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May 21, 2015

SB1968: Payroll Deduction Bill Update

TSTA members deliver effective testimony against dues deduction bill; over 100 witnesses denied opportunity to testify; measure left pending

Pflugerville Educators Association President August Plock and Vice President Cindy Perkins were the first and second witnesses in a long line of educators and other public employees testifying Thursday morning against SB1968, which would prohibit educational employees and most (but not all) government workers from having dues automatically deducted from their paychecks. The testimony and sentiment in the packed committee room was overwhelmingly against the bill. Brenda Dominguez of the Del Valle Education Association; Nancy Cox, an emerging leader from the Killeen Education Association; Shelley Potter, president of the San Antonio Alliance; and many members of Education Austin also attended the hearing of the House State Affairs Committee. They were among over 100 witnesses from education and other government employee unions and organizations who were unable to testify because Chairman Byron Cook cut off witnesses after about two hours when the full House went into session, and refused to agree to resume the hearing after the House adjourned.

The bill was left pending and could not be considered for a vote until tomorrow (with two hour notice). Before adjourning the committee, Chairman Cook noted that the bill that came from the Senate was technically “flawed” and could not pass. Cook is expected to offer a committee substitute that could “fix” the technical flaws.

Timeline Matters, Keep Contacting Your Legislators

Taking the extra day may have been valuable. The bill must be approved by the committee by Saturday, placed on the House calendar by Sunday, and approved by the full House by next Tuesday, May 26, or time will run out in the end of session logjam and the bill will die. We believe we only need one additional vote (or absence) on the committee to stop this bill, so please keep your calls and emails coming and urge your representative to oppose Senate Bill 1968. Here are some points to make with your representative.

  • Teachers and school employees should have the right and the freedom to manage our paychecks.
  • Texas is a right to work state and all dues are entirely voluntary. No one is being coerced into paying dues against their will. And our dues cannot be used for political contributions.
  • Payroll deduction is the safest and most secure way to pay dues and contribute to organizations of your choice.
  • There is no legitimate public policy purpose for this bill. No school district is asking for this bill and many openly oppose it. 
  • Under SB1968, tax exempt organizations that lobby the legislature and engage in politics would be allowed to collect funds through payroll deduction. What's good for one group should be good for all groups, and the state should not be picking winners and losers.

 

House-Senate conferees tentatively agree on education budget that shortchanges public schools

Last night, the appropriations conferees increased funding for public education by only $1.5 billion (in addition to what is needed to cover enrollment growth) for the 2016-17 budget period. The committee reopened the education budget discussion tonight but at this time, that number is not expected to change. The $1.5 amount is only slightly more than the Senate budget proposal and significantly less than the $2.2 billion approved by the House and the $3 billion that would have been available had a related school finance bill also passed. Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, was the only budget conferee to vote against the agreement, noting that it is woefully inadequate for the needs of public schools. Rep. Turner is correct, but assuming this is the final version of the budget that will go to both the House and the Senate for final approval, it can no longer be amended.

House Public Education Committee approves SB1241, “Innovation Schools”

Parent trigger, Teacher Evaluation/Salary schedule bills not considered

Tonight, the House Pub Ed Committee approved a number of bills, and we will have a full report on those tomorrow. The only major bill approved was SB1241, which TSTA opposes.

SB1241 would allow a school board to establish - subject to approval by the Commissioner of Education - a multiple-campus “innovation zone.”

Campuses in the “I-Zone” would not be subject to important state education standards, leaving teachers, students, and parents without the rights, protections and high-quality standards that apply to our local neighborhood schools, including class size limits, student discipline, requiring certified teachers, and many more.

 

Senate Education Committee approves good bill, bad bill, leaves two major bills pending until tomorrow

On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee approved House Bill 1706 by Rep. VanDeaver, a bill designed to reduce teacher paperwork. It would require the state education commissioner to eliminate state reports or paperwork that duplicate the content of reports or paperwork also required by federal law. TSTA supported this bill.

The committee also approved House Bill 3106 by Rep. Huberty, which would allow the state education commissioner to extend an appointed board of managers for two years beyond its initial two-year appointment. TSTA opposed this bill.

Tonight, the committee left HB2804 (Accountability/A-F campus rating) and HB1482 (School turnaround) pending. A vote on these bills is expected tomorrow. Details of these and other major bills was provided in yesterday’s Update, part 2


May 20, 2015

SB1968 Payroll Deduction Bill Update 2

The House State Affairs Committee will hold a public hearing on SB1968 tomorrow, May 21. A vote on the bill is likely after testimony is taken. 

House Committee Report

House Public Education Committee hears Parent Trigger Bill

On Tuesday, TSTA testified against SB14 by Sen. Larry Taylor, the so-called Parent Trigger Bill, which would make it easier for outside groups to take over neighborhood schools.

Current law, enacted in 2011, allows parents to petition the state education commissioner to close, replace the staff, change the management or convert to charters any public schools with five consecutive years of poor state ratings. SB14, which already has been approved by the Senate, would reduce the five years to three. Our concerns with the bill include:

  • a petition seeking alternative management of a campus may specify the process to be used in selecting the new management organization or team, and the commissioner would be required to use the process specified by the petition with no review;
  • the bill would not give parents any say in how the school was run after the petition is signed; and
  • the bill lacks accountability provisions - it would not allow the commissioner to determine whether the course of action set out in a petition had merit or would improve school performance.

TSTA supports bill to expand dual-credit courses

TSTA went on record before the House Public Education Committee in support of SB13 by Sen. Charles Perry, which would increase opportunities for high school students to take dual-credit courses for college preparation. It would prohibit rules limiting the number of dual credit courses or hours in which a student may enroll while in high school or limiting the number of dual credit courses or hours in which a student may enroll each semester or academic year. The bill also would require school districts to provide instruction to seventh- and eighth-graders in preparing for high school, college, and a career.

Potential Voucher Vehicle Among Bills Approved by Committee

The House Public Education committee also approved several bills - SB 96, SB 159, SB 265, SB 453, SB 496, SB 945, SB 996, SB 1003, SB 1771, SB 1867, SB 1259.

SB945 is a school finance bill targeted at a specific finance issue that should be addressed. However, a voucher amendment could be germane to any school finance bill. The House sponsor of the bill is opposed to vouchers and he would likely amend the bill or pull it down to avoid a vote on vouchers, which we would likely win in the House. We will advise you should a voucher vote appear likely.

The House Public Education Committee also heard the following Senate bills:

  • SB107 by John Whitmire, which would give districts more discretion in dealing with serious student disciplinary problems. Some cases now requiring mandatory expulsion or transfer to alternative campuses would become discretionary.
  • SB382 by Carlos Uresti, which would require the State Board of Education to adopt rules for an educator to receive continuing education credit for completing a course on the use of an automated external defibrillator.
  • SB471 by Jose Rodriguez, which would specify when TEA could monitor a school or district problem instead of conducting an on-site investigation.
  • SB 968 by Royce West, which would require the State Board of Education to adopt health curriculum components that address the dangers, causes, consequences, signs, symptoms, and treatment of nonmedical use of prescription drugs.
  • SB 1200 by Larry Taylor, which would establish the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability to develop and make recommendations for new systems of student assessment and public school accountability.
  • SB 1309 by Jose Menendez, which would allow SBEC to issue a certificate to a person who holds a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps instructor teaching certification issued by the United States military.
  • SB 1896 by Larry Taylor, which would require TEA to develop or contract for the development of interactive electronic tutorials providing comprehensive reviews for end-of-course examinations.
  • SB 2062 by Kirk Watson, relating to authorizing certain charter holders to provide combined services for adult and high school dropout recovery programs.

All these bills were left pending and will be voted on by the committee Thursday.

There are no education bills pending a floor vote in the Senate today.

Major Education Bills Status, 5-20-15

Good Bills

HB 1891 and HB 1892, by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez/SB 1483 by Senator Sylvia Garcia – Status: HB 1891 passed 69 to 52 on May 15; HB 1892 (grants for coordinators) lost 60 to 82 on May 14; SB 1483, companion to HB 1891, on Senate intent Calendar for 5/19

  • Would establish the community school concept in state law, codifying a proven, sustainable method of school turnaround that has worked in several states nationwide and in the Austin ISD.
  • In a community school, the plan for school turnaround is designed by a committee of parents, educators and members from community businesses and non-profits, and the plan must be approved by a supermajority of parents and educators and the local school board.  As a result, the school becomes a vital community hub.
  • The community school plan is designed to address the needs of the students, and typically provides a range of services that students bring to school with them, creating a better leaning environment and curriculum that has fostered student success.
  • When Austin’s Webb Middle School and Reagan High School faced closure, the Community Schools model was instituted and since then, Webb went from the worst to best Title One Middle School in AISD, while Reagan’s graduation rate went from 48% to 85%.
  • The only cost associated with this community school solution is the cost of a community school coordinator who coordinates the wrap around services . 

Vehicle for Amendments

HB 1842 by Aycock. Status: Passed by House, Senate Education Committee hearing set for 5-21-15.

This is Aycock’s accountability bill that is intended to establish a local process for school turnaround efforts. There is concern that the Opportunity School District and Innovation Zone bills could become amendments. Has good parts (ending automatic reconstitution, which mandates laying off teachers/staff in second year of low ratings) and bad parts (allowing state takeover of entire district if a campus is low-rated for any reason as few as three years and not more than five)

Bills that Raise Serious Concerns

SB 1968 by Huffman. Elimination of Dues Payroll Deduction for certain public employees. Status: passed Senate May 7 by a 20-to-11 vote; House State Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the bill on May 21 at 8am.

SB 893 and HB 2543, by Kel Seliger and Marsha Farney, pay based on teacher evaluation/test scores, eliminates minimum salary schedule. Status: Has not been approved by House Pub Ed committee.  These bills would:

  • eliminate teacher pay raises based on experience and the only vehicle for across the board pay raises by eliminating the minimum salary schedule;
  • establish what is essentially a “merit pay” framework that could allow pay to be based, at least in part, on standardized test scores;
  • make it harder to get the best teachers to teach at low performing schools;
  • weaken local control of teacher evaluation and compensation; and
  • although fears about drastic teacher pay cuts are unfounded, changing teacher pay to a “merit pay” system ignores the importance of having highly qualified, experienced teachers on campuses, where they provide valuable leadership as part of the faculty team.

SB 669 by Sen. Royce West, HB 1536 by Harold Dutton, the “Opportunity School District” bills. Status: SB 669 passed Senate 5-7, referred to House Public Ed; HB 1536 died in House Calendars May 12.

  • Would take the school away from the neighborhood community by allowing the appointed Commissioner of Education to appoint a Superintendent based in Austin to manage low-performing campuses from around the state.
  • Campuses would be governed under charter school provisions that do not provide adequate standards for class sizes, teacher quality and contract protection, or student discipline.
  • The Opportunity School District takeover would diminish input from parents and other local stakeholders in how their school is run—sets schools up for charter management takeover.
  • Similar efforts in other states have not improved academic performance, and in Tennessee in particular, parents are petitioning to get their children out of the “Achievement School District.”

SB 894, by Sen. Larry Taylor, the “virtual voucher” bill. Status: Not on Senate Intent Calendar.

  • Would provide per pupil state funding to for-profit virtual education vendors for students enrolled full-time in a virtual school who never set foot in a public school classroom.
  • The committee sub has a huge fiscal note (over $126 million) and could actually cost billions.
  • Would allow a student to take an online course even if the student’s school offers a substantially similar course and eliminates any ceiling for what may be charged for online courses.
  • Would allow full-time student enrollment without a minimum age requirement in certain circumstances, meaning virtual kindergarten would be possible.

SB 1897 by Sen. Larry Taylor – Weakens Charter Accountability/Allows Expansion to Virtual Voucher Charters. Status: Passed by Senate, referred to House Public Ed, not set for hearing.

  • Changes and weakens the accountability ratings for charters by allowing certain low performance ratings to be thrown out, lowering the threshold for obtaining a charter and prohibiting the expiration or revocation of a charter under certain circumstances.
  • Would allow the commissioner to grant more than one charter for an open-enrollment charter school to a charter holder if the additional charter is granted for a different purpose or serves a different student population from the charter holder's existing open-enrollment charter school(s).
  • The “different purpose” could include a virtual voucher charter school operated through the Virtual School Network.

SB 1241 by Sen. Larry Taylor – Innovation Zones. Status: Passed by Senate (no House companion); referred to House Public Ed Committee, Was heard on May 19, could be voted on by committee on May21.

  • Would allow a school board to establish - subject to approval by the Commissioner of Education - a multiple-campus “innovation zone.”
  • Campuses in the “I-Zone” would not be subject to important state education standards, leaving teachers, students, and parents without the rights, protections and high-quality standards that apply to our local neighborhood schools.
  • The standards that would not apply include class size limits, student discipline, requiring certified teachers, and many more.

SB 4, by Sen. Larry Taylor, the voucher bill (tax-credit scholarships). Status: In House Ways and Means since May 5, no action

  • This is a voucher bill. Instead of paying taxes that could go to public schools, businesses could send that money to an “educational management organization” (EMO) that would give the money away as vouchers.
  • This bill does nothing to help over 90% of Texas students. At a time when we do not adequately fund public schools, Texas cannot afford to fund a separate education system for a handful of private and religious school students. Texas currently ranks 40th in the nation in per pupil spending ($9,326), nearly $2,400 behind the national average ($11,722).
  • Under this bill, private schools would not be accountable for the money they receive from the state. They would not be subject to the same test-and-punish system that public schools must endure, nor would they have to account for how the state money is spent.
  • Would allow religious organizations of any faith to operate an “EMO” and distribute that money in the form of vouchers, in violation of the constitutional principle of church-state separation.
  • These vouchers would help very few low-income children because they would not cover full tuition for most private schools and would not provide for transportation to private campuses that are nowhere near low-income neighborhoods.

