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February 26, 2015

House leaders pledge support for TRS Care

This week, House Appropriations Chair Rep. John Otto made a firm commitment to provide funding to keep the TRS Care system solvent for the next two years while looking for a long term solution. The current estimate is $768 million. 

"Many House members are concerned about our retired teachers and TRS-Care. Members have come up to me and expressed their clear desire to help retired teachers. I want to reassure every member on this Committee, every member in the House, and every retired teacher that the House will fully fund TRS-Care," Otto said on the House floor. "This issue is too important to go unaddressed, so I want to commit to you today that the House will fund our obligations to our retired teachers."

Senate leaders have not committed to a specific funding level yet, although they have pledged to address the issue.

Active employee health insurance

In a previous update, we reported that Rep. César Blanco filed HB 1597, which would increase the state contribution for educational employees from $75 a month to $150 a month. The price tag for that increase is roughly $1 billion. We are also working with legislators to get a bill filed that would allow a school district to opt out of TRS ActiveCare to give the district an opportunity to contract for more affordable, high quality health care. TRS staff has also discussed seeking legislation that would allow TRS to set regional rates. TSTA is leading the effort to get relief from skyrocketing premiums that cut into our members’ take home pay.

State budget priorities

Last week, we reported on TSTA’s testimony before state budget writers. This week, senators put forth specific proposals that would:

  • dedicate half of the state motor fuels tax to highways; and
  • pledge $4.6 billion to tax relief, including a portion of the state franchise tax that is a funding source for education.

The Senate has made no specific commitment for education funding beyond funding enrollment growth.

As we reported last week, House budget writers plan to fully fund enrollment growth and provide an additional $2.2 billion in formula funding. Both chambers are expected to dedicate a relatively small amount of funding to pre-K expansion. TSTA’s Clay Robison addressed these misplaced priorities in his Grading Texas blog at: http://www.tsta.org/grading-texas.

Addressing all the issues children bring to school

"Community schools are not a new idea," Reps. Eddie Rodriguez and Marsha Farney said in a commentary in the Austin American Statesman Tuesday. "Community schools are achieving successful results across the country, in cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, Tulsa and Portland. The schools have implemented a comprehensive approach to education that acknowledges and addresses all the issues children bring to the classroom — from parental neglect to financial burdens." http://www.statesman.com/news/news/opinion/commentary-more-community-schools-needed-in-texas/nkHxP/?fb_action_ids=10152626919151820&fb_action_types=og.shares

Lawmaker pledges to fund health care for retired teachers

From an article by the Texas Tribune: Saying a nearly broke state health care program for retired Texas teachers is “too important an issue to leave unaddressed,” the head of the House budget-writing committee pledged Wednesday to work to fully fund the program.

“I want to commit to you today that the House will fund our obligations to our retired teachers,” state Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, said following a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee, which he chairs.

“We’re very happy to hear that,” said Clay Robison, spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association. “These are people on limited income who have spent their careers educating school children – one of the most important jobs in the state.”

Robison’s group also wants lawmakers to increase the state’s contribution to health care premiums for active teachers. Texas has kept its contribution at $75 per month since 2002, as premiums have more than doubled.

“That’s basically cutting into their paychecks because they haven’t been getting raises,” he said. http://www.news-journal.com/news/state/lawmaker-pledges-to-fund-health-care-for-retired-teachers/article_b6a4bc8a-5108-55d0-9b64-2cf4370e4952.html

February 25, 2015

TSTA endorses community schools

TSTA today applauded Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and Rep. Marsha Farney for introducing HB 1891 and HB 1892, legislation that will let educators and parents partner with neighborhood groups and businesses to improve local schools. The bill will clear the way for those who value their neighborhood schools to use the Community Schools model to turn around struggling schools instead of seeing them closed or turned over to operators from outside the community.

This concept has proven successful in districts throughout the country, including Austin ISD.

“This model allows educators, parents, community non-profits and businesses to develop effective programs for supporting local schools, including a range of services that address problems that make it hard for a child to learn,” TSTA President Noel Candelaria said. “This process creates neighborhood schools that offer opportunity and a better future for our children.”

“Community schools provide genuine local control and parental involvement, two things that Gov. Abbott has stressed. They put teachers and parents from the community in charge of their children’s futures, not outsiders who have no personal stake in the students’ success,” Candelaria added.

Free online pre-k learning platform available

TEA and the Children’s Learning Institute (CLI) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston have launched a new, innovative online platform, known as CLI Engage, that’s available at no cost to all Texas public school districts, charter schools, and Head Start programs.

Register to access Texas School Ready! child progress monitoring assessments that reliably identify children at risk for school failure. Based on the results of these assessments, participating prekindergarten and Head Start teachers will be directed to supplementary lessons that target improvement of children’s least developed skill areas. In addition, the platform houses professional development courses. 

Texas school districts, charter schools and Head Start programs can begin registering for these free, validated, research-based resources. Teachers can receive access to the resources beginning in March, including the online professional development and child progress monitoring tools.

February 24, 2015

National School Breakfast Week: March 2-6

Studies show that students who eat breakfast at school exhibit improved academic achievement, especially in vocabulary, math, and standardized tests; have better attendance records; are less likely to be tardy; and have fewer behavioral and psychological problems. Children who regularly eat breakfast also have a better nutrient intake and are less likely to be overweight.

The NEA Health Information has been working on the issue of child nutrition and hunger through a program called Breakfast in the Classroom (www.neahin.org/breakfastintheclassroom), which provides students with a morning meal. 

Learn more about Breakfast in the Classroom and find resources for National School Breakfast Week at www.neahin.org/schoolbreakfastweek.

February 20, 2015

TSTA testifies before House Appropriations Committee

Today, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article 3 (Education) heard testimony regarding funding for public education and TRS. TSTA encouraged the committee to:

significantly increase public education funding, including funding for full day pre-K;

increase the state contribution for health insurance for educational employees; and

provide the funding necessary to maintain TRS Care without increasing premiums for retired educators.

Here is the full testimony of TSTA Public Affairs Director Ed Martin: 

Thank you, Chairman Ashby and committee members, for the opportunity to speak with you regarding the need to adequately and equitably fund Texas public schools that are educating over 5.1 million students this school year.

We appreciate the fact that HB1, as filed, includes $2.2 billion above what is needed to cover enrollment growth, and we are hopeful the committee will consider adding additional funds to meet the needs of a diverse student population that is growing by roughly 80,000 students a year.

When adjusted for inflation, Texas still spends $600 less per pupil than we spent in 2008-09 before the recession, roughly $2,600 less per student than the national average. At a time when resources are available, our children should not be asked to wait another school year or two while court appeals drag on. We recognize that this legislature may not be able or willing to make up that funding gap this year, but we encourage you to start that effort now. After all, the only way to “end school finance litigation,” as the Governor suggested, is by addressing the recurring problem that has led to decades of litigation: inadequate and inequitable funding.

TSTA also encourages you to consider providing additional funds for three very important specific items:

  • Meaningful, comprehensive, full -day pre-K expansion and early childhood educational opportunities.
  • An increase in the $75 a month state contribution for employee health care contribution, whether their school district provides health insurance through the TRS system or contracts directly with an insurance provider. The state contribution has remained constant since 2002 while employees have shouldered an ever-increasing burden of rising health care costs – increases of as much as 238 percent in some cases. In some cases, full family costs more per month than a mortgage. In districts in the TRS ActiveCare system, the state and districts were paying for 71 percent of the premiums in 2002. That percentage has dropped to 41 percent in districts that contribute the $150 per month minimum. With fewer and smaller teacher and employee pay raises in recent years, insurance premium increases have amounted to take home pay cuts for many of our members, and caused others to consider leaving the profession in order to adequately provide for their families.
  • TSTA supports the TRS request for an additional $768 million for TRS-Care to make the plan solvent for the next two years and ensure that retirees won’t have to shoulder increasing health care costs on tight, fixed incomes. 

We have prepared charts that show changes in state funding per ADA over the last seven years for each of your school districts, and will make those available to the committee. 

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on behalf of Texas educators today. For the sake of our 5.1 million students, we urge you provide the resources needed to create a classroom environment that encourages success and a prosperous future.

Rep. Hernandez files bill to expand retiree benefits

Rep. Ana Hernandez has filed House Bill 1149, expanding cost-of-living adjustment payments for retired teachers.

“Educators nurture the next generation of Texas leaders,” said Hernandez. “Our state must honor the promise made on the benefits they have earned after a career spent in the service of our communities.”

House Bill 1149 would establish a benefit payment increase for Teacher Retirement System members tied to the costs of goods and services as calculated annually by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index. This method for measuring the rising cost of living is currently used by the U.S. Social Security Administration to determine annual increases in benefit payments.

“Texas teachers generally must opt out of Social Security on the promise that the Teacher Retirement System will provide for them at the end of their career,” said Hernandez. “It’s only fair that they (receive) the same level of retirement security as Social Security recipients.”

House set to pass NCLB rewrite next Friday

The House is set to clear a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act next Friday, Feb. 27.  A new schedule laid out Thursday afternoon would send the Republican-backed bill, which the education committee passed on a party-line vote Feb. 11, to the floor for debate Wednesday and Thursday, with a final vote scheduled for Friday morning. The House Rules Committee, which sets parameters for how bills are debated on the floor, set a deadline for members to file any amendments they wish to offer by Monday at 3 p.m. The committee plans to set the rule for the bill Tuesday before it goes to the floor the following day.

February 19, 2015

Bill: students could graduate without passing all tests 

Today, the Senate Committee on Education met to adopt its operating rules and discuss Senate Bill 149 by Sen. Seliger.

The new chair, Sen. Larry Taylor, said Texas needs to move into the 21st Century in the way that it educates its children, although he did not specifically state how the state should try to accomplish that goal. Each committee member offered similar introductory remarks then the committee moved on to discuss SB 149.

SB 149 would provide a mechanism for each student who fails to perform satisfactorily on an end-of-course assessment instrument a second time to go before a committee seeking an opportunity to graduate. The school district or open-enrollment charter school that the student attends would be required to establish an individual graduation committee to determine whether the student qualifies to graduate. The committee would include educators and would have to vote unanimously to allow a student to graduate. Parent groups, school administrators and most committee members praised the bill as a much-needed remedy for students who have performed well enough in the classroom to graduate but for failure to pass one or more STAAR end-of-course exams. The bill will also save school districts money they would otherwise spend on remediation. TSTA registered in support of SB 149, which was left pending in committee.

Bill would double state contribution for active employee health insurance 

Rep. César Blanco has filed HB 1597, which would increase the state contribution for education employees from $75 a month to $150 a month. In a news release issued today, Blanco notes that the state contribution has not increased since the program was created in 2003; an attached El Paso Times article quotes EPTA president Norma De La Rosa and TSTA Public Affairs Director Ed Martin. http://www.house.state.tx.us/news/press-releases/?id=5268

February 18, 2015

House Public Education Committee Holds First Meeting

The House Public Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, had its first meeting this week and heard invited testimony from the Texas Education Agency related to STAAR testing, accountability, school finance, and the Virtual School Network. TEA staff testified that STAAR exam results establish a 37% passing rate. Members of the committee expressed concern over the low rate of passing and the lack of useful analytical data provided by the STAAR test. 

Testimony regarding the Virtual School Network (VSN) raised concerns about the drop in VSN enrollment.  TEA said this was due to the elimination of scholarships previously provided by the commissioner of education to students who enrolled in the VSN. The committee will meet again next Tuesday to consider bills referred to committee.

Subcommittee on Teacher Quality Appointed

Chairman Aycock announced the members of the newly created Subcommittee on Teacher Quality.

Rep. Dan Huberty, Chair, R-Houston

Rep. Joe Deshotel, Vice-Chair, D-Beaumont

Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston

Rep. Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown

Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston


Governor’s State of the State Speech and TSTA’s response

On Tuesday, Governor Abbott addressed a joint session of the legislature and laid out his priorities. Abbott stated that his top education priority is the expansion of pre-K and early childhood education, but press reports noted that his budget only provides enough funds for a very limited expansion.

Abbott also stressed “local control” while holding up the education code and suggesting local districts should be free of many of the state educational standards in the code. This session, “reformers” are seeking to make it easier to establish “local control school districts” (now known as home rule districts) that could ignore important employee protections, class size limits, and other state standards. Abbott also called for an end to school finance lawsuits, but he did not suggest any action that might remedy repeated court findings that have found the school finance system inadequate and inequitable.

TSTA President Noel Candelaria issued the following statement in response to Governor Abbott’s State of the State address: “We look forward to working with the Governor and legislators to provide full-day pre-K and additional early childhood education opportunities that are critical to success in the classroom, in college, and in the working world. However, expanding educational opportunity requires a genuine commitment of resources, from pre-K through college, and we are concerned that Governor Abbott called for an end to school finance litigation without addressing today’s inadequate and inequitable school finance system. The Governor gave a specific dollar figure for roads and for tax cuts, but, unfortunately, our children’s educational needs did not warrant that level of commitment.”

House Appropriations Committee to consider school funding and TRS Friday

This Friday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article 3 (Education) will take testimony regarding funding for public education and TRS. TSTA will encourage the committee to:

  • significantly increase public education funding;
  • support funds for community schools coordinators;
  • increase the state contribution for health insurance for educational employees; and
  • provide additional funding to maintain TRS Care without increasing premiums for retired educators.

Twitter storm tonight on ESEA!

The goal is to generate as many tweets possible from NEA members, leaders, partners, parents, and activists on Wednesday, February 18 between 5 and 8 PM ET.

The hope is that such a flurry of activity will help push our hashtags -- #opportunityforall and #timetolearn -- to generate online attention from members of Congress and media that turns into offline action as Congress works to reauthorize ESEA.

February 17, 2015

Candelaria responds to State of the State Address

“We look forward to working with the Governor and legislators to provide full day pre-K and additional early childhood education opportunities that are critical to success in the classroom, in college, and in the working world," TSTA President Noel Candelaria said in a statement issued in response to Governor Abbott’s State of the State address. "However, expanding educational opportunity requires a genuine commitment of resources, from pre-K through college, and we are concerned that Governor Abbott called for an end to school finance litigation without addressing today’s inadequate and inequitable school finance system. The Governor gave a specific dollar figure for roads and for tax cuts, but, unfortunately, our children’s educational needs did not warrant that level of commitment.”

Pro-voucher 'study' debunked

We hope you saw the announcement today about an academic report debunking Arthur Laffer’s pro-voucher “study” promoted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Texas Association of Business.

“We applaud the National Education Policy Center for calling out Arthur Laffer and the groups promoting a voucher economic fantasy that is not supported by academic evidence. Laffer’s ‘work’ is nothing more than a fictional advocacy paper masquerading as science and, as such, it is a disservice to Texas students, parents and educators,” TSTA President Noel Candelaria said.

February 16, 2015

ESEA moving quickly through Congress

This is “ESEA Week of Action,” the time to raise your voice and fight for more time for students to learn, more time for teachers to teach, and opportunity for all students to receive a quality education. Members of Congress must hear from educators, the people who know best what ESEA reauthorization should look like. 

Contact Congress now at 866-331-7233 or http://capwiz.com/nea/issues/alert/?alertid=64033911. Tell them to pass a new ESEA bill that provides opportunity for all students. As educators, we have a chance to: 

• Set a new vision for a public education system that promotes opportunity and excellence for ALL students.

• Create more opportunity for all students to receive a quality education, no matter

their zip code.

• Reduce the amount of mandated standardized testing, and allow more time for students

to learn and more time for teachers to teach

• Ensure every student has a qualified educator who is empowered to lead.

Please act now.

February 13, 2015

State Education Budget and TRS Hearings 

This week, legislative budget writers began work on three of TSTA’s top priorities for this session—the public education budget, health care for school employees and retirees, and protection of the TRS defined benefit pension.

Budget: will education cuts be restored? 

Here are a couple of facts to consider regarding the base budget.

Public school enrollment now exceeds 5.1 million students, and it is growing by about 80,000 students each year. 

When adjusted for inflation, Texas still spends $600 less per pupil than we spent in 2008 (before the recession), roughly $2,600 less per student than the national average. 

The initial “base budget bills” will change as the process proceeds. The House bill is $8.1 billion below the spending cap and the Senate budget is $5.4 billion below the cap, so additional funds are available for the education budget items like pre-K expansion and increasing the state contribution for employee health care.

Both the House and Senate budget proposals cover enrollment growth, but the House proposal provides an additional $2.2 billion for public education.

House: The House Appropriations Committee’s initial proposed budget bill is HB1.

HB1 would appropriate $41.4 billion for public education for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years, which  is $2.2 billion more than what is needed to cover enrollment growth.

The committee is considering whether to spend the $2.2 billion to increase the state’s share of school funding, improve equity among property poor and rich districts and/or reduce recapture, the amount of local tax dollars that wealthy districts are required to share with poor districts.

