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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.
http://neatoday.org/2014/06/10/wrong-call-a-california-judge-picks-big-money-over-teachers-and-students/


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


June 2, 2014

Tell TRS how an expected premium increase will affect you

This Friday, the TRS Board will be setting rates for ActiveCare for the next plan year.  TSTA has learned that TRS is expected to increase ActiveCare premiums again, effective next September. We have no indication about how much the premium increase might be.

It also appears likely that TRS will eliminate ActiveCare 3 and move any participants in ActiveCare 3 to ActiveCare 2. TRS will also select an HMO vendor for ActiveCare and discuss the sustainability studies for Care and ActiveCare. 

The Friday portion of the Board meeting will begin at 9:30 am and start with a public comment session.  We encourage you to attend on Friday morning to inform the Board about how premium increases are affecting you and your families, and to let them know that raising rates on active teachers is unacceptable. Please let us know if you plan to attend and comment. 

After public comments have concluded, the Board will immediately dive into the healthcare portion of the meeting. The Board meeting will be held at the TRS offices at 11th and Red River. For those of you who cannot attend the meeting, you may still monitor the meeting through the TRS webcast.


300 jobs at risk in Beaumont 

The first step in Beaumont ISD Superintendent Timothy Chargois' plan to lay off some 300 employees was approved by the school board on May 29, in spite of a strong campaign by Beaumont Teachers Association that included a rally at the board meeting and collecting more than 1,000 signatures on a petition in one day. 

TSTA believes BISD has no legitimate reason to adopt the "financial exigency" declaration needed to cut these jobs, and we will do everything possible to prevent these layoffs.

"The problems facing Beaumont ISD are not the fault of the educators who work to provide our students with the quality education they deserve," BTA said in a press release. "The very idea that someone could suggest firing 300 people without public hearings and input from teachers, parents, and the community is an insult to everyone who cares about our schools."

Beaumont leaders on television: http://kfdm.com/shared/news/top-stories/stories/kfdm_live-report-teachers-protest-looming-cuts-10259.shtml

Local newspaper report: http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/news/article/Chargois-sets-June-date-to-notify-staff-of-layoffs-5514102.php


May 28, 2014
 

TSTA: Clear contrast on education in governor and lieutenant governor races

Dan Patrick's nomination as the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor completes a GOP top-of-the-ballot ticket that is hostile to public schools, a clear contrast with the strong pro-education records of Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic nominees for governor and lieutenant governor. http://tsta.org/pressroom


May 27, 2014

BISD press release on May 26

The problems facing BISD are not the fault of the educators who work to provide our students with the quality education they deserve. However, by sending this notification on a Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend, Dr. Chargois' action has shown utter disrespect for the teachers and students who will pay the price should his recommendation go forward. The very idea that someone could suggest firing 300 people without public hearings and input from teachers, parents and the community is an insult to everyone who cares about our schools. The Beaumont Teachers Association will utilize every resource at our disposal to prevent this harmful proposal from taking effect while we work to find a more appropriate resolution to the problems facing BISD.

--The Executive Committee of the Beaumont Teachers Association


May 23, 2014

TRS staff recommends no premium increases

This week, the Retirees Advisory Committee of the Teacher Retirement System met to hear from staff about TRS-Care rates for FY 2015 and receive an update on the TRS-Care Sustainability Study.

Staff informed the Committee that they will be recommending to the Board that there be no premium increases for FY 2015. There may be a benefit restatement for FY 2015, but staff insisted that benefits will not change either.

Staff discussed the TRS-Care Sustainability Study, stating that they are looking at all options. The TRS-Care Fund will be facing an almost $1 billion shortfall in the next biennium, and TRS intends to ask for that amount in an exceptional item of its legislative appropriations request.

TRS, however, is looking at doing all they can to help the TRS-Care fund become solvent in the future. They are looking at a number of options, including: a pay-as-you-go system; a system where the retiree pays for all optional coverage; a defined contribution plan with a health reimbursement account that will allow retirees to shop for coverage; modifying eligibility for Care 3; and combining ActiveCare and Care. Staff will also be looking at using a combination of some of the above-listed options. The Sustainability Study should be finalized in the fall.

The full Board meets next on June 5-6, 2014.


May 20, 2014

TSTA applauds Davis debate proposal, focus on education

"Texas was made great by confident leaders who met the challenges of their times. Today, Texas is changing, and for the first time in 24 years, there is no incumbent running for Governor. Now more than ever, it is time for candidates to come out of the shadows of their campaign ads and tell us how they would meet today's challenges and keep Texas strong," TSTA President Rita Haecker said in a statement issued today regarding Senator Wendy Davis' proposal for six gubernatorial debates during the 2014 campaign.

"We are especially pleased with Senator Davis' proposal to have one debate focused entirely on education, the most important responsibility of state government. Parents and educators deserve to hear the candidates debate their plans to provide educational opportunity, and that requires
more than sound bites, slogans and campaign ads."


May 19, 2014

Stanford: Abbott education plan writes big check to failed experiment

In budget cutting session, Lege incorporates language that opens door for TEA to dramatically expand K12,Inc.

From columnist Jason Stanford: "Greg Abbott opposes universal pre-K, arguing that we should not spend tax dollars on unproven education methods. But earlier this month in rolling out the third plank of his education platform, he proposed doing even worse—spending more money on something we know doesn't work: K12 Inc., the country's largest online education company. We hold schools, students, and soon teachers accountable. It's time to hold purveyors of failure accountable as well.

"Founded in 2000 with funding from convicted Wall Street felon Michael Milken, K12 Inc. has a great business model. Virtual schools cut out the expensive brick & mortar facilities and move the entire school online where students can point and click their way to a high school diploma. No schoolhouse means no light bill, no cafeteria, no janitors, and no gym teacher. Their overhead is a fraction of a neighborhood public school, but thanks to a loophole snuck into the same 2011 bill that cut funding for Texas public schools by$5.4 billion, virtual schools get funded at the same level as public schools.

"K12 Inc. might be great for its investors, but it's horrible for its students. Everywhere virtual schools have been tried they have failed to meet minimum standards or do better than public schools, according to a report by Progress Texas. K12 Inc. is so ineffective that the NCAA announced last month that it was K12 Inc. credits would no longer count towards eligibility." Read more at http://www.chronicle-tribune.com/peru_tribune/opinion/stanford-k-inc---great-for-investors-horrible-for/article_a6c1c2ae-df84-11e3-84e3-0019bb2963f4.html.


May 15, 2014

TSTA to House Public Education Committee: a test-based "value-added measure" is not a valid measure for teacher evaluation

In a preview of what promises to be a critical organizing issue as we approach the 2015 legislative session, the House Public Education Committee met in Austin on May 14 to hear testimony regarding its interim charge requesting the committee to look into ways to improve teaching practice, including teacher evaluation.

TSTA was invited to testify on a teacher evaluation panel and provide feedback on the NCLB waiver extension currently being negotiated between the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the United States Department of Education (DOE). The waiver would be necessary to prevent local school districts from losing a portion of their federal Title I funding should the district not meet federal student performance measures. The DOE is using the waiver process to push states to use "student growth" measures as a factor in teacher evaluation, although DOE has started granting extensions to states in response to research that shows standardized test scores are not a legitimate measure for teacher evaluation.

TSTA expressed very serious reservations about the proposed evaluation system TEA has submitted to the federal Department of Education. TEA should not rush into the NCLB Waiver with test-based evaluations,
which include a "pilot" program in 72 school districts. Most troublesome is the fact that TEA indicated that they intend to push this system statewide in the 2015-16 school year, even though the data needed to analyze the pilot would not be available until August 2015, about the time school starts.

TSTA strongly encouraged legislators to slow down TEA's rush to test-based evaluation based on a pilot that won't be complete by the time the next legislative session is finished, citing several critical concerns.

• Research has consistently shown that student performance on standardized test scores in not a valid measure of any one teacher's performance, and test-based evaluation should not be the basis of employment decisions. You can read the most recently published research at: http://epa.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/04/11/0162373714531851.full.pdf+html?ijkey=Uwvo4Eg6.hQHI&keytype=ref&siteid=spepa
• The proposed TEA pilot would require that a minimum of 20% of a teacher's evaluation be based on Value Added Modeling (VAM), which means test scores - and TEA would that prefer 50% be based on test scores if they had their way.
• In fact, a 20% "floor" would allow local districts to increase the percentage of evaluation based on tests.
• The "steering committee" that was convened by TEA to devise this system included teacher representatives, including a member of TSTA who opposed the use of any VAM as an evaluation measure.

In written and oral testimony, TSTA objected to the use of a Value Added Model (VAM) that uses high stakes standardized test scores as a measure of student growth for teacher evaluation.  Such a VAM l is just that, a model, and it may not comport with what is going on in a 21st century Texas classroom.
• A test-based VAM methodology cannot control for or measure factors that cannot be tested, including the motivation to learn, family circumstances, and student health, to name just a few.
• The VAM has not yet been scientifically validated as a legitimate method for estimating the value a teacher adds to a student's academic performance, and every VAM will have a margin of error, a potential double whammy for an unsuspecting "good teacher."
• A policy that dictates a 20% VAM teacher evaluation component is punitive in nature, increases the high stakes nature of standardized tests, and has no intuitive or useful value to the teacher seeking information that could be used to make adjustments to improve student learning in the classroom.

Finally, TSTA believes teacher evaluation is too important to be based on an inappropriate VAM measure based on standardized tests. A meaningful teacher evaluation system should be designed to be transparent, with clear standards and positive feedback to help a teacher improve her or his craft. The complex VAM equations and the punitive nature of this model is neither supportive nor is it designed to improve teaching practice.

TSTA doubts that any VAM methodology would be transparent to all but a few practitioners on its face.  Very few educators would be able to dispute an evaluation based on the way a VAM model's complex differential equation determined that an individual teachers was scored "below" or "well below" average, for example. To make the point in a very personal way, educators in such systems have already seen their VAM based evaluations go from award-winning to worthy of dismissal in two years, even though their teaching practice remained constant.

This fight has just begun, and TSTA will utilize every political and legal option available in our organizing efforts as we work to stop this most recent intrusion of standardized testing into the teaching and learning process. However, this is an issue where we can make a difference, working with parents and others who know that the purpose of education is not producing standardized kids.


May 13, 2014

Cy-Fair ISD withdraws from TEA teacher evaluation pilot

The Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District has withdrawn from a state pilot program that would tie teacher evaluations, in part, to student test scores. Cy-Fair had been the largest district among as many as 72 districts and charter schools that the Texas Education Agency had listed as participants in the evaluation during the 2014-15 school year. http://tsta.org/pressroom


May 9, 2014

Video: teachers write a letter to themselves on first day teaching

In honor of teacher appreciation week, SoulPancake and Edutopia asked teachers to write a letter to themselves on their first day teaching. http://youtu.be/miPYLJI247g


May 8, 2014

TSTA: Another Abbott Education proposal for a select few

Greg Abbott's latest education proposal would continue to pick winners and losers among Texas schoolchildren, rather than giving every Texas child the resources to succeed.

"Greg Abbott's digital learning plan is another timid proposal that would benefit only a select few of our students, much like his limited pre-K plan," said Texas State Teachers Association President Rita Haecker.

"Texas needs leaders who are ready to meet today's challenges and offer real educational opportunity to every child," Haecker added. "With every proposal, candidate Abbott sounds like the same Greg Abbott who continues defending an inadequate and unfair school finance system and $5.4 billion in school budget cuts."


May 7, 2014

Education International report: 'Getting Teacher Migration and Mobility Right'

Around the world, many teachers feel compelled to leave their home countries and pursue employment opportunities abroad. Education International's report, "Getting Teacher Migration and Mobility Right," is a comprehensive report of these teachers' experiences. The report contains important information about the role that unions can play in protecting migrant teachers. 

Education International surveyed 1,358 teachers to better understand the rewards and challenges associated with teaching abroad. The study aims to identify more effective practices for international teacher migration and spotlight issues of concern such as trafficking of teachers and exploitative job recruiters.

Further information about the report and teacher migration can be accessed on the newly launched web portal, Migrant Teacher's Rights, http://www.migrantteachersrights.org.


May 6, 2014

Tours for teachers

Global Exploration for Educators Organization (GEEO) is a 501c3 non-profit organization that runs summer professional development travel programs designed for teachers.

GEEO is offering the following travel programs for 2014: India/Nepal, Italy, Amalfi Coast, Greece, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Thailand/Laos, Cambodia, China, Turkey, Peru, New Zealand, Costa Rica, South Africa/Mozambique/Zimbabwe/Botswana, and The Galapagos Islands. The registration deadline is June 1, but space is limited and many programs will be full well before the deadline.

Educators have the option to earn graduate school credit and professional development credit while seeing the world.  The trips are 8 to 24 days in length and are designed and discounted to be interesting and affordable for teachers. GEEO provides teachers educational materials and the structure to help them bring their experiences into the classroom. The trips are open to all nationalities of K-12 and university educators and administrators, as well as retired educators. Educators are also permitted to bring along a non-educator guest.

Detailed information about each trip, including itineraries, costs, travel dates, and more can be found at www.geeo.org. GEEO can be reached 7 days a week, toll free at 1-877-600-0105 between 9AM-9PM EST.


May 5, 2014

Join in: Vine campaign for Teacher Appreciation Week

Join NEA's Vine campaign by submitting your own six-second video using the #ThankATeacher hashtag. If you're not on Vine and don't want to take the time to create an account, no worries — as long as you use the #ThankATeacher hashtag, you can be included your posts from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Want to participate? Here's how:

  • Vine is a free download in the app store of all three major smartphone platforms. After installation, you'll be prompted to sign up with either your Twitter account or email address.
  • Start recording! Press the camera icon in the top-right corner of the app. Holding your finger to the screen begins recording, and releasing your finger pauses it.
  • Once you've recorded your video, press the arrow in the top-right corner of your screen and preview your finished product. If you'd like to rearrange your sequence of clips, press the Edit button and simply drag and drop your individual clips to their new places in your timeline. You can delete clips by dragging them to the top of the screen into the trashcan icon, as seen above.
  • When you're finished editing, press Save, then press the green checkmark at the bottom of your screen. You'll be brought to the Share screen where you can add a caption and the #ThankATeacher hashtag.
  • Share your Vine on your Facebook and Twitter and ask your network to #ThankATeacher.

NEA will be searching the hashtag and highlighting their favorite Vines on the NEA Today social media properties during Teacher Appreciation Week May 5-9. Be sure to "follow" them on Vine, "like" them on Facebook, and "follow" them on Twitter.Click here to see examples of what other people have done: https://vine.co/u/917198843584581632

TSTA joins Thank A Million Teachers initiative

As part of a national initiative to recognize our nation's teachers, TSTA has joined with the Farmers Insurance family and its member 21st Century Insurance to urge America to thank teachers, present and past, for the positive impact they have had in communities across the nation. Everyone is encouraged to visit www.ThankAMillionTeachers.com to thank deserving teachers today. At that website, teachers can also submit proposals for $2,500 grants. Proposals for the next round are being accepted in May and June for public voting in July.


April 30, 2014

TSTA applauds Davis plan to reduce standardized testing (4-30-14)

TSTA President Rita Haecker applauded the announcement of Senator Wendy Davis' "Great Standards, Great Texas" plan to reduce the emphasis on standardized testing in Texas schools.

Join the thank-a-teacher Vine campaign!

NEA's National Teacher Day #thankateacher Vine campaign is taking off! Join in by submitting your own six-second video (instructions below) using the #ThankATeacher hashtag. If you're not on Vine and don't want to take the time to create an account, no worries — as long as you use the #ThankATeacher hashtag, we can include your posts from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Want to participate? Here's how:

  • Vine is a free download in the app store of all three major smartphone platforms. After installation, you'll be prompted to sign up with either your Twitter account or email address.
  • Start recording! Press the camera icon in the top-right corner of the app. Holding your finger to the screen begins recording, and releasing your finger pauses it.
  • Once you've recorded your video, press the arrow in the top-right corner of your screen and preview your finished product. If you'd like to rearrange your sequence of clips, press the Edit button and simply drag and drop your individual clips to their new places in your timeline. You can delete clips by dragging them to the top of the screen into the trashcan icon, as seen above.
  • When you're finished editing, press Save, then press the green checkmark at the bottom of your screen. You'll be brought to the Share screen where you can add a caption and the #ThankATeacher hashtag.
  • Share your Vine on your Facebook and Twitter and ask your network to #ThankATeacher.

NEA will be searching the hashtag and highlighting their favorite Vines on the NEA Today social media properties during Teacher Appreciation Week May 5-9. Be sure to "follow" them on Vine, "like" them on Facebook, and "follow" them on Twitter.

Click here to see examples of what other people have done: https://vine.co/u/917198843584581632


April 29, 2014

Texas' high school graduation rates shine

In a study released this week by the U.S. Department of Education, only Iowa posted a higher graduation rate than Texas for the Class of 2012. Texas, with a graduation rate of 88 percent, tied for second place with Nebraska, Vermont, and Wisconsin. http://www.tea.state.tx.us/news_release.aspx?id=25769810912


April 28, 2014

Deadline extended on TELL Texas Survey

The Texas Education Agency has extended the TELL Texas survey window until May 31. While the survey is voluntary for educators, it is TEA's expectation that principals, as agents of TEA, will distribute the access codes to all licensed professional educators in their schools.

If a principal has misplaced the packet of anonymous access codes, replacement codes for the entire school can be requested by clicking on the "Need Help?" button at www.telltexas.org. The Help Desk will send the codes electronically, and they can be printed out for distribution.

If you missed the earlier notices, this  is the first statewide TELL (Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning) Texas Survey. It is your chance to tell leaders if you have the tools you need to do your job well. TSTA supports this effort and hopes members will participate.

You will be able to access the survey using a unique, anonymous access code that will be included in the materials mailed to each school the week before the survey begins. This anonymous online survey concerns teaching conditions that are important to student achievement and teacher retention, such as instructional practices and support, leadership, facilities and resources, community engagement, professional development, managing student conduct, and new teacher support.

The TELL Texas Survey is funded as part of HB2012, which requires the commissioner of education to develop an online teaching and learning conditions survey to be administered statewide biennially to teachers, principals, counselors, and other school-based professional staff. Results will be reported approximately five weeks after the close of the survey window and will be available for schools and districts to use in campus and district improvement planning.

The survey is administered by the New Teacher Center, a national organization dedicated to supporting the development of a high-quality teaching force. The Center has conducted similar surveys in other states, and since 2009 has heard from more than one million educators.


April 23, 2014

TSTA: Abbott continues to tinker while education needs grow

While Texas continues to shortchange public education, Greg Abbott continues to tinker with selective programs that would benefit only a few of Texas' 5 million schoolchildren. http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/20140423_Abbott_tinker.pdf

Thank an ESP this week!

Today we celebrate the contributions of administrative professionals. http://educationvotes.nea.org/2014/04/23/thank-an-education-support-professional-on-administrative-professionals-day/


April 21, 2014

Going to the Emerging Leaders Conference this July?

It's one of TSTA's most popular events! Mark your calendar for July 19-21 at the Austin Airport Hilton Hotel, and watch the Emerging Leaders page on Facebook for the latest details. http://www.facebook.com/tstael2014


April 15, 2014

Hear Wendy Davis speaking at the convention!

A new video clip features Sen. Wendy Davis, TSTA's endorsed candidate for governor, speaking at the TSTA House of Delegates about her opponent's plan for Texas four-year-olds. It's six minutes long but worth it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7f_lDFGtPMY&list=UU_qv082qWYDnaNts0gduk2Q&feature=share 


April 14, 2014

Davis, Van de Putte address TSTA Convention

The TSTA House of Delegates, meeting April 11-12 in San Marcos, elected new officers and heard from Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, the pro-education candidates TSTA is backing for governor and lieutenant governor.

Noel Candelaria was elected the new TSTA president and Ovidia Molina, vice president. Both will take office on July 15. Linda Estrada was elected to the NEA Board of Directors.

Davis and Van de Putte re-emphasized their commitment to public schools, educators and students, including their support of strong pre-K programs and opposition to excessive standardized testing.

"Everyday heroes, that's who you are," Davis told the delegates. She repeated her call for Texas teachers to be paid at least the national average (Texas teachers are now paid about $7,000 below that) and outlined her plan to encourage Texas' best students to enter the teaching profession.
Van de Putte, who chairs the state Senate Education Committee and comes from a family of educators, vowed to fight privatization of public schools and assured delegates that, as lieutenant governor, she would continue to place a high value on education professionals.

"Teaching is what will keep Texas strong," she said.

TSTA President Rita Haecker, making her last address to a House of Delegates convention, recounted her successes during six years as TSTA's leader, including the recruitment of more than 30,000 new members and establishing a "pipeline" for training and developing new leaders.
"Our members join us to create a better world, a better world for themselves and their students," Haecker said.

Candelaria, who has been TSTA vice president since July 2011, is former president of the Ysleta Teachers Association and a former special education teacher in Ysleta ISD. He said he is "ready to lead the members of TSTA, organize all educators who teach our 5 million students and urge our students' parents to join us in helping to shape a quality public education system in Texas."

Molina is a TSTA Advisory Board member, vice chair of the TSTA/NEA Hispanic Caucus, Region 3B president, treasurer of Alief-TSTA/NEA and former president of Alief-TSTA/NEA.  She is a teacher in Alief ISD.

Estrada is a member of the TSTA Board of Directors and Advisory Committee, chair of the TSTA ESP Committee and president of Donna TSTA/NEA. She is employed by Donna ISD.

Please visit TSTA's Flickr album to see photos of this weekend's meetings, including the speeches by Sens. Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, and Sunday's ESP Conference. https://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets

TSTA recognizes the best

At TSTA's state convention last weekend, the Ronnie Ray ESP Advocate of the Year Award was presented to Bobbie Cunningham, a custodian at Cypress Springs High School in Cypress Fairbanks ISD. Watch a video at http://youtu.be/Jywoz_tc2SA.

Monica Washington, the Texas Teacher of the Year, won the Ermalee Boice Instructional Advocacy Award. There was an article about her in your Winter 2013 Advocate.

Social Justice Awards were presented to El Paso Teachers Association for its two-day community forum to discuss problems in the district and work on solutions; to Education Austin for a wide range of projects, including efforts to stop charters, keep a school open, and support immigrant students; and Ruben Cortez, who has worked as a member of the State Board of Education to stop vouchers and privatization.

TSTA's Pride in Communications Awards recognize outstanding communication efforts by local or regional associations. Edgewood Classroom Teachers Association won the award for best newsletter; Cy Fair TSTA/NEA won best website; and Lubbock Educators Association won best electronic newsletter.

Membership Awards went to Laredo United, Southwest Educators Association, Alice Local Association, NEA-Dallas, and Pecos-Barstow-Toyah (one award each); Lubbock Educators Association (two awards); Edinburg Local Association, Del Valle Education Association, New Caney Local Association, and Socorro Education Association (three awards); and Pharr-San Juan-Alamo TSTA Professional Association (four awards).

School Bell awards went to Alex Hinojosa, Andrew Kreighbaum, and Robert Moore, El Paso Times; Mark Wiggins, KVUE-TV, Austin; Terrence Stutz, The Dallas Morning News; Morgan Smith, Texas Tribune; Natalie Gross, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal; Ericka Mellon, Houston Chronicle; O. Ricardo Pimentel, San Antonio Express-News; and Sandra Sanchez, The Monitor.

Congratulations to all!


April 13, 2014

Photos: TSTA Convention and ESP Conference

Please visit TSTA's Flickr album to see photos of this weekend's meetings, including the speeches by Sens. Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, our endorsed candidates for governor and lieutenant governor. https://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets


April 10, 2014

SBOE members visit TSTA Board meeting

TSTA Board members, who are meeting in San Marcos today prior to the House of Delegates, were visited by State Board of Education members Marisa Perez, Marta Dominguez, and Ruben Cortez, the three who spearheaded passage of a motion to develop Mexican American, African American, Native American, and Asian American studies textbooks.


April 9, 2014

TSTA member named HEB finalist

Congratulations to Nicholas Solis, a TSTA member at Hillcrest Elementary in Austin. Nicholas is a finalist in the HEB Excellence in Education Awards competition. See www.facebook.com/HEBExcellenceinEducationAwards


April 8, 2014

Nominate your outstanding school volunteers

The State Board of Education is now accepting nominations for the 2014 Heroes for Children Award. This annual award recognizes public school volunteers who have been strong advocates for Texas schoolchildren.

Volunteers may be nominated by individual persons or by organizations; forms must be received by 5 p.m. May 30. The State Board of Education will select one hero from each of the 15 State Board of Education districts. Heroes will be honored during the board's September meeting. Educational employees, elected government officials, and organizations are not eligible to be nominated. The application form is available at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=4140.


April 7, 2014

Davis, Van de Putte to address TSTA House of Delegates

TSTA's House of Delegates will meet Friday, April 11 and Saturday, April 12 at the Embassy Suites in San Marcos. Delegates will elect new TSTA officers, and at mid-day on Saturday, gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis and lieutenant governor candidate Leticia Van de Putte will address delegates and guests.
http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/2014springAdvocate-web.pdf

TSTA: Abbott Pre-K would help only a select few

At a news conference, TSTA President Rita Haecker delivered a strong rebuttal to an early childhood education plan proposed by Greg Abbott that would exclude thousands of Texas school children while inviting unproven private operators to run some pre-K programs. Wendy Davis, TSTA's choice for governor, is supporting universal pre-K programs for every eligible Texas child.

Press release: Pre-kindergarten works for children; Abbott doesn't
http://www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/20140401Pre-K_works.pdf

Press release: Abbott hypocritical on early childhood education
http://www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/3-31-14news%20release.pdf


April 4, 2014

TSTA supports Mexican American Studies course curriculum

The TSTA Board voted unanimously to support an initiative, which the State Board of Education will consider next week, to create a Mexican American Studies course curriculum as a new high school elective. In light of past efforts by some SBOE members to remove Hispanic and African American leaders such as Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall from the social studies curriculum, TSTA views this course as a first step toward recognizing the diversity of our state, and particularly our student population. Ysleta ISD recently adopted a Mexican American Studies curriculum and El Paso ISD is considering a similar proposal.

Currently, the majority of Texas K-12 students are Hispanic, but the sponsors and supporters of this Mexican American Studies course hope this ultimately will lead to the creation of additional courses related to African American and Asian American studies, which would better prepare Texas students to work and prosper in our great and diverse state for generations to come.


March 31, 2014

TSTA:  Abbott hypocritical on early childhood education

TSTA President Rita Haecker said it was hypocritical for Greg Abbott to claim to support early childhood education while continuing to defend in court $5.4 billion in school funding cuts, including almost $200 million from pre-kindergarten programs.

"When it comes to providing educational opportunity for the children who need it most, Greg Abbott's actions speak a lot louder than his words," Haecker said. "If Greg Abbott really cared about improving early learning opportunities for Texas children, he would stop defending $200 million cut from pre-kindergarten programs and stop promoting a budget plan that would shortchange public education."

"Early learning opportunities are particularly crucial for children in the Rio Grande Valley, and hypocritical lip service adds up to nothing for them," Haecker added. "The schools in the Valley have been neglected for too long by people like Greg Abbott, but we can change that this year. We need a governor like Wendy Davis, who fought the budget cuts and has a plan to ensure access to full-day pre-kindergarten for every eligible Texas child."


March 28, 2014

House Public Ed holds first interim hearing

The House Public Education Committee held its first interim hearing this week in Austin with six panels of invited testimony regarding the implementation of HB 5 (83R) and recommendations for improvement; from Texas Education Agency, the State Board of Education, and public and higher education stakeholders to ensure the creation of additional rigorous mathematics and science courses needed to address the current and projected needs of the state's workforce; and to review the broad scope and breadth of the current TEKS in the tested grades, including the format, testing calendar, and the limitation on instructional days available.  The committee invited recommendations for streamlining the assessment of TEKS and focus on core concepts, and asked for review of current federal testing requirements in grades 3-8 to determine if testing relief is possible.

Testimony from district administrators explained to the committee that currently most districts are only able to offer two of the endorsements of the five passed last session, the multidisciplinary endorsement being the most common.   It was also expressed from a number of the invited guests that testified on HB 5 implementation that more guidance is needed to equip counselors with the tools to help students decide on the individual graduation plans and more counselors are necessary.

It was also reported from TEA staff that 76% of students are on track to graduate in 2015, but 24% of students have failed at least one of the five end of course STAAR exams needed for a high school diploma.

With regard to the Algebra II debate, the Commissioner of Higher Education, Raymund Paredes, cautioned the committee that if a student wants to go to university, the student better take four years of math in high school.  

Finally, a number of guests and public testimony stressed the necessity to amend the TEKS requirements in all grades.  It was noted that due to the cumbersome nature of the TEKS it is difficult for teachers to get through all the requirements in any given school year for any given course and grade.  

The Senate Committee on Education has its first interim hearing on April 14, 2014.


March 26, 2014

Taxpayers subsidize private school tuition

Taxpayers in 14 states will spend nearly $1 billion this year subsidizing tuition for private schools, including many religious schools that teach creationism, an alternative the U.S. Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional
for teaching in public schools, according to a new media report. http://www.tsta.org/grading-texas

Texas ranks 46th in per-pupil spending

Texas will spend an average of $8,998 per student this school year, well below the national average of $11,674. We rank 46th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the Dallas Morning News reported Wednesday, drawing on data from the National Education Association. http://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/headlines/20140325-texas-improves-school-funding-but-still-trails-most-states.ece

Retirees gain organizing skills at NEA conference

Training retired members to organize their communities to advance the cause of public education. That's the purpose of the NEA-Retired Organizing Conference, which this year was held at Houston's Westin Galleria Hotel on March 25-27. It included national speakers, skill development, knowledge building, and great opportunities to network with peers. See http://www.nea.org/retired for more about NEA-Retired.


March 24, 2014

TELL Texas Survey opens soon

The first statewide TELL (Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning) Texas Survey will be administered April 7 – May 5. This is your chance to tell leaders if you have the tools you need to do your job well. TSTA supports this effort and hopes members will participate.

You will be able to access the survey using a unique, anonymous access code that will be included in the materials mailed to each school the week before the survey begins. This anonymous online survey concerns teaching conditions that are important to student achievement and teacher retention, such as instructional practices and support, leadership, facilities and resources, community engagement, professional development, managing student conduct, and new teacher support.

The TELL Texas Survey is funded as part of HB2012, which requires the commissioner of education to develop an online teaching and learning conditions survey to be administered statewide biennially to teachers, principals, counselors, and other school-based professional staff. Results will be reported approximately five weeks after the close of the survey window and will be available for schools and districts to use in campus and district improvement planning.

The survey is administered by the New Teacher Center, a national organization dedicated to supporting the development of a high-quality teaching force. The Center has conducted similar surveys in other states, and since 2009 has heard from more than one million educators.

Go to www.telltexas.org for more information.


March 20, 2014

Now online: campus-based emergency toolkit

The Texas School Safety Center has developed a campus-based emergency toolkit, which provides guidance on the training all students, staff, and visitors need to respond to emergencies.


March 19, 2014

FAQs on the new graduation plan

May a course satisfy both a foundation and an endorsement requirement? If a specific course can be taught for more than one credit, how will the credit be applied to the new graduation requirements? The Texas Education Agency has posted the answers to these and other questions about the new graduation requirements; click on "Foundation High School Program FAQs — March 2014" at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index2.aspx?id=25769806149.


March 10, 2014

TSTA: Texas women deserve equal pay and a governor who will advocate for it

Today, the Texas State Teachers Association challenged Attorney General Greg Abbott to explain why he is content to see Texas women continue to be paid, on average, about 80 cents for every dollar a man earns in the same job. http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/20140310EqualPay.pdf


February 28, 2014

Photos from the Read Across America tour

TSTA Vice President Noel Candelaria took some great shots of NEA's national Catavan tour, which kicked off in Texas this week at Rivas Elementary in Donna. Other photos are from Jefferson Elementary in Edinburg, Milton and Muller Elementaries in Laredo, and Spicewood Park (Southwest ISD) and Vestal (Harlandale ISD) Elementaries in San Antonio. See them in our Flickr album at http://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157641474532525.

We are experiencing problems with our Flickr account, but the photos from Austin's Metz Elementary and Del Valle's Hillcrest Elementary should be up by the end of the day.

What are you doing to celebrate?