SB 14 by Larry Taylor, the “parent trigger” bill. Status: heard by House Pub Ed committee on May 19, committee vote likely on May 21. 

  • Is not a parent empowerment bill because once parents sign a takeover petition, they no longer have a voice in how the school is run.
  • Would allow a petition that seeks alternative management of a campus to specify the process to be used in selecting the organization or team to assume management of the campus.
  • Would still offer a strong profit motive for private operators to take over neighborhood public schools.

During Senate floor debate, several amendments were passed, including some recommended in committee testimony:

  • The “trigger” for allowing a petition was lengthened  from 2 years to 3 years as a low-performing campus (current law is 5 years);
  • a charter operator was prohibited from funding a petition drive; and
  • if parents choose alternative management, preference must be given to a charter that does not contract with an outside management organization.

HB 1798 by Joe Deshotel, the local control school district bill. Status: Defeated on House floor 59 to 76 on May 13 (similar but not companion bill by Hancock, SB 1012, still in Senate Ed Cmte)

  • Would make it easier to convert an entire school district into a local control (home rule) school district governed by a board that could bypass many important state regulations, including class size limits, disciplinary procedures, and parental rights.
  • Would allow the self-appointed “lead petitioner” for the local control effort to appoint a majority of the 15-member commission that would determine how the district would be run, instead of the elected school board.
  • An effort initiated last year by a former Enron executive tried to convert Dallas ISD into a home rule charter. That effort fell short, thanks to strong community opposition, but it could be revived – and similar efforts could be attempted in other communities – if this bill were to become law.

SB 6 by Larry Taylor amended into HB 2804 by Aycock, the A-F campus grading system. Status: HB 2804 passed on May 15, after Phillips amendment to strip A-F ratings from the bill was defeated 69 to 75 on May 14; Senate Education Committee hearing set for May 21

  • Aycock has included SB 6 in his broader accountability bill, HB 2804. The A-F grading system would:
  • Assign letter grades as campus accountability ratings, which does nothing to provide parents additional information about the quality of a campus. In this system, A would replace Exemplary, B replaces Recognized, C replaces Acceptable, and D and F replace Unacceptable.
  • Letter grades would be linked to performance on high-stakes standardized tests, which a growing number of educators and parents oppose as punitive and harmful to real learning.
  • Could stigmatize schools based on a single accountability factor and have a negative impact on students attending F- or D-rated schools
  • Create a disincentive for our best teachers to teach at C, D- or F-rated schools.
  • Would not take effect until September 2017, creating opportunity for legislature to reconsider. In Virginia the legislature did just that recently, repealing A-F before it was implemented.

SB 1900 by Donna Campbell, charter schools’ funding for facilities Status: Placed on Senate Intent Calendar for first time May 14, placed again on May 19 Intent Calendar

At a cost of $427 million for the biennium, would provide an entitlement to facilities funding for charter schools, equal to average amount flowing to school districts, even though facilities funding for school districts is extremely inadequate. Charter facilities funding would take priority over unmet needs of school districts for facilities funding help. According to the Equity Center, the state share of facilities funding has dropped from 30 percent to less than 10 percent of districts’ total facilities costs over the past 16 years, during which a freeze of the guaranteed yield for facilities at $35 per ADA has been in place despite significant increases in building costs and ever-increasing I&S tax rates. 

SB 1968, Payroll Deduction Dues Prohibition (posted in the morning, updated above)

SB1968 would prohibit school districts and any other state or local government entity from collecting dues for unions or professional associations through payroll deduction. Yesterday, an attempt to suspend House rules to allow SB1968 to be considered in a public hearing today failed to get the necessary 2/3’s vote for rules suspension. State Affairs Committee Chair Byron Cook could still call a formal meeting at any time and vote on the bill without a public hearing, but a Thursday hearing is being discussed. Yesterday, we launched patch through calls to TSTA members who live and vote in the districts of House State Affairs committee members, because the first vote on SB1968 will occur in that committee this week. All Senate bills have to be out of committee by Saturday or they are dead. All Senate bills must pass the House by next Tuesday.

The TSTA lobby team has constantly been involved in meetings on this important issue and our efforts at the Capitol will continue, but unless something unexpected happens, we will expand that action to the whole Texas House, so be on the lookout for an Action Alert and patch through calls to all TSTA members. It is time to make all our voices heard.

Here are some key points to make to your legislators. Vote No on SB1968! 

  • Employees should have the right and the freedom to choose who receives our voluntary contributions and payroll deduction is the safest and most secure way to do that.
  • Please keep your hands off of my paycheck.  Politicians should not be allowed to tell us what we can do with our paychecks.
  • There is no legitimate public policy purpose for this bill. No school district is asking for it and some openly oppose it.   
  • Under SB 1968, many other tax exempt organizations that lobby the legislature and engage in politics would be allowed to collect funds through payroll deduction. What’s good for one group should be good for all groups, and the legislature should not be picking winners and making teachers and other school employees the losers.
  • In Texas, membership in unions and other employee organizations is entirely voluntary, and no one is being forced to pay dues against their will.

May 19, 2015

Free workshop

Designing Intensive Programs and Services for English Learner Students will be offered July 27 in Austin or you can take it remotely. http://relsouthwest.sedl.org/events/fliers/ELS_workshop_3.pdf


May 15, 2015

House Floor Report

At midnight Thursday, the deadline arrived for House Bills to be approved by the House on second reading. Last night, the House acted on several education-related bills.

School Finance bill debated and pulled down

On Thursday, House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock withdrew HB 1759 from further consideration by the House, ending his attempt to overhaul a school finance system that has been declared inadequate, unfair and unconstitutional by a state district judge. Aycock acted to avoid prolonged debate that would have killed dozens of other bills in the face of an end-of-session, midnight deadline for passing House bills on second reading. Aycock also knew the Senate had little interest in changing the school finance law.

Four voucher amendments had been filed with the bill, but TSTA is confident those amendments would have been defeated or declared out of order. Had it passed, HB 1759 would have added an additional $800 million for public education to the new state budget. There was disagreement over some provisions in Chairman Aycock’s bill, but TSTA applauds him for trying to provide additional education funding without waiting another year or longer for the Texas Supreme Court to rule on the lower court’s school finance decision.

Additional education funds could still be appropriated by a House-Senate conference committee, which is trying to reach a compromise on the new budget. 

Revised Accountability Bill with A-F grading system approved

HB 2804 by Jimmie Don Aycock has been approved by the House and sent to the Senate.  This bill makes substantial changes to the accountability system, but it also changes campus accountability designations to an “A through F” system

Aycock’s bill would create an accountability system for public schools with a lesser role for standardized test scores. In addition to the raw test results, two measures of student growth (improvement) would factor into test results. Graduation rates, attendance, dropout rates and parental engagement would also be a factor in rating the campus.

Attempting to improve the overall accountability system is a good thing, and adding the A- F grading system could improve the bill’s chances in Lt. Gov. Patrick’s Senate, but the system is rife with problems and has not worked in states where it has been adopted.

The A-F grading system has numerous flaws. Assigning letter grades to campuses does nothing to provide parents additional information or improve educational quality. In fact, a D or F designation could stigmatize a school, its students and the neighborhood. A-F would also create a disincentive for our best teachers to teach at poorly rated schools, where they are most needed, and the problems with an A-F system would likely fall disproportionately on schools with the highest concentrations of students from families with lower incomes and/or of limited English-speaking ability.

Community Schools Bill Approved

After a community schools amendment was removed from Chairman Aycock’s sanctions and school turnaround bill Wednesday, HB 1891, community schools legislation by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, was approved by the House after amendments were added to give the commissioner of education final approval of the community schools plan and prevent organizations that provide abortions from offering health services on a community schools campus. The bill now goes to the Senate.  

Voucher Bill Update

Senate Bill 4, the tax credit scholarship voucher bill, has not yet been scheduled for a hearing in the House Ways and Means committee, weeks after it was referred to the committee. Approval of vouchers by the House is unlikely. 

“Virtual Voucher” bill languishing in Senate

SB 894, the “Virtual Voucher Bill,” was not approved by the Senate this week. Given Senate opposition and House deadlines, SB894 is not likely to pass, but this proposal, like others, could find its way onto other bills in the form of an amendment.

Several other bills were passed by the Texas House before the deadline.

HB 1490 by Dan Huberty relating to public school interventions and procedures for truancy which allows for a graduated intervention policy for students found to be truant and encouraging attendance at school while lowering the number of class C misdemeanors. 

HB 2205 by Myra Crownover relating to educator preparation programs, including the appointment of a member of the State Board for Educator Certification with experience and knowledge of alternative educator preparation programs.

HB 2684 by Helen Giddings relating to the creation of a model training curriculum and to the required training for school district peace officers and school resource officers.

HB 964 by Donna Howard relating to the calculation of the rollback tax rate of a school district.

SB 934 by Lois Kolkhorst and Marsha Farney relating to providing training academies for public school teachers who provide mathematics instruction to students in kindergarten through grade three.

HB 731 by Eddie Lucio, III relating to participation of certain school districts in the three-year high school diploma plan pilot program.

HB 2251 by Rafael Anchia relating to an established schedule of payments from the foundation school fund of the yearly entitlement of certain open-enrollment charter schools.

HB 2593 by Four Price relating to the method of determining the average daily attendance in certain school districts.

HB 3657 by Cesar Blanco relating to a study of the use of regional rating for health coverage provided under the uniform group coverage program for certain active school employees and their dependents.

HB 3756 by John Otto relating to the methods and procedures used to determine school district property values.

SB 810 by Kel Seliger and John Smithee relating  to the authority of an independent school district to contract with a municipality for the design, improvement, or construction of an instructional facility, stadium, or other athletic facility.


May 13, 2015

HB1798, Home Rule/Local Control charter district bill, defeated by House

Your calls and contacts do make a difference! Today, the House rejected, on a 59-76 vote, HB1798, which would have made it easier for a small group of petitioners, supported by outside interests, to take over local school districts from elected school boards.  The bill by Rep. Joe Deshotel of Beaumont would have amended a 1995 law under which a former Enron trader attempted to engineer a hostile takeover of Dallas ISD last year. That takeover attempt was unsuccessful, but this bill, had it passed, would have made similar attempts easier.

HB1798 was opposed by TSTA and other public school advocates. The bill would have allowed a “local control district” to operate without the 22-1 class size limit and other important academic standards and teacher employment protections.  Rep. Deshotel amended the bill to require the lead petitioner for a local control takeover to be a resident of the school district, and Rep. Donna Howard of Austin won approval of an amendment to require more transparency in the petition process. But a local control election still could have been forced by as few as 5 percent of registered voters in urban districts and 10 percent of voters in the smallest rural districts. And, Deshotel fought back amendments to protect the 22-1 class size limit and teacher employment protections before the bill went down to defeat.

In closing arguments against the bill, Reps. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, and Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, warned House members against allowing local school districts to be hijacked by outside interests. Keffer said the bill would have given “way too much power (to) people who may not even like public schools.” He also pointed out that in much of Texas school districts are “our biggest employer and our community.”

Community Schools effort suffers setback

On third reading Wednesday, the House removed from HB1842 the Community Schools amendment that was approved yesterday. Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, the Community Schools sponsor, reluctantly made the motion to remove the amendment from the sanctions/school intervention bill we described in yesterday’s update..

House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, the sponsor of HB1842, had accepted the Community Schools amendment, but Rodriguez had it removed on Wednesday to save HB1842 from being defeated by legislators who were nervous about the impact of a right wing attack by Breitbart that falsely contended that strengthening community involvement in neighborhood schools was not in line with Texas values, an opinion that really means not in line Texas profiteers’ pocketbooks.  Rodriguez’s separate Community Schools legislation, a TSTA priority this session, still could be voted on because it is on the House calendar, but time is running short.

In their own words: video of presidential candidates

Clips of Presidential candidates speaking on education and workers' rights: https://youtu.be/yK37RmChDmU

TEA responds to tragedy in Van

Commissioner of Education Michael Williams issued the following statement regarding Van ISD: "Over the past several days, I have had multiple conversations with Van ISD Superintendent Don Dunn regarding the storms that hit facilities within his district last weekend.
I have assured him that the Texas Education Agency stands ready to assist with any issues he may identify. As the elementary school buildings have suffered extensive damage, agency staff has been instructed to approve the attendance waiver that will allow the district to cancel its classes for Pre-K through third grade students for the remainder of the school year. In regard to testing requirements, the circumstances provide us with the ability to work with Van ISD to provide the necessary flexibility. Superintendent Dunn has far more pressing issues relating to his students, staff and community. The thoughts and prayers of everyone at the Texas Education Agency continue to be with the city of Van during this time."


May 12, 2015 (10 p.m. update)

Action request

This evening, a patch through call went out to all TSTA members, urging you to call and oppose HB1798, the “local control” (home rule) school district bill. The bill would allow a non-resident of the school district be appointed “lead petitioner” and appoint a majority of a “local control commission” that could draft a plan for voter approval that could eliminate an elected school board, teacher contract and due process rights and class size limits. House members will offer floor amendments to address those issues.

Payroll Deduction Bill Update

Senate Bill 1968, which was received by the House Friday, has not yet been referred to a committee. A broader coalition is now working against the bill. 

Voucher Bill Update

A hearing for Senate Bill 4 has not been scheduled for a hearing by the House Ways and Means Committee. 

House Floor Report

HB 1842, Sanctions/School Intervention Bill Approved, Community Schools Amendment Added to Bill

Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock’s HB 1842 was approved by the Texas House today. HB1842 addresses the assessment, intervention in and sanction of a public school that does not satisfy accreditation criteria. The Chairman accepted 7 amendments to the bill.

Under HB 1842, if a campus is designated unacceptable for two consecutive school years, the commissioner must order the campus to prepare and submit a campus turnaround plan. The campus intervention team must address all requirements under turn around provisions and do so as part of reconstituting the campus. A campus turnaround plan would be implemented as part of the updated targeted improvement plan.