The total House budget is $8.1 billion below a spending cap set by the Legislative Budget Board, which means the committee has some additional money with which to work.

Senate: The Senate Finance Committee’s proposed budget is SB2.

SB2 would appropriate $42.4 billion for state aid to school districts for the next two years, but $4 billion of education funding would be money sent to school districts to (theoretically) make up for $3 billion in property tax cuts and $1 billion in state franchise tax cuts, funds contingent on separate tax cut legislation 

Committee Chair Jane Nelson claimed this amount of funding would restore the 2011 education cuts, a claim corrected by Senator Kirk Watson and budget board staff. Nelson said the Senate would increase the current level of education spending in SB2. 

Fact: state public education funding remains at 2006 levels, leaving funding almost a decade behind where it should be. 

The $4 billion that would be distributed to school districts to “make up” for tax cuts reflects the tax-cut priorities of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. The last time the Legislature allegedly “swapped” property tax cuts for more state funding for public schools, school districts lost more revenue than they gained, creating a structural deficit of $5 billion a year that led to school budget cuts. 

TSTA will continue to urge the Legislature to enact a new school funding system that adequately and fairly pays for public schools for all of Texas’ school children and complies with state District Judge John Dietz’s ruling in the school finance lawsuit. Texas’ 5.1 million students shouldn’t have to wait any longer for resources that would be available in a fair and adequately funded system.

Health Insurance for Teachers and Educational Employees

TSTA also is seeking increased state funding for school employees, whether they are insured by TRS-ActiveCare or an insurance carrier under contract with a local school district. 

The state hasn’t increased its $75 monthly contribution since ActiveCare was created in 2002. Meanwhile, employee health care premiums have soared, effectively imposing take-home pay cuts on many teachers and ESPs. 

There is a significant difference in funding levels between TRS and ERS, and TSTA believes school employees deserve to be treated as least as well as state employees.

Brian Guthrie, the TRS executive director, told the Senate Finance Committee that ActiveCare’s rate might be more reasonable if the TRS could offer regional rates, and he asked for legislative authority for the TRS board to consider regional rates. 

Guthrie also said that the legislature would have to change the law to allow districts to opt out of ActiveCare, which TSTA supports.

Retiree health insurance Both House and Senate budget proposals include $562 million to provide a required state contribution to TRS-Care of 1 percent of public education payroll. 

TRS has requested an additional $768 million for TRS-Care to make the plan solvent for the next two years and ensure that retirees won’t have to shoulder increasing health care costs on tight, fixed incomes. 

TSTA will aggressively support this request. In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee this week, TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie made it clear that a long-term solution is required if TRS-Care is to continue as an option for retirees.

Teacher Retirement

Both House and Senate budgets include $3.6 billion for the state contribution to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). This funding reflects a state contribution rate of 6.8 percent. Based on payroll trend data, assumed annual payroll growth is included each year at a rate of 2 percent for public education and 4 percent for higher education. The defined benefit plan is sound, and TSTA will work to defend it. 

TSTA testimony on TRS-Care and ActiveCare

“TSTA understands there are systemic funding problems with ActiveCare and TRS Care. We would like to share with you the problems being faced every day by active teachers and retirees.

“Several of our members have shared stories about the ways healthcare costs affect them. Many teachers are delaying necessary surgeries because they cannot cover the medical costs. Some teachers are delaying having children because of the costs associated with the birth of a child. And we have numerous members who are considering leaving the profession altogether. Indeed, many have left the profession over rising health care costs.

“Currently, a teacher seeking to cover his or her entire family under ActiveCare 2 must pay a monthly premium of over $1,300 per month – more than most of our members pay for their mortgage – if they can even save enough to buy their own home.

“On a monthly basis, many retirees have to choose between paying their electric bill or having insurance that allows them to purchase prescription drugs that are vital to their well-being. Can you imagine a more excruciating, life-threatening dilemma for an elderly teacher who has given his or her entire life to serve the schoolchildren of the State of Texas?

“Although numbers play a big role in this discussion, it always does us well to remember the people who are ultimately affected by those numbers. These are real people who desperately need your help.

“TSTA supports TRS’ exceptional item request in the amount of almost $770 million to make Care solvent over the next biennium. TSTA also believes we need to come up with long-term solutions to both ActiveCare and Care this session, including greatly increasing the state contribution to ActiveCare and Care.

“We look forward to working with this committee to find reasonable solutions.”

Favorable House Appropriations Education Subcommittee Appointed 

House Appropriations Chairman John Otto, R-Dayton, a former school board member, appointed what we believe is a favorable subcommittee on Article III (Public and Higher Education). Members include former school board members Donna Howard, D-Austin, and Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, and former school superintendent Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston. Other members are Reps. Helen Giddings, D-Dallas, Marisa Marquez, D-El Paso, Dade Phelan, R-Port Neches, and John Raney, R-Bryan. Ashby will chair the subcommittee, and Giddings will be vice chair. http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/Committees/MembershipCmte.aspx?LegSess=84R&CmteCode=C012

SBOE sees ‘conflicts of vision’ with USDOE

At this week’s State Board of Education meeting, Commissioner Williams addressed the issue of the NCLB waiver and identified three “conflicts of vision” that have to be resolved with the U. S. Department of Education.  

The Texas Education Agency sees the new teacher and principal evaluation instruments as a means to provide timely and actionable feedback on performance while providing local school districts the option of using the state instrument or adopting their own.  

The U. S. Department of Education wants the state instrument to be used in all school districts and to form the basis of personnel decisions, including retention of teachers, salaries teachers are paid, and the assignment of teachers to ensure that there is an equal distribution of high quality teachers in poor, minority, and/or low-performing campuses.  The Commissioner still expects a 2016-17 statewide rollout of the new Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System.

February 11, 2015

SBOE elects vice chair, secretary

Today, the State Board of Education elected Thomas Ratliff as vice-chair and Ruben Cortez as secretary, and committees were named. Ratliff beat Ken Mercer and Cortez ran unopposed. The following committees were announced:

Instruction: Maynard, Melton, Miller, Perez, Cargill

PSF/Finance: Allen, Bradley, Hardy, Mercer, Ratliff

School Initiatives: Bahorich, Beltran, Cortez, Dominguez, Rowley

February 9, 2015

Nominations are due for Social Justice Patriot Award 

This award recognizes Texas educators, TSTA local and regional associations, and other individuals or associations who are friends of education for distinguished service and contributions in promoting and/or encouraging professional and human rights activities.The deadline is March 2. http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/SocialJusticePatriotAwards_nom-info.pdf 

February 6, 2015

Editorial: School vouchers are the wrong choice for Texas

From the Austin American Statesman: As a current public school board member and former university professor in education, I believe it is imperative that policymakers inform their decisions with a knowledge of relevant and valid research. However, some advocates of school vouchers, such as state Sen. Donna Campbell, are using very selective data to support their predetermined voucher agenda for the state. http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/opinion/kallison-school-vouchers-are-the-wrong-choice-for-/nj5Tz/#3e63b35a.3580207.735635

Failed experiments by legislators could hurt our schools again

From the Waco Tribune-Herald: The Texas Legislature has convened again in Austin. Bills have been filed. And state Sen. Donna Campbell has filed SB 276, a “taxpayer savings grant program.” Sounds good, but we must remember the devil is in the details on such proposals. And in this legislation, several points exist that every taxpayer in Texas should know. http://www.wacotrib.com/opinion/columns/board_of_contributors/mary-duty-board-of-contributors-failed-experiments-by-legislators-could/article_62716bc8-6b01-5836-baea-69002f03f4a8.html 

February 5, 2015

Senate Finance Committee to hear testimony on education and TRS funding 

Next week, the Senate Finance Committee will hear testimony on funding for public education on Monday, and TRS requests for health care and pension funds on Wednesday. 

  • The Senate bill, as filed, would only provide additional funds for enrollment growth. The House bill now includes an additional $2.2 billion in addition to enrollment growth.
  • So-called “conventional wisdom” at the Capitol says legislators will wait perhaps another two years on the Supreme Court to rule on the lower court finding that our school funding system is unconstitutional, inadequate, and inequitable. TSTA will remind legislators that state support for public schools still lags about $600 per pupil behind the 2008-09 funding level. The 5.1 million kids in Texas public schools should not have to wait two years, especially when billions of dollars are available to invest in their schools. 
  • TSTA will voice our support for additional funding for TRS Care and a greater state contribution to educational employee health care. 

House committees appointed 

House committees were appointed this week. Members of three key committees are listed below. The Appropriations Committee will consider all funding issues. The Public Education Committee will consider most education issues. And, the Pensions Committee will consider Teacher Retirement System issues. 

House Appropriations Committee

John Otto, Chair, Dayton – R

Sylvester Turner, Vice-Chair, Houston – D

Cindy Burkett, Mesquite - R

Davis, Houston - R

Dukes, Austin - D

Helen Giddings, Dallas - D

Larry Gonzales, Round Rock - R

Donna Howard, Austin - D

Bryan Hughes, Mineola - R

Marisa Márquez, El Paso - D

Ruth Jones McClendon, San Antonio - D

Borris Miles, Houston - D

Four Price, Amarillo - R

Armando Walle, Houston -D

Trent Ashby, Lufkin - R

Cecil Bell, Jr., Magnolia - R

Greg Bonnen, Friendswood -R

Giovanni Capriglione, Southlake - R

Linda Koop, Dallas - R

Oscar Longoria, Mission - D

Rick Miller, Sugar Land - R

Sergio Muñoz, Jr., Mission - D

Dade Phelan, Port Neches - R

John Raney, College Station - R

Justin Rodriguez, San Antonio - D

J.D. Sheffield, Gatesville - R

Gary VanDeaver, New Boston – R

House Public Education Committee

Jimmie Don Aycock, Chair, Killeen - R

Dr. Alma Allen, Vice-Chair, Houston - D

Joe Deshotel, Beaumont - D

Harold Dutton, Jr., Houston – D

Marsha Farney, Georgetown - R

Dwayne Bohac, Houston - R

Rick Galindo, San Antonio - R

Mary González, El Paso - D

Dan Huberty, Houston - R

Ken King, Canadian - R

Gary VanDeaver, New Boston - R

House Pensions Committee

Dan Flynn, Chair, Van - R

Roberto Alonzo, Vice-Chair, Dallas - D

Phil Stephenson, Wharton - R

Ana Hernandez, Houston - D

Stephanie Klick, Fort Worth - R

Dennis Paul, Houston - R

Justin Rodriguez, San Antonio - D

Progress on TSTA priorities

➢ The TSTA team is working with legislators to draft legislation on several of our top priorities, including Community Schools, TRS Active Care issues, and several bills related to employment practices. We will be updating you as these bills are filed.

➢ We are reviewing different full day pre-K proposals.

Our anti-voucher/privatization efforts continue as well. In addition to the talking points we sent you last week, we are working to develop data that shows how much proposed voucher legislation would cost your school district. 

February 4, 2015

House Committee on Public Education is announced

The House Committee on Public Education is: Chair Jimmie Don Aycock, Vice Chair Alma Allen, Joe Deshotel, Harold Dutton, Marsha Farney, Dwayne Bohac, Rick Galindo, Mary Gonzalez, Dan Huberty, Ken King, Gary VanDeaver. See all the committees herehttp://www.house.state.tx.us/_media/pdf/committee.pdf. 

Take action for healthy school food

Submit a creative photo, video, or narrative describing how your school has implemented Smart Snacks for a chance to win up to $300. http://www.neahin.org/bagthejunk/national-schools-contest.html

February 3, 2015

Express-News editorial: U.S. Constitution supersedes politics

The recent ruckus in the Harlandale Independent School District over who would be allowed to speak during the citizens’ comment period reflects badly on the district’s leadership.

Jesse “Jay” Alaniz, the board’s newly installed board president, was wrong to trample on the First Amendment by not allowing a group whose message he disagreed with from speaking. Policy on who can have the microphone at the podium to address the school board should not discriminate based on the content of the speech.

Some school districts do not allow citizen comment periods, but it is a privilege they should all extend to district taxpayers. The general public has little access to elected officials during their course of day-to-day activities and needs a forum for voicing concerns.

We understand the need to limit the time for public comments and the setting of parameters on how those messages can be delivered. It is wrong to flagrantly prohibit someone from addressing the board just because he represents an organization. In this case, it was a teacher’s union. What happens if the school board and the PTA council are at odds? Does that mean PTA leaders are not allowed to address the board at its meetings?

To his credit, Alaniz later acknowledged his decision to not allow the representative from the local Texas State Teachers Association to address the board was misguided, and he said he misinterpreted the rules. He has apologized for his actions and said he will allow organization leaders to address the board.

Alaniz is no political novice. He has run for various elected posts and has served on the school board eight years and been president of the board twice. Ignorance of the law is no excuse for such behavior.

It appears petty politics were at play here and the Constitution got in the way.

--Feb. 2 editorial that ran in the San Antonio Express-News http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/editorials/article/U-S-Constitution-supersedes-politics-6057312.php 

NEA President: President sets right budget priorities for America

President Obama’s 2015 budget plan includes a call for ending the harmful automatic spending cuts and increasing funding for programs that will help students and American families succeed. http://www.nea.org//home/61861.htm 

Super Bowl ad tackles cyberbullying

With this ad Coca-Cola launches its #MakeItHappy campaign, which the company describes as a "movement to add more happiness to the Web and offset negativity." http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2015/02/02/383295651/cokes-super-bowl-ad-puts-spotlight-on-cyberbullying

Helping teens handle emotions pays off in classroom

Crockett High School’s mandatory Methods for Academic and Personal Success class is drawing national attention. http://kxan.com/2015/02/02/principal-says-helping-teens-handle-emotions-is-paying-off-in-classroom 

Harper Lee to publish second novel

Go Set a Watchman, a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, will be released in July.  http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_BOOKS_HARPER_LEE?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

February 2, 2015

Texas may help school districts deal with tough new math standards

Teachers and school districts struggling with this year’s tough new Texas math standards are likely to get more help from the state. Students, not so much. More from the Dallas Morning News here: http://www.dallasnews.com/news/local-news/20150201-texas-may-help-school-districts-deal-with-tough-new-math-standards.ece 

January 30, 2015

Harlandale stands up to board, wins apology 

Follow up to yesterday's story, from KENS 5: They refused to be silenced and stood up for their right to speak. Several employees with Harlandale Independent School District said they were denied the right to talk at last week's board meeting. On Thursday, they confronted the school board president -- they stood holding signs that read "free speech" and then applauded after each teacher spoke. 

KENS 5: http://www.kens5.com/story/news/2015/01/29/hisd-protest-harlandale-teachers/22565005 

KSAT: http://www.ksat.com/content/pns/ksat/news/2015/01/29/tsta-demands-right-to-speak-at-harlandale-school-board-meeting.html

Storify: https://storify.com/TSTA/harlandale-local-stands-up-to-board-wins-apology 

January 29, 2015

Harlandale teachers plan protest Thursday

From the San Antonio Express-News: Harlandale Independent School District teachers plan to protest at a specially called board meeting today after representatives from the local chapter of the Texas State Teachers Association were barred from making public comments before the board last week.

Recently installed board president Jesse “Jay” Alaniz told representatives from the group that they could not use the public comments section of the meeting to air concerns because only individuals — not those representing a group — were allowed to do that.

TSTA spokesman Clay Robison said that interpretation tramples the group's First Amendment rights, and he noted that members representing other groups were allowed to speak at the same meeting.

“This is a public board — it’s not a private club,” Robison said. “The public has a right to speak at public meetings, whether they represent themselves or hundreds of other people.”

Julie Gimbel, president of the Harlandale Education Association, the local chapter of TSTA, said she had attended last week’s meeting to complain about the board’s recent adoption of policies she said employees did not have a chance to review. She said the board adopted policies recommended by the Texas Association of School Boards without posting them online, which she said other school districts do.

“Why not give people a voice to talk?” she asked. “Why are we trying to rush things?”

Asked if there was a legal basis for not allowing Gimbel to speak, Tony Resendez, the district’s lawyer, said he wanted to study board policy before commenting. He noted that the board was slated today to discuss how to handle public participation at meetings.

“In general, the law allows boards to interpret their own local policy, so they’ll have that opportunity to talk about it” today, Resendez said.

Alaniz said Gimbel, who is the sister of Harlandale trustee Erma Casarez, is unhappy with the way trustee Christine Carrillo spoke to the teachers group at a board committee meeting and wanted to use last week’s board meeting to respond.

He said the teachers group has used the opportunity for public comment to gain media attention.

“They’re not following protocol, and at one point or another, this has to stop,” he added.

Gimbel said her interest in addressing the board had nothing to do with Carrillo and that the planned protest is meant to send a message that Alaniz is “abusing his power.”

“I identified the issue that I was going to talk about, and I identified myself and who I was, and he violated my right by not allowing me to speak,” she said.

