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March 27, 2015

Save Texas Schools Rally, April 18

The 2015 Save Texas Schools Rally will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, April 18. Join thousands of fellow Texans at the State Capitol to tell legislators they cannot continue the practice of underfunding and over-testing our schools. For those of you coming to Austin, come by the TSTA headquarters  to pick up and make signs before the rally. Events also are planned in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex on March 27 and 28. For more information, go to: http://savetxschools.org

State budget bills on House floor next Tuesday and Wednesday

Contact your legislators and be on the lookout for Action Alerts. House Bill 1, the state budget bill for the next two years, will be up for a vote on the House floor next Tuesday. The bill will include funding for enrollment growth and an additional $3 billion in education funding, with the intention that it be used to address equity issues.

We expect an amendment to be filed to prevent the use of state funds for private school vouchers and are optimistic about its chances of passage. Amendments must be filed by noon Saturday, so be on the lookout for action alerts when we review the proposed amendments.

House Bill 2, the supplemental budget bill for the current fiscal year, includes a $768 million appropriation to shore up the TRS Care health insurance program for retired teachers, which TSTA supports. 

House Public Education Committee report

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to consider bills relating to testing, instructional materials, and other education related matters. TSTA went on record in support of the following testing bills:

HB 742 by Dan Huberty, R-Houston, relating to eliminating certain state-required assessment instruments and certain end-of-course assessment instruments administered to public school students in certain grades.  The bill eliminates high stakes testing for writing in grades 4 and 7 and social studies in grade 8. Also eliminates STAAR test for United States history.

HB 743 by Dan Huberty, R-Houston, relating to the essential knowledge and skills of the required public school curriculum and to certain state-adopted or state-developed assessment instruments for public school students.  The bill requires that before an assessment instrument may be adopted or administered, the assessment instrument must be determined valid and reliable on the basis of empirical evidence by an entity that is independent of the agency and any entity that developed the assessment. Other testing guidelines established for development of assessment.

HB 1164 by Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, relating to the assessment of public school students in writing and English language arts.  Substitutes English Language Arts for writing for development of assessment instruments. Requires each school district to develop a writing assessment for use in grades four and seven and EOC for English I and II, and can include a portfolio assessment.

HB 1843 by Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, relating to providing training academies for public school teachers who provide reading instruction to students in kindergarten through grade three.  Requires the commissioner to develop and make available literacy achievement academies for teachers who provide instruction to students at the kindergarten or first, second, or third grade level. A literacy achievement academy must include training in effective and systematic instructional practices in reading, including phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

TSTA took no position on the following bills:

HB 462 by Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, relating to successful completion of dual credit courses as an alternative to compliance with end-of-course assessment requirements.  Directs commissioner to determine a method by which a student's successful completion of a dual credit course, of at least a C grade, provided through an institution of higher education or private institution, shall be used to satisfy the requirements concerning an end of course exam in an equivalent subject. Student who fails to make a C can retake the class or take the appropriate end of course exam to fulfill the requirement.

HB 506 by Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, relating to the issuance of tax-supported bonds by certain school districts and increasing the tax rate limitation on the issuance of those bonds.  Redefines tax rate limitation on issuance of tax supported improvement school district bonds.    

HB 767 by Wayne Smith, R-Houston, relating to cardiac assessments of participants in extracurricular athletic activities sponsored or sanctioned by the University Interscholastic League.   Mandates districts require students who are required under UIL to receive a physical exam to also have an electrocardiogram before participating in activities before the first year of participation and before the third year of participation.

HB 917 by Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, relating to school marshals for private schools, notifying a parent or guardian whether an employee of a public or private school is appointed school marshal, and the confidentiality of information submitted.  Requires district upon parental request to provide parent written notice indicating whether any employee of the school is currently appointed school marshal.

HB 1305 by Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, relating to a program to provide a free or reduced-price breakfast to eligible students attending a public school and the method of determining the number of educationally disadvantaged students.  Mandates districts participate in national program for free or reduced priced breakfast or fund a local program to provide same. Allows commissioner to determine rules for estimating educationally disadvantaged students as well as averaging best six months of students eligible on a campus in preceding school year.

HB 1474 by Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, relating to the placement of money in the state instructional materials fund for public schools to use to purchase instructional materials.  Changes SBOE set aside from PSF from year to biennium. And requires an amount of money equal to the total biennium distribution shall be placed in state instructional materials fund not later than 30 days after first fiscal year of the biennium begins.

HB 2349 by Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, relating to public school assessment, performance standards, and course requirements.  Adds to acknowledgments to be added to diploma an established, valid, reliable and nationally norm referenced preliminary college preparation assessment instrument used to measure a student's progress toward readiness for college and the workplace, or a nationally norm referenced assessment instrument used by colleges and universities as a part of undergraduate admission.

HB 2610 by Ken King, R-Canadian, relating to the minimum number of minutes of instruction for students to be provided by public school districts and the scheduling of the last day of school for students by public school districts.  Changes days of instruction of 180 to 75,600 minutes including intermissions and recesses for students. Allows commissioner to approve reduced instruction time and districts can add more minutes to school days for minutes of instruction lost.

HB 2810 by Ken King, R-Canadian, relating to proclamations issued by the State Board of Education for instructional materials.  Limits funding amounts for proclamations for instruction materials for any biennium to 75% of the total amount used to fund the instructional materials allotment for that biennium. 

HB 2811 by Ken King, R-Canadian, relating to proclamations issued by the State Board of Education for instructional materials.   Defines proclamation and limits to only during the second year of a biennium with a cost limit of 75% of total amount used to fund instructional materials allotment.

The House Public Education Subcommittee on Teacher Quality met Thursday to discuss bills related to career and technical and bilingual teachers.  All the bills were left pending.  

HB 218 by Marisa Marquez, D-El Paso, relating to certification requirements for teachers in bilingual education.  Provides for certification requirements for those teachers teaching bilingual education.  TSTA went on record in support of this bill.       

HB 810 by James White, R-Hillister, relating to employment of persons with professional qualifications as public school teachers.  Allows for professionals to teach introductory courses related to their profession if they are a person with professional qualifications requiring a license issued by the state.  TSTA went on record against this bill.