Here's what Socorro Education Association is doing for Read Across America, NEA's national celebration of reading: http://www.sisd.net/Page/33577.


February 25, 2014

Education Austin wins three-year contracts

In a resounding victory for Education Austin and Austin ISD students, the local school board voted 5-4 last night to restore teachers' three-year contracts. More than 100 Education Austin members pleaded for stability for students and their teachers, chanting, "Here is our plea: Give us three!" and wearing bright red stickers that said simply "3." State funding cuts to public education prompted AISD to switch from three-year to one-year contracts in 2011. Read more: http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/austin-teachers-rally-for-3-year-contracts-its-a-r/ndbLb.

Links to news coverage: 

National reading campaign kicks off in Valley

From the Monitor: More than 300 elementary students donned floppy red-and-white striped hats Monday as they sat in their school's gym and listened to a diverse lineup of speakers promoting the virtues of habitual reading. But even before the program at Jefferson Elementary in Edinburg — which included readings of the Dr. Seuss favorites Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham, and a "reader's oath," led by state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg — the National Education Association kicked off a three-week nationwide tour with an appearance at another Hidalgo County elementary school. 

NEA's Read Across America kicks off in South Texas

From NEA Today: Life in the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas is relatively quiet. It's a family-oriented area, where much of the excitement surrounds local football or basketball games. On Monday, Feb. 24, however, students from two elementary schools in Hidalgo County received a special treat from local, state and national guests, who read books from the beloved author Dr. Seuss. The event was part of the 17th anniversary of the National Education Association's award-winning Read Across America literacy program. http://neatoday.org/2014/02/25/nea%E2%80%99s-read-across-america-kicks-off-in-south-texas


February 24, 2014

It's time for Read Across America!

Your TSTA officers and NEA Executive Committee member Princess Moss are in the Rio Grande Valley today with Thing 1 and Thing 2 to kick off NEA's annual nationwide celebration of reading.

"We're so excited that NEA chose to come to South Texas for RAA's kickoff," Ruben Cortez, Jr., a member of the State Board of Education, said. "We're working to bridge the literacy and opportunity gaps and excited to see the progress at M. Rivas."

Rivas Elementary in Donna was the tour's first stop; in the afternoon, the group visited Jefferson Elementary in Edinburg, where Thing 1 and Thing 2 read in the school gym.
On Tuesday, the Catavan will visit Milton Elementary in Laredo and Muller Elementary in Laredo United, and on Wednesday it travels to San Antonio with stops at Spicewood Park Elementary in Southwest ISD and Vestal Elementary in Harlandale ISD. The tour ends Thursday with Metz Elementary in Austin and Hillcrest Elementary in Del Valle ISD. Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157641474532525/

Austin to vote on three-year contracts

The Austin ISD Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote Monday whether to extend the length of teacher contracts, after the district and the teacher's union, Education Austin, declared an impasse over the issue last month. Read the rest of the story at http://kut.org/post/austin-school-board-weigh-three-year-teacher-contracts.


February 21, 2014

Faculty group sues over Brownsville job losses

The Texas Faculty Association (TFA) on Thursday filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Brownsville against the University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB) and Texas Southmost College (TSC) on behalf of three former faculty members who were illegally terminated after the two schools dissolved their joint operating arrangement.

TFA, the higher education affiliate of the Texas State Teachers Association and the National
Education Association, acted on behalf of plaintiffs Juan Antonio Gonzalez, Dorothy Boven
and Karen Fuss-Sommer, who were tenured faculty members at UTB and TSC when they
were dismissed. All live in Brownsville.

Filed by TSTA staff counsel Russell Ramirez, the lawsuit contends the three, all older than
40, were terminated in violation of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act
(ADEA) and University ofTexas System rules. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Boven
was denied equal pay under federal law because, while still employed, she taught a fifth
class for which she was not paid while male faculty members were paid for teaching a fifth
class.

"When faculty rights are violated, we are going to defend them," said TFA Executive
Director Mary Aldridge Dean. "Tenure is a property right, and it is not to be taken without
good cause or due process, and these individuals were denied both."

The three plaintiffs were granted tenure by Texas Southmost College and were retained by
the University of Texas at Brownsville as tenured faculty after the two schools merged in
1992. "Tenure denotes a status of continuing appointment as a member of the faculty at an
institution of The University of Texas System pursuant to The University of Texas System
Rules and Regulations," the lawsuit states.

But when UTB and TSC separated in 2012, the three were terminated under a provost's
charge that gave non-tenured faculty members priority over tenured faculty with master's
degrees.

The suit alleges:

# The priority given non-tenured faculty members "had a disparate impact on faculty
members who are over 40 years of age" because most tenured faculty, including the
plaintiffs, are older than 40. The designation was an "artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary
barrier to employment."

# The plaintiffs' academic programs and academic positions weren't eliminated. The
plaintiffs were terminated, and the defendants sought new applicants for their positions.

# The plaintiffs were not terminated for performance, good cause or because of a financial
exigency. "Defendants had no bona fide academic reason to terminate Plaintiffs'
employment" under UT rules.

The lawsuit contends the plaintiffs have suffered a "substantial loss" of income and
benefits, including retirement benefits and health and life insurance policies, as well as
"damage to both their professional and personal reputation." It seeks reinstatement of the
plaintiffs to their former positions with tenure, back pay and other benefits, court costs and
reasonable attorney's fees and exemplary damages "sufficient to punish the Defendants
and deter future similar conduct."

Named as defendants, in their official capacities, are UTB President Juliet Garcia, UTB
Provost Alan F.J. Artibise and TSC President Lily F. Tercero.

Contact Mary Aldridge Dean, Executive Director, Texas Faculty Association at
marya@tsta.org.


February 20, 2014

TSTA calls on Abbott to settle school finance suit

The Texas State Teachers Association today called on Attorney General Greg Abbott to settle the school finance lawsuit on terms favorable to Texas schoolchildren. According to a tweet by Texas Tribune reporter Morgan Smith, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst said a school finance settlement was up to the attorney general. "If we can find a fair way to settle it, that's great," Dewhurst was quoted as saying.

"There is nothing fair about Greg Abbott's continued defense of the $5.4 billion in education cuts that were imposed by David Dewhurst and the legislative majority in 2011," said TSTA President Rita Haecker.

Although the Legislature restored part of the cut funding last year, school districts are still operating with far less state aid than they received prior to the devastating cuts. Meanwhile, enrollment has increased by about one-quarter of a million students, while Abbott continues to waste tax dollars defending an indefensible, unconstitutional system.

"Even Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who helped engineer the deep cuts, is passing the school finance buck to an attorney general who has refused to do what is fair for our children and their teachers," Haecker concluded.


February 19, 2014

Early voting underway – know what you need to vote under voter ID law

TSTA works closely with organizations that work to protect every citizen's right to vote. Thanks to Empower the Vote Texas and Progress Texas, there is a website - http://www.gotidtexas.org/ - that provides all the information you need to make sure you are able to vote and have your vote count. Please remember to vote and share this useful information with your members.

Wendy Davis Announces "Great Start" Plan for Early Childhood Education

Senator Wendy Davis has once again demonstrated that education is her priority by announcing her "Great Start, Great Texas" plan last week in Houston and San Antonio. She was joined in San Antonio by Senators Leticia Van de Putte and Carlos Uresti and Mayor Julian Castro. Davis' plan emphasizes pre-K expansion, developing reading skills, and providing additional support for teachers and teacher's aides. Earlier this year, Davis announced her "Great Teachers, Great Texas" plan. TSTA Vice President Noel Candelaria, Harlandale Education Association President Cathy Stein and San Antonio Alliance President Shelley Potter were present at the San Antonio event, which was held at Leal Middle School in Harlandale ISD.

TSTA Leaders Take Case for Affordable health Care to TRS Board meeting

On Wednesday, February 12, 2014, TSTA leaders took our "Fair Share" health care campaign to the TRS board meeting in Corpus Christi, and made quite a powerful impression there, bringing some Board members to tears. TSTA Vice President Noel Candelaria, San Marcos Education Association President Susan Seaton, Del Valle Education Association (DVEA) President Michelle Cardenas, DVEA members Katie Plemmons and Brenda Dominguez, and Killeen Education Association President Stacy Stoll made the trip to the Corpus Christi meeting, capping off a week of action that began with a successful press event help by Region 2D leaders in Austin the previous Saturday. TSTA leaders and staff worked together and we are off to a great start in our efforts to demand health care affordable for educators and all educational employees. Photos and videos of the testimony can be found on our YouTube, Flickr, and Facebook pages (see icons at the bottom of the home page).

REMEMBER to VOTE. EARLY VOTING continues through February 28 and Primary Election Day is March 4.

SBEC meeting largely uneventful

As in the past, there was a plethora of hearings at last week's State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) meeting.

Information:

• The four-year review for 19 TAC Chapter 247 (Educators' Code of Ethics) will begin at the August SBEC meeting.  This chapter establishes definitions, ethics, and standards of practices for Texas Educators. 

• On 04 April 2014, SBEC will conduct a planning retreat to address, among other things, its legislative agenda for the upcoming legislative session, prioritize SBEC policies, and review the process for disposing of disciplinary actions.

Action items:

SBEC approved

• Approved professional development requirements for teachers, principals, and counselors to align with state statute.  The requirement places a 25% rule on the number of continuing education requirements necessary to meet the 150 hours required for certificate renewal.  The 25% mandate would apply to professional development an educator decided to seek on their own and the educator would have the onus of responsibility to keep track of the hours.

• New TExES Generalist EC-6 and Generalist 4-8 Examinations, which include a two-year overlap to facilitate the transition to the new examinations.  The overlap allows pre-certification candidates to finish their requirements under the current program by 2016.

It was reiterated that pre-certification candidates must pass each core subject of an examination to get a passing score on the overall examination. 

• The transitional provisions, which are necessary to clarify the years for the standards of performance for certification examinations.  The baselines date is the 2012-13 academic year.

• Amended language relative to the Personnel Assignments that address Career-Technology Education, Information Technology, Special Education Counseling Services; and Administrators and other Instructional and Professional Support Assignments.

The proposed rule also clarifies language as to the hiring of professional support personnel who require other professional licenses (e.g. Audiologist, School, Psychologist).  An assignment as a Speech-Language Pathologist is allowed pursuant to the Texas Occupational Code 140.054

• A rule to align with HB 798 that allows the Texas Occupation Code to define the types of misdemeanor convictions that may be pursued under the TOC.  The adopted rule would not minimize the authority of SBEC in disciplinary hearing and actions.

• The authorization of the rule review process for Chapters 227 (Provisions for Educator Preparation Candidates); 228 (Requirements for Educator Preparation Programs); and 229 (Accountability System for Educator Preparation Programs). -- Bryan Weatherford, Teaching & Learning


February 18, 2014

What do you need to vote?

The Got ID Texas? website will explain what documents you 'll need to vote and how to get them. http://www.gotidtexas.org/


February 14, 2014

TRS update

At its meeting this week in Corpus Christi, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board picked a new Health Plan Administrator for ActiveCare, Aetna. The board also decided to choose a new Pharmacy Benefits Manager, CVS/Caremark.

The board also discussed the process they will undertake to prepare for the next legislative session, which commences on January 13, 2015. In July of this year, the board will approve TRS' legislative appropriations request (LAR). In August, TRS will submit its LAR to the Governor's office and the Legislative Budget Board (LBB). In September, the Governor's office and the LBB will hold joint hearings on the LARs of all state agencies, and in November, the LBB will adopt the spending limit.

TRS has made the following assumptions for its LAR:

• Member contribution rate: 6.7% in FY '15; 7.2% in FY '16; and 7.7% in FY ‘17
• State pension contribution rate: 6.8%
• Local pension contribution rate: 1.5%
• State contribution rate for TRS-Care: 1.0%

TRS will also ask for $1 billion for TRS-Care in an exceptional item.

State funding for the TRS health plans will be of primary importance next legislative session. Stay tuned for more TRS updates. The next board meeting will occur in Austin on March 27 & 28. -- report from John Grey


February 13, 2014

TRS report: TSTA leaders launch "Fair Share" health care campaign

On Wednesday, February 12, TSTA leaders took our "Fair Share" health care campaign to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board meeting in Corpus Christi, where they made quite an impression on the TRS Board. Vice President Noel Candelaria and several TSTA local leaders from Central Texas Region 2D made the trip to the meeting, capping off a week of action that began with a press event last Saturday in Austin.

The TSTA leaders addressed the board prior to the Town Hall Meeting, driving home the detrimental effects that TRS insurance premium increases have on our members. TSTA was the only education association represented by active teachers and educational employees at the board meeting, and that made quite an impact on the board.

Vice President Candelaria spoke as the TSTA Association representative and stated:

"As you heard earlier today from several of our members, the recent premium increases for TRS ActiveCare have caused severe financial hardship. Many of our members received no salary increases during the last three years, only to be given a marginal pay raise this year that was swallowed up by these premium increases. So it's no secret that our members are suffering financially."

Several TSTA local leaders took time off to drive to Corpus Christi and formally address the board during the early morning public comment period. San Marcos Education Association President Susan Seaton, Del Valle Education Association President Michelle Cardenas and members Katie Plemmons and Brenda Dominguez, and Killeen Education Association President Stacy Stoll all made powerful presentations to the board, bringing several board members to tears. They relayed personal stories of how high health care premiums were causing financial devastation for some of our members. They also asked the board to consider their actions in relation to the everyday lives of public school employees.

Susan, Michelle, Stacy, Katy, and Brenda also presented the TRS board with a large Valentine, asking TRS to "Have a Heart" when it comes to premium increases. The Valentine also contained thousands of petition signatures asking for lower premiums. Chairman David Kelly came from behind the table, over to our local leaders, accepted the Valentine, and thanked them for their commitment to their profession.

TSTA leaders expressed our appreciation that the Board will not raise premiums now, in the middle of the school year, and asked that the Board do everything possible to prevent another premium increase in the next school year.

TSTA also asked the TRS Board to join us in asking for additional funding from the legislature for ActiveCare and TRS Care. The legislature has not increased the minimum state contribution to TRS ActiveCare in over a decade, while the cost of health care has skyrocketed. Employees now carry 57 percent of the burden for their own health coverage, and many cannot afford to keep the coverage levels they need.

TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie stated that TRS has the responsibility to properly educate our elected officials at the legislature so that they can make the right decision on health care funding.

In addition to addressing the TRS Board, our TSTA leaders also addressed the press who were covering the meeting, a great follow up to the press coverage garnered the previous Saturday at the Austin press conference that featured the many of the same Central Texas leaders.

Thanks to Noel, Susan, Stacy, Michelle, Katy, and Brenda for their incredible efforts.  This week, we saw what can be done when TSTA leaders and staff work together as we kicked off the "Fair Share" health care campaign and prepare to take it statewide to local school boards and the legislature.


February 12, 2014

TSTA to TRS Board: hold the line on teacher health care premiums, support legislative action

TSTA today urged the TRS Board to hold the line on health care premiums for educational employees and join educators in asking the legislature for the first increase in the state contribution for educators' health insurance in over a decade. TRS administers TRS-ActiveCare, a health insurance program that provides health insurance coverage in most Texas school districts.

"Recent TRS insurance premium increases have caused severe financial hardship for many school employees," said TSTA Vice President Noel Candelaria, who addressed the TRS Board at their meeting in Corpus Christi. "It's time for the state to step up and do its fair share for Texans who teach and care for our children every day at our neighborhood schools."

Candelaria cited TSTA's recent moonlighting survey – done by professors at Sam Houston State – that found that 44 percent of Texas teachers take a second job during the school year just to make ends meet.

"One of our members told us he had to take a second job just to pay for health insurance," Candelaria observed. "Texas educators, who are already underpaid, should not have to suffer financially in order to secure health insurance for their families."

He said TSTA was pleased that the Board will not raise premiums now, in the middle of the school year, and asked that the TRS Board do everything possible to prevent another premium increase in the next school year. "Health expenditures have increased dramatically in the past decade, but during that same time the legislature has not increased the state contribution for educational employees' health coverage one dime," Candelaria said, noting that ten years ago, educational employee contributions accounted for 32 percent of TRS-ActiveCare costs, compared to a 57 percent share today.

"We want the very best for our children, and we can't keep the best teachers and educational employees in our schools if we keep forcing them to shoulder the burden of rising health care costs and budget cuts," Candelaria concluded.

Watch videos of our members testifying today at http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLkHA9tlHv0EYFK6h9hsm-aUJOYWMsZ7b8!

Webinar on Defered Action for Childhood Arrivals is Feb. 26

You're invited to a webinar for educators entitled "How to Support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) & Undocumented Students."

More than half a million young people have taken advantage of DACA, a program that allows them to stay in the United States without fear of being deported. Many more are eligible to apply but need help to complete the process. DACA, created by President Obama in June 2012, offers young people who were born abroad but raised here a way to stay in the United States and pursue their dreams of giving back to the country they call home.

Please join two of the nation's foremost advocates for DREAMERS and experts on DACA for a webinar for educators who want to help students through the DACA process. Join us online on Wednesday, February 26  at 5:00 p.m. PST / 8:00PM EST for this special program.

WHO: Immigration Advocates Network
National Education Association
National Immigration Law Center
Own the Dream

WHEN: Wednesday, February 26
Pacific Time: 5:00PM to 6:00PM
Eastern Time: 8:00PM to 9:00PM

WHERE: Webinar and Conference Call

RSVP: http://bit.ly/DACAwebinarRSVP

MORE INFO: http://bit.ly/DACAwebinar-info
Delia Garcia: dgarcia@nea.org
Monica Thammarath: mthammarath@nea.org


February 11, 2014

Petition for National Day of Service for Chavez

The NEA Board last weekend supported the petition calling for a National Day of Service in honor of Cesar Chavez's birthday, March 31. Please sign the petition to President Obama at http://www.takepart.com/chavez

TEA asks school districts to submit bad weather waivers in March

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is asking school districts and charters seeking
waivers for bad weather days for this school year to submit their requests in March.

Snow, sleet and icy conditions have impacted districts statewide over the last several weeks
resulting in the cancellation of instructional days. As a result, the agency anticipates an influx of
waiver requests. The March timeframe allows the full impact of winter weather to be assessed by
school districts and charters on their 2013-2014 school year calendars.

School districts and charters in Texas must build two "makeup days" for school closures into
their adopted school calendar. If dates for the designated makeup days have already passed,
schools are still required to make up at least two of the scheduled instructional days lost. The
makeup day must be at least seven hours in length (including intermissions and recesses).
It is the local school district's responsibility to make its school calendar for the school year. TEA
does not direct any school district or charter on the specific days to identify or designate as
makeup days in their school calendar. That is strictly a local decision.

Waiver requests submitted to the agency will be reviewed by the commissioner of education. A
decision will be provided in a timely fashion. If a district receives a lost-instructional day waiver,
it does not lose any state funding for that day.


February 6, 2014

Watch Marisa Maher accept her award in D.C.

Phylicia Rashad, the Tony Award-winning actress best known for her role as Clair Huxtable on "The Cosby Show," will host the NEA Foundation's 2014 Salute to Excellence in Education Gala on Feb. 7 in Washington, D.C.

TSTA member Marisa Maher, a business teacher and coach at Dripping Springs High School in Dripping Springs, will be one of 36 educators to receive the California Casualty Award for Teaching Excellence at the event.

For the first time, the NEA Foundation will live stream the entire event on www.neafoundation.org, beginning at 7:30 p.m. (ET) on Feb. 7.


February 5, 2014

CSCOPE review complete

Some 140 Texans examined 431 CSCOPE social studies lessons plans and posted their reviews at www.cscopereviews.com. CSCOPE was a curriculum management system that provided lesson plans to participating school districts and charters. The review process included a public hearing. In August 2013, CSCOPE was formally renamed the TEKS Resource System.


February 4, 2014

TSTA endorses Leticia Van de Putte for lieutenant governor

The Texas State Teachers Association today announced its endorsement of Senator Leticia Van de Putte for lieutenant governor.

"Senator Van de Putte knows the classroom is the heart of public education, and she has worked tirelessly to free teachers to teach and give every student the opportunity to succeed," said TSTA President Rita Haecker. www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/20140204LeticiaVandePutte.pdf

TRS to hold Town Hall Meeting on Health Care Programs

TRS will be conducting a Town Hall Meeting in Corpus Christi Feb. 12 to discuss TRS-ActiveCare, the active school employees' health insurance program, and TRS-Care, the retiree health insurance program. The panel discussion will focus on the current financial condition of both programs as well as possible changes that could help make the programs more sustainable over the long term.

The Corpus Christi meeting will be webcast live through the TRS website. Not only will viewers be able to watch the meeting from their own homes or offices, but they will also be able to send their questions by email during the Town Hall Meeting. Those watching may also submit questions via our Twitter account @TRSofTexas using the hashtag #TRStownhall. TRS asks that participants not submit personal, health-related questions as panelists will not be able to address them. The webcast will also be recorded for later viewing. 

The Health Care Town Hall meeting is scheduled for: Wed., Feb. 12, 1-3 p.m., Education Service Center, Region 2, Room 3-23, 209 N. Water St., Corpus Christi, TX 78401. It is part of the three-day TRS Board Meeting/Retreat Feb. 12-14. Agendas and board materials for all three days can be found on the home page of the TRS website along with links to the live/on demand webcasts. http://www.trs.state.tx.us 

TEA considers teacher evaluation tied to test scores

TSTA has submitted public comment to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) regarding Commissioner of Education Michael Williams' proposed new "teacher standards" for effective teaching. The proposal has positive elements, but the good could be subverted by a separate teacher appraisal model being developed by TEA that would base individual teacher evaluations on student performance on standardized tests. TSTA supports high standards for teachers, but we urge the commissioner to scrap plans to develop test-based teacher evaluation as a key element of teacher appraisal. The vast majority of Texans, and especially parents and teachers, oppose the excessive emphasis on standardized tests in our schools.


February 3, 2014

House interim committee charges are released

On Jan. 31, House Speaker Joe Straus released interim committee charges for the 83rd Legislature. Among the charges for the House Committee on Public Education: to explore "innovative, research-based options for improving student achievement beyond standardized test scores. Evaluate standards for effective campus management as well as teacher preparation, certification, and training. Review current teacher evaluation tools and instructional methods, such as project-based learning, and recommend any improvements that would promote improved student achievement. Engage stakeholders on how to recruit and retain more of our ‘best and brightest' into the teaching profession."

The committee's other charges include monitoring the implementation of HB 5 and ensuring "the creation of additional rigorous mathematics and science courses needed to address the current and projected needs of the state's workforce";  looking at strategies that have improved student achievement at chronically underperforming schools; and reviewing TEKS.


January 31, 2014

SBOE approves graduation requirements

The State Board of Education today approved new graduation requirements on a 14-1 vote, pursuant to HB 5 which established the Foundation High School Program. These graduation requirements will become effective 20 days from filing with Texas Register. 

The SBOE ad hoc committee on CSCOPE reviewed 431 lessons, which now are available for review at www.cscopereviews.com. The board also approved the advertisement of bids for instructional materials, including textbooks aligned with the controversial Social Studies curriculum adopted in 2010, and approved guidelines to expand the Permanent School Fund Bond Guarantee to benefit open-enrollment charter schools. See the full report from Teaching & Learning Specialist Bryan Weatherford at http://www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/SBOE_January2014_Report.pdf.


January 30, 2014

Get ready for Read Across America

Smilemakers.com is the official Seuss Store for Read Across America 2014.  Use promo code NEAMB when ordering and receive 20% off entire order, free shipping (on orders over $25), free "Reading is Fun" stickers (while supplies last), and you can order pre-packed Dr. Seuss Classroom Celebration Kits. Visit www.neamb.com/smilemakers or call 888-800-SMILE(7645). Learn more about Read Across America at www.nea.org/readacross.


January 29, 2014

Two things to follow this week

The State Board of  Education meets this week on the new high school graduation plan and curriculum standards for Languages Other Than English. It's livestreamed at http://www.texasadmin.com/tea.shtml or follow it on Twitter @TeacherChat or @teainfo. The school finance trial is also going on; follow it on Twitter @EquityCenter.


January 27, 2014

GRAMMY recognizes NEA member

The first educator to be honored by The Recording Academy and the GRAMMY Foundation is NEA member Kent Knappenberger of New York! He received his award earlier but was recognized during last night's show.

SBOE meets this week

The State Board of  Education will meet Jan. 28-31 in Austin. The board is expected to finalize the new high school graduation plan and vote on new curriculum standards for Languages Other Than English. The full agenda is available at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/agenda and the meeting will be livestreamed at http://www.texasadmin.com/tea.shtml.

TEA considering teacher evaluation tied to test scores

Commissioner of Education Michael Williams has proposed new "teacher standards" for effective teaching. The proposed standards have positive elements, but the good could be subverted by a separate teacher appraisal model being developed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) that would base individual teacher evaluations on student performance on standardized tests. TSTA will be submitting public comment to TEA that supports high standards for teachers, but we will also urge the commissioner to scrap plans to develop test-based teacher evaluation as a key element of teacher appraisal. The vast majority of Texans, and especially parents and teachers, oppose the excessive emphasis on standardized tests in our schools. For more, go to http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=25769808607 and click on Item II at the top of the page.


January 24, 2014

TSTA offices are closed

Due to icy road conditions, TSTA is closed today.


January 23, 2014

TSTA endorses Wendy Davis, the education candidate

TSTA today announced its endorsement of Wendy Davis for governor. "TSTA is proud to endorse Senator Wendy Davis for governor because she has worked tirelessly in the Senate on behalf of students, parents, and teachers to give every Texas child the opportunity to succeed," said TSTA President Rita Haecker. "Too many candidates give education lip service, but when others defended cuts that harmed our neighborhood schools, Wendy Davis fought successfully to restore funding for our schools."

Haecker noted that this week Davis' opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, sent his assistants back to a courtroom to defend an unconstitutional school finance system from which the legislative majority cut $5.4 billion in 2011. Abbott supports so-called education "reforms" hatched by "experts" who haven't set foot in a classroom for years, while the school cuts continue to have serious consequences. Teachers now spend an average of $700 a year out of pocket to pay for classroom supplies, and 44 percent must take a second job during the school year, according to a study commissioned by TSTA and conducted by Sam Houston State University. http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/January23release.pdf

NEA investing $60 million to improve student success

NEA announced today a series of initiatives focused on expanding the ability of educators to create solutions in our public schools, including a fund that will invest more than $60 million over the next 10 years to improve student success and strengthen the education profession. The Great Public Schools Fund (GPS Fund) is one of several recently launched NEA initiatives to prepare the next generation of teacher leaders and create concrete solutions for our nation's public school students.

"With more than 3 million members working in schools and communities across the nation, NEA is a leading voice for student success and great public schools," said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. "It is time for us to accelerate the transformation of public education. Nobody knows better than educators what their students need to succeed in the classroom. Through the new GPS Fund we are providing the resources to put these plans in action and help ensure opportunity, equity, and success for every public school student in America." http://www.nea.org/home/57755.htm


January 21, 2014

Are you on Pinterest?

TSTA has a Pinterest page at http://www.pinterest.com/TSTANEA/tsta. Who else is pinning?

Federal budget's teacher quality programs: winners and losers

Congress agreed to halt sequestration—across-the-board cuts of about 5 percent to nearly all programs—as part of a fiscal 2014 budget deal completed this week (and now awaiting President Obama's signature).
With that in mind, which of the federal teacher-quality programs look to get some of their mojo back? To read more: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/teacherbeat/2014/01/the_budget_deals_teacher-quali.html?cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS3

Cumulative end-of-course passing rate rises to 76 percent

The Texas Education Agency announced today that approximately 309,000 students in the Class of 2015 have taken all or most of the end-of-course (EOC) assessments required for graduation. Of that number, approximately 76 percent of students - who are currently in their junior year of high school - have already passed the assessments they have taken and are on track to graduate under requirements set by the Texas Legislature in House Bill 5. The latest statewide summary reports are available at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index2.aspx?id=25769809035.


January 17, 2014

TSTA: Dewhurst out of touch with teachers

In remarks to The Texas Tribune yesterday, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst demonstrated he is out of touch with the needs of Texas teachers, ignores their financial reality and doesn't understand what effective classroom instruction requires.
http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/20140116DavidDewhurst.pdf

Wendy Davis: the education candidate for governor

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

Beware of education "reformers" with lots of money

New on Grading Texas: "Teachers and other public school advocates should be wary of any group promoting ‘education reform' because that has become a code term for school privatization. Texans for Education Reform has backers who know how to make money but know little about public education," blogger Clay Robison says. http://www.tsta.org/grading-texas/texans-for-education-reform/beware-of-education-reformers-with-lots-of-money

Diane Ravitch to speak at Austin conference

The Network for Public Education's national conference March 1-2 in Austin features some of the most important figures in the education reform debate, including Diane Ravitch, Karen Lewis, and John Kuhn. Registration is now open. http://wp.me/p2D92I-1Oc

Get ready for Read Across America

Smilemakers.com is the official Seuss Store for Read Across America 2014. Use promo code NEAMB when ordering to receive special discounts, free shipping on orders over $25, free "Reading is Fun" stickers while supplies last. Check out the pre-packed Dr. Seuss Classroom Celebration Kits. www.neamb.com/smilemakers

Wendy Davis: The Education Candidate for Governor

Wendy Davis is making it clear that she is the education candidate for governor. Her first policy proposal was "Great Teachers, Great Texas." Today, she announced a "Great Pathways" plan to help more students attend college and get dual college and high school credits, which saves families money and makes it more likely a student will attend college or receive timely job training. Read the news release from Wendy's campaign.


January 15, 2014

More than 3,000 lesson plans available

NEA and BetterLesson launched a new website today, cc.betterlesson.com/mtp. The site, where teachers share what works in the classroom, features more than 3,000 classroom-ready lessons that are easily accessible and can be integrated into any curriculum. It features the lessons of 130+ Master Teachers representing every K-12 grade level for math and English Language Arts & Literacy. This is one of several long-term partnerships NEA has pursued to support its members' professional development and leadership in the teaching practice. 

NEA on the Roswell school shooting

"We will probably never know all the factors that accumulate to unleash this kind of violence, but we must commit to doing all we can to make sure students and educators are safe in our schools," NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said, concerning the school shootings in Roswell, New Mexico on Jan. 14. "Preventing gun violence, bullying prevention, and greater access to mental health services are key issues that must be addressed, so educators and families can identify problems and intervene before it's too late." http://www.nea.org/home/57686.htm  

January 14, 2014

Ready to purchase a home?

The Homes for Texas Heroes Home Loan Program, created by the Texas Legislature, provides low interest rate loans with down payment and closing cost assistance in the form of a grant (meaning no repayment or second lien) to eligible public school employees, including teachers, full-time aides, librarians, nurses, and counselors. The program can be used to purchase a home or refinance an existing mortgage loan. For more information and to find out if you're eligible, visit www.tsahc.org.


January 13, 2014

Public education conference in Austin

Registration and Information now available! @NetworkPublicEd Conference in Austin March 1 & 2.
http://wp.me/p2D92I-1Oc


January 9, 2015

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

Today, Senator Wendy Davis announced her first education policy proposal, and she put teachers first. Davis will work to provide incentives to encourage the best and the brightest to become certified, career teachers. The plan also would provide additional support to keep current Texas teachers in the profession by providing local districts funding to get Texas teacher salaries in line with the rest of the country. Today, too many teachers have to take second jobs to make ends meet, and the "Great Teachers, Great Texas" plan is designed to give talented teachers the time and the freedom to teach a growing Texas student population.

For more details of the plan, go to: www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/GreatTexas_summary.pdf. To read TSTA's press release on the plan go to: www.tsta.org/sites/default/files/TSTAnewsDavisplan.pdf.


January 6, 2014

When teaching doesn't pay the bills

A recent survey, conducted by Lubbock Avalanche-Journal Media with the help of Clinton Gill, organizational development specialist for TSTA, revealed many local teachers moonlight to make ends meet. Teachers who work two to four jobs said they stayed in the field to make a difference, but some are now forced to consider a career change. http://lubbockonline.com/education/2014-01-03/when-teaching-doesnt-pay-bills-survey-reveals-low-pay-causing-teachers#.UssgbtJDvTp
 

Win up to $3,000 for your high school athletic program

The California Casualty Thomas R. Brown Athletics Grant was established to provide support to public high school sports programs negatively impacted by reduced budgets. Apply by Jan. 15, 2014. https://www.calcas.com/web/calcasathleticsgrant


December 18, 2013

Abbott tightlipped about education plans

Abbott, who was conducting a series of education roundtables last week, was asked by reporters about his position on vouchers and tuition tax credits, which rob public school students of valuable state funding by allowing some parents to send their kids to private schools using public tax dollars. Abbott didn't give a straight answer but stopped short of ruling out the use of public funds to pay for a private school education.