Former board president Velma Ybarra publicly disputed Alaniz's decision to not allow Gimbel to speak, but no other trustees spoke against it.

Carrillo recently sided with Alaniz and two other trustees to install him as the board president.

The board seats held by Alaniz, Ybarra and trustee Anthony Alcoser are up for election in May.

TEA names Blue Ribbon nominees

The Texas Education Agency today announced the nomination of 26 Texas public schools for national 2015 Blue Ribbon Schools recognition. Founded in 1982, Blue Ribbon Schools is a U.S. Department of Education program that recognizes elementary, middle, and high schools where students perform at very high levels. http://tea.texas.gov/About_TEA/News_and_Multimedia/Press_Releases/2015/26_Texas_schools_nominated_for_2015

January 28, 2015

Are you one of America's top 100 tech-savvy educators? 

If you are a tech-savvy K-12 educator with a passion for innovation and a desire to empower your peers by sharing strategies around digital media integration, then the PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovators Program is for you! 100 selected applicants from across the country will receive one year of free professional development, including access to virtual trainings, premium resources, special events, and a robust professional learning community. Don't miss your chance to apply for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Applications are being accepted through February 11, 2015. http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/digitalinnovators

January 27, 2015

Texas School Accountability Dashboard now available

The Texas School Accountability Dashboard provides the public with easily accessible accountability information. It includes the four indexes that are the basis for the state’s accountability system and gives a summary of state, district, and school performance. The dashboard makes it possible to find clear and concise accountability information and demographics for an individual school, an entire school district, or the state as a whole and also allows users to compare performance between districts or schools. Note that districts are not statutorily required to disseminate the dashboard reports to their board of trustees or local communities but may choose to provide a link to the reports from their local website. The dashboard (Texas Education Code §39.309) was required by House Bill 5 (83rd Legislature, 2013).

Campus carry is back with strong Senate backing

A state Senate bill allowing students, faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns on public college campuses was filed Monday with 19 senators as joint authors.

Current law allows those who hold a concealed handgun license to carry their weapons on campus grounds but not inside buildings. Attempts to broaden the law in previous legislative sessions have fallen short under fierce opposition from police chiefs and other law officers, university officials, teachers, parents and students.

“No one should be forced to surrender their God-given, constitutional right to self-defense just because they set foot on a college campus,” said Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown. http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/campus-carry-is-back-with-strong-senate-backing/njxbL/#516b177f.3580207.735625 

January 26, 2015

What I’ve learned: career changer taps into business experience

NEA Today asked school staff to share the lessons they’ve picked up along the way in a series called “What I’ve Learned.” One featured member is Michael Proscelle, a teacher for 15 years at Woodlawn Hills Elementary School in San Antonio. Before becoming an educator he spent nearly two decades as a retail manager for a Texas grocery chain. http://neatoday.org/2015/01/22/ive-learned-career-changer-taps-business-experience

January 23, 2015

DOE denies TEA waiver, wants test-based teacher evaluation

This week, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released a letter from the federal Department of Education (DOE) denying the state’s request for a conditional waiver under NCLB. DOE is insisting that the state mandate that test-based “student growth measures” be linked to teacher evaluation and employment decisions.

January 22, 2015

Beaumont Teachers Association, community rally to maintain multi-year contracts

Today, teachers and community supporters are calling on the Beaumont ISD Board of Managers to maintain multi-year contracts for all contract employees. Two year contracts are the standard in the Golden Triangle and Southeast Texas region. Port Arthur, Nederland, and Port Neches Grove all offer two year contracts. Several districts in the Houston area and around the state are also utilizing multi-year contracts to attract and retain the best teachers. 

“The key to student success is a stable, quality classroom learning environment.  We’re bleeding educators right now and our students suffer when there is a high rate of teacher turnover,” stated Sebrina Dollar, Vice President of the Beaumont Teachers Association. “We want to walk into our classrooms, inspire our students, and become better teachers every year, and that is harder to do when we are constantly worried about losing our job.”

Multi-year term contracts elevate teaching as a profession rather than reducing its status to “just a job.”  A one-year term contract shifts the teacher’s focus from teaching and instruction to job protection. Teachers are less likely to get to know students and parents and put down roots in their community under one-year term contracts in an uncertain job market. 

Maintaining two year contracts will help stabilize the employment practices of BISD in terms of recruitment and retention. One of every seven teachers in Beaumont during the 2012-13 school year was not teaching in Beaumont at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year.  The cost of this turnover for the district may be as high as $1.6 million, based on estimates from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. 

WHAT: Rally to Maintain Multi-Year Contacts

WHERE: BISD Board Room 3395 Harrison Ave. Beaumont, TX 77706

WHEN: Thursday, January 22 at 6:00 p.m.

January 21, 2015     

Texas Senate threshold to debate bills now at three-fifths 

Senators today voted to change the threshold for bringing legislation to the floor from two-thirds of senators present to three-fifths. 

From the Quorum Report: “As Democrats argued the strengthened Republican majority in the Texas Senate was doing ‘irreparable harm’ to the ‘greatest deliberative body on Earth,’ the upper chamber of The Legislature on Wednesday made an historic change to the way legislation is brought to the floor.

“The change championed for years by the Senate’s new presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, passed almost along party lines, with Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, the lone Democrat voting yes,” QR continues. “Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, voted present. After the vote, Patrick said he applauded the decision. ‘This is a change I have advocated for since I first came to the Texas Senate in 2007,’ Patrick said.” 

No home-rule charter for Dallas ISD

The effort to overhaul the way Dallas ISD operates began with a bang a year ago but ended with a whimper Tuesday as a commission decided not to write a home-rule charter.

DISD school board president: http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/latest-columns/20150107-miguel-solis-lets-call-on-the-better-angels-of-our-nature.ece 

Dallas Morning News editorial: http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/editorials/20150119-editorial-dallas-isd-home-rule-commission-must-keep-pushing-for-school-reform.ece

January 20, 2015

Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty

For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation. 

The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches. The lunch program is a rough proxy for poverty, but the explosion in the number of needy children in the nation’s public classrooms is a recent phenomenon that has been gaining attention among educators, public officials and researchers.


January 16, 2015

Columnist reveals flaws in pro-voucher research

A report that reads like a TV infomercial for private school vouchers might be laughable if it weren’t backed by people in power this legislative session. http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/columnists/falkenberg/article/Economist-touts-private-school-vouchers-as-6015999.php?t=34a60a539c&cmpid=twitter-premium

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is Monday

As the holiday approaches, we wanted to share a few of his quotes (a link to lesson plans can be found at the top of this page, third slide).

  • The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society.
  • In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone…Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.
  • One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.

MLK Day Events http://www.pointsoflight.org/signature-events/martin-luther-king-jr-day-service

Speeches http://www.mlkonline.net/speeches.html

January 14, 2015

TSTA member is national Teacher of the Year finalist

Shanna Peeples, an English teacher at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo ISD, has been named one of four finalists for the 2015 National Teacher of the Year!  In October, she was named Texas Teacher of the Year. The other national finalists hail from Alabama, Hawaii, and Indiana. The 2015 National Teacher of the Year will be announced in April. http://www.tasanet.org/cms/lib07/TX01923126/Centricity/domain/14/capwatch/2015/toy-final.pdf

January 12, 2015

Coalition on new revenue estimate: must place needs of Texans first 

Today the new Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Glenn Hegar, issued a revenue estimate of $113 billion in general revenue for the 2016-2017 budget. Lawmakers will have enough available to fund a "current services" budget that takes into account cost growth and make much needed increases to education and other areas, but only by placing the needs of Texans first in the budget and tax debate.

The Steering Committee of the Texas Forward coalition issued the following statement: “The available revenue forecast by the Comptroller gives lawmakers the opportunity to prioritize meaningful investments in the people of Texas instead of handing our tax dollars to special interests seeking tax giveaways. Legislators will need to make smart choices to ensure sustainable and adequate revenue sources that protect our long term prosperity.” http://www.txforward.org

NEA calls for more equal opportunity in NCLB reauthorization

NEA has been a staunch critic of the failed No Child Left Behind system since its implementation more than 12 years ago. NEA President Lily Eskelsen García says NEA is pleased the Administration is calling for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. 

“We are looking forward to working with Republicans, Democrats, the civil rights community, educators and other partners in ensuring that all students have equal educational opportunity—the original focus of ESEA. Our focus is on providing equal opportunity to every child so that they may be prepared for college and career. A child’s chances for success should not depend on living in the right zip code," Garcia said. 

“In order to do this, we must reduce the emphasis on standardized tests that have corrupted the quality of the education received by children, especially those in high poverty areas. Parents and educators know that the one-size-fits-all annual federal testing structure has not worked. We support grade span testing to free up time and resources for students, diminish ‘teaching to the test,’ expand extracurricular activities, and allow educators to focus on what is most important: instilling a love of learning in their students," she continued. "We must give states and districts the flexibility to use assessments they feel are best for identifying achievement gaps, rather than forcing them to live with a one-size-fits-all approach that often ignores high needs children.

“And we should move toward a smarter accountability system that looks at more than just a test score, but focuses on the many factors that are indicative of school and student success, and highlight gaps in equity that must be addressed.”

January 11, 2015

TSTA President's message on community schools spreads

TSTA President Noel Candelaria's editorial has run in many newspapers across the state this week, including those in Austin, San Antonio, El Paso, Houston, Odessa, Denton, Amarillo, and McAllen. 

"One of the most abused words in the political arena is 'reform,' " Candelaria says. "Self-styled education 'reformers' will be at the state Capitol again this year, pitching vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and privatization schemes that would weaken public schools and help only a few students while lining the pockets of educational profiteers.<--break-> Those so-called reforms fail to support what is most important: our neighborhood public schools. They are the heart of education, and they will continue to educate the vast majority of Texas students." 


January 9, 2015

Vouchers don’t equate to better education, hurt school districts

Today's editorial in the Austin American Statesman is so good, we're reprinting the whole thing:

School choice proponents hope that the stars have aligned this coming legislative session to make way for a school voucher program in Texas. For the economic and educational future of this state, we hope they are wrong. Dismantling the public education system, even with its flaws, is not a recipe for a bright, economically competitive future for Texas.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Texas Association of Business gave a taste of their education agendas on Wednesday with the release of their joint study, “The Texas Economy and School Choice.” The study suggests that adopting a universal voucher program — any student could use up to 60 percent of a state allotment to pay for private school tuition — would raise graduation rates, improve student performance and add $260 billion to $460 billion to the Texas economy.Rather than rely on an educational expert to make the case, the two groups hired an economic investment research firm founded by economist Arthur Laffer, who is probably best known for being a leading proponent of supply-side economics from the Reagan era. The result is a study that cherry picks data from existing school choice programs around the country, including an experiment in Milwaukee, Wis., that the Laffer report uses to suggest Texas could cut its existing drop-out rate in half.

Hogwash. The evidence from educational research is far from clear that school choice programs improve student outcomes. While the state may save money initially by spending 40 percent less than it already spends under our current inadequate public school funding, there might be high costs down the road.

For example, Laffer refers to a study by the University of Colorado’s National Education Policy Center to suggest that students in the Milwaukee program are more likely to graduate, but he leaves out the fact that nearly 75 percent of students who start in the voucher program do not stay in the program until graduation. The Milwaukee studies do show improvement in student performance, but the authors also indicate that crediting vouchers was likely premature, since the state also implemented a high-stakes accountability policy for private schools at the same time.

Just those two caveats in the findings make suggesting a $260 billion windfall from a voucher program in Texas a risky venture at best, while ignoring the very real costs to our constiutionally required public education system.

The voucher debate in Texas is not new. Our newly elected lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, has a history of pushing voucher-like programs as a state senator, and he has made clear that he would like to see such programs succeed in the future. Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels filed a bill for just such a program this week and stands a good chance of becoming the next Education Committee chair, a powerful positition that could help make vouchers a reality. (She filed a similar bill in 2013.)

Until now, reason has prevailed in the Legislature on the subject of taking money from underfunded public schools to be given to unregulated private and parochial schools.

Despite the rhetoric by TAB and others about designing the programs to help poor and minority students trapped in low-performing schools, any universal voucher program will more likely subsidize private school for those who can already afford it. Vouchers do not change the dynamics of student preparation, family transportation or the inherent lack of alternative choices in the state’s rural communities.

Private and parochial schools have the advantage of being able to choose who they accept and what types of students they are willing to serve. They do not have to serve students with language challenges or learning disabilities. They can dismiss students who do not follow their rules. And any private school development officer will tell you that the tuition they do charge families does not cover the cost of educating the students they do take.

Despite the suggestion that marketplace competition will cure public education, alternatives do not necessarily equate to better education for students, as the Texas experience with charter schools can attest.

The consequences of lost student headcount should not be underestimated, and state lawmakers should remember that a decision to opt out of the public system is as much a referendum on them as it is a vote of confidence in the school. Some parents opt out because of school performance, but some opt out because of state-related mandates like diminished arts and physical education classes and objections to state-mandated testing.

What economists like Laffer and groups like TAB fail to consider is the high cost of removing the community connection to its school district. The success of any district is directly dependent on the paritcipation of middle-class families, and once they are no longer vested in neighborhood schools, the students who remain and the community at large pay the price.

A universal voucher program would decimate that connnection, making investment and serving the students that remain difficult, if not impossible.

Texas 39th in new Quality Counts report

With a C-minus average, Texas ranks 39th among the states in Education Week’s Quality Counts 2015 survey of key educational indicators. Texas is ranked below the U.S. average on several measurements, including school spending and equity. http://www.edweek.org/ew/qc/index.html?intc=intst

January 7, 2015

Community schools key to success

"One of the most abused words in the political arena is 'reform,' " TSTA President Noel Candelaria says in an editorial that's running this week in newspapers across the state. "Self-styled education 'reformers' will be at the state Capitol again this year, pitching vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and privatization schemes that would weaken public schools and help only a few students while lining the pockets of educational profiteers. Those so-called reforms fail to support what is most important: our neighborhood public schools. They are the heart of education, and they will continue to educate the vast majority of Texas students." http://www.oaoa.com/editorial/columns/guest_columns/article_716117e8-9692-11e4-8319-c760c7716a90.html 

Proposed voucher scheme represents major tax-giveaway to private schools

A proposed new private school voucher scheme, a so-called “taxpayer savings grant,” represents a massive tax-giveaway that would drain hundreds of millions of dollars each year from neighborhood public schools to subsidize tuition at private and religious schools, mostly benefiting wealthy families.

Charles Luke, coordinator for the Coalition for Public Schools, notes several major flaws to Sen. Donna Campbell’s voucher scheme, Senate Bill 276.

“Senator Campbell’s proposal would pose yet another threat to the education of 5.1 million Texas children who attend our local neighborhood schools,” Luke said. “We’ve seen this kind of creative math before, and the state of Texas simply cannot afford to fund two separate school systems: one for the vast majority of Texas children and another for those students granted state funding to attend a private, for-profit school that is not accountable to the taxpayers for how they use our tax dollars.”

Among the flaws in Sen. Campbell’s proposed voucher scheme:

First, the scheme is modeled after previous bills that analysts have shown would end up funneling more state dollars to educate a student at a private school than a student attending a public school.

Second, the proposed legislation explicitly exempts private schools that accept the voucher dollars from state education accountability regulations, financial and academic, that public schools must meet. That would leave private schools unaccountable to the taxpayers providing the funds.

Third, the students most likely to benefit from this voucher scheme are those from wealthy families that can afford to pay the difference between the value of the voucher and the actual cost of tuition at a private or religious school. That contradicts claims that this voucher scheme would close achievement gaps between low-income and wealthy families.

The Legislature has yet to make up the massive funding cuts to public schools passed in 2011. This proposed voucher scheme would make it even harder for public schools to cover that funding shortfall.

“This bill is just another voucher scam that cuts funds that public schools need to educate the vast majority of Texas students while creating a parallel taxpayer-funded system for unaccountable private schools,” Luke said. "The promised ‘savings’ come at the expense of kids left behind in public schools with even less funding than they had before.”

The Coalition for Public Schools represents over 30 organizations supporting our Texas public neighborhood schools.

SBEC to begin livestreaming with Jan. 9 meeting

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) will begin livestreaming its proceedings beginning with a scheduled special meeting and work session on Jan. 9. The livestream will mark the first time that SBEC meetings – open to the public, but traditionally held in Austin – will be available for viewing via the Internet.

Created by the Texas Legislature in 1995, SBEC oversees all aspects of the preparation, certification and standards of conduct of public school educators. SBEC's mission is to ensure the highest level of educator preparation to promote student achievement and to ensure the safety and welfare of Texas school children.

