from public school budgets two years ago. The background story follows.

Senate Budget Adopted, Senators File Rainy Day Fund Amendment:Today, the full Senate approved Senate Bill 1, a budget plan that would restore only about one-fourth of the $5.4 billion cut from public schools two years ago. The 2011 cuts reduced funding by $1,062 per pupil, dropping Texas to 49th in the country in what we spend for each child the state educates. SB1 would increase funding by only $1.5 billion, which would cause a per pupil increase of only $4 to $200 per pupil, depending on how funding formulas distribute funds among local school districts.

Senator Wendy Davis did an excellent job in pointing out the deficiencies proposed education funding in Senate Bill 1, pointing out very clearly the Senate’s failure to use a variety of available resources to fully restore education funding. You can watch video of Senator Davis’ comments by going to: http://www.senate.state.tx.us/avarchive/ and going to the March 20 Senate Session. Senator Davis’ questions and remarks begin at the 3:28 and 3:44 marks of the video.

The bill was passed by a 29-2 vote, with Senator Davis and Senator Sylvia Garcia voting no. Several other Senators voted for the budget for other reasons but spoke of the need to restore additional public education funding before the session ends, either by using the Rainy Day Fund or changes in the budget as the process moves to the House and Conference Committee.

Thanks to all who called their Senator’s office. As we move forward, TSTA locals will be encouraged to contact your legislators and work with TSTA Public Affairs to develop local press stories and events that illustrate in real terms the harm the cuts have done and the need to restore funding. Be on the lookout for more Legislative Alerts as more critical issues are considered in the House and Senate.

Senators File SJR 63, a constitutional amendment to Let Texans Vote to use the Rainy Day Fund to restore education cuts: Today, Senator Wendy Davis, along with Senators John Whitmire, Rodney Ellis, Eddie Lucio, Royce West, Jose Rodriguez, and Sylvia Garcia, filed a proposed constitutional amendment, which if passed and approved by the voters, would return $4 billion to their school districts over the next two years from an estimated $12 billion in the Rainy Day Fund. 

"The people of Texas have borne the cost of $5.4 billion in budget cuts to their schools.  And, the Rainy Day Fund belongs to the people," said Davis.  "They have the right decide if they want to use a portion of the estimated $12 billion in the Fund to hire teachers, acquire technology or lower their property taxes."

SJR 63 would make a one-time appropriation to school districts to help them to restore part of the $5.4 billion in budget cuts made by the state in the last session.  If approved by two-thirds of the Legislature and passed by voters, the proposal would send $4 billion to the Foundation School Program, the amount cut from the FSP in 2011.  The funding would flow to districts by increasing the basic allotment -- the amount districts receive per student -- by approximately $400 for each student for both 2014 and 2015. School boards could then decide to use the money to provide property tax relief, hire teachers, reduce class sizes, repair facilities, acquire technology or high-speed Internet service, or provide school security systems.


March 18, 2013

Senate to Debate SB1, State Budget Bill, Tomorrow

As you probably know from our Legislative Alert and phone campaign, tomorrow (Wednesday, March 19), the full Senate will debate Senate Bill 1, a budget plan that would restore only about one-fourth of the $5.4 billion cut from public schools two years ago.  Please call your state senator and ask your senator to vote to restore the entire $5.4 billion, either in Senate Bill 1 or another budget bill (that would use the Rainy Day Fund for roads and water) that will be debated in the future. Your state senator needs to hear from you NOW!

 

Senate Education Committee Approves Testing/Assessment Bill, Leaves Charter and Gun Training Bills Pending

Testing: Today, the Senate Education Committee approved a committee substitute for Senate Bill 1724 by Chairman Dan Patrick to overhaul the assessment system. The measure now goes to the full Senate. Among other things, the bill would: reduce the number of end-of-course (EOC) exams from 15 to seven; EOCs would remain for ELA I, ELA II, Biology, U.S. History, and Algebra and each would have a reading and writing component; per an amendment by Senator West, the bill would prioritize using comp education funds for remediation of students who failed an EOC assessment.

Charters: The committee did not consider a substitute for Chairman Patrick’s SB2, which, as originally filed, would have lifted the cap on the number of charter schools and set up a new state authority to regulate charter schools. Senator Patrick is reportedly trying to develop a more limited bill that could gain committee approval.

Gun Training for Educational Employees: The committee discussed but left pending Chairman Patrick’s SB17, which would require the Department of Public Safety to establish and maintain a training program for school employees who hold licenses to carry concealed handguns and are designated by their school boards for the training on school safety and the protection of students. The bill would require DPS to provide the training program at no charge for two employees at school campuses that do not have security personnel or a commissioned peace officer assigned full-time to the campus. Sen. Patrick introduced a committee substitute that would address liability issues and provide that no educator can be forced to take the training. Sen. Lucio sent up an amendment that would allow for gifts, grants, and donations to be used in the implementation of the bill.

The committee also approved and recommended the following bills for the Local & Uncontested Calendar:

  • Senate Bill 65 by Sen. Nelson, which would require the commissioner to establish a healthy schools recognition program under which schools are recognized for successfully implementing programs that encourage student health and fitness.
  • Senate Bill 453 by Sen. Deuell, which would deal with charter school tuition payments for foreign students who are in Texas legally but don’t have foreign exchange student visas.
  •  Senate Bill 435 by Sen. Duncan, which would make it clear that a school district is not required to pay a student's tuition or other associated costs for taking a college credit course.
  • Senate Bill 684 by Sen. Deuell, which would make the physical fitness assessment mandatory but reduce the number of grades in which the assessment may be administered.

Also discussed by the Senate committee and left pending were:

  • Senate Bill 832 by Sen. Davis, which would require each school district to appoint at least one employee to act as liaison officer to facilitate enrollment or transfer of a child in the conservatorship of the state. The bill would also require TEA to maintain a list of district liaisons and provide training.
  • Senate Bill 833 by Sen. Davis, which would require TEA to aggregate data on students in foster care in the PEIMS system.

House Public Education Committee Approves Bills on Continuing Education, High School Equivalency Exams: Today, the House Public Education Committee approved the following bills.

HB234 by Rep. Guillen, which would allow a district to apply to TEA for an optional flexible school day for students for any campus that would benefit from the program.

HB642 by Rep. Diane Patrick, which would require that 25 percent of training for educator continuing education include instruction regarding collecting and analyzing information that will improve effectiveness in the classroom; recognizing early warning indicators that a student may be at risk of dropping out of school; integrating technology in the classroom instruction; education diverse student populations; and increasing knowledge of the subject area taught by the educator.

HB 2058 by Rep. Alma Allen, which would require SBOE to develop and deliver high school equivalency examinations and provide for the administration of the examinations online for persons in custody of a public agency.

The House committee also heard the following bills without taking action:

  • HB 101 by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, which would prohibit the mandatory use of wireless identification system devices by school districts to track students but would allow for voluntary use if authorized by a school board and approved by a parent or guardian. Such a device couldn’t be used to penalize students. 
  • HB 202 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland, which would allow a student to be excused for a maximum of ten days if the parent or legal guardian is an active duty member of the armed services, is on leave, or returning from continuous deployment of at least six months.  TSTA supports this bill.
  • HB 590 by Rep. Elliott Naishtat, which would require a student’s evaluation for a special education program for the visually impaired to: (1) include an orientation and mobility evaluation conducted: (A) by a person who is appropriately certified as an orientation and mobility specialist, as determined under commissioner rule; and (B) in a variety of lighting conditions and in a variety of settings, including in the student's home, school, and community and in settings unfamiliar to the student; and (2) provide for a person who is appropriately certified as an orientation and mobility specialist to participate, as part of a multidisciplinary team, in evaluating data on which the determination of the child's eligibility is based.   TSTA supported this bill.
  • HB 628 by Rep. Tony Dale, would give a school board member an inherent right of access to school documents and records without having to submit a public information request. 
  • HB 897 by Rep. John Zerwas, which would require SBOE to include instruction in cardiopulmonary resuscitation for students in grades 7 through 12 at least once before graduation. 
  • HB 1156 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen, which would repeal the law requiring school districts to assess the physical fitness of a student. 
  • HB 1328 by Rep. Mike Villarreal, which would improve the evaluation of programs that affect students of limited English efficiency. TSTA supports this bill.
  • HB 2016 by Rep. Jim Keffer, which would prohibit petitions requesting detachment and annexation  of school districts without the consent of the majority of the trustees in each district under the consolidating agreement. 

House Pensions Committee Hears Bill to Increase State Contribution to TRS Retirement Fund: Yesterday, the House Pensions Committee heard testimony on HB 1383, by Rep. Jim Keffer and numerous co-authors. The bill, which was left pending, would amend the Government Code to require the state to contribute between 6 and 10% of the aggregate annual compensation of all members of the Teacher Retirement System of TX (TRS) during each fiscal year. The bill would require a state contribution rate of 6.9% of total compensation in fiscal year 2014 and 7.4% of total compensation in fiscal year 2015.

TSTA registered in support of HB1383.
 
Chairman Callegari commented that the appropriations committee would ultimately decide on the bill's content. The bill would require an appropriation of about $375 million from the state budget. Any increase in the state contribution would likely be accompanied by a similar increase in employee contributions.  Given the fact that investments alone are not likely to improve the secure the statutory definition of “actuarial soundness,” the state will not provide increased benefits for retirees without taking steps like HB1383.


March 15, 2013

Issues that impact local organizing, school board elections

Elections have consequences, and not all of them are bad. Last year, you helped TSTA elect new legislators and return some who had lost in 2010. Now, those winning candidates that we supported are filing bills that directly address key organizing issues that impact our members. And these same issues could and should become issues used to screen candidates in locals with school board elections this May.

In addition to our efforts to restore funding cuts, scrap high stakes testing and stop vouchers, here’s a menu of bills that address issues local leaders and organizing staff can use on the ground this spring. To read the text of these bills go to the following link and type in the bill number in the “Search Legislation” box: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/

HB1154, by Rep. Mary Gonzalez, would provide due process protections for ESP’s.

HB2456, by Rep. Justin Rodriguez, would reinstate the 45 day notice provision before a “RIF.”

HB3495, by Rep. Joe Moody, would prohibit a district from basing compensation on results from as assessment instrument like the STAAR test.