Read more at: http://educationvotes.nea.org/2013/12/17/tx-gubernatorial-hopeful-greg-abbott-tightlipped-about-education-plans/


December 17, 2013

Education needs more than empty promises

In a recent oped in the McAllen Monitor, TSTA member Leticia Lopez says educators need more than the empty promises offered by Republican candidate Greg Abbott in the governor's race. Lopez was responding to Abbott's recent visit to the Rio Grande Valley, during which he once again failed to address the real needs of Texas public schools. Lopez , a teacher in Edinburg ISD, is vice president for professionals for TSTA's local in Edinburg. Read the commentary at http://www.themonitor.com/opinion/columnists/article_6432c53e-644e-11e3-ab74-001a4bcf6878.html.


December 16, 2013

TRS Board gets strong forecast for pension fund

The TRS Board met last week in Austin to receive year-end reports from departments across the agency. It was stressed once again that the forecast for the pension fund is dramatically improved, as the result of SB1458 enacted during this year's legislative session, market asset returns, and liabilities slowing down due to lower than expected salary increases.

But much of the improved forecast will be borne by active employees because the employee contribution rate will be increased over the next few years.

The liabilities reported were due to the one-time cost of living adjustment for members who retired prior to Aug, 31, 2004. That adjustment – which cost about $700 million -- was equal to the lesser amount of 3 percent of a retiree's monthly annuity or $100 per month. Staff cautioned the Board to abstain from granting future ad hoc or one-time cost of living adjustments unless additional revenue is raised for that purpose.

Legislative changes will raise an active member's contribution rate to 7.70 percent by 2017, and the state contribution rate will increase to 6.80 percent by 2015.  Districts not participating in Social Security will contribute 1.50 percent of minimum salary by 2015. The new law provides that the member's contribution rate will not exceed the combination of the state's and district's contribution rates.

The Board also received an update and review of TRS Care. Premiums increased by 25 percent, but no additional information was provided regarding the future costs associated with participating in TRS Care.

TRS has been conducting a review of 403(b) plans, and the Board reauthorized the rules related to these plans.
The next TRS Board meeting will be in Corpus Christi in February.


December 13, 2013

NEA ELLs: Culture, Equity and Language Module Rubric Review

Currently, more than 5.3 million English language learners (ELL) make up 10.6 percent of the nation's K–12 public school enrollment. Wide and persistent achievement disparities between these ELLs and English-proficient students continue, placing a tremendous challenge to schools and our members to better address the language, literacy, and academic needs of ELLs more effectively. 

As a result, the NEA Human and Civil Rights Department is undertaking a process to update its 2006 English Language Learner: Culture, Equity and Language Training Module and wants to notify you that, in January 2014, we are going to call for assistance from members to help us: 1) assess the "usability" of our NEA-developed rubric to evaluate the module; or 2) self-nominate to serve on a 10-person panel to review our NEA ELL training module and materials. Please note that interested members must choose one option or the other. Below please find information regarding these two roles and a listing of key dates.

Rubric Reviewers Information: 

·         We have developed a list of questions (RUBRIC) to review the ELL Training Module in collaboration with ELL experts. Members who opt to review the rubric will inform us if the questions are clear and aligned.

·         Members opting to assist in the rubric review process will be provided a live link under separate cover on January 8, 2014 –and the deadline to complete the rubric review will be January 29th by 8PM EST. 

·         Selected members will go online to complete their review of the evaluative rubric and provide their feedback to NEA. 

·         Desired competencies for rubric reviewers include: familiarity with the NEA ELL module and materials; TESOL Standards; ELL Theory and Practice; and professional development training.

·         We estimate that the total time commitment to review the rubric is no more than an hour.

Review Panel Information:

·         Members opting to participate in the 10-person panel selection process for review of the ELL training module will need to self-nominate. 

·         A live link will be provided under separate cover for the self-nomination process and made available to members on January 8, 2014 –and the deadline to complete Review Panel self-nomination will be February 10 by 8 p.m. EST. 

·         Selected review panel members participating in the 10-person panel will join five nationally recognized ELL experts, over a 3-day period, to review the NEA ELL module at a soon to be determined site. 

·         The desired Competencies for Review Panel Members include: professional knowledge of the NEA ELL module and materials; thorough knowledge of the TESOL Standards; proficiency in ELL theory and practice; and cutting-edge professional development training experience. 

·         We estimate that total time commitment for this process, including additional time to review the materials, will be up to two weeks. 

Key Dates:

·         January 8th  – Notice will be sent to Rubric Reviewers and Review Panel Nominees

·         January 29th  – 8PM EST Deadline to Complete Rubric Review

·         February 10th – 8PM EST Deadline to Complete 10-Person Panel Self-Nomination


December 12, 2013

PBS is looking for innovative educators

If you are a digital superstar interested in advancing the use of digital media and technology in your class, apply to the 2014 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovators Program. http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/collection/digitalinnovators


December 10, 2013

12 Days of Gifting contest

Horace Mann is showing its appreciation for educators with a "12 Days of Gifting" contest on Pinterest, featuring prizes that include a $100 DonorsChoose gift code, an HP Chromebook, a $200 Barnes & Noble gift card, and a Swivl video accessory. The contest runs Dec. 9-21. Enter by following Horace Mann's Pinterest page and completing the official entry form. If Horace Mann reaches 3,000 followers on Pinterest during the contest, a grand prize winner will receive every prize awarded. http://www.pinterest.com/horacemannins


December 9, 2013

Coverage of Friday's rally 

Here is a sampling of the media coverage of Friday's rally (see December 6 entry for details).

NEA Education Votes: http://educationvotes.nea.org/2013/12/06/our-schools-day-of-action-kicks-off-in-austin-texas/
 
Associated Press: http://www.statesman.com/news/news/state-regional/groups-issue-f-grades-to-cruz-cornyn/ncDcL/
 
KAKW-TV (Univision/Austin): http://univisionaustin.univision.com/videos/video/2013-12-06/maestros-y-dreamers-de-texas?ftloc=channel4659:wcmWidgetUimStage&ftpos=channel4659:wcmWidgetUimStage:2
 
KVUE-TV (ABC): http://www.kvue.com/news/Teachers-rally-at-State-Capitol-calling-for-more-education-funding-234808441.html
 
KEYE-TV (CBS): 
Updated story: http://www.keyetv.com/news/features/top-stories/stories/teachers-give-lawmakers-failing-grades-14819.shtml

KOSA (CBS): http://www.cbs7kosa.com/news/details.asp?ID=51998

NEA Today Storify: https://storify.com/NEAToday/our-schools-our-solutions-day-of-action


December 6, 2013

Rallying for congressional accountability

Today's Texas Hold ‘Em Accountable Rally called attention to the F report card that U.S. Senators Cruz and Cornyn and U.S. Representatives Carter and Williams have on issues critical to Texas families, including public education, health care, immigration reform, voting rights, and labor issues.

Education Austin, TSTA, NEA, National Council of Urban Education Associations, Texas American Federation of Teachers, LULAC, NAACP, University Leadership Institute, Sierra Club, and Workers Defense Project were cosponsors.

"It may be cold – really cold – outside, but we're here to turn up the heat on officeholders in Austin and Washington who have left millions of Texans out in the cold," TSTA President Rita Haecker told the crowd. "It may be frigid outside, but we give Perry and Cruz, Dewhurst and Cornyn, a big, fat "F" on their report card  -- an F for giving a cold shoulder to Texas families."

Haecker backed up her claim with examples.

"Education cuts in Austin left Texas school funding $3,000 per pupil below the national average – 49th among the states. And federal cuts demanded by so-called leaders like Ted Cruz will leave almost half a million students out in the cold, without career and technical training, without special education support, without English language learning opportunities," she said.

"More than one million Texas children are still out in the cold without health care, and our governor and senators have tried to freeze them out of access to affordable health care. Thousands of immigrant families contribute to the Texas economy and have children in our public schools, but they are left out in the cold without immigration reform while these officeholders sip Tea Party Kool Aid that defies what's good for our communities and our economy.

"It may be cold outside, but how cold hearted must a senator be to promote his career by shutting down the government, and cutting off help for our veterans and kids in Head Start? Today, we're here to turn up the heat on officeholders in Austin and Washington who freeze out the people they are supposed to represent," Haecker said in conclusion. "They work for us, and we will hold them accountable."

Rally is now at the Capitol

Update: Today's rally is now on the south steps of the Capitol, beginning at 10:45 a.m. Education Austin, TSTA, and NEA are sponsoring the "Texas Hold 'Em Accountable" rally to protest the federal report card of U.S. Senators Cruz and Cornyn and Representatives Carter and Williams on public education, health care, immigration reform, voting rights, and labor issues.


December 3, 2013

Leaders to showcase cooperative program in Austin

Tomorrow at 10:45 a.m., representatives of TSTA/NEA, Austin ISD, and Save Texas Schools will hold a media event showcasing how the community is working together for positive outcomes at Austin's Eastside Memorial High School. TSTA President Rita Haecker, NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen García, Education Austin President Ken Zarifis, Allen Weeks of Save Texas Schools, and Austin ISD representatives also will meet with students and teachers and tour the school. Eastside Memorial High School is located at 1012 Arthur Stiles.

Why doesn't the U.S. top the PISA ranking?

Earlier today, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the latest results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a test of literacy, mathematics, and science given every three years to 15-year-olds in more than 60 countries. The United States' scores have not significantly changed since the last report in 2009.

"The United States' standings haven't improved dramatically because we as a nation haven't addressed the main cause of our mediocre PISA performance – the effects of poverty on students," NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said. "Our students from well-to-do families have consistently done well on the PISA assessments. For students who live in poverty, however, it's a different story.

"It's time for our nation to face up to that challenge, and we must start by acknowledging that the effects of poverty are pervasive," Van Roekel continued. "Children can't learn in school if they lack nutritious food, a safe place to sleep or access to health care, and our society must address those needs.  

"What else do the high-performing nations do differently? They invest in early childhood education. They fully fund all of their schools. They make the teaching profession attractive and they support their teachers. They value the collaboration between parents, educators, administrators, communities and elected officials." http://www.nea.org/home/57472.htm


December 2, 2013

NY Times: Closing a Fear Gap So Children Can Achieve

The work of Education Austin leader Montserrat Garibay on behalf of undocumented students is featured in a Dec. 1 article in the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/02/us/closing-a-fear-gap-so-children-can-achieve.html?hpw&rref=us&_r=0


November 25, 2013

A Day of Action: march and rally Dec. 6

On Friday, Dec. 6, Education Austin, TSTA, and NEA are sponsoring a "Texas Hold 'Em Accountable" march and rally to protest the federal report card of U.S. Senators Cruz and Cornyn and Representatives Carter and Williams on public education, health care, immigration reform, voting rights, and labor issues. We will gather at the Capitol at 10:45 a.m.; march down Congress Avenue at 11:15 a.m.; and rally at the J.J. Pickle Federal Building, 300 East 8th Street, at 11:30 a.m. For more information, call 512-472-1124.


November 22, 2013

One charter rejected, Algebra 2 and evolution votes to come

The big items we are monitoring at the State Board of Education meeting, which is expected to continue until late today, are four charter schools; whether Algebra 2 will be reinstated as a requirement of the Foundation High School Program; and science instructional materials.

The commissioner had recommended four charters. The SBOE took no action on two -- El Paso Leadership Academy, and Magnolia and Redbud Montessori for All - which means they are approved. A motion to reject Carpe Diem failed 6-8, so it also is approved, but the board rejected Great Hearts on a 9-6 vote. (See Clay Robison's blog on Great Hearts at http://www.tsta.org/grading-texas/charter-schools/controversial-charter-operator-knocking-on-texas-door.)

Official action won't come until later today, but the committee of the whole yesterday voted 14-1 to keep Algebra 2 as a requirement for students on the STEM endorsement only (although it continues to be a prerequisite for most advanced math courses).

The committee of the whole "approved new high school science books that include full coverage of evolution without the disclaimers that had been sought by social conservatives and other critics of Charles Darwin's theory," the Dallas Morning News reported. Read more at http://share.d-news.co/yTjCEfI.


November 21, 2013

Follow the SBOE meeting live

A webcast of the State Board of Education's Nov. 19-22 meeting is available at http://www.texasadmin.com/tea.shtml.

Solving for x

"x" is an unknown integer and, at the State Board of Education hearing this week on the Foundation High School Program, x=Algebra II and the unknown is the impact it has on students over the course of their lives. 

Testifiers in favor of including Algebra II presented it as a positive integer that enhances career opportunities, increases lifetime earnings, and opens the door to college admission.  Those opposed consider it a negative integer, calling it the reason students drop out of high school and a block to local control over high school curricula.

Rep. Jimmy Don Aycock assumed the role of teacher, clarifying legislative intent, outlining the process used in the House to get where we are, and urging SBOE members to err on the side of local control. Sen. Dan Patrick was the preacher, invoking God as his witness, arguing that Texas must provide opportunities for the 30 percent of students who drop out of high school. 

Political opponents found common ground. Celina Moreno of MALDEF and Bill Hammond of the Texas Association of Business both spoke in favor of Algebra II as a requirement for all endorsements.  

The SBOE must now grapple with this equation, after listening to 12 hours of testimony.  They must weigh the: 

Fears of those who believe that not requiring Algebra II in all five endorsement areas will lead to tracking, hurting poor and minority students;

Wants of superintendents from large and small school districts begging for local control on this "seemingly small" part of the curriculum; 

Needs of trade and industry leaders who espouse the exclusion of Algebra II as they need to fill a job pool of more than 30,000 employees; 

Expectations of large businesses such as Exxon Mobil and Toyota who see Algebra II as a requisite for more highly-skilled employees;  

Desires of colleges and universities who argue that students who take Algebra II are less likely to need remediation when they matriculate; and

The structure and alignment of the math curriculum with 15 9out of 18) courses that require Algebra II as a prerequisite course.

Sen. Patrick told the SBOE this would be the most important decision they have ever made; Tincy Miller, SBOE member from Dallas County, said she had been threatened for talking Algebra II; David Bradley raised issues of liability if a student didn't get into college because they earned an endorsement that didn't require Algebra II; and a high school senior said she didn't see the benefit of taking Algebra II—even though she got into Texas A&M because she took it.

Algebra II is not just the unknown x of an algebraic equation it may well be to math what evolutionary theory is to science. -- report from Bryan Weatherford, TSTA teaching and learning specialist


November 19, 2013

Affordable premiums now!

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


November 18,2013

Duncan urges state ed chiefs to set bar higher

This week's rollback of requirements for renewal of waivers from No Child Left Behind should not be interpreted as a softening of federal expectations for high standards and creative approaches among states, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the Council of Chief State School Officers meeting in Richmond, Va. Friday. Those changes included the elimination of a requirement for waiver states to use teacher-evaluation data to ensure that poor and minority students are not taught by ineffective teachers at a higher rate than their peers. Since the department announced the changes, there's been "push back" from some groups who fear states will now be less aggressive about putting great teachers in classrooms with disadvantaged students, Duncan said.

To read more:  http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2013/11/duncan_to_chiefs.html?cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS3


November 14, 2013

Celebrating American Education Week

NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen Garcia presented a $500 check to Lanier High School's Library Media Center on Nov. 12. Her Austin visit, which included participating in a forum at the University of Texas, was an early celebration of American Education Week, Nov. 18-22 (scroll to Nov. 12 and 13 entries for information on the rest of her day).

At Lanier, Garcia was joined by Rep. Donna Howard, Austin City Councilman Mike Martinez, TSTA President Rita Haecker, TSTA Vice President Noel Candelaria, Education Austin President Ken Zarifis, Lanier librarian Emily Hirsch, Lanier Principal Katherine Ryan, and Education Austin Vice President Monserrat Garibay. More photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/neapr/sets/72157637345867446/with/10827105794


November 13, 2013

TRS briefing: good news on pension fund, bad news on TRS ActiveCare

On Tuesday, Nov. 12, TSTA staff attended a TRS actuarial and health benefits briefing. TRS gave us good news and bad news.

First, the good news.  The TRS Pension Trust Fund remains sound after the distribution of the first COLA checks to about 2/3's of retirees in the TRS system, pursuant TSTA's efforts get more retirees covered with the passage of SB1458. The TRS actuaries expect the Fund to remain sound as long as the contribution rates passed by the legislature last session remain in place.

Now, the bad news: TRS ActiveCare.  As the health care industry continues its quest for profit margins, those costs are being passed on to consumers. 

TRS ActiveCare continues to face cost increases from health care providers. Executive Director Brian Guthrie said he expects premiums to increase again next September at levels similar to those enacted this past September –depending on the coverage and plan the employee selects.  

TRS would not rule out the possibility that premiums could increase mid-year, during the current coverage year.

The TRS Board of Trustees will discuss its health care plans at length at its February 2014 Board Meeting in Corpus Christi. 

TSTA will be embarking on a major effort to stem the rising cost of health insurance for educational employees. Educators and educational employees who have dealt with budget cuts and stagnant salaries should not be forced to have any recent pay increases eradicated by rising health insurance costs. 

In order to gather accurate, updated data needed to support an organizing plan to present to the TSTA Board of Directors, TSTA is currently conducting a survey of all Texas school districts to determine:

which insurer provides insurance for each district (TRS or another insurer);

how many employees are covered by the plan and how many chose to get insurance coverage from another provider; and 

any changes made in employee premiums and district contributions for the current school year. 

We will be sending you additional information on this issue in the near future. In the meantime, if your local wants support related to health care costs, please contact OCALD at TSTA headquarters. 

Important contributions of teachers

TSTA and Education Austin organized the event at Lanier High School, which is depicted in this story, to showcase the important contributions of teachers. State Representative Donna Howard, Austin City Councilman Mike Martinez, NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, TSTA President Rita Haecker and Education Austin President Ken Zarifis participated.


November 12, 2013

NEA VP visits Austin

NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen Garcia was in Austin today for three events: a school visit at Lanier High School with Rep. Donna Howard and Austin City Councilman Mike Martinez; a "Conversation about Education Reform and Accountability" at the University of Texas at Austin with TSTA President Rita Haecker, Education Austin President Ken Zarifis, and noted UT-Austin education scholar Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig; and a meeting with leaders of our Del Valle local association. The real education experts are in the classroom.

Photos from Lanier High School: www.flickr.com/photos/neapr/sets/72157637345867446 

Photos from UT event: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157637609645474

Photos from Del Valle: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157637617921623 


November 9, 2013

A Conversation about Reform and Accountability

Join us at UT Tuesday, Nov. 12 at 1 pm for "A Conversation about Reform and Accountability"

WHO:
Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, Associate Professor, Educational Policy and Planning
Lily Eskelsen García,  Vice President, National Education Association
Rita Haecker, President, Texas State Teachers Assocaition
Ken Zarifis, President, Education Austin

LOCATION: Dean's Conference Room, College of Education, UT-Austin (Parking available in the Brazos St. garage, one block to the east)                  

TOPICS: 
Equitable Funding
Community Involvement
Tests, Tests, Tests
Demographic Diversity            
Great Teachers, Great Schools
Charter Schools: Public or Private?
Curriculum and Diploma Plans


November 8, 2013

ESP Day video

In a new video, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel thanks education support professionals nationwide. The Wednesday of American Education Week, Nov. 20, is ESP Day. http://youtu.be/G3zo5QNQJbw


November 6, 2013

14 districts make AP honor roll

Fourteen Texas school districts are among 477 in the U.S. and Canada being honored by the College Board with placement on its 4th Annual AP® District Honor Roll. Texas ranked 13th in nation in the percentage of 2012 graduates participating in AP. Over the past decade, AP participation and success in Texas have increased steadily. To see the list, visit www.collegeboard.org.


November 5, 2013

KFOX piece on due process in El Paso

This report, which features TSTA leaders, says serial killers have greater due process rights than teachers. Here is a link to watch the video: http://www.kfoxtv.com/news/features/special-assignments/stories/special-assignment-presumed-guilty-20.shtml#.Unj1x2t5mSM


November 4, 2013

ALEC policies threaten to leave more students in poverty

Almost half of all students who attend public schools—48 percent—reside in low income households, with an alarming number living at or below the poverty line. Some of those students are in Tracey Pratt's class in the Cambridge Public School District in Massachusetts, where she says students coming from impoverished homes are usually at a deficit before they even enter the classroom, which makes learning difficult. http://educationvotes.nea.org/2013/11/01/alec-policies-threaten-to-leave-more-students-in-poverty 

Big win in Pflugerville!

Pflugerville ISD, acting on a Texas Association of School Boards recommendation, eliminated the salary schedule for employees in 2010, replacing it with a hiring placement schedule. The hiring placement schedule lacked transparency and resulted in veteran district employees being paid less than new employees with the same years of experience. Pflugerville Educators Association organized around this issue since the start of this school year, and secured a pretty amazing win at the end of October.

Here's the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdyS9bY8iXA


October 31, 2013

Watch these inspiring new videos

In a series of video clips, Carilu Hernandez, a second grade teacher in Harlandale ISD (San Antonio), comments on why she became a teacher and why it's important for us to speak out and make sure our interests are represented at the local, state, and national levels. http://tsta.org/node/1180


October 29, 2013

Abbott budget plan another slap at Texas school children

TSTA issued the following news release today: In what was billed as the first public policy speech of his gubernatorial campaign, Greg Abbott pledged yesterday to pursue a state budget policy that would continue the unconstitutional and inadequate school funding system that he has been defending in court.

"The Abbott plan is another slap in the face of 5 million public school students, their parents and more than 600,000 Texans who work in our public schools," said Texas State Teachers Association President Rita Haecker. "The Rainy Day Fund, which Abbott wants to 'protect,' is awash in cash and continues to grow, while Texas' school finance system is shortchanging millions of Texas children.

"Someone who wants to be our next governor should put the needs of our children first, not bow to a political ideology intent on starving public education," she added. "Instead of putting billions of tax dollars off limits for Texas schools, our next Governor should be working to find a reliable funding source to secure our children's future."

According to a recent report – The Rainy Day Flood – by the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, the Rainy Day Fund will grow to between $8.2 billion and $11.8 billion by the end of fiscal 2015, depending on whether Texas voters approve constitutional amendments that would tap into the fund for water and highway needs. The report anticipates continued growth, fueled by strong oil and gas production.

But Abbott proposed further restrictions on the Legislature's ability to spend from the fund. Those restrictions are wrong and unnecessary. Our elected legislators should keep their flexibility to tap into the fund as important public needs arise.

Even as the Rainy Day Fund approaches record balances, the Legislature still hasn't fully restored the $4.5 billion cut from public school budgets two years ago. Schools are operating with fewer state dollars than they had during the 2010-11 school year, even though public school enrollment continues to grow by 80,000-85,000 students a year.

Plan now for American Education Week

American Education Week, Nov. 18-22, is a tribute to the team of people who work with students. The daily events honor and thank them for the work they do every day to make sure students are safe and ready and able to learn. Tools for your local celebration can be found at www.nea.org/aew.


October 25, 2013

Brownsville leader dies

Longtime TSTA and Association of Brownsville Educators leader George Borrego has died. Services: Darling Mouser, 945 Palm Blvd, Brownsville, TX  78520; 956-546-7111.

Sunday: Visitation 1-5 P.M, he will be transferred to St. Mary's Catholic Church (1914 Barnard), Rosary 7 P.M.

Monday: Funeral Mass at 3 P.M. at St. Mary's Catholic Church

In lieu of flowers there is a scholarship in George's name. See this obituary for details: http://www.darling-mouser.com/services.asp?page=odetail&id=30881&locid=31.


October 24, 2013

Texas 8th graders shine

Texas eighth graders performed well in an inaugural study linking national and international assessments. Initiated by the National Center for Education Statistics, this 2011 study has linked the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scale to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) scale so that states can compare the performance of their students with that of students in other countries. 

Results for assessments conducted in 2011 showed scores in the top 12 for Texas students taking the 8th grade mathematics exam – higher than the national scores of the United States, Finland, and the overall TIMSS scale average. To read the study, visit http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard


October 23, 2013

Does your child attend a Great Public School?

Parents want their children to attend a great school, and every student deserves a quality education. But how do you really know if a school is meeting its students' needs? NEA has made it easy by releasing its Great Public Schools (GPS) Indicators Framework. GPS Indicators represent an evidence-based set of factors deemed critical to the success of our nation's public schools. The primary objective of the GPS Indicators is to highlight the strengths and weaknesses in states' support of their public schools.

The GPS Indicators should be used as a vehicle for conversations about how to improve schools in practical terms, to close opportunity gaps and to ensure that all educators and schools have the resources and tools they need to get the job done with the help of families and their communities. The GPS Indicators Framework provides a comprehensive view of the policies and practices that educators, families and community stakeholders can advocate for together. The seven GPS criteria are: 1) School Readiness; 2) Standards and Curriculum; 3) Conditions of Teaching and Learning; 4) Workforce Quality; 5) Accountability and Assessments; 6) Family and Community Engagement; and 7) School Funding.

To learn more about the GPS Indicators visit http://www.nea.org/gpsindicators.


October 18, 2013

Foster care & student success resource guide available

The Texas Education Agency today announced the release of a new groundbreaking resource to help schools better meet the educational needs of children in foster care. "Foster Care & Student Success: Texas Systems Working Together to Transform Education Outcomes of Students in Foster Care" is a comprehensive resource that gives educators relevant information, practical tips, and available resources to improve the educational experience of students in foster care. To download a PDF of the guide, visit http://www.tea.state.tx.us/FosterCareStudentSuccess/resource-guide.pdf.


October 17, 2013

Draft rules on HB 5 graduation program released

The Texas Education Agency today released draft rules to be considered by the State Board of Education at its November meeting regarding the new high school graduation program under House Bill 5. Passed by the 83rd Texas Legislature, HB 5 revises the graduation program for students entering grade 9 in the 2014-15 school year and all subsequent years.

The draft rules represent an initial proposal created directly from State Board member input and processed by TEA staff on the Board's behalf. The Board is scheduled to vote to authorize the agency to file the draft for official public comment at its November meeting. A public hearing on the graduation program is scheduled for Nov. 20.

As part of its process, State Board members have already been accepting public comments regarding the graduation program via email at SBOESUPPORT@tea.state.tx.us. A final vote on new HB 5 graduation program by the State Board of Education is expected in January 2014.

To review the draft proposed rules for consideration by the State Board of Education at its November meeting, visit http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index2.aspx?id=25769806149.


October 15, 2013

Learning Forward comes to Grapevine

Learning Forward's annual conference is at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine Dec. 7-11. The program includes educational innovator Marc Prensky, urban education expert Pedro Noguera, and barrier breaker Consuelo Castillo-Kickbusch. They are extending a special offer to all NEA members: $50 off on any registration and a one-year digital membership to Learning Forward. http://learningforward.org/learning-opportunities/nea  


October 11, 2013

NEA launches "Not a Game" ad

Starting tomorrow, NEA will air online and television ads asking members of Congress to stop playing games and get their priorities straight. The spot, "Not a Game," will air in Washington, D.C., and four other markets -- Arkansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and New York -- for five days. It urges Congress to stand up to extremists and do what's right for students and the economy. (You can preview the ad at http://www.nea.org/home/stop-the-games.html.)

"Congressional Tea Party Republicans have chosen to play games with the lives of our most vulnerable in society to score ideological political points," said Mary Kusler, NEA director of government relations. "They have forced deep sequester cuts, shut down the government, and are on the brink of bringing the nation's economy to its knees. Students and senior citizens will pay the price for years to come as a result. It's time for the games to end."

To date, a disproportionate share of the arbitrary across-the-board sequester cuts have impacted higher-poverty communities and, therefore, the students most in need. Fifty-seven thousand children have already lost critical seats in Head Start classes. Schools served by Impact Aid have already seen drastic reductions in funding, and additional harmful impacts are beginning to be felt in classrooms as the school year begins. Many school districts and their students rely heavily on federal resources for education funding; one in four students attends school in a district that receives 15-20 percent of all revenue from federal sources. http://www.nea.org/home/56986.htm

 

Teachers to advise NEA on attracting, retaining educators

The nation's largest teachers' union is partnering with Teach Plus to launch a selective fellowship that will empower solutions-oriented teachers, most of whom are in the first 10 years of their careers, to advise union leadership on teacher engagement and retention. NEA and Teach Plus, a national non-profit organization based in Boston, have selected 53 high-performing teachers and NEA members from school districts and charter schools across the country to become the inaugural Future of the Profession Fellows.  http://www.nea.org/home/56989.htm


October 7, 2013

More teachers forced to moonlight

Forty-four percent of Texas teachers moonlight during the school year, and 61 percent take extra jobs during the summer to make ends meet, according to a survey by Sam Houston State University commissioned by the Texas State Teachers Association.

Some 60 percent of respondents said they were seriously considering leaving the teaching profession, a marked increase over the 46.7 percent who were considering a career change when a similar survey was conducted in 2010.

The moonlighters work, on average, almost 14 hours a week at their extra school-year jobs. Most – 83 percent – said they believed their teaching quality would improve if they quit the extra jobs, and 91 percent said they would quit moonlighting if their teaching salaries were high enough to allow it. But respondents, on average, said they would need a $9,188 annual raise in their teacher pay to make up for the extra income. That figure roughly correspondents to the margin – $8,273 – by which the average teacher salary in Texas lags behind the national average.

This is the highest percentage of teachers to report moonlighting since TSTA started sponsoring the survey, "Texas Teachers, Moonlighting and Morale," more than 30 years ago. In 2010, the most recent year the survey was conducted, 40.8 percent of teachers held extra jobs during the school year and 56 percent during the summer.

That was before the Legislature slashed $5.4 billion from the public education budget in 2011. Since then, the average teacher salary in Texas has dropped by $528.

As recently as 2008, only 28 percent of teachers reported moonlighting during the school year, and only 22 percent had extra jobs when the first survey was conducted in 1980.

"Dedicated educators shouldn't have to juggle extra jobs to support their families, but the financial reality of being a teacher in Texas leaves them little choice," said TSTA President Rita Haecker. "Even so, they remain strongly committed to the needs of their students. Our elected officials need to give these professionals the professional pay that they deserve."

The average salary of teachers participating in the latest survey was $50,967 a year, and their average classroom experience was 16.9 years. Some 64 percent were the major breadwinners in their households.

Overall, the average teacher salary in Texas, based on data for the 2012-13 school year, was $48,110. That was 38th among the states and the District of Columbia and was $8,273 below the national average, according to the National Education Association.

The survey respondents also reported:

  • Spending an average of $697 a year from their own pockets on school supplies, an increase of more than $130 from three years ago.
  • Spending an average of $408 each month on health insurance, an increase of almost $200 from 2010.
  • Working an average 18 hours a week outside the classroom on school-related work – in addition to their moonlighting jobs.
  • Overwhelming opposition – 95 percent – to letting a single standardized test determine whether a student gets promoted.

The online survey of 306 teachers was conducted last spring by Dr. Robert Maninger, Dr. Sam Sullivan and Dr. Daphne Johnson of Sam Houston State University. Some 80 percent of the participants were women, 48 percent had graduate degrees and they represented all grade levels and urban, suburban and rural school districts.


October 5, 2013

New photos: State committees meet

TSTA's state committees for 2013-14 met today at TSTA's Austin headquarters for the first time. Our committees are: Communications & Community Outreach, Education Support Professionals, Legislative, Member Advocacy & School Board Policies, Special Education, and Teaching Profession. See the photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157636222452736.


October 3, 2013

Watch for NEA president at Education Nation

NBC's fourth annual Education Nation will explore "What it Takes" to get a student through school and ready to succeed in college, career, and beyond. Teacher and student town hall meetings are Oct. 6, and the Education Nation Summit is Oct. 7-8. You will see NEA TV ads throughout the event.

President Dennis Van Roekel will participate in an Oct. 7 discussion titled, "What it Takes: Well Trained Teachers."  Moderated by NBC's Rehema Ellis, the panel will discuss current teacher recruitment and training programs, and whether they ensure a pipeline of well-trained talent. Van Roekel also will speak at Education Nation's Common Core Institute, and he has interviews scheduled with the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Yahoo! News, MSNBC LIVE, and Newsweek's The Daily Beast.