SBEC members include 11 voting members appointed by the governor to six-year terms: four classroom teachers, one counselor, two administrators, and four citizens. Three non-voting members – appointed by the governor, Commissioner of Education, and Commissioner of Higher Education – also serve on the board: the governor appoints a dean of a college of education, the Commissioner of Education appoints a staff member of the Texas Education Agency, and the Commissioner of Higher Education appoints a staff member of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

To view the livestream of the SBEC meeting on Jan. 9 (scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. CT), visit http://www.texasadmin.com/teaec.shtml.

To see the SBEC meeting agenda, go to http://tea.texas.gov/About_TEA/Leadership/State_Board_for_Educator_Certification/SBEC_Meetings/January_9,_2015_Special_Meeting_and_Work_Session_Agenda.

January 6, 2015

Tuition officially surpasses state funding

Students now pay more of the cost of attending public universities than state governments, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report, and the federal agency says it's making college unaffordable.Read more here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/04/student-tuition-public-colleges-gao_n_6411998.html.

January 5, 2015

Editorial: Time to fix public school financing

“Gov.-elect Greg Abbott has set exactly the right tone by saying his focus as the leader of our state will be public education,” begins an editorial in today’s Longview and Denton papers. “That’s just what the Legislature should be thinking about when it goes into session, because public education in Texas is in a near-crisis mostly due to what happened two sessions earlier.” Read more at http://www.dentonrc.com/opinion/editorials-headlines/20150105-time-to-fix-public-school-financing.ece

Register today for NEA National Leadership Summit

Education leaders from across the country are invited to register for the second annual NEA National Leadership Summit. More than 1,500 educators will convene Feb. 27 through March 1 in Anaheim, California to discuss professional empowerment, teacher engagement, and techniques for academic improvement.

Members will participate in interactive discussions, workshops, and case studies and will return to their school districts with sustainable solutions, new skill sets, and action plans.

The high-energy event features a keynote address by international education advisor Sir Ken Robinson whose TED talk on schools and creativity has drawn more than 29 million views to date.

Early registration is $225; late registration begins Jan. 8 for $300. Registration will close Jan. 28 or when all sessions are full.

Register or find more information at http://www.nea.org/grants/60457.htm.

December 18, 2014

Holiday schedule

TSTA offices will be closed from Dec. 22 until Jan. 5. We wish you a happy and restful winter break!

December 17, 2014

Dallas home-rule panel to decide on charter in January

From the Dallas Morning News: The Dallas ISD home-rule commission will decide next month whether to create a charter that could determine how the district is operated and governed. Voters would need to approve it in an election with at least a 25 percent turnout.

The story: http://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/headlines/20141216-dallas-isd-home-rule-panel-to-decide-on-charter-in-january.ece

New blog: http://www.tsta.org/grading-texas/austin-isd/a-tale-of-two-superintendents

Background: http://www.tsta.org/grading-texas/dallas-isd/you-cant-improve-schools-by-running-over-educators

December 10, 2014

Sunset Commission endorses move to abolish SBEC

Over the objections of TSTA, the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission today recommended that the Legislature abolish the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) and transfer its duties to the state education commissioner. If legislators pass the necessary law, the commissioner also would be empowered to establish an advisory committee to assist with the regulation of educators and educator preparation programs.

TSTA supports the continuation of SBEC and its authority to monitor and certify educator preparation programs. We believe that teachers should be treated no differently from other licensed professions that have governing boards of peers who help set and regulate professional standards.

The Sunset Commission also recommended that the Legislature give the education commissioner administrative subpoena power to investigate cases of alleged educator misconduct. TSTA also opposed this proposal because it would allow the Texas Education Agency to obtain confidential information about an educator without notifying the accused or filing a petition. TSTA believes this imbalance of power would violate due process and allow state government to go on unregulated fishing expeditions against educators.

December 9, 2014

Upcoming TSTA and NEA meetings

Here's some new information on the 2015 TSTA House of Delegates and ESP Conference and the NEA Representative Assembly.

TSTA House of Delegates

The TSTA House of Delegates (HOD) is TSTA’s highest decision-making body and serves a vital role in the governance of TSTA. Delegates are elected as representatives to the HoD, and may establish goals for TSTA, amend its bylaws, and act on recommendations from the TSTA officers, board, or committees. Elections for officers, NEA Directors, and At-Large members of the TSTA Board are held at this annual assembly. The HoD will be held at the Embassy Suites in Frisco, Texas this year on Friday April 10 and Saturday April 11. Please make your reservations by using the link below. Please contact Jan Parks at the TSTA Center for Executive and Governance by emailing janp@tsta.org or calling 512-476-5355 X 1543 if you need assistance with this link or if you prefer not to make online reservations. https://resweb.passkey.com/Resweb.do?mode=welcome_ei_new&eventID=11792429&utm_source=62091&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=36656862

ESP Statewide Conference

The ESP Statewide Conference on April 12, follows the TSTA House of Delegates in Frisco and is designed specifically for education support personnel. This conference is open to all TSTA members and non-members alike.

Representative Assembly

The NEA Representative Assembly (RA) is NEA’s highest decision-making body. Delegates to the RA debate issues impacting American public education, elect top officers, and set association policy.  Texas delegates to the RA are elected both locally and statewide. The NEA RA is always held the first week of July. This year, the NEA RA will be in Orlando, Florida.

December 5, 2014

Here’s what the Healthcare Sustainability Studies say

ActiveCare and Care will be in the spotlight during the upcoming legislative session. The legislature will be asked to make improvements in both plans over the next biennium, with the emphasis being placed on increased funding. The TRS Healthcare Sustainability Studies have been delivered to the legislature; here are the details from TSTA Government Relations Specialist John Grey. http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/TRS-2015LegSession.pdf

December 3, 2014

Texas education head refuses to let up on vouchers

From the Houston Chronicle's chron.com: "For more than 20 years and a dozen legislative sessions, the Texas Legislature has defeated one proposal after another that would have diverted scarce taxpayer dollars from public schools and transferred the money to unaccountable private schools. Just last year, there was a test of legislative sentiment on the issue in the Texas House, and by a bipartisan supermajority of 103 to 43, our state representatives voted to ban any spending for private-school vouchers.

"Nonetheless, Commissioner of Education Michael Williams, Gov. Rick Perry's appointee at the helm of the Texas Education Agency, is now trying to bring private-school vouchers to Texas through the back door. In an application this month to the U.S. Department of Education for federal grant funding to expand pre-K in Texas, Williams included a proposed pre-K voucher program that would fund private preschools at a rate of up to $8,000 per child."

Read more: http://m.chron.com/opinion/outlook/article/Texas-education-head-refuses-to-let-up-on-vouchers-5930598.php

Teacher leaders key to improving student learning

ASCD’s Whole Child Symposium — held at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., this week — seeks to identify concrete actions educators can take to improve education systems, processes, and outcomes for students.

“Our goal is to increase and support leadership opportunities for educators in schools across the country,” said NEA Vice President Becky Pringle, who served on a panel at the event. 

December 1, 2014

Harm from vouchers: symposium examines evidence

On Dec. 2 the Coalition for Public Schools, which includes TSTA, will hold a symposium at the state Capitol to examine the evidence regarding private-school vouchers and related policies and look at research-based alternatives.

The Pre-Legislative Education Symposium is free, open to all, and would be well worth attending. The event will be from 9:00 – 11:30 AM at the Capitol Auditorium in Austin. Respected academic researchers and education leaders will examine the flaws in voucher programs that threaten public education. Panelists include:

  • Dr. Kevin Welner – Director of the National Education Policy Center
  • Dr. Julie Fisher Mead – Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis University of Wisconsin – Madison
  • Dr. Luis Huerta – Teachers College, Columbia University
  • Dr. David Anthony – Raise Your Hand Texas
  • Leslie Boggs – Texas PTA President
  • Gina Hinojosa – Austin ISD School Board
  • John Kuhn – Superintendent Perrin-Whitt ISD
  • Allen Weeks – Save Texas Schools
  • Steven Aleman – Disability Rights Texas
  • Rev. Charles Foster Johnson – Pastors for Texas Children

Visit the Facebook event page at https://www.facebook.com/events/595993583862691.

November 24, 2014

Ideology and expediency drive SBOE textbook debate

On Nov. 21, the State Board of Education did what they don’t do well, by essentially violating the textbook adoption process to approve social studies textbooks that in some cases include controversial “theories” that defy accepted historic and academic facts. Due to the impact of the Tea Party on the electoral chances of Republican members, the 10-5 vote to adopt the textbooks was cast along party lines, with Republicans voting to adopt and Democrats opposing adoption. 

The SBOE debate was fractious and unfortunately, not centered on what is best for our students. Instead, ideology drove the debate, and discussions centered on matters ranging from cultural diversity to the evil lurking in Common Core. In the end expediency trumped concerns that sufficient time was not given to review publishers’ responses to errors found during the review process, including a 400-page report submitted by one publisher, as the majority feared textbooks might not be adopted if the process was not concluded at this meeting. 

That adoption process requires that all public comment and review be completed by Sept. 25. However, the process was ignored when the right-wing Truth in Texas Textbooks (TTT) submitted a 460-page report of factual errors just before the November meeting.  Social conservatives allowed the founder of TTT more than an hour to testify, while a Harvard historian was given less than a minute. 

The SBOE is statutorily bound to notify local districts about which textbooks are available by December 1 so the local adoption process can begin. SBOE member Ruben Cortez made a motion that there be a special meeting on Dec. 1 so members could review the reams of reports sent by publishers prior to voting. The motion also failed on a party-line vote. 

The top five for the 84th Session

Also last week, the Board identified several legislative priorities, then narrowed the list down to five top concerns. SBOE member Mercer moved that his legislative priority – criminalization of the Common Core and its use – be included, but after rebukes from members Knight, Ratliff, and Rowley, the motion was rejected. After hours of discussion, the SBOE adopted five legislative priorities: 

restoring the responsibilities of the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to the SBOE, although they didn’t specifically call for eliminating SBEC. 

new and additional funding for instructional materials that wouldn’t involve diverting other funds; 

funding for local districts to hire more guidance personnel to meet the requirements of HB 5; 

additional funds for TEA to strengthen its curriculum department to support the TEKS and textbook adoption processes; and 

funding for the creation and implementation of the SBOE long-range strategic plan.

Commissioner Williams’ report

TEA has applied for a Pre-K grant to provide greater access, strengthen teacher professional development, and fund full-day classes, which includes a provision to use some of those funds for private pre-K providers.

TEA has a new website, http://tea.texas.gov.

A board of managers has been appointed for the Honors Academy charter district.  The campus has been operating as a private school since the beginning of the school year and will cease operation on Dec. 1.

Students will no longer have to pass the 5th and 8th grade Math STAAR to advance to the next grade level. They will still be required to pass the reading assessment.

Williams addressed concerns about the Math TEKS and the timing of the Math STAAR two months before the end of the school year. He feels the latter should be given early enough that results would be back before the end of the school year.

Other action

The SBOE adopted a 3.5 percent distribution rate from the Permanent School Fund (PSF).  The PSF enjoyed a 15.94 percent return in 2014, outperforming its benchmarks by 58 basis points and strengthening the cushion it must maintain to ensure intergenerational equity.

The board adopted on second reading the curricular requirements for Languages Other Than English (LOTE).

The SBOE also adopted textbooks for math and fine arts.

Friend of Education Award deadline is Dec. 1

As noted in the Fall Advocate, TSTA presents many awards. One deadline is coming soon: nominations for the Friend of Education Award must be received by Monday, Dec. 1. This award recognizes either (1) an individual who is not a professional educator who has made a significant contribution to the cause of public education or (2) an organization/company outside the field of education that has made an outstanding contribution in the field of education. 

Please see http://tsta.org/news-center/awards-grants#friend for details about the award and how to submit nominations, and contact Neocha Campbell in the Center for Executive and Governance at neochac@tsta.org if you have questions.

November 21, 2014

SBOE adopts instructional materials

The State Board of Education voted today to adopt new instructional products for social studies, fine arts, and high school mathematics courses and adopted legislative recommendations. More details from Texas Education Agency are available at http://tea.texas.gov/About_TEA/News_and_Multimedia/Press_Releases/2014/SBOE_adopts_instructional_materials.

Teacher Retirement System Board completes two-day board meeting

The important news was the actuarial valuation of the Pension Trust Fund as of Aug. 31. The Fund earned an annual rate of return of 16.8 percent, ending the fiscal year at a market value of $132.8 billion compared to a market value of $117.4 billion for the fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2013.

The funding period of the Unfunded Actuarial Accrued Liability increased slightly as a result of the cost-of-living adjustment passed by the legislature in 2013 and a change in mortality assumptions. The Fund is still considered to be actuarially sound, with a funding period under 30 years.

The overall takeaway from the meeting is that the Fund is in good shape, and that the next legislative session will need to address funding issues with ActiveCare and Care.

The next Board meeting will be Feb. 11-13.

November 20, 2014

How did you celebrate ESP Day?

Wednesday of American Education Week is ESP Day, and our locals in the Beaumont, Pt. Arthur, Ysleta, Southwest, and Cy-Fair school districts celebrated.

Beaumont/Pt Arthur: The two locals’ annual banquet honoring ESPs and other school employees drew 60 people! 

Southwest: Southwest TSTA welcomed NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, TSTA President Noel Candelaria and TSTA Vice President Ovidia Molina. 

Ysleta: Ysleta Teachers Association launched a fair pay campaign on National ESP Day at the Board of Trustees meeting. Their resolution was put on the agenda for the December meeting. 

Cy-Fair: Three members spoke at the school board meeting about the great education employees in the district.

November 19, 2014

NEA president returns to Texas

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia is back in Texas for American Education Week. She'll be at Southwest Elementary in Southwest ISD for Educator for a Day Thursday, when community leaders are invited to serve as educators to get a glimpse at a day in the life of a school employee. Later in the day, TSTA President Noel Canderlaria will join her for a press conference, meeting with the San Antonio Express-News editorial board, and a reception at Aggie Park. Garcia ends her tour Friday with a breakfast with area superintendents and board members.

Textbook controversy continues

From the Austin American-Statesman: Despite months of debate, the State Board of Education failed to grant preliminary approval Tuesday to new history and social studies textbooks for Texas public schools with a third of its members voting no and nearly as many abstaining.

In separate unanimous votes, the 15-member elected education board gave preliminary approval to fine arts and mathematics textbooks and online instructional materials that will appear in classrooms starting next fall and which were not the subject of nearly as much controversy as those covering history and other social studies topics such as geography and government.

The failed preliminary vote came amid a fresh wave of concern about bias in the textbooks from across the political spectrum with new requests for revisions, and responses from publishers, continuing to roll in despite submission deadlines the board set.

The nearly four-hour public hearing Tuesday, for example, was somewhat dominated by conservative group Truth in Texas Textbooks, which submitted a 469-page report in October — a month after a Sept. 5 submission deadline — requesting publishers make hundreds of changes.

The group’s chairman, San Antonio tea party activist Roy White, who also leads the local chapter of a national organization dedicated to fighting extremist Islam, told the board the textbooks did not adequately portray Islam as violent. Several members applauded White for his efforts and lamented the fact that his report had come in so late, saying they hoped publishers would respond on their own accord.

Another speaker said she thought one textbook published by Cengage Learning — which the board later decided to exclude from its approval list — illegally invoked the Common Core, a national initiative to set uniform academic standards in public schools that the Texas Legislature banned last year and conservatives often bash for perceived liberal bias. That led to a motion to approve all social studies materials except for Cengage, which board members later dropped amid concerns that they might approve content they haven’t reviewed with publishers still responding to change requests.

A few scholars reiterated concern about the textbooks’ emphasis on the influence of Moses and Christianity upon the founding of the nation, but were asked almost no questions.

The board has given publishers an indefinite amount of time to respond to public comments. Some of their revisions were posted online as late as Tuesday, which is why Chairwoman Barbara Cargill said she chose to abstain from the vote. Three other Republicans abstained, and all five Democrats voted no.

“I want to read those first,” Cargill said. “For me, what’s really important is that they stand firm on our rich religious heritage and the benefits of the free enterprise system.”

Despite the failed preliminary vote, the education board still is set to take a final — likely tense — vote on textbooks and dozens of related digital learning materials for all subject areas on Friday.

Cargill said she thinks all the fine arts and mathematics instructional materials, including textbooks, will be approved at that meeting and “at least some” of the social studies instructional materials.

Others who abstained noted the vote was nonbinding.

“It’s no big deal,” said District 11 board member Patricia Hardy of Fort Worth. Hardy said she wanted to be sure textbooks accurately described the U.S. as a “constitutional republic” rather than a “democracy,” a concern another speaker raised during the public hearing.

District 9 board member Thomas Ratliff, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, however, bemoaned the vote as a sign of gridlock — and that changes are needed to improve the instructional material adoption process. Ratliff said he “cast an aye vote to keep it moving forward.”

“It’s time to look at our process and make it longer, more robust and allow for more thoughtful deliberation, because this is awful. This is just awful,” he said.