HB2457, by Rep. Justin Rodriguez, would establish a petition process to allow a district to withdraw from TRS Care

HB3328, by Rep. Abel Herrero, would establish a process for a district to withdraw from TRS Care after 5 years (both this bill and HB2457 would provide a vehicle for other matters concerning withdrawal from TRS Care)

HB904, by Rep. Mary Gonzalez, would require districts to report class sizes for all grades in their PEIMS report

HB1852, by Rep. Joe Moody, would require class sizes to be reported to parents on report cards.

HB925, by Rep. Joe Moody, would increase penalties for “impairing” PEIMS data (cheating on test score results).

HB2455, by Rep. Justin Rodriguez, would require charter teachers to meet the same standards as other public school teachers.

ALERT: Call your state senators for full school funding!

On Wednesday, the full Senate is expected to debate Senate Bill 1, a budget plan that would restore only about one-fourth of the $5.4 billion cut from public schools two years ago. It is important that you call your state senators and tell them to vote to restore the entire $5.4 billion, either in Senate Bill 1 or in a Rainy Day Fund budget bill, which will be debated later. If you don’t know who your state senator is, call 1-800-260-5444, and we will connect you.

You can call anytime March 18 or 19, day or night. Leaving a voice message is just as good as talking to your senator or a staff member. Be sure to tell them you are a TSTA member, that you live and vote in their district, that the funding cuts have hurt the quality of education for your students and they must vote to restore ALL of the education cuts.

This will take only a few minutes of your time, and it will be time well spent. Your state senator needs to hear from you NOW!

House Appropriations Committee Approves Proposed State Budget, HB1
Today, the House Appropriations Committee voted out their version of the proposed budget, House Bill 1. The bill includes funding for public school enrollment growth, but it does not include additional funds for public education at this time. Yesterday, the Senate approved a bill that added an additional, but still inadequate, $1.5 billion for public education.

House leaders have indicated they will add additional education funding as the process moves forward, but have yet to set am amount. Today, committee Vice Chair Rep. Sylvester Turner of Houston made an impassioned argument for additional education funding, which could still be added to HB1, SB1 (the Senate bill that will be the budget vehicle this session), or to a proposal to spend rainy Day Fund revenue for water projects.
Let your legislators hear from you

When legislators hear from voters back home, in your own words, it really makes difference. Please keep contacting your legislators and urging them to restore the education cuts, scale back high stakes testing, oppose private school vouchers or “tax credit scholarships” and protect the teacher retirement fund. To find out who your legislators (state senator and state representative) are and get their contact information, go to this link and type in your address: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx


House Appropriations Committee budget restores only 27%

Correction: House Appropriations Committee budget restores only 27% - or $1.5 Billion - of the $5.4 billion cut from education in 2011.

Yesterday, we reported that the House Appropriations Committee’s proposed House Bill 1 provided funding for enrollment growth but did not provide additional funding for public education. However, a rider was added that does add an additional $1.5 billion, which is only 27.7% of the $5.4 billion cut in 2011.

Earlier this week, the Senate Finance Committee also added $1.5 billion to Senate Bill 1, the proposed budget bill that will be debated Wednesday on the Senate floor. The two proposals differ slightly. The House committee put the entire $1.5 into formula funding that goes to local districts through the Foundation School program. The Senate used $125 million of that funding for a variety of grant programs administered through TEA.
House leaders are still discussing the possibility of adding additional education funding as the process moves forward, but there is no certainty that will happen. In order to add additional funding needed to fully restore the cuts would have to vote to use funds from the $12 billion or vote to suspend the state spending cap, which prevents the legislature from spending all available funds when revenue is growing.

Be on the lookout for a legislative alert Monday and let your legislators hear from you
When legislators hear from voters back home, in your own words, it really makes difference. The Senate is expected to vote on the budget next Wednesday and we will be emailing and calling all members to provide you the opportunity to contact your Senator toll-free via a pass through call. It’s time to let your Senator know that Texans want them to restore education funding that was cut in 2011 – all of it! Whether they do it in Senate Bill 1 or by tapping the Rainy Day Fund, restoring funding for our children’s school cannot wait.


Senate Finance Approves Budget Proposal

SB1 adds only $1.5 Billion for public education plus funds for enrollment growth
Today, the Senate Finance Committee voted unanimously for a proposed 2014-2015 state budget that would fund enrollment growth for the next two years and add an additional $1.5 billion to public education funding. That $1.5 billion is a far cry from the $5.4 billion cut in 2011. The additional $1.5 billion includes:

• $1.375 billion for to be distributed to districts via FSP formula funding;
• a mere $40 million for pre-K and $14 million for Student Success  Initiative;
• $52 million for the instructional facilities allotment;
• $34 million foe Career Tech in Middle Grades;
• $22 million for Early College High School and T-STEM; and
• $2 million for Teach for America.

SB1 will be debated in the Senate next Wednesday. Be on the lookout for alerts and calls to encourage Senators to fully restore the cuts made in 2011.

The budget does not address allocating funds to restore the cuts by using the $12 billion Rainy Day Fund.  However, that will be discussed during debate on a bill to use part of the Rainy Day Fund for water projects. Using the Rainy Day Fund requires a 2/3 vote, and a number of Senators want to use that fund for public education.

Remember, a sizeable majority of Texas voters support using some of the Rainy Day Fund balance to restore the $5.4 billion cut from the public education budget two years ago, and the support is strong across party lines. In our recent TSTA poll, some 79 percent said of Texas voters support using the Fund to restore the cuts, including 93 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of independents and 61 percent of Republican primary voters.


Testing and Accountability Take Center Stage

Today, the House Public Education Committee on approved a committee substitute for HB 5 by Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock to overhaul the school accountability system.  The key elements of HB5 include:

  • would reduce the number of end of course exams from 15 to 5 and eliminate the requirement that EOC’s would account for 15% of GPA;
  • would add an additional science requirement for the foundation diploma, reduce electives from eight to seven, add a fifth endorsement of multidisciplinary study and maintain 4 by 4 requirements minus one science credit;
  • would require the education commissioner to adopt three “non-test” indicators in addition to STAAR for the new school rating system.

The bill now is eligible for debate by the full House.

The Senate Committee on Education engaged in a long discussion about Senate Bill 1724, Chairman Dan Patrick’s bill on diplomas and testing. Sen. Patrick offered a committee substitute that deleted the portion of the bill dealing with diplomas. The Committee Substitute was adopted. As substituted, SB 1724 would:

  • cut the number of end-of-course exams from 15 to 5:
  • one of those tests (ELA I) would be diagnostic only;
  • passing the remaining four (ELA II, ALG I, Biology, and U.S. History) would be necessary to receive a high school diploma.

The bill received much discussion, with Committee members having vastly different opinions on the bill’s details, and it was left pending. Senator Patrick stated that the Committee would next meet next Tuesday with the intent of approving SB 1724 and a number of charter school bills.

In other House Committee Action, the following bills were approved for House debate:
 
HB 210 by Rep. Marisa Marquez would allow the education commissioner to issue a subpoena to compel the attendance of a relevant witness or the production, for inspection or copying, of relevant evidence during an accreditation investigation. The bill also would authorize the commissioner to conduct special  accreditation investigations in response to complaints about alleged inaccurate data reported through the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) or through other reports required by state or federal law that are used by the agency to make a determination relating to public school accountability, including accreditation.

HB 222 by Rep. Dan Huberty would allow a student to get a public education grant if the student is at a campus with an unacceptable performance rating in either of the preceding two years.

HB 234 by Ryan Guillen would allow a district to apply to TEA for an optional flexible school day if a campus would benefit from the program.

HB 455 by Dawnna Dukes would allow for a student to be absent for appointments with health care professionals for the student or the student's child.

HB 525 by Jimmie Don Aycock would direct TEA to collect data each year from school districts and charters through PEIMS relating to the enrollment of military connected stuents. The data could not be used for purposes of determining performance ratings.

HB 551 by Philip Cortez relates to the payment of tuition for public high school students who participate in college credit programs. 

HB 580 by Donna Howard would allow funds to be used for providing child care services or assistance with child care for students at risk of dropping out of school or to pay costs of day care or associated transportation provided through a life skills program.

HB 617 by Eddie Rodriguez would require each school district to designate at least one employee to serve as the district's designee on transition and employment services for students enrolled in special education programs. The bill also would require TEA, with assistance from the Health and Human Services Commission, to develop a transition and employment guide for students enrolled in special education programs and their parents. The guide would have to be produced in an electronic format and posted on the agency's website in a manner that permits the guide to be easily identified and accessed. School districts with websites also would have to post the guide and help parents learn how to access it.

HB 1264 by Dan Huberty would require each school district and open-enrollment charter school to report through PEIMS information regarding the number of students enrolled in the district or school who are identified as having dyslexia.

The committee also heard the following bills without taking action.

HB 290 by Phil King would allow school boards to replace the state assessment instrument with criterion-referenced or norm-referenced assessment instruments at any grade level for which an assessment instrument is required by law. The substituted assessment must be economical and approved by TEA, which also would implement rules for the process. The tests covered would be for grades three through eight.

HB 564 by Giovanni Capriglione would allow school districts to impose or repeal term limits for trustees.

HB 806 by Philip Cortez would allow for a career and technical allotment to be used for grade 8.
HB 1423 by Joe Deshotel would eliminate standardized testing as a graduation requirement and repeal the requirement that scores on end-of-course (EOC) exams count toward 15 percent of a student's grade. It also would include applied mathematics and applied sciences in the foundation curriculum and require TEA to adopt nationally recognized, norm-referenced tests in grades 3-8 in reading, mathematics and science consistent with the requirements of No Child Left Behind. The bill also would require high school guidance counselors to provide students with information regarding post-secondary opportunities in both college and the workforce and would authorize school districts to use high school allotment funding for workforce readiness programs.

HB 2058 by Alma Allen would require SBOE to develop and deliver high school equivalency examinations and provide for the administration of the examinations online for persons in custody of a public agency.