Digital tools and resources

  • EducationNation.com: Summit streamed live Oct. 7-8
  • Twitter: Follow @NEAToday to re-tweet
  • Official hash tag: #EducationNation
  • Facebook: Check NEAToday and NEA on Facebook

October 2, 2013

It's time to update your TSTA app!

An update is now available for the TSTA app on your iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. Go to the iTunes Store and Google Play store to download. Among the improvements:

  • We added media sharing to articles in the Today's News and Grading Texas Blog sections (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, email).
  • We made the Classroom Tools section more mobile friendly.
  • We've populated the Upcoming Events (calendar) section.
  • It is iOS 7 compatible.

If you haven't tried the app yet, it allows you to use your smart phone or tablet to join TSTA, get information about upcoming events, find classroom ideas, read insider commentary in the Grading Texas blog, and access discounts. It's your portal to all the resources available from the nation's largest education union, the National Education Association, as well as TSTA's Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr pages. You can sign up to receive alerts, too!


October 1, 2013

Get 20 percent off at SmileMakers

SmileMakers is a special friend of NEA and continues to provide great discounts for members. They are the official Seuss Store for NEA's Read Across America, and NEA members receive 20 percent off on all orders (no minimum), plus free shipping on all orders of $25 or more. Use promo code NEAMB when ordering. Visit http://www.smilemakers.com or call 1-888-800-SMILE by Dec. 31 to take advantage of this offer.


September 30, 2013

NCLB waiver announced for Texas

The federal government finally has granted Texas a waiver from No Child Left Behind, but there is a big string attached. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the agency had granted the waiver for the 2013-14 school year with the condition that Texas develop a new teacher evaluation system, which could include another effort to tie teacher performance to student test scores. Here is the full story: http://www.texastribune.org/2013/09/30/still-no-waiver-texas-no-child-left-behind.

Special education timelines change

A new statute took effect on Sept. 1 that changes the timeline for completing a full and individual evaluation for students referred for Special Education services. Although it is a reduced timeline, it does have some flexibility for Local Education Agencies (LEAs or school districts) in the event a student is absent or consent is received too close to the end of the school year. Highlights:
 
SB 816 Regarding Timeline for Initial Evaluation of a Student for Special Education Services
 
• Changes the timeline for conducting a full and individual initial evaluation from 60 calendar days to 45 school days, with several exceptions. In some cases, the evaluation timeline will extend into the next school year.
 
• The written report of a full individual and initial evaluation will be completed within 45 school days following the date on which the LEA receives written consent for the evaluation. However, if the student is absent for three or more days during that evaluation period, the period will be extended by the same number of school days that the student was absent.
 
• If the LEA receives written consent at least 35 but less than 45 school days before the last instructional day of the school year, the evaluation will be completed and the written report will be provided to the parent by June 30 of that year, and the student's admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) committee shall meet not later than the 15th school day of the following school year to consider the evaluation. However, if the student is absent from school on three or more days during the evaluation period, the evaluation timeline reverts to 45 school days following the date on which the LEA received written consent, which means that the evaluation and report will be due the following school year.
 
• Not later than the 15th school day following the receipt of a request for a full individual and initial evaluation, an LEA must provide an opportunity for the parent to give written consent for the evaluation or refuse to provide the evaluation. -- report by Bryan Weatherford


September 27, 2013

Commissioner sends charter school decisions to SBOE

Commissioner of Education Michael Williams today advised members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) of his decision to grant four Generation 18 charter schools. Those approved by the Commissioner include: Carpe Diem Schools – San Antonio, El Paso Leadership Academy, Great Hearts Academies Dallas, Magnolia and Redbud Montessori for All. 

Under Senate Bill 2 (passed during the 83rd Texas Legislature), the Commissioner grants new open-enrollment charters in Texas and must notify the SBOE of those he approves. SBOE members can veto any new charter approved by the Commissioner. The State Board is expected to discuss the Commissioner's decisions and take any action – if necessary – at its Nov. 22 meeting in Austin. http://www.tea.state.tx.us/charters.aspx 


September 25, 2013

Tools to help educators and parents work together

Working with the National PTA, NEA has produced brochures with practical tips and tools for parents to encourage student success in school. You can download them or order up to 10 copies of each four-color brochure at no charge. http://www.nea.org/parents


September 23, 2013

Current version of GED expires at year's end

The Texas Education Agency today issued a reminder to those seeking a high school equivalency credential that the current version of the GED test will expire at the end of 2013 and be replaced with the new 2014 Series GED test. The new GED test will officially be in place across the country on Jan. 2, 2014. 

Those who have taken the 2002 Series GED test – but not completed the 2002 Series tests   – have until the end of 2013 to pass. On Jan. 2, 2014, those who have not completed all of the requirements for the Texas Certificate of High School Equivalency under the 2002 series will need to complete their equivalency credential with the new 2014 Series GED test.  

All potential test-takers are encouraged to begin the GED registration process immediately to ensure adequate time is available to complete testing. Since March, 48 computer-based GED testing centers have been added to the 130 existing paper-based testing centers across the state. Through the end of this year, test-takers can choose to take their exams on paper, computer or a combination of the two.  

Five special paper-based GED testing sessions are scheduled in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex in October and November. These testing sessions have been added to ensure that adult learners in that region (where limited testing dates and sites had previously been available) have ample opportunity to complete testing for the 2002 Series GED Test before the end of the year. 

To find testing dates and locations, as well as schedule a spot for the GED Event Testing in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, please visit: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/GEDEventTesting. To find a local GED Test Center in all areas of the state, please visit the Online Test Center Locator Service at: http://www.gedtestingservice.com/testers/locate-a-testing-center. General information on GED testing in Texas can be found at www.texged.com.


September 19, 2013

How American Education Week began


Distressed that 25 percent of the country's World War I draftees were illiterate, the NEA and the American Legion met in 1919 to consider how to generate public support for education. A resolution passed by the 1921 NEA Representative Assembly called for "an educational week ... observed in all communities annually for the purpose of informing the public of the accomplishments and needs of the public schools and to secure the cooperation and support of the public in meeting those needs."

American Education Week was first observed that same year, cosponsored by NEA and the American Legion. A year later, the then-U.S. Office of Education became a cosponsor, and the PTA followed in 1938. Today's cosponsors include the American Association of School Administrators, National School Boards Association, American School Counselor Association, Council of Chief State School Officers, National School Public Relations Association, National Association of State Boards of Education, National Association of Elementary School Principals, and National Association of Secondary School Principals.

American Education Week is celebrated the week prior to the week of Thanksgiving, which this year is Nov. 18-22. There's a special observance each day; see http://www.nea.org/aew for details and artwork.


September 18, 2013

SBOE hears testimony on FHSP

By January, the State Board of Education must approve rules for graduation requirements for the Foundation High School Program (FHSP). Passage of HB5 during the regular legislative session created the FHSP to replace current high school programs (Minimum, Recommended, Distinguished), effective with the 2014-15 school year. The purpose is to ensure high school graduates are college and career ready at graduation, by meeting credit requirements for at least one endorsement area. Endorsements areas are:

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

Business and Industry

Arts and Humanities

Public Services

Multi-Disciplinary

The SBOE heard testimony on Sept. 17 to inform its rule-making on the new FHSP.  The following major themes listed below emerged as primary considerations among the 54 testifiers:

o College and Career

o Design rigorous curriculum so students are prepared to enter college without needing remediation classes (no credit is awarded and students are less likely to receive a post-secondary credential)

o $81 million is spent on remediation at the post-secondary level

o Develop a curriculum that adequately prepares students for dual-credit courses in the 11th and 12th grades

o Develop more than one pathway to high school graduation

o Ensure all endorsements prepare all students for college (fear STEM may be college-bound and others may not be)

o Ensure high –quality of programming across the state to benefit transitory students

o Graduate all students from high school ready for at least community college

o Flexibility

o Maintain local flexibility relative to how school districts use certain CTE courses to satisfy a core content credit (especially in Math and Science)

o Grant meaningful flexibility of district partnerships with higher education, business and industry

o Give rural school districts the flexibility to build programs that meet the students needs

o Highly Qualified teachers

o Allow local school districts to address the issue of highly-qualified teachers within CTE for core courses required to meet credit for graduation

o Rule-Making

o Have rules in place by January 2014 to allow districts, counselors, and parents to walk 8th grade students through the endorsement process

o Train counselors on the FHSP

o Curriculum

o Do not recreate the 4X4

o Develop/identify more applied courses

o Endorsements

o Identify a broad array of course to meet the requirements of the five endorsement areas

o STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)

o Include Algebra II, Biology, Chemistry, (Physics as an alternative to Biology or Chemistry) and Statistics as four credits required for a STEM endorsement

o Do not require Algebra II as the only advanced Math course

o Allow Voc-Ed students to take Math and Voc-Ed classes concurrently

o Include Integrated Physics and Chemistry as an advanced Science course

o English

o Give students an option for the fourth credit in English

o LOTE (Languages Other Than English)

o Identify computer language classes that will meet this requirement (e.g Basic Computer Program, Computer I, Computer II)

o Let advanced computer classes meet a STEM requirement

o Arts and Humanities

o Coherent sequence of courses

o Add Arts classes to endorsement areas

o Allow students flexibility to take Art classes that have interest to them

o Communication

o Maintain the ½ credit for Speech Communication as a requirement for graduation

o Eliminate it as it eats up ½-to-1 credit of the Elective Credit (another course has to be paired with it to create meet one credit)

o Let Communication be a required local course as opposed to a state-mandated course

o CTE

o Include CTE clusters in all endorsement areas

o Process

o Establish and maintain continuing dialogue with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB)

o Allow CTE, Math, and Science teacher to determine where certain courses fit within the STEM endorsement

o How do you define "advanced" and "rigor"

o  Is the concept of an advanced course linear or hierarchical

Science textbook debate

A three-decade battle between evolutionists and creationists may have reached a culmination point with SBOE poised to approve or reject proposed revisions to new Science textbooks in November.  In 2010-11, revised Science TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) were implemented and new textbooks must conform to the new TEKS.  The current Science textbooks are 10 years old.

Summation of the testimony this week:

o Process

o Too short [two weeks]

o Reviewers meet once as a group

o System has been broken and corrupt for three decades

o Some appointed reviewers came into the process with a specific (creationism) agenda

o Provide transparency – let public see the proposed changes publishers agree to

o The arguments (for and against)

o Biblical statements are not scientific fact

o Facts do not support creationism

o Teach both evolution and intelligent design in the science texts

o 21srt century advances are absent from the textbooks (advances that are included in the textbooks used by home-schoolers)

o Inserting proposed revisions (creationism) in the Science texts runs counter to the state certification exams for professionals in fields such a medicine, geology, etc.)

o Challenges

o ACLU pretty much stated that there would be challenges if the proposed revisions are inserted due to a violation of the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment


September 17, 2013

Increasing transparency in textbook adoption process

State Board of Education Chair Barbara Cargill today announced that, in the interest of greater transparency during the current textbook adoption process, she will ask publishers to voluntarily make public any additional content they are proposing for new instructional materials.

The board is in the process of adopting new materials for science for grades k-12, mathematics for k-8, and technology applications for use in Texas classrooms. A final vote on the submitted instructional materials will occur in November. But because of the increasing use of electronic content and the high interest in this adoption, Cargill will ask publishers to voluntarily make the new content available as quickly as possible. 

As with the original instructional materials submitted for this adoption cycle, the new content will be available for review at the Texas Education Agency in Austin and at the 20 Education Service Centers around the state. Because of copyright protections, the material cannot be distributed to requesters but may be reviewed at those locations. 

Currently, 429 instructional products are under review. Those approved by the board this fall will be available for use in Texas classrooms in the fall of 2014.


September 16, 2013

Charter decisions coming on Sept. 27

Commissioner of Education Michael Williams has advised members of the State Board of Education that he will announce his decisions regarding applications for Generation 18 charter schools on Friday, Sept. 27.


September 13, 2013

Rising numbers waive TRS-ActiveCare

On September 13, 2013, the TRS Board of Trustees concluded its two-day, quarterly meeting.

COLA Checks, October 1
The Board confirmed that COLA checks should start going out at the beginning of October, given that the fund is declared to be actuarially sound, which is expected. Thanks to the efforts of TSTA, two-thirds of retirees will receive the COLA.

TRS Active Care Exodus = Troubled Fund
Executive Director Brian Guthrie announced that for the first time, a significant number of members are waiving and dropping TRS-ActiveCare coverage, likely due to rising premiums. The exodus is having a negative impact on the ActiveCare Fund, which could lead to a mid-year premium increase.  ED Guthrie also stated that a substantial portion of the February board meeting (to be held in Corpus Christi) will focus on TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare. TRS also intends to update the TRS-Care study, which was presented last August, and they also intend to include TRS-ActiveCare issues in that updated study.

Trust Fund Performance
The Board also received a report on the quarterly performance of the Trust Fund. The Fund started the quarter on April 1, 2013, with a balance of $117.5 billion and ended the quarter on June 30, 2013, with a balance of $115.9 billion, a loss of 0.5%.

The Board will hold its next meeting on October 18, 2013.


September 10, 2013

Announcing two new awards

TSTA announces two new awards – the All-Star Association Representative (or All-Star AR) Award and the TSTA Leaders for Tomorrow Award. The deadline for nominations is the first Monday in March, and recipients will be recognized at the state House of Delegates in April. Watch for more information, coming soon on this website.

Planning for American Education Week

American Education Week, Nov. 18-22, is an opportunity to celebrate public education and honor the individuals who are making a difference for our kids. The annual, weeklong celebration features a special observance each day of the week. Information, artwork, and a tool kit are at http://www.nea.org/grants/19823.htm.

A day in the life of an American school district

On May 8, 2012, 50 camera crews followed individuals who attend, support, and work in a California public school district, capturing the many good things that go on every day and the teamwork it takes. The film is scheduled for national release in November (see https://www.facebook.com/GoPublicProject), but you can watch shorts online at http://gopublicproject.org/50-films.

Save 15% on your AT&T bill

It's just one of many ways you can save, using your automatic membership in NEA Member Benefits. Log in today at www.neamb.com. 


September 9, 2013

Nominations due: Ronnie Ray ESP Advocate of the Year

This award recognizes one TSTA educational support professional (ESP) who demonstrates outstanding accomplishments and reflects the contributions of ESPs to public education. Nominations should show the contributions the individual has made to their school, community, and profession. Nominees must have been an ESP member of TSTA for three years as of January 15. Nominations are accepted from regions and/or local affiliates (one per affiliate) and should follow the ESP Award Guidelines found at http://tsta.org/news-center/awards-grants. Please return the required ESP Award Data Sheet and nomination information to: Ronnie Ray ESP Award Committee, c/o TSTA CEG, 316 West 12th Street, Austin, Texas 78701 by 5 p.m. Sept. 30.

U.S. Education Secretary to visit El Paso

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan launched his "Strong Start, Bright Future" back-to-school bus tour today in New Mexico, spotlighting the importance of all of America's students benefiting from high-quality education opportunities. On Tuesday, he will visit El Paso's Transmountain Early College High School, located adjacent to the campus of El Paso Community College, where he will tour classrooms and host a town hall on STEM education. For more information about the tour, see http://www.ed.gov/blog/topic/bustour.


September 6, 2013

‘Teach': What does it take to be a teacher? 

This year-in-the-life of four public school teachers is an intense and emotional illustration of how tenacity, innovation, and passion drive educators as they help students overcome obstacles and strive for success.It premieres tonight on CBS (check local listings). 

Inside info: Director Davis Guggenheim is the same guy who gave us "Waiting for Superman," which demonized public education, unions, and teachers. But his third documentary on education in America is more like his first, "The First Year," which followed beginning teachers in Los Angeles.

Analysis: Thumbs up for recognizing that great teachers make great schools. Thumbs down for not emphasizing the need to provide teachers with the tools and resources to help students achieve, or recognizing the difficulty many teachers have making ends meet so they can stay in the profession they love. (For that story, check out "American Teacher," a documentary now available online and on DVD.) 

Watch for: Commercials for Teach.org, a website that promotes teaching as a career. NEA is represented on its advisory board.

More: http://www.takepart.com/teach


September 4, 2013

Texas Tribune Festival to examine education

One track at the Texas Tribune Festival Sept. 27-29 in Austin is public education. Speakers, including legislators, will discuss early childhood education, innovation, charter schools, and reform. Register at http://www.texastribune.org/festival/2013/home.


August 30, 2013

New graduation plan available to some seniors 

Commissioner of Education Michael Williams today informed Texas school districts of his intent to file rules that would allow some students completing the fourth year of high school during the 2013-2014 school year to graduate under the new Foundation High School Program established under House Bill 5 (HB 5). 

The proposed rules will only apply to the small group of seniors who are able to complete the coursework required to graduate under the Foundation High School Program in 2013-2014 and who choose this option. This includes students who complete the required coursework during the summer of 2014, but not thereafter.

"While the majority of seniors this year will still graduate under the existing Minimum High School Program, Recommended High School Program, or Distinguished Achievement Program, some students may meet the requirements for the new Foundation High School Program and elect to graduate under that program," said Commissioner Williams. "Before making a final decision regarding the graduation program they will pursue, I strongly encourage students and their parents to consider the benefits of taking additional advanced math and science courses, and to fully research required or recommended coursework for admission to any higher education institution they may have interest in attending."  

Commissioner Williams pointed out that the requirements for the endorsements and performance acknowledgments established under HB 5 have not been yet been determined by the State Board of Education (SBOE). As a result, a student who chooses to graduate under the Foundation High School Program in 2013-2014 will earn a foundation diploma only. The student will not have the option to earn an endorsement, the distinguished level of achievement, or a performance acknowledgment.

The SBOE has sole authority to determine the curriculum requirements for all the endorsement options and performance acknowledgments for upcoming classes of students. State Board members are working to adopt rules to specify the curriculum requirements for the Foundation High School Program and related components to be fully implemented in the 2014-2015 school year. Final SBOE decisions are expected in January 2014.  

The Commissioner will be proposing rules under authority provided in specific provisions of HB 5 regarding the 2013-14 transition year. The proposed rules will be filed in the coming weeks and will be subject to public comment. Changes will be made, as appropriate, in response to those comments. The rules will then be adopted as final.   

Commissioner Williams cautioned that the SBOE is likely to make different decisions about the Foundation High School Program requirements that will be in effect in future years. To stay informed about developments concerning HB 5 graduation requirements, visit  http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index2.aspx?id=25769806149.  

TEA to establish Office of Complaints, Investigations, School Accountability

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced today it will establish an Office of Complaints, Investigations and School Accountability to conduct investigations into school accountability, educator misconduct, and misuse of state and federal funds. The new agency office will be responsible for accepting, screening, and investigating complaints submitted to TEA. 


August 29, 2013

Notice of public hearing on CSCOPE  

As a part of the CSCOPE Social Studies lesson plans review by the State Board of Education's Ad Hoc Review Committee, a public hearing will be held on Friday, Sept. 13, beginning at 1 p.m. in Room 1-111 of the William Travis Building, 1701 North Congress in Austin, Texas.  Testimony from the public will be heard by the Ad Hoc Review Committee and any State Board of Education members who choose to attend.   

As the Ad Hoc Review Committee is specifically charged with implementing a process by which the CSCOPE Social Studies lesson plans are being reviewed, those who plan on testifying are asked to limit their comments to specific recommendations pertaining to identified current CSCOPE Social Studies lessons as they appear at either www.mycscope.us   (until August 31, 2013) or thereafter, at www.texastribune.org/interactive/search-cscope-lesson-plans.   

Due to the large number of testifiers anticipated, a time limit of 3 minutes per speaker will be strictly enforced.  Those wishing to testify may register Sept. 3-6 and 9 by completing the registration form at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/Communications/State_Board_of_Education/Publi.... Select the State Board of Education option when submitting the form.  Written testimony will also be received by the Committee.


August 27, 2013

TEA reminds school districts of SB 1474 provisions

The Texas Education Agency is reminding school districts of provisions in a new law relating to the adoption of major curriculum initiatives, including curriculum management systems. 

"A new process established under SB 1474 seeks to balance transparency to local stakeholders with local control over how districts teach the required Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills," said Commissioner Williams. "Before a district adopts a major curriculum initiative, it must gather input and opinion from both teachers and district employees."  

The law also requires a local school board to have a meeting to discuss the proposed initiative and allow feedback from community members.

The State Board of Education has reconvened its ad hoc committee to resume its review of CSCOPE social studies lesson plans. The committee's charge is to provide a resource for districts evaluating individual lesson plans and making decisions in accordance with SB 1474. The review process is expected to be completed this fall. The ad hoc review committee will hold a September public hearing in Austin to take public testimony. 

The Texas Education Agency has no rulemaking authority over the provisions. Specific requirements of SB 1474 can be viewed at: http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/83R/billtext/pdf/SB01474F.pdf#navpa....


August 26, 2013

Bring your ideas to life!

Educators have great ideas to help their students learn more, but often lack the resources they need to bring these ideas to life. To help, beginning Sept. 3, the NEA Foundation is matching public donations made to NEA members' requests for classroom materials on DonorsChoose.org.
What does this mean? When you post your project request on DonorsChoose.org, for every dollar you receive from citizen philanthropists, the NEA Foundation will give one, too! Last year, more than 1,500 projects, reaching 120,000 public school students, were funded. Visit the NEA Foundation's website to discover how to post your requests or to help fund educators in your area.
http://neafoundation.org/pages/donorschoose-org


August 22, 2013

PDK/Gallup releases poll on attitudes toward public schools

The poll focused on several important areas of public education: policy and practice (teacher evaluations, 21st century skills); school safety; alternative schooling; and challenges and solutions, with some interesting and surprising findings. A few findings suggested a shift in public opinion away from some of the more radical "reform agenda" policies and more toward common sense approaches.

Now 58 percent oppose requiring that student scores on standardized tests be included in teacher evaluations. Nearly two thirds of Americans oppose releasing information to newspapers about how students of individual teachers perform on standardized tests—a huge increase from two years ago, when just over half opposed the idea. http://pdkintl.org/programs-resources/poll

Edgewood featured in NEA media

The story appears on the cover of the latest issue of NEA Today magazine, which is being mailed to members this week. The title is, What's Her Number? Zip Codes Tell Us A Lot About Public School Quality. It's also featured online at http://neatoday.org/2013/08/22/whats-her-number-what-zip-codes-tell-us-about-public-school-quality.

Educators to commemorate 50th anniversary of March on Washington

This week, NEA leaders and educators from across the country will join prominent civil rights leaders, as well as progressive, community, and labor activists, to commemorate the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which took place 50 years ago
this month at the Lincoln Memorial. It was during this historic march that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech. 

"We recognize and celebrate that we have made much progress since the historic March on Washington," said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. "But as we look at current events around the country today, sadly we know the ‘Dream' has not been fulfilled and the battle for justice continues. The march on Washington this year is not just a commemoration but a continuation of the efforts started 50 years ago. It's about making sure we pass the torch to the next generation of social justice and civil rights activists." 

Educators have played a critical role fostering social justice throughout U.S. history—from seeking funds for the education of free slaves after the American Civil War to speaking out against the internment of Japanese-American children during World War II to opposing the segregation of Black children in schools that were inherently unequal. 

But with the emergence of voter suppression laws, growing income inequality, and insidious new forms of racial discrimination, such as stop-and-frisk and Stand Your Ground laws, NEA members everywhere are renewing their commitment to advocate for social justice and equal opportunity. 

"Today more than ever we need to organize and fight for voting rights, for workers' rights, for women's rights, for the right of workers to organize, for immigrant and for LGBT rights," said Van Roekel. "Now more than ever we need to lay the groundwork for the next 50 years so that we can turn the dream into reality." 

Classroom lessons about the March on Washington

NEA has compiled a list of educational resources for educators, students, and communities to learn more about the March on Washington and NEA's robust and proud history of advocating for social justice. Resources include useful information about Dr. King's legacy around labor rights as well as resources for teaching about the 1963 March on Washington. For more information please visit http://www.nea.org/marchonwashington.


August 21, 2013

Texas ACT scores for various student groups hit new highs

The 2013 composite score for all Texas students taking the ACT college admission test hit a new high of 20.9 according to a report released by ACT. In addition, the composite scores for Texas White, Hispanic/Latino, and African-American students are at all-time highs – matching or exceeding national composite scores in each of those student groups. Read more at www.tea.state.tx.us. The entire ACT report – complete with national and state-by-state results – can be viewed at http://www.act.org/readiness/2013.


August 20, 2013

Staples Rewards Program

Staples has a new program in which parents and teachers can work together to keep classrooms stocked all year long. In addition to the five percent back in rewards that all members earn, parents can now earn extra rewards for the teacher of their choice with the Reward A Classroom program. http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/27515_Reward_A_Classroom_
Flyer_V1%5B1%5D.pdf
 


August 13, 2013

Have your say: new graduation requirements

The State Board of Education is seeking input from educators and community members as it begins to restructure graduation requirements to address recent changes in state law.

House Bill 5 (HB5), passed by the Texas Legislature this spring, made substantial changes to the state's graduation requirements, moving from the current "4x4" graduation plans to a 22-credit Foundation High School Program that allows students to earn endorsements in specific areas of study by completing four additional credits.

The new plan requires the state board to make a number of policy decisions, such as deciding which courses will count as advanced mathematics, English and science courses and determining the requirements for each endorsement area. The endorsement areas are science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); business and industry; public services; arts and humanities; and multidisciplinary studies.

The board will hold a public hearing Sept. 17 in room 1-104 of the Travis State Office Building in Austin to receive input from educators and others about the changing graduation requirements.

"We encourage you to submit specific suggestions as to the course offerings that will give school districts the flexibility mandated in HB5 that is intended to meet all students' postsecondary goals," said Barbara Cargill, chair of the State Board of Education.

After the public hearing, Texas Education Agency staff will craft a proposed rule dealing with graduation requirements.

The board will consider this draft rule at its Nov. 20-22 meeting in Austin. If the rule receives preliminary approval, it will be posted in the Texas Register and there will be a 30-day public comment period. Comments during this time may be submitted to rules@tea.state.tx.us

A final vote on the changes is expected during the board's Jan. 29-31 meeting. All board meetings will occur at the Travis State Office Building at 1701 N. Congress Ave. in Austin.

Those who wish to submit comments about the graduation changes prior to the beginning of the official rulemaking process may send their comments to sboesupport@tea.state.tx.us through Sept. 10.

Because many details about the Foundation High School Program and the endorsements must still be worked out, the new graduation plan will not be in effect for the 2013-2014 school year.

School districts must continue to offer the three existing graduation programs – the Distinguished Achievement Program, the Recommended High School Program and the Minimum High School Program - through at least the 2016-2017 school year when those students who enter high school later this month graduate.

However, students who will be sophomores, juniors or seniors during the 2014-2015 school year and are currently following one of the three existing programs will have the option of switching to the Foundation program when it becomes available in the 2014-2015 school year. 

As updates become available about the graduation programs, they will be posted on the Texas Education Agency's website at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/graduation.aspx. -- from a Texas Education Agency news release


August 12, 2013

NEA at 50th anniversary of March on Washington

On Saturday, Aug. 24, NEA will join Rev. Al Sharpton, the National Action Network, and a coalition of labor and other social justice organizations in a march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. MSNBC will broadcast the event live, and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel is scheduled to speak. NEA members will meet at the NEA Headquarters prior to the march; see http://www.nea.org/home/56261.htm for details. And if you participated in the original march in 1963, you can share your story at http://www.nea.org/home/56287.htm

State accountability ratings released

The Texas Education Agency has released the 2013 state accountability system ratings for more than 1,200 school districts and charters, and more than 8,500 campuses. The ratings reveal that almost 93 percent of school districts and charters across Texas have achieved the rating of Met Standard. 


August 6, 2013

TEA gives SBOE review of options for implementing HB5

The State Board of Education met in Austin last week to conduct its training on House Bill 5, the new law reducing end of course exams, changing graduation plans and making other curriculum changes.  SBOE didn't make any final decisions on implementing the new law. But the board adopted a resolution for students who are in 11th grade in the 2013-2014 school year and who will have the option of fulfilling the requirements for either the minimum/recommended/distinguished high school graduation programs or the endorsement-based foundation graduation program authorized under HB 5. 

The resolution shows the board's intent by allowing certain Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses as advanced courses in order to ensure certain courses will meet the requirements of the endorsement-based foundation high school graduation program.  Whether a particular course is required or counted towards a particular endorsement-based graduation program has not been determined and will be the subject of formal rulemaking during the 2013-2014 school year.

SBOE went subject by subject through the new foundation graduation program and endorsement options and reviewed the course work options it may put into effect by rule making.  This meeting was a snapshot of the major abount of work that SBOE will have to do to implement HB5 in time for the 2014-15 school year.

Texas high school graduation rate sets another all-time high

Commissioner of Education Michael Williams announced today that the Texas high school on-time graduation rate has set an all-time high, reaching 87.7 percent for the Class of 2012. The graduation rate for the Class of 2012 is 1.8 percentage points higher than the previous record set by the Class of 2011 and marks the fifth consecutive year the rate has increased. Read more

TEA releases STAAR® assessments

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) today released copies of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR®) and made those assessments available for viewing on the agency's website.

Commissioner of Education Michael L. Williams announced in March his intent to accelerate the scheduled release dates for all general assessments following the statewide spring administration of the tests. The 83rd Texas Legislature subsequently passed (and the governor signed into law) House Bill 5, which also required TEA to release the assessments.

The following 2013 STAAR assessments have been released:

  • Grades 3-8 – Math, Science, Reading, Writing, Social Studies
  • High School Math – Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II
  • High School Science – Biology, Chemistry, Physics
  • English I Reading, English II Reading, English III Reading
  • English I Writing, English II Writing, English III Writing
  • World History, World Geography, U.S. History

"The release of these assessments should assist students, parents, teachers and district administrators in understanding the depth and breadth of content and skills assessed on STAAR and the level of performance required for student success on each assessment," said Commissioner Williams.

Beginning in the 2013-2014 school year, only five of the previous 15 STAAR end-of -course assessments will be administered at the high school level: Algebra I, English I, English II, biology, and U.S. history. There are no changes to the assessment requirements in grades 3 through 8.

Under the Texas Education Code and State Board of Education rule, primary test forms must be released every three years. Commissioner Williams' directive has now made all general STAAR assessments – all of which were not scheduled for release until 2014 or beyond – immediately available for review.

The STAAR Modified assessment is not part of this accelerated release, but will be made available in 2014, as currently scheduled. The U.S. Department of Education has informed states that assessments based on modified standards for students served by special education cannot be used for accountability purposes after the 2013–2014 school year. As a result of this federal directive, all STAAR Modified assessments will be administered for the final time during the 2013–2014 assessment cycle.

The assessments are available for review in the Student Assessment Division area of the TEA web site at: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/staar/testquestions.


July 29, 2013

TSTA again cosponsors Texas Conference for Women

"The Power of Possibilities:  Define Your Own Success" is the theme of the 2013 Texas Conference for Women, now in its 14th year. The keynote speakers are:
 
• Bob Beaudine, CEO of Eastman & Beaudine and author of "The Power of Who"

• Jenny Lawson, founder of The Bloggess and author of "Let's Pretend This Never Happened"

• Vern Myers, nationally recognized diversity expert and author of "What if I Say the Wrong Thing?"

• Rachael Ray, celebrity chef, author ,and businesswoman

• Esmeralda Santiago, award-winning author and filmmaker

The conference, set for Tuesday, Nov. 19 at the Austin Convention Center, will feature a full day of workshops and breakout sessions, a seated luncheon, a career pavilion, a health and wellness pavilion, and an exhibit hall.

Since TSTA is a supporting organization of the Texas Conference for Women, our members are eligible for a registration discount. Use this promotional code to secure the early bird price of $135 per person and $1300 for a table of 10: SO13TX.
 
Learn more and register at  www.txconferenceforwomen.org.


July 26, 2013

TRS maintains premium rates for two plans, postpones TRS-ActiveCare 3 decision

The Teacher Retirement System Board of Trustees held a one-day board meeting and deliberated over several serious matters. First, the board directed the Executive Director to determine the annuitants eligible for the COLA passed in Senate Bill 1458 and the amount to pay to the annuitants, and to take all necessary action to pay the COLA by the Fall of this year.