TSTA took no position on HB 1497 by Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, relating to the issuance of school district teaching permits to persons who teach career and technical education.

Provides for a process to allow a school board to issue a teaching permit to persons who will teach only career and technical education; and HB 2800 by Ken King, R-Canadian, relating to permissible teachers assigned to a bilingual education program and the permissible uses of the bilingual education allotment provided under the foundation school program.  Requires appropriately certified teacher for bilingual classes. A district may assign a teacher certified for English as a second language if commissioner has determined shortage of certified bilingual education teachers and one is not reasonably available.

'These are not the bills that will improve public education'

TSTA Government Relations Specialist John Grey testified this week before the Senate Education Committee against legislation that would spend tax money for private school vouchers. TSTA said it would be wrong to take money from public schools that already are under-funded to help a small number of children with private school tuition. The committee left the voucher bills pending but could take action on the legislation as early as next week. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has made it a major Senate priority. 

Here's TSTA's testimony:

Texas currently ranks 40th in the nation in per pupil spending ($9,326), nearly $2,400 behind the national average ($11,722). Texas courts have declared our school finance system to be inequitable – saying we need to invest up to $18 billion more in public education to begin meeting the state’s obligation to the school children of this state. As Senator Eltife so plainly put it, we need to take care of the state’s needs before we address the wants.

These are not the bills that will improve public education. These are not that bills the taxpayers want. The public overwhelmingly disapproves of implementing a voucher system in Texas. 

At a time when we do not adequately fund public schools, we should not be discussing using state money to fund private or religious schools. Texas cannot afford to attempt to fund two education systems when resources are already so thin at the local level.

Even if a local school were to receive partial ADA for a student who chose to use a voucher to go to a private school, the costs to the school would remain the same. The school would still have to employ the same teachers, librarians, counselors, bus drivers, administrators, resource officers, and kitchen personnel. The school would still have the same facilities and transportation costs. Schools would be getting less money per student and still be expected to perform at the same level and, in some cases, make improvements in student achievement. That is a recipe for disaster.

Private schools will have no accountability for the money they receive from the state. They are not subject to the same test-and-punish system that public schools must operate under, nor must they open up their books to the public to show where the money from the state has gone. You’re asking to use state money to fund two separate education systems, yet telling them that one – the private system – gets to make up its own rules while the other system – the public system – doesn’t. How is that fair?

Despite the claims of the lieutenant governor and some other voucher advocates, these vouchers would help very few low-income children because they would not cover full tuition and other costs for most private schools and would not provide for transportation to private campuses that are nowhere near low-income neighborhoods.

TSTA in the news

President Noel Candelaria and Public Affairs Specialist Clay Robison are quoted in several media accounts about yesterday's school voucher debate in the Senate Education Committee

Long legislative fight over school vouchers begins, Fort Worth Star-Telegram: http://www.star-telegram.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article16432625.html

School voucher bills off to contentious start, Denton Record-Chronicle (Associated Press): http://www.dentonrc.com/local-news/state-news/20150326-school-voucher-bills-off-to-contentious-start.ece

School voucher debate begins, Longview News-Journal: http://www.news-journal.com/news/2015/mar/27/school-voucher-debate-begins 

School voucher debate heats up in Senate Education Committee Thursday, TWC News: http://www.twcnews.com/tx/austin/politics/2015/03/26/school-voucher-debate-heats-up-in-senate-education-committee-thursday.html 

Fight or flight? Voucher battle begins at Capitol, KVUE Austin: http://www.kvue.com/story/news/politics/2015/03/26/fight-or-flight-voucher-battle-begins-at-capitol/70511950

Photos of TSTA's John Grey testifying before the Senate Education Committee on school voucher legislation: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157651602818705


March 26, 2015

TSTA: Fund public schools; don’t waste tax dollars on vouchers

The Texas State Teachers Association today reaffirmed its strong opposition to both voucher bills, SB4 and SB276, set for hearing before the Senate Education Committee.

“At a time when our neighborhood public schools have been shortchanged, the state of Texas cannot afford to fund a separate system of private schools that does nothing to improve low-performing schools,” said TSTA President Noel Candelaria.  “The vast majority of Texas children will continue to be educated in public schools, and their schools will suffer should the Legislature vote to siphon tax dollars to help a few kids pay tuition at private schools.” 

“Despite the grandiose, over-inflated promises of voucher advocates, vouchers would not improve education in Texas or improve educational opportunities for low-income children,” he added. “Even with vouchers, most low-income families still would be unable to afford the cost of sending their children to most private schools.”

Candelaria also cited a Jan. 9 Austin American-Statesman editorial debunking as “hogwash” a report by economist-for-hire Arthur Laffer claiming that vouchers would improve student performance, raise graduation rates and add billions of dollars to the state economy. http://www.statesman.com/news/news/opinion/vouchers-dont-equate-to-better-education-hurt-scho/njjbX/

WATCH SENATE EDUCATION COMMITTEE MEETING LIVE: http://www.senate.state.tx.us/bin/live.php
TWEET #TxLege

Do vouchers benefit low-income families?

March 2015 draft report from UT’s Texas Center for Education Policy concludes vouchers do not benefit low-income families: https://www.edb.utexas.edu/tcep/resources/TCEP%20Graduate%20Seminar%20DRAFT%20Vouchers%20Memo.pdf


Nominations open for 2016 Texas Teacher of the Year

All Texas public schools are invited to submit nominations to their respective Regional Education Service Center by 5 p.m., June 10, 2015. In fall 2015, 40 regional teachers of the year will be selected — one elementary and one secondary teacher from each of the 20 Education Service Center regions in Texas. A judging panel made up of representatives of teacher associations will then select four finalists from among the 40 regional winners. 

Another panel, composed of representatives from school administrator, school board and community organizations, will interview the finalists and select two winners: the Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year the Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year. The judges will also designate one of the statewide winners to serve as Texas’ representative in the National Teacher of the Year program. http://www.tasanet.org/Page/69


March 25, 2015

Texas House to address school finance

In a momentous turnabout, the Texas House’s lead public education policymaker said Wednesday the lower chamber will attempt to fix the way the state funds its public schools this legislative session rather than wait for a state Supreme Court ruling, the Austin American Statesman reports. http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/texas-house-to-address-school-finance/nkfbs/?ecmp=statesman_social_twitter_2014_sfp#caf01007.257263.735682


March 24, 2015

TSTA in the news

TSTA representatives were quoted in Houston, Lubbock, and Austin today.