The Senate Education Committee passed the following bills to the full Senate, to be placed on the Local & Uncontested Calendar:

Senate Bill 132 by Senator Nelson would require that, before each school year, a school district adopt a grading policy, including provisions for the assignment of grades on class assignments and examinations and the calculation of cumulative averages of grades.  The district grading policy: (1) must require a teacher to assign a grade that reflects the student's relative mastery of the subject without employing grade inflation or misrepresenting a student's deserved grade; (2) may not require a teacher to assign a minimum grade without regard to the student's quality of work; and (3) may allow a student a reasonable opportunity to make up or redo a class assignment or examination for which the student received a failing grade.

Senate Bill 172 by Sen. Carona would create an optional multidimensional assessment tool for use in diagnosing the reading development and comprehension of kindergarten students.

Committee Substitute to Senate Bill 401 by Senator Lucio proposes that should a public school, including an open-enrollment charter school, does not have a full-time school counselor certified under Subchapter B, Chapter 21, assigned to the campus for more than 30 consecutive instructional days during the same school year, notice of the absence of a counselor must be posted on the Internet website of: (1) the school district; and (2) the school, if the school maintains an Internet website. TSTA supported this bill.

Senate Bill 715 by Senator Lucio would change the term “counselor” to "school counselor" throughout the Education Code. TSTA supported this bill.

The Committee also passed the following bills to the full Senate:

Committee Substitute to Senate Bill 521 by Senator Paxton would prohibit any entity or individual that performs abortions from providing human sexuality or family planning instruction in public schools, including providing instructional materials.

Senate Bill 573 by Senator Patrick would require the UIL to provide private and parochial schools with equal opportunity to become members of the league for the purpose of providing their students with access to league activities other than football or basketball.

Committee Votes on Budget Expected this Week

The Senate Finance Committee is expected to vote on the proposed 2014-2015 state budget tomorrow. The proposed budget would fund enrollment growth for the next two years and add an additional $1.5 billion to public education funding, as we reported last week. That $1.5 billion is a far cry from the $5.4 billion cut in 2011.

The House Appropriations Committee has not yet indicated how much additional may or may not be added to the public education budget, other than funding for growth, although indications are some additional funding may be added.

Contact your legislator and urge them to fully restore the $5.4 billion cut from education funding in 2011. Vote for Kids, Not Cuts.

To get your legislators contact information, go to this link and type in your address: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx.


March 8, 2013

Budget Proposals Move Forward

Contact Your Legislator and Urge Them to Restore Education Funding – “Kids, Not Cuts” Recently, we reported that the Senate Finance Committee recommended putting an additional $1.5 billion in the public education budget, a first step but a far cry from restoring the $5.4 billion cut from public education in 2011. This money came from general revenue, as the committee and legislative leaders still refuse to use the almost $12 billion in the Rainy Day Fund balance to restore the cuts.

The House Appropriations Committee met this week to receive subcommittee recommendations for public education and the Teacher Retirement System.  The Subcommittee did not address the Foundation School Program or public school finance because they are waiting for funding issues to “play out” during the session while an informal bipartisan group attempts to reach a consensus on additional funding before the budget reaches the House floor. At this time, House leaders say the Rainy Day Fund will not be used to restore the cuts. The subcommittee did recommend:

• Increase public education funding by $434 million dollars, most of that being for technical corrections in the budget for the Foundation School Program; 
• $140 million was added to TRS to raise the state contribution rate from 6.4% to 6.6%;
• The Subcommittee did not recommend funding for a $125 million request made by TEA for implementation for STAAR.  Instead, $25 million was recommended as a placeholder until legislation for changes in future STAAR testing is passed.
•  The Subcommittee also recommended an additional $4 million for Teach for America.
• Grants for Pre-K and the Student Success Initiative were not restored under the theory that those grants should be funded through formulas in the future.  However, several members of the committee were not confident that there is any assurance enough money would be funneled through the formulas for these programs and we will likely see floor amendments to add funding for these items

TSTA has been meeting with legislators and their staff to inform them of the poll findings we reported to you earlier this week, sending a message that a majority of Texans of all political persuasions want to use the Rainy Day Fund to restore the funding that was cut in 2011. Please contact you legislators now and urge them to restore the cuts!

Bill Filing Deadline: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Today is the last day to file bills this session. Over 1,000 bills have been filed yesterday and today, and our TSTA staff will be working to identify every bill that impacts education and our members and add them to our tracking system as soon as possible next week. The number, description and status of every bill we are tracking can be found at: http://www.tstaweb.net/BillTracking.html

Here are some highlights, and lowlights, of the bills filed recently.

The Good
HB 2455 by Rep. Justin Rodriguez requires open-enrollment charter schools to be subject to educator certification requirements under Chapter 21 and educator rights under the Education Code, and to hire appropriately certified teachers for classroom.

HB 2456 by Rep. Justin Rodriguez changes the time period for notice of a decision to terminate employment of a teacher from 10 days back to 45 days before the last day of instruction.

Senate Bill 1302 by Senator Wendy Davis would require a private school that accepts a student with a voucher, tax credit scholarship, or any other funding that would otherwise have been part of the foundation school fund to be subject to: (1)  public school accountability as if the private school were a public school campus; and (2)  any requirement or other law that concerns open meetings or the availability of information, that applies to a school district, the board of trustees of a school district, or public school students.

Senate Bill 1377 by Senators Ellis (co-sponsored by Lucio, Davis and Rodriguez would require $4 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to be appropriated to TEA for the Foundation School Program. That amount would restore the formula funding cut in 2011.

Senate Bill 1490 by Senator Duncan is a Teacher Retirement System bill that would delete the provision that allow a supplemental benefit payment by deleting the prohibition against making such a payment unless the Fund meets the current requirement for being of  “actuarially sound.”

The Bad (too many to list, but here are a few)
SB1407 by Senator Dan Patrick and HB 1957 by Harold Dutton would both establish a Recovery School District with a superintendent appointed by the Commissioner of Education – who would not be accountable to local taxpayers – to supervise, manage, and operate any “low performing” school placed under its jurisdiction. Allows for the Recovery District to contract with a for-profit provider for a school under its jurisdiction, and is given taxing authority. These bills are modeled after a similar Recovery School District in Louisiana that is the lowest performing school district in the state.

Senate Bills 23 by Senators Patrick and Paxton, Senate Bill 1410 by Senator Patrick and Senate Bill 1015 by Senator Paxton would establish the Texas Equal Opportunity Scholarship Program. This program is the “tax credit” voucher bill that would allow private entities to fund private school education “scholarships” by sending part of their taxes to a non-profit that would use the money for vouchers instead of paying all their taxes that would have gone to fund public schools.

HB 1926 by Rep. Ken King would expand the Virtual School Network to include non-profit, private or for-profit corporate providers and to allow for unlimited amount of electronic course work to be taken by a student. This is business model Jeb Bush has used to make a lot of money.

The Ugly
HB 300 by Rep. Jason Isaac would create a pathway to eliminate state public education standards and governance of public schools under the name of “local control.” The bill would allow the creation of an “alternative public education governance system” to allocate resources, determine curriculum, eliminate employee contract protections, allows districts to turn over its campuses to privately run for profit enterprises with no accountability and no elected governing structure, and much, much more.

Again, we hope to have a complete list of bills on our tracking system early next week.

In the meantime, contact your legislators NOW and let them know how you feel about the bills listed above.

To get your legislators contact information, go to this link and type in your address: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx.


TSTA poll: Texas voters strongly support using state's Rainy Day Fund to restore public education cuts from 2011

A strong majority of Texas voters support using some of the $12 billion in the state’s Rainy Day Fund to restore the $5.4 billion cut from the public education budget two years ago, and the support is strong across party lines, a poll commissioned by the Texas State Teachers Association shows.

The statewide telephone poll of likely voters, conducted Feb. 19-25 by Democratic pollster Keith Frederick and Republican pollster Jan van Lohuizen, also indicated strong growth in public awareness that the funding cuts were hurting educational quality in classrooms. The poll included an oversampling of Republican primary voters.

The question about restoring school funding was asked two ways. One version simply informed respondents of the recent, rapid growth in the Rainy Day Fund and asked if they favored putting $5 billion back into public schools. Some 79 percent said yes, including 93 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of independents and 61 percent of Republican primary voters.

The second version asked respondents if they favored spending $5 billion of Rainy Day money to hire more teachers, reduce class sizes and restore important academic programs or if they believed spending that money could lead to future tax increases and schools should first do a better job of cutting waste, bureaucracy and overhead. Some 69 percent favored restoring the funding, including 83 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of independents and 52 percent of Republican primary voters.

Answering another key question, 61 percent said they believed the funding cuts hurt the quality of classroom instruction, and 32 percent said the cuts were absorbed by cutting waste in schools. That was a marked difference from responses to a similar poll question asked in late 2011, before the full impact of the spending reductions was widely known. At that time, only 47 percent thought the cuts hurt classroom quality, and 49 percent believed they would be absorbed by eliminating waste.

Presented with options, two-thirds of Texas voters (66 percent) would use the nearly $12 billion Rainy Day Fund to restore public school funding. This includes 39 percent who chose education funding over roads (4 percent) or water (5 percent) plus 27 percent who would spend Rainy Day money on all three needs. Only 22 percent would save the entire Rainy Day balance for future needs.

“Texans are not fooled by the rhetoric coming from the education-cutters in Austin,” said TSTA President Rita Haecker. “The vast majority of voters – Republicans, Democrats and independents alike – know that the budget cuts have hurt our classrooms. They also know that the Legislature has enough money to restore the funding without raising anyone’s taxes, and they demand that their legislators do the right thing for our children.”

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent for the entire 800-person sample and plus or minus 7 percent for the oversample of 200 Republican primary voters.

March 7, 2013

Tax credit voucher and “Families First” legislation filed

Sen. Dan Patrick found someone to file his version of vouchers. Sen. Ken Paxton, a tea party favorite from Collin County, has filed SB 1051. Patrick had stated that Sen. Eddie Lucio would file that bill, and Senator Lucio has made it clear he will not.

On the House side, Rep. Jason Isaac has filed HB 300, a very long, comprehensive “Families First” bill that would undermine the entire governance structure of education in Texas and open the door to several forms of privatization.

We will monitor these bills closely and are optimistic that they can be defeated. However, look for alerts on these and other bills.

Retirement bill tracking

Earlier this week, TSTA decided to provide a separate tracking system for TRS-related bills. Look for information on that system in the coming days.