The Board also passed a resolution that will keep premium rates for TRS Care and the Medicare Advantage plans the same as the previous year. The benefit plan designs will also stay the same for those plans and the Medicare Prescription plan.

After much deliberation, the Board decided to hold off on eliminating TRS-ActiveCare 3, instead closing the plan to any new enrollees. TRS-ActiveCare 3 is the most expensive and comprehensive health care plan offered by TRS. The Board will determine at their February 2014 Board meeting the future of TRS-ActiveCare 3.

The Board will next meet on September 12-13, 2013.


July 24, 2013

Transportation funding could impact education funding

Last week, the House approved a proposed constitutional amendment, HJR2, which would impact the method of funding transportation and education. After passing HJR2, the House adjourned until Thursday, July 25. The Senate immediately substituted its own SJR1 version for HJR2 and appointed an informal negotiating team to try to work out differences with the House prior to the end of the second special session on July 30.

The House and Senate would have to resolve some serious differences to approve a proposal to send to the voters next November. Senators have rejected the House-passed HJR2, and it's unlikely there are 100 House votes (2/3's vote to approve a constitutional amendment) for a Senate plan that sets aside a specific, "hard floor" amount of the Rainy Day Fund as untouchable for education, health care, or other budget needs. At this time, negotiations appear to hinge on whether an acceptable formula could be devised to keep a smaller variable minimum amount in the Rainy Day Fund.

TSTA, as part of the Texas Forward coalition, has expressed concerns with these proposals because dedicating revenue to transportation places a higher priority on that need and limits the amount of money that could be used for education, health care, or any other critical needs that could arise. Neither proposal generates the kind of reliable revenue stream needed to meet critical needs in education, health care, transportation, or water supply.

The Senate-approved SJR1 also requires that a minimum balance (or "floor") equal to one-third of the maximum balance in the Fund of the Rainy Day Fund be left unspent, which would further limit revenue available in the fund for critical needs like education.

The House version of HJR2 did address TSTA's most immediate concern. The 25% of the motor fuels tax now dedicated to public education would be replaced via a constitutional "hold harmless" provision that would require the Comptroller to set aside funds for education equal to the amount that would have been generated by the gas tax.


July 22, 2013

TEA seeks federal clarification on HB 866 waiver request

Commissioner of Education Michael Williams has sought clarification from the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) regarding USDE's authority to waive specific provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Under House Bill 866 (passed by the 83rd Texas Legislature and signed by the governor), a USDE waiver must be secured to reduce or eliminate assessment requirements for certain students at the elementary and middle school grade levels.

Should the federal government determine that relevant provisions of federal law may be waived and ultimately grant a waiver request, potential changes would include assessments for math in grades 3, 5 and 8; and reading in grades 3, 5 and 8. Current federal law requires testing for math and reading for all students in grades 3 through 8.

In a July 17 letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Commissioner Williams seeks clarification from USDE that the specific federal provisions related to these student tests can and may be waived.

"The legislative authors of House Bill 866 drafted the bill with the intent to reduce the testing burden and costs for students, teachers, parents, and schools by reducing the amount of mandatory testing for students in grades 3-8 who are high performing," said Commissioner Williams in his letter to Secretary Duncan. "During the legislative session, the authors expressed their belief that this legislation would allow high-performing students to focus their time and energy on learning new material and not focusing every year on a test where there is a high likelihood that they would demonstrate success."

Because there is no set timetable for USDE to reach a decision on waiver requests submitted by states, the provisions of HB 866 will not impact the upcoming 2013-14 school year. In addition, HB 866 does not impact requirements for writing, social studies or science assessments in grades 3 through 8.

Under the legislation, the provisions of HB 866 would take effect no later than Sept. 1, 2015 (once the state has obtained a federal waiver or received written notification that a waiver is not required). The waiver request for HB 866 would be separate from a previous waiver application submitted by TEA. That request is currently being considered at the federal level.


July 18, 2013

Congress Voting on ESEA

For the first time in over a decade, the House will start voting on HR5, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, later this afternoon. Debate is expected to conclude tomorrow.

Read NEA's Position

Family Engagement in Education Act introduced

Bipartisan legislation that would encourage the creation of stronger family-school partnerships was introduced in Congress on July 11. The Family Engagement in Education Act seeks to help states build the necessary infrastructure to get parents more involved in their local public schools.

"When parents are involved with their children's education it not only improves schools but also strengthens communities," U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the bill's sponsor, said in a press release. 

The legislation would set aside 0.3 percent of Title I administrative funds to bolster state capacity building efforts and create statewide family engagement centers. The legislation would support local strategies to encourage more parental involvement in schools as a means to support student achievement. read more

To read the legislation:  http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/s1291/text 


July 17, 2013

TSTA Legislative Update: Second Special Session

Transportation Funding Proposal Tentatively Approved by House: Dueling House and Senate Plans Could Impact Education Funding

UPDATE: Yesterday, the House tentatively approved a proposed constitutional amendment, HJR2, which would impact the method of funding transportation and education. The vote on second reading was 92-32, with 25 members absent. The House plans to consider HJR2 on third reading Thursday, when it will need 100 votes (a two thirds vote is required for constitutional amendments). The Senate has passed a very different constitutional amendment proposal and the House and Senate would have to resolve some very serious differences to approve a proposal to send to the voters next November. TSTA has concerns with both proposals, as outlined in the complete report.


July 11, 2013

Round Rock teacher finalist for presidential award

Penny Smeltzer, an AP statistics teacher at Westwood High School in Round Rock ISD, is a finalist for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, which recognize teachers in grades 7-12 "whose innovative methods bring teaching to life."

PAEMST is the highest recognition a U.S. math or science teacher may receive. A state panel of master teachers, specialists, and administrators chooses state finalists from nominees, then a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians, and educators may select one math and one science teacher from each state.

National award winners will be announced during the summer of 2014. They receive $10,000, a citation signed by the President of the United States, and a paid trip for two to Washington, D.C., for recognition and professional development. All Texas finalists also will be recognized by the State Board of Education. https://www.paemst.org


July 10, 2013

Transforming educator preparation

The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) Commission on Standards and Performance Reporting today released a set of path-breaking standards and recommendations around accreditation processes for educator preparation providers.

"NEA is committed to teacher quality reform and to supporting and redefining teacher effectiveness," said NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle. "We need to strengthen the standards for all teacher preparation programs to ensure that all of our students have effective, quality teachers in their classrooms."

Although NEA supports the recommendations, NEA emphasizes that the use of student impact measures should only be one evidence point of many in looking at teacher preparation programs. The Commission recommended that CAEP continually reexamine the methodologies around student impact measures so that accreditation standards and processes reflect the profession's best current thinking on the appropriate use of these evidence measures for program improvement and accreditation decisions.

"If we want systems that help all students reach their full potential, we must allow educators, parents, students and communities to be a part of the process and have a stronger voice in the conversations around high-quality assessments that really do support student learning," said Pringle. "Through rigorous preparation programs, higher salaries, high-quality professional development and continuing growth through National Board Certification, we can make  great public schools and  highly qualified teachers a reality for every student." 

The CAEP Commission on Standards and Performance Reporting was charged with transforming the preparation of teachers and creating a rigorous system of accreditation that demands excellence and produces high quality teachers. The Commission developed accreditation standards for all preparation programs that are based on evidence, continuous improvement, innovation, and clinical practice. Along with rigorous standards and evidence, the Commission recommended transparent CAEP public accountability reporting with multiple measures. The CAEP Board of Directors will consider adopting the recommendations later this summer.

"For the past few years, NEA has been working diligently to transform the profession of teaching by looking at new and different ways that we, as educators, can increase standards for entry into the profession and improve teaching and learning for all students," said NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle. "We've said all along that this is not work that NEA can do alone. We are pleased that the invaluable insights and experiences of educators are reflected in these timely and important recommendations, designed to help transform our profession and public education.

Pringle was appointed to CAEP's Commission on Standards and Performance Reporting in February 2012. Formed through the unification of two accreditation organizations charged with assuring quality in educator preparation – the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC) – CAEP pledges to use multiple measures in its evaluation system, including new sources of data from state longitudinal databases, give increased attention to recruiting and admissions, and expect accredited preparation providers to take bold steps to recruit, prepare, and help develop effective teachers.

View the standards recommendations at http://caepnet.org/commission/standards/


July 9, 2013

Great Public Schools Network launches

It's NEA's online professional network and resource tool that connects members and the community to promote student success and improve public education. Join today at www.gpsnetwork.org.


July 8, 2013

Educators approve $6 million to improve student success

Last week, NEA's Representative Assembly approved a new grant program to empower educators to lead and shape education policy. Great Public Schools Grants (GPS Grants) to state and local affiliates will support innovative projects and great ideas to boost student learning, such as school safety and anti-bullying programs training, and technology initiatives to improve classroom instruction and student learning. http://bit.ly/12LxYWG

NEA Representative Assembly in review

Watch the highlights of the 2013 annual meeting in Atlanta.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUoWqTQOdb0&feature=share&list=UUXwFtLCUu10dJKKWD_TD2LQ


July 3, 2013

NEA Representative Assembly opens

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel spoke to over 10,000 in attendance at the annual Representative Assembly, currently underway in Atlanta. He challenged members to "raise their hands" and  "act in the urgency of now," and empower educators to take action to improve student success and reclaim their profession. Read his address and follow all the action at http://www.nea.org/grants/1357.htm.


July 2, 2013

Time to storm the castle

"The power of your expertise is important. We're going to tap into the passion, creativity, and power of everyone who spends their lives in the nation's classrooms," National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel announced at the kick-off event for NEA's new "Raise Your Hand for Public Education" Campaign on Tuesday. http://neatoday.org/2013/07/02/its-time-to-storm-the-castle-raise-your-hand-campaign-kicks-off-in-atlanta


June 26, 2013

NEA president praises Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage

Dennis Van Roekel, president of NEA, commented on today's rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional, and Hollingsworth v. Perry, which let stand a lower court ruling that struck down California's ban on same-sex marriage.

"What we have witnessed today is a major milestone in American history—a monumental decision and a huge step forward for civil rights," Van Roekel said. "As an educator, I cannot help but be moved by the thought of all of the children and students we serve whose families will now be made whole. I am reminded of the struggle, and I think of how far we, as a society, have come to let love overcome hate and bigotry. At the same time, today's victory is tempered with the reality of yesterday's decision, which dealt such a horrible blow to the progress we've made in our journey to achieve racial equality.  The fight for social justice goes on, and because of what we do and who we serve, we will always be on the frontline of this battlefield."

Dripping Springs educator to receive national award

Marisa Maher, a business teacher and coach at Dripping Springs High School in Dripping Springs, is one of 36 recipients of the California Casualty Award for Teaching Excellence, one of the nation's most prestigious honors for public school educators.

She will be honored at the NEA Foundation's Salute to Excellence in Education Gala Feb. 7 in Washington, D.C. Known as the Academy Awards of public education, the gala attracts the nation's leaders from public education, philanthropy, and the private sector.

Each awardee's school will receive a $650 award. From the 36 state awardees, five finalists will be selected to receive $10,000 cash awards. At the conclusion of the awards gala, one finalist will be named the nation's top educator and receive an additional $25,000. 

The NEA Foundation is a public charity supported by contributions from educators' dues, corporate sponsors, and others. It supports student success by helping public school educators work with key partners to build strong systems of shared responsibility. Read more at www.neafoundation.org.


June 25, 2013

NEA president: educators ‘dismayed' by voting rights act decision

Responding to today's Supreme Court opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said: "We are dismayed by the Supreme Court's ruling today, which effectively paralyzes one of the key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Unfortunately, the opinion gives credence to the myth that our nation has achieved racial parity. Our biggest fear is not only that we will stop achieving equality, but more importantly, that we will lose ground. For those of us who have devoted our lives to fighting for social justice—especially for those of us who do so from the schoolhouse or the college campus—the thought is especially troubling.

"Despite the many gains we've made, the evidence that voting discrimination persists is plentiful," Van Roekel said. "The right to vote is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans. As educators and leaders, we must work to protect that right by holding lawmakers accountable and ensuring that every single person's voice can be heard through the ballot box. To that end, we urge Congress to move immediately toward re-enacting Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act with a formula that reflects the unfortunate current reality that racial discrimination still exists at the polls and elsewhere in the fabric of many communities."


June 24, 2013

Del Valle Education Association wins affordable health care

Del Valle Education Association has once again delivered a great win for district employees: on June 18, the Del Valle ISD Board of Trustees voted to amend the budget to fully fund the employee only TRS Active Care Plan 2 premium for the 2013-2014 school year.

"The initial district decision to adopt TRS Active Care and cover the premium cost of only the High Deductible Plan 1 was a devastating economic blow to all employees, but especially to support staff who struggle to make a living wage," DVEA President Michelle Cardenas said. "Now, with the district planning to fund the whole premium of TRS Active Care Plan 2, affordable healthcare is back."

DVEA members turned out en masse at the May and June school board meetings to demand affordable health care, and more than a dozen spoke on the issue. The local also presented the school board with a petition signed by over 500 employees who were outraged that affordable health care would no longer be within reach.

DVEA wishes to publicly thank the four school board members who secured passage of the amendment: Ann Heuberger, former TSTA vice-president; Rebecca Birch; Debbie Russell; and Susanna Woody. See photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157634309574024.


June 19, 2013

Judge sets school finance trial for January

A final ruling in Texas' sweeping school finance lawsuit is on hold until at least next January when the judge will reopen the trial in light of changes enacted during the just-completed legislative session. Read more in the Austin American Statesman at http://www.statesman.com/news/news/judge-sets-school-finance-trial-for-january/nYPjz.


June 14, 2013 

TRS Board discusses changes in teacher pension law

The Teacher Retirement System Board met today in Austin. SB1458, a bill designed to strengthen the pension fund for retired teachers, was one of the main topics of discussion at this week's meeting. Here are the highlights of the new law. read more

On bullying policies and burning books

Thomas Ratliff of Mt. Pleasant, vice chairman of the State Board of Education, issued a news release this week about "bullying" - and Sen. Dan Patrick's approach to CSCOPE.

"Our country was founded on a 'no-bullying' policy when our founders stood up to an English king who tried to bully us. Our military has helped other countries stand up to bullies throughout history. Even today, every Texas public school has a 'no-bullying' policy for protection of their students," Ratliff said. "It's time for parents, educators, and school board members to stand up to another bully. Senator Dan Patrick." http://tsta.org/sites/default/files/bullies-books.pdf


June 13, 2013

'Best' legislators were public education supporters

"You may or may not agree with all the choices on Texas Monthly's just-released list of Ten Best and Ten Worst Legislators, but I think Paul Burka and his crew were dead-on accurate in drawing a huge distinction between the lead lawmakers on public education," TSTA's Clay Robison says in a new Grading Texas blog. http://www.tsta.org/grading-texas/dan-patrick/best-legislators-were-education-supporters


June 12, 2013

TEA explains transition to new assessment requirements under HB5

Under HB5, high school students are required to pass only five STAAR end-of-course tests to meet the new graduation requirements. Here are the Texas Education Agency's initial directions regarding the transition to the new testing and graduation requirements. www.tea.state.tx.us/news_release.aspx?id=25769805495 


June 11, 2013

Global education technology firm joins NEA to improve math and science education

SMART Technologies, the global education technology firm that made SMART Board interactive whiteboards and SMART Response interactive response systems classroom standards, has teamed up with NEA to support the work of the nonprofit Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). SMART will offer products at reduced prices to schools that have adopted CTL's Progressive Science Initiative (PSI) and Progressive Mathematics Initiatives (PMI). Both organizations believe this initiative will improve student learning of mathematics and science.

PSI and PMI rely on courseware that is delivered to the classroom by way of an interactive whiteboard. Materials can also be delivered to personal electronic devices, or printed out for off-campus uses. Courseware contains instructional presentations, homework, labs, and student assessments.

Currently, PSI and PMI are used in the United States, The Gambia, and Argentina, with specific partnerships with CTL to train teachers and implement the programs. These partnerships include 157 schools, but many other schools are implementing PSI-PMI on their own using free open-source resources posted at www.njctl.org.

"There is a clear understanding that our nation's prosperity is tied to innovation and that innovation will be spurred by our ability to engage students in STEM subjects and programs," said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. "Jobs in STEM-related fields are being added to the economy every day. We need to meet this growing demand by educating a highly-skilled and competitive workforce. The talent, experience, and drive that SMART and CTL exhibit will certainly help us meet that goal."
 
This partnership supports PSI's approach to addressing the shortage of science teachers; using PSI, CTL is creating three times as many new physics teachers in New Jersey as are all the combined colleges and universities in the state.


June 10, 2013

TSTA happy that House Bill 5 becomes law

Texas State Teachers Association President Rita Haecker issued the following statement today: "Texas teachers are happy to see that Gov. Perry signed House Bill 5. We know a real education is more than learning how to take a test. This new law will give teachers more time to do what they do best – teach – and will give their students more time to learn. "

Help Center shifts to summer hours

The TSTA Help Center is now running on summer hours, 8:00 a.m - 5:00 p.m.


June 6, 2013

Texas graduation rates exceed national average

Education Week and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center today released the national "Diplomas Count 2013: Second Chances—Turning Dropouts into Graduates" report. Highlights for Texas' Class of 2010:

  • Texas' graduation rate for all students (74.8 percent) exceeded the national average (74.7 percent) and that of comparable large states including California, Florida, and New York.
  • Our graduation rate for all students exceeded that of all neighboring states (New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana).
  • Texas' graduation rate for Hispanic students (73.3 percent) exceeded the national average (68.1 percent) and that of California (66 percent).

According to the report, in the 10-year period from the Class of 2000 through the Class of 2010, the Texas graduation rate jumped 11.9 percent, the seventh largest increase among all the states, and large Texas school districts with "graduation rates higher than expected" (given their size, poverty level, and other defining characteristics) include: Northside ISD, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, Fort Worth ISD, Austin ISD, Houston ISD, and Dallas ISD.

The complete Diplomas Count 2013 report is available at http://www.edweek.org/ew/toc/2013/06/06/index.html.


June 4, 2013

Summer reading

Many educators still turn to the required summer reading list to encourage students to read, but that can often make reading seem more of a chore than a pleasure. NEA has tips to share. http://www.nea.org/tools/55443.htm


June 3, 2013

Education Austin sponsors immigration forum

Thousands of children in Austin schools are from immigrant families who wrestle daily with a confusing array of regulations and choices that affect their work and living environments. A family's ability to navigate this maze of regulations can directly impact a student's educational opportunities.

Education Austin co-sponsored a community forum for immigrant families on June 1 from 1-5 p.m. at Mendez Middle School. The event included workshops on immigration reform, how to become a U.S. citizen through the naturalization process, how to obtain special visas and other government permits, and how to obtain help with everyday living needs.

More than 25 nonprofit agencies provided information about their services. They included Safe Place, American Gateways, Foundation Communities, Manos de Cristo, the Mexican Consulate, Growing Roots, Health Window, LifeWorks, Bernardo Kohler and American Youth Works.

The event was made possible through a grant from the National Education Association – which supports comprehensive immigration reform – and the collaboration of the Austin Public Library, American Gateways, the Mexican Consulate, the Workers Defense Project, the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition and the University Leadership Initiative.

The vast majority (71 percent) of undocumented immigrants in the United States have relatives who are citizens, according to a recent poll by Latino Decisions. Immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship would benefit many of these families.

Here's a news report from KUT this morning about the Immigration Community Forum: http://www.kutnews.org/post/threat-deportation-haunts-immigrant-students.


May 26, 2013

State budget heads in right direction; TRS, testing pass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


May 23, 2013

Study: schools should play key role in physical fitness

A new report issued today by the Institute of Medicine and developed by two University of Texas at Austin professors says schools should play a key role in ensuring all students have the opportunity to engage in at least 60 minutes of vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity each day. Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, 44 percent of school administrators have reported cutting significant time from physical education and recess to devote more time to reading and mathematics in the classroom. A growing body of evidence suggests that increasing physical activity and fitness may improve academic performance — especially in mathematics and reading — and that the benefits of engaging in physical activity during the school day outweigh the benefits of exclusive use of classroom time for academic learning.  http://www.utexas.edu/news/2013/05/23/schools-should-play-role-in-boosting-student-physical-health


May 22, 2013

U. S. spending for education per student drops

U.S. public-education spending per student fell in 2011 for the first time in more than three decades, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data issued Tuesday. Spending for elementary and high schools across the 50 states and Washington, D.C. averaged $10,560 per pupil in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2011. That was down 0.4% from 2010, the first drop since the bureau began collecting the data on an annual basis in 1977, the agency said Tuesday.

To read more:  http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2013/05/21/public-spending-per-student-drops/?mod=dist_smartbrief
To read the report:  http://www2.census.gov/govs/school/11f33pub.pdf


May 21, 2013

Oklahoma tragedy: how to help

TSTA and NEA mourn for the victims of the tornadoes that tore through Oklahoma, hitting two elementary schools, yesterday. Many children were lost.

"Our hearts go out to the individuals and families who are suffering in Oklahoma, including fellow educators, support professionals, and their students whose schools were struck by the tornado yesterday. We urge TSTA members to contribute to the relief fund," TSTA President Rita Haecker said.

The Oklahoma Education Association Tornado Relief Fund will benefit the OEA teachers, support professionals, and administrators adversely affected in the May 19-20 tornadoes that struck central Oklahoma. You can contribute at http://okea.org. Read more about the tragedy at http://neatoday.org/2013/05/21/nea-mourns-for-oklahoma-in-wake-of-tornado-tragedy.


NEA mourns for Oklahoma families in wake of tragedy

A massive tornado ripped through central Oklahoma yesterday, heavily damaging Briarwood Elementary School, leveling Plaza Towers Elementary School and killing at least 24 people, including children.  

"There are no words to convey our sorrow over the tragic loss that has been suffered by Oklahoma's families," said National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel. "Our hearts are broken over the students and educators killed in the storm and we commend the educators who put their lives on the line to protect the children in these schools—every single one is a hero who will not be forgotten. We will stand with the families of those lost and injured and the communities suffering as they work to rebuild their homes and their lives."  

"We extend our deepest sympathies to the members of Oklahoma Education Association, who have lost students, friends, and colleagues. The more than 3 million members of the NEA family stand ready to help OEA and the Moore, Okla., community however we can in the days and weeks ahead," said Van Roekel.

Linda Hampton, Oklahoma Education Association president, issued the following statement: "Our hearts go out to the victims, their families and everyone affected by this horrible tragedy. The loss of life is devastating. We want to thank each and every school employee who willingly put their life on the line to protect their students. We have heard stories of bravery where school employees used their bodies as human shields to protect students from flying debris. The Oklahoma spirit is reflected in John 15:13: Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

For more information, visit nea.org/oklahoma.


May 20, 2013

How to boost test scores

Tennessee charters have learned the secret to high test scores: push out low-performing students right before testing time, Diane Ravitch says. http://dianeravitch.net/2013/05/20/tennessee-charters-lose-struggling-students-before-state-tests


Outdoor learning center opens

Austin's Discovery Hill Outdoor Learning Center will be used for class field trips as well as teacher training. It is the product of a more than two year-long partnership with the National Wildlife Federation aimed at getting students outdoors, where research shows they learn better. Read more in the Austin American Statesman: http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/local/outdoor-classroom-provides-holistic-approach-to-le/nXr6p.


May 17, 2013

TSTA: Budget agreement is welcome news

TSTA issued the following news release today: The Texas State Teachers Association said the agreement crafted by legislative budget-writers to restore $3.93 billion to public schools is welcome news.

"This budget virtually restores the $4 billion that was cut from school district formula funding two years ago," said TSTA President Rita Haecker. "TSTA applauds the legislators who worked with us this session to make education funding a top budget priority."

The $5.4 billion in public education cuts in 2011 also included $1.4 billion in grants to school districts, distributed through the Texas Education Agency.

Even better TRS bill passes House 138-0

SB1458 passed the House today with amendments by Rep. Callegari and Rep. Walle making it possible that an excellent bill could be fashioned in a conference committee should the final state budget provide sufficient funding for TRS. TSTA commends the Senators and House members who worked with us and those stakeholders who insisted that we could fashion a better bill, and we did. As it passed the House, SB1458 would:

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

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

State budget deal reported: $3.93 billion more for education
The Associate Press is reporting a deal on a two-year spending plan that would restore $3.93 billion to public schools and clear the way for taking $2 billion from the state's rainy day fund for water projects. Democrats insisted on at least $4 billion to fully restore Foundation School Program cuts enacted in 2011 - the other $1.4 billion cut came from TEA grants – accounting for the $5.4 billion the legislative majority cut from schools in 2011.

The reported deal would place all $3.93 billion in the Foundation School Program, which exempts those funds from a line item veto by Governor Perry; $530 million of that money would be dedicated to helping local schools pay the new 1.5% TRS contribution required by SB1458.

On Feb. 1, 2012, TSTA launched our Stop the Cuts program, and if this budget deal holds, each one of you who circulated petitions, marched, and contacted your representatives had a role in restoring almost $4 billion of those cuts. THANK YOU.

Updates on parent trigger, TASD, evaluation, vouchers dead
The parent trigger bill, SB1263, appears to be dead unless it is added as an amendment to another bill. The bill has not been considered by the House Public Education Committee, and today is the deadline for passing a Senate bill out of a House committee.

The Texas Achievement School District bill, SB1718, was approved by the House Public Education Committee. The House version is somewhat better than the Senate version because the number of campuses that could be transferred to the district is limited, but TSTA still opposes it. The bill would create a special statewide open enrollment charter district to manage and operate schools rated unacceptable for two consecutive years.

Teacher evaluation, SB1403, was approved with no changes by the House Public Education Committee. TSTA will work to get the Senate-passed version adopted with no changes to avoid a conference committee, which could present the opportunity to undo the progress we made on this bill. As originally filed by Sen. Patrick, this bill would have eliminated the salary schedule and based a certain percentage of teacher evaluation on standardized test scores. Our allies in the Senate amended the bill to remove those provisions.

The virtual school network bill, HB1926, was voted out favorably by the Senate Education Committee today, but there will probably be enough votes in the Senate to keep it off the Senate floor to prevent a conference committee where the virtual voucher provision could be inserted in the bill.
SB23 and SB115, two voucher bills, are dead, and it is unlikely they could emerge as amendments to other bills.


May 16, 2013

SB2, charter expansion, passes House

Today, the House passed Senate Bill 2, a charter expansion bill, on second reading. We expected the House to pass the House version of SB 2 because the House committee did remove some of the most objectionable sections of the Senate-passed bill.

The House reduced the number of additional charters that would be allowed. The House removed the "district charter" home rule provision that would have allowed an entire school district to opt out of state standards for teacher qualifications, accountability, class sizes and employee contracts.

Yet, even though we expected the bill to pass, TSTA opposed the bill because we believe charter expansion is not necessary.

  • Several charters are closed each year, which already allows new charters to be created.
  • Current charter holders can operate multiple campuses.
  • A higher percentage of charter campuses are low-performing than traditional neighborhood schools.
  • The Texas Education Agency doesn't have sufficient resources to adequately regulate the charter schools we already have.

Here is what the House version of SB 2 would do:

  • The cap on the number of open-enrollment charter schools would increase by 10 each fiscal year beginning Sept.1, 2014, reaching a total of 275 by Sept. 1, 2019.
  • The House adopted a floor amendment that would allow an additional five charters to be created for special education students.
  • An amendment by Rep. Chris Turner would require a charter school teacher to have a bachelor's degree.
    The bill would prohibit nepotism in the operation of new charters, but existing nepotism practices were grandfathered.
  • The initial term for a new charter would be set at five years. Charters could be renewed every 10 years. The SBOE would have to give priority to applications for locating charters in the attendance zones of schools that have had an unacceptable performance rating for the preceding two years.
  • The commissioner of education would have veto authority within 90 days over any charter the SBOE granted.
  • The SBOE would be prohibited from granting more than one charter to a holder but could consolidate multiple charters with the written consent of current charter holders.
  • The bill would codify expedited rules allowing expansion campuses for high-performing charters that had at least half of their students in grades 3-11.
  • The highest performing charters would be granted an expedited renewal process allowing automatic renewal within 30 days after written notice.
  • The commissioner would be required to let a charter expire if a charter had low academic ratings or unsatisfactory financial accountability ratings for any three of the preceding five years.
  • The bill would require the commissioner to revoke a charter or reconstitute the governing body if the insolvency of a charter holder was imminent. Revocation also would be required for the charter's failure to: comply with fiscal management requirements; protect the health and safety of students; or meet accountability or performance standards.
  • The commissioner would be required to revoke a charter if the charter holder: received an unacceptable performance rating for the three preceding school years; received an unsatisfactory financial accountability performance rating for the three preceding school years; or any combination of the above ratings for the three preceding school years.
  • The bill would require an annual report from the commissioner comparing the performance of charters to traditional public schools.

TRS Bill, SB1458, gets better

Call this number, and we will connect you to your state representative: 1-800-260-5444.

SB1458 has been set for House floor debate tomorrow. TSTA is proud of the work our friends in the Senate did to negotiate a better bill that brings additional state funding into the TRS Fund and TRS Care in order to keep active employee contributions lower than the state's contributions through the next two years; and provide the first COLA for retirees since 2001 – for the 30% of retirees who have been retired for 15 years.

Today, we learned that the House plans to extend the COLA to employees who retired before 2004 (10 years), which will provide a COLA for as many as 50,000 – 100,000 more retirees. These improvements are the reason TSTA continued working for a better bill throughout the process. TSTA supports SB1458, and we will also support amendments that would:

  • provide a supplemental "13th check" to retirees, providing that can be done while maintaining actuarial soundness; and
  • "grandfather" all current employees under the rules in place when they originally enrolled in TRS to make sure no one would lose benefits they have already earned - the Senate bill only grandfathered those who will have vested with five years by 9–1-14).

State Budget Update
A conference committee agreement on education and water funding has not been reached yet.  Rumors abound, but definitive answers are elusive. Some say the Governor wants to cut back on education to pay for roads and threaten Democrats with even worse should a special session be required. Another source said the two sides were only $90 million apart on education funding – between $3.81 billion and $3.9 billion. These stories change hourly. Don't believe everything you read until the deal is done, or not. Stay tuned.

House Watch List Update: parent trigger, achievement school district
Charter Expansion, SB2: Passed House today. Will go to a conference committee.

Parent Trigger, SB1263: Has not been considered by the House Public Education Committee. Deadline for passing a Senate bill from House committee is tomorrow.

Achievement School District, SB1718 – Approved by House Public Education Committee last night. The bill was changed substantially from the Senate version and improved somewhat, but TSTA still opposes it. The Texas Achievement School District (TASD) would be created as a special statewide open enrollment charter district to manage and operate schools rated unacceptable for two consecutive years.

The new district would be operated by a superintendent appointed by the state education commissioner. The number of campuses that could be absorbed by the TASD would be five during this biennium and five the following biennium. Any absorbed campus must come from a school district with at least 20,000 students.

The TASD would be entitled to Foundation School Program funding as if it were a district without a Tier 1 local share. The Foundation School Program entitlement for the school district or charter holder from which a campus is removed would be reduced by the amount received by the Texas Achievement School District, including the Tier 1 local share. TEA estimates the fiscal impact to the FSP to be neutral.

TASD teachers would have to be certified to teach in the appropriate subject area. The bill attempted to extend contract protections to teachers but those requirements are only permissive and not mandatory.
     
Teacher Evaluation, SB1403–The House Public Education Committee approved this bill last night. It's identical to the Senate bill. TSTA will work to get the Senate-passed version adopted with no changes to avoid a conference committee that present the opportunity to undo the progress we made on this bill. As originally filed by Senator Patrick, this bill would have eliminated the salary schedule and based a certain % of teacher evaluation on standardized test scored. Our allies in the Senate amended the bill to remove those provisions.

Virtual School Network, HB1926: Remains stalled in Senate. Was not voted out of the Senate Education Committee today.  TSTA did not support the bill that passed the House, but we were successful in removing a "virtual voucher" provision that would have required the state to pay for online courses for students who are not enrolled in public schools – which would have allowed a private vendor to set up a statewide "virtual charter school" that has virtually no accountability. As soon as the bill went to the Senate, the Senate sponsor put this "virtual voucher" provision back into the bill. We are working with Senators to make sure the bill, if passed, would be identical to the House bill to eliminate the "virtual voucher" and avoid a conference committee.