March 23, 2015

“Invest, Not Test” Campaign

This week, TSTA launches its “Invest, Not Test” campaign with a petition and a call for action, both locally and online, to address the major issues that will be coming up for votes in the coming weeks. The message is very simple.

  • It’s time to cut back standardized testing and give teachers and students the time and the freedom to teach and learn.
  • It’s time to defeat “reforms” that use test scores as a reason to turn struggling campuses over to corporate charter chains, saddle educators with test-based teacher evaluations and compensation, and promote private school vouchers.
  • It’s time to use tests to diagnose students’ needs and invest the resources needed to provide our children with the healthy learning environment needed for success.

Making Texas schools number one requires a genuine state investment in our children’s classrooms and the educators who work in them every day. The state has billions of dollars available, and Texans believe it should be invested in education, not just tax cuts and highways.

Reminder: You can use these talking points to contact your legislator about any of these issues by going to our Legislative Action web page and clicking on the “Who is my legislator” tab at: http://tsta.org/issues-and-action/take-action-state-level. Demand a real investment in education!

State Budget Report

The House Appropriations Committee may vote on its proposed budget bill as soon as this week, and the proposed budget could come to the House floor the week of March 30. Regarding education funding, the proposed House budget provides:

  • In the FY 2016-17 budget (HB1) - funding for a projected enrollment growth of 83,000 and an additional $2.2 billion of formula funding designated for equity and reducing the impact of recapture. A number of riders could provide funds for pre-K and other educational priorities should such legislation be approved.
  • The House budget is expected to include at least $4 billion for property and business tax cuts and ample funding for highways.
  • In the supplemental appropriations bill (HB2) for FY 2015 - $768 million to close the gap in TRS Care for retired teachers.

The Senate Finance Committee is meeting in work groups and has not finalized its budget, but it did approve property and business tax cuts of approximately $4.6 billion, before state needs like education were even considered.

Another Senate proposal could dedicate billions for highways and take those funds off the table for education and other needs.

TSTA opposes test-based teacher compensation, “parent trigger," A-F grading system gets committee approval 

Two more test-based “reform” bills TSTA opposes were heard in the Senate Education Committee on Thursday: test-based teacher compensation and “parent trigger." Earlier in the week, legislation to “grade” individual campuses with an A-F grading system (for details, see previous legislative update) was approved and sent to the Senate for a vote in the near future. 

SB14 – Larry Taylor – “Parent Trigger”

  • The bill states that a petition that seeks alternative management of a campus may specify the process to be used in selecting the organization or team to assume management of the campus. The commissioner would be required to use the specified process. TSTA opposed this bill.
  • SB14 does not provide for ongoing parental involvement – once the petition is signed, the parents have no say in how the school is run.
  • SB14 encourages for-profit education management organizations to target certain schools and lobby parents to let their companies take over schools so that they may profit from state dollars.
  • SB14 would allow for-profit education management organizations to hire people to gather signatures on a petition that specifies which EMO may run the campus – and develop PR materials to support the effort.
  • SB14 lacks accountability provisions – it does not even allow the commissioner to determine whether an EMO has a track record of success – or whether their history is a pattern of failure in improving school performance. Only an entity with a proven record of success should be allowed to take over management of a campus under these circumstances.

SB893 – Seliger – Teacher Employment and Compensation tied to Test Scores

  • SB893 ties teacher compensation and employment directly to student performance, including standardized tests. 
  • It would eliminate the minimum salary schedule for teachers and would require each school district to pay a minimum monthly salary to each classroom teacher that is not less than $2,754 per month. A district could pay a higher monthly salary based on criteria that are consistent with the teacher development framework adopted by the commissioner under Section 21.009. 
  • Regarding retirement, an employing school district would be required to pay the state's contribution only on the portion of a classroom teacher's salary that exceeds the former minimum salary schedule.

TSTA opposes this bill; here are just a few of the reasons:

  • Teacher compensation and employment would be directly tied to the STAAR standardized test results, which would raise the stakes on a testing process in disarray to the detriment of students and their angry parents.
  • Hard-to-staff schools would become virtually impossible to staff, denying kids who need great teachers the opportunity to learn from them.
  • The elimination of the minimum salary schedule means that some teachers whose students do poorly on tests – due to factors beyond a teacher’s control – may never get a raise, while teachers who teach subjects that do not have a STAAR test will be evaluated differently, including tests taken by students they don’t even teach.
  • The bill would decrease ISD contribution to TRS for active teachers, which could have the effect of making the pension fund actuarially unsound.
  • A recent statewide poll indicates that Texas voters oppose tying teacher compensation to test scores by a 75%-21% margin, including a 72-22 margin among Republican primary voters. And only 3% blame teacher performance for low-performing schools.

House Public Education Committee Report

The House Public Education Committee met last week to consider bills related to special education, flexible school day program, and training requirements and prohibitions on vendor contracts for school board members.  TSTA went on record in support of the following bills:

  • HB657 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, relating to the training requirements for a member of the board of trustees of a public school district.
  • HB1430 by Rep. Susan King, R-Abilene, relating to the inclusion of mental health in the public services endorsement on a public school diploma and in information about health science career pathways.
  • HB1486 by Rep. Rick Galindo III, R-San Antonio, relating to a prohibition on vendor contact with a member of the board of trustees of an independent school district during the procurement process.

The committee also heard the following bills on which TSTA took no position:

HB228 by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, relating to the optional flexible school day program provided by school districts.

HB279 by Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrolton, relating to eligibility for a public education grant of certain students receiving special education services.

HB338 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D- El Paso, relating to the evaluation of an internal auditor employed by a school district.

HB724 by Rep. Rick Galindo III, R- San Antonio, relating to operation of public schools on certain election days.

HB771 by Rep. Joe Deshotel, D- Beaumont, relating to funding for the Texas Academy of Leadership in the Humanities.