House Appropriations adopts education budget recommendations

The House Appropriations Committee met this morning to receive the Subcommittee on Article III recommendations for public education and the Teacher Retirement System. The Subcommittee did not address the Foundation School Program or public school finance for the reason that the Subcommittee decided those issue would play out during the legislation session. The focus of the Subcommittee was to improve the Teacher Retirement System to make sure it is actuarially sound in the very near future.  

Public education funding was increased by $434 million dollars by the Subcommittee, most of that being for technical corrections in the budget for the Foundation School Program. The amount of $140 million was added to TRS to raise the state contribution rate from 6.4% to 6.6%.  

The Subcommittee did not recommend to the Appropriations Committee to accept the assessment costs of $125 million request made by TEA for implementation for STAAR.  The Subcommittee did allocate $25 million instead as a placeholder until legislation for future STAAR testing is passed. The Subcommittee also recommended an additional $4 million for Teach for America.

Grants for Pre-K and the Student Success Initiative were not restored under the theory that those grants should be funded through formulas in the future.  However, several members of the committee were not confident that there is any assurance enough money would be funneled through the formulas for these programs.

The Committee adopted the Subcommittee’s recommendations without objection. It is expected the budget should be finally adopted next week.


March 6, 2013

Legislative action needed

Contact your legislators and urge them to restore the education cuts, scale back high stakes testing, and oppose vouchers. To find out who your legislators (senator and state representative) are and get their contact information, simply go to this link and type in your address: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx.

Senate Education considers special ed vouchers

Yesterday, on the same day that Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) indicated he will not sponsor a “tax credit” voucher bill (contrary to Committee Chair Dan Patrick’s claim 10 days ago), the Senate Committee on Education met to discuss several bills, the most important of which was SB 115 by Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands). SB 115 is a special education voucher bill that threatens to further deplete public education funding, enrich private schools, and leave the lowest functioning special education students in public schools.

TSTA opposed SB 115 with the following testimony: "SB 115 creates a voucher program that will send taxpayer dollars to private schools that are not accountable to the public. Over the past 30 years, federal and state laws have evolved to ensure that students with disabilities receive a free, appropriate public education. Private schools are not required to provide the legal procedures that federal and state laws mandate to protect the rights and interests of students with disabilities, which unnecessarily puts those students at significant risk.

"This bill would disproportionately benefit students with disabilities in urban areas. Students in rural areas would not have equal access to private schools that serve students with disabilities because few appropriate private schools exist in rural areas. School districts are required by federal law to provide transportation to students with disabilities; private schools are not required to provide transportation to students with disabilities. Economically disadvantaged students are disproportionately hurt by this bill because they typically do not have a mode of transportation available that would allow them to attend a qualifying private school.

"Vouchers provide choice for private schools, not students. Private schools have a profit motive to admit students who have the fewest educational challenges; therefore, private schools generally will not admit students with pervasive disabilities. This bill aims to help those students with disabilities who are higher functioning and wealthier. This bill intends to siphon money out of our public schools that would go to special education areas, while leaving those public schools with the most demanding special education students. This bill makes it more difficult for our school districts to operate properly and makes harder the jobs of all school district employees who work in special education.

"Finally, if the voucher program were implemented incorrectly, this bill would have the potential to open up the state to costly liability on constitutional grounds. For all of these reasons – fairness, equity, constitutionality, and, most importantly, student well-being – TSTA opposes this voucher bill."

On a related matter, the "tax credit” voucher bill, SB 1015, was filed by Sen. Ken Paxton (R-McKinney). Please continue contacting your senator to express your opposition to any form of private school voucher.

The Senate Education Committee also discussed the following bills:

SB 132 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) would require that, before each school year, a school district adopt a grading policy, including provisions for the assignment of grades on class assignments and examinations and the calculation of cumulative averages of grades.  The district grading policy: (1) must require a teacher to assign a grade that reflects the student's relative mastery of the subject without employing grade inflation or misrepresenting a student's deserved grade; (2) may not require a teacher to assign a minimum grade without regard to the student's quality of work; and (3) may allow a student a reasonable opportunity to make up or redo a class assignment or examination for which the student received a failing grade.

SB 185 by Sen. Robert Deuell (R-Greenville)proposes that the commissioner by rule shall require each school district and open-enrollment charter school to report through PEIMS information regarding the number of students enrolled in the district or school who are identified as having dyslexia.

SB 317 by Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) would prohibit sodas and sugary drinks from being sold at school.

SB 401 by Senator Lucio proposes that if a public school, including an open-enrollment charter school, does not have a full-time school counselor certified under Subchapter B, Chapter 21, assigned to the campus for more than 30 consecutive instructional days during the same school year, notice of the absence of a counselor must be posted on the website of the school district and the school, if the school maintains a website. TSTA supported this bill.

SB 435 by Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) proposes that a school district would not be required to pay a student's tuition or other associated costs for taking a college credit course.

SB 521 by Senator Paxton would prohibit any entity or individual that performs abortions from providing human sexuality or family planning instruction in public schools, including providing instructional materials.

SB 573 by Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) would require the UIL to provide private and parochial schools with equal opportunity to become members of the league for the purpose of providing their students with access to league activities other than football or basketball.

SB 684 by Senator Deuell would make the physical fitness assessment permissive.

SB 713 by Senator Lucio would change the requirement regarding school counselors. Currently, school districts with 500 or more students must employ a counselor certified under SBEC for each school in the district. This bill would reduce that number to 300 students. TSTA supported this bill.

SB 715 by Senator Lucio would change the term “counselor” to "school counselor" throughout the Education Code. TSTA supported this bill.

All bills were left pending except for SB 185 by Sen. Deuell, which was passed to the full Senate for placement on the Local & Uncontested Calendar.

House Public Education Committee considers variety of proposals

The House Public Education Committee met yesterday to hear bills relating to public education grants, professional development, and other matters. TSTA supported the following bills:

HB 455 by Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) would allow for a student to be absent for appointments with health care professionals for the student or the student's child.

HB 551 by Rep. Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio) relates to the payment of tuition for public high school students who participate in college credit programs.   

HB 617 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) states the commissioner shall require each school district or shared services arrangement to designate at least one employee to serve as its designee on transition and employment services for students enrolled in special education programs. The bill also requires TEA, with assistance from the Health and Human Services Commission, to develop a transition and employment guide for students enrolled in special education programs to provide information on statewide services and programs that assist in the transition to life outside the public school system. In addition, the transition and employment guide must be produced in an electronic format and posted on the agency's website in a manner that permits the guide to be easily identified and accessed. The bill also requires a school district to post the transition and employment guide on the district's website and provide written information and, if necessary, assistance to a parent regarding how to access the electronic version of the guide at:(A) the first meeting of the student's admission, review, and dismissal committee at which transition is discussed; or (B) the first committee meeting that occurs after the date the guide becomes available, if a student has already had an admission, review, and dismissal committee meeting discussing transition.

HB 1264 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) states that the commissioner shall require, by rule, that each school district and open-enrollment charter school report through PEIMS information the number of students enrolled in the district or school who are identified as having dyslexia.

HB 753 by Rep. Mike Villarreal (R-Dallas) would require, as part of the annual notice the district provides to parents concerning supplemental educational services, information that identifies characteristics of supplemental educational services that have proven effective in improving student academic performance, including information concerning the minimum number of hours of tutoring necessary for improved performance.

TSTA took no formal position on the following bills:

HB 222 by Rep. Huberty would allow a student to get a public education grant if at a campus with an unacceptable performance rating in either of the preceding two years.
  
HB 642 by Rep. Diane Patrick (R-Arlington) would direct that 25 percent of the training for educator continuing education, required every five years, include instruction on collecting and analyzing information that will improve effectiveness in the classroom; recognizing early warning indicators that a student may be at risk of dropping out of school; integrating technology in classroom instruction; educating diverse student populations; and increasing knowledge of the subject area taught by the educator. TSTA is working with Rep. Patrick to address concerns we have with this bill.
  
HB 931 by Rep. Bennett Ratliff (R-Coppell) would allow for a PEG grant for a student with disabilities when a district is not in compliance with IDEA and the student was enrolled at the campus the preceding school year.

The House Public Education Committee will meet next Tuesday. We may see a committee substitute (a revised version) of HB 5, the testing and accountability reform bill, in the coming days.

TSTA poll: Texas voters strongly support using Rainy Day Fund to restore school cuts

A strong majority of Texas voters support using some of the $12 billion in the state’s Rainy Day Fund to restore the $5.4 billion cut from the public education budget two years ago, and the support is strong across party lines, a poll commissioned by the Texas State Teachers Association shows.

The statewide telephone poll of likely voters, conducted Feb. 19-25 by Democratic pollster Keith Frederick and Republican pollster Jan van Lohuizen, also indicated strong growth in public awareness that the funding cuts were hurting educational quality in classrooms. The poll included an oversampling of Republican primary voters.

The question about restoring school funding was asked two ways. One version simply informed respondents of the recent, rapid growth in the Rainy Day Fund and asked if they favored putting $5 billion back into public schools. Some 79 percent said yes, including 93 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of independents and 61 percent of Republican primary voters.

The second version asked respondents if they favored spending $5 billion of Rainy Day money to hire more teachers, reduce class sizes and restore important academic programs or if they believed spending that money could lead to future tax increases and schools should first do a better job of cutting waste, bureaucracy and overhead. Some 69 percent favored restoring the funding, including 83 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of independents and 52 percent of Republican primary voters.

Answering another key question, 61 percent said they believed the funding cuts hurt the quality of classroom instruction, and 32 percent said the cuts were absorbed by cutting waste in schools. That was a marked difference from responses to a similar poll question asked in late 2011, before the full impact of the spending reductions was widely known. At that time, only 47 percent thought the cuts hurt classroom quality, and 49 percent believed they would be absorbed by eliminating waste.

Presented with options, two-thirds of Texas voters (66 percent) would use the nearly $12 billion Rainy Day Fund to restore public school funding. This includes 39 percent who chose education funding over roads (4 percent) or water (5 percent) plus 27 percent who would spend Rainy Day money on all three needs. Only 22 percent would save the entire Rainy Day balance for future needs.