November 17, 2014

Senate Education Committee report: voucher fight begins, again

On Monday, Nov. 17, the Senate Committee on Education, led by Chairman and Lt. Governor elect Dan Patrick, met to discuss school facility demands, privatization, and the implementation of Senate Bill 2, the charter school expansion bill from last session. The liveliest discussions centered on vouchers and education tax credits.

TSTA testified on the perils of privatizing public education. TSTA noted that Texas voters do not favor taking state tax dollars from shortchanged neighborhood schools and sending those funds to private and religious schools, for several good reasons.

The state school finance system has been found unconstitutional, woefully inadequate and inequitable by a state district judge, and state tax dollars for education should be used to fix that system, not for private schools.

Private and religious schools discriminate in their admissions on the basis of religion, prior educational performance, gender, English-speaking ability, citizenship, and athletic ability. Using state dollars to engage in discriminatory practices would be unconstitutional. 

Further, special needs students who would use vouchers or education tax credits to attend private schools would lose the important federal protections under IDEA. 

The bottom line is simple: vouchers and education tax credits are bad public policy and only serve to harm neighborhood public schools when we should be working to provide parents and teachers the opportunity to develop policies that truly involve the community in the effort to strengthen neighborhood schools. 

Today’s hearing will most likely be the last Senate Education hearing of the interim. Stay tuned to learn who will chair the Senate Education Committee during the next legislative session.

Celebrate American Education Week

Communities nationwide are joining the NEA from Nov. 16-22 to celebrate 93 years of American Education Week (AEW), the annual observance that honors students, teachers, education support professional, parents, and community members who help students succeed. http://neatoday.org/2014/11/13/celebrate-american-education-week-november-17-21

November 12, 2014

What will Texas do with its additional billions?

The Legislature, when it convenes Jan. 13, will have billions of additional dollars to spend on state needs without raising anyone’s taxes, thanks to the state’s strong economy. Lawmakers will have enough money to immediately begin drafting an adequate and fair school finance system, as recently ordered by a state district judge. What the Legislature actually does with the additional billions, however, will be decided by the officeholders elected on Tuesday, including a new governor and a new lieutenant governor, who so far seem more inclined to waste the opportunity. 

•Read more in Grading Texas at http://www.tsta.org/grading-texas/dan-patrick/strong-economy-offers-opportunity-for-schools-but.  

•A related post says this great opportunity for school funding already is in jeopardy: http://www.tsta.org/grading-texas/dan-patrick/the-debate-should-be-about-school-funding-not-tax-cuts.

October 28, 2014

TSTA member wins Teacher of the Year

Shanna Peeples is the 2015 Texas Teacher of the Year! An English teacher at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo ISD, Peeples has been a member of Amarillo Education Association/TSTA since 2003. She will represent Texas in the National Teacher of the Year competition.

Since 1969, the Teacher of the Year Program has honored excellence in classroom education and provided a forum to showcase many outstanding educators whose efforts and example have inspired their students, their colleagues, and the communities they serve.

October 24, 2014

Raising the bar or shutting the door?

For the third time, the State Board of Educator Certification (SBEC) reviewed and discussed the contentious GPA requirement for entry into an educator preparation program. At its May 2013 meeting, SBEC adopted language that would raise the GPA requirement to 2.75.  It reversed itself at its August meeting and sent the proposed rule to SBOE, which exercised its authority to reject the rule.  SBOE rejected the entire rule (19 TAC Chapter 227) on grounds that a 2.5 GPA requirement did not comply with legislative intent (SBOE had requested a letter from the sponsoring legislator).

At the most recent meeting of SBEC, the board considered three options.  The first was to do nothing and let the 2.5 GPA requirement stand; the second option was to seek an opinion from the Attorney General but the time lag in the process deemed this unlikely; and the third option was to gather additional data and bring it back for discussion at its March meeting.  Some board members expressed concern about having sent the rule with the 2.5 in it to SBOE and, after reading the statutory language, admitted that it mandated as 2.75 GPA.

Alternative certification providers and school administrators expressed the most concern about increasing the GPA requirement, citing the impact it would have on potential candidates for entry into teacher certification and shrinking the pool of available teachers.  SBEC member Grant Simpson presented the board with research on this issue.  The study concluded that:(1) GPA is an adequate predictor of success in the educator preparation program, on the certification exam, and in the classroom; and (2) an increase in the GPA requirement from 2.5 to 2.75 would eliminate 25% of under-represented groups in teacher preparation programs.

Proponents of the increase in the GPA requirement argue that the higher GPA would elevate teaching as a profession and make public schools more competitive with high-performing global counterparts which attract the highest performing 1/3 of their students into teaching.

The confusion stems from the language in the statute:

Sec. 21.0441.  ADMISSION REQUIREMENTS FOR EDUCATOR PREPARATION PROGRAMS.  (a)  Rules of the board proposed under this subchapter must provide that a person, other than a person seeking career and technology education certification, is not eligible for admission to an educator preparation program, including an alternative educator preparation program, unless the person:

(1)  except as provided by Subsection (b), satisfies minimum grade point average requirements prescribed by the board, not to exceed the following:

(A)  an overall grade point average of at least 2.75 on a four-point scale or the equivalent on any course work previously attempted at a public or private institution of higher education; or

(B)  a grade point average of at least 2.75 on a four-point scale or the equivalent for the last 60 semester credit hours attempted at a public or private institution of higher education. 

The Sun Also Sets

SBEC member Bricker opined that SBEC’s failure to address the issue (i.e., raise the GPA) may provide ammunition for the Texas Sunset Review Commission to approve a recommendation to axe the board.  The Sunset Review Commission will hold a public hearing on November 12th and 13th. SBEC adopted a statement to be presented to the Commission, with its recommendations being released on or around December 10th. 

Who’s on First

The board received an update on the new Core Subjects EC-6 and Core Subjects 4-8 tests being implemented in January, 2015 and approved the passing standards for each examination.  Members expressed concern that the exhaustive tests (over five hours in length with 267 core subjects covered) may present problems for people taking the test.  A key change in the format is that candidates no longer have to pass all content areas to pass the test.  Currently, if you fail one content area, you have to take the entire examination again. Under the Core Subjects examination, a candidate would only take the exam(s) not passed. 

The January 2015 administration is a pilot administration and data from it will be used to make any necessary changes within the confines of (1) test validity requirements; (2) cost of implementation; and (3) legislative intent.

In a somewhat odd twist, TEC 21.048(a) gives authority to the Commissioner to determine the satisfactory level of performance required for each exam and in the second TEC 21.048(a), that authority is given to SBEC.


Text of subsection as amended by Acts 2013, 83rd Leg., R.S., Ch. 1292 (H.B. 2318), Sec. 2

(a)  The board shall propose rules prescribing comprehensive examinations for each class of certificate issued by the board.  The commissioner shall determine the satisfactory level of performance required for each certification examination.  For the issuance of a generalist certificate, the commissioner shall require a satisfactory level of examination performance in each core subject covered by the examination.

Text of subsection as amended by Acts 2013, 83rd Leg., R.S., Ch. 1282 (H.B. 2012), Sec. 5

(a)  The board shall propose rules prescribing comprehensive examinations for each class of certificate issued by the board.  The board shall determine the satisfactory level of performance required for each certification examination.  For the issuance of a generalist certificate, the board shall require a satisfactory level of examination performance in each core subject covered by the examination.

In other action, SBEC:

Adopted a rule-review calendar for years 2015 through 2018.  First up is Chapter 249 – Disciplinary Proceedings, Sanctions, and Contested Cases, which will begin in March 2015.

Amended Chapter 249(b)(7) as follows: “the person has failed to provide information required to be provided by SBEC rules, including, but not limited to §229.3 of this title (relating to Required Submissions of Information, Surveys, and Other Data).”  The board did not reinsert the word “willfully” or “recklessly.”

Adopted for first reading and filing authorization a fee schedule that raises fees for EPPs and reduces the fees for certification candidates.

Adopted for first reading and filing authorization sanctions and a process for investigations for complaints.

Approved Board Operating Policies and Procedures that include, among other things, webcasting of SBEC meetings and a rulemaking process that includes start and ends dates for the public comment period on SBEC rules.

October 23, 2014

All-hazard approach to safe schools should embrace health, mental health 

From TEA: As part of Texas Safe Schools Week (Oct. 19-25), the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) at Texas State University and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) noted that mental health plays a key role in a safe and secure learning environment.
Senate Bill 460, passed by the 83rd Texas Legislature and signed into law, seeks to strengthen the detection and education of students with mental or emotional disorders. It provides effective strategies for teaching and intervention and information for parents and guardians as to how they can take appropriate action in seeking mental health services. Under the legislation, the State Board of Educator Certification is responsible for appointing a board of experts in the diagnosis and treatment of mental or emotional disorders to create instruction in the detection and education of students with mental or emotional disorders.  

“Student health and safety are key components of all-hazard emergency plans and procedures and require input from such key community partners as law enforcement, medical services, public health, fire services and mental health,” said Dr. Victoria Calder, executive director of the Texas School Safety Center.

As part of preparedness, it is critical to identify school district and community resources, with disaster behavioral health experience and training, prior to an emergency. Educators then should work with community mental health service providers to ensure a variety of services are available to students and staff who need them.

“A strong collaboration between our educators and local mental health professionals is essential for the academic and emotional well-being of every student,” said Commissioner of Education Michael Williams. “This commitment plays a key role in creating a positive learning environment.”

While emotional health should be part of school district health and discipline programs, the psychological and mental health response also is a critical component of school emergency planning. Emotional health often is influenced by emergencies or traumatic events involving the school or the community and can have lasting effects. There are things schools can do to support the emotional needs of students, including:

  • Immediately responding to imminent warning signs;
  • Immediately informing parents or guardians;
  • Making safety the first consideration, even if that means involving administrators and law enforcement; and
  • Seeking assistance from appropriate community agencies (such as child and famliy services and community mental health) that have trained staff  and programs in place specific to the needs of children.

Texas Safe Schools Week is held annually in conjunction with the national America’s Safe Schools Week. To read the Governor’s Safe School Week proclamation, the joint Texas Education Agency-Texas School Safety Center proclamation or to learn more about Texas Safe Schools Week topics, visit the Texas Education Agency website at www.tea.state.tx.us or the Texas School Safety Center website at http://txssc.txstate.edu/.

October 21, 2014

We’ve redesigned our app!

Our TSTA app’s new toolbar helps you stay in contact with TSTA and your local association. In addition to better design and flow, the improved app allows you to easily:

• Share the app with a friend
• Share education news stories
• Access a list of other locals’ social media
• Update your TSTA contact information
• Stay logged in

Update today or download free from iTunes or Google Play!

Apply for an athletics grant 

California Casualty, provider of the NEA® Auto and Home Insurance Program, is taking applications for the 2014/2015 California Casualty Thomas R. Brown Athletics Grant program. The grant program was created to offset severe budget cuts that have forced public high schools across the nation to decrease, eliminate or implement fees for their sporting programs – leaving some students sitting on the sidelines unable to participate. Schools demonstrating the most need will receive grants in amounts of $1,000 to $3,000. Applications for the 2014/2015 academic year must be received by January 15, 2015, for consideration. Details and application forms can be found at www.calcasathleticsgrant.com.

October 18, 2014

TSTA's state committees are meeting

TSTA's state committees are meeting today in Austin. They have some exciting plans for this school year, including new workshops at the state convention! 

October 17, 2014

TRS trustees look at ActiveCare, Care studies

Today, the TRS Trustees conducted a board meeting that largely focused on ActiveCare and Care. Before TRS staff presented a draft of the healthcare sustainability studies, TSTA appeared and offered the following testimony:

“We have three main concerns regarding ActiveCare and Care during the upcoming legislative session. First, we don’t want to see a reduction in benefits; second, we do not want to see an increase in premiums; and finally, we want to see the state pay its fair share.

"We know TRS is prohibited from lobbying, but our hope is that the studies are able to educate the legislature on the hardship borne by school employees and retirees because of the rising cost of healthcare. The better the legislature is educated on this subject, the easier it will be for us to encourage them to do the right thing, and hopefully, for them to do the right thing. 

"Our teachers and retirees deserve great healthcare at a reasonable cost. We are counting on these studies to help us negotiate a better healthcare system for school employees and retirees. We look forward to working with you to achieve that goal.”

Regarding the sustainability studies, staff first tackled Care. They presented the following options in their draft report: pre-fund; pay as you go; fund for a 10-year solvency; retiree pays full cost; a defined contribution with a health reimbursement account; elimination of Care 2 and 3; and a combination of ActiveCare and Care.

Regarding ActiveCare, the options included: increasing state funding and benefits; offer only an HD plan with a health savings account; retain only one plan that would look like ActiveCare Select; eliminate uniform statewide coverage; and eliminate coverage for spouses.

All of these proposals have numerous options within them, including shared responsibility between the insured and the state, and the options can be used in concert. It should also be noted that this is a draft, and many of the options are not financially feasible. What is clear from the study is that TRS believes the legislature needs to increase its funding for both Care and ActiveCare. The final version of the studies should be made available in the next month. A draft of the studies can be found here: http://www.trs.state.tx.us/about/documents/trscare_sustain_activecare_afford_study.pdf

The Board will next meet on November 20-21, 2014.

October 15, 2014

Watch online: TRS to consider future of ActiveCare, Care

On Friday, Oct. 17, Teacher Retirement System staff will update the TRS Board on the Health Benefits Study that is almost complete. The study, which will offer various options for ActiveCare and Care, should be presented to the legislature in November. 

TSTA will be testifying Friday. If you have concerns about the future of ActiveCare or Care, we highly recommend you follow the meeting online at http://trs.mediasite.com/mediasite/Play/c49b025876ef404dab8bdcf4b198af401d.

October 14, 2014

School equity

It is the mission of NEA to make every public school as good as the best public school and to ensure that the gifts and talents of each and every child are given a chance to flourish. 

October 10, 2014

Take the Healthy Me, Better Year pledge

NEA Health Information Network has recently launched a pledge-based social media campaign around member self-care – the Healthy Me, Better Year pledge. It's a simple reminder that taking care of yourself benefits your students and the entire school community. Take the pledge at http://bit.ly/HMBYpledge and use the hashtag #NewSelfie1415 across social media platforms.

October 9, 2014

Texas House Public Education Committee report: testing concerns continue

The House Committee on Public Education met on Oct. 8 to monitor and hear testimony on the implementation of House Bill 5, legislation passed last year that eliminated 10 high school end-of-course STAAR exams, leaving only five: Algebra I, English I and II, US History, and biology.  The hearing focused primarily on testimony and committee members’ concerns regarding the testing of students with disabilities and the number of students who were unable to pass the Algebra I and English II exams, which is necessary to graduate.

Declining graduation rates and promotion policies troubled committee members, prompting some to express a desire to file legislation next session to eliminate all high stakes exams that are not required by the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, including both high school exams and those required in grades 3-8. The staff of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) made it clear that the commissioner of education does not believe he has the authority to waive the STAAR requirements for graduation from high school, and one committee member suggested a bill be fast tracked by spring of next year to help students trying to graduate in 2015.

Obviously, high stakes testing remains an important and explosive issue; TSTA will continue to work to eliminate testing as a measure in a punitive accountability and evaluation system and to return testing to its proper role as a beneficial diagnostic tool.

The House Committee on Public Education also met jointly with the House Committee on Corrections to discuss the impact of SB 393 and SB 1114, legislation passed last session that now prohibit school police and resource officers from ticketing students involved in fights, cursing teachers, disrupting class, chewing gum, etc., all matters considered Class C misdemeanors. 

TSTA worked last session to make sure a teacher can still remove a disruptive student from a classroom, but ticketing had raised concerns about the impact of the $500 fines being levied against students that were processed through the juvenile justice system in city and county governments. Due to the enormous number of these citations clogging up court systems and the resulting tarnish on a students' records, state senators Royce West, D-Dallas, and John Whitmire, D-Houston, enacted the legislation to reduce the use of ticketing.

The next meeting of the House Committee on Public Education is Thursday, Oct. 16 at 10 a.m.

October 8, 2014

Pledge to vote for education

The legislative majority cut school funding; let’s send them a message on Nov. 4. TSTA and Progress Texas are asking you to sign a petition pledging to put our kids and their neighborhood schools first, then share your action with your friends and family on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus. http://act.progresstexas.org/sign/education/?source=tsta

Early voting starts Oct. 20

In less than two weeks, you can help elect the candidates who support public education. Early voting takes place Monday, Oct. 20 through Friday, Oct. 31. Learn more about voting early in person or by mail at http://votetexas.gov/voting/when/#early-voting

Your vote makes a difference

Elected officials make decisions that affect you and your students, including salary, class size, benefits, course content, and retirement. That's why we formed TSTA-Political Action Committee - to screen, endorse, and fund pro-public education candidates up and down the ballot. Here is a list of endorsed candidates who have contested races in November; please support them and encourage your family and friends to join you.