The committee left all the bills pending and will meet again tomorrow.     

Community Schools Update: The effort to establish community schools as an alternative to school closure and reconstitution (as a charter) picked up steam as Senate Bills 1483 AND 1484 were filed in the Senate by Sen. Sylvia Garcia. During the Parent Trigger hearing, TSTA pointed to the community schools model as a better approach to generate genuine parental involvement, and a number of senators and witnesses were also supportive. Hearings on these bills have not yet been scheduled.

Voucher/Privatization Update: A number of voucher bills, “tax credit scholarship” bills, and charter bills were filed at the bill filing deadline. We will provide a complete list later, but the primary voucher bill filed was SB4 by Senate Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor, with the support of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Voucher bills will be heard in the Senate Education Committee Thursday.

A-F is a political gimmick, not a solution

“The A-F grading system for public schools is yet another proposal touted by self-styled education ‘reformers’ who would rather tackle problems with gimmicks than real, workable solutions,” TSTA President Noel Candelaria says in a point-counterpoint with Texas Association of Business’ Bill Hammond in today’s Austin American Statesman. http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/opinion/candelaria-a-f-is-a-political-gimmick-not-a-soluti/nkZ2n/?icmp=statesman_internallink_invitationbox_apr2013_statesmanstubtomystatesmanpremium#97214d28.3585133.735680

Online learning accountability in Texas

“Technology plays an important role in the classroom and in distance learning, but legislation being considered in Austin that would expand online learning has nothing to do with technology or improving education,” TSTA President Noel Candelaria said in an op-ed in the McAllen Monitor this weekend. “In fact, this legislation would authorize ‘virtual vouchers,’ which would siphon tax dollars from our neighborhood schools and hand them over to private online vendors that are more interested in profit than results or accountability.” http://www.themonitor.com/opinion/commentary-online-learning-accountability-in-texas/article_6875c298-cf4d-11e4-afe9-c72138cc208e.html

Several TSTA Standing Committees are presenting workshops at the HOD!

The following committees will present workshops on Friday, April 10. As in past years, all workshops will take place 9:15 to 10:15 am or 10:30 to 11:30 am. In addition to what is listed below, there will also be a Public Affairs Workshop. If you have any questions about the workshop schedule or need assistance in extending hotel reservations, please contact anezkac@tsta.org.

Member Advocacy Committee: Roadmap to Advocacy! A member to member advocate identifies an issue at the initial stage and work to build relationships to assist finding a resolution.  Become a first responder and join the first line of defense in protecting our education profession by learning how to build relationships and empower members on your campus with this guide of resources. 

School Board Policy Committee: Using School Districts’ Planning and Decision-Making Committees To Grow The Influence Of Your Local Association. The goal of this session is to raise awareness of the decision-making structures in place within your school district and why TSTA leaders/activists should seek to serve on these committees. 

Communications Committee: Maximizing Social Media for Effective Communication. Come and learn how social media can be used by your local to communicate and grow. Bring your Laptops, Tablets, or Cell Phones and join us for an amazing and interactive session. 

ESP Committee: GPS Grant Writing. Learn about NEA Great Public Schools Grants and how to prepare for the application. 


March 20, 2105

“Invest, Not Test” Campaign

Next week, TSTA will launch an “Invest, Not Test” campaign with a petition and a call for action, both locally and online, to address the major issues that will be coming up for votes in the coming weeks. The message is very simple. read more


March 13, 2015

Spring break specials

From movie tickets to patio furniture and hotels, NEA Member Benefits offers deals you can't afford to miss. See http://www.neamb.com/shopping-discounts/spring-click-and-save-deals.htm.

Senators clash over use of A through F grades to rate Texas schools

From the Dallas Morning News: Senate Republicans and Democrats clashed Thursday over legislation that would require, for the first time, annual letter grades of A through F for all school campuses, based on test scores and other performance measures.

Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, author of the legislation, said in a committee hearing that his goal is to give parents a “fair, accurate and reliable” assessment of their neighborhood schools.

“Everybody who went to school understands letter grades,” he said, insisting his plan “will drive innovation” in schools across Texas.

But Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and other Democrats on the committee asserted that the change would “stigmatize” low-performing schools, including many in inner-city neighborhoods that they said are inadequately funded by the state. (Read the rest of the article here.)

TSTA opposes the bill, which TSTA President Noel Candelaria said “seeks to place the blame for struggling schools on hard-working educators and students.” The A-F grading scheme has created confusion where it has been implemented and has only served as part of a three-step strategy to privatize neighborhood public schools by cutting funds, blaming others for that failure, and handing schools over to outsiders who run schools for profit, Candelaria said.

ALSO IN THE NEWS: 

Texas House panel debates full-day vs. half-day funding for pre-K 

Idea: 4-year community college early childhood degree 


March 12, 2015

TSTA opposes virtual school vouchers, privatization

Today, the Texas State Teachers Association announced its opposition to SB894, the so-called virtual school expansion bill, because it would give our tax dollars in the form of vouchers to private online schools with little or no accountability. 

 “Instead of investing resources in our shortchanged neighborhood schools, this voucher bill would fleece taxpayers by handing out blank checks to for-profit private online school vendors that have a poor record when it comes to educational quality,” said TSTA President Noel Candelaria. “The Governor and other state leaders often say they don’t want Texas to become another California, but this bill would create a virtual education network similar to California’s, where online schools managed by the for-profit K-12 have had more dropouts than graduates.”

“Technology plays an important role in the classroom and in distance learning, but Texas doesn’t need a California style system where the online graduation rate is a fraction of the state’s overall graduation rate, and private online operators rake in millions of dollars every year from the taxpayers,” he added.

TSTA also opposes SB6, the A-F grading scheme for public schools, because it seeks to place the blame for struggling schools on hard-working educators and students. Candelaria said the A-F grading scheme has created confusion where it has been implemented and has only served as part of a three-step strategy to privatize neighborhood public schools by cutting funds, blaming others for that failure and handing schools over to outsiders who run schools for profit.

 “The A-F campus grading scheme is a cloaking device for real transparency and offers nothing that would improve teaching and learning in the classroom,” Candelaria said.