Aycock accepted an amendment that would allow the community schools model to be used as a school turnaround model.

The bill removes the requirement that the campus intervention team decide which educators may be retained at the underperforming campus and removes the prohibition of retaining certain principals unless the campus intervention team determines that retention of the principal would be more beneficial to the student achievement and campus stability than removal.

Another amendment was approved that requires parental and community stakeholder notification and involvement early in the process.

Other Education Bills Passed by the Texas House:

HB 4046 by Carol Alvarado, relating to confidentiality of student records.

HB 1783 by Joe Moody, relating to the right of a school employee to report a crime and persons subject to the prohibition on coercing another into suppressing or failing to report information to a law enforcement agency.

HB 1559  by Tan Parker, relating to public school Internet website information concerning local programs and services available to assist homeless students.

HB 2974 by Dan Flynn, relating to contributions to, benefits from, and the administration of systems and programs administered by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.

HB 18 by Jimmie Don Aycock, relating to college and career readiness training for certain public school counselors.

HB 1300 by Giovanni Capriglione, relating to the required qualifications of persons admitted to educator preparation programs.

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

HB 2847 by Myra Crownover, relating to policies and training regarding the use of epinephrine auto-injectors by school districts and open-enrollment charter schools.

The House Public Education Committee met to hear the following senate bills and left all pending:

SB 453 by Kel Seliger relating to minimum scores required for public school students to receive credit by an examination administered through the College-Level Examination Program. Changes the minimum scaled score from 60 to 50.

SB 1434 Van Taylor relating to counting time spent by students participating in certain approved off-campus instructional programs in calculation of the average daily attendance for a school district or open-enrollment charter school. Allows certain off-campus activities to be counted on ADA.

SB 1771 by Larry Taylor relating to the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium. Raises participant districts from 20 to 30.

SB 1867 by Judith Zaffirini relating to excluding certain adult students receiving special education services from computation of dropout and completion rates for purposes of public school accountability.

Senate Education Committee Report

The Senate Education Committee met today and took additional testimony on a committee substitute for Senate Bill 1012, the Senate version of the “local control” school district bill. After testimony revealed numerous flaws in the bill, SB1012 was left pending and lacked the votes for committee approval.


May 12, 2015

Governor signs bill to ease testing

Gov. Abbott signed Senate Bill 149 yesterday (by Sen. Kel Seliger), a bill that will allow some high school seniors who have failed one end-of-course exam to graduate with their class this spring.

The new law, which TSTA supports, will require school districts to form special graduation committees for every senior who has completed all other graduation requirements but has failed one or two of the STAAR exams also required for graduation. The committees – which will include principals, teachers and parents – must consider several other factors, including the student’s “overall preparedness for postsecondary success.”

More than 20,000 high school seniors, about 10 percent of this year’s senior class, had failed at least one of the end-of-course exams as of mid-January and were at risk of not graduating. By signing the new law, Abbott said he took into consideration the fact that the Class of 2015 was the first graduating class required to pass the more-difficult STAAR exams. The new law takes effect immediately and will expire in the fall of 2017.

Senate Floor Report: More bad news from Dan Patrick’s Senate

On Monday, the Senate approved these bills, which TSTA opposes:

Senate Bill 1241 by Sen. Larry Taylor would allow a school board to establish - subject to approval by the Commissioner of Education - a multiple-campus “innovation zone.” The bill would allow the schools in this zone to be operated without most state education standards, leaving teachers, students, and parents without the rights, protections and standards (like class sizes) that apply to our local neighborhood schools. The measure would limit the initial term of an innovation zone to five years but would allow an innovation zone to be renewed for successive five-year terms.

Senate Bill 1897 by Sen. Larry Taylor would weaken accountability standards for open-enrollment charter schools and allow for the creation of virtual voucher charter schools. Charter schools receive tax dollars and should be held as accountable as traditional public schools for their expenditures of public money and educational results. Studies repeatedly have shown that charter schools, on average, don’t perform as well as public schools, and TSTA believes it is wrong to reduce their accountability standards.

SB1897, if approved by the House, would allow the state education commissioner to grant more than one charter to a charter holder if the additional charter is for an open-enrollment charter school that has a different purpose or serves a different student population than the charter holder's existing open-enrollment charter school or schools. This could include a charter for a virtual voucher charter school through the Virtual School Network. The bill also would lower the threshold for obtaining a charter, prohibit the expiration or revocation of a charter under certain circumstances, and change the accountability ratings for charters, allowing certain low performance ratings to be thrown out.

Senate Bill 1178 by Sen. Huffines would require TEA to conduct an interim study on the implementation of an education savings account program. An ESA is a voucher program that traditionally allows businesses to pay taxes they owe the state into an account used to award scholarships to private school students. The state would lose tax revenue that would go to support public education (and other needs), and instead use that money for vouchers. It is similar to the program that would be created by Senate Bill 4, which also has been approved by the Senate but has gone nowhere, so far, in the House.

The study must evaluate: best practices in implementing an education savings account program; the experiences of other states that have implemented similar programs; the populations that might be served by the program; potential student eligibility guidelines for participation in the program; potential guidelines for the voluntary participation of private schools in the program; methods of funding for the program; which expenses to include as qualified educational expenses under the program; whether to preapprove certain vendors for participation in the program; potential academic and financial accountability measures for the program; and methods of contracting between the state and one or more financial institutions for the provision and maintenance of the accounts. The final report of the study must include any recommendations for implementation of an education savings account program from individuals who have assisted in implementing similar programs in other states.

House gives final approval to TRS ActiveCare study bill. 

On Monday, the House gave final approval to HB3453 by Rep. J.M. Lozano, a bill to establish an interim study of TRS ActiveCare, including the potential impact of allowing school districts participating in ActiveCare to opt out of the program. Initially, the bill would have allowed school districts to opt out but it was amended by the author.

If the bill is approved by the Senate, the interim committee would include six senators and six House members. The panel also would study the potential impact of establishing a regional rating method for determining premiums charged in different regions of the state for school employee health care. The study would be directed to make recommendations to Legislature in 2017. 

Although the TRS Opt Out provisions were not passed this session, a study would provide a forum for organizing around our efforts to provide affordable, high quality health coverage for educational employees.

The House also gave final approval to these bills: 

HB2349 by Jimmie Don Aycock, dealing with public school assessment, performance standards, and course requirements.

HB2610 by Ken King, relating to the minimum number of minutes of instruction for public school students and the scheduling of the last day of school 

HB2811 by Ken King, relating to proclamations issued by the State Board of Education for instructional materials.

HB2632 by Harold Dutton, dealing with authorizing a civil penalty, rather than a criminal penalty, for truancy.

HB2851 by Tan Parker, relating to the immunities of a non-profit corporation created for the purpose of aiding open-enrollment charter schools in providing educational facilities.


May 11, 2015

Action Alert SB894: STOP Virtual Vouchers

Senate Bill 894, which would provide state funding for for-profit virtual education vendors, is on the Senate calendar and may be voted on Tuesday. Please contact your state senator and tell them you are opposed to this bill, which could cost taxpayers billions of dollars. This is a virtual voucher bill.

SB894 would funnel an additional $160 million in state funds to private on-line vendors - more than was provided for pre-K expansion - and the actual cost could be over a billion dollars.

SB894 would provide state funds for private vendors that enroll students full-time in a virtual school, even if they have never set foot in a classroom.

SB894 would allow a student to take an online course even if the student's school offers a substantially similar course.

SB 894 would eliminate any limit on what may be charged for online courses.

SB894 would allow full-time student enrollment for online courses without a minimum age requirement. Even virtual kindergarten would be possible.

To contact your legislator go to our Legislative Action page and click on the "Who is my legislator" tab at: http://tsta.org/issues-and-action/take-action-state-level


May 10, 2015

Election Day wins

Yesterday was Election Day for many TSTA locals. Our initial count shows that 15 of the 22 candidates endorsed by TSTA locals won election. When we win these elections, we have an opportunity to work with a more favorable school board to provide the quality education that every student deserves. Congratulations to all of you who took the time to work and win elections that make a difference in the work we do for our students, our schools and our communities. Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157652181812229


May 8, 2015

Legislative update

HB 3453 by Jose Lozano relating to participation in and rates for coverage provided under the uniform group coverage program for active employees was preliminarily passed today by the Texas House. The bill was completely amended by the author to establish an interim study of TRS ActiveCare to study the impact of allowing school districts and other participating entities in the uniform group coverage program for active employees to opt out of that program; to study the impact of entities to be allowed or prohibited in the future from participation if previously participating entities; and study the impact of establishing a regional rating method for determining premiums charged in different regions of the state for the benefits provided under a group coverage plan established under the program.  The joint interim committee shall be composed of six senators and six house members.  The study shall be completed and reported by January 1, 2017.

The Texas House finally passed the following bills today:

HB 1613 by Ryan Guillen, relating to the use of performance on certain assessment instruments designated by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to satisfy requirements concerning high school end-of-course assessment.

HB 2025 by Larry Gonzales relating to participation of certain school districts in the three-year high school diploma plan pilot program.

HB 3748 by Marsha Farney relating to the coordination of educational support services for and information regarding students who are currently or were formerly placed in foster care.

HB 3596 by Dan Huberty relating to school safety and the prevention of school violence.

HB 1170 by Marsha Farney relating to the applicability to open-enrollment charter schools of certain laws regarding local governments and political subdivisions.

HB 1171 by Marsha Farney relating to the applicability of certain immunity and liability laws to open-enrollment charter schools.

HB 2168 by Sergio Munoz relating to the payment date for annuities from the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. 

HB 2014 by Kenneth Sheets relating to the authority of military personnel to obtain certification to teach career and technology education classes in public schools.

HB 1431 by Susan King relating to the development of a career-oriented foreign language program that public schools may offer.

House Public Education met while the House was in session and voted out the following bills: HB 2251, HB 3896, SB 66, SB 133, SB 810, SB 836, SB 934, SB 935, and SB 972.


May 7, 2015

Invest Not Test ad and petition:
Please post on Facebook and web page

As we told you Monday, TSTA launched a new ad, which is running on TV in El Paso and will roll statewide as a social media campaign that includes social media advertising. The ad reinforces TSTA’s image and our mission as the organization that will engage, organize and lead on important issues that impact our members, our schools and our communities. You can view the ad and sign the petition at: http://www.investnottest.org/

Senate Floor Report 

Elimination of payroll dues deduction passed and sent to the House

After delaying passage of SB1968 for three weeks, today the Senate passed the bill that would limit certain employee’s rights, including educators, on a 20-11 party line vote. SB1968 would prevent most state and local government employees in Texas – including school employees – from exercising their right to have membership dues in TSTA or any other labor or professional organization deducted in a safe, secure manner from their paychecks.

SB1968 does not prohibit payroll dues deduction for a number of other organizations and charities that have an active political agenda. Instead, the bill is designed to prevent only certain union and professional employees from having dues deducted from their paychecks. 

SB1968 will now go to the House and be referred to a committee. Please stay tuned for Action Alerts on this bill. A similar bill was filed in the House this session, but it has not made any progress. 

Senate okays SB669, amended “Opportunity School District” bill

SB669 by Sen. Royce West is the “Opportunity School District” (OSD) bill, which would allow the Commissioner of Education to appoint a statewide Superintendent to oversee low-performing campuses from around the state. The OSD would operate under charter school provisions that do not provide adequate standards for class sizes, teacher quality, and contract protection, or student discipline. The OSD design takes control of the campus away from the community.

The bill was amended, however, to allow the Superintendent of the local school district to retain control of the campus if the local district is taking action to improve student performance at that campus. The amendment also opens the door to out-of-state vendors and would prevent a Texas charter operator from putting its charter at risk by contracting with the OSD.

HB4, Governor’s pre-K plan, approved by Senate

Today, the Senate approved House Bill 4, Governor Abbott’s high quality pre-kindergarten grant proposal. Although TSTA believes HB4 could be improved by providing additional funding and full-day pre-K opportunities, TSTA supports efforts to provide additional state support for pre-K.

House Floor Report

TRS ActiveCare bill debate scheduled for tomorrow: contact your representative now

Debate on HB3453, by Reps. J.M. Lozano and Todd Hunter, has been postponed until Friday. HB3453 would enact three changes that could help local school districts find more affordable, high quality health care coverage. HB3453 would:

  • allow a school district to “opt out” of TRS ActiveCare;
  • allow TRS to set regional premium rates; and
  • allow school districts to participate in risk pools.

Contact your representatives and urge them to vote for HB3453. Go to our Legislative Action page and click on the “Who is my legislator” tab at: http://tsta.org/issues-and-action/take-action-state-level.

Today, the House passed the following education bills

SB925 by Lois Kolkhorst and Jimmie Don Aycock relating to providing training academies for public school teachers who provide reading instruction to students in kindergarten through grade three.

HB3106 by Dan Huberty relating to the period of time allowed for appointment of a board of managers for a school district.

HB2186 by Byron Cook relating to suicide prevention training for certain educators and other employees of a school district.

HB1305 by Greg Bonnen 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.

HB1551 by Donna Howard relating to money distributed by the School Land Board to the available school fund or to the State Board of Education for investment in the permanent school fund.

Voucher bill update

SB4 has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. The House version of SB4 has been in the same committee for weeks and has not moved. We’re working to keep it that way. 


May 6, 2015

TRS ActiveCare bill debate postponed until Friday: contact your representative now

Debate on HB3453, by Reps. J.M. Lozano and Todd Hunter, has been postponed until Friday. HB3453 would enact three changes that could help local school districts find more affordable, high quality health care coverage.

HB3453 would:

  • allow a school district to “opt out” of TRS ActiveCare;
  • allow TRS to set regional premium rates; and
  • allow school districts to participate in risk pools.