October 6, 2014

Candelaria represents NEA on national panel

TSTA President Noel Candelaria was a panelist on "Early Childhood Education: Why Universal Pre-K Makes Sense for America" at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Public Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., Sept. 20.

He joined Reps. Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Pedro Pierluisi of Puerto Rico, Libby Doggett of the U.S. Department of Education, Ana Gallegos of Tucson UISD, and Dr. Ana Maria Garcia Blanco of the Instituto Nueva Escuela in Puerto Rico.

“It was a great opportunity to talk about the overwhelming need to provide access to Pre-K for all 3-4 year olds, especially in our neediest communities, to eradicate the school-to-prison pipeline,” he said. “A lot of great data was shared regarding the need to ensure adequate funding for quality programs that offer full day Pre-K with small class sizes; certified teachers with adequate professional development as early childhood specialists; and the need to do away with the punitive overemphasis of testing that is robbing children of learning — a toxic environment that goes against everything we know about children’s brain development. I also spoke about Race to the Top funding for Pre-K that creates a system of winners and losers, when we cannot afford to lose one blessed child to inadequate funding."

October 2, 2014

TSTA president: Texas students deserve a solid school funding system now

“It would be a disservice to Texas schoolchildren for Attorney General Greg Abbott to continue wasting tax dollars on an appeal. Our students shouldn’t have to wait another year or longer for the financial resources they need to excel,” TSTA President Noel Candelaria said in a Dallas Morning News op-ed today.

“The Texas economy is strong. The state comptroller’s office recently reported a 5.5 percent annual growth in sales tax receipts last fiscal year, and similar growth this year is expected to swell state coffers. The rainy day fund is at $8.4 billion and growing, thanks to robust oil and gas production.

“There is no reason, financially, for the Legislature to delay a real school finance remedy past next year’s session,” Candelaria said. “Lawmakers need to begin work to develop a reliable school funding plan now, so all our children can have equal educational opportunity. http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/latest-columns/20141002-tsta-president-texas-students-deserve-a-solid-school-funding-system-now.ece

October 1, 2014

Helping girls make the leap from great students to great leaders 

Educators play a key role in supporting girls’ leadership development and shaping perceptions among all students about girls’ and women’s suitability for leadership, according to a new report from NEA, the American Association of University Women, and the Tisch College of Citizenship & Public Service at Tufts University.

The report, Closing the Leadership Gap-How Educators Can Help Girls Lead, was released at a webinar/panel discussion yesterday that featured teachers and key international education and equity advocates. 

Read the report, watch a recording of the webcast (scroll forward eight minutes), and download NEA’s Girls Leadership and Equity Toolkit here: http://www.nea.org/women.

$30 million in proven or suspected fraud in Pennsylvania charter industry

The Center for Popular Democracy has issued the first state-specific follow-up to its whistle-blowing May 2014 report Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud, and Abuse. The report reveals more than $30 million in proven or charged fraud, waste, or abuse in Pennsylvania’s charter school system.

“It’s time for lawmakers to stop providing charter industry players a blank check with little oversight and no accountability. We’re referring to the same politicians who call for ‘public school accountability’ by piling toxic tests on our students, yet seem to look the other way when it’s time to hold all charter schools responsible for their use of public funds,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said.

Read the press release at http://www.nea.org/home/60569.htm.

September 30, 2014

TSTA: Van de Putte advocates for schools; Patrick poses a disaster

Leticia Van de Putte reaffirmed her position as the real education candidate during last night's lieutenant governor's debate, while Dan Patrick emerged from hiding long enough to try to mislead Texans about his miserable education voting record and the real danger he poses for public schools. 

"Dan Patrick, in tonight's debate, continued to falsely portray himself as a champion of education, when, in fact, he would be a disaster for public schools as lieutenant governor," said TSTA President Noel Candelaria. "Patrick voted for $5.4 billion in school budget cuts in 2011, he voted against the entire state budget -- including all education funding -- in 2013, and, if given the chance, he will continue to steal tax dollars from Texas students for more testing and private school vouchers.

"Leticia Van de Putte is a genuine advocate for students and educators. She will reduce testing and tap into billions in available state revenue to increase our investment in strong neighborhood schools, including expanded early childhood education and other programs critical to our state's future," Candelaria added.

The state comptroller's office recently reported that sales tax revenue grew by 5.5 percent last fiscal year and is expected to increase by about that much this year, thanks to a strong economy. The Rainy Day Fund balance has reached $8.4 billion and is projected to reach double digits soon because of increased oil and gas production.

September 29, 2014

A closer look at the school finance ruling

In his recent EdAlert newsletter, Rep. Lon Burnam of Fort Worth explains why increased funding for public schools makes sense and why Texas will have a “stark future” if education gaps aren’t closed. He also includes useful facts about school funding taken directly from the Executive Summary in the Judge Dietz's ruling. http://www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/EdAlert_School_Funding.pdf

September 27, 2014

NEA President: Texas tour highlights

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García’s Back to School Tour included Texas, where she was joined by TSTA President Noel Candelaria and local leaders. See some of the highlights at http://lilysblackboard.org/2014/09/texas-week

September 26, 2014

TSTA: Abbott wrong to appeal school finance decision

The Texas State Teachers Association said today that Attorney General Greg Abbott’s decision to appeal the school finance ruling is a huge disservice to school children, educators, and Texas taxpayers.

“Despite being caught telling a lie in the first gubernatorial debate, Greg Abbott did not have to appeal the district court ruling that found the state’s school funding system inadequate and unconstitutional,” said TSTA President Noel Candelaria. “By filing this appeal, Abbott made it very clear that he is willing to make five million Texas students wait another year or more for the resources crucial to their success.

“We demand that Abbott quit wasting tax dollars and drop an appeal that robs our children of the opportunity guaranteed them by our great state,” Candelaria added.  “Legislators should begin working now on a fair and legal school funding plan that can be enacted during next year’s session.”

Your vote makes a difference

These candidates, who are endorsed by TSTA-Political Action Committee, have contested races in November. Please consider helping them by volunteering, contributing to TSTA-PAC, and taking your friends and family with you to vote.

September 24, 2014

NEA expanding teacher leadership initiative

NEA, the Center for Teaching ,and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards are expanding the national Teacher Leadership Initiative, a joint endeavor to develop a new generation of leaders within the teaching profession. TLI was launched in 2013 and was formally announced earlier this year at an event at NEA.

“Positive change in education must be driven by the profession and shaped by the experience of teachers working in classrooms,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. “This initiative will ultimately develop expertise and engage thousands of teacher-leaders in leadership work in schools—because every student should have the best possible educators in their schools.”
The NEA Foundation was awarded a $750,000 grant over 24 months from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) of Battle Creek, Mich., which will support the NEA’s efforts to expand the scope of the initiative in three ways:

Recruit a more diverse cohort

NEA will expand the number of participant states and develop an “urban” teacher cohort in efforts to recruit, retain, and prepare a more diverse pool of candidates for the TLI. New sites for expansion include Columbus, Ohio and Prince George’s County, Md.

Expand the TLI curriculum

NEA will build a new module for Diversity, Equity, and Cultural Competence (DECC) to help teachers develop Instructional Leadership skills that improve their effectiveness in teaching students from diverse cultural, racial, economic, and language backgrounds.

Design leadership capstone experiences

This project will also foster leadership in public policy by ensuring that teacher leaders know about and learn to influence the key policy levers that influence educational equity and teaching excellence. As with other TLI strands, the NEA will develop capstone projects that will require teacher leaders to study and engage on a related policy issue related to equity at the district or state level.

The TLI is a product of the organizations’ shared vision of teacher-leadership advancing the profession. The long-term goals of the TLI are: 1) define the foundational competencies of teacher leadership; 2) develop relevant experiences and supports to help teachers cultivate those competencies; and (3) activate teachers to be leaders for their profession as a result of their participation in this process . The TLI has previously received support the Ford Foundation as well.

Participants will engage with an interactive curriculum designed and facilitated by other expert teachers. Their learning will take place on CTQ’s collaboratory platform and in face-to-face meetings led by NEA affiliate leaders. Once teacher leaders have been prepared, TLI will mobilize their leadership to help advance student learning, strengthen the teaching profession, and provide vision and direction to the Association. In addition, the partners will develop systems to support their on-going professional growth.

“The program will prepare and support the next generation of our profession’s leaders to meet the demands of a 21st century teaching professional and ensure the success of their students,” said Eskelsen Garcia.

September 23, 2014

Free webinar: Girls’ Pathways to Leadership

NEA invites you to a free webinar revealing new research on closing the leadership gap for girls, insights about international innovations and challenges, and tips to facilitate learning environments that foster girls' leadership. The report was commissioned by NEA and the American Association of University Women, and conducted by Tufts University.

WHEN: Tuesday, September 30 at 7 p.m. EST

WHERE: Virtual Event (You will need to install Firefox or Chrome browser. After verifying you have either browser, you will need to install a Google Hangout Plugin.)

WHY: Women account for half of the U.S. population, yet they hold only 24 percent of seats in state legislatures; 12 percent of mayoral seats in the 100 largest American cities; 10 percent of governorships; 20 percent of seats in the U.S. Senate; and 18 percent of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Schools provide a venue for addressing persistent gender leadership gaps by creating a pipeline of girls and young women who are interested in taking on future leadership roles.  Educators play an important role in supporting student leadership development and in shaping the perceptions of all students about girls’ and women’s suitability for leadership.

September 22, 2014

TSTA: Greg Abbott lied about school finance appeal

Attorney General Greg Abbott is under no legal requirement to appeal state District Judge John Dietz’s school finance ruling, contrary to the claim Abbott made in Friday’s gubernatorial debate. Abbott said a 2011 law does not give him the discretion to drop the appeal and settle the lawsuit.

“Greg Abbott either deliberately lied to Texans, or, as the state’s chief lawyer, isn’t competent enough to know the law,” said TSTA President Noel Candelaria. “There is absolutely nothing in state law that requires the attorney general to continue wasting tax dollars trying to defend an inadequate and unconstitutional school funding system.”

“TSTA renews its demand that Abbott drop further appeals now, and we urge legislators to begin work immediately on a school finance plan that gives all Texas children the resources they need to succeed,” Candelaria added. “We commend Senator Wendy Davis for advocating for a sound school funding plan, not costly, politically motivated delays.”

By beginning work now, lawmakers can be prepared to use surplus state funds and a rapidly growing Rainy Day Fund to enact a constitutional funding law when the legislature convenes in January.

The 2011 law that Abbott cited during the debate merely specified which settlements of lawsuits against the state are contingent on legislative approval. It did nothing to prevent the attorney general from dropping an appeal and negotiating a school finance settlement for presentation to the Legislature.

Members are phone banking for pro-education candidates

Here are some photos of TSTA Region 1B phone banking this weekend for Senator Leticia Van de Putte, TSTA-PAC endorsed candidate for lieutenant governor! https://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157647911696955

September 19, 2014

TSTA: Wendy Davis the clear winner for public education

This evening’s gubernatorial debate reaffirmed what public education advocates have known for a long time: Wendy Davis is the only candidate for the state’s top office who will advocate strongly for public schools, educators and students.

“Wendy Davis is the clear winner for public education,” said TSTA President Noel Candelaria. “Davis made it clear that, as governor, she will make sure testing is cut, and not school funding, so educators and students have the time and resources they need to succeed.”

“The state comptroller’s office has made it clear that because of Texas’ strong economy, the Legislature will have billions of dollars in additional revenue next session – more than enough money for lawmakers to start working to correct the deficiencies in the inadequate and unconstitutional school funding system that Greg Abbott is defending,” Candelaria added. “Now is the time to act, but Greg Abbott’s courtroom appeals will force our school children to suffer through a year or more of additional delays.”

In testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee earlier this week, John Heleman, the comptroller’s revenue estimator, said sales tax revenue grew by 5.5 percent last year and was expected to continue growing at a similar rate next year. Additionally, he said, the Rainy Day Fund balance has reached $8.4 billion and will continue to grow to as much as $15 billion, thanks to increased oil production.

Pension Trust Fund exceeds expectations

On September 18-19, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees held a quarterly meeting. Executive Director Brian Guthrie stated that the Pension Trust Fund finished the fiscal year close to $130 billion.

The Fund exceeded all expectations with an astonishing 16.5 percent annual rate of return. Guthrie also noted that he expects the forthcoming actuarial report (due before the November board meeting) to declare the Fund actuarially sound, with a funding period of between 25 and 27 years.

The October board meeting will be devoted exclusively to healthcare, with a layout and discussion of a draft of the findings of the health care study. The complete Trust Fund and health care studies should be made public some time in November. At the October board meeting, the board will also discuss going out for a bid for a new pharmacy benefits manager for TRS Care.

Finally, on Wednesday, September 24, the Legislative Budget Board will present to Senate Finance the cost drivers for the TRS and TEA budgets for the next biennium. Included in that presentation will be TRS’ request of $875 million for TRS Care as an exceptional item in their legislative appropriations request.

September 18, 2014

Watch the Wendy Davis-Greg Abbott Debate, Friday, 9-19, at 6pm

Don’t miss the debate Friday night between Wendy Davis, the TSTA endorsed candidate for governor, and her opponent Greg Abbott, who continues defending the education budget cuts and our inadequate school funding system. This will be one of only two televised gubernatorial debates before the Nov. 4 election. http://www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/DebateInfo.pdf

September 17, 2014

TSTA endorses Houston, Collier for attorney general, comptroller

The Texas State Teachers Association today announced its endorsements of Democrats Sam Houston for Texas attorney general and Mike Collier for state comptroller.

“These offices – the state’s chief lawyer and its revenue estimator – are extremely important to educators and public schools,” said TSTA President Noel Candelaria.

“As attorney general, Sam Houston won’t waste tax dollars defending an inadequate and unconstitutional school finance system,” Candelaria said, noting that his opponent, Ken Paxton, voted for $5.4 billion in school budget cuts in 2011 and has admitted that he violated state securities laws, which are designed to protect educators and other hard-working Texans against fraudulent investments.

“As comptroller, Mike Collier would use his experience as a first-rate accountant and financial expert to provide the kind of accurate revenue estimates we needed in 2011, when the current comptroller’s underestimate of available state revenue triggered the devastating school budget cuts that Mike’s opponent, Glenn Hegar, supported,” Candelaria said. Hegar has also proposed repealing local property taxes, a major source of school revenue, and a proposal that would require a massive increase in the state sales tax.

TSTA, through its political action committee, earlier endorsed State Senators Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, two of the Legislature’s strongest advocates for educators and public schools, for governor and lieutenant governor.

September 16, 2014

Annenberg study calls for new charter school standards

A new report by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University calls for increased accountability, transparency, and equity in the taxpayer-funded charter school sector. The Institute is proposing standards to be implemented into state and charter authorizer policies that would better serve all students and protect the public’s investment in public education. Approximately 2.57 million students are enrolled in over 6,000 charter schools nationwide.

"Standards and vigorous oversight are key to protecting charter school students and the public’s investment in public education,” NEA President Eskelsen García said. http://www.nea.org/home/60421.htm

September 15, 2014

Support the candidates who will support you

TSTA members are working hard to elect -- and reelect -- pro-public education candidates in November. Here are some photos of Southwest TSTA meeting with Rep. Phil Cortez and TSTA President Noel Candelaria today. https://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157647593907236

September 11, 2014

Garcia promises to lead high-stakes testing revolution

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia promised NEA would lead the nation’s teachers in making the case “to put a blessed end to this obsession with high-stakes testing.” http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/local/article_7f35902a-3962-11e4-beb0-0017a43b2370.html 

September 10, 2014

TEA to apply for federal preschool expansion grant

TEA news release: Commissioner of Education Michael Williams has notified the U.S. Department of Education that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) will submit an application for a federal preschool expansion grant.

Jointly administered by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the new Preschool Development Grants Program will award federal funds through a competitive process to help states build, develop and expand voluntary, high-quality preschool programs for low- and moderate-income families.

“One way to begin closing the achievement gap in Texas is to better prepare children who are entering our public schools,” said Commissioner Williams. “With many high-quality pre-k programs already established in our communities, this federal grant opportunity allows an avenue to enhance and build upon that success.” 

Because Texas currently serves 10 percent or more of four-year olds in established pre-k programs, it is eligible to receive an expansion grant of up to $30 million per year for four years. The total federal funding available nationwide for pre-k expansion grants is $160 million. Texas is one of 35 states, along with the District of Columbia, that are eligible for this funding.

TEA will submit its formal application by Oct. 14, 2014 (the submission deadline). Awards will be announced by the federal government in December. Under the program criteria, awarded funds will begin serving students on or before Dec. 31, 2015.