You can contact your legislator about any of these issues by going to our Legislative Action web page and clicking on the “Who is my legislator” tab at: http://tsta.org/issues-and-action/take-action-state-level

House Public Education Committee focuses on pre-K expansion

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to hear and discuss bills related to prekindergarten expansion, including:

  • HB4 by Dan Huberty, R-Houston. HB4 is considered the Governor’s prekindergarten bill.  Abbott made pre-K a priority for this session, but TSTA has concerns that the governor’s proposal doesn’t go far enough in providing quality, full day pre-K education for every eligible Texas child. TSTA’s additional concerns include HB4 funding levels that would not even restore the 2011 pre-K budget cuts and its assessment provisions. 
  • HB1100 by Eric Johnson, D-Dallas and Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown. HB1100 would establish a gold standard full-day, pre-K program provided by public school districts.  HB1100 includes concepts put forth by the governor's proposal, Raise Your Hand Texas, Children at Risk, local districts and business groups. Funding would be provided as incentive payments to districts for offering high-quality, full-day pre-K.  TSTA believes HB1100 offers a robust start toward a full-day, high quality, sustainable pre-K program that Texas students need, with more than double the funding in HB4. 

TSTA also supported the following pre-K bills:

  • HB173 by Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, which would require PIEMS reporting from TEA for pre-K class sizes and assessment instruments and results.
  • HB296 by Gene Wu, D-Houston, which would set 22-1 class size limits for pre-K with at least one education aide per 11 students. Teachers must be appropriately certified, hold a bachelor's degree and use curriculum approved for pre-K by the commissioner.
  • HB424 by Harold Dutton, D-Houston, which would mandate full-day, pre-K classes.
  • HB1188 by Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, which would create a joint interim committee to study early childhood education and make recommendations on the implementation and oversight of quality of pre-K programs.

TSTA opposes “virtual voucher” and A-F campus grading bills before Senate Education Committee

Senate Bill 894, by Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor would expand the Virtual School Network (VSN) and provide virtual vouchers to for-profit online learning companies that would get tax dollars yet have no accountability to the state, their students, or their employees.

TSTA made the following points in testimony before the committee:

Under this bill, the commissioner would determine the standards by which a private entity could become a Virtual School Network vendor. The commissioner would also determine what constitutes poor performance by a private vendor, which could remove the vendor from the network.

  • Due to budget cuts, TEA can’t keep up now with closing down poor-performing charters, much less poor-performing online vendors. 
  • Most of these private entities are publicly traded, meaning they are accountable only to their shareholders. Their main focus is on profitability – not educating students - and this bill would help them make more profits by removing the current $400 limit on charges for online courses and funneling public funds to private entities – the formula for virtual vouchers.
  • The bill would expand full time online learning to kindergarten students.

A study released last month by “In The Public Interest,” which monitors public contracts with private entities, showed that virtual public education in California, operated by private vendor K12, has been largely an expensive failure.

  • California Virtual Academies, the largest virtual public education provider in the state with 14,500 students, has a graduation rate of 36 percent over the past four years, compared to 78 percent for California as a whole.
  • Academic performance for the program has declined every year but one since 2005.
  • Only 51 percent of the money paid to K12 has gone to educational expenses (teacher salaries, special ed services, admin expenses, etc).

Many companies like K12 will be waiting in line to join an expanded (even to kindergarten) and poorly regulated Virtual School Network in Texas, but...

  • Many vendors, like K12, use Common Core in their curriculum.
  • There has been no public outcry from parents of kids in Kinder to 2nd Grade, saying that a full-time online education is the perfect solution for their five to eight-year-olds.
  • The VSN was created to give kids access to courses they couldn’t otherwise take at their public school – mostly in rural areas where they don’t have classes like Spanish 4 or advanced math. This bill would create a system that virtually no one is asking for – except the private vendors. This bill does nothing to improve public education.

Senate Bill 6 – Larry Taylor – would add campuses to the A-F Rating System. TSTA opposes SB6, the A-F grading scheme for public school campuses, because it seeks to place the blame for struggling schools on hard-working educators and students. The A-F campus grading scheme is a cloaking device for real transparency, and offers nothing that would improve teaching and learning in the classroom.

  • The A-F grading scheme proposed in SB6 has created confusion in states where it has been implemented and has served only to advance a strategy to privatize neighborhood public schools.
  • Currently, Texas ranks campuses as exemplary, recognized, acceptable, and unacceptable.  Changing those labels to A, B, C, and throwing in D & F together does not provide parents more information. But its use could undermine morale and efforts to improve teaching and learning on campuses where educators and students are working to help meet challenges posed by their student population.
  • In this bill, the Commissioner would develop a methodology that would inevitably be based, at least in part, on a flawed system of standardized testing.  That determination has created problems in Florida, where school superintendents are calling for suspension of the A-F system.
  • Most people know what exemplary means, but most people do not understand what determines an exemplary rating. Wouldn’t the accountability system be more transparent if we could give a simple explanation of what went into the performance rating?  An “A” is hardly more transparent than “exemplary,” and creating confusion by changing labels does nothing to improve public education.

Coming up

Friday, March 13 is the deadline for filing bills without suspending the rules. 

House Appropriations Committee budget writers will be finalizing their budget bill, which could be on the House floor before Easter.

We expect legislation to be considered by the full House and Senate starting next Tuesday – so be on the lookout for Action Alerts!

Today at SXSWedu: NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia leads one of the featured sessions at SXSWedu, the education portion of SXSW in Austin. Her topic is “A Tale of Two Schools: Time to Close the Opportunity Gap.” Here’s the description: "More than 60 years since the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling, we still find separate and unequal schools. Education is a civil right, and we must ensure all students receive the education they deserve. Each and every child, regardless of where they live, who their parents are or how much money they have, deserves a quality education. Join Lily Eskelsen Garcia, a 5th grade teacher from Utah and president of the National Education Association, as she explains the fundamental failure to meet this moral responsibility." http://sxswedu.com/featured-sessions

Garcia also met with the Austin American Statesman today; see "For National Education Association leader, the answer is more funding, not testing" at http://highered.blog.statesman.com/2015/03/12/for-national-education-association-leader-the-answer-is-more-funding-not-testing/#__federated=1

TSTA-Retired to raffle queen-size quilt

Tickets are $2 each and anyone can buy them: members, non-members, family, and friends. If you are interested in supporting TSTA-Retired's primary fundraiser, email ashleyw@tsta.org the number of tickets you would like (no limit). The drawing will be held at the annual TSTA House of Delegates on April 11, and you do not have to be present to win. Pictures of the quilt are on TSTA's Flickr site: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157644913534600. Share this information with other members, leaders, family…anyone who might be interested in winning this quilt and supporting a great cause!