Contact your representatives and urge them to vote for HB3453. Go to our Legislative Action page and click on the “Who is my legislator” tab at: http://tsta.org/issues-and-action/take-action-state-level

Invest Not Test ad and petition – please post on your FB and web pages

As we told you Monday, TSTA launched a new ad, which is running on TV in El Paso and will roll statewide as a social media campaign that includes social media advertising. The ad reinforces TSTA’s image and our mission as the organization that will engage, organize, and lead on important issues that impact our members, our schools, and our communities.

Voucher Bill update

SB4 has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. The House version of SB4 has been in the same committee for weeks and has not moved. We’re working to keep it that way. 

Community Schools bills approved by House committee

Last night, the House Public Education Committee approved two of TSTA’s legislative priorities -- HB1891 and HB1892 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez of Austin -- legislation that would adopt the Community Schools concept. A community school involves teachers, parents and the local community in the school improvement effort. The bills would establish the community school concept in state law, codifying a proven, sustainable method of school turnaround that has worked in several states nationwide and in the Austin ISD.

In a community school, the plan for school turnaround is designed by a committee of parents, educators and members from community businesses and non-profits, and the plan must be approved by a supermajority of parents and educators and the local school board. As a result, the school becomes a vital community hub.

The community school plan is designed to address the needs of the students and typically provides a range of services that students bring to school with them, creating a better learning environment and curriculum that has fostered student success.

When Austin’s Webb Middle School and Reagan High School faced closure, the Community Schools model was instituted and since then, Webb went from the worst to best Title One Middle School in AISD, while Reagan’s graduation rate went from 48% to 85%.

The only cost associated with this community school solution is the cost of a community school coordinator who coordinates the wrap around services.

The committee’s approval means these bills are eligible for the Calendars Committee to set them for debate by the full House.

The House Public Education Committee also approved the following bills:

  • HB279 by Ron Simmons, dealing with the eligibility for public education grants for special education students.
  • HB1135 by Sergio Munoz, to require the state education commissioner to consider the transportation of students attending dual credit courses in districts’ transportation allotments.
  • HB1783 by Joe Moody, which would allow a school district or charter employee to report a crime witnessed at school to any peace officer with authority to investigate the crime, regardless of district policy.
  • HB3417 by Diego Bernal, dealing with endorsements for public high school students enrolled in special education programs.
  • HB4047 by Alma Allen, relating to the extension to open-enrollment charter school employees of certain rights granted to school district employees.

TSTA went on record in support of HB1341 by Jimmie Don Aycock, which would require the State Board of Education to streamline the TEKS curriculum for public schools. The bill was left pending in committee.

The committee heard and left pending the following bills:

  • HB1498 by Sarah Davis, relating to student use of sunscreen products in public schools.
  • HB1705 by Eddie Rodriguez, dealing with managing the physical facilities of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Texas School for the Deaf. 
  • HB2040 by Tony Tinderholt, relating to professional development requirements for teachers of gifted and talented students.
  • HB2251 by Rafael Anchia, relating to an established schedule of payments from the foundation school fund of the yearly entitlement of certain open-enrollment charter schools.
  • HB2579 by Rafael Anchia, dealing with the governance and operation of certain independent school districts.
  • SB935 by Lois Kolkhorst, relating to the establishment of reading excellence teams. 
  • SB972 by Lois Kolkhorst, relating to training academies for public school teachers who provide reading comprehension instruction to students in grades four and five.

House floor report

On Wednesday, the full Texas House passed HB1486 by Rick Galindo, relating to a prohibition on vendor contact with a member of the board of trustees of an independent school district during the procurement process.  This bill is bracketed to apply only to South San Antonio ISD.

Senate floor report

Although three education bills opposed by TSTA were on the Senate intent calendar, the Senate did not vote on:

  • SB669, the Opportunity School District bill;
  • SB1241, the Innovation Zone bill; or
  • SB894, the virtual voucher bill.

Yesterday, the Senate did pass SB313 By Sen. Kel Seliger, which requires the State Board of Education to modify the essential knowledge and skills to narrow the number and scope of standards and skills for each subject and grade level.
 

Nominate an employer who supports participation in schools

The Employers for Education Excellence Award was established in 2007 by the state legislature to honor Texas employers who encourage and support staff participation and voluntarism in the public schools. Nominations are due by June 26. http://tea.texas.gov/About_TEA/News_and_Multimedia/Awards/Employers_for_Education_Excellence


May 5, 2015

Health care: urge your State Representative to vote for HB3453

HB3453, by Reps. J.M. Lozano and Todd Hunter, would enact three changes that could help local school districts find more affordable, high quality health care coverage for teachers and other school employees.Educational employees have seen premiums under TRS ActiveCare increase by as much as 238 percent since the plan was created in the 2001 session, a burden that has amounted to a take home pay cut for many active teachers.

Under current law, when a local school district chooses to go into the TRS ActiveCare health insurance program, it is prohibited from leaving the program. All terms of the policy are set by the state. 

HB3453 would:

free a school district to shop for a more affordable, high quality plan and “opt out” of TRS ActiveCare if the district can get a better deal for employees;

allow TRS to set affordable regional premium rates; and

allow school districts to participate in risk pools to lower health care costs.

To contact your legislator go to our Legislative Action page and click on the “Who is my legislator” tab at http://tsta.org/issues-and-action/take-action-state-level.


May 4, 2015

TSTA launches statewide “Invest, Not Test” media campaign

TSTA today launched a rolling, statewide campaign, beginning with television spots in El Paso, to remind policymakers that our children’s education is about much more than teaching to the test.

According to a bipartisan poll sponsored by TSTA in March, the top two things most Texans want for improving our schools are not vouchers or other privatization schemes. What Texans really want are:

  • A real investment in our children’s neighborhood public schools; and
  • A reduction in standardized testing.

TSTA is launching its “Invest, Not Test” campaign in El Paso, where parents and community leaders — like parents and community leaders across the state — recognize the importance of local schools. Funded with a $174,000 media grant from the National Education Association, “Invest, Not Test” will become a statewide effort, fueled by social media, over the next several weeks.

“We don’t have standardized students, and education is about more than a standardized test score,” TSTA President Noel Candelaria said. “Testing takes away time that teachers and students need for real teaching and learning, and we are launching this campaign to focus on the issue that matters most to our kids: making a real investment in their future.

“It is time to invest, not test, and that means investing in our neighborhood schools, not imposing so-called reforms that would turn our neighborhood schools over to for-profit operators that aren’t accountable to local taxpayers,” he added.

When 800 Texas voters were polled by TSTA in March, they — both Democrats and Republicans – said the two most important things that could be done to improve education were to increase teacher pay to attract more highly qualified individuals to the classroom and reduce high-stakes standardized testing.  An overwhelming majority also said education funding should be increased.

The new state budget approved by the Texas House would add $3 billion to public education, over and above what is needed to cover enrollment growth. That is about twice as much as the Senate approved in additional school funding and is a step in the right direction. But both budgets would leave billions of available dollars unspent or dedicated to tax reductions while Texas continues to rank near the bottom of states in per-pupil spending and teacher salaries.

The average teacher salary in Texas is about $6,900 below the national average, according to recent National Education Association rankings. Some 83 percent of all respondents to the TSTA poll — and 76 percent of Republican primary voters — said they favored increasing teacher pay by $7,000 to meet the national average.

ALERT: contact your senator! Vote no on SB1241

The so-called "Innovation Zone" bill, SB 1241 by Sen. Larry Taylor, could come up for a vote in the Senate as soon as tomorrow. SB1241 would allow school districts to opt out of compliance with Education Code standards related to educational quality, including:

> class size limits;

> teacher certification requirements; 

> parental rights and discipline standards;

> employee contract protections; and

> many more.  

The bill's disregard for important educational policy standards has nothing to do with "innovation," which has been achieved repeatedly under current law through parent-teacher led efforts such as community schools and district charters. This proposal applies to most of the the same policy exemptions that charter schools have and, it is important to note that on average, charters perform worse than neighborhood schools. 

Please contact your Senators and urge them to vote NO on SB 1241.

Bills passed out of the Texas House today

HB 1706 by Gary VanDeaver relating to reducing paperwork and duplicate reports required of a school district.

HB 743 by Dan Huberty 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.

HB 256 by Donna Howard relating to use of compensatory education allotment funding to provide assistance with child care to students at risk of dropping out of school.

HB 771 by Joe Deshotel relating to funding for the Texas Academy of Leadership in the Humanities.


May 2, 2015

Human trafficking course offered for continuing education credit

"Human Trafficking Issues and Warning Signs" is a free, online course that the Texas Education Agency has approved for four CEUs. https://lwvedu.expertlearning.net


May 1, 2015

Celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week

Teacher Appreciation Week is May 4-8, and NEA offers a poster, web banners, and buttons for downloading at www.nea.org/teacherday. 

Idea: Share on social media a picture of yourself or your child with a favorite teacher, or a picture of yourself holding a piece of paper that says thank you to a teacher and why you’re thanking him or her. Use the hashtag #ThankATeacher when sharing. 

Bonus: NEA will select 10 people who thanked a teacher to receive a $100 Visa gift card to give to their favorite teacher. (See giveaway details at www.nea.org/thankateacher.)


April 30, 2015

Legislature enters the home stretch

Report from TSTA Public Affairs Director Ed Martin: With less than five weeks remaining in the session, the fate of most legislation TSTA has monitored is still up in the air. Bills will move very quickly, so please watch out for Legislative Alerts and take the time to call, write, or email your state senator and representative on the important matters pending legislative action. To contact your legislator, go to our Legislative Action page and click on the “Who is my legislator” tab at: http://tsta.org/issues-and-action/take-action-state-level.

I’d like to take a moment to express my appreciation for Portia Bosse and John Grey, who have spent many long days – from early morning to late night – monitoring committee meetings and advocating for TSTA’s legislative priorities. Whether they are offering testimony or meeting with members and staff behind the scenes, Portia and John are working for you, day in and day out.

TRS ActiveCare bill headed to House floor: contact your representative now

HB3453 by Reps. J.M. Lozano and Todd Hunter has been placed on the House Calendar for floor debate on Wednesday, May 6. HB3453 would enact three changes that could help local school districts find more affordable, high quality health care coverage by allowing:

  • a school district to “opt out” of TRS ActiveCare;
  • TRS to set regional premium rates; and
  • school districts to participate in risk pools.

TSTA is the only teacher organization that registered in support of HB3453 when the bill was considered in the House Pensions Committee. Contact your representatives and urge them to vote for HB3453.

Community schools funding bill approved by House committee

The House Public Education Committee approved one of TSTA’s priorities this week, legislation to advance the community schools model, which involves parents, teachers, and other local stakeholders in turning around struggling schools. The model has proved successful in Austin and a number of other states. The bill, HB1892 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, is now eligible to be set by the Calendars Committee for debate by the full House.

Voucher bill update

SB4 has not been referred to a committee or scheduled for a hearing in the House, where it faces significant opposition.

Senate approves bill to relax testing/graduation requirements

On Wednesday, the Senate concurred in the House amendments to SB149 by Sen. Kel Seliger. SB 149 will allow a student who fails to perform satisfactorily on one end-of-course exam to go before an individual graduation committee to determine whether the student qualifies to graduate despite failing the end-of-course assessment. The committee would be made up of a principal, teacher, and parents, and would have to vote unanimously to allow the student to graduate.

Senate Education Committee report: Governor’s pre-K bill approved

Today (Thursday), the committee heard extensive testimony and approved HB4, Governor Abbott’s high quality pre-kindergarten proposal. Although TSTA believes HB4 could be improved by providing additional funding and full day pre-K opportunities, in the face of opposition from Lt. Governor Patrick’s informal advisory committee, TSTA registered our support for HB4. The bill was approved by a 9-2 vote.

The committee approved a number of additional bills – a full list will be provided later.

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Education approved Senate Bill 313 by Sen. Kel Seliger. SB 313 requires the State Board of Education to modify the essential knowledge and skills to narrow the number and scope of standards and skills for each subject and grade level.

On Wednesday, the committee also considered SB1216, a bill that, as originally drafted, could have eliminated the Harris Co. Department of Education and Dallas County Schools. TSTA met with one of the bill’s authors prior to the hearing to express our concern about any proposal to eliminate Dallas Co. Schools; TSTA members provide transportation service for Dallas County school districts. A committee substitute was approved that would only authorize a study of these two entities, eliminating the possibility of their closing.

House Public Education Committee approves “reform” bills

Several privatization proposals still face significant hurdles.

This week, the House Public Education Committee approved several “reform” bills opposed by TSTA because they could pave the way for private, for-profit takeover of neighborhood schools.

A-F campus grading system: SB6 has been approved by the Senate, but the House Committee instead folded the provisions of that bill into HB2804, an accountability bill by Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen. Current law assigns letter grades only to entire school districts. This bill would give letter grades to individual schools based on accountability ratings, with A replacing Exemplary, B replacing Recognized, C replacing Acceptable, and D and F replacing Unacceptable. HB2804 was approved by a 7-4 vote, with Reps. Farney, VanDeaver, Gonzalez, and Allen voting against it. TSTA opposed the A-F grading system for several reasons.

  • The A-F system would be linked to high-stakes testing, creating a punitive system counterproductive to real learning.
  • Letter grades could have a negative impact on students and communities, not only for D and F schools, but even for B and C schools.
  • A-F would make it harder to get the best teachers to teach where they are needed the most.

Opportunity School District (OSD): HB1536 by Harold Dutton, D-Houston, would create a state-run school district governed from Austin by an appointed superintendent, rather than by locally elected school board members accountable to parents and other local stakeholders of the affected neighborhood schools. The bill would turn these schools into charters without standards for class sizes, certified teachers, or student discipline.

An alternative to HB1536 was also approved, HB1842 by Jimmie Don Aycock, which deals with intervention and sanctions of a public school that does not satisfy accreditation criteria. HB1842 would keep “control” of school turnaround in the hands of local school districts.

Local Control (Home Rule) School District: HB1798 by Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, would make it easier to convert a school district into a local control school district governed by a board that could bypass many important state regulations, including class size limits, disciplinary procedures, and parental rights. An effort was initiated last year by a former Enron executive to convert Dallas ISD into a home rule charter. That effort fell short, but it could be revived – and similar efforts could be attempted in other communities – if this bill were to become law.