For more information about the federal Preschool Development Grants Program, visit http://www2.ed.gov/programs/preschooldevelopmentgrants/index.html.

September 9, 2014

TSTA: TEA budget is inadequate

The Texas State Teachers Association today criticized the Texas Education Agency for submitting a “woefully inadequate” appropriations request for the Legislature to consider next year.

“Education Commissioner Michael Williams should be a leader in demanding that Texas school children have the resources they need to succeed,” said TSTA President Noel Candelaria. “This woefully inadequate budget request would not allow schools to fully recover from the $5.4 billion in budget cuts imposed by the legislative majority in 2011, much less meet continued enrollment growth.”

“The Texas economy is strong.  So, the money will be there to correct crippling deficiencies in school funding. Commissioner Williams and the legislative majority need to find the political will to do the right thing,” Candelaria added.

Part of the cut funding was restored in 2013. But with total school enrollment increasing in Texas by about 80,000 students per year, school districts still will have less state aid to spend per student than they did in 2010-11, the last year before the budget cuts. Enrollment growth and inflation alone are expected to cost an additional $3.8 billion over the next biennium. That means the TEA budget, if adopted by the Legislature, would force local property taxpayers to shoulder more education costs, while state tax revenue is increasing by billions of dollars.

Under the TEA budget, several key grant programs cut in 2011, including the Student Success Initiative and full-day, pre-kindergarten, would not be restored.

New on Grading Texas: when school lunches become political

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples has a beef with a “Meatless Monday” program in some Dripping Springs ISD cafeterias, and I have a couple of beefs with Staples, who is a politician, not a nutritionist. http://www.tsta.org/grading-texas/uncategorized/when-school-lunches-beco...

Attempt to overturn key provisions of Citizens United decision clears Senate hurdle 

A legislative attempt to override the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC passed a key hurdle in the U.S. Senate yesterday. SJ Res 19, a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would expressly grant Congress the authority to regulate and limit the amount of money raised for and spent on federal political campaigns, was able to meet the 60-vote threshold to proceed to debate in the Senate. The provision will allow states to regulate campaign spending at their level.  

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC in 2010, corporate money has flooded our political system, drowning out the voices of ordinary Americans. In 2012 alone, “Super PACs” and 501(c)4 entities spent hundreds of millions of dollars to influence the outcome of elections. 

“As we approach our midterm elections, millions of dollars of secret, unaccountable corporate money is being spent to influence voters – and politicians,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia said. “Educators live the impact of the Citizens’ United decision every day as they fight the pro-privatization agenda of the Koch Brothers, the Walton family, and ALEC-member politicians. Educators know that the corporate education agenda, including private school voucher schemes, teacher evaluations tied to toxic testing, policies that promote the misuse and overuse of high stakes standardized testing, and slashing public education budgets have hurt our students and public schools. We urge the Senate to pass this constitutional amendment to allow Congress to turn down the volume on corporate speech so individual citizens can be heard as our nation’s founders intended."

Follow NEA at twitter.com/neamedia.

September 8, 2014

More funds for Texas teachers and students

In an oped in today’s McAllen Monitor, TSTA President Noel Candelaria and NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia discuss the great jobs that educators do every day in teaching children and challenge state government to do its part by passing a fair and adequately funded school finance system. Candelaria and Garcia will tour the Valley this week. http://www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/commentary-more-funds-for-tex.pdf

NEA President visiting Rio Grande Valley this week

TSTA President Noel Candelaria and NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia kicked off this week's tour of schools in the Rio Grande Valley with an editorial in The Monitor, McAllen's newspaper.

The leaders, who both began their teaching careers working with disadvantaged students, expect to meet teachers with a high percentage of students who come from low-income families, are English Language Learners, and may be at risk of dropping out of school.

"We have taught children who faced these challenges and went on to succeed in school, but every child and every teacher needs the resources required for success," they said in the column. "Educators alone can’t deliver these resources for our students. Our students need help from everyone who believes in equal opportunity for every child, no matter what their background.” 

Read more at http://www.themonitor.com/opinion/commentary-more-funds-for-texas-teachers-and-students/article_beb96674-355f-11e4-836d-001a4bcf6878.html.

September 2, 2014

A message from your new NEA President 

Lily Eskelsen Garcia took office this week as NEA president! She sends this message to you:

"It's my first week on the job as your National Education Association president, and I want to share this email alert for my new and improved online platform, Lily's Blackboard - www.lilysblackboard.org. We've created this improved site to share my thoughts and the latest news on key issues facing us as we work together in support of student success and public education. For this 2014 Back to School season, I also wanted to highlight a few resources inspired by our members, who are heroes for America's students each and every day. I look forward to staying in touch with you in the coming months, so stay tuned! Also, if you're on Twitter, connect with me @Lily_NEA. Thank you for all you have done and will do to make this the best school year yet for our students!

August 28, 2014

TSTA: Get to work on a school finance solution now

The Texas State Teachers Association today urged state leaders to comply with Judge Dietz’s school finance ruling, stop engaging in costly appeals, and get to work now on a legislative solution for the upcoming legislative session.

“It’s time for state leaders to stop defending a woefully inadequate school finance system in the courtroom and turn their attention to providing students and teachers the resources they need to excel in the classroom,” said TSTA President Noel Candelaria.

“Filing appeals and waiting another year or longer may be convenient for some politicians, but making students wait in a state system that provides roughly $600 less per student than it did six years ago is shameful,” Candelaria added.

“TSTA urges Attorney General Greg Abbott to stop wasting time and tax dollars on appeals and calls on legislators to start working now to develop a school finance plan worthy of our students,” Candelaria said. “Every day of delay risks the future of another Texas child and the future prosperity of our great state.”

Senator Van de Putte blasts TEA Commissioner Williams for blaming teachers for poor STAAR test performance

This week, the Senate Committee on Education met to discuss STAAR writing scores and STAAR passage rates on end-of-course exams. TEA Commissioner Williams attended the hearing to discuss STAAR with the Committee, and he blamed teachers for poor STAAR test performance. 

Before the Commissioner spoke, the committee heard testimony that indicated a large number of students were able to score well in advanced level math and English courses, score well on the ACT or SAT, and gain entrance to college, yet were unable to pass the STAAR EOC exams in math and English. Senator Van de Putte suggested there must be something wrong with the STAAR system if students can do well in the classroom and gain entrance into college, yet fail STAAR exams. 

Commissioner Williams responded that he believed the problem was with the teachers. He stated that the tests have become harder, the subject matter more difficult, and that the teachers were not able to elevate their level of instruction.

Senator Van de Putte blasted Commissioner Williams for the assertion that teachers were to blame, and pointed out that teachers are not even told the content areas that the STAAR exams cover, leaving them to teach in the dark and hoping the kids hit the mark. She went on to state that the tests should be used as a diagnostic tool only, that the state needed to remove the high stakes, punitive nature of the STAAR system, and let the teachers know the content that will be covered on the tests.

Commissioner Williams also came under fire from Senator West for failing to close achievement gaps between African-American students and higher performing student populations. Committee members were clearly disgusted with STAAR and EOC exams.  Senator Van de Putte hopes to address these concerns during the next legislative session, hopefully as Lt. Governor, and TSTA encourages you to help her win that very important election.

August 27, 2014

Davis holds education news event at TSTA headquarters

Flanked by TSTA President Noel Candelaria, Vice President Ovidia Molina and others, Sen. Wendy Davis, TSTA’s endorsed candidate for governor, held a news conference at TSTA headquarters in Austin today. 

She talked about the dramatic differences between her record on public school issues and that of her opponent, Greg Abbott. 

“I don’t know about you, but I don’t think a person who is in the insider network and who took our schools to court in the first place is someone they can depend on to suddenly fight for them,” Davis, who has consistently fought the legislature’s cuts to schools, said.

Also speaking at the event were TSTA President Noel Candelaria, Education Austin Vice President Montserrat Garibay, and a student.

Clips of Davis and Candelaria on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/TSTAeditor

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157646920846362

August 22, 2014

TEA suspends SSI math requirement for grades 5 and 8

The Student Success Initiative (SSI) requirement that students in grades 5 and 8 must pass the STAAR mathematics test to be promoted to the next grade level has been suspended for the upcoming school year, state Education Commissioner Michael Williams announced today. He said the suspension was necessary because of the state’s transition to revised statewide curriculum standards in math.

The commissioner’s action demonstrates the necessity of aligning tests with curriculum standards that are taught. Williams’ announcement and yesterday’s announcement that the federal government will give states flexibility for a year in tying test scores to teacher evaluations also reinforce TSTA’s argument that an over-reliance on testing is not the way to educate students.

To read the full news release from TEA go to http://www.tea.state.tx.us/news_release.aspx?id=25769815716.

August 21, 2014

Duncan: we'll allow flexibility in tying high stakes consequences to student test scores

Today, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that the Obama administration WILL allow flexibility in tying high-stakes consequences to student test scores for up to two years. In response, NEA released a statement to media that reads in part:

“There is increasing evidence that the collision between old and new standards and assessments with already flawed evaluation systems are fraught with pitfalls and dangerous consequences for student learning and growth—especially when these systems are developed hastily with too much external pressure and too little time for collaboration. It is just common sense to allow a moratorium on high-stakes consequences of test scores,” said NEA President-elect Lily Eskelsen García.

NEA’s full statement can be found in the press center at: http://www.nea.org/home/60170.htm

Duncan’s full announcement can be found at: http://www.ed.gov/blog/2014/08/a-back-to-school-conversation-with-teachers-and-school-leaders

TSTA will be looking at how this impacts the waiver that is the basis for TEA's pilot program, which includes test-based teacher evaluation, and legislative efforts that seek to tie teacher evaluation to standardized test scores.

Participation in state teacher survey is low

The Texas Education Agency released the results of the Teaching, Empowering, Leading, and Learning (TELL) Texas Survey this week
and the responses from educators who actually took the survey about teaching and working conditions were mostly positive. But since only about 20 percent of school-based licensed educators participated, no one really knows how accurately TELL portrays what most Texas educators think.

TSTA encouraged its members to participate when the survey went online last spring. But the timing wasn’t good. The survey was conducted while many teachers were preparing to administer STAAR tests and finishing up many other chores as the end of the school year was approaching. Here is a link to the TEA news release: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/news_release.aspx? id=25769815625.

August 20, 2014

New poll shows skepticism over standardized tests

As students, parents, educators and community members continue to push back against the overuse and abuse of standardized testing in our public schools, the most recent PDK/Gallup poll reinforces that Americans have had enough of the nation’s obsession with testing. According to the results, parents are concerned about the amount of testing and an overwhelming majority of public school parents (68%) are skeptical that standardized tests help teachers know what their students are learning or what to teach.

“More and more Americans understand that over testing is taking a toll on our students and on what and how we teach,” said National Education Association President-elect Lily E. Garcia. “Students and teachers continue to lose more and more class time to testing and test preparation, and that time should be spent teaching and learning a rich, engaging curriculum. The serious consequences of these toxic tests will only snowball unless parents, educators and community members push back against lawmakers determined to tie high-stakes decisions to fill-in-the-bubble tests.” 

As opposition to the overuse of standardized tests increases, so has opposition to connecting those tests to teacher evaluations. According to the poll, 61 percent say they oppose the use of standardized tests in teacher evaluations. “More and more parents and the public understand the flaws of these tests. And what's even more absurd is that we've seen educators being evaluated on students and subjects they don’t even teach,” said Garcia. “Enough is enough.”

The poll also indicated that public support for Common Core State Standards is diminishing as the majority of Americans are learning of the standards from the media instead of their schools.

“It’s no surprise that many aren’t behind the Common Core as they are victims of targeted misinformation campaigns. Some on the far right have turned high standards for all students into a political football,” said Garcia. “Our students’ futures aren’t a game. These Standards are an opportunity for all students to have access to a great education, but are being overshadowed by a propaganda war on TV and poor implementation by too many states and districts on the ground. Educators need the resources, time and training needed to get it right for students."

Other key findings of 46th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools:

    • 50% of Americans gave the schools in their communities either an A or B, with parents awarding local schools even higher marks. These grades have remained consistent over the last few years.
    • Two-thirds of Americans oppose public school vouchers.

Read the PDK Survey Part I here: http://pdkintl.org/noindex/PDK_Poll46_2014.pdf.

August 19, 2014

Candelaria: Back to school brings new opportunities

An op-ed by TSTA President Noel Candelaria ran in the Lufkin News today:

At the start of the school year, I am reminded of the remarkable connection between teacher and student that is at the heart of learning. When a new class of students meets its new teacher, each student brings both a challenge and an opportunity for success.

My greatest opportunity in the classroom was Robert. That is not his real name, but his challenges, and mine, were very real. Robert was a special needs student. He was often in trouble, in and out of police custody for aggressive behavior. He even shoved a filing cabinet toward a teacher.

Robert was referred to the alternative campus where I taught and was assigned to my class. I was concerned about how he might affect my other students, but I was determined to get through to Robert.

I visited Robert’s home and learned that he acted up when he didn’t take his medication, and that often happened because his single mom was a quadriplegic and sometimes she couldn’t find transportation to the pharmacy.

Some may have seen Robert as impossible, or a failure, but I told his mother my job was to make sure he graduated from high school. After arrangements were made to get help for Robert and his mother, his behavior improved. It wasn’t easy, but Robert made progress and he graduated. He now attends community college and loves to write.

There are other Roberts in neighborhood public schools throughout Texas, where there are teachers equally dedicated to turning their challenges into success stories. Most students’ needs are less dramatic than Robert’s, but just as real. Some enter school speaking little, if any, English. Some come to school too hungry to hunger for knowledge. Others are gifted and talented.

We don’t have standardized students, and teachers must work to find a way to help them meet their unique needs and develop their unique skills. We teach for that moment when a light flickers in our student’s eye that says “I get it,” when learning is fun and builds the confidence needed to reach the next level.

Those moments define success in the classroom, but these days, teachers face other challenges. Crowded classrooms make it harder to give our students the individual attention they deserve. Teachers are frustrated by a high stakes testing epidemic that steals valuable time needed for teaching, dulls the joy of learning, and improperly judges them and their students by a single standardized test score.

As school begins this year, teachers simply want to be free to teach so our students can be free to learn. Teachers are getting ready, spending their own money to buy classroom supplies, preparing to meet their challenges and turn them into opportunities. More than anything, your child’s teacher wants to reach that “aha” moment that lights a child’s eyes when learning happens, because those moments light the path to a successful future, for all of us.

August 5, 2014

TSTA applauds Leticia Van De Putte’s education plan

The Texas State Teachers Association today applauded Leticia Van De Putte for proposing education priorities that will give educators and students the resources and the time they need for classroom success.

“Senator Van De Putte knows that students aren’t standardized. She knows that each student needs a good teacher and the time to learn, not a battery of stressful standardized tests,” said TSTA President Noel Candelaria.

“Leticia is from a family of educators,” Candelaria noted.  “As lieutenant governor, she will work to make sure our teachers have the resources they need to teach effectively and restore common sense to Texas classrooms.”

See the plan here: http://leticiavandeputte.com/texasfirst-education-2

Read a Grading Texas blog on the plan here: http://www.tsta.org/grading-texas/testing/fighting-the-testing-plague.

July 25, 2014

Charter rule hearing

A long line of charter school operators and supporters complained to TEA administrators Friday that new proposed rules designed to hold charter operators more accountable for the tax dollars they receive from the state were too restrictive.

The rules were drafted to comply with requirements of Senate Bill 2, a law enacted by the Legislature in 2013 to raise the previous limit of 215 charters that could be granted in Texas to more than 300 over the next several years. Legislators agreed to the charter expansion only after imposing higher accountable standards on the schools’ academic performances and financial practices.

TSTA believes that the state should hold charter operators to strict accountability standards in how they spend the public’s money. Each tax dollar granted to a corporate-style charter is one less dollar spent on neighborhood public schools, where the vast majority of Texas school children will continue to be educated. (Press release here: http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/20140725-Charter.pdf.)

Even with the new accountability standards, charters still have fewer restrictions than traditional public schools. Charters don’t have to provide bus service, and many don’t, and many charter operators cherry pick the best and brightest students, while a neighborhood public school is required to educate any child who lives in its district.

TEA will accept public comments on the new charter rules through Aug. 18.