SBs 23 and 115 Voucher bills: Votes still there to block these bills at this time. Would have to pass out of House committee tomorrow and not yet out of the Senate, meaning this version of vouchers appears dead.

House Floor report
SB 123 by Jose Rodriguez, passed - states that the commissioner may issue a subpoena to compel the attendance of a relevant witness or the production, for inspection or copying, of relevant evidence that is located in this state during an accreditation investigation. The bill also states that the commissioner shall authorize special accreditation investigations to be conducted in response to a complaint submitted to the agency with respect to alleged inaccurate data that is reported through the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) or through other reports required by state or federal law or rule or court order and that is used by the agency to make a determination relating to public school accountability, including accreditation. 

HB 617 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez - The House concurred in Senate Amendments and sent the bill to the Governor. HB617 improves transition services for students with disabilities by requiring school districts to assign at least one employee to serve as the special education transition and employment services designee. This employee would provide information about resources and transition planning and coordinate with school staff and other appropriate state agencies. The bill also increases information available to parents and students by requiring schools to make a comprehensive manual of statewide transition and employment information available on the district's website, and update the guide every two years.

House Public Education Committee Report
In addition to SB1718 and SB1403, the committee approved:

  • SB1406 by Dan Patrick, which would require the State Board of Education to review and adopt curriculum materials developed by regional education service centers. This is the second time this bill was approved by the Public Education Committee. It had been recommitted to the committee by the full House.
  • SB1380 by Dan Patrick, which would allow school districts to put video monitoring cameras in self-contained classrooms in which students receive special services.
  • SB39 by Judith Zaffirini, relating to the evaluation and instruction of public school students with visual impairments.
  • SB306 by Joan Huffman, which would exclude students receiving treatment in a residential treatment facility from being consider students – for accountability purposes – of a district in which the treatment facility is located.
  • SB418 by Rodney Ellis, which would require schools to notify parents of the status of full-time campus nurses.
  • SB453 by Bob Deuell, dealing with tuition for students holding U.S. student visas.
  • SB460 by Bob Deuell, which would require educator training programs to include instruction in the detection and education of students with mental or emotional disorders.
  • SB547 by Kelly Hancock, which would allow open-enrollment charter schools to participate in Texas political subdivisions' uniform group benefit plan and provide self-insurance as a governmental unit. An open-enrollment charter school also would be able to extend workers' compensation benefits to employees by any method available to a political subdivision.
  • SB832 by Wendy Davis, dealing with enrollment and transfers of students who are in state conservatorship.
  • SB906 by Bob Deuell, dealing with student performance standards on alternate assessments.
  • SB1178 by Bob Deuell, which would require school districts to provide early mental health intervention and suicide prevention training for teachers, counselors, principals, and other appropriate staff.
  • SB1308 by Wendy Davis, which would require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to develop a comprehensive methodology for auditing and monitoring the performance of contractors providing assessment services.
  • SB1309 by Wendy Davis, dealing with alternative assessment instruments.
  • SB1352 by Leticia Van de Putte, which would require the inclusion of mental health concerns in state and local coordinated school health efforts.
  • SB1404 by Dan Patrick, dealing with high school attendance and completion by students who are in the conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services.
  • SB1555 by Eddie Lucio, which would require an educator to perform satisfactorily on each section of an examination in order to get credit for performing satisfactorily on the examination as a whole.
  • SB1658 by Ken Paxton, dealing with equalized wealth under the school finance system. 
  • SB1720 by Dan Patrick, which would create the Math and Science Scholars Loan Repayment Program for teachers who agree to teach mathematics or science in certain school districts.

Senate Education Committee Report
The Senate Education committee met today but did not approve any bills.


May 14, 2013

TRS update –SB1458 scheduled for House debate Friday

SB1458 has been set for House floor debate on Friday, May 17.  As we mentioned last Friday, TSTA is proud of the work our friends in the Senate did to negotiate a better bill that: brings additional state funding into the TRS Fund and TRS Care; keeps active employee contributions lower than the state's contributions through the next two years; and provides the first COLA for retirees since 2001 – for the 30% of retirees who have been retired for 15 years.

Although TSTA was and is supportive of the Senate-passed version of SB1458, proposed amendments and state budget deliberations could provide additional opportunities to improve the bill in the House to provide a supplemental "13th check" to all retirees and "grandfather" all current employees under the rules in place when they originally enrolled in TRS to make sure no one would lose benefits they have already earned -- the Senate bill only grandfathered those who will have vested (with five years in the system) by 9-1-14.

Those proposed amendments are being analyzed now by TRS to determine their possible impact on the TRS Fund, so look for an alert as soon as we can inform you about the specific amendments that might be filed.

State Budget Update
A conference committee agreement on education and water funding could be announced as early as tomorrow. Any conference committee agreement would have to be approved by the House and Senate, and Rainy Day Fund expenditures would have to be approved by a two-thirds vote. The possible agreement would include:

  • a restoration of $3.2 billion of the $5.4 billion cut from public education in 2011, funded in the Senate Bill 1 budget bill;
  • possible additional funding for the TRS Fund and/or TRS Care, plus funding for enrollment growth; and
  • $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to establish a fund for water projects, to be funded in HB1025, the supplemental appropriations bill (separate from the education funding), and authorized by a constitutional amendment in SJR1 that would require voter approval to establish the water fund; Stay tuned.

House Watch List Update
Charter Expansion, SB2: The House will vote on SB2 Thursday, and we hope to defeat bad amendments to the less onerous House committee version of the charter bill that removes the "Home Rule" charter and cuts the number of additional charters from the Senate-passed version of the bill. Although TSTA does not support this bill, we prefer the House version, and the differences will likely be resolved in a conference committee.

Parent Trigger, SB1263: Consideration of this bill was postponed today in the House Public Education Committee, and it should not come up for a vote until Thursday. TSTA opposes this bill because it gives parents and teachers no voice in repurposing and improving a campus that has been rated unacceptable. At this time, we do not believe the votes are there to get SB1263 out of committee.

Achievement School District, SB1718 (Sen. West and Rep. Dutton) would establish the statewide Texas Achievement School District (ASD) as an open enrollment charter for low-performing campuses. Schools that are academically unacceptable for two consecutive years could be assigned to this district, which would be under the jurisdiction of a superintendent appointed by the state education commissioner. The bill was postponed today in the House Public Education Committee while negotiations are under way to limit the number of campuses that could be added to the ASD, extend contract protections to teachers, require certified teachers, and provide a method to return campuses to local school districts.

Teacher Evaluation, SB1403 was considered by the House Public Education Committee today. TSTA is working to get the Senate-passed version adopted with no changes (to avoid a conference committee that could present the opportunity to undo the progress we made on this bill). As originally filed by Sen. Patrick, this bill would have eliminated the salary schedule and based a certain percentage of teacher evaluation on standardized test scores. Our allies in the Senate amended the bill to remove those provisions. A House committee vote could occur tomorrow or Thursday.

Senate Watch List Update
Virtual School Network, HB1926: TSTA did not support the bill that passed the House, but we were successful in removing a "virtual voucher" provision that would have required the state to pay for online courses for students who are not enrolled in public schools – which would have allowed a private vendor to set up a statewide "virtual charter school" that has virtually no accountability. As soon as the bill went to the Senate, the Senate sponsor put this "virtual voucher" provision back into the bill. We are working with senators to make sure the bill, if passed, would be identical to the House bill to eliminate the "virtual voucher" and avoid a conference committee.

SBs 23 and 115, voucher bills: Votes are there to block these bills at this time.

House Floor Report
Today, the House passed SB 260 by Wendy Davis (D) states that a school district shall excuse for a maximum of 10 days a student whose parent or legal guardian is an active duty member of the uniformed services as defined by Section 162.002 and has been called to duty for, is on leave from, or immediately returned from continuous deployment of at least six months outside the locality where the parent or guardian regularly resides, to visit with the student's parent or guardian. 

House Public Education Committee Report
As mentioned above, the House Public Education Committee heard SB1403 by Sen. Patrick, dealing with educator preparation prerequisites and salary reporting requirements. As initially filed, the bill would have repealed the minimum salary schedule and tied student test scores to teacher appraisals, but those provisions – which TSTA opposed – were removed on the Senate floor.  TSTA now supports SB1403 and will continue to do so, provided the House makes no revisions to the bill. We will update you when the bill is reported out of committee!

The committee approved SB 1509 by Sen. Seliger, which would add college readiness standards to the definition of "applied STEM courses." It adds the phrase "or identify" programs as part of implementing the college readiness and success strategic action plan. The bill also modifies statute as it relates to applying credit earned by a student at a general academic teaching institution to an associate's degree at a lower-division institution of higher education previously attended by the student.

The House Public Education Committee also heard the following bills:

  • SB1308 by Wendy Davis, which would require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to develop a comprehensive methodology for auditing and monitoring state contracts with companies providing standardized tests. The bill would require TEA to ensure that all such new and renewed contracts for services related to assessment instruments include provisions for compliance reviews to monitor vendor performance.
  • SB1178 by Bob Deuell, which would provide for training public school educators to identify mental health issues and suicide risks among students.
  • SB460 by Bob Deuell, which would include instruction in the detection and education of students with mental or emotional disorders in the requirements for educator training programs.
  • SB1720 by Dan Patrick, dealing with the Texas Teach Corps Loan Repayment Assistance Program for undergraduate students who agree to teach in school districts that have shortages of math or science teachers.
  • HB760 by Steve Toth, which would prohibit a regional education service center from developing, administering or providing or authorizing any service or product related to curriculum without the approval of the State Board of Education. TSTA opposes this bill.    
  • SB39 by Judith Zaffirini, relating to the evaluation and instruction of public school students with visual impairments.
  • SB306 by Joan Huffman, which would provide that any student receiving treatment in a residential treatment facility is not considered being a student – for accountability purposes -- of the school district in which the facility is located. 
  • SB453 by Bob Deuell, dealing with tuition for students in public schools who hold student visas. 
  • SB657 by Ken Paxton, which would require a school district budget to be adopted by a record vote. 
  • SB906 by Bob Deuell, dealing with adoption of performance standards for students.
  • SB1309 by Wendy Davis, dealing with modifications to assessment instruments. 
  • SB1352 by Leticia Van de Putte, which would require the inclusion of mental health concerns in state and local coordinated school health efforts. 
  • SB1404 by Dan Patrick, dealing with high school attendance and completion by students who are in the conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services. 
  • SB1555 by Eddie Lucio, which would require an educator to perform satisfactorily on each section of a SBEC examination to be considered to have performed satisfactorily on the examination as a whole. It also would establish a rigorous minimum score for each examination. 
  • SB1658 by Ken Paxton, dealing with equalized wealth under the school finance system. 

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

  • HB308 by Rep. Bohac, which would allow the use of Merry Christmas and other traditional phrases in school winter celebrations.
  • HB343 by Rep. Marquez, which would require El Paso ISD trustees to file public financial disclosure statements.
  • HB642 by Rep. Diane Patrick, relating to continuing education requirements for educators.
  • HB753 by Rep. Villarreal, dealing with information to be provided by school districts to parents concerning supplemental educational services.
  • HB842 by Rep. Bell, which would require school districts to provide opportunities to career and technical students under the college credit program.
  • HB885 by Rep. Murphy, which would allow open-enrollment charter school bonds to be guaranteed by the Permanent School Fund.
  • HB897 by Rep. Zerwas, relating to instruction in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the use of automated external defibrillators in secondary education curriculum.
  • HB1122 by Rep. Johnson, which would allow Dallas ISD to establish a pilot program for a three-year high school diploma plan and cost-neutral expansion of full-day prekindergarten.
  • HB2318 by Rep. Aycock, relating to public school educator preparation and alternative certification programs.
  • HB2549 by Rep. Diane Patrick, relating to the periodic review and revision of college and career readiness standards in public education.
  • HB2610 by Rep. Pitts, relating to the issuance of interest-bearing time warrants and certain notes by school districts.
  • HB2662 by Rep. Farney, which would add a personal financial literacy credit for high school programs.
  • HB2694 by Rep. Villarreal, dealing with provision of credit by examination for public school students.
  • HCR104 by Rep. Button, a resolution that would encourage school districts to adopt policies that promote the use of technology and technological devices in classrooms.

Budget deal imminent
As reported in the Austin American Statesman. http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/house-leader-budget-deal-imminent/nXq2R/?icmp=statesman_internallink_textlink_apr2013_statesmanstubtomystatesman_launch


May 13, 2013

TSTA president in Fort Worth Star Telegram

"Water and education are both valid uses of the Texas rainy-day fund," TSTA President Rita Haecker says in an op-ed in the Fort Worth Star Telegram. http://www.star-telegram.com/2013/05/11/4842101/water-and-education-are-both-valid.html


May 10, 2013

The week ahead: TRS, charters and more

With just two weeks remaining in the session, and less time than that to pass bills on the House and Senate floor, we expect critical votes to be cast during the next ten days. Please be prepared to respond to legislative alerts to call and email your legislators. The major bills and issues yet to be resolved in the House include the following.
• TRS, SB1458: The TRS bill – identical to the bill that passed the Senate - was reported out of the House Pensions Committee today and should be on the House floor for a vote next week.
• Charter Expansion, SB2: The House will likely vote on a much less onerous charter bill than the Senate passed next week, probably Wednesday. Although TSTA does not support this bill, we would prefer the House version to Senator Patrick's Senate version, and the differences will likely be resolved in a conference committee
• Parent Trigger, SB1263: TSTA opposes this bill because it gives parents and teachers no voice in repurposing and improving a campus that has been rated unacceptable. We expect a vote in the House Public Education Committee Tuesday.
• Teacher Evaluation, SB1403: As originally filed by Senator Patrick, this bill would have eliminated the salary schedule and based a certain % of teacher evaluation on standardized test scored. Our allies in the Senate amended the bill to remove those provisions. A House committee vote is expected Tuesday and we are working to get the identical Senate bill passed to avoid a conference committee would give Senator Patrick the opportunity to undo the progress we made on this bill.

The major bills and issues yet to be resolved in the Senate include the following.
• Virtual School Network, HB1926: TSTA did not support the bill that passed the House, but we were successful in removing a "virtual voucher" provision that would have required the state to pay for online courses for students who are not enrolled in public schools – which would have allowed a private vendor to set up a statewide "virtual charter school" that has virtually no accountability. As soon as the bill went to the Senate, the Senate sponsor put this "virtual voucher" provision back in the bill, even though his Senate Bill 1298 has been blocked by 12 Senators from being considered on the Senate floor because it has that same provision. We believe those Senators will block any version of HB1926 from coming up in the Senate unless it is identical to the House bill.
• Voucher Bills, SB12 and 115:  These bills are still blocked and we believe we can hold our votes.


State budget – is a special session coming?

The House and Senate conferees on Senate Bill 1, the budget bill, remain far apart and are not negotiating at this time. The Governor has threatened to call a special session unless $2 billion is appropriated for water projects and $1.8 billion in tax relief (almost all to businesses, money that would not available to restore education cuts) is granted. Both the House and Senate have ideas about how to do that and restore roughly as little as $1.5 billion or as much as $3.7 billion in education funding, but they are far apart on where that money should come from, which has raised a real possibility of a special session.

House names HB5 (testing bill) conferees

As anticipated, House Bill 5, which would reduce the number of end-of-course exams for high school students from 15 to 5 and make curriculum changes, is headed for a House-Senate conference committee. House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock today refused to accept Senate amendments to the bill, and Speaker Joe Straus appointed House conferees. They are: Chair Jimmie Don Aycock, Dan Huberty, Joe Deshotel, Larry Gonzales and Eddie Rodriguez.

Senate Education Committee report

Thursday, the Senate Education Committee heard testimony on HB1926 by Rep. Ken King, which would expand the Virtual School Network and allow for-profit vendors to offer online education courses to public school students. The proposed committee substitute for the bill would be even worse: providing for the creation of a "virtual voucher" with no accountability for these vendors, and it would  provide no assessment of course rigor or curriculum. TSTA and the Coalition for Public Schools opposed the bill, and it was left pending.

The Committee approved the following bills:
• HB455 by Rep. Dukes, dealing with excused absences from public schools.
• HB617 by Rep. Rodriguez, relating to transition and employment services for public school students enrolled in special education programs.
• HB773 by Rep. Farney, which would require students at open-enrollment charter schools to recite the pledges of allegiance to the United States flag and the state flag.
• HB2961 by Rep. Huberty, which would seek to protect the Social Security numbers of school employees and former school employees from public disclosure.

House floor report

The House approved the following bills on Thursday:
• SB376 by Eddie Lucio, which would require schools where 80 percent of more of students receive free or reduced-price breakfasts to provide free breakfasts to all the students.
• HB628 by Tony Dale, which would give school board members access to their districts' records without having to submit public information requests.
• HB2952 by Justin Rodriguez, which would give the education commissioner 240 days to decide appeals of employee grievances from the district level.
• HB2201 by Marsha Farney, which would require the State Board of Education to double the number of available career and technology courses.
• HB2872 by Mike Villarreal, which would change the number of excused absences to five days every semester.
• HB1021 by Joe Moody, which would allow for the creation of justice courts specifically to hear truancy cases.
• HB1022 by Joe Moody, which would require venue for truancy cases to be in a justice court in the precinct where the parent resides or where the school is located.
• HB2824 by Bennett Ratliff, which would allow participating districts to add additional campuses to the Texas High Performing Schools Consortium. It also would require districts to hold public hearings at least annually to discuss goals and provide for parental and community input.
• HB742 by Mark Strama, which would create a summer grant program for districts with high enrollments of educationally disadvantaged students. It would be limited to 10 school districts and focus on pre-K through eighth grades. It would provide for additional compensation for teachers working during the summer.

Today (Friday), the House approved the following bills:
• HB2367 by Alma Allen, which would give drivers the authority to discipline students on a school bus. 
• HB3809 by Marsha Farney, which would clarify the use of the term "school counselor."
• HB217 by Carol Alvarado, which would allow for the sale of healthier drinks to students on school campuses. 
• HB1174 by Pat Fallon,  which would increase the fine for passing a stopped school bus to $500 and add an additional fine of $1,000 to $2,000 for a second offense within five years. 
• HB741 by Amando Walle, which would allow a public employee to breast-feed, or to express breast milk for, the employee's child in the workplace.
• SB377 by Eddie Lucio, which would prohibit the education commissioner from lowering a school's performance rating based on the performance of a student of limited English proficiency who has been in the United States three years or less. 
• SB1142 by Robert Duncan, which would require the education commissioner to establish an adult high school diploma and industry certification charter school pilot program. 
• SB914 by Eddie Lucio, which would include a behavior improvement plan as part of the individualized education program for some students. 

House Public Education Committee report

The House Public Education Committee approved the following bills late Thursday:
• SB119 by Jose Rodriguez, which would require El Paso ISD to operate a special student recovery program to help students who were harmed because of the cheating scandal orchestrated by the former superintendent.
• SB122 by Jose Rodriguez, which would give a district judge the authority to remove a school board member from office.
• SB172 by John Carona, which would require the education commissioner to include at least two multidimensional assessment tools for use in diagnosing the reading development and comprehension of kindergarten students.
• SB503 by Royce West, which would establish an Expanded Learning Opportunities Council to study issues concerning expanded learning opportunities for public school students.
• SB504 by Bob Deuell, which would allow each public school to either participate in a spinal screening program for children in grades 6 and 9 or to provide information developed by the Department of State Health Services to parents and guardians.
• SB684 by Bob Deuell, which would change the requirement that a school district annually assess the physical fitness of students in grades 3 and higher. Instead, physical fitness assessments would be required annually in grades 3 through 5 and once in grades 6 through 12.
• SB816 by Glenn Hegar, which would require written evaluations of students for special education services – except for kindergartners -- to be completed by the 60th calendar day of the school year, instead of the 45th school day.
•  SB833 by Wendy Davis, which would require the Texas Education Agency to aggregate data on students in foster care in the PEIMS system.
• SB1474 by Robert Duncan, which would require school districts to receive input from employees and the public before adopting major curriculum initiatives. Districts would have to make public the cost of an initiative and any alternatives that were considered.
• SB1799 by Kirk Watson, which would require appeals regarding most school district employee grievances to be decided by the education commissioner within 240 days.


May 9, 2013

He's here!

President Obama is in Austin and on his way to visit New Tech High School in Manor.


May 8, 2013

TSTA: Senate TRS bill is significantly improved

TSTA issued this news release today: The Texas State Teachers Association said the teacher retirement bill approved by the Senate today is significantly improved over previous versions.

"This TRS bill passed today provides a much better balance of contributions from the state and educational employees than previous versions of the bill," said TSTA President Rita Haecker. "We will keep working to ensure all school employees and retirees are treated fairly in the TRS system."

Under the version of SB1458 approved by the Senate, over the next two years active employees participating in the Teacher Retirement System of Texas will pay less in contributions than the state. During the two years following that, they will pay less in contributions than the combined contributions of the state and school districts.

The increase in the employee contribution rate will be phased in and set at 6.4 percent in FY2014 and 6.7 percent in FY2015, instead of the 7.7 percent rate that would have taken effect in FY2015 in the previous version of the bill.

The employee contribution rate would increase to 7.2 percent and 7.7 percent in FY2016 and 2017 but could not exceed the combined state and school district contribution.


May 7, 2013

TRS bill, SB1458, could be debated tomorrow

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

In the meantime, contact your state senators and urge them to amend the SB1458; call 1-800-260-5444, and we will connect you.

Voucher and virtual voucher bills still lack votes in the Senate

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

State Funding Update

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

The Senate approved a proposed Constitutional Amendment, SJR1, which subject to voter approval, would fund water and road projects and provide another $800 million for education. The House has not approved Rainy Day funding at this time

House debates tax cut bill, HB500, which reduces revenue available for schools

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

House Public Education Committee Stops Home Rule, Evaluation Bills

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

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

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

House Floor Report


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

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

Senate Education Committee Report

Today, the Senate Education Committee approved the following bills:

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

House Public Education Committee to Hear Senate Bills Tonight

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

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

Ector County president dies

TSTA has suffered a great loss. Sharyn Smith, the local president of Ector County, passed away yesterday. Her obituary is found at http://www.sunsetodessa.com/services.asp?page=odetail&locid=37&id=28614.

TSTA poll: Hispanics take school cuts personally

Hispanic Texans in the three major border population centers have a strong, personal connection to their public schools and believe they and their children were personally hurt by the $5.4 billion in state budget cuts two years ago. These are among the findings of a new Latino Decisions survey commissioned by the Texas State Teachers Association. The poll also shows it is unlikely that Hispanics, who have watched enrollment in their local schools grow rapidly since the cuts, will give lawmakers credit for only partially restoring the funding, as provided so far in both the House and Senate versions of the new state budget.

Some 75 percent of respondents favor tapping the Rainy Day Fund to increase school funding. "The importance of public education to border area Texans should not be underestimated," said poll director Sylvia Manzano. "Our findings demonstrate education policy commands significant attention and concern."

She noted that three incumbent Republican legislators who voted for the school cuts in 2011 were unseated by Latino Democratic challengers in 2012 after the specific, negative results of the cuts became defining campaign issues.

Some 67 percent of border Hispanics, according to the poll, knew about the budget cuts and cited specific negative consequences for their children, including fewer teachers, crowded schools and cuts to after-school and extracurricular programs. More than 90 percent of Hispanic parents want to see their children at least graduate from college, and more than 60 percent want their children to attend graduate school or obtain a professional degree. The education funding cuts, Manzano said, "are seen as an obstacle to the high aspirations they hold for their children."

Some 77 percent of border Hispanics, according to the survey, have children currently or previously enrolled in local public schools. Nearly 40 percent have close family members or friends who work for their local school district. Most volunteer and raise funds for their schools, and 82 percent attend school-sponsored events, making public schools the heart of their communities.

Latino Decisions – a respected, national Hispanic research firm – interviewed 400 Latino adults in El Paso, Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley. The poll was conducted March 14-24 with respondents selected at random in both landline and cell-phone only households. Interviews were conducted in Spanish and English at the subject's discretion.

The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percent. For more on the poll, see Latino Decisions blog at:
http://www.latinodecisions.com/blog/2013/05/06/for-hispanics-in-texas-border-communities-politics-isnt-just-local-its-personal


May 6, 2013

Now or never: House bills could be voted on late tonight

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

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

HB2977 is a "teacher evaluation" bill that was potentially more harmful when filed, but is now limited to a local option "pilot program."

We will update you on committee action in the morning.

Senate okays its version of HB5 Testing/Accountability Reform Bill

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

Key provisions of the Senate version of HB5 include:

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

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

TRS Update: Negotiations Continue in Senate

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

House Floor Report

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

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

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

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

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

On the border, education cuts are personal

What happens under the pink dome in Texas doesn't stay under the dome, according to a new Latino Decisions/TSTA survey conducted among Hispanics in the state's three largest border communities (El Paso, Laredo, and the Rio Grande Valley). See these links for more information about the poll:

http://www.latinodecisions.com/files/4613/6780/9077/TSTA_Toplines_May_2013_Post.pdf

http://nbclatino.com/2013/05/07/poll-for-latinos-in-texas-schools-are-the-heart-of-the-community/

It's Teacher Appreciation Week

Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10) and National Teacher Day (Tuesday, May 7) provide a chance to spread the word about great teachers and the outstanding work they do each day. A Teacher Day poster, web banners, buttons, videos, infographics, and social media tools (avatar, profile image, etc.) are available for downloading at www.nea.org/teacherday.


May 3, 2013

Legislative Action Alert: Keep calling to demand changes in TRS Bill

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


May 2, 2013

TRS Bill: contact your senator NOW

TSTA opposes the latest version of the TRS Bill , SB1458. Make your voices heard! Encourage your senator to OPPOSE SB 1458 unless significant changes are made.

NOBODY WINS - SB1458 asks too much of active employees and does too little for retirees.

Over two-thirds of retirees would not qualify for a COLA, leaving 200,000 retirees without a COLA for 12 years and counting. This bill would hit Texas teachers in the pocketbook, when they already feel disrespected by the state after enduring budget cuts, layoffs and classroom time lost to high stakes standardized tests.
This proposal could drive more good teachers from the profession - simply because the state will not step up and do its part.

Asks Too Much

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

Does Too Little

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

We Can Do Better – The Legislature Should:

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

House Floor Report – Testing Bill Among Those Approved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On tap tomorrow in the House
HB1926, by Rep. Ken King, a Virtual School Network bill, will be considered on the House floor. The bill opens the door for more private online vendors to offer courses with less stringent accountability than is required for traditional public schools. TSTA opposes this bill
 
Senate Floor Report
In addition to spending a great deal of time preventing a floor vote on SB1458, the TRS bill, until the issues mentioned above could be addressed, the Senate passed SB 1775, by Senator Royce West, which would require more detailed posting of information about the availability of student transfer opportunities at public and charter schools

Teacher Appreciation Week: social and online media

Teacher Appreciation Week on May 6-10, and National Teacher Day on Tuesday, May 7, provide a chance to spread the word about great teachers and the outstanding work they do each day. NEA's 2013 Teacher Day poster, web banners, buttons, videos, infographics, and social media tools (avatar, profile image, etc.) are available for downloading at www.nea.org/teacherday.


May 1, 2013

Senate approves SB1718, Achievement School District bill

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

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

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

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

TRS Update

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

We have responded by suggesting that the bill should be changed as follows:

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

Please encourage your Senator to oppose SB1458 until such changes are addressed!

House Public Education Committee approves charter expansion bill

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

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

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

The Public Education committee also approved the following bills:

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

House Floor Action

Today, the House passed.

  • HB642 by Diane Patrick, which would require up to 25 percent of educators' continuing education include instruction on improving effectiveness in the classroom, recognizing early warning indicators that a student may be at risk of dropping out of school, integrating technology in classroom instruction, educating diverse student populations and increasing knowledge of the subject area taught by the educator. TSTA worked with Rep. Patrick and Rep. Alma Allen to win approval of a floor amendment removing a requirement for annual training. This would give educators more freedom to focus on professional development subject areas.
  • HB697 by Drew Springer, which would provide a sales tax exemption for certain items sold by school booster clubs and support organizations.
  • HB2961 by Dan Huberty, which would prohibit school districts from requiring employees or former employees to allow public access to their social security numbers.
  • HB580 by Donna Howard, dealing with funding for child care services and transportation for students at risk of dropping out of school.

April 30, 2013

HB11 blocked: would have funded water, not education

House Bill 11, which would have scooped up $2 billion of the Rainy Day Fund for water projects but not a cent for public schools, was torpedoed on a procedural point in the Texas House Monday night, following several hours of debate. TSTA is not opposed to funding for Texas water needs, but we opposed HB 11 unless there was also an agreement to use the Fund to restore education funding cuts, and here's why:

  • Water is an important issue for Texas, but so are public schools.
  • There is enough money in the $12 billion Rainy Day Fund to begin paying for future reservoirs AND finish restoring the $5.4 billion cut from public schools two years ago.
  • Two-thirds of Texas voters, according to a bipartisan poll commissioned by TSTA, want legislators to spend part of the Rainy Day Fund to restore the school cuts. By a large margin, voters favor using Rainy Day money for schools over water or highways.

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

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

Education cut restoration update

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

Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams has pledged to add another $1.4 billion made possible because of increasing property wealth. Should that $1.4 billion be added to the education budget, the House would have restored $4.4 billion and the Senate $2.9 billion plus a potential $800 million from the Rainy Day Fund.

A conference committee writing the final state budget will seek a compromise on those figures, but – without some Rainy Day funding – the effort will fall short of restoring the entire $5.4 billion.

House approves reducing number of STAAR tests for 7th and 8th

Today, the House approved:

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

 
TRS: no news

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

Senate update: no action on voucher bills

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

Senate Education Committee report

The Senate Education Committee approved two bills today.

SB681 by Sen. West, which would allow Dallas ISD to establish a pilot program allowing students to obtain a high school diploma in three, instead of the traditional four, years. DISD would be required to establish curriculum for the program with SBOE review and commissioner approval.  In addition, the WADA the district would have received if the students had stayed for a fourth high school year would be given to the district for use in its Pre-K program.

SB 1555 by Sen. Lucio, which require each educator to perform satisfactorily on each section of a generalist examination or each section of a multiple component examination in order to be considered to have performed satisfactorily on the examination as a whole. This is the same language as in Sen. Dan Patrick's SB1403.

House Public Ed meeting now: could vote on revised charter bill tonight

The House Public Education committee has started another long hearing, which will include some legislation that TSTA considers harmful to public education, including HB 300 (Home Rule and more) and HB 2976 ("parent trigger"), which are listed below.

We will report tomorrow on House committee action. A new Committee Substitute for SB2, the charter expansion bill has been prepared, and it includes two major changes.

Section 2 of the bill, that would have allowed 15% of a school district – or an entire high school feeder patter – to be converted to charter schools that are not subject to numerous legal and employee protections and standards.

The number of new charters available each year would be 10, reducing the potential "expanded" number of charters from 305 to 275 by 2019.

Bills being heard tonight include:

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

April 26, 2013

House restores another $500 million in public education funds

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

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

The House also passed the following education legislation:

HB 2058 by Rep Allen, Alma. Relating to the administration of a high school equivalency examination.

HB 897 by Rep. Zerwas. Relating to instruction in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the use of automated external defibrillators in secondary education curriculum.

HB 773 by Rep. Farney. Relating to a requirement that students at an open-enrollment charter school recite the pledges of allegiance to the United States flag and the state flag.

HB 2137 by Rep. Fletcher. Relating to eligibility of certain persons for enrollment in school district summer school courses.

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

HB462 by Dan Huberty, which would allow the state to continue using its own curriculum standards and would direct the SBOE and school districts not to adopt the national curriculum, Common Core. AP and IB would not be included in this prohibition. It also would prohibit teacher appraisals from being based on national assessments.

HB1057 by Jeff Leach, which would prohibit any entity or individual who performs abortions from providing information about abortions in human sexuality or family planning instruction in public schools.

HB1415 by Matt Schaefer, which would allow districts to issue "teaching permits" allowing for CTE teachers to receive district permits with commissioner standards in place.  To the extent possible, the commissioner would have to adopt criteria for granting and rejecting a school district teaching permit for career and technical teachers.

HB1853 by Bennett Ratliff, relating to a behavior improvement plan adopted for certain students with an IEP.