March 11, 2015

Speak out: new ESEA must do more

The Senate is working on a reauthorization bill for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the cornerstone education law in America.

NEA believes the new ESEA must focus on opportunity for all, ensure more time for students to learn, and empower educators to lead. If you agree, you can email or call your senator by simply entering your ZIP code: http://educationvotes.nea.org/get-esea-right.


March 10, 2015

March is Women's History Month

The 2015 theme for Women’s History Month is "Weaving the Stories of Women's Lives." Examine the changing cultural perceptions of women in society and honor their contributions to all aspects of life with the following lessons and activities. http://www.nea.org/tools/lessons/womens-history-month.html

H-E-B awards $1000 to members

Two Central Texas TSTA members were surprised by $1000 checks from the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards on Monday. Eric Rodriguez of Hays CISD and Katherine Robertson of Austin ISD are in the running for statewide prizes ranging from $5,000 to $25,000; 40 winners will be announced in May. http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/local/four-central-texas-educators-named-finalists-for-h/nkRpB/#08188683.3580207.735667


March 9, 2015

Rodriguez files community schools bill

“Pretty much everyone who has been paying attention agrees community schools are a great idea, one that brings people together – a rarity in the searing and caustic environment of education politics,” the Austin Chronicle said on March 6. The community school concept is at the core of TSTA’s 2015 legislative agenda.

Rep. Eddie Rodriguez's HB1891 would define “community schools” in Texas law. http://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2015-03-06/bill-of-the-week 

Dallas area members lobby 

Today, NEA-Dallas and others from the Metroplex are in Austin to lobby.  They were briefed by TSTA President Noel Candelaria and Public Affairs Director Ed Martin before heading to the Capitol. See photos at https://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157650849165010.

Social media researchers need help

Researchers at Penn State University are interested in how teachers at all grade levels, school counselors, and school psychologists use social media in their jobs. After completing a short, anonymous survey, you will be entered in a drawing for a $25 Target gift card. https://redcap.ctsi.psu.edu/redcap/surveys/?s=tE5c4qqCwkk


March 6, 2015

Senate leaders announce potentially harmful education agenda

This week, Texas Senate leaders announced an education agenda that includes bills about private school vouchers (tax credit scholarships), a statewide opportunity school district, online kindergarten, the parent trigger, and other “reforms” that would provide state money to private schools or private campus management, with little or no accountability.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Senate Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor announced their misplaced priorities with the usual references to “school choice” and “failing schools,” claiming that 148,000 students are “trapped” in such schools. Patrick also indicated another voucher bill will be filed soon.

Unfortunately, their proposed remedies are old, failed ideas that benefit only people who run schools for profit. To make matters worse, the Taylor-Patrick agenda would rely on a failed standardized testing system to measure student performance and teacher effectiveness (for teacher compensation). 

TSTA President Noel Candelaria issued the following response:

“None of the proposals offered by Sen. Taylor and the Lieutenant Governor would give teachers and students the time and resources they need to improve teaching and learning. The Taylor-Patrick agenda fails to meet the needs of 5 million public school students whose schools have been inadequately funded by the very legislators who are eager to declare schools a failure based on standardized test scores. Educators want legislators to demonstrate a genuine commitment to strengthening neighborhood public schools instead of handing them over to outsiders who have no direct stake in our students’ success.”

The Patrick-Taylor agenda includes the following bills. We will let you know when these bills are set for a committee hearing. SB6 and SB894 have been set for hearing Thursday, March 12.

SB6 (Larry Taylor) – Would “grade” campuses with an A-F rating system based on student performance on standardized test scores.

SB14 (Larry Taylor) and HB1727 (Dutton) - This so-called “parent trigger” bill would allow parents of students enrolled at a campus with an unacceptable performance rating for two consecutive school years to submit a petition to the TEA commissioner requesting that the commissioner order one of the following actions: (1) reconstitution of the campus; (2) repurposing of the campus; (3) alternative management of the campus; or (4) closure of the campus. None of these solutions would have to involve parents after the petition is filed.

SB893 (Seliger) – Would tie teacher employment and compensation to student performance measures that include standardized tests and delete the minimum salary schedule for teachers. Would establish a minimum monthly salary for each classroom teacher that is not less than $2,754. A district may pay a higher monthly salary based on criteria that are consistent with the teacher development framework adopted by the commissioner.

SB894 (Larry Taylor) – This virtual schools expansion would allow full-time enrollment in online schools and pay online schools as much as public schools are paid per pupil, even though they have very little overhead. And for some students there would be no minimum age requirement. The bill would eliminate any ceiling for what may be charged for online courses and lower the bar for online providers.

SB895 (Larry Taylor), HB1536 (Dutton), and SB669 (West) - The Opportunity School District (OSD) would create a statewide district that would manage low-performing campuses and be run by a superintendent based in Austin who is appointed by the Commissioner. The OSD would not be subject to Chapter 21 employment contract provisions and could turn any campus into a district charter, without limit. There would be no limit on how many campuses could be in the OSD at any one time. The West bill is somewhat better, and he has indicated a desire to include other options for low-performing campuses.

Voucher Bills

SB276 (Campbell) -  “Taxpayer Savings Grant” bill would give state money for only 60 percent of private school tuition, which would not help needy families. Also would exempt private schools from accountability for tax dollars they receive.

SB623 (Hancock) - Vouchers for private pre-K programs.

SB642 (Bettencourt), HB 895 (R. Miller), and HB1043 (Bohac) - Franchise or insurance premium tax credit for donating to a non-profit that gives out private school vouchers.