These three privatization bills – HB2804, HB1536 and HB1798 – are now eligible for the Calendars Committee to schedule them for debate by the full House. So, please, watch for Legislative Alerts.

The full House approved two education bills and sent them to the Senate:

  • HB 1164 by Gary VanDeaver, which would require a student assessed at the end of an English I or English II secondary-level course to demonstrate performance that indicates the student has successfully achieved the essential knowledge and skills in writing for the course as determined by standards established by the local school board. A student would be unable to receive a high school diploma until the student has demonstrated satisfactory performance in that manner.
  • HB 66 by Mary Gonzalez, relating to the effect on school performance ratings of test scores of immigrant students of limited English proficiency.

The House Public Education Committee also approved the following bills:

  • HB2025 by Larry Gonzales, relating to participation in the three-year high school diploma plan pilot program.
  • HB1431 by Susan King, dealing with the development of a career-oriented foreign language program.
  • HB2014 by Kenneth Sheets, dealing with the authority of military personnel to obtain certification to teach career and technology education classes in public schools.
  • HB2186 by Byron Cook, relating to suicide prevention training for certain educators and other school employees.
  • HB2220 by Garnet Coleman, relating to mental health first aid training for school district employees and school resource officers.
  • HB2449 by Sylvester Turner, relating to school finance.
  • HB2487 by John Smithee, affecting the authority of an independent school district to contract with a city for the construction or improvement of an instructional or athletic facility.
  • HB2609 by Marsha Farney, dealing with training academies for public school teachers who teach math in grades K-3.
  • HB2610 by Ken King, relating to the minimum number of minutes of instruction for students in public schools and the scheduling of the last day of school.
  • HB2660 by Donna Howard, dealing with Foundation School Program funding for students enrolled in an optional flexible school day program.
  • HB2677 by Mary Gonzalez, relating to training for school employees in the prevention of sexual abuse and other maltreatment of children.
  • HB2811 by Ken King, relating to proclamations issued by the State Board of Education for instructional materials.
  • HB2847 by Myra Crownover, relating to policies and training regarding the use of epinephrine auto-injectors by school districts and open-enrollment charter schools.
  • HB3700 by Bobby Guerra, dealing with the establishment of a pilot program on computer science education.
  • HB3991 by Alma Allen, relating to individualized education plans.
  • HB18 by Jimmie Don Aycock, college and career readiness training for public school counselors.
  • HB1300 by Giovanni Capriglione, required qualifications of persons admitted to educator preparation programs.
  • HB2205 by Myra Crownover, relating to educator preparation programs
  • HB2566 by Gary VanDeaver, which would allow the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to delegate any power or duty granted to or imposed on the board to the Commissioner of Education. This would include the authority to propose rules and make final orders and decisions. The bill would allow SBEC to propose rules for standards governing the approval or the renewal of education preparation programs and the certification fields authorized to be offered.
  • HB3347 by Jimmie Don Aycock, dealing with the revocation of a charter for an open-enrollment charter school and the disposition of property owned by a charter school after revocation or surrender of a charter.
  • HB3987 by Marsha Farney, relating to financial literacy instruction and programs in public schools.

TSTA supported the following bills that were heard by the House Public Education Committee and left pending: 

  • HB3896 by Sylvester Turner, which would require school districts to provide printed materials in book format for children who don’t have access to technology at home.
  • HB4047 by Alma Allen, relating to the extension to open-enrollment charter school employees of certain rights granted to school district employees.
  • HB1783 by Joe Moody, which would allow a school district or charter employee to report a crime witnessed at school to any peace officer with authority to investigate the crime, regardless of district policy.
  • HB3260 by Abel Herrero, which would create a study of open source instructional materials at public schools.
  • HB3417 by Diego Bernal, dealing with endorsements for public high school students enrolled in special education programs.

TSTA supports teacher pay raise proposal

“Texans overwhelmingly support and appreciate their public school teachers, but in recent years, that appreciation has not been echoed in the decisions made by Texas policy makers," TSTA President Noel Candelaria said in statement issued today in support of Sen. Jose Menendez's teacher pay raise proposal. TSTA gave our unqualified support to SB1303, which would raise Texas teacher salaries by $4,000 to bring Texas teacher pay closer to the national average.

TSTA testified in support of the bill and participated in a press conference this morning in support of Senator Menendez’s proposal. According to a March poll conducted by a bipartisan polling team commissioned by TSTA, 83% of Texans, and 76% of Republican primary voters, supported this proposal.

“At a time when our state has billions available for important priorities, legislators have been busy dedicating our tax dollars to highways and tax cuts, while offering very little, if anything, for our teachers and the schools where they work tirelessly to educate our children," Candelaria said in his statement.

“Based on the most recent state rankings, the average Texas teacher salary lags roughly $6,920 below the national average. In a poll of 800 Texas voters conducted this March, 83 percent of Texas voters, and 76 percent of Republican primary voters, favored increasing teacher pay by $7,000 to meet the national average. When teachers are seeing take home pay cuts due to the cost of rising health care premiums, it is time to act, now.

“We urge Texas lawmakers to align their priorities with those of Texas voters of both parties.”

Two TSTA local presidents, Shelley Potter of San Antonio Alliance and Ken Zarifis of Education Austin, spoke at the press conference. Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157651859375099/with/17322185951.

Two messages of support for public education and educators

Good reads in this morning’s Austin American-Statesman:


April 29, 2015

Photos and video of the National Teacher of the Year ceremony

See photos of TSTA member Shanna Peeples, our National Teacher of the Year, with President Obama at the White House ceremony. TSTA President Noel Candelaria and Vice President Ovidia Molina were with Shanna in the Rose Garden.photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tstapublicaffairs/sets/72157652244925112

video: https://www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/video/2015/04/29/president-celebrates-2015-national-teacher-year

Watch National Teacher of Year meet President Obama

National Teacher of the Year and TSTA member Shanna Peeples of Amarillo ISD will be honored by President Obama in a Rose Garden ceremony about 10:30 a.m. today. You can watch the event live at https://www.whitehouse.gov/live/president-obama-honors-2015-national-teacher-year-and-finalists!

A-F bill heads to House floor

A Texas House panel approved a measure late Tuesday that would require the state to give individual school campuses A-through-F letter grades based on academic performance — a top priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate. http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/texas-house-panel-oks-letter-grades-for-schools/nk5R2

California Casualty awards $2,000 in athletics grants

Burges High School in El Paso and Cypress Springs High School in Dallas were each awarded a $1,000 California Casualty Thomas R. Brown Athletics Grant. They are among 87 public high schools in 29 states receiving a total of $100,200 for struggling athletic departments.

The grant is named after California Casualty Chairman Emeritus Thomas R. Brown, who recognized that teamwork and success on the field translated to the classroom.  Since its inception in 2011, over $400,000 has been awarded to help more than 300 public high schools across the nation; many with large student populations that receive free or reduced-cost lunches.

The grant will allow Burges High to purchase new uniforms for the track team, replacing ones that were ruined when bleach was accidently spilled on them. Fundraising for the expense came up short because so many of the athletes already raise funds to pay for the other sports they participate in.

Cypress Springs High will buy new uniforms and replace aging and inadequate equipment for the boys track team. The coach says the new equipment and uniforms will help instill confidence in his team, which he hopes will equate to success in the classroom.  

“California Casualty has partnered with educational associations for more than 60 years,” said Doug Goldberg, Senior Vice President.  “We understand the important role athletics play in the education of our youth, and we are honored to give back.” 

Information and guidelines for the 2015/2016 California Casualty Thomas R. Brown Athletics Grants are available at https://www.calcasathleticsgrant.com. California Casualty has other initiatives that give back to educators for all the hard work they do, such as the $7,500 School Lounge Makeover, www.schoolloungemakeover.com  and the $2,500 Academic Award, www.calcasacademicaward.com

Celebrating 100 years, California Casualty proudly provides the Texas State Teachers Association’s NEA® Auto and Home Insurance Program. Headquartered in San Mateo, CA, with Service Centers in Arizona, Colorado and Kansas, California Casualty has been led by four generations of the Brown family. To learn more about California Casualty, or to request an auto insurance quote, please visit www.calcas.com/NEA or call 1.800.800.9410. 


April 28, 2015

House passes tax cut bills that put education, health services at risk

Today the House passed close to $5 billion in tax cuts. In addition to a 25 percent cut to the franchise tax paid by businesses (HB 32), the House tax cut package includes a sales tax reduction of 0.3 percent (HB 31) – 40 percent of which would also benefit businesses.

The sales tax cut would save the average Texan just $3.37 a month – not even enough for two gallons of gas. Most families and businesses won't notice a little extra pocket change each month, but together these proposals will cost Texas nearly $5 billion every two years in perpetuity – funding that could go a long way towards strengthening our public schools and colleges, or making other needed investments.

Before the House Ways & Means hearing on HB 31 and HB 32, Texas Forward, a coalition of over 30 organizations including TSTA, sent a letter to legislative leaders warning that the nearly $5 billion tax cut proposals they are considering could cause future school and health cuts. http://txforward.org/newsroom.html

NEA welcomes legislation to repeal excise tax on high-cost health plans

NEA today supported efforts to fix flaws in the Affordable Care Act that could disproportionally hurt women and older workers. Legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives would make that fix by repealing an impending excise tax on high-cost health plans. http://www.nea.org/home/62714.htm


April 27, 2015

TSTA member chosen as National Teacher of the Year!

Shanna Peeples, an English teacher at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, has been named the 2015 National Teacher of the Year by the Council of Chief State School Officers. Peeples, a member of the Amarillo Education Association affiliate, will serve for one year as a full-time national and international spokesperson for public education.

“Shanna serves as a great example of how teachers transform the lives of their students every day,” said TSTA President Noel Candelaria. “Shanna’s ability to motivate and instill a love of learning among her students—regardless of her students’ backgrounds or the language they speak— is the reason Shanna and thousands of other teachers like her have earned the respect of Americans who appreciate the great work teachers do every day in every community in our great nation.”

Peeples, a veteran of 12 years in the classroom, worked as a disc jockey, medical assistant, pet sitter and journalist before becoming a teacher, a profession that she says eventually chose her. She taught seventh grade English Language Arts for about six years before moving to high school. Peeples teaches AP English and serves as the English department chair as well as an instructional coach for other teachers.

“My students, survivors of deep and debilitating trauma, have shaped the kind of teacher I am,” said Peeples. “They have taught me to never make a promise I can’t keep because so many already have learned to see the world through suspicious eyes. To be the best teacher to them, I have to remember this and honor their background. I remember so I can gain their trust because I want them to read and write their way out of where they are.”


April 23, 2015

Urge legislators to vote no on SB893/HB2543

For the past two weeks, we have reported on SB893 and HB 2543. The bill status remains unchanged, as a substitute proposal is being developed for consideration by the House Public Education Committee. The bill would:

  • eliminate across the board pay raises and raises based on experience by eliminating the minimum salary schedule;
  • establish what is essentially a “merit pay” framework that could allow pay to be based, at least in part, on standardized test scores;
  • make it harder to get the best teachers to teach at low performing schools; and
  • weaken local control of teacher evaluation and compensation.

FACT CHECK: Although drastic pay cuts would be unlikely should the bill pass, changing to what would be an exclusively “merit pay” system is a dangerous idea.

To contact your legislator go to our Legislative Action page and click on the “Who is my legislator” tab at: http://tsta.org/issues-and-action/take-action-state-level.

Voucher bill update

On Monday, we reported that SB4, the “tax credit scholarship” voucher bill passed the Senate on second reading on a 19-11 vote. The bill was finally passed Tuesday on a 20-10 vote. Again, your calls did make a difference, holding the bill up for almost four weeks before it was sent to the House, where key House leaders oppose vouchers.  

Senate committee approves “Community Schools" bill and four bad bills

The Good: Today, the Senate Education Committee unanimously approved SB1483, “Community Schools” legislation sponsored by Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston. TSTA supports this bill, which provides a sustainable, community-based model that has proven effective in turning around low-performing campuses. The Community Schools model requires parents, educators and community organizations to come together, form a committee and develop a plan that addresses all the reasons students at the campus are struggling. The plan is then subject to local school board approval.

The Bad: Also today, the committee approved four bad bills.

SB669 the “Opportunity School District” bill by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas). As we have describe before, the “OSD” would allow the appointed Commissioner of Education to appoint a superintendent to mane low-performing campuses from around the state under charter school provisions that do not provide adequate standards for class sizes, teacher quality, and contract protection, or student discipline. The OSD design takes control of the campus away from the community. Similar efforts in other states have not improved academic performance.

SB894, by Sen. Larry Taylor, would create a “virtual voucher” because it would provide state funding to for-profit virtual education vendors for students enrolled full-time in a virtual school. The bill would:

  • allow a student to take an online course even if the student’s school offers a substantially similar course;
  • allow full-time student enrollment without a minimum age requirement in certain circumstances, meaning virtual kindergarten would be possible; and
  • eliminate any ceiling for what may be charged for online courses.

Given the relatively late date in the session and the lack of movement in the House on this issue, we hope to derail this legislation.

SB1222 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt would give the Commissioner of Education the authority to issue a subpoena to compel the production of any “relevant” evidence that could relate to an accusation brought against an educator regarding an incident of misconduct. The bill would allow (and could encourage) TEA to go on witch-hunts against teachers based on any kind of allegation.

SB1241 by Sen. Larry Taylor would allow a school board to establish -subject to approval by the Commissioner of Education - a multiple-campus “innovation zone.” The bill would do away with almost all state education standards for participating campuses, leaving teachers, students, and parents without the rights, protections and standards (like class sizes) that apply to our local neighborhood schools.

House Pub Ed approves additional $800 million school finance bill, considers new approach to low performing campuses

On Tuesday the House Public Education Committee approved HB1759, Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock’s school finance legislation.