HB2450 by Richard Raymond, which would allow principals to search students and their belongings if they had reasonable suspicion of a problem and parental permission. With parental permission, the principal along with a peace officer or a campus police person would conduct the search. 

HB2756 by Dan Branch, which would allow for two additional golden pennies- 6 cents above a district's compressed rate -- to be voted at the local level.

HB2872 by Mike Villarreal, which would change the number of allowed student absences to 5 days per semester.

HB2952 by Justin Rodriguez, which would give the commissioner of education 240 days to decide an appeal from the district level and an additional 60 days extension if the involved parties agree.

Test-happy commissioner doesn't wait for Legislature

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

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

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

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

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


April 26, 2013

NEA applauds President's Blueprint for RESPECT

Yesterday the U.S. Department of Education released the Obama Administration's blueprint for elevating and transforming the teaching profession, also known as the Blueprint for RESPECT (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching). Below is a statement from NEA President Dennis Van Roekel:

"The National Education Association applauds the Administration for stepping up and offering an agenda for change. By focusing on teacher quality at the front door of the profession, increasing professional development and keeping student learning central to all that we do, we can implement great change for our students. We believe that the approach outlined in RESPECT represents the kind of thinking that's going to improve our public schools, making them all exceptional institutions of learning for all students.

"Recruiting talented candidates and providing substantive, high-quality preparation is essential in ensuring quality schools. The department's blueprint represents a critical first-step in ensuring that all students have access to a range of high-quality resources, including qualified and licensed teachers who are empowered to innovate and inspired to take on ever-growing challenges.

"The RESPECT plan and NEA's Three-Point Plan both call for more rigorous standards for entry into the profession, as well as for developing systems that help ensure that those who are in the classroom maintain a high standard of practice. Together they set the stage for establishing a world-class teaching force that puts student learning at its core and is focused on helping students acquire the knowledge and skills they will need to thrive as 21st century citizens. It takes more than teachers to support students, including strong instructional school leaders and qualified and committed educational support professionals.

"We look forward to working with the Administration, lawmakers, parents and anyone else who is ready, willing and able to start working now to do what it takes to ensure success for all students."


April 25, 2013

Senate passes 'teacher bill' with TSTA amendments

Today, the Senate passed Senate Bill 1403 by Sen. Patrick. As originally filed, SB 1403 would have eliminated the minimum salary schedule and set up a teacher appraisal system in which STAAR results would have been used to evaluate a teacher's performance, and ultimately used in employment and salary decisions. TSTA worked vigorously to get the objectionable parts of the bill. As a result of that work…the minimum salary schedule remains on the books...the appraisal/employment language tied to the STAAR exam was deleted by an amendment sponsored by Sen. Wendy Davis...and, in its final form the bill addressed educator prep and mentoring programs, professional development, and certification examinations.

TRS Update

The authors of the TRS legislation (SB1458 by Sen. Duncan and HB1884 by Rep. Caligari) have offered no changes since our Tuesday report. TSTA has discussed the bills with a number of members and it appears that the bills' fate is in jeopardy unless changes are made. We will continue meeting with legislators who seek changes that would improve the actuarial soundness of the TRS Fund in a way that, unlike these bills, would not place an undue burden on TRS members.

House Public Education Committee Hears Charter Bill, Approves Amended Virtual School Network Bill

During another marathon Tuesday night hearing, TSTA testified against SB2 before the House Public Education Committee. The bill by Sen. Dan Patrick, which already has been approved by the Senate, would allow districts to grant charter status to campuses serving up to 15 percent of a district's students and/or an entire high school feeder pattern, which could include an entire small school district.

Charters lack important legal protections for educators, parents and students. They are not required to have teacher contracts, certified teachers in the classroom and class size limits, and SB2 could open numerous campuses to such circumstances.

TSTA also objects to the following provisions in SB2.

The bill would grant the Commissioner authority to approve 90 NEW charters from now until 2020 in increments each year. These would be in addition to those charters that can be created by colleges or universities or are eligible for self-replication. TEA has repeatedly indicated that it doesn't have the personnel to adequately oversee existing charters, much less this kind of expansion.

The bill would allow charters that quality as special education charters, at-risk charters or out-of-state high-performing charters to not count against the charter cap, making charter expansion basically unlimited.

The bill would grant automatic renewal of charters after 60 days from submission of a renewal request for both expedited and discretionary renewals. This practice would practically guarantee that no substantive review of a charter's performance would occur before extending a charter.

The bill would grant 10-year terms for charter renewals. In addition to our above concern, this means the process by which charters should be critically examined would happen only once a decade, if at all. Locking in a charter holder's property interest for a decade at a time all but ensures costly litigation in the event that a charter should need to be terminated.

Charter schools under the Alternative Education Accountability System (AEA) – which requires lower student performance for a satisfactory rating, though this is not apparent to parents – should be subject to mandatory revocation procedures for poor performance. SB2 would not provide for mandatory revocation of AEA charters.

SB2 was left pending in committee. To view a copy of TSTA's written testimony, click on this link:
http://tsta.org/issues-and-action/take-action-state-level#testify

The Committee also approved a committee substitute for the Virtual School Network bill, HB 1926 by Ken King, after a week of work by TSTA and the Coalition for Public Schools to amend the bill to prevent it from becoming, in effect, a "virtual voucher" bill, as related to the following issues.

Issue No. 1: To ensure students are receiving quality instruction from online providers (which includes public, non-profit, or private entities). School districts must retain the ability to oversee the quality of courses students take which are not substantially similar to courses the district offers. This amendment allows for districts to consider the informed choice reports and other variables in determining whether or not a course meets the standards needed to ensure student success. While courses may not be required for the foundation diploma, districts are still responsible for a student's overall success in online courses, and are still subject to federal and state accountability measures, graduation and drop-out rates, etc.

Issue No. 2: To ensure students cannot enroll as a full-time student in a virtual campus operated by a non-profit or private entity funded with tax dollars. The current substitute language creates the potential for a virtual school voucher program that would siphon state and local tax dollars to a private entity. The language in this amendment would prevent the commissioner from authorizing a statewide virtual voucher school.

TSTA supported two other bills heard by the Public Education Committee:

HB2012 by Mike Villarreal, which would require TEA to collect salary information across the state for the PEIMS system. Results would be posted on the TEA website in a manner indicating each district's average salary by subject and grade level. TEA also would have to conduct a cost of living and salary comparability analysis in each region of the state to compare salaries in similar professions. TEA also would be required to develop an online survey for certificate holders to assess working conditions, retention, school leadership, and other relevant matters from district to district.

HB2952 by Justin Rodriguez, which would give the Commissioner 240 days to decide an appeal from the district level.

House Floor Report

Today, the House approved the following education-related bills:

HB480 by Carol Alvarado, which would allow state employees to use as many as eight hours of sick leave each fiscal year to attend any of their children's educational activities, including tutoring, field trips, classroom activities, athletic events and music or theater programs. Currently, state employees can use the sick leave only to attend parent-teacher conferences.

HB1952 by Senfronia Thompson, which would require principals and other administrators overseeing student discipline to attend professional development training relating to disciplinary procedures at least once every three years.

HB2318 by Jimmie Don Aycock, which would require the State Board for Educator Certification to review and, as necessary, update standards and requirements for educator preparation and alternative certification programs. It also would require educator preparation programs to provide certain information to certification candidates

Senate Education Committee Report

After the Senate adjourned today, the Senate Education Committee approved the following bills:

SB38 by Sen. Zaffirini, relating to determining a child's eligibility for a school district's special education program on the basis of a visual impairment.

SB39 by Sen. Zaffirini, - relating to the evaluation and instruction of public school students with visual impairments.

SB783 by Sen. Hinojosa, which would include policies to prevent dating violence in school district improvement plans.

Late Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee approved the following bills:

SB377 by Sen. Lucio, which would provide that the standardized test score of a student of limited English proficiency who has been in school in the United States for less than three years not count toward a district's or school's performance rating on the state evaluation system.

SB925 by Sen. Lucio, which would make it clear that a school counselor has to hold a certificate from SBEC. It would allow school districts to hire other professional counselors provided they were licensed by their respective regulatory boards.

SB1308 by Sen. Davis, which would encourage TEA to audit a testing contractor's compliance with state requirements and develop criteria for audits of future assessment contractors.

SB1384 by Sen. Hancock, relating to the authority of an independent school district to invest in local water projects.

SB1725 by Sen. Deuell, which would prohibit a former member of the State Board of Education from being hired by an open-enrollment charter school within the first two years after leaving the board.

SB1799 by Sen. Watson, relating to the time allowed for the education commissioner to decide certain appeals against school districts.

Additional House Public Education Committee Action

This week, the House Public Education Committee approved the following bills.

HB1926 by Ken King, which would expand the Virtual School Network to allow private providers to offer courses through the network to public school students. TSTA and the Coalition for Public Schools succeeded in winning approval of an amendment that removed a provision that also would have allowed for a statewide virtual voucher to be utilized through a statewide charter. Rep. Dan Huberty sponsored the amendment removing the virtual voucher language.

HB308 by Dwayne Bohac, relating to a school district's recognition of traditional winter celebrations.

HB1501 by Richard Raymond, relating to the commemoration of September 11, 2001, the day of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., at public schools and institutions of higher education.

HB1568 by Drew Springer, which would revoke accreditation and close a school district if the attorney general were to determine that the district knowingly violated a provision of the Texas Constitution.  This bill is directly targeted at school districts voting to approve same sex benefits for domestic partners.

HB1751 by Diane Patrick, which would change the Educator Excellence Awards Program to the Educator Excellence Innovation Program and take other steps to change the way teachers are recruited, hired, trained, compensated and retained. Among other things, it would allow for districts under some circumstances to let teachers vote whether to waive the minimum salary schedule.

HB2057 by Alma Allen, dealing with an alternative dispute resolution method for a school district and a parent of a student with a disability.

HB2662 by Marsha Farney, which would require the curriculum to include at least half a credit in personal financial literacy.

HB2694 by Mike Villerreal, which would require the commissioner to establish a state level program for secondary school students to receive credit by examination for any course required or offered by Texas public high schools.

HB3809 by Marsha Farney, clarifying the use of the term, "school counselor."

HB3907 by Linda Harper-Brown, which would prohibit a student who drops out, reenrolls and drops out again from repeatedly being counted as a dropout in computation of dropout and completion rates.

The Committee also heard the following bills Tuesday and let them pending.

HB980 by Patricia Harless, which would revise the parental involvement requirements of campus improvement plans to include materials for training parents in how to instill self-confidence in children. It also would allow for plans to deter dropouts and bullying and promote academic improvement.

HB1190 by Dan Flynn, which would repeal the minimum $25 fee for driving safety courses.

HB1853 by Bennett Ratliff, dealing with behavior improvement plans for students. 

HB2056 by Alma Allen, which would allow an attorney or someone with special knowledge or training to appear in due process hearings for children with disabilities. 

HB2483 by Carol Alvarado, which would add oral diseases to the list of coordinated health programs from TEA. 

HB2697 by Susan King, which would allow students attending an approved career tech night or summer program to be counted under a district's average daily attendance. 

HB2756 by Dan Branch, which would increase from 6 to 8 cents the guaranteed yield that districts can raise under the school finance system without being subject to recapture. 

HB2872 by Mike Villarreal, which would change the number of allowed absences to 5 days each semester. 

HB2980 by Eddie Rodriguez, which would require regional service centers and districts to display on their websites how a student can transfer to another campus outside his or her attendance zone. 

HB3003 by Alma  Allen, which would require districts to provide a structure to help students make the transition back to regular public school after being in a JJAEP/DAEP or other program. 

HB3374 by Four Price, relating to consideration of travel distances in assigning a school to a University Interscholastic League classification.


April 24, 2013

Texas educator to tour Brazilian schools

Loryn Windwehen is one of 36 Global Learning Fellows who will have a unique opportunity to tour Brazilian schools in June, the NEA Foundation announced today. A teacher in North East ISD (San Antonio), she was featured in the summer 2012 Advocate magazine when she won TSTA's Ermalee Boice Instructional Advocacy Award.

The fellowship expands on the NEA Foundation's mission to advance student achievement by investing in public education that will prepare all students to learn and thrive in a rapidly changing world. The June 19-27 tour includes visits to São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro to observe classroom instruction and interact with Brazilian teachers and administrators.

In preparation, the fellows will take an online course on the impact of historical and cultural legacies on contemporary Brazilian society and education, and they will learn basic Portuguese through an NEA Foundation partnership with Rosetta Stone. At the conclusion of the Fellowship, they will create a lesson plan, unit plan, or full curriculum, integrated with global competency skills, and share it with educators around the world via an open source platform. http://www.neafoundation.org/pages/nea-pearson-foundation-global-learning-fellowship

Grants are available

Every year, the NEA Foundation awards more than 150 grants to support public school educators' innovative ideas. The next deadline to apply for a grant is June 1. http://www.neafoundation.org/pages/grant-resources-featured-grantees

Yep, he's a member

President Obama honored National Teacher of the Year Jeff Charbonneau at the White House yesterday. Charbonneau is an NEA member and STEM teacher in Washington state. Read more about the White House event at http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/04/23/president-obama-honors-2013-national-teacher-year. Read NEA's story about Jeff at: http://neatoday.org/2013/04/22/stem-teacher-and-wea-member-is-the-2013-national-teacher-of-the-year


April 23, 2013

TRS update – proposed bills still inadequate, contact your legislators

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

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

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

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

The only change offered in the bills from the original version was lowering the benefit reduction for teachers who retire before age 62 from 5% per year to 2% per year.

Moreover, Sen. Duncan said that the legislature would do nothing during this session to address the imminent shortfall for TRS-Care. Without legislative action now, that fund will be facing a $1 billion shortfall next session.

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

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

raise the minimum age of retirement to 62, with a grandfather clause that would include those eligible for retirement under the current system within the next five years;

impose a benefit reduction for those who retire before age 62 of 2 percent per year;

impose a 1 percent charge to ISDs not currently paying into Social Security – a cost to ISDs of about $220 million a year;

reduce the amount of interest paid on idle accounts from 5 percent to 2 percent;

set a minimum age of 62 to enter TRS-Care, with the same grandfathering provision set out for retirement;

eliminate TRS ActiveCare III; and

propose a COLA of 3 percent to those retirees who have been retired for 20 years or more when the Fund becomes actuarially sound.

Senate approves additional education funding

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

TSTA opposed diverting of $300 million to merit pay and several amendments were offered to the bill, including:

Senator Wendy Davis offered amendments that would have put all $800 million into formula funding;

Senator Kirk Watson offered an amendment that would have "evened out" the funding at $2 billion each for water, roads and education.

The Davis and Watson amendments were not approved.

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

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

TSTA will monitor legislative action to make sure that money is added to SB1 funding and not substituted for it. If all this funding goes as discussed today, Senate action could restore: $3.7 billion of education funds if the $300 million in DATE funding is included.

Of that total, $3.275 billion would be restored directly to districts from formula funding of the $1.4 billion were restored to formula funding, $125 million would be added to TEA grants (some pre-K and SSI)

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

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

Thanks to your efforts, no voucher votes in Senate

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

Watch for Senate and House Committee Reports tomorrow

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

UPDATE: House defeats, then approves, lottery commission sunset (and education $)

Today, the full House considered HB2197, the Lottery Commission Sunset bill. The bill was initially defeated, which could have eliminated the lottery and the $2.2 billion the lottery generates for a public education budget of roughly $43 billion in state funding in the two year budget.

TSTA acted immediately, urging the House to reconsider the vote. The vote was reconsidered and the Lottery Commission Sunset bill was approved with 101 votes in favor, securing the $2.2 billion for public education generated by the lottery.

TSTA put out this call to action earlier today: This afternoon, the Texas House of Representatives may be deciding the future of the Texas Lottery and, with it, $2.2 billion in funding for public schools in the new state budget. It is important that you call your state representatives and urge them to vote for House Bill 2197, the Texas Lottery Commission sunset bill. This bill must pass, or public schools will lose another $2.2 billion.

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

Please call THIS AFTERNOON. Leaving a voice message is just as good as talking to your representative or a staff member. Be sure to tell them you are a TSTA member, that you live and vote in their district and that you want them to vote FOR House Bill 2197. Public schools cannot afford a $2.2 billion loss.

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

2013 accountability system unveiled

Commissioner of Education Michael Williams today announced the four components that will be part of the new 2013 state accountability system for school districts, campuses, and charters in Texas. The first ratings under this system will be issued by the Texas Education Agency on August 8, 2013.

"The new system makes use of multiple indicators to provide parents and taxpayers a more detailed overview of the successes, as well as areas of necessary improvement, for each school district, charter, and campus," Williams says.

2013 will be a transition year: accountability advisory groups will reconvene later this year to finalize recommendations for accountability ratings criteria for 2014 and beyond. In addition, work will continue on the conversion of this new system into an A-F rating system for 2014. Any changes passed during the current legislative session also will be incorporated.

For a detailed overview of the state accountability system, visit http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/account/2013/index.html.

Brownsville teacher featured in TV spot

The Rio Grande Valley is the face of the emerging Texas, and Celia Saiz-Guerrero is preparing the emerging Texas for the future. As a first grade teacher at Skinner Elementary School in Brownsville ISD, Saiz-Guerrero plays a critical role in giving Hispanic children the strong foundation they will need to succeed in school and, in the not-too-distant future, receive the college education that was out of reach for many of their parents.

"You see the twinkle in their eyes when I talk about college. And, the majority of them want to be teachers," she said.

Twice a year, Brownsville ISD sponsors college awareness days, when teachers wear shirts with the names and logos of the colleges they attended and explain to their young students what college is and why it is so important.

Saiz-Guerrero became a teacher because she knows that education is essential to improving the lives of the next generation and assuring a strong future for the generations that will follow. That is why parents work tirelessly to make higher education possible for their children.

And, that is why Saiz-Guerrero was happy to be featured in a Spanish-language TV spot now airing in the Rio Grande Valley. The ad, sponsored by the Texas State Teachers Association, emphasizes the partnership and hard work shared by parents and teachers and the eventual rewards for their children and students.

The parents of many of Saiz-Guerrero's students didn't attend college, but they are doing what they can to help the teacher prepare their children for that goal.

"They look forward to their kids going to college," she said.

The mother of three sons, Saiz-Guerrero, 43, grew up in Brownsville. She worked in retail for several years while working as a volunteer at her children's schools. Encouraged by her husband, she decided to become a teacher and obtained a degree from the University of Texas at Brownsville. She has been teaching for six years and loves her work.


April 22, 2013

West students are back in school

Classes are underway again for West students, some in West and others in neighboring communities.

http://www.kxan.com/dpp/news/texas/4-more-1st-responders-identified-in-west?ref=scroller&categoryId=20045&status=true
http://www.wfaa.com/news/texas-news/West-students-to-be-welcomed-by-Waco-school-204019071.html

Voucher bills: call now!

This week, the state Senate could vote on Senate Bills 23 and 115, two voucher bills that would use state tax dollars to pay tuition for students who attend private schools. Please call your senator now with this message: Vote No on Vouchers! Call 800-260-5444 to receive a specific message before transferring to your senator.


April 19, 2013

TRS legislation discussed at quarterly meeting

The Teacher Retirement System Board of Trustees met April 18 - 19 for their quarterly meeting. The meeting was largely uneventful, but there were two noteworthy items.

TRS reported that the Trust Fund reached its highest point ever earlier in the week, coming in at just over $117.5 billion.

Executive Director Brian Guthrie then discussed the provisions of Senate Bill 1458 and House Bill 1884, identical bills being considered to start a slow process to bring the fund up to actuarial soundness.  If passed, those bills would:

raise the minimum age of retirement to 62, with a grandfather clause that would include those eligible for retirement under the current system within the next five years;

impose a benefit deduction for those who retire before age 62 of 5% per year;

a 1% charge to ISDs not currently paying into Social Security – a cost to local ISD's of about $220 million/year;

a reduction in the rate of interest paid on idle accounts from 5% to 2%;

a minimum age of 62 to enter TRS-Care, with the same grandfathering provision set out for retirement;

eliminate TRS ActiveCare III; and

propose a COLA of 3% to those retirees who have been retired for 20 years or more when the Fund becomes actuarially sound.

Guthrie stated that if these proposed changes go into effect, the earliest the COLA could go into effect would be sometime in the fall.

Committee votes are expected on this bills Monday. TSTA is prepared to work with the authors of those bills (Sen. Duncan & Rep. Caligari) to alter provisions of the bills that would place an undue burden on active teachers without providing any definite benefit for retirees. Please be on the lookout for updates and alerts during the final weeks of the session. You may be called upon to contact your Representative and Senator to let them know where you stand on these bills.

TSTA supports a benefit increase for retirees. The question is: what is the best way to get there? In testimony on these bills, TSTA stated that the bills should benefit more retirees, more active members should be grandfathered and additional options should be considered to achieve actuarial soundness.

For example, the state could show good faith by passing and funding HB1383, and increasing the state contribution significantly more than it will in the current state budget proposal.  The state has the money to do that, but this legislation places an undue burden on active TRS members who, upon retirement, could actually be denied some of the money they have contributed to the system.


SBOE goes on record against vouchers

The State Board of Education on April 19 adopted a resolution rejecting all attempts to divert public dollars away from public schools: "RESOLVED, That the Texas State Board of Education calls on the Texas Legislature to reject all attempts to divert public dollars away from public schools in the form of vouchers, taxpayer savings grants, tax credits, or any other mechanisms that have the effect of reducing funding to public schools."

Voting in favor:  Allen (Houston), Cortez (Brownsville), Dominguez (El Paso), Hardy (Fort Worth), Melton (Waco), Knight (Dallas), Perez (San Antonio), Ratliff (Mount Pleasant), and Rowley (Amarillo)

Voting against:  Bahorich (Houston), Bradley (Beaumont), Cargill (The Woodlands), Mercer (San Antonio), and Miller (Dallas)

TSTA applauds State Board of Education for anti-voucher stand

In a news release, the Texas State Teachers Association applauded the State Board of Education's adoption of a resolution urging the Legislature to reject "all attempts" to divert tax dollars from public to private schools.

"TSTA is happy to welcome the State Board of Education to a long list of voucher opponents," said TSTA President Rita Haecker. "TSTA also will continue its fight against diverting tax dollars from public schools to vouchers and voucher-like programs that would benefit private school operators while harming the vast majority of Texas school children."

In its resolution, adopted today, the board called on the Legislature to "reject all attempts to divert public dollars away from public schools in the form of vouchers, taxpayer savings grants, tax credits, or any other mechanisms that have the effect of reducing funding to public schools."
The full Senate may face a vote on vouchers next week.

 

Sen. Kirk Watson addresses SBOE

Sen. Kirk Watson addressed the board on two matters:
• the need to clarify the definition of an expert as SBOE looks at curricular revisions by developing a more rigorous definition than the one currently in rule; and
• the filing of legislation that would allow SBOE more time to review proposed revisions to TEKS and more time for public review as well.

How many TEKS could a teacher teach if a teacher could just teach?

That's the question being put to the SBOE Committee on Instruction.  Despite the interest this has generated, only six testifiers registered to give testimony – and they were unanimous in their assertion that there are just too many TEKS and the quantity has produced a curriculum a mile-wide and an inch deep.  Students are expected to know a little about everything but not a lot about anything, which is counter to what is happening in high-performing nations.

At issue is the sheer number of TEKS.  TEKS are not teacher objectives like the Essential Elements were but student outcomes.  (For most, this is probably a semantic exercise.)  Randy Willis, Superintendent of Granger, shared data that pretty much summed it up – high school teachers have an average 59 TEKS for students to master over the course of the school year, meaning that 2.3 days is allocated for students to master a specific standard.  This is in an ideal world.  When you factor in student absences, UIL, field trips, pep rallies, and other activities that pull students from the classroom it leaves (maybe) 1.2 days per year.  There is no way to gauge the impact student mobility has on this as well.

It was recommended that the TEKS be revised and only include the readiness standards (those used to determine whether or not a student is ready for the next grade level) since 75% of the STAAR is based on these standards.  This would afford more time instruction to provide deep learning and understanding for students.  Another suggestion was to prioritize the TEKS – what is most important for students to know, i.e., the date of the Declaration of Independence was signed or the "why" it was signed.
The one conflict among the testifiers was on the concept of "rigor." Education officials applauded TEKS for its rigor whereas parents who testified pointed out that the sheer number of TEKS actually narrowed the curriculum and minimized any rigor it may have.

Down CSCOPE?

The review process of CSCOPE appointed by SBOE Chair Cargill at the request of Sen. Patrick to take a hard look at CSCOPE has started.  Chaired by SBOE member Marty Rowley (R-Amarillo), SBOE members appointed to the committee are:  Pat Hardy (R-Fort Worth), Tom Maynard (R-Florence), and Mavis Knight (D-Dallas).  Three members on the committee represent the Education Services Centers:  John Bass (ESC 16-Amarillo), Clyde Steelman (ESC 11-Fort Worth), and Elizabeth Abernathy (ESC 7-Kilgore).  The committee will be charged with establish 14 review panels consisting of nine to 12 people (educators, parents, etc.). The Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative (TESCCC) will pay the cost of the review process.

Tincy Miller (R-Dallas) was concerned about the impropriety of this whole process.  Chief among her concerns were (1) the absence of a law authorizing the board to do this; (2) the conflict of interest relative to the whole process being paid by the very organization that is under scrutiny; and (3) the inclusion of ESC personnel, who created CSCOPE, on the Ad Hoc and Review panels.

Other SBOE members expressed concern about the "bullying" tactics Sen. Patrick used to get the TESCCC engaged, telling them that if they didn't he would pass legislation to make sure they did – even though it "volunteered" to be a part of this process.  Still others raised concerns about the effort to review a curriculum management program that impacts no more than 34% of the students in Texas (even though 831 school districts use it).  SBOE member Ratliff expressed concern of school districts that do not use CSCOPE, such as Dallas, requesting that SBOE review their curriculum management systems as well.  He believes that this process may open the door to something unwieldy.

The issue of transparency was the major contention in the consideration of a resolution about the CSCOPE review process.  Board members were concerned that inserting the word "transparency" in the resolution may convey that similar processes (review of instructional materials/textbooks, etc.) are not transparent.  Currently, only the names of members of TEKS review committees are published.  Names of those on committees that review instructional materials/textbooks are available on request.

The major stumbling block in this is that there is no legislative statute or legal guidance on how to do this so they seem to be making it up as they go along. 

Chair Cargill reminded everyone that it was her committee and she would make sure everything was done legally and with transparency – since it was her name on the report.  This did little to soothe queasiness with the process.

The Graduate in Bizarro World

SBOE approved for first-reading and filing authorization the addition of math and science courses to satisfy the fourth credit in each of those content areas for the Recommended High School Program (RHSP) and the Distinguished Achievement Program (DAP).  This is being done as the legislature is considering legislation that would change the high school graduation requirements altogether and eliminate the RHSP and DAP.

A total of seven courses are being considered and there was much discussion about the certification of the teachers teaching the courses.  This is compounded by the Highly Qualified (HQ) requirements of NCLB (yes, they're still around).  Some of the courses could be taught by CTE teachers, who do not have to be highly qualified; however, if a student uses that class to meet a graduation requirement as a part of the 4X4 for the RHSP or DAP, then the teacher DOES have to meet the HQ standard.

Hardy also raised the issue (as she has before) of the need to move away from the "Generalist" certification to more content-specific certifications, especially as the TEKS become more and more rigorous (or not, depending on your thinking).

Between a rock and hard place

School districts are faced with having to renew/non-renew teacher contracts prior to the end of the legislative session.  As it relates to high school teachers, they may find themselves with more teachers in the 4X4 content areas than they need if the legislature changes from the current graduation programs in place (MHSP, RHSP, and DAP) to the program proposed in HB 5.  If fewer math courses are required for graduation, then a high school may need fewer math teachers but may need more CTE teachers if the graduation requirements include a career readiness component as well.

Where's the problem?

SBOE engaged in a rhetorical debate re:  legislation that would shift the authorization to grant charter applications to the Commissioner.  While they applauded the expanded capacity the Commissioner would have to close low-performing charter schools, they questioned the wisdom of legislation that would not allow them, on a statewide level, to have the same authority that a local school board would have in granting a home-rule charter application.  Commissioner Williams did assure SBOE members that it was his intent to keep the SBOE fully-engaged in the process to the extent he can pursuant to any legislation that is passed. The application process of charter schools is a concern as well with many applicants using vendors who "cut-n-paste" application responses from one application to another.

Action taken:
• Approved Proposed New 19 TAC Chapter 117, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Fine Arts, Subchapter D, Elementary, Subchapter E, Middle School, and Subchapter F, High School
(Second Reading and Final Adoption)
• Approved  Proposed Amendments to 19 TAC Chapter 74, Curriculum Requirements, Subchapter F, Graduation Requirements, Beginning with School Year 2007-2008, and Subchapter G, Graduation Requirements, Beginning with School Year 2012-2013
(First Reading and Filing Authorization)
• Approved Proposed Revisions to 19 TAC Chapter 130, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Career and Technical Education, Subchapter A, Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources, Subchapter H, Health Science, and Subchapter O, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics
(First Reading and Filing Authorization)
• Approved Proposed New 19 TAC Chapter 111, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Mathematics, Subchapter C, High School, §111.46, Discrete Mathematics, Adopted 2013 (One-Half to One Credit)
(First Reading and Filing Authorization)
• Approved Proposed Revisions to 19 TAC Chapter 126, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Technology Applications, Subchapter C, High School
(First Reading and Filing Authorization)
• Approved Proclamation 2015 of the State Board of Education Advertising for Bids on Instructional Materials
• Approved Proposed Amendments to 19 TAC Chapter 115, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Health Education, Subchapter A, Elementary, §§115.2-115.7, and Subchapter B, Middle School, §115.22 and §115.23 (Second Reading and Final Adoption)
• Adopted the review of 19 TAC Chapter 101, Assessment, Subchapter A General Provisions, Subchapter B Implementation of Assessments, and Subchapter C Local Option
• Ratified the purchases and sales of the investment portfolio of the PSF for December 2012, January 2013, and February 2013
• Authorized the issuance of a RFQ to investment management services for real estate
• Authorized the issuance of an RFP for real estate consultant services for the PSF

TSTA: Ysleta teacher featured in TV spot

El Paso is the face of the emerging Texas, and Arisa Carr is helping prepare the emerging Texas for the future. As a first grade teacher at Pebble Hills Elementary School in Ysleta ISD, Carr plays a critical role in giving Hispanic children the strong foundation they will need to succeed in school and, in the not-too-distant future, receive the college education that was out of reach for many of their parents.
"I tell them that they can do it, as long as they try and work as hard as they can," she said. "They are very interested, very excited."

Carr became a teacher because she knows that education is essential to improving the lives of the next generation and assuring a strong future for the generations that will follow. That is why parents work tirelessly to make higher education possible for their children.

And, that is why Carr was happy to be featured in a Spanish-language TV spot now airing in the El Paso area. The ad, sponsored by the Texas State Teachers Association, emphasizes the partnership and hard work shared by parents and teachers and the eventual rewards for their children and students.

Many of Carr's students would be the first in their families to graduate from college, and Carr enjoys working with their parents to prepare their children to reach that goal.

"It's a joint effort. It does take work from the parents, as well as the teachers and the school," she said. Carr, 31, moved to El Paso as a child, attended school in Ysleta ISD -- where she now teaches -- and graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso. She has been teaching for six years, helping to prepare her students for "life's journeys."

TSTA: Laredo teacher featured in TV spot

Laredo is the face of the emerging Texas, and Stacy Rogerio is helping prepare the emerging Texas for the future.As a second grade teacher at Don Jose Gallego Elementary School in Laredo ISD, Rogerio feels fortunate to be teaching in the same school she attended as a second-grader.

Now, she plays a critical role in giving Hispanic children the strong foundation they will need to succeed in school, and, in the not-too-distant future, receive the college education that was out of reach for many of their parents.

Their minds are just like sponges. You can make a big difference early in their lives," she said.

Rogerio chose to become a teacher because she knows that education is essential to improving the lives of the next generation and assuring a strong future for the generations that will follow. That is why parents work tirelessly to make higher education possible for their children.