“Texans are not fooled by the rhetoric coming from the education-cutters in Austin,” said TSTA President Rita Haecker. “The vast majority of voters – Republicans, Democrats and independents alike – know that the budget cuts have hurt our classrooms. They also know that the Legislature has enough money to restore the funding without raising anyone’s taxes, and they demand that their legislators do the right thing for our children.”

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent for the entire 800-person sample and plus or minus 7 percent for the oversample of 200 Republican primary voters.


February 28, 2013

Senate Finance Committee sets proposed public education budget

Today, the Senate Finance Committee approved a proposed budget for 2014-2015 state education funding.  The Committee's recommendations will be considered by the full Senate in the coming weeks. The Committee voted to restore $1.5 billion of the $5.4 cut from public schools two years ago, when the legislative majority refused to fund $4 billion for the Foundation School Program (FSP) and $1.4 billion from TEA grant programs that pay for pre-K, SSI and other programs.

The Committee’s proposed budget also includes $1.2 billion for enrollment growth, which leaves the balance of funding enrollment growth (another $1 billion) to be paid for with funds from increases in local property values.

The $1.5 billion includes $1.375 billion for to be distributed to districts via FSP formula funding and $125 million for various programs, including:

A mere $40 million for pre-K and $14 million for Student Success  Initiative;
$52 million for the instructional facilities allotment;
$34 million foe Career Tech in Middle Grades;
$22 million for Early College High School and T-STEM; and
$2 million for Teach for America.

Funds for a new Charter Agency and Virtual School Network were left contingent upon passage of legislation, despite pleas from Senator Patrick

TSTA will continue pressing for full restoration of the $5.4 billion cut from public education in 2011. This is just the first step in the budget process. Please contact your legislators and demand that they vote to fully restore the cuts.

TSTA President Rita Haecker issued the following statement regarding today’s committee action: “The Senate Finance Committee’s vote to restore $1.5 billion of the money cut from public schools two years ago was a step in the right direction, but the committee and the Legislature need to finish the job. Total education cuts in 2011 were $5.4 billion -- $1,062 per student over the past two school years. Texas is now near the bottom of the barrel – 49th – in per pupil spending among the states and the District of Columbia. Lawmakers have enough money to restore all $5.4 billion and meet other important state needs without raising anyone’s taxes. The legislative majority needs to find the political will to do the right thing for Texas school children. Our students should not be forced to spend another year or longer in overcrowded classrooms while the state pursues an appeal of a judge’s ruling that the school finance system is woefully inadequate.”


February 27, 2013

Jeb Bush, Senator Patrick promote school privatization

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush led off a “dog and pony show” before the Senate Education Committee today to promote school privatization and the role it played in the education “reforms” he imposed in the Sunshine State. Over the long haul, however, Bush’s initiatives – including the country’s first private school voucher program and expanded charter schools – haven’t performed the miracle he and his supporters have claimed.

• Florida’s high school graduation rate is nothing to brag about;
• large numbers of graduates still need remedial help in math and reading: and
• state-commissioned studies have found no evidence that low-income students who receive vouchers to attend private schools perform any better at reading or math than students in Florida public schools.

Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick brought Bush in as a star witness to get press and promote Patrick’s own private school voucher and charter expansion goals in Texas.  Bush promoted online learning, private school vouchers – or scholarships – and charter schools.  He defended standardized tests, despite growing public opposition to high-stakes testing. He said testing was necessary to assure school “accountability” and make sure public school students learn how to become “upwardly mobile.”

Public schools, of course, were making students upwardly mobile long before Jeb and his fellow privateers came along. But that was before federal regulatory and economic policies, set in motion while Jeb’s brother, George W., was president, made it easier for the richest 1 percent of Americans to get richer while squeezing the middle class and everyone else. In his Senate Education testimony, Bush also suggested that poverty was just an “excuse” for failures in public schools. But poverty is not an excuse for tens of thousands of Texas schoolchildren. It is a reality, and it does interfere with a child’s education.

Bush’s misnamed Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) and its affiliate, Chiefs for Change, are conduits for letting their corporate donors – a who’s who of education profiteers – connect with and influence state policymakers on expanded testing, expanded online learning, private school vouchers and other privatization schemes. The foundation would like nothing better than to add Texas to that list.

The committee only heard from invited witnesses. Others included:

• FEE CEO, Patricia Levesque, also testified before the Senate committee.
• Kevin P. Chavous, American Federation for Children & Alliance for School Choice
• Patrick Dobard, Supt. Of the Recovery School District, New Orleans
• Former State Senator Gloria Romero, California, Democrats for Education Reform

The latter three witnesses – all people of color and all part of the voucher movement – directed their remarks to Democrats on the committee.

According to press reports and TSTA conversations with Senators and staff, only one Democrat, Senator Eddie Lucio, has indicted he supports Patrick’s “tax credit scholarships” voucher legislation. In fact, reports indicate Lucio will co-sponsor the bill. We will work to change his mind. There are also Senate Republicans who oppose vouchers, and press reports indicate that House Speaker Joe Straus has reiterated that the bill does not have the votes in the House at this time. Hence, Senator Patrick is launching a full court press.

Click on this link for a news article discussing Bush’s corporate ties and the real results of his education initiatives in Florida: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/30/us-usa-education-bush-foundation-idUSBRE8AT18Y20121130
Click on this link for a watchdog group’s report on how Bush’s foundation promotes school privatization policies on behalf of its donors with state education officials: http://www.inthepublicinterest.org/blog/bushs-education-nonprofit-and-corporate-profits


February 22, 2013

Senate Education Committee hears charter expansion bill

On Thursday, the Senate Committee on Education met to discuss Senate Bill 2 by Sen. Patrick, legislation that would:
• Lift the cap on the number of charters that could be granted in Texas;
• allow charter schools to lease or buy school district facilities that are “unused” or “underutilized” for $1 (Patrick said he would change that provision to set the lease price at “fair market value”); and
• attempts to establish a new Charter School Authorizing Authority to oversee the operation of charter schools, removing that responsibility from the elected SBOE.
 The “Authority” would be responsible for granting, revoking, and supervising charter schools.
 The Authority would have 7 members: 4 appointed by the governor (one must be appointed from list provided by the speaker of the house), 1 by the lieutenant governor, 1 by State Board of Education Chair, and 1 by Commissioner.
 Authority members would serve staggered 4 year terms.
 TEA would provide the Authority with services, including fiscal, administrative, and personnel services and legal services not provided by the attorney general.

Other provisions include:
• the bill would eliminate the 215 charter “cap” for open-enrollment charters;
• the initial term of a charter would be 5 years, with a 20 year renewal;
• the bill provides for the automatic renewal of charters.  After the first 5 years, the Authority would be able to deny renewal based on: 1) unacceptable performance for 3 of 5 preceding years; or 2)lower than satisfactory financial accountability performance for 3 of 5 preceding years.
• a charter holder would be entitled to an instructional facilities allotment for each student. This money could be spent to construct a facility; purchase, lease, construct, expand, or renovate facilities; pay related debt service; or maintain facilities;
• the bill would require Agency employees to be trained on charter school authorization, oversight, and monitoring.


TSTA appeared and testified against Senate Bill 2 as follows:

We are here to testify on behalf of the 5 million traditional public school students and the teachers, parents, and independent school districts that support those students. The funding portion of the bill is a slap in the face to traditional public schools. The instructional facilities allotment portion of the bill would require the legislature to make an additional appropriation on behalf of charter schools. In addition, for TEA to comply with the provisions of the bill, they would be required to hire over 30 FTEs, which again will require an additional appropriation. Making such appropriations at a time when the legislature has failed to restore any of the $5.4 billion they cut from public education last session is offensive and wrong.

Further, there is no need to lift the cap of 215 charters. Good charters can already replicate, and TEA’s General Counsel, David Anderson, testified that the state has available 10-15 charters per year for new applicants. We would like to remind this Committee of the need to focus its attention on its constitutional requirement to fully fund public education. Our kids deserve great schools – it’s time to quit short-changing them.

Senate Bill 2 was left pending in Committee.

The Committee also considered Senate Bill 306, by Sen. Huffman. SB306 would provide that, for accountability purposes, any student who is receiving treatment in a residential treatment facility is not considered to be a student of the school district in which the program or facility is physically located. The bill was passed out of committee and sent to the Local & Uncontested Calendar.

House, Senate Considering Some Additional Education Funding

In preliminary budget mark-up sessions, the Senate Finance Committee leadership is considering adding $1.5 billion to public education funding in addition to funding to cover enrollment growth.

During debate on an emergency supplemental appropriations bill, HB10, legislation to prevent a stoppage of all Medicaid payments next month, House Appropriations Chairman Pitts indicated a bipartisan working group was meeting in an effort to restore some of the education cuts in the next supplemental appropriations bill.

TSTA will continue working to secure complete restoration of the cuts, in addition to funding for enrollment growth.

Not Legislative, But TRS Board Votes to Increase ActiveCare Premiums

The TRS Board of Trustees held its February board meeting this week. The meeting consisted mostly of training for the Board on various subjects such as open government and ethics. Then today, fireworks went off when the board discussed and adopted a new rate structure for TRS ActiveCare.
• Eliminates ActiveCare 1, and continues only with an employee-only high-deductible plan, ActiveCare 1 HD.
• All ActiveCare 1 participants will automatically be enrolled in ActiveCare 1 HD on September 1, 2013;
• The deductible for ActiveCare 1 HD ($2,400) will be double the deductible of ActiveCare 1, but remains the same as the deductible for ActiveCare 1 HD during the previous plan year. ActiveCare 1 participants may also enroll in ActiveCare 2 or 3.
• Premiums for all ActiveCare plans will increase on September 1, 2013.
• The following increases are for employee-only coverage – all other coverage increases vary by plan:
 ActiveCare 1 HD – 9%;
 ActiveCare 2 – 15%; and
 ActiveCare 3 – 25%.
 Deductibles for ActiveCare 2 will increase by 25% for employee-only coverage, and there will be a $5 increase for a 31-day prescription supply for ActiveCare 2 participants.
There will be no benefit changes to ActiveCare 3.

The TRS board will next meet on April 18-19, 2013.

Jeb Bush Coming Next Week

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush will be in Austin next week, and Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick plans to hold a committee meeting on the Senate floor to give Bush a forum to push his privatization and virtual school agenda. Stay tuned for updates and potential action alerts.