If approved by the full House, the bill would add $800 million to the public education budget for the next two-year budget period in addition to the $2.2 billion approved in the budget passed by the House.

If approved, the House will have provided funds for enrollment growth plus an additional $3 billion in state funding. 

This proposal is certain to be the subject of much debate and many proposed amendments when it reaches the floor for consideration by the full House, because there are questions about the equitable distribution of these funds among local districts. For that reason, TSTA is officially “neutral” on the bill, but we certainly welcome additional funding.

The committee also heard testimony on Chairman Aycock’s HB1842, which would require TEA to conduct an on-site investigation of a low performing campus to identify deficiencies and possible solutions.  The bill was left pending in committee.

The bill would require the commissioner to intervene if a school had two consecutive years of low performing accountability ratings.

Two years is a shortened timeline for state intervention, but it would require local, community and parental notification and give the local school district and the community a year to develop a plan to improve the campus.

Unlike the Opportunity School District bill, which TSTA opposes, this measure would keep interventions within the local school system instead of contracting interventions – such as conversion of a school to a charter campus – to private companies for profit.

The other bills listed below, which also were heard by the committee on Tuesday, were left pending.

TSTA supported the following bills:

  • HB2220 by Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, relating to mental health first aid training for school district employees and school resource officers.
  • HB2609 by Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, to providing training academies for public school teachers who provide mathematics instruction to students in kindergarten through grade three.
  • HB2677 by Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, which would require training for school district and charter employees in recognizing sexual abuse of children with significant cognitive disabilities.
  • HB2886 by Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, to provide training courses for public school pre-kindergarten teachers to be administered by service centers. 

TSTA opposed:

  • HB3746 by Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, which would create the Center for Performance Information for Public Education to evaluate and rank the performance of each school district, campus, and open enrollment charter. This is a privatization bill for vendors.

TSTA took no position on these bills:

  • HB731 by Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, relating to participation of certain school districts in the three-year high school diploma plan pilot program.
  • HB879 by Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, which would establish standards for evaluating dropout recovery schools.
  • HB925 by Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, which would require a district to maintain a minimum balance in its general fund and publicly report each year the intended use of general fund balances that exceed a percentage of annual operating expenditures.
  • HB1227 by Rodney Anderson, R-Grand Prairie, to repeal a requirement that a district assess a child's physical fitness at the end of the school year.
  • HB1431 by Susan King, R-Abilene,         which would require the State Board of Education, in consultation with the higher education commissioner and business and industry leaders, to develop an advanced language course that prepares students to communicate in a language other than English in professional, business or industrial environments.
  • HB1559 by Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, which would require districts with websites to include information about local programs and services available to assist homeless students.
  • HB1599 by Ken King, R-Canadian, to require the education commissioner to establish a program to provide professional development to educators on blended learning and individualized learning initiatives through a grant program.
  • HB1600 by Ken King, to create a grant program administered by TEA to encourage school districts to provide blended and individualized learning opportunities to students.
  • HB2025 by Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, which would expand population brackets and geographic areas for school districts participating in the three-year high school diploma pilot program.
  • HB2487 by John Smithee, R-Amarillo, relating to cooperation between school districts and cities in the construction or improvement of instructional and athletic facilities.
  • HB2607 by Jose Lozano, R-Kingsville, relating to treatment under the school finance system of maintenance and operations revenue in excess of the local share requirement.
  • HB2660 by Donna Howard, D-Austin, relating to the calculation of average daily attendance for students enrolled in optional flexible school day programs.
  • HB2833 by Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, relating to the issuance of interest-bearing time warrants by school districts.
  • HB3347 by Aycock, dealing with the revocation of a charter for an open-enrollment charter school and procedures for the disposition of property owned by a charter school after revocation or surrender of a charter.
  • HB3568 by Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, dealing with the creation of a technology applications course allotment under the foundation school program.
  • HB3700 by Bobby Guerra, D-McAllen, which would create a pilot program for students to complete a third year in math and science through an advanced computer science course.
  • HB3970 by Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, to allow districts to add at least a half hour to school days to help make up for days missed because of weather.
  • HB3987 by Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, to allow school districts and charters to establish school-based savings programs to help students learn the importance of saving for higher education and learning financial literacy.
  • HB3991 by Alma Allen, D-Houston, relating to committees that write reports for individualized education plans.

Please sign the “Invest, Not Test” petition online, then circulate it

TSTA launched a campaign this month to urge legislators to provide more state funding for public schools, cut back on standardized testing, and give teachers and students the time and resources they need for teaching and learning. Go to this link to sign the petition now! You can also download and circulate a copy of the petition and a flyer about the campaign. http://tsta.org/Invest-Not-Test


April 22, 2015

Texas struggling to produce college grads to meet employer needs

The Center for Public Policy Priorities has released a new report showing that the state is losing its higher education competitive edge.

"Texas has been competitive in job growth, but without a well-educated workforce we’re risking Texas’ future ability to compete," said Garrett Groves, Economic Opportunity Program Director at CPPP and a co-author of the report.

Without some significant changes, Texas will continue to rank near the bottom when it comes to adults earning an Associate’s Degree or higher. By 2020, 62 percent of jobs in Texas will require some form of postsecondary education, but only one-third of prime working-age adults today have an Associate’s Degree or higher.

College students in Texas struggling to complete degrees are up against a variety of challenges:

  • Economically disadvantaged students are three times less likely than their more well-off peers to complete a college degree
  • The number of older students (those who start college at 25 or older) who attend part-time is increasing, and due to their need to balance school, work, and family requirements, only about one-third graduate within six years
  • Declining state support for higher education has contributed to soaring tuition rates (286 percent between 1990-2010), making college costs out of reach for many, and forcing others to take on high amounts of student loan debt to cover costs

CPPP strongly supports the Legislature in increasing investments in higher education and need-based grant aid for four-year and community college students, including increased investment in the Texas College Work-Study Program.  

Dan Patrick advisers call Greg Abbott-backed pre-K plan ‘socialistic’

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s hand-picked tea party advisory board denounced legislation Tuesday containing Gov. Greg Abbott’s pre-kindergarten improvement plan as “socialistic” and “a threat to parental rights,” exacerbating an already strained relationship between Texas’ top Republican leaders, the Austin American-Statesman reports. http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/dan-patrick-advisers-call-greg-abbott-backed-pre-k/nkzSx/#8f3db8be.3580207.735710

Texas House OKs bill easing grad requirements for high school seniors

Also from the Statesman: Thousands of Texas high school seniors who are not on track to graduate in May because they have not yet passed all of their end-of-course exams came one step closer Tuesday to securing a reprieve. http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/texas-house-oks-bill-easing-grad-requirements-for-/nkzQW/#8ee1a151.3580207.735710


April 21, 2015

Got an idea? Get a grant!

Over the past decade, the NEA Foundation has invested more than $7.1 million in teaching grants to support the work of almost 4,500 educators from every state in the country to help students succeed. Each year, the Foundation awards approximately 150 Student Achievement and Learning and Leadership Grants. The next deadline is June 1. Application forms and a video with step-by-step instructions on how to apply can be found in the Grants to Educators section of the NEA Foundation website. http://bit.ly/1DJjcFT


April 20, 2015

Vouchers pass Senate on 2nd reading

Late this afternoon, SB 4, the “tax credit scholarship” voucher bill, was passed by the Senate on a 17-13 vote. Prior to the vote on the bill, one senator who had opposed the bill voted to suspend the rules, giving voucher proponents the 18-12 vote (the new 60% rule) needed to consider the bill in floor debate. Final passage is expected tomorrow. 

After Senate passage, SB 4 will go to the House, where it will meet stronger opposition. The bill was originally heard in the Senate Education Committee on March 26, and your calls and contacts with legislators held it up for over three and half weeks, time that could prove valuable in the effort to defeat vouchers in the House. Please familiarize with the talking points below for the fight ahead. 

  • This bill will not improve public education. At a time when we do not adequately fund public schools, Texas cannot afford to fund a separate education system for a handful of private and religious school students.
  • Texas currently ranks 40th in the nation in per pupil spending ($9,326), nearly $2,400 behind the national average ($11,722).
  • Under these bills, private schools would 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 would they have to account for how the state money is spent.
  • The state would fund two separate education systems, yet the private system would make up its own rules.
  • SB 4 would allow religious organizations of any faith to operate an “educational management organization” that would receive money from tax credits and distribute that money in the form of vouchers, in violation of the constitutional principle of church-state separation.
  • Despite the claims of voucher advocates, these vouchers would help very few low-income children because they would be available to families making over $100,000 a year, would not cover full tuition for most private schools, and would not provide transportation to private campuses that are nowhere near low-income neighborhoods.

TSTA: Vouchers harm public school students

Texas State Teachers Association President Noel Candelaria issued the following statement today on the Senate’s preliminary approval of SB 4, the voucher bill: “At a time when neighborhood schools are being shortchanged, we are extremely disappointed that the Senate has voted to use tax dollars to fund a separate private school voucher system for a handful of select students. A tax credit scholarship is a voucher that harms public school students and their hard-working, tax-paying parents.”

Candelaria is quoted in the Austin American-Statesman: http://www.statesman.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/texas-senate-oks-divisive-tax-credit-scholarship-b/nkyhf/

And the Dallas Morning News: http://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/headlines/20150420-texas-senate-oks-school-vouchers-but-bill-faces-tough-house-vote.ece


April 18, 2015

Candelaria at Save Texas Schools Rally: Invest, Not Test!

Here's the speech TSTA President Noel Candelaria gave at this morning's Save Texas Schools Rally at the Capitol. 

I’m Noel Candelaria. I’m a special education teacher from Ysleta ISD in El Paso. And I am President of the Texas State Teachers Association. Today, we have a very simple message for Texas lawmakers: IT’S TIME TO INVEST, NOT TEST! 

For the last 20 years, too many state policymakers have been listening to “reformers” – folks who spend a lot of money lobbying in this beautiful Capitol. You know what bothers me the most about these so-called “reformers”? They spend a lot of time lobbying in the Capitol, but many of them haven’t set foot in a classroom in years. Maybe that’s why they always want to reduce education to a test score.

We educators, we are the ones who work in the schools every day. We parents, we are the ones whose children are in the classrooms every day. We know what is needed, and we have a better idea: It’s time to Invest, Not Test.

They want to use test scores to shut down the neighborhood school and hand it over to a for-profit operator. They call that accountability. We say Invest, Not Test. They want to use test scores to declare failure, so they can fund a private school system with vouchers. They call that “opportunity”? We say Invest, Not Test. They call that No Child Left Behind. But children are being left behind…shortchanged…and defined by a test score. We say Invest, Not Test.

We don’t have standardized students. Educating each unique child, one student at a time, requires a genuine investment. Between the Rainy Day Fund and the amount left unspent in the House and Senate budget plans, there are billions and billions available.

We owe it to our children and our students to demand that our legislators pass the test, to demand that they invest in our kids and our future. We will not be silenced! It’s time to Invest, Not Test! 

More clips from the Rally

Education Austin VP Montserrat Garibay https://youtu.be/-gUt06Sfevs
Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, echoes TSTA's message on Community Schools https://youtu.be/H3FNrXEfuhI
Austin Mayor Steve Adler endorses TSTA-backed Community Schools legislation https://youtu.be/EL0XypqPl-c
Perryton ISD Superintendent Robert Hall https://youtu.be/LTDT_KsD4WQ

April 17, 2015

TSTA Convention highlights

Don't miss the powerful speech TSTA President Noel Candelaria gave at the TSTA House of Delegates, now available online.

"No matter where we live or where we work, educators nationwide face similar challenges, from forces that see our students as a profit center," Candelaria told delegates to the April 10-11 convention in Frisco.

"I am proud of the work our locals are doing
 and so proud to be part of the TSTA family," he added. "I am honored and humbled to be your president, because leadership is not about me. It's about 'we.' Teaching and caring for our students requires a team, working together."

Other speakers included NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia; Texas Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples of Amarillo, who won the Ermalee Boice Instructional Advocacy Award and is one of four finalists for National Teacher of the Year; Rosa Oropeza of El Paso, who was named the Ronnie Ray ESP Advocate of the Year; and Jena Camp of El Paso, who won the Social Justice Patriot Award.

Jessica Powell was elected NEA Director, Place 2; J.L. Martinez was reelected Supervisor at Large on the TSTA Board of Directors; and Lorenzo Hernandez and Karen Barnes were elected and reelected to ESP At-Large positions on the Board of Directors.

'Thank you for being our gladiators'

Texas Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples, one of four finalists for National Teacher of the Year, thanked TSTA members for their work as "gladiators" for public education.

"This is the commitment that America and its schools offer all of our students: we will be here and we will help you. This is no easy promise," she said.

"Right now, public schools need allies to help us keep our promises. As members of TSTA, you know about keeping promises," she continued. "From its founding in 1880, TSTA has helped build and maintain a long-standing legacy of public education in Texas.

"We all believe that every child should be given a chance to succeed...our pledge, both to the U.S. and Texas flags, is a promise to treat everyone as significant. We pledge to honor the Texas flag by remembering that our state is 'indivisible.' That means we don't separate people into groups that are more deserving than others. We are one state. One people," Peeples said.

Video: https://youtu.be/AYgNgnU-xHQ
 

School Bell Award Winners

Outstanding Continuous Coverage

Terrence Stutz
The Dallas Morning News

Andrew Kreighbaum
El Paso Times

Ashlie Rodriguez
KVIA-TV Channel 7, El Paso

Bill Melugin
KFOX-TV Channel 14

Outstanding Story

Matthew Haag
The Dallas Morning News

Britney Tabor
Denton Record-Chronicle

Ericka Mellon
Houston Chronicle

Outstanding Feature Series

Ann Work
Wichita Falls Times Record News

Outstanding Collection of Editorials

Robert Moore
El Paso Times

Outstanding Column

O. Ricardo Pimentel
San Antonio Express-News

Sandra Sanchez
The Monitor, McAllen

Outstanding Education Web Site
SAISD Foundation

ESP Conference draws 70 participants

Some 70 education support professionals attended the statewide ESP Conference that followed the TSTA House of Delegates in Frisco. Three workshops were offered: workplace bullying, kick starting your plan, and dignity demands due process.