And, that is why Rogerio was happy to be featured in a Spanish-language TV spot now airing in the Laredo area. The ad, sponsored by the Texas State Teachers Association, emphasizes the partnership and hard work shared by parents and teachers and the eventual rewards for their children and students.

Rogerio, 33, a native of Laredo and a graduate of Texas A&M International University in her hometown, makes it clear to her young students that higher education also can be within their grasp.

"I am happy to give back to my community and let my students see that you can be successful, even if you come from a poor family," she said. "I let them understand they can get to college. You have to believe in yourself and pursue your dreams. There's no limit to what you can do."


April 17, 2013

SJR1 – demand Rainy Day funding to restore education cuts

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

SJR1 should also use the Rainy Day Fund to restore public educations made in 2011.

Polls show that 66% of Texas voters believe the RDF should be used to fully restore the education cuts, twice as many as support using the Fund for water and roads.

The Senate version of SB1, the state budget bill, restored $1.5 billion of the cuts, $2.5 billion short of restoring the education formula cuts and $3.9 billion short of fully restoring all education cuts. Should the Senate fail to use the RDF for education while putting $6 billion into water and roads, the Senate's priorities will be at odds with those of Texas voters.

The state has the money to provide adequate funding for our schools and the infrastructure needs addressed in SJR1. For too long, students and teachers have been asked to do more with less. Texas must do more to provide the resources needed to educate a growing student population.

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

Senate passes parent trigger bill

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

None of the options available in response to a parent trigger petition – repurposing the campus, alternative management, or closure - has been consistently successful in improving school or student performance.

The parent trigger allows parents to voice discontent with a school, but it provides no way for them to choose the kind of positive reforms that might promote the best practices for parent involvement from the ground up.

Texas has a better option available in Sec. 12.052 of the Education Code, which allows a substantial majority of parents and teachers at a campus to develop a campus charter within the school district, an option that provides genuine parental involvement in a school-community partnership.

By contrast, the parent trigger process can pit parents against teachers and undermine home-school partnerships, which are critical to student success

SB1263 also creates a potential for abuse, disruption and divisiveness to school communities when "outside" interests provide support for petitioners in an attempt to get a campus converted and turned over to a private or charter contractor. 

Bad bills could hit Senate floor soon

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

SB1298 – Virtual Voucher/Vendor Bill – would open the door for private online learning companies to pop up, potentially costing teacher jobs as private companies enroll more students on line, outside the traditional classroom. Online learning has value, but it should not become a welcome wagon for profiteering.

SB1408 – A-F Accountability Ratings - SB1408 provides the Commissioner complete discretion to set the A-F school rating criteria without any guidelines set by the Legislature. A similar A-F regime is also provided in HB5 (the testing/accountability bill), but it links the ratings to curriculum and accountability criteria. Grading schools with an A-F designation could attach a stigma to schools that could benefit private school operators seeking to take over campuses.

SB23 – Tax Credit Voucher Scholarships – this is Senator Patrick's voucher bill that we have described in detail before. We believe we have the votes to block this bill but please keep up the pressure.

SB1403 – Teacher Evaluation – this bill originally eliminated the salary schedule and could have mandated the use of test scores for a % of teacher evaluation. Those provisions were eliminated and weakened, but could be added back onto the bill by amendment.

SB1718 – (see more detailed description below) Senator West has modified his "Achievement School District" bill substantially to try to provide protections, but it still would set up a statewide school district, run by a superintendent appointed by the Commissioner, that would govern campuses deemed low-performing for two consecutive years.

SB218 – (see description below) the TEA Sunset bill is an all-encompassing bill that could be loaded up with any of the bills listed above, and more, by amendment.

Senate Education Committee approves testing/accountability bill

Yesterday, the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday approved a revised version of HB5, a bill already approved by the House to make significant changes in testing, curriculum and accountability. Committee Chairman Dan Patrick substituted the bill passed by the House with a committee substitute that includes portions of his own SB3 and SB1724. The revised HB5 would:
Reduce the number of end-of-course (EOC) exams for high school graduation from 15 to five, including English I and English II, Algebra I, biology and U.S. history. The House version of HB5 did not include an English I test but would divide English II into separate reading and writing exams.
Require high school juniors to take the ACT or SAT college entrance exam at state expense.
The committee also added amendments that would address the issues of tracking, diploma requirements, and comp ed funds used for remediation purposes.
Neither the committee substitute nor the amendments were immediately made available for analysis.

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

The Education Committee also approved:

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

SB1718 by Sen. West, which would establish a statewide Achievement School District. The ASD would be overseen by a single superintendent, appointed by the Commissioner (with no accountability to local taxpayers). Hundreds of campuses could be transferred to the ASD, which could decide to turn them over to charter management, after the next academic ratings are released. The ASD could require any school rated academically unacceptable for two consecutive years to be transferred to its jurisdiction. Despite attempts to remedy this problem, the bill fails to allow for campus-based parent-teacher charters under Sec. 12.052 as currently established, leaving that decision up to the Commissioner instead of the local school board. Sen. West introduced a committee substitute that would prohibit private educational management organizations from managing any of the schools in the ASD and would require community consultation before the Commissioner could consider transferring a school to the ASD. However, employees and students of this district could lose a number of legal protections unless additional changes are made. Finally, the bill does not specify how a school may gain an acceptable level of performance and be released from the ASD.

The Senate Education Committee also approved the following bills:

SB1309 by Sen. Davis, dealing with assessment alternatives or accommodations for public school students in special education programs.

SB1557 by Sen. Lucio, relating to business participation in supporting early college high schools.

SB376 by Sen. Lucio, relating to breakfast for certain public school students.

SB1243 by Sen. Hegar, dealing with the issuance of interest-bearing time warrants and certain notes by school districts.

Marathon House Public Education Committee meeting report

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

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

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

TSTA also opposed:

HB1926 by Rep. Ken King, which would expand the Virtual School Network to include non-profit, private or corporate providers and allow students to take an unlimited number of electronic courses with no district intervention. It was left pending.

HB3611 by Rep. Gary Elkins, which would lower the vote threshold for a district to become a home rule school district and remove certified teachers and Chapter 21 requirements from home rule provisions. It also was left pending.

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

HB462 by Rep. Dan Huberty, which would prohibit the commissioner from incorporating the results of student test scores when adopting or recommending a new appraisal process.

HB742 by Mark Strama, which would create a summer grant program for districts with high enrollments of educationally disadvantaged students. It would be limited to 10 school districts, focus on pre-K through eighth grade and provide additional compensation for teachers working during the summer.

HB1319 by Sylvester Turner, relating to cardiac assessments of participants in extracurricular athletic activities sponsored or sanctioned by the University Interscholastic League.

HB2607 by Dan Huberty, which would provide for telephone conference calls in grievance proceedings.

HB3809 by Marsha Farney, which would clarify the use of the term, "school counselor."

HCR68 by Marsha Farney, a resolution that would designate first full week of May as Texas Teacher Appreciation Week.

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

HB296 by Eddie Rodriguez, which would require a school to provide a free breakfast to each student if more than 80 percent of the school's students qualify for free or reduced-price breakfasts.

HB945 by Debbie Riddle, which would abolish the county board of education and office of county school superintendent in Harris County.

HB1122 by Eric Johnson, which would allow Dallas ISD to create a pilot program under which some students could obtain a high school diploma in three, instead of four, years.

HB1751 by Diane Patrick, which would change the Educator Excellence Awards Program to the Educator Excellence Innovation Program.

HB1899 by Craig Eiland, which would allow a school district that contracts for windstorm and hail insurance to receive an allotment equal to the required premium for the insurance, not to exceed an amount specified by commissioner rule.

HB2057 by Alma Allen, dealing with information provided to parents in disputes over individualized education programs for students with disabilities.

HB2450 by Richard Raymond, relating to school searches of students with parental consent and disciplinary measures that may arise from such searches.

HB2594 by Mark Strama, dealing with academic or fine arts competitions among high schools that take place on Sundays.

HB3776 by Jason Isaac, relating to payments made in lieu of ad valorem taxes.

HB3802 by Dwayne Bohac, dealing with parental requests for transfers from one campus to another.

HB3907 by Linda Harper-Brown, which would prohibit students who drop out of school, re-enroll and then drop out again from being counted in dropout and completion rates, regardless of how often they repeat the cycle.

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


April 12, 2013

Van Roekel, Haecker challenge delegates to save local schools

National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel and TSTA President Rita Haecker on Friday challenged leaders attending TSTA's House of Delegates meeting in Houston to lead the way for educators to save their local public schools from privatization "reformers."

Educators, Van Roekel pointed out, want public schools to "make a difference and make the lives of their students better." But, he said, public school educators are under attack from privatization advocates who want to "de-professionalize" the education profession through high-stakes standardized testing and replace effective classroom experience with untried technology.

"I am sick and tired of people on the outside telling us what he ought to do," he said.

Van Roekel cautioned that it wasn't enough for educators to simply try to play defense against such intrusions.

"I want us to take charge of our profession," he said, urging teachers to step up and take charge of the debate over what works and what doesn't in the classroom.
He said teachers should no longer tolerate an educational system that was designed to graduate only about 70 percent of the students and should demand that administrators and policymakers fix the problem – and listen to teachers tell them how to do it.
The NEA president challenged educators to "have the courage to do whatever is necessary to change that system and deliver."
"Don't you ever shy away from the word, ‘power,'" he said.

Haecker reminded delegates that TSTA's power starts "from the ground up" – in locals throughout the state. And, she added, the "compelling reason to organize is our students," 5 million of whom walk into Texas classrooms every day.

She recounted TSTA's campaign against the school budget cuts and urged delegates to continue the fight, demanding that the Legislature restore all of the $5.4 billion slashed from public schools two years ago.

Haecker warned that the opposition in Austin – the special interests that would rather privatize schools than adequately pay for them – was well-funded. But building on an effective organization – beginning at the campus level – TSTA will continue to make itself heard, she added.

To illustrate the fight – and TSTA's determination to carry it through – Haecker donned a pair of boxing gloves and urged delegates, united, to punch their way to success – for public schools and public school students.

"There's more power in we than there is in me," she said.

School Bell Award winners

This year's winners of TSTA School Bell Awards were:

OUTSTANDING CONTINUOUS COVERAGE
Terrence Stutz, The Dallas Morning News
Marlisa Goldsmith, KRBC-TV

OUTSTANDING STORY COLLECTION
Zahira Torres, El Paso Times
Hayley Kappes, El Paso Times

OUTSTANDING EDITORIAL COLLECTION
Robert Moore, El Paso Times

OUTSTANDING  POLITICAL CARTOONS
Nacho Garcia, Jr., El Paso Times

OUTSTANDING  TELEVISION SERIES
Adrienne Alvarez, KTSM-TV

OUTSTANDING SINGLE PROGRAM
Erin Cargile, KXAN-TV
Bob Phillips, Texas Country Reporter
Mike Snyder, Texas Country Reporter
Dan Stricklin, Texas Country Reporter

OUTSTANDING  FEATURE STORY
Morgan Smith, The Texas Tribune
Francisco Vara-Orta, San Antonio Express-News
Joe Gulick, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

OUTSTANDING COLUMN
O. Ricardo Pimentel, San Antonio Express-News
Patricia Kilday Hart, Houston Chronicle
Lisa Falkenberg, Houston Chronicle

Senate Finance okays Rainy Day for water, roads – not education

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

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

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

Senate approves charter expansion bill

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

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

Senate Ed approves voucher bill, moves teacher evaluation to floor

The Senate Education Committee on Thursday approved two private voucher bills and a teacher appraisal bill, all opposed by TSTA.

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

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

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

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

House approves two education bills

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

 


April 11, 2013

TSTA: Most voters want to use Rainy Day money to restore school funding

Texas State Teachers Association President Rita Haecker today called on the Senate Finance Committee to use part of the Rainy Day Fund to complete the job of restoring all the $5.4 billion cut from public school budgets two years ago.

The Finance Committee is meeting today to consider SJR1, a constitutional amendment that would dip into the $12 billion Rainy Day Fund to pay for water and transportation projects.

"Texas' water and transportation needs are important. But most Texans agree that nothing is more important than a first-class education for insuring Texas' future prosperity," Haecker said. "You cannot design, build and operate effective water systems and transportation networks without a well-educated workforce."

That is why Texas voters, according to a bipartisan poll commissioned by TSTA this session, favored spending the Rainy Day Fund to restore the education cuts by a two-to-one margin over Rainy Day spending on water and roads.

Two-thirds of voters (66 percent) said the Rainy Day Fund should be used to restore all the public school funding. This includes 39 percent who chose education funding over roads (4 percent) and water (5 percent) plus 27 percent who would spend Rainy Day money on all three needs. Only 22 percent would save the entire Rainy Day balance for future needs.

The Senate has approved a budget that would restore only about one-fourth of the education cuts, and the House has approved a plan that would restore about half. There is enough money in the Rainy Day Fund to restore the remainder of the public school money and address other important needs, such as water and transportation, Haecker said.

TSTA also supports SJR63 by Sen. Wendy Davis, a constitutional amendment that would let voters endorse spending $4 billion from the Rainy Day Fund for public schools. The poll indicates the amendment, if put on the ballot this November, would win overwhelming voter approval.


April 10, 2013

SB 2: charter expansion awaits Senate floor action

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

TSTA Strongly Opposes Voucher Proposals at Senate hearing

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

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

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

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

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

The committee also approved the following bills:

Senate Bill 709 by Sen. Lucio, which would allow lay advocates, rather than just attorneys, to represent parents in special education disputes with school districts.

Senate Bill 914 by Sen. Lucio, which would clarify that a behavior improvement plan for a student with a disability must be provided to a teacher as part of the student's individualized education program.

Senate Bill 1556 by Sen. Seliger, relating to the establishment of the School Safety Advisory Council and School Safety Certification Program.

Senate Bill 1062 by Sen. West, relating to the transportation of a student entitled to a public education grant.

Senate Bill 1775 by Sen. West, relating to student eligibility to attend public school districts and charter schools, student transfers and the Public Education Grant Program.

TSTA Opposes Achievement School District Bill and the TEA Sunset Bill in House Public Education Committee

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

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

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

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

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

HB 101 by Kolkhorst, relating to the use of radio frequency identification technology to transmit information about public school students.

HB 202 by Stickland, which would allow extra unexcused absences for students to visit with parents or guardians who will be or have been deployed on military duty.

HB 343 by Marquez, which would require the filing of financial disclosure statements by trustees of an independent school district with the Texas Ethics Commission.

HB 628 by Dale, relating to the right of a school trustee to obtain information, documents, and records from the district.

HB 773 by Farney, which would require students at open-enrollment charter schools to recite the pledges of allegiance to the United States flag and the state flag.

HB 885 by Murphy, relating to the guarantee of refinanced open-enrollment charter school bonds by the Permanent School Fund.

HB 887 by Rep. Lucio, which would limit the number of full-contact practices that may be held by a high school or middle school football team.

HB 897 by Zerwas, relating to instruction in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the use of automated external defibrillators in secondary education curriculum.

HB 1231 by Giddings, relating to the application of the offenses of disrupting public school classes or transportation to persons younger than 12.

HB 1328 by Villarreal, relating to public school accountability for bilingual education, English as a Second Language and other special language programs.

HB 1952 by Senfronia Thompson, relating to professional development training for certain public school personnel on student disciplinary procedures.

HB 2137 by Fletcher, relating to eligibility for enrollment in school district summer school courses.

HB 2318 by Aycock, relating to public school educator preparation and alternative certification programs.

HB 2836 by Ratliff, relating to state assessment instruments administered in grades 3 through 8.

TSTA opposed the following bills heard by the committee and left pending:

HB 1415 by Rep. Matt Schaefer, which would allow districts to issue district teacher permits to people teaching career and technology education classes. Such permits wouldn't require any TEA oversight.

HB 1568 by Rep. Drew Springer, which would financially penalize districts for offering benefits to same-sex partners.

TSTA supported the following bills, which were left pending:

HB 2824 by Rep. Bennett Ratliff, which would allow additional campuses to be added to the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium with TEA's consent.

HB 274 by Rep. Carol Alvarado, which would require districts granted class size waivers to report the number of students added to each affected class and the resulting total number of students in each affected class.

HB 904 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez, which would require districts to report to TEA the number of students enrolled in each class of each grade level from K through 12 on Oct. 1 of each school year.

HB 921 by Rep. Roberto Alonzo, which would provide for a seal to be affixed on diplomas for students satisfying requirements for bilingualism and biliteracy.

HB 2004 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez, which would prohibit an unsatisfactory assessment for a student of limited English proficiency during the student's first three years of enrollment in the U.S.

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

HB 44 by Rep. Dan Flynn, would impose a temporary moratorium on administering student tests through Sept. 1, 2015.

HB 599 Rep. Jose Lozano, would require the commissioner to establish an educator recruitment and retention program through which districts could receive grants for stipends to recruit and retain successful classroom teachers and principals.

HB 1374 by Rep. Harold Dutton, which would allow home-schooled students to participate in UIL activities in the districts where they live.

HB 1525 by Rep. Matt Krause, which would allow use of school premises for religious purposes if they also are used by non-curricular organizations.

HB 2076 by Rep. Dan Flynn, which would allow school districts to assess students in grades 3 through 8 by an alternative system to STAAR, if the commissioner approves.

HB 2104 by Rep. Harold Dutton, which would allow a charter to be considered an open enrollment charter high school and assessed as a Dropout Prevention and Recovery Charter High School if certain conditions are met.

HB 2182 by Rep. Dan Flynn, would change the deadline for special education services from the 60th calendar day to the 60th school day.

HB 2542 by Rep. Roland Gutierrez, would direct TEA to study the cost benefits or efficiency of consolidating districts in Bexar County.

HB 2610 by Rep. Jim Pitts, dealing with the issuance of interest-bearing time warrants and certain notes by school districts.

HB 2662 by Marsha Farney, which would require the curriculum to include at least half a credit in personal financial literacy.

HB 2666 by Rep. Van Taylor, which would repeal the mandatory school start date and set the tax-free weekend for back-to-school clothes and supplies on the third Friday in August.

HB 3573 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, would add certification for a health science technology education course.

A note of thanks

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

NEA: cuts to Social Security, healthcare in Obama budget ‘a disappointment'

President Barack Obama sent his annual budget plan to Capitol Hill today. The proposal would cut Medicare and other health programs by $400 billion, and lead to benefit cuts to Social Security by converting the current cost-of-living payments to a new inflation formula known as chained C.P.I. 

"Right now the focus should be on protecting and increasing benefits for our seniors, not pulling the rug out from under them as seniors and families are working so hard to make ends meet," said National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel. "Social Security belongs to the people who have worked hard all their lives, contributed to the program, and relied on the promise that they and their family will be able to collect benefits that accurately reflect the cost of living when they retire.

"Any budget proposal must be balanced and fair by demanding more of the wealthiest and corporations while staying true to our nation's commitment to seniors and those most in need," said Van Roekel. 

On education, President Obama's budget proposal includes a new $75 billion investment to fund pre-school for all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families. Research shows that investing in early education pays long-term dividends to families and communities.

"NEA members commend President Obama for his commitment to bring quality early childhood education to all children," Van Roekel continued. "There are far too many kids without access to a full range of crucial programs like Head Start, pre–K, and full-day kindergarten that lead to long-term student success."

The budget plan includes billions in mandatory funding for education jobs and would also retroactively replace the devastating across-the-board cuts triggered last month and the remaining years of the sequester, though some cuts to non-defense discretionary are still on the table.

NEA is pleased that the President's budget again makes education a major priority, but yet again much of this funding relies on competitive grants that states have to apply for. "This is disappointing," said Van Roekel, "because competitive grants leave too many students behind."

NEA continues to advocate for more funding investments in major programs such as, Title I and IDEA that are so important to addressing inequities nationwide.


NEA at today's Rally for Citizenship

Congress is close to unveiling its immigration reform plan. NEA members, including NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen, are in Washington today for the Rally for Citizenship. How can you participate?

watch the rally live at http://www.ustream.tv/seiu

sign the Education Votes petition to make immigration reform a reality at http://educationvotes.nea.org/2013/02/13/students-and-their-families-deserve-fair-immigration-reform-now

text DREAM to 90975 and demand that Congress pass common-sense immigration reform now


April 8, 2013

TRS bills heard in committee, left pending; TSTA raises concerns

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

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

As the bills relate to active teachers, the bills would attempt to make the Trust Fund actuarially sound, while increasing the burden on active teacher. 

The bills would raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62, while grandfathering in some, but not all, current members.

The retirement age change would essentially strip away benefits from many TSTA members who have earned them and are relying on them.

TRS members who would retire before 62 and would not be grandfathered in would have their annuity reduced by 5 percent per year.

ISDs that do not pay into Social Security to pay an additional 1 percent into the Trust Fund, which could affect a District's ability to properly fund teacher salaries.

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

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

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


April 5, 2013

Input needed: significant TRS changes considered Monday

On Monday, both the Senate State Affairs and House Pensions Committees will hold hearings on a Teacher Retirement System omnibus bill. Senator Duncan and Representative Callegari, the respective committee chairs, are expected to introduce committee substitutes proposing major changes to the TRS Trust Fund and health care plans. TSTA received a list of the proposed changes late yesterday. These changes are significant, and are being done to bring TRS closer to actuarial soundness and financial stability in the longterm. Please give us feedback on the proposed changes before the committees meet on Monday. Please read them carefully:

• Set the state's contribution rate at 6.4% for 2014 and 6.7 for 2015
• Set the active member rate at a minimum of 6.4% or a percentage equal to the state rate, not to exceed 6.9%
• Beginning in 2015, require ISDs to pay 1% of the minimum salary on any TRS participating employee for whom the ISD does not contribute to Social Security
• Change the minimum retirement age to 62, grandfathering those who as of 8/31/14 will be 50 years old and have achieved the Rule of 70 or have 25 years of service
• Authorize a 3% COLA for those who have been retired for 20 years or more
• COLA only to be paid once the fund could support the additional liability and still have a funding period below 31 years
• Cap the monthly COLA payment at not more than $100
• For TRS-Care – Rule of 80 with a minimum age of 62 to qualify for TRS-Care II or III (grandfathering those who, as of 8/31/14, have achieved the Rule of 70 or 25 years of service)
• For TRS Active-Care – eliminate the requirement that TRS offer a plan substantially equal to the plan offered by ERS

Handgun training discussed in Senate Education

The Senate Education Committee on Thursday approved several bills, including SB 17 by Chairman Dan Patrick, which would provide crisis training for school employees who are authorized to carry concealed handguns on campus. Limited funding -- $1 million statewide – would be available for training to any public school, including charters, without its own police or security officers; Patrick said he believed schools would be able to raise additional money through community contributions.

The committee will meet on Tuesday to discuss several voucher and "tax credit scholarship" bills. Please be on the lookout for Legislative Alerts to call your senator should any of those bills reach the Senate floor.


TSTA: House budget shortchanges school children

Although the House approved a better public education budget than the Senate, the House version of Senate Bill 1 still would not come close to fully repairing the damage from last session's education budget cuts.

"The House budget would restore less than half of the $5.4 billion — about $500 per year per student — cut from our public schools two years ago. That is an improvement over the Senate's budget, but it still shortchanges Texas' school children," said Texas State Teachers Association President Rita Haecker.

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

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

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

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

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


April 4, 2013

TSTA applauds House members who voted against vouchers

The Texas State Teachers Association applauds the members of the Texas House who stood up for public education by approving an amendment to Senate Bill 1, the House appropriations bill, to prohibit the diversion of tax dollars for private school vouchers. The amendment by Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, was adopted with more than 100 votes and strong support from both Democrats and Republicans.

"This amendment was particularly important since the budget doesn't fully restore the $5.4 billion cut from public schools two years ago. Legislators need to fully fund our public schools, not divert tax dollars to unproven privatization schemes," said TSTA President Rita Haecker.

Former TSTA leader dies

Yesterday, Connie DeLuna, former president of North East Teachers Association, died. She was a teacher in North East ISD for many years. "When I was a teacher in San Antonio many years ago, I remember her being very active in TSTA," staff person Susan Salinas said. "She was one of those leaders who spoke up for those who could not. As a new TSTA member attending meetings, I was impressed with her passion. Many years later, I was transferred to San Antonio as the new staff person. She was there to assist me with NETA and made the transition easier. At that time, Connie was retired and working as the office manger for NETA. She is the single person who kept NETA functioning. She assisted members with grievances, ran the office and made sure NETA was doing the right thing for members. She was respected and feared by NEISD administration and was the glue that kept NETA active.

"Those who knew Connie were keenly aware of her political bent: she was a yellow dog Democrat. She was active in every political race and had many political connections. She was active with the San Antonio Democratic Party and was at their office many a day. She worked every campaign and was respected."

Friday rosary, 7 p.m., Mission-Alamo Funeral Chapel, 624 N Alamo St, San Antonio 78215; Saturday mass, 11 a.m., St. Peter Prince of Apostle, 112 Marcia Pl, San Antonio 78209. The family has asked for donations to the San Antonio Catholic Charities in lieu of flowers.


April 3, 2013

State budget debate in Texas House tomorrow

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

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

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


Senate Education Committee Discusses School Ratings, Teacher Evaluation

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

TSTA Opposes Senator Patrick's Anti-Teacher Bill

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

SB1403 would:

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

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

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

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

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

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

SB 1298 by Sen. Hegar, which would create a massive expansion of the Virtual School Network and online education courses. The bill would offer private vendors an immeasurable amount of public education dollars that would be siphoned from public schools -- to the detriment of the traditional classroom. TSTA and the Coalition for Public Schools opposed this bill. Be prepared for Legislative Alerts should this bill reach the Senate floor.

Other legislation considered included:

SB503 by Sen. West, which would establish the Expanded Learning Opportunities Council to study and make recommendations for expanded learning opportunities for public school students.

SB1062 by Sen. West, dealing with the transportation of a student entitled to a public education grant.

SB1406 by Sen. Patrick, dealing with the State Board of Education's oversight of regional education service center services and student curriculum products.

SB1474 by Sen. Duncan, relating to the adoption of major curriculum initiatives by a school district.

SB1775 by Sen. West, dealing with student eligibility to attend public school districts and charter schools, student transfers and the Public Education Grant Program.

SB929 by Sen. Paxton, relating to equal opportunity access by home-schooled students to University Interscholastic League sponsored activities.

House Approves School Transfer Bill

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


House Public Education Committee Holds Marathon Tuesday-Wednesday Meeting

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

The bills were:

HB284 by Rep. Zedler would require a school district to maintain the transaction register for its checking accounts in a searchable electronic spreadsheet with check information on the district's website.

HB308 by Rep. Bohac would allow for the use of the greetings -- Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Holidays -- for educational purposes in public schools. It also would allow for displays of winter celebrations to include religious symbols as long as more than one religion is displayed or one religion and at least one secular scene or symbol is displayed.

HB343 by Rep. Marquez would require school trustees to file financial statements required of other state officers with the local board of trustees and the Texas Ethics Commission. Failure to file would be a Class B misdemeanor. TSTA supported this bill.

HB344 by Marquez would require an exit interview questionnaire for a superintendent leaving a district and require TEA to conduct an exit audit upon receipt of the questionnaire. TEA also would be required to assess the condition of the district once the superintendent leaves and review any complaints made against the superintendent relating to equal opportunity for persons of all ethnic groups, women or persons with disabilities.  TSTA supported this bill.

HB504 by Rep. Hernandez Luna would prohibits TEA, SBOE or any school district from requiring administration of a standardized criterion-referenced or norm-referenced assessment instrument, including an achievement test, to students in pre-kindergarten or kindergarten.   TSTA supported this bill.

HB853 by Rep. Susan King would allow for a student with limited English proficiency to be granted an exemption from or postponement of a STAAR assessment for up to three years after initial enrollment in a school in the US. A student would be granted another two-year exemption if he or she was an unschooled asylee or refugee. TEA would be required to seek a waiver from the federal government, if necessary.  TSTA supported this bill.

HB866 by Rep. Huberty would amend testing requirements for mathematics in grades three and five; reading in grades three, five and eight; writing in grades five and eight; social studies in grade eight; and science in grades five and eight. TEA would determine the minimum satisfactory adjusted score. Students not performing satisfactorily at those grade levels would have to be retested at the next grade level. The commissioner would have to seek a waiver from any conflict with federal law.  TSTA supported this bill.

HB887 by Rep. Lucio would limit high school and middle school football teams to one full contact practice per week.

HB918 by Rep. Walle would require districts to report yearly to TEA all data describing the total number of citations issued to and arrests made of students for the preceding school year, organized by campus.

HB946 by Rep. Giddings would require districts to report annually to the commissioner information about each offense not involving the use of a weapon committed on school property by students younger than 12.

HB1057 by Rep. Leach would prohibit any person or entity that performs abortions from providing human sexuality or family planning instruction or instructional materials in public schools. TSTA opposed this bill.

HB1230 by Rep. Giddings would prohibit districts from assigning a teacher in grades K through 6 who does not hold the appropriate certificate for two consecutive school years. It would apply to grades 7 through 12 for courses tested in STAAR. TSTA supported this bill.

HB1231 by Rep. Giddings would exempt students younger than 12 from being charged with the offense of disrupting public school classes or transportation.

HB1501 by Rep. Raymond would require a minute of silence at public schools every year on Sept. 11.

HB1952 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson would require principals and other administrators overseeing student discipline to attend professional development training at least once every three years.   TSTA supported this bill.

HB2040 by Rep. Giddings would prohibit districts from issuing citations against students younger than 17 for alleged criminal actions on school property. Districts instead would have to file complaints with a criminal court.

HB2318 by Chairman Aycock would require educator preparation programs to provide candidates for teacher certification with information concerning the following: (1) skills and responsibilities required of teachers; (2) expectations for student performance based on state standards; (3) the current supply of and demand for teachers in this state; (4) the importance of developing classroom management skills; and (5) the state's framework for appraisal of teachers and principals. The bill also would require periodic review of educator prep and alternative cert programs.  TSTA supported this bill.

HB2367 by Rep. Alma Allen would give bus drivers the authority to discipline students on school buses.

HB2582 by Rep. Linda Harper-Brown would allow renewal of a charter upon expiration of a term unless the commissioner decides not to renew based on listed statutory guidelines.  TSTA opposed this bill.

HB2694 by Rep. Mike Villarreal would require the commissioner to establish a state level program for students in public secondary education to receive credit by examination for any course required or offered by Texas public high schools.

HB2836 by Rep. Ratliff would require development of criterion referenced assessment instruments.   TSTA supported this bill.

HB3319 by Rep. Crownover would expand the charter cap to 10 additional new charters each year.  It also would allow for streamlining the expansion process for existing charters, allow out of state charters easier access to Texas and provide for a revocation process.  TSTA opposed this bill.

HB3808 by Rep. Farney would require the commissioner to evaluate the student population when assigning a performance rating to a dropout recovery school or a campus or open-enrollment charter school that is a residential facility. TSTA supported this bill.

HB3810 by Rep. Farney would require all disciplinary actions resulting in the removal of student from any part of the regular school program to be reported to TEA.

Call your state representatives for full school funding!

On Thursday, the Texas House will debate its version of Senate Bill 1, a budget plan that would restore less than half of the $5.4 billion cut from public schools two years ago. It is important that you call your state representatives and urge them to vote to restore the entire $5.4 billion, either in Senate Bill 1 or in a Rainy Day Fund budget bill, which will be debated later. To contact your state representative, call 1-800-260-5444, and we will connect you.

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

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


April 2, 2013

NEA in the news

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel will be on both CBS and NBC tonight, reacting to the NRA's School Shield program. These interviews were taped earlier this afternoon; check your local listings for station information.

Watch NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen LIVE today at 3 p.m. on CNN with Fredricka Whitfield. the topic is the NRA's School Shield program. Also on the program is John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime. Check your local listings for station information; you can follow @NEAMedia and join the conversation by using handles and hashtags @FWhitfield @cnn #safeschools #kidsnotguns.

Lily will also appear tonight on MSNBC's The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell to discuss the NRA's School Shield program. She will be on live with NRA School Shield Program Chief Asa Hutchinson. Join the conversation by using handles and hashtags @lawrence @msnbc #safeschools #kidsnotguns.

Forget to set your DVR for DVR last night? NEA President Dennis Van Roekel was interviewed on PBS Newshour yesterday on vouchers and the use of public funds to pay for private schools. If you missed it, here's the link: bit.ly/16sHfrh. Tweet using #vouchers #edchat and @newshour.