July 17, 2014

The heartbreak of being a teacher in Texas

TSTA and Del Valle Education Association member Katie Plemmons pens an excellent column in the Texas Tribune about the challenges facing Texas teachers today, and the impact of teacher turnover on our students. http://tribtalk.org/2014/07/17/the-heartbreak-of-being-a-teacher-in-texas/

July 15, 2014

New TSTA president, vice president take office

President Noel Candelaria and Vice President Ovidia Molina, the new leadership team for the Texas State Teachers Association, took office today, following their elections by delegates to TSTA’s annual state convention in April. Each was elected to a three-year term.
 Read press release

July 11, 2014

TRS-ActiveCare and TRS-Care

On Thursday, July 10, the House Committee on Pensions and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III (Education) held a joint hearing on the state and future of TRS-ActiveCare and TRS-Care. TSTA testified, urging legislative action to help educators who are bearing the cost of rising health care premiums and preserve the TRS Care program for retirees. read more

July 10, 2014

Getting involved

The November election is critical to Texas public schools and the educators, support staff, and students who work and learn on our campuses and in our classrooms. TSTA is supporting Wendy Davis for Governor and Leticia Van de Putte for Lt. Governor because they have a proven record of fighting for us in the Texas Senate. And their records are far superior to their opponents, who have supported devastating school funding cuts, vouchers, and privatization.

Many TSTA members have asked us how they can get involved in the effort to elect our endorsed “education candidates.” Battleground Texas is organizing neighborhood teams to get the message out in every Texas community, neighbor to neighbor.  With two candidates who are stressing the importance of education in their campaigns, TSTA members can play an important role by  volunteering whatever time you have to be part of a neighborhood team in your community. 

For TSTA, this is about more than just this fall’s election. By volunteering for a neighborhood team, you get practical community organizing experience and build relationships in your community that will help local TSTA efforts when we are working to elect school board candidates who will work with us.

Signing up for a neighborhood team is easy. Simply use this link to sign up, and we’ll get a Battleground Texas neighborhood team leader in touch with you. https://tsta.wufoo.com/forms/yes.

July 9, 2014

NEA RA votes to end toxic testing

The 9,000 delegates to the NEA RA launched a national campaign to put the focus of assessments and accountability back on student learning and end the “test, blame, and punish” system that has dominated public education in the last decade. The campaign will, among other things, seek to end the abuse and overuse of high stakes standardized tests and reduce the amount of student and instructional time consumed by them. http://www.nea.org/home/59453.htm 

July 7, 2014

New TSTA leaders take office next week

On Tuesday, July 15, Noel Candelaria will become state president of TSTA. Prior to his election as vice president in 2011, he was a special education teacher in Ysleta ISD and president of Ysleta Teachers Association. Ovidia Molina, an ESL and history teacher in Alief ISD and Region 3B president, will become vice president. 

All-minority, all-female team to lead NEA

At the NEA Representative Assembly July 3-6 in Denver, delegates elected a new president: current Vice President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. Garcia, who was an ESP and teacher in Utah, takes office Sept. 1. Mary Hatwood Futrell was the last woman to lead NEA, from 1983-89.

Delegates also elected Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle, a Pennsylvania science teacher, as vice president, and Executive Committee member Princess Moss, a Virginia music teacher, as secretary-treasurer. 

Honoring Malala Yousafzai

In 2012, 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, an activist in Pakistan, was gunned down by Taliban militants determined to ban girls from attending school. NEA honored Yousafzai, who continues to advocate for education and children, with the Mary Hatwood Futrell Human and Civil Rights Award and the 2014 NEA Friend of Education Award. Watch a video here: http://www.nea.org/grants/59660.htm.

July 3, 2014

Class size waivers still rampant

From the Dallas Morning News: The Texas Education Agency excused 1,272 elementary schools from the 22-pupil limit in kindergarten through fourth grade. Most cited “financial hardship” or “unanticipated growth” in their requests for waivers. That’s a slight improvement from the previous year, when 1,480 schools were exempted. But it’s nearly 30 percent of the elementary schools in the state. It is also more than 2 1/2 times the number of campuses that received waivers in 2010-11, the last school year before the Legislature dramatically reduced per-pupil funding in an effort to close a huge budget shortfall without raising taxes. Read more at http://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/headlines/20140702-class-size-waivers-still-rampant-in-texas-elementary-schools.ece.

TSTA: Education Commissioner wrong to allow charter expansion

The Texas State Teachers Association today rebuked State Education Commissioner Michael Williams for overturning a veto by the State Board of Education and allowing a corporate charter company from Arizona to expand into Dallas and Irving.

“It was wrong for a political appointee like Commissioner Williams to overturn the decision of elected state officials and give Great Hearts Academies a license to cherry pick students and profits from Dallas County’s public schools and Texas taxpayers,” said TSTA President Rita Haecker.

Numerous reports indicate that Great Hearts has a history of skipping over Hispanic, black and low-income students when it fills its classrooms. In fact, Anglo students make up a majority of students enrolled in Great Hearts classrooms in predominantly Hispanic Phoenix.

“An appointed commissioner should not force Texans to enrich a corporation insensitive to the needs of the majority of Texas school children,” Haecker concluded.

July 1, 2014

Education Austin leader takes spotlight at NEA Annual Meeting

Montserrat Garibay, vice president of Education Austin, spoke at the Joint Conference on Concerns of Minorities and Women in Denver June 29; it’s part of the NEA Annual Meeting (http://neatoday.org/2014/06/30/nea-activists-vow-to-continue-fight-for-social-justice). She also will be on stage for the Empowered Educators Day, which will be live streamed July 2 at http://www.gpsnetwork.org/welcome/ra2014.

June 30, 2014

Harris v. Quinn ruling creates uncertainty

In a 5-4 ruling in Harris v. Quinn today, the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated agency fee arrangements for Illinois home healthcare workers. Harris v. Quinn was brought by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a political group that seeks to weaken the power of working people.

At issue in the case was whether non-union members could reap the wages, benefits, and protections negotiated in a collectively bargained contract without needing to pay their fair share. 

“Quality public services, economic stability, and prosperity start with strong unions, but today the Supreme Court of the United States created a roadblock on that path to the American Dream. This ruling jeopardizes a proven method for raising the quality of home health care services —- namely, allowing home health care workers to join together in a strong union that can bargain for increased wages, affordable health care, and increased training,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said. “Every educator who enjoys the benefits and protections of a negotiated contract should, in fairness, contribute to maintaining the contract. And fair share simply makes sure that all educators share the cost of negotiations for benefits that all educators enjoy, regardless of whether they are association members.”

Read more at http://neatoday.org/2014/06/30/with-harris-ruling-supreme-court-silences-voices-of-working-families. 

June 24, 2014

TSTA: Abbott playing politics with school finance

The Texas State Teachers Association today applauded the visiting judge’s decision to deny Attorney General Greg Abbott’s attempt to get state District Judge John Dietz removed from the school finance lawsuit.

“As an impartial judge has clearly pointed out, Greg Abbott’s clumsy attempt to remove Judge Dietz was a frivolous, political attempt to delay judgment on an unconstitutional school funding system. The school children of Texas need an attorney general and a governor who will fight for adequate and fair education funding, not someone who will defend school budget cuts and shortchange Texas’ future,” said TSTA President Rita Haecker.

Read more in an Austin American-Statesman report here: http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/judge-dietz-can-stay-on-school-finance-case/ngRJq

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.

TEA advises districts of Community and Student Engagement deadline

The Texas Education Agency has advised all school districts and charters of the summer deadlines to submit locally-assigned performance ratings.

Under House Bill 5 (passed last year by the 83rd Texas Legislature), all districts are required to evaluate the district’s performance and the performance of each campus in regard to community and student engagement. Districts must assign one of four performance ratings – Exemplary, Recognized, Acceptable or Unacceptable – to the district and each campus for overall performance, including the following categories:

  • Fine arts;
  • Wellness and physical education;
  • Community and parental involvement;
  • 21st Century Workforce Development program;
  • Second language acquisition program;
  • Digital learning environment;
  • Dropout prevention strategies; and
  • Educational programs for gifted and talented students.

House Bill 5 requires a local committee or committees to determine the criteria that the district uses to evaluate and assign performance ratings and to evaluate the district’s compliance with statutory reporting and policy requirements. The Texas Education Agency will begin collecting information regarding locally-assigned district and campus community and student engagement ratings beginning in late June.

While districts must assign locally-determined performance ratings for the district and all campuses in the district, ratings are not required for budgeted (non-instructional) campuses, Disciplinary Alternative Education program (DAEP) campuses, Juvenile Justice Alternative Education program (JJAEP) campuses and facilities operated by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

Under House Bill 5, districts must post the ratings and compliance status for the district and each campus on the school district’s website by August 8, 2014.

The Texas Education Agency is required to report the performance ratings and compliance statuses on the TEA website no later than October 1, 2014. Please note that while TEA has reporting responsibilities under House Bill 5, the agency has no authority to provide policy guidance to districts regarding the criteria for determining the community and student engagement performance ratings and compliance statuses.

June 19, 2014

Austin member to lead Empowered Educators Day
As you know, nearly 9,000 educators will be in Denver June 26-July 6 for the NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly (RA).

The RA, the top decision-making body for our nearly 3 million members, will set Association policy for the coming year. But what happens before the RA begins on July 3?

June 29: The Joint Conference on Concerns of Minorities and Women looks at past, present, and future social justice activism. This year's theme is "Action Now: Unleashing the Power of Diversity."

June 30: Outreach to Teach has been sponsored by the NEA Student Program for 18 years. Future, current, and retired teachers, support professionals, and higher education faculty will repair, landscape, paint, clean, and decorate Denver's Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy and Valverde Elementary School.

July 1: NEA's Read Across America will host a read-in at the Denver Public Library.

July 2: Raise Your Hand - Empowered Educators Day will showcase the work of educator innovators who are leading the way for quality instruction and student success. TSTA's Montserrat Garibay, vice president of Education Austin, will join NEA President Dennis Van Roekel on stage. In the evening is the Human and Civil Rights Awards Dinner.

Read more at http://www.nea.org/grants/2014-annual-meeting-agenda.html

June 18, 2014

Students protest proposed cuts in Beaumont

Through social media, flyers, and protest signs, Beaumont ISD students are fighting to save teacher jobs. While BISD administrators argued against a Texas Education Agency takeover of their district in an Austin courtroom Tuesday, students stood outside with signs about saving their teachers and their fine arts programs. 

"This is serious for us. We care about our teachers, and we don't want to lose our programs," junior Kayla Simmons said. "We know this will affect our future."

Using the hashtags #fineartsmatter and #saveBISD, students have mounted a protest that has reached from their hometown to the state Capitol.

"They probably look at our age and think 'They're just a bunch of kids,' but I think we're just people trying to make a difference," Hope Flores said.

A decision on the TEA takeover is expected Friday. "The plaintiffs in evidence tried to establish harm by demonstrating they had to do a major layoff and had a hard time filling high level jobs because of the uncertainty and low morale that looms because of the possible conservatorship," Portia Bosse, TSTA government relations specialist, said.

June 13, 2014

TSTA fighting home rule takeover of Dallas ISD

A big money effort, fueled by Houston billionaire and former Enron executive John Arnold and supported by the Dallas mayor, is trying to use home rule to pave the way for a hostile takeover of Dallas neighborhood schools. Arnold is the same hedge fund manager who is trying to destroy defined benefit pensions for teachers and public employees, along with his support for a charter takeover of New Orleans schools.

A group with a misleading name, “Save Our Public Schools (SOPS),” has secured the number of petition signatures required for the appointment of a charter commission, and the Dallas ISD School Board is appointing that commission while grappling with numerous legal problems raised by the lack of clarity in a statute that was adopted 19 years ago but has never been used.

• TSTA and NEA-Dallas have been working with the “Our Communities, Our Schools” coalition that includes the AFT Alliance, the NAACP, LULAC, and other community groups opposing home rule. TSTA staff and/or officers have attended five meetings in Dallas in support of NEA-Dallas efforts on this issue.

• TSTA has worked with NEA-Dallas to develop and distribute anti-home rule flyers and information to NEA-Dallas members and other Dallas ISD employees.

• TSTA has also alerted NEA to the need for funding should home rule go on the November ballot, and we are working with other potential funders to outline a campaign plan should one be necessary.

• TSTA is spending PAC funds for direct mail and calls in support of Joyce Freeman in the Dallas ISD District 6 School Board runoff. Freeman opposes home rule, and her opponent is supported by so-called “reformers.” Most observers see the outcome of this runoff as important to giving the home rule opposition much needed momentum.

• TSTA is considering the best timing for any appropriate legal action against the DISD home rule effort. AFT has filed suit against the appointment of a teacher member who may not have met the proper criteria for appointment, and TSTA is monitoring that action closely.

June 12, 2014

No value added model this year but... 

Texas Education Agency will not use test-based Value-Added Model (VAM) in the teacher evaluation pilot this year, but it is funding development of a statewide VAM.

This week, TEA notified us that the 20% VAM will not be scored during the pilot year for teachers in school districts participating in the teacher evaluation pilot program. However, TEA is not backing off their intention to require statewide test-based value-added modeling to be used for teacher evaluation, should the legislature give TEA that authority in the 2015 session. 

TEA locals in Cypress-Fairbanks and Pflugerville were active in their opposition to the test-based VAM being used in the TEA pilot program. Cy-Fair withdrew from the pilot and Pflugerville decided they would not use test-based value-added modeling to evaluate teachers.

At this time, if the legislature approves it, VAM scoring may not happen statewide until the fall of 2016 due to logistical problems with the modeling. TEA is contracting with SAS – a firm that has developed VAM models in Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Tennessee – for the value added modeling that would ultimately be used in the new teacher evaluation system as a condition of the federal waiver agreement under NCLB.  

TEA is using Title II federal discretionary funds to pay SAS for its services – another example of funds that could be used for other educational purposes being spent on private contractors in a business born of test-based accountability. 

TSTA has a number of specific concerns related to the directives for developing modeling that would attempt to use a VAM that scores an individual teacher, which research has consistently found to be both impossible and inappropriate. While taxpayers pay for another year of this “modeling development,” the pilot year will also be used to come up with alternative growth measures and to determine the cost of the new system.

TSTA fighting home rule takeover of Dallas ISD

A big money effort, fueled by Houston billionaire and former Enron executive John Arnold and supported by the Dallas mayor, is trying to use home rule to pave the way for a hostile takeover of Dallas neighborhood schools. Arnold is the same hedge fund manager who is trying to destroy defined benefit pensions for teachers and public employees, along with his support for a charter takeover of New Orleans schools. 

A group with a misleading name, “Save Our Public Schools (SOPS),” has secured the number of petition signatures required for the appointment of a charter commission, and the Dallas ISD School Board is appointing that commission while grappling with numerous legal problems raised by the lack of clarity in a statute that was adopted 19 years ago but has never been used.

TSTA and NEA-Dallas have been working with the “Our Communities, Our Schools” coalition that includes the AFT Alliance, the NAACP, LULAC, and other community groups opposing home rule. TSTA staff and/or officers have attended five meetings in Dallas in support of NEA-Dallas efforts on this issue. 

TSTA has worked with NEA-Dallas to develop and distribute anti-home rule flyers and information to NEA-Dallas members and other Dallas ISD employees.

TSTA has also alerted NEA to the need for funding should home rule go on the November ballot, and we are working with other potential funders to outline a campaign plan should one be necessary.

TSTA is spending PAC funds for direct mail and calls in support of Joyce Freeman in the Dallas ISD District 6 School Board runoff. Freeman opposes home rule, and her opponent is supported by so-called “reformers.” Most observers see the outcome of this runoff as important to giving the home rule opposition much needed momentum.

TSTA is considering the best timing for any appropriate legal action against the DISD home rule effort. AFT has filed suit against the appointment of a teacher member who may not have met the proper criteria for appointment, and TSTA is monitoring that action closely. 

June 11, 2014

Student loan bill fails in Senate

Partisanship has killed another important piece of legislation aimed at helping Americans who are struggling with student loan debt. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act failed to get the 60 votes needed to proceed to a floor debate. http://www.nea.org/home/59360.htm

June 10, 2014

Wrong call: teacher tenure

A California judge chooses big money over student and teachers in a landmark teacher tenure ruling.

June 9, 2014

TRS Board Increases ActiveCare Rates, Again

The TRS Board of Trustees held their long-awaited June Board Meeting on June 5-6. After two days of waiting, the Board finally revealed and approved the new rates for TRS ActiveCare and Care for the next fiscal year. read more

Here's a link to more extensive info on the new ActiveCare setup – including AC Select: http://www.trs.state.tx.us/trs_activecare/documents/ppo_rates_benefits_fy15.pdf

June 5, 2014

TSTA urges halt to increases in educator health insurance premiums, seeks legislative funding

The Texas State Teachers Association today urged the Teacher Retirement System Board of Trustees to hold the line on health insurance costs for school employees and to join TSTA in demanding that the Legislature increase the state’s share of those costs. The TRS board is expected to consider an increase in employees’ premiums for ActiveCare, the state health insurance program for teachers and other school workers, when it meets on Friday.

press release

June 3, 2014

Beaumont teachers ask state education commissioner to block layoffs

The Beaumont Teachers Association today asked the state education commissioner to block a proposed reduction in force that could cost the jobs of more than 200 teachers and other employees in the Beaumont Independent School District. press release