Senate Finance Committee considers $4.6 billion in tax cuts

This week, the Senate Finance committee considered several bills that would cut taxes by approximately $4.6 billion -- at the expense of public education and other vital state needs. Senator Nelson proposed to cut the franchise tax (Senate Bills 7 and 8), which would add up to a loss of more than $2.2 billion over the next biennium to the property tax relief fund from what is used to fund public schools. Senator Watson's SB278 proposes to increase the homestead exemption at a cost of over $628 million. Several other bills would negatively impact the Foundation School Program, the Available School Fund, and General Revenue.

Several senators, including Republican Kevin Eltife and Democrats John Whitmire, Kirk Watson, and Royce West, asked the committee to determine how much of the $9 billion available under the state spending cap was needed for education, roads, and other needs before voting on a tax cut bill that could make needed funds unavailable. If these tax cuts are approved by the Legislature, we could see long-term, purposeful, and systemic underfunding of public education.

Senate Finance Chair pledges funds for TRS Care

At the same meeting where tax cuts were considered, Senate Finance Chair Nelson indicated that the Senate planned to provide the necessary funds to keep TRS Care solvent, although that funding has not yet been added to the Senate budget bill.

House Public Education Subcommittee considers teacher quality, evaluation

The newly created Subcommittee on Teacher Quality met Tuesday after the full committee voted out seven bills heard by the committee the prior week.  

TSTA was invited to testify on an educator panel to provide feedback on the new pilot program, Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (TTESS).  We focused our testimony on what we believe an evaluation system should look like, pointing out that value added modeling as a percentage of a teacher’s evaluation is unreliable and not transparent. 

TSTA also passed along specific concerns from Port Arthur Teachers Association based on Port Arthur ISD’s participation in the TTESS pilot program, including:

  • a perception that principals were not receiving enough training on the new system;
  • an inability for teachers to provide systematic feedback about the pilot through surveys or focus groups; and
  • concerns that not enough resources and time would be available for the new system to effectively help teachers improve their teaching craft. 

March 4, 2015

Reaction to Senate agenda for schools

”Texas Republican leaders in the state senate unveiled their ambitious plan to enact the ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) agenda for privatization of public education," Diane Ravitch said in a blog yesterday. The plan includes:

  • letter grades for individual schools based on performance
  • allowing parents to petition for new management for failing schools after two years rather than five
  • no limits on full-time virtual schools and online courses
  • linking teacher pay to performance.

TSTA's response to the proposals (see March 3 entry) was picked up by the AP; printed in several newspapers, including the Dallas Morning News and Texas Tribune; and broadcast on radio stations.

Follow the Read Across America tour today on Storify

Today, the Cat-a-Van tour, carrying TSTA President Noel Candelaria, Vice President Ovidia Molina, and NEA Executive Committee members Kevin Gilbert and Maury Koffman,  visits Deer Park and Beaumont.

State policies largely unclear on testing opt-out policies, consequences
As states begin using new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards, most recently in New Jersey and New Mexico, one question has become increasingly urgent: What do states' laws and policies say about parents opting their students out of these exams?  According to Texas law (Tex. Educ. Code Ann. § 26.010), parents are not entitled to remove a child from class or other school activity to avoid a test. 

March 3, 2015

TSTA:  Senate education plan misses the mark

“None of the proposals offered by Senator Taylor and the Lieutenant Governor would give teachers and students the time and resources they need to improve teaching and learning," TSTA President Noel Candelaria said of the package of education bills proposed today by Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. 

“The Taylor-Patrick agenda fails to meet the needs of 5 million public school students whose schools have been inadequately funded by the very legislators who are eager to declare schools a failure based on standardized test scores," he said. “Educators want legislators to demonstrate a genuine commitment to strengthening neighborhood public schools instead of handing them over to outsiders who have no direct stake in our students’ success.”

Follow the Cat-a-Van Tour on Storify!

Today, NEA Executive Committee members Kevin Gilbert and Maury Koffman are with TSTA leaders in Garland and Dallas to celebrate Read Across America. Follow the fun!

on Twitter: https://twitter.com/noelcandelaria

on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157651055492912

on Animoto: http://video214.com/play/5d6ncLC6aDdXo3l2QgmKGw/s/dark

SBOE announces new student recognition award

The State Board of Education is now accepting nominations for the inaugural Student Heroes Award, a new student recognition program approved by the Board in February. The award recognizes Texas public school students in prekindergarten through high school who do outstanding things to benefit their fellow students. The deadline for 2015 nominations is April 16. Nomination forms and program guidelines are available at http://tea.texas.gov/About_TEA/News_and_Multimedia/Awards/Student_Heroes.


March 2, 2015

NEA’s Read Across America Tour to hit Dallas area

As part of NEA’s Read Across America celebration, two Dallas area schools will be visited by the Cat-a-Van Reading Tour tomorrow. Hundreds of students will don the signature Dr. Seuss gear when they’re visited by the Cat in the Hat, Thing 1, and Thing 2. Along the reading route from Who-ville to Dallas, NEA is handing out books, goodies, and other give-aways totaling more than $100,000 to children in need.

The tour will stop at Freeman Elementary School in Garland and Blair Elementary School in Dallas, where NEA Executive Committee members Kevin Gilbert and Maury Koffman will join TSTA President Noel Candelaria in reading to children. 

NEA’s Read Across America—the nation’s largest reading celebration with 45 million participating annually—has been revving up young readers for 18 years. The award-winning program was founded by NEA and Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. This year, NEA’s Read Across America Day coincides with the 111th birthday of Dr. Seuss, the famous children’s book author.  


February 27, 2015

Sign up for the ESP Conference

Don't forget the annual statewide TSTA Education Support Professional Conference follows the TSTA House of Delegates on Sunday, April 12. Both events will be held at the Embassy Suites in Frisco. The theme this year is "United for Our Children's Future: Starting Today for Tomorrow!"

Call 800-EMBASSY and identify yourself as a participant in the TSTA annual convention to get the TSTA group rate of $156 plus tax. Conference pre-registration is $20 for members, $25 for nonmembers, plus an additional $5 for on-site registration. Contact Rosie Castillo at rosiec@tsta.org or 877-ASK-TSTA for more information or to pre-register. 