February 20, 2013

Committee hearings: funding, testing, charter expansion

This week, the pace of committee work picked up considerably. On Monday, the education and Teacher Retirement System budget was the focus of committee meetings in both the House and the Senate. Yesterday (Tuesday), testing and accountability hearings drew scores of witnesses in both House and Senate committees. And on Thursday, the Senate Education Committee will conduct a hearing on Sen. Patrick’s controversial charter expansion bill, SB2.

House Appropriations Subcommittee considers public education and TRS budget

On Monday, the House Appropriations Article III subcommittee held a daylong meeting to hear testimony on the TEA (public education) and TRS budgets. TSTA joined School Board members, school administrators and other pro-public education organizations in calling for restoration of the $5.4 billion – over $500 per student - cut from public education in 2011.

Witnesses outlined the real harm the cuts have done to schools in their community. In our testimony, TSTA offered examples of the harm the cuts have done in our schools and our classrooms, noting:

  • The impact of losing 11,000 teaching jobs and even more support personnel jobs in the first year of the cuts, and how that has caused overcrowded classrooms and increased the workload of the employees doing their best to provide for a growing student population. To cite two examples, we explained the impact on teachers and students when teacher’s aides are let go and the impact on ESP’s when their numbers are reduced;
  • The availability of funds to restore the cuts. TSTA was the only group that made a case for using the Rainy Day Fund, if necessary, to restore the cuts. State leaders have called for using the RDF to fund bonds for water development for highways, saying “that’s different” because the bonding mechanism would not be a “recurring expense.” TSTA noted that a one-time restoration of the 2011 cuts is simply putting the baseline back where it was, and the failure to restore funding would be a “recurring cut;” and
  • Committee members and others have indicated $600 million to $1 billion may be added to the education budget. TSTA observed that insufficient amount should be moved back to the districts through the regular program adjustment factor and the basic allotment, adding that TEA grant restoration should be focused on proven programs (SSI, pre-K, Communities in Schools). For example, Commissioner Williams touted a limited SSI (Student Success) program that offered computerized 24-7 help with reading and math. While not objecting directly to such a program, TSTA noted the importance of having real, live educators work with “at risk” students who come to school with a variety of different problems.

TSTA also testified in support of maintain the TRS retirement fund as a defined benefit program.  In response to questions about steps that could allow the fund to meet the statutory definition of “actuarially sound,” TSTA said that any increase in employee contributions must be matched by an equal increase in the state contribution.

TRS testified that the fund has become more solid with an improving economy, and suggested said the fund could be “actuarially sound” with a 6.92 contribution (currently 6.4) from the state and employees if the retirement age was increased to 62 via a five year grandfathered plan. No such legislation has been filed at this time.

TRS also testified that the expected TRS Care “crisis” has been pushed back two years by increased participation in the program.  Some committee members expressed interest in doing “something: while the state has money in the bank, but no specifics were offered.

The Article III subcommittee will begin marking up their recommendations later this week for submission to the full Appropriations Committee.

Senate Finance Subcommittee work group discussed education budget

The Senate Finance Committee work group also met Monday to discuss education funding. The work group spent most of the meeting grappling with issues related to school finance formula funding and various scenarios regarding the ultimate outcome of the school finance lawsuit. The work group did not take testimony or make recommendations for funding levels.

House Public Education Committee considers testing and accountability reform legislation

On Tuesday, the House Public Education Committee met to hear testimony on legislation related to
accountability, assessment and curriculum requirements. The “star” of the hearing was HB 5 by Committee Chair Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen). HB5 will most likely be the “testing” bill that ultimately passes this session. We sent you a detailed summary of HB5 when it was filed a couple of weeks ago. In short, HB 5: 

  • provides flexibility for students by creating one diploma that affords all students a variety of postsecondary opportunities;
  • students could earn an additional endorsement in one of four areas: STEM, Business and Industry, Public Services, and Arts and Humanities;  
  • expands course options and eliminates the requirement that all students must pass Algebra II and ELA III to receive a high school diploma;
  • allows all high school graduates to be eligible for automatic admission to Texas public four-year universities because all student graduate under the same diploma;
  • reduces standardized testing to evaluate student performance by reducing the number of end-of-course assessments from 15 to only five;
  • allows students to meet their graduation assessment requirement by passing ELA II (reading and writing), Algebra I, biology and US History;
  • eliminates the requirement that the end-of-course assessments determine fifteen percent of a student's course grade and eliminates the cumulative score requirement;
  • encourages college readiness by allowing satisfactory performance on Advanced Placement exams, SAT exams and the ACT to satisfy graduation requirements;
  • evaluates schools on more measures than state standardized assessments by establishing a new three category rating system that evaluates schools on academic performance, financial performance and community and student engagement employing understandable labels of A, B, C, D and F.  

Almost 100 witnesses testified, and most, including TSTA, supported HB 5 due to the outrage over the state's STAAR testing system.

Other testing/accountability bills were heard.

HB 224 by Dan Huberty, which would repeal the requirement that 15% of the end of course exam be used for final grade.  TSTA supported this bill.

HB 251 by Ryan Guillen would prohibit the commissioner from lowering a performance rating based on unsatisfactory performance on an assessment instrument taken by students in the first three years of enrollment upon entering the United States if the student is limited English proficiency.  TSTA supported this bill.

HB 399 by Matt Krause, relates to the requirement that certain high school students successfully complete four courses in each subject of the foundation curriculum and provides school districts discretion to allow a student to comply with the 4x4 per rules adopted by the SBOE.

HB 554 by Mark Strama would change release of questions and answer keys to STAAR from
every third year to every year. TSTA supported this bill.

HB 596 by Mike Villarreal would limit the number of school days spent on testing students, eliminate the requirement that the end of course exams count for 15% of students' grades and reduce the number of assessments required for students to graduate from 15 to four. Villarreal’s legislation would also remove the requirement that test scores be used to determine schools’
“Recognized” and “Exemplary” ratings.  TSTA supported this bill.

HB 640 by Diane Patrick would drop the 15% EOC requirement, drop the ALG II and physics requirement for the recommended and advanced diploma, eliminate EOC exams in ALG II, geometry, biology, chemistry, physics, ELA I & II, world geography and history, and US history, allow students to satisfy some EOC requirements by completing dual credit courses, and
prohibit schools from using EOC exams in calculation of class rank. The bill also gets rid of the cumulative score requirement, allows students to use an AP score of 2 and SAT and ACT scores is lieu of EOC assessments.  TSTA supported this bill.

HB 659 by Mark Strama changes reliance on End of Course exams to require student's performance to account for 15% of the student's second semester grade for the course in accordance with rules adopted by commissioner, repeals the 0 to 40 scale, and requires the spring administration of the test to occur in the last week of the semester except English writing, which can occur earlier. The bill requires each school district to use the procedure adopted by the Commissioner in determining second semester course grades.

The Committee will meet again next Tuesday.

Senate Education Committee hears testimony on testing and accountability reform, votes Sen. Patrick’s SB 3 out of committee

On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Education met to further discuss Senate Bill 3 by Sen. Patrick.  We reported about SB3 last week, Chairman Patrick’s bill that replaces the minimum, recommended, and advanced high school diplomas with the foundation high school program diploma. At that time TSTA testified that the bill did not go far enough because it does not address the administration of tests.

To summarize briefly SB3:
The FHSP diploma requires a student to accumulate the following credits: 4 in ELA; 3 in math; 2 in science; 3 in social studies; 1/2 in speech; 1 in FA or C&T; and 1 in PE.

Students may earn the following endorsements on their diplomas: Business & Industry; Academic Achievement in Arts & Humanities; STEM; and Distinguished Achievement.

Senator Patrick introduced a committee substitute that added two foreign language credits to the FHSP diploma and did away with the cumulative score requirement.

SB 3 was also amended by Sen. Van de Putte to eliminate the requirement that end-of-course exams account for 15% of a student’s final grade.

The committee substitute with those amendments was adopted by the committee and passed to the full Senate for consideration.

The committee then engaged in a lengthy discussion on student testing, with the focus of the discussion clearly aimed at determining the appropriate number of state-mandated, standardized tests. The committee made no final determinations but seemed to be seriously considering reducing the number of state-mandated, standardized tests. Apparently, the Senate will not consider changes in the STAAR testing regime until the bill reaches the Senate floor.

Senate Education Committee to consider Charter Expansion Bill, SB2, on Thursday

The Senate Committee on Education will meet on Thursday to take up Senate Bill 2, Senator Patrick’s charter expansion bill. As filed, SB2 raises serious concerns related to cost, accountability and local control in an unlimited expansion of charter schools. Concerns include:
SB2 would lift, or eliminate, the cap on the number of charters that can be granted in Texas.

SB2 would essentially create a new state agency in the form of an “authority” to regulate charter schools, with members appointed by the Governor and Lt. Governor and “recommended” by the Speaker. TEA/SBOE  would no longer regulate charter schools

SB2 would require the creation of a list of “unused or underutilized” public school facilities that would be made available for use by charter schools for $1 a year. In other words, a district that paid for school facilities with bonds supported by local property taxpayers would have to make an underutilized facility available to a charter that is not accountable to the school district and its taxpayers. For example, some growing districts built new campuses but were not able to open and staff them due to the 2011 state budget cuts, forcing them to crowd kids into existing campuses. In that scenario, a charter could come in and use the facility because the state cut money needed to hire staff to run the campus.


February 12, 2013

Senate Education Committee hearing

Today, the Senate Education Committee met to discuss Senate Bill 3 by Sen. Patrick and Senate Bill 172 by Sen. Carona. SB 172 would create an optional multidimensional assessment tool for use in diagnosing the reading development and comprehension of kindergarten students.

SB 3 would replace the minimum, recommended, and advanced high school diplomas with the foundation high school program diploma (FSHP). The FHSP diploma would require a student to accumulate the following credits: 4 in ELA; 3 in math; 2 in science; 3 in social studies; 1/2 in speech; 1 in FA or C&T; and 1 in PE. Students would be able to earn the following endorsements on their diplomas: Business & Industry; Academic Achievement in Arts & Humanities; STEM; and Distinguished Achievement.