"We face serious issues across the state, and no group of employees in the education community is more challenged by the crisis we face than our ESPs are," TSTA Executive Director Richard Kouri said in the opening speech.

Video: https://youtu.be/ujdntiSlBMM


April 16, 2015

TSTA Legislative Session Update

Please sign and circulate the “Invest, Not Test” Petition. Please step up your efforts to urge legislators to provide more state funding for public schools, cut back on standardized testing, and give teachers and students the time and resources they need for teaching and learning.

Go to this link to sign the petition now! You can also download and circulate a copy of the petition and a flyer about the campaign. http://tsta.org/Invest-Not-Test


Save Texas Schools Rally - Saturday, April 18 in Austin

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. For more information, go to: http://savetxschools.org


Contact your legislators: Tell them Vote No on SB 893/HB 2543

To find out who represents you and how to contact your legislator, go to: http://tsta.org/issues-and-action/take-action-state-level

Bills Tie Teacher pay to Test Scores, Abolish Minimum Salary Schedule

For the past two weeks, we have reported on SB 893 and HB 2543. Here are the facts about this legislation, which TSTA opposes.

Bill Status

SB 893 was approved by the Senate last week and sent to the House last week, and could be substituted for HB 2543 in the House.

HB 2543, the House companion bill, was considered in House committee last week, and was left pending while changes are being made to the bill. We have not seen those changes, which are expected in the form of a committee substitute.

Reasons to tell legislators to oppose SB 893/HB 2543

  • Eliminates across the Board Pay Raises: By eliminating the minimum salary schedule and establishing what is essentially a “merit pay” framework, this bill would eliminate the ability to provide an across the board pay raise to all teachers, which is needed to raise Texas teacher pay – now $7,000 below that national average - to levels needed to attract the best and brightest to the profession.
  • Pay should not be based on standardized test scores: SB 893 would tie teacher compensation and employment directly to student performance, including standardized tests. The bill was modified to say test scores could not be used ‘exclusively,” but that does not exclude the use of standardized test scores as a factor in teacher pay.
  • This bill is part of an effort to secure a waiver from President Obama’s federal Department of Education: DOE demands the use of “student growth measures” (teacher evaluation based on testing) as a condition for federal funding.
  • Impact on low performing schools: Tying teacher compensation and employment to standardized test results would raise the testing stakes even more, and hard to staff schools would become very difficult to staff, denying kids who need great teachers the opportunity to learn from them.
  • Local control: the criteria for the teacher development framework that would be used to evaluate teachers as a basis for their pay would be developed by the state commissioner or a locally developed framework based on those criteria. 

Abolishing Minimum Salary Schedule is harmful

The starting minimum salary today is $27,540, with annual step increases that raise the minimum to $44,620 with 20 years of experience.

Currently, the state minimum salary schedule is used by very few school districts, but it does provide a framework for annual step increases based on experience, a system that places an important value on classroom experience that should be preserved.

SB 893 and HB 2543, as filed, would maintain the $27, 540 minimum as a “base salary,” with additional salary steps and pay based on annual teacher evaluation and appraisal, which could include standardized test scores.

The starting pay in all but a handful of local districts, driven by market forces, is much higher than the current minimum salary or the salary proposed in this legislation.

NOTE: Although drastic pay cuts would be unlikely should the bill pass, changing to a “merit pay” system is a dangerous idea.

SB 14, “Parent Trigger” Bill, Passes Senate

On Wednesday, the Senate passed SB 14, the “parent trigger” bill, on a 25-6 vote. The bill will now go to the House.  As filed, the bill would allow a petition that seeks alternative management of a campus to specify the process to be used in selecting the organization or team to assume management of the campus. During floor debate, several amendments were passed, including some recommended by TSTA in committee testimony:

  • The “trigger” for allowing a petition was lengthened  from 2 years to 3 years as a low-performing campus (current law is 5 years);
  • a charter operator was prohibited from funding a petition drive; and
  • if parents choose alternative management, preference must be given to a charter that does not contract with an outside management organization.

TSTA remains opposed to the parent trigger bill because…

"Our concern on this bill is the profit motive that could be driven by some educational management organizations," John Grey of the Texas State Teachers Association told senators in March. "You are calling it a parent empowerment law, but looking at the for-profit motive, once those parents sign the petition they are done." https://www.texastribune.org/2015/04/15/parent-trigger-school-bill-clears-texas-senate.


Voucher Bill Update

SB 4 by Taylor (R-Friendswood) is awaiting action on the Senate floor. Thanks again for your calls this week – they do make a difference.  At this time, there is enough opposition to stop the bill from being considered on the Senate floor, but the Lt. Governor will bring a great deal of pressure to bear on Senators. We remain optimistic about our ability to stop this bill in the House should it pass in the Senate.

TSTA Supports Community Schools, Opposes Statewide “Opportunity School District” – School Finance Bill Pending

This week, the House Public Education Committee held a public hearing on one of TSTA’s priorities for the session, legislation to encourage the creation of more community public schools as a workable alternative to privatization. The committee also heard public testimony on legislation, which TSTA opposes, to create a statewide opportunity school district for struggling campuses and on a new school finance proposal, on which TSTA is neutral. All of the measures were left pending in committee. 


Community Schools: The community schools legislation, HB 1891 and HB 1892 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, would establish a community-based model to be used as an alternative to closure or reconstitution for a campus that struggles with the state’s accountability system. The community schools model was used successfully in turning around two struggling campuses in Austin ISD – Reagan High School and Webb Middle School – and has been successful in a number of other states as well. It allows educators, parents, non-profits and neighborhood businesses to come together to develop and implement a plan to provide resources necessary for student success.

The legislation also would create a community school grant program to provide funding to a campus for a community school coordinator. TSTA testified in support of these bills, stressing the importance of keeping struggling schools in the community and turning campuses around through community involvement.


“Opportunity School District”: TSTA opposed HB 1536 by Harold Dutton, D-Houston, the opportunity school district bill. This measure would allow the commissioner to transfer governance of a struggling school to this opportunity district, which would be governed by a superintendent  appointed of the TEA commissioner. TSTA testified that struggling campuses should be turned around through local, community action, focused on providing the resources to implement proven methods that improve student performance, not by turning a campus over to a superintendent in Austin who is not bound by standards that protect teachers, students or parents.


School Finance: HB 1759 by Aycock proposed changes to the school finance system that are tied to Aycock’s proposal to add $800 million to public school funding on top of the $2.2 billion in additional funding that the House already has approved in its version of the state budget. The bill was left pending.


TSTA also testified for the following bills

HB 18 by Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, which would create postsecondary education and career counseling academies for school counselors employed at a middle, junior or high schools.

HB 2804 by Aycock, R-Killeen, which would require local assessments of students’ performance in science, social studies and writing in certain elementary and middle school grades. It also would enact additional testing reforms for high school end-of-course exams.

HB 1135 by Sergio Munoz, D-Mission, to require the state education commissioner to consider the transportation of students attending dual credit courses in districts’ transportation allotments.

HB 3562 by Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, which would require districts using prepaid meal cards to establish a grace period policy.

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

HB 2186 by Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, which would require annual suicide prevention training for school district employees.

HB 2224 by Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, which would allow the education commissioner to provide for additional leadership development training for school principals and other administrators.

HB 2293 by Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, relating to the comptroller’s certification of the taxable value of property in each school district.

HB 2323 by Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, which would require boys in grade 8 and girls in grades 5 and 7 to receive mandatory spinal screening.

HB 2449 by Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, which would provide additional funding grants for students with disabilities who reside in care and treatment facilities.

HB 2451 by Dan Huberty, R-Houston, which would require districts to keep minimum fund balances of at least 90 days’ operating expenses.

HB 2812 by Drew Springer, R-Muenster, to repeal the limit on the number of courses a student my take for dual credit.

HB 2847 by Myra Crownover, R-Lake Dallas, which would create an advisory council on policy relating to the storage, use and training for administration of epinephrine auto-injectors to students in distress.

HB 3106 by Huberty, which would allow the commissioner to extend the term of a district’s appointed board of managers for another two years.

Professional development through Northcentral University

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April 15, 2015

Contact senators now: voucher bill nearing vote in Senate

Senate Bill 4 is a voucher bill that would give businesses a "tax credit" for tax money they give to fund private school vouchers. Neighborhood public schools have been shortchanged, and allowing tax dollars that would fund public schools to be used to benefit private schools would only make matters worse. SB4 could come to a vote in the Senate very soon, perhaps as early as tomorrow. Please call or email your state senator and urge him or her to vote against Senate Bill 4.

Be sure to tell them that you are a TSTA member and that you live and vote in their district. Tell them a tax credit scholarship is the same thing as a voucher.

Click on this link to learn who your state senator is and how to contact them. Fill in your home address and then click on Senate in the District Type line. http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx

Please contact your state senator today. It will take only a few minutes. 

What's going on with HB2543?

Question: Is it true that if it passes that teachers' salaries will be the same and only in the $20,000's?

Answer: No. Teacher salaries will not be cut to the $20,000's. The minimum salary is already that low. But the bill would eliminate the automatic minimum salary schedule's annual raises and replace it with a framework of raises based on annual evaluations that would include, in part, "student growth" measures that could be based on test scores. That framework would be developed by TEA or local districts TSTA opposes the use of standardized test scores as a basis for teacher pay. The minimum salary schedule preserves minimum annual raises based on longevity/experience.


April 14, 2015

It is important that you call your state senator TODAY

Urge him or her to vote against Senate Bill 4, a private school voucher bill disguised as a “tax credit scholarship.” Tell your Senator you don’t want money that is needed for neighborhood public schools to be spent on private school vouchers. Call 800-260-5444. more 

Bills voted out of House committee

The House Public Education Committee voted out the following bills last Thursday:

HB1993 by J.D. Sheffield relating to the authorization of independent school districts to use electronic means to notify parents of a student’s academic performance.

HB218 by Marisa Marquez relating to certification requirements for teachers in bilingual education. TSTA supported this bill.

HB744 by Dan Huberty relating to the purchase of certain insurance by public school districts.

HB1497 by Matt Schaefer relating to the issuance of school district teaching permits to persons who teach career and technical education.

HB1164 by Gary VanDeaver relating to the assessment of public school students in writing and English language arts. TSTA supported this bill.

HB1486 by Rick Galindo relating to a prohibition on vendor contact with a member of the board of trustees of an independent school district during the procurement process.

HB1804 by Elliott Naishtat relating to notice by campuses and open-enrollment charter schools about events that may significantly impact the education of certain foster children.


April 11, 2015

Convention highlights

The TSTA Convention in Frisco has ended, to be followed tomorrow by the ESP Conference at the same location.NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia was the keynote speaker. Also speaking were Texas Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples of Amarillo, who won the Ermalee Boice Instructional Advocacy Award--and is one of four finalists for National Teacher of the Year; Rosa Oropeza of El Paso, who won the Ronnie Ray ESP Advocate of the Year Award; and Jena Camp of El Paso, who won the Social Justice Patriot Award.

Britney Tabor of the Denton Record-Chronicle and Ann Work, formerly of the Wichita Falls Times Record News, were on hand to receive their School Bell Awards. Pride in Communication Awards went to Harlandale Education Association, Lubbock Educators Association, and CyFair TSTA/NEA.

Jessica Powell was elected NEA Director, Place 2; JL Martinez was reelected Supervisor at Large on the TSTA Board of Directors; and Lorenzo Hernandez and Karen Barnes were elected and reelected to ESP At-Large positions on the Board of Directors.


April 9, 2015

Thanks for your calls…be ready for more

Over 1,000 TSTA members called their House members, asking them to oppose state funding for vouchers, and/or called their senators to ask them to oppose test-based teacher evaluation and compensation. Your calls do make a difference. Be on the lookout for more action alerts.

Please sign and circulate the “Invest, Not Test” petition

Please step up your efforts to urge legislators to provide more state funding for public schools, cut back on standardized testing, and give teachers and students the time and resources they need for teaching and learning. Go to this link to sign the petition now! You can also download and circulate a copy of the petition and a flyer about the campaign. http://tsta.org/Invest-Not-Test

Save Texas Schools Rally - Saturday, April 18 in Austin

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. Drop by TSTA headquarters to pick up or make signs before the rally. For more information on the rally, go to: http://savetxschools.org.

Senate passes teacher evaluation/compensation/professional development bill

On Tuesday, the Senate passed SB893, which would tie teacher employment and compensation to “objective measures” of student performance, including standardized tests. 

SB893 does not specify a percentage of an evaluation that might be attributed to test scores, but it authorizes the commissioner of education to develop an evaluation framework that includes them.

The bill deletes the minimum salary schedule for teachers and states that each school district shall pay a minimum monthly salary to each classroom teacher that is not less than $2,754. A district could pay a higher monthly salary after considering criteria included in the teacher development framework adopted by the commissioner or included in a locally developed framework. 

House committee considers companion teacher evaluation bill

Later Wednesday, the House Public Education Committee considered HB2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney, the House companion bill to SB893. TSTA testified against the original HB2543, expressing our opposition to linking employment and compensation decisions to test-based “value added measures” determined by tests scores, and other problems with the bill’s evaluation provisions and the authority granted to the commissioner over local evaluation plans. Rep. Farney indicated she would develop a committee substitute that would remove the term “objective measures” from the evaluation calculus to minimize the impact of STAAR testing. She also indicated she would restore campus and district level appraisal committees. 

Senate Committee on Education approves voucher and parent trigger bills

Continuing its campaign to undermine public education, the Senate Education Committee passed SB4 to the full Senate. SB4 is a tax-credit voucher bill that would allow a taxable entity to get a tax break for sending money to a “certified educational assistance organization” that would use that money to issue private school vouchers.