February 26, 2015

House leaders pledge support for TRS Care

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

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

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

Active employee health insurance

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

Misplaced state budget priorities

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

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

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

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

Addressing all the issues children bring to school

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

Lawmaker pledges to fund health care for retired teachers

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

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

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

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

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


February 25, 2015

TSTA endorses community schools

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

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

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

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

Free online pre-k learning platform available

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

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

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


February 24, 2015

National School Breakfast Week: March 2-6

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

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

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


February 20, 2015

TSTA testifies before House Appropriations Committee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rep. Hernandez files bill to expand retiree benefits

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

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

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

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

House set to pass NCLB rewrite next Friday

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

February 19, 2015

Bill: students could graduate without passing all tests 

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

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

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

Bill would double state contribution for active employee health insurance 

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


February 18, 2015

House Public Education Committee Holds First Meeting

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

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

Subcommittee on Teacher Quality Appointed

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

Rep. Dan Huberty, Chair, R-Houston

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

Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston

Rep. Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown

Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston

 

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

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

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

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

House Appropriations Committee to consider school funding and TRS Friday

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

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

Twitter storm tonight on ESEA!

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

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

February 17, 2015

Candelaria responds to State of the State Address

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

Pro-voucher 'study' debunked

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

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

February 16, 2015

ESEA moving quickly through Congress

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

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

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

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

their zip code.

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

to learn and more time for teachers to teach

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

Please act now.


February 13, 2015

State Education Budget and TRS Hearings 

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

Budget: will education cuts be restored? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health Insurance for Teachers and Educational Employees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teacher Retirement

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

TSTA testimony on TRS-Care and ActiveCare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorable House Appropriations Education Subcommittee Appointed 

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

SBOE sees ‘conflicts of vision’ with USDOE

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

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

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


February 11, 2015

SBOE elects vice chair, secretary

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

Instruction: Maynard, Melton, Miller, Perez, Cargill

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

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


February 9, 2015

Nominations are due for Social Justice Patriot Award 

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


February 6, 2015

Editorial: School vouchers are the wrong choice for Texas

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

Failed experiments by legislators could hurt our schools again

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


February 5, 2015

Senate Finance Committee to hear testimony on education and TRS funding 

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

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

House committees appointed 

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

House Appropriations Committee

John Otto, Chair, Dayton – R

Sylvester Turner, Vice-Chair, Houston – D

Cindy Burkett, Mesquite - R

Sarah 
Davis, Houston - R

Dawnna 
Dukes, Austin - D

Helen Giddings, Dallas - D

Larry Gonzales, Round Rock - R

Donna Howard, Austin - D

Bryan Hughes, Mineola - R

Marisa Márquez, El Paso - D

Ruth Jones McClendon, San Antonio - D

Borris Miles, Houston - D

Four Price, Amarillo - R

Armando Walle, Houston -D

Trent Ashby, Lufkin - R

Cecil Bell, Jr., Magnolia - R

Greg Bonnen, Friendswood -R

Giovanni Capriglione, Southlake - R

Linda Koop, Dallas - R

Oscar Longoria, Mission - D

Rick Miller, Sugar Land - R

Sergio Muñoz, Jr., Mission - D

Dade Phelan, Port Neches - R

John Raney, College Station - R

Justin Rodriguez, San Antonio - D

J.D. Sheffield, Gatesville - R

Gary VanDeaver, New Boston – R

House Public Education Committee

Jimmie Don Aycock, Chair, Killeen - R

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

Joe Deshotel, Beaumont - D

Harold Dutton, Jr., Houston – D

Marsha Farney, Georgetown - R

Dwayne Bohac, Houston - R

Rick Galindo, San Antonio - R

Mary González, El Paso - D

Dan Huberty, Houston - R

Ken King, Canadian - R

Gary VanDeaver, New Boston - R

House Pensions Committee

Dan Flynn, Chair, Van - R

Roberto Alonzo, Vice-Chair, Dallas - D

Phil Stephenson, Wharton - R

Ana Hernandez, Houston - D

Stephanie Klick, Fort Worth - R

Dennis Paul, Houston - R

Justin Rodriguez, San Antonio - D

Progress on TSTA priorities

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

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

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


February 4, 2015

House Committee on Public Education is announced

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

Take action for healthy school food

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


February 3, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEA President: President sets right budget priorities for America

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

Super Bowl ad tackles cyberbullying

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

Helping teens handle emotions pays off in classroom

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

Harper Lee to publish second novel

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


February 2, 2015

Texas may help school districts deal with tough new math standards

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


January 30, 2015

Harlandale stands up to board, wins apology 

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

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

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

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


January 29, 2015

Harlandale teachers plan protest Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEA names Blue Ribbon nominees

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


January 28, 2015

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

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


January 27, 2015

Texas School Accountability Dashboard now available

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

Campus carry is back with strong Senate backing

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

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

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

January 26, 2015

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

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


January 23, 2015

DOE denies TEA waiver, wants test-based teacher evaluation

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


January 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT: Rally to Maintain Multi-Year Contacts

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

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


January 21, 2015     

Texas Senate threshold to debate bills now at three-fifths 

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

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

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

No home-rule charter for Dallas ISD

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

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

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


January 20, 2015

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

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

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

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/majority-of-us-public-school-students-are-in-poverty/2015/01/15/df7171d0-9ce9-11e4-a7ee-526210d665b4_story.html


January 16, 2015

Columnist reveals flaws in pro-voucher research

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

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is Monday

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

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

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

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


January 14, 2015

TSTA member is national Teacher of the Year finalist

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


January 12, 2015

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

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

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

NEA calls for more equal opportunity in NCLB reauthorization

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

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

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

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


January 11, 2015

TSTA President's message on community schools spreads

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

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

http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/commentary/article/Lawmakers-should-nix-phony-education-reform-6005274.php


January 9, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texas 39th in new Quality Counts report

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


January 7, 2015

Community schools key to success

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

Proposed voucher scheme represents major tax-giveaway to private schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SBEC to begin livestreaming with Jan. 9 meeting

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

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

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

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

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


January 6, 2015

Tuition officially surpasses state funding

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


January 5, 2015

Editorial: Time to fix public school financing

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

Register today for NEA National Leadership Summit

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

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

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

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

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