Senator Van de Putte pointed out that the bill does nothing to address the 15 EOC exams currently mandated by STAAR. Sen. Patrick said he left that subject out of SB3 on purpose, and that he would address EOC requirements in another bill.

Senator Patrick offered two amendments to his bill. The first amendment deleted the cumulative score requirement from current law. The second amendment added a requirement that all students must take at least two years of a foreign language to receive a high school diploma. The second amendment would make every high school graduate eligible to attend a four-year university or college.

Senator Van de Putte offered an amendment, striking the requirement that EOC exams account for 15% of a student’s final grade.

Both bills and all proposed amendments were left pending.

TSTA appeared and offered the following testimony on SB3:

Senate Bill 3 does not address the areas of accountability that need to be addressed immediately. Senate Bill 3 does nothing to address the onerous burden of 15 EOC exams – nearly four times the number of EOC exams of any other state in the union. The bill also does not address the fact that school districts will spend 34 days preparing for and conducting state required assessments – that accounts for 20% of the instructional days in a school year. TSTA also believes that teacher evaluations should give constructive feedback, have multiple measures, and not be driven by standardized tests. We hope the Committee will work to address these more pressing matters as opposed to merely renaming the high school diploma.

House Public Education Committee Holds First Meeting

The House Public Education Committee met today with special invited testimony from the Governor's TEA Commissioner, Michael Williams,  who mounted a strong defense of STAAR testing system. Williams said that in time, STAAR would work out if we simply taught the curriculum.

Williams testified that we need to maintain high expectations for our students.  He also acknowledged teachers need professional development to bring students up to the increased rigor set by prior legislature, although TEA did not request the necessary resources to do this. 

Finally, in light of all the outrage regarding our testing and accountability system, when asked if Texas are over testing our students, Williams responded with a resounding “no.”

Committee members even inquired as to whether the “culture at TEA” is conducive to addressing the problems in providing our student population with “the floor” (foundation) they need to succeed because they too busy addressing the “ceiling.”  Committee members also noted that staffing and resources have diminished considerably but TEA responsibility of the agency has grown. 

The committee also heard from TEA regarding ruling on school finance lawsuit and an update on student assessment and school accountability. 

The committee will take up House bills next Tuesday.

Cargill Questioned by Senators regarding Appointment as SBOE Chair

The Governor’s appointee as SBOE Chair, creationist Barbara Cargill, led to some tough questions and promises from Ms. Cargill, as reported by the Texas Freedom Network: http://tfninsider.org/2013/02/12/hard-questions-some-promises-at-cargill-senate-hearing.


February 18, 2013

Legislative reports for February

While the website was down, we posted the legislative updates to http://tsta.org/node/926 (it was accessible from the second rolling photo at the top of the home page). Here are the individual links:

Feb. 12: http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/LegislativeSessionUpdate021213.pdf

Feb. 11: http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/LegislativeSessionUpdate-021113.pdf

Feb. 6: http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/LegislativeSessionUpdate-020613.pdf

Feb. 4: http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/LegislativeSessionUpdate-020413.pdf

Feb. 1: http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/LegislativeSessionUpdate-020113.pdf


January 24, 2013

TSTA legislative session update

The Legislature took an extended weekend break to allow members to travel to Washington for the inauguration and observe the Martin Luther King holiday. Upon returning this week, most of the action has been happening in the Senate, where committees have been appointed and hearings on the Education Budget began today. And of course, legislation is being filed in both the House and the Senate every day.

Today’s update includes yesterday’s Senate Finance Committee hearing on the education budget, last Friday’s Senate committee appointments and the Senate drawing for two- and four-year terms, as well as a brief description of bills filed to address standardized testing, a report on today’s Senate Finance hearing on TRS, and Senator Patrick’s press conference with an array of school privatization groups joining together as “Texans for Great Schools.”

TSTA testifies before Senate Finance Committee: “Restore the cuts”

On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee met to lay out Senate Bill 1 (the General Appropriations Bill) and receive presentations from the Legislative Budget Board and Education Commissioner Michael Williams on the base budget for Texas Education Agency. The Finance Committee will meet again today to hear from the Teacher Retirement System regarding their base budget as set out in Senate Bill 1. Chairman Williams plans to vote SB1 out of committee on March 13, and expects floor debate on March 18.

The proposed appropriation for TEA does not restore the $5.4 billion cut from public education last session, and only partially funds student growth. TSTA appeared and testified as follows:

The Texas State Teachers Association urges the Senate Finance Committee to do the right thing for Texas students and our state's future – restore the $5.4 billion, or more than $500 per child, that was cut from public school budgets two years ago.

There is absolutely no excuse for not restoring the cuts to public education.  Even the State Comptroller, whose revenue estimates have been very conservative, says the Legislature has an $8.8 billion surplus and a Rainy Day Fund balance of $11.8 billion.  This is the taxpayers' money, and most Texas taxpayers would rather see their money spent to educate our children than have it used as a prop for politicians. The state has enough money - without raising taxes - to restore school funding, close the Medicaid budget hole, put some money aside for water projects and meet other state needs. There is no excuse for playing politics with our children's future and our state's economic future.

The initial Senate budget proposal does not restore the $500 per child that was cut in 2011. It does nothing to address crowded classrooms or the 25,000 school employees - including 11,000 teachers - who lost their jobs due to budget cuts. And, this budget doesn't even account for enrollment growth unless you expect local schools to cover roughly a billion dollars of that cost with higher property taxes.

It’s time to repair the damage done to Texas schoolchildren due to underfunding and political posturing.

Read TSTA President Rita Haecker’s statement regarding the proposed public education budget: http://tsta.org/news-center/education-news

Snippets from Commissioner Williams’ testimony

In case there is any doubt about where Rick Perry’s Education Commissioner comes down on key issues like testing and funding, consider these comments Williams made during his testimony before the Senate Finance Committee yesterday.
On testing…”You should be enormously proud of what you’ve done with STAAR.”
On funding…TEA isn’t “seeing dramatic numbers of school” becoming unacceptable since the budget cuts took effect…the “prudent course of action” is to wait for a court decision before restoring dollars

Senate Finance Committee considers TRS funding: TSTA testifies

Today, the Senate Finance Committee met to hear testimony and discuss the budget proposals for the Teachers Retirement System as set out in Senate Bill 1. The Committee discussion centered on measures that would make the Pension Trust Fund actuarially sound and usher the fund to more stability, including: an increase in state and employee contribution rates; benefits; and eligibility requirements (increase retirement age).
The Committee indicated no interest in changing the Fund from its current defined benefit structure.

The Committee was also concerned about the continued viability of TRS-Care, but gave no indication of what changes could be looming for the health care program, but all options appear to be on the table. The committee gave assurance that TRS-Care issues would not be balanced on the backs of retirees.

TSTA appeared and testified, stating our support for an increase in the state’s contribution to the Pension Trust Fund. TSTA also reiterated that the TRS’ Pension Trust Fund Study showed that keeping the Fund as a defined benefit system gave teachers and the state the best bang for the buck. Finally, TSTA assured the members who also sit on the State Affairs Committee that we will be present with them when the time comes to discuss any possible changes to the Pension Trust Fund system.

Senate Committees appointed

On Friday, Jan. 18, Lt. Governor Dewhurst issued Senate committee appointments. On the two committees most important to educators, Education and Finance, Dewhurst’s appointments signaled more conservative Committees. Two education champions, Senators Wendy Davis of Ft. Worth and the late Sen. Mario Gallegos of Houston, and moderate Republican John Corona of Dallas were replaced by Tea Party/conservative Republican freshman Paxton, Campbell and Taylor. Although this may allow Chairman Patrick to get a voucher/tax credit bill out of committee, we still have a good opportunity to prevent vouchers from getting the votes needed to reach the Senate floor.

Senate Education Committee
Dan Patrick (R-Houston), Chair 
Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville), Vice-Chair 
Members: Campbell, Duncan, Paxton, Seliger, Taylor, Van de Putte, West 

Senate Finance Committee
The Senate Finance Committee will be chaired by Senator Tommy Wiilams (R-Montgomery Co,). The 15 member committee included 10 Republicans and five Democrats.
Chair: Sen. Tommy Williams (R- Montgomery Co.). Vice Chair: Sen. Juan Hinojosa (D- McAllen)
Members:  Bob Deuell, Robert Duncan, Kevin Eltife, Craig Estes, Glen Hegar, Joan Huffman, Eddie Lucio, Jr., Jane Nelson, Dan Patrick, Kel Seliger, Royce West, John Whitmire, Judith Zaffirini

Testing accountability legislation filed

This week, two noteworthy pieces of legislation were filed to change the current STAAR teat regime. A number of bills will be filed on this issue, and we do expect changes this session.

Rep. Mile Villarreal (D-San Antonio) filed a bill to eliminate the 15% grading requirement; reduce from 15 to four the number of tests required for high school graduation; limit state and local tests to 10% of instructional days; and eliminate the use of test scores for Exemplary and Recognized ratings.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, the Amarillo Republican, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, filed a bill Tuesday offering broad changes to student assessment and high school graduation requirements in Texas. Seliger’s SB 225 would reduce the number of state standardized tests students must pass to graduate — from 15 to five - in reading, writing, biology, Algebra I and U.S. history. Local school boards would determine whether to count the state exams toward anything besides graduation requirements (e.g., the suspended 15% rule). Seliger's bill would restructure high school graduation plans by replacing the "4X4" plan with a 26 credit "Foundation High School Program” that would require students to earn 16 credits in core subject areas — four in English, three in math, three in social studies, two in science, two in foreign language, and one in each physical education and fine arts — plus 10 elective credits. The program would allow students to earn diploma "endorsements" by completing five credits across areas of studies like humanities, science, engineering, technology and math, or business and industry.

Senators draw for two and four year terms: Wendy Davis must run again in 2014
Before the first election after the final resolution of each decennial redistricting, Senators must draw for two year and four year terms. Fifteen Senators must run again in 2014, and sixteen Senators will start the decade with a four year term.

Senators with two-year terms: Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels; Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas; Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth; Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville; Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls; Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills; Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Southside Place; Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville; Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston; Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney; Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown; Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo; Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin; Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas; Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston.

Senators with four-year terms: Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury; Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock; Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston; Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler; Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay; Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound; Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso; Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood; Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio; Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio; Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands; Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; the winner of the special election in Senate District 6.