  • This voucher scheme would divert state tax funds used to support public schools to private schools.
  • The former tax dollars could be used to pay for up to almost $6,000 for tuition at a private school.

SB4 will largely benefit private, religious schools while depriving the public education system of much-needed resources.

The committee also passed SB14, the “parent trigger bill,” to the full Senate. SB14 allows the parents of students enrolled at a campus with an unacceptable performance rating for two consecutive school years to submit a petition to the commissioner requesting that he order reconstitution, repurposing, alternative management, or closure of the campus.

The bill allows for-profit Educational Management Organizations (EMO) to gather signatures and specify which for-profit organization will run the campus. Parental involvement could end the moment a parent signs the petition.

Both bills were left pending.

House committee chair discusses school finance legislation

In sharp contrast to the Senate voucher proposals, House Public Education Committee Chair Jimmie Don Aycock unveiled his proposal to provide an additional $800 million to public schools with a plan that would improve equity. Aycock’s bill would bring new funding in the House budget to $3 billion plus funding for enrollment growth. The committee will take testimony on the bill next Tuesday.

Senate committee hears community schools and “Opportunity School District” bills

...two very different approaches to school management. The committee heard two Opportunity School District (OSD) proposals that would allow low-performing schools to be run by a new layer of state bureaucracy, SB669 (by Sen. Royce West) and SB895 (by Sen. Larry Taylor).

  • Under these bills, if a campus has been rated academically unacceptable for two consecutive years, the commissioner may order the removal of the campus to the OSD.
  • The appointed commissioner would select a statewide superintendent of the district (serving in Austin), with Texas Education Agency employees making up the central administrative staff.
  • The bill would allow the OSD to design and grant unlimited charters for campuses pulled into the OSD.
  • Under Senator West’s bill, a teacher employed by the district must be certified under Chapter 21 and may only teach a subject in which the teacher is certified. Senator Taylor’s has no such requirement.
  • The superintendent of the OSD would decide which educators may be retained at a transferred campus. If the OSD does not retain an educator, he or she may be assigned to another position by the school district for which he or she had been working.
  • A certified teacher with direct and regular responsibility for providing classroom instruction to students who was employed at the removed campus would be given priority consideration for employment.

TSTA opposed the bills, which were left pending. These bills would hand over neighborhood schools to a statewide superintendent and educational management companies that have no ties to the local community. We prefer proven methods to improve public schools – like community schools.

Senators Van Taylor, Huffines, and Bettencourt expressed concern that this bill would make government bigger and add more bureaucracy where there is no need. Former Education Commissioner Jim Nelson told the committee that the model is simply unworkable – that having a statewide superintendent in Austin to oversee campuses all over the state was logistically and philosophically impossible.

TSTA supports SB1483 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia, which would establish the community school model in state law as a public elementary, middle, junior high, or high school that partners with one or more community-based organization(s) to coordinate academic, social, and health services to reduce barriers to learning and improve the quality of education for students in the community. A community school is a sustainable model that brings together the surrounding community to invest in and lift up the neighborhood school, the children it serves, and the parents who support the children. It’s what a neighborhood school should be.

A community school could offer a variety of programs and services, which may include: early childhood education; after-school and summer school academic and enrichment programs; college and career preparation; service learning opportunities, such as internships and community service programs; leadership and mentoring programs; activities to encourage community and parent engagement in students' education; health and social services for students and their families; and parenting classes.

All three bills were left pending.

The committee also heard SB1241 by Sen. Larry Taylor, which would allow the governing body of an ISD to establish a multiple-campus innovation zone to encourage local community-based initiatives and enable collaboration by multiple campuses, programs, and institutions of higher education. The campuses in the innovation zone would not be subject to many of the protections currently in the Education Code, including Chapter 21 (teacher contracts, planning period, etc.) and 37 (discipline and classroom management). TSTA opposed this bill, which was left pending. 

House committee considers home rule, local control school district

HB1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel would give home rule a new name: Local Control School District. The bill would make changes in the petition and charter commission process that would allow the unelected “lead petitioner” of a home rule/local control petition effort to appoint the majority (8 of 15) of a “local control commission” (the body that would draft the rules for the local control district) simply because the petitioners got signatures of 5 percent of the voters in the district. The elected school board would appoint the other seven members. The commission could propose the elimination of numerous state standards, including class size limits, teacher contract protections, and student discipline provisions. The charter would have to be approved at a November general election. The bill currently has no regulations or disclosure provisions regarding the petition process, and amendments to the charter could not be considered for four years. TSTA opposed the bill.

Payroll deduction update

SB1968 by Huffman, R-Houston, will be heard today in the Senate State Affairs Committee, which Huffman chairs. TSTA is working with a labor coalition to prepare witnesses for the hearing. Meanwhile, we have contacted key House players and committee chairs and remain more optimistic about our chances to defeat this legislation in the House. Stay tuned for Action Alerts on this important issue.

House bills on the move 

On Monday, the House Public Education Committee approved the following bills:

HB743 by Dan Huberty, R-Houston, requires that before an assessment instrument may be adopted or administered, it 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 are established for development of assessment. TSTA supported this bill.

HB771 by Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, allows Texas Academy of Leadership in the Humanities to receive Chapter 42 allotments.

HB917 by Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, requires the district, upon parental request, to provide a parent written notice indicating whether any employee of the school is currently appointed school marshal.

HB1305 by Greg Bonnen, R-Houston, mandates that districts participate in the national program for free or reduced priced breakfast or fund a local program to provide same.

HB1430 by Susan King, R-Abilene, requires inclusion of mental health professions in health science career information provided to students in the public services endorsement. TSTA supported this bill.

HB1843 by Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, 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 supported this bill.

HB506 by Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, redefines tax rate limitation on issuance of tax supported improvement school district bonds.


April 8, 2015

Heading in opposite directions on education

The Texas Senate, beginning with the Senate Education Committee, still needs an education in public education. For starters, it can take lessons from its counterpart, the House Public Education Committee, on the other side of the Capitol.

Yesterday, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, chairman of the House committee, was explaining his proposal to add $3 billion in funding (above enrollment growth) to public schools and try to provide a fairer distribution of funding between rich and poor school districts.

Now, $3 billion is probably not enough money, and school finance experts probably can find other faults with Aycock’s plan. But the point is he is actually trying to address a serious problem in public education, an issue that already has prompted a state judge to declare the school funding system unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, what has the Senate Education Committee been doing? The answer is not much except fooling around with one unproven privatization scheme after another.

Today, the Senate panel approved Senate Bill 4, which would divert tax dollars from public education by creating “opportunity scholarships” for students attending private schools. Walks like a duck, talks like a duck…This is a private school voucher bill, folks, a huge step in the wrong direction.

On the House side, Aycock is trying to improve funding for public schools, while his counterparts in the Senate continue to undermine them.

The fight over vouchers and school funding is far from over, but I, for one, am very grateful our fore-parents created two legislative chambers.

http://www.tsta.org/grading-texas/vouchers/heading-in-opposite-directions-on-education

Grades 3–8 math STAAR to be excluded from 2015 state accountability system

Results of the 2015 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) in mathematics for grades 3–8 will be excluded from the 2015 state accountability system.

Commissioner Williams announced his decision today, following discussions with math teachers, parents, and superintendents across the state regarding new curriculum standards in mathematics for grades K–8. New rigorous math standards were adopted by the State Board of Education in April 2012 with implementation now taking place this current school year.

"The teachers I have spoken with have confidence that Texas students will, in time, adjust to the more rigorous math standards, but for accountability purposes asked for a transition year," said Commissioner Williams. "Based on what I hear from those working in the classroom, I agree and will not count grades 3–8 math assessment results in 2015 accountability ratings for schools, charters and districts." Read more


April 7, 2015

The Twitter Storm is coming Thursday

How can we make sure educator voices are heard on #ESEA reauthorization? Twitter! It's is one of the best ways to reach members of Congress, as well as other policy makers. So let’s storm their Twitter accounts on Thursday, April 9 from 6-7 PM CT.

Here how to participate:

1. Download and print a sign at #TimetoLearn or #OpportunityForAll and add your own message. Take a picture with your sign and tweet the photo to promote the #GetESEARight Twitter Storm and encourage folks to share their own message. Here's instructions on how to participate in the Twitter Storm.

2. On April 9, between 6-7 PM CT, send a tweet to each of your senators telling them that ALL students deserve the resources they need to learn #GetESEARight, include Opportunity Dashboard http://bit.ly/1IUhbrY. If you use NEA’s Twitter Tool, all you have to do is enter your zip code, click to tweet your Senators, and then click tweet again in the Twitter window that pops up.

SBOE Accepting Nominations for New Student Recognition Award

Texas Education Agency announced in early March that it is accepting nominations for the Student Heroes Award, a new student recognition program approved by the Board in February. The program will recognize Texas public school students in prekindergarten through high school who perform kind acts to benefit their fellow students. The deadline for 2015 nominations is April 16. Please share this information on your campuses. http://tea.texas.gov/About_TEA/News_and_Multimedia/Press_Releases/2015/SBOE_announces_new_student_recognition_award 


April 2, 2015

Please sign and circulate the “Invest, Not Test” petition 

Please step up your efforts to urge legislators to provide more state funding for public schools, cut back on standardized testing, and give teachers and students the time and resources they need for teaching and learning. Go to this link to sign the petition now! You can also download and circulate a copy of the petition and a flyer about the campaign. http://tsta.org/Invest-Not-Test 

Plan to attend Save Texas Schools Rally Saturday, April 18 in Austin 

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. For more information, go to: http://savetxschools.org 

House passes budget with additional $3 billion for public schools, funds for TRS-Care

Thanks for your calls to House members urging support for additional funds for public education. The House passed HB1, its state budget bill for the next two years, in the early morning hours Wednesday. The bill includes:

Funding for enrollment growth and an additional $3 billion in education funding, with the intention that it be used to address equity issues; and  

Additional funding for full day pre-K programs and community schools, pending passage of authorizing legislation 

Later Wednesday, the House passed HB2, a supplemental budget bill that included $768 million to keep the TRS-Care retired educator health insurance program solvent. 

Voucher opposition in the House appears solid

Voucher bills may be voted out of Senate Committee next week.

Thanks again to those of you who called your legislators during the House budget debate to express your opposition to private school vouchers. We are confident that a House majority is poised to defeat voucher legislation and are focusing our efforts on securing additional funding for the 5.1 million students who attend Texas public schools. 

Meanwhile, a voucher bill could be voted on in the Senate Education committee next week. Look out for action alerts asking you to contact targeted Senators before that bill comes up for a Senate floor vote.  

SB 893 - Teacher Evaluation/Compensation Tied to Test Scores - up in Senate next week 

SB893 would tie teacher compensation and employment directly to student performance, including standardized tests. The bill was modified to say test scores could not be used ‘exclusively,” but TSTA is urging Senators to further amend the bill to reduce the impact of standardized test scores. You should be receiving a patch through call Monday to facilitate your calling your Senator. TSTA opposes this bill, which is being pushed in an effort to secure a waiver from the federal Department of Education. 

Teacher compensation and employment would be tied to a greater degree to STAAR standardized test results, which would raise the testing stakes even more.

Hard to staff schools would become very difficult 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 may find it very hard to get a raise..

Payroll deduction update

SB 1968 by Huffman, Joan (R-Houston) will be heard next Thursday in the Senate State Affairs Committee, which Huffman chairs. TSTA is working with a labor coalition to prepare witnesses and we will distribute talking and messaging points on the bill next Tuesday. This is a hostile committee and we will focus our efforts on the full Senate in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, we have contacted key House players and committee chairs and are optimistic about our chances to defeat this legislation in the House. 

Community schools update 

The Senate Education Committee will hear SB 1483, our Community Schools legislation, next Tuesday. 


April 1, 2015

What letter grades should we attach to legislators?

Grading Texas blogger Clay Robison on the Senate-approved bill that would submit public school campuses to an A-F grading system -- and the letter grades that should be attached to some of the recent performances at the Capitol. http://www.tsta.org/grading-texas/uncategorized/rating-legislative-performances-on-the-a-f-scale

House tentatively passes budget

House members tentatively passed early Wednesday a $209.8 billion, two-year state budget by a 141-5 vote. http://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/headlines/20150331-texas-house-tentatively-passes-209.8-billion-two-year-budget.ece


March 31, 2015

Stop vouchers, act now!

We expect a vote later today or tonight. Please contact your House member with this message. 

When voting on HB1, the Texas State Teachers Association urges you to make a real investment in our highest priority: 5.1 million Texas public school students.

• Support additional formula funding for neighborhood public schools, including additional funds for pre-K expansion

• Oppose using tax dollars for vouchers and tax credit scholarships Please vote for the Herrero amendment to HB1.

Texas taxpayers cannot afford to fund a separate system of private schools for a few students when we have not provided sufficient resources for our local public schools.

State budget bills on House floor

As mentioned last week, House Bill 1, which would set the state budget for the next two years, is up for a vote on the House floor today. It 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. More than 350 amendments have been filed; one, filed by Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Corpus Christi, would ban the use of state dollars to fund private education for students in elementary through high schools, including through so-called tax credit scholarships (http://www.news-journal.com/news/2015/mar/30/house-lawmakers-prepare-to-make-anti-voucher-play).

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. 


March 30, 2015

ESP Conference: it's not too late to register

You can register on-site for the April 12 Statewide Education Support Professionals Conference at the Embassy Suites in Frisco (1-800-EMBASSY); the fee is $30 for members, $35 for nonmembers. It begins with a 9 a.m. opening session and ends at 2 p.m. Participants will attend three workshops -- Workplace Bullying, Dignity Demands Due Process, and Kick Starting Your Plan. NEA Director Linda Estrada is the guest speaker at the luncheon. If you have questions, please contact Rosie Castillo at rosiec@tsta.org or 877-ASK-TSTA.


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.