Senator Patrick and private education groups announce “Texans for Great Schools”

Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick was joined by an array of private education interests to announce the formation of “Texans for Great Schools” at a Capitol press conference. Although Patrick has yet to file his voucher/tax credit bill, this group will serve as a “resource” for Texas policymakers – or, in a united effort to undermine public education.

In fact, one member of the group attempted to redefine “public education,” saying the term means the state’s responsibility is to “educate the public” at any and every kind of institution instead of referring to the state’s constitutional responsibility to provide a quality education for all Texas students in public schools.

The Texas House met briefly Wednesday and Thursday to pass resolutions. House committee assignments should be announced before the end of the month.

Contact your legislators

Please contact your state senator and state representative and urge them to restore education funding, scrap the high stakes test, oppose vouchers and protect TRS. To find out who represents you, click on this link, http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx , and then type in your address and you’ll get their names and contact information.


January 14, 2013

First drafts of 2014-15 state budget fail to restore education cuts

This afternoon, Lt. Governor Dewhurst and Senate Finance Committee Chair Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) held a press conference to lay out the “base” Senate Bill 1, the starting point for budget considerations this session. House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie) informed the House that he will file House Bill 1, the “base” House budget bill tomorrow.

Both SB1 and HB1 have a disturbing similarity: neither bill restores the 5.4 billion cut from public education last session, and neither adequately addresses enrollment growth and inflation for the coming two year budget period.

The Senate budget spends $88.9 billion and the House budget spends $89.1 billion, both far short of the $101 billion available to budget writers according to the Comptroller’s official revenue estimate.

Both SB1 and HB1 fail to restore the $5.4 billion cut from public education in 2011.

Some of that $12 billion in available funding will be used in a supplemental appropriations bill to cover funding for Medicaid that was deferred by the last budget, but even after money is set aside for supplemental appropriations, legislators will have at least $5.5 billion of general revenue that could be used to restore the cuts.

In addition to that $5.5 billion, the Rainy Day Fund will swell to almost $12 billion during the next two years, leaving legislators over $17 billion to restore the cuts.

Dewhurst, Williams and Pitts claim the base budget bills that provide $1.2 billion for public education will “fully fund” the cost of annual enrollment growth of 85,000 students, but school finance experts peg the cost of enrollment growth at roughly $2 billion, meaning the proposed budget bills come up almost a billion short of paying for growth, and fail to address inflation.

Bottom Line: Texas school children and educators are being left $6-7 billion behind at the starting point in the state budget debate, and that just accounts for the cuts made in 2011. We still have time to catch up, but educational personnel, parents and local taxpayers must put the heat on your local legislators. The state has the money to restore the cuts and provide the funds our students need, and it can be done without raising taxes this session. Act now! Contact youR legislators.

In other news…

The Texas House met today to debate the House rules that govern the conduct of House business throughout the session.  An amendment was offered by Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) to change the rules by raising the standard for sustaining a point of order that often can thwart legislation due to procedural or substantive defects.  The amendment, which was adopted largely on partisan lines, essentially limits the Speaker’s ability to sustain points of order to substantive defects, which could prevent a member's ability to kill or delay a bill on the House floor due to procedural mistakes that often happen in the committee process.

On a matter related to the budget, Rep. Armando Walle (D-Houston) offered several amendments to the Rules regarding consideration of public education funding, enrollment growth and vouchers – even though matters related to substantive issues are not typically addressed in the rules. However, the Walle amendments prompted House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts to respond by informing the House that he will file the House Bill 1 appropriations bill tomorrow, claiming that it will cover enrollment growth.  The Walle amendments failed because rules are reserved for procedure and not the substance of legislation.


January 11, 2013

TSTA Legislative Updates

Throughout the 2013 session, TSTA will provide you with frequent – and eventually daily - updates as the pace picks up, committees meet and legislators cast votes that will impact the future of public education in Texas.  In 2013, TSTA will work tirelessly to reverse an attack on public education defined by $5.4 billion budget cuts, an expansion of high stakes standardized tests, and the erosion of legal provisions that protected educators’ working conditions.  In 2013, TSTA will be working to restore the cuts, reduce the emphasis on high stakes testing, defeat vouchers, secure the TRS defined benefit program and defeat efforts to further erode educators’ contract rights.

This week, we also encourage you to take a look at the TSTA Briefing, which has additional information on the key issues likely to dominate the 2013 legislative session.

Comptroller’s Official Revenue Estimate: State has over $20 Billion in Additional Funds Available, Setting the Stage for State Budget Battle

Perhaps the most important event this week happened on Monday, the day before the session convened, when Comptroller Susan Combs issued her official revenue estimate that showed the state has $8.8 billion more available than she forecast two years ago. In addition, she forecast that the Rainy Day Fund would have $11.8 billion available during the upcoming two-year state budget cycle, meaning the legislature will have at least $20.6 billion – enough to restore funding for education, health care and other critical needs. Other state budget experts say Combs has again “low-balled” the impact of a growing economy and believe even more revenue will be available.

To no one’s surprise, the Governor and his legislative allies say those dollars should go to “tax relief,” and Perry even said funding for education has seen ‘phenomenal” growth a day before suggesting tax relief for the oil and gas industry. With that said, with a united effort by educators, parents and local school and community leaders, there is still an opportunity to restore education funding, and make those who turn their backs on our schools pay for their negligence if they deny Texans the education needed to assure our opportunity for a prosperous future.

Legislative Session Convenes

The Texas House of Representatives convened Tuesday with the end of a contested Speaker’s race launched by Representative David Simpson (R-Longview) against Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio).  In a personal privilege speech, Simpson withdrew from the race, and Straus was re-elected Speaker for a third consecutive session.
 
In an unusual move, Governor Perry addressed the full House (and Senate) on opening day - he usually waits until the Governor’s State of the State address set for January 29 this year. With a healthy revenue estimate staring him in the face, apparently Perry felt the need to put down a marker against restoring budget cuts, urging lawmakers to “remain faithful to the conservative fiscal principles that have kept the Texas economy strong, allowed for tremendous job growth, and helped the state weather the national economic recession.” On the heels of that strong revenue estimate, the governor urged lawmakers to “take a hard look at providing tax relief.” 

In his address, Speaker Straus sounded somewhat cautious but slightly different in tone:
 
“Texas does not face a fiscal cliff . . . but we do face a demographic cliff.  Our rapid growth requires a steadfast commitment to the core responsibilities of government, such as a quality education, a reliable water supply, a healthy transportation system and an honest state budget.
 
These are the priorities that you and I discussed around the state in recent months -- the issues that voters expect us to address because they will play the largest role in determining our shared future.
 
Our priorities should begin where our future does – in public education.
 
More than 5 million children are enrolled in our public schools, which is more than the total population of 29 states.
 
More than 3 million of them are deemed economically disadvantaged, and almost 1 million of them speak limited English. The education of all our students will determine whether Texas is a land of prosperity or lost opportunities.
 
There should be no sacred cows when it comes to our children – including our accountability system. For more than a decade, this state has used an increasingly rigorous series of standardized tests to measure academic excellence.
 
But by now every Member of this House has heard from constituents at the grocery store or the Little League fields about the burdens of an increasingly cumbersome testing system in our schools.
 
Teachers and parents worry that we have sacrificed classroom inspiration for rote memorization.
 
The goal of education is not to teach children how to pass a test, but to prepare them for life. The goal of every teacher is to develop in students a lifelong love of learning, and we need to get back to that goal in the classroom.
 
To parents and educators concerned about excessive testing – the Texas House has heard you.
 
We will continue to hold our schools accountable. But we will also make our accountability and testing system more appropriate … more flexible … and more reasonable.”
 
The Speaker’s comments give some indication that the House leadership is open to some level of restoration of education funds and reform of the excessive amount of standardized testing in the state accountability system.    
 
On Thursday, the House recessed until Monday, January 14, when they will take up the house resolution dictating rules for the session.  It is believed that Representative Phil King (R-Weatherford) will attempt to file an amendment which would limit the ability to halt consideration of a bill on the floor due to procedural deficiencies.  Many bad bills die in the House due to “points of order,” which makes King’s proposal one that would inhibit our ability to defeat bad legislation.
 
The Texas Senate met briefly this week to ring in the session and establish its operating rules.
The most significant news of the first week of session was that the Senate kept the 2/3’s rule intact, without exceptions. That means that once the traditional “blocker bill” is set atop the Senate calendar, a Senator must secure the votes of 2/3’s of the Senators present to bring legislation to the floor. With the reelection of Senator Wendy Davis, that means Senate Democrats have 11 votes to block legislation even while awaiting the election of the late Senator Mario Gallegos’ successor. And, given the fact that some Senate Republicans oppose Senator Dan Patrick’s voucher legislation, the 2/3’s rule provides an opportunity to stall his proposal, although nothing is certain with 136 days left in the session. In the past, the Senate has sometimes circumvented the 2/3rds rule for controversial items such as redistricting, voter ID and sanctuary cities, meaning that a simple majority of Senators could vote to bring up out-of-order legislation. It appears the Senate has decided to play by traditional rules this time around.

On opening day, Senator Leticia Van de Putte was elected President Pro-Tempore of the Senate, meaning she will be “Governor for a Day” when the Governor and Lt. Governor are out of the state.

As he did in the House, Governor Perry’s addressed the Senate to declare that even though the Comptroller has issued a positive economic forecast, Texas should refuse to fund public services at a level that will meet the needs of Texans, especially those most in need. It appears the top “leaders” of the State of Texas continue to bury their heads in the sand and hope for the best without paying for it – hardly a recipe for success.

Dewhurst Proposes Training and Arming Teachers

This afternoon, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst proposed having school districts nominate teachers and administrators who would be armed and trained to provide security on campus. TSTA has responded to press inquiries, noting that Dewhurst supported budget cuts and high stakes standardized testing – an agenda that already cost the jobs of 11,000 teachers and left too many teachers in crowded classrooms without the time needed to teach. Instead of training teachers to provide armed security, the state should provide teachers the time and resources needed to do what they have trained to do: teach. School districts should also be provided the resources needed to provide security. We need safe and secure campuses where teachers can teach and students can learn, and both burdens should not fall on our teachers.


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