SBOE Recap: Rules Approved, SBEC Cautioned 

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The State Board of Education gathered in Austin from April 9-12 for what promised to be consequential meetings related to educator certification, as well as other topics important to our members. 
Tuesday has become “instructional materials day” on the SBOE’s agenda. Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff presented an update on the inaugural instructional materials review and adoption process (IMRA) and a new item related to the board’s process for removing titles from their adopted list. The application period for IMRA quality reviews closed April 15 and reviewers will begin training in May for the summer review of English and Spanish language arts and reading and mathematics.  

The board spent most of its time that day discussing the timing and make-up of forthcoming reviews of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). While no hard and fast decisions were made, the board seemed to prefer waiting for the first IMRA revision of math materials to play out before deciding to engage in standards revision. The refresh of the Texas State Plan for Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) (approved as part of Wednesday’s SBOE proceedings) and its many new and revised programs of study will require dozens of new courses to be developed in a relatively short amount of time. The day ended with no explicit direction for staff on how to tackle this daunting but essential work to ensure students have access to high-quality career preparation options.  

Morath: ‘Districts Have Given Up on Teacher Quality’ 

Wednesday began as usual with comments from Commissioner Mike Morath, but the commissioner was somewhat aggressive (and yet also dismissive) about the causes and remedies for problems in the educator workforce. Perhaps anticipating objection from the field, Morath went on the offensive advocating for the State Board of Educator Certification (SBEC) rules that were on the agenda. We have written previously on the impact of SBEC’s changes to Chapter 230, including the operationalization of the edTPA exam. Morath implied that to oppose these rules would set back years of work by the SBEC and that advocates were not engaged soon enough in the process to affect change. Both statements are false.  

He also implied that districts had given up on teacher quality as evidenced by the number of new classroom hires who do not carry a certification: 34% of 49,200 in 2023-2024. Again, false. Districts do care about teacher quality, but the exigent teacher vacancy problem exacerbated by chronic underfunding by the state, plus a policy landscape that allows districts to hire uncertified teachers under District of Innovation rules with no incentives to support certification, has led to this point.

While Morath’s statements on the reasons for teacher attrition were inaccurate, he did acknowledge and provide real data that students in the classrooms of these novice, uncertified teachers have worse academic outcomes. These students and teachers are more often employed at Title 1 campuses serving predominantly Black and Hispanic students.  

Morath also highlighted programmatic changes within the agency to align with the updates to the CTE plan. The programs of study refresh and industry-based certification review will move to a more synchronized cycle to give districts more time to adapt to changes in these rules. 

The board adopted new TEKS for courses in the agribusiness, animal science, plant science, and aviation maintenance programs of study and adopted TEKS for two science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses. 

Committees at Work 

While our primary focus is typically on the Committee on School Initiatives, we must call out the work done in recent months by the Committee on Instruction and chair Dr. Audrey Young (R-Lufkin) on the updates to the Texas Dyslexia Handbook. The revisions align with House Bill (HB) 3928 to ensure clearer guidelines for dyslexia evaluation, identification, and instruction and will be a continued valuable resource for districts and parents navigating this complex issue. The full board adopted the revised Handbook on Friday

The Committee on School Initiatives meeting began Thursday with an update on the Generation 29 charter application cycle. TEA staff shared that they expected between nine and 11 charter school applicants to be named for capacity interviews (nine have since been announced). What was not shared was the complete overhaul that is underway of the commissioner’s rules related to charters. Under the premise of aligning with new legislation, the rules propose significant changes to the application and expansion processes, most of which benefit the charter operators rather than the students or communities they proposed to serve. 

By far the most contested items of the day were SBEC’s rules related to Chapters 228 and 230. Most testifiers on the former were hugely supportive of the rules as they paved the way for the “enhanced certificate,” otherwise known as the teacher residency pathway. However, some groups raised real concerns about the changes for teacher observations and how candidates can accrue hours toward completion of their clinical experience. SBEC Chair Jean Streepy and Vice-Chair Dr. Scott Muri, along with TEA staff, promised to redress these concerns at the next SBEC meeting. These rules were recommended to the full board for approval. 
The testimony on Chapter 230 was mixed at best. Chair Will Hickman (R-Houston) invited Streepy and Muri to testify on the item. Streepy said the changes were needed to protect the accountability of seven programs still using edTPA. They both provided assurances that the SBEC would not forward a proposal to either require edTPA or sunset the current Pedagogy and Professional Responsibilities (PPR) exam unless and until there is a fully operational Texas-specific option. However, that option is stalled. Dean Stacy Victor of Sam Houston State University (SHSU) testified that TEA had not provided much feedback as to why the request for proposal (RFP) was not awarded. Member LJ Francis (R–Corpus Christi) voiced concerns about lack of data on the edTPA pilot and its move to an operational assessment absent that information. His first proposed vote to veto these rules went down 2-2. The committee ultimately voted 3-1 to take no action on the Chapter 230 rules, recommending them for approval to the full board.

Lubbock High School Mariachi and Ballet Folklorico de Oro. Photo by Texas AFT. 

The first order of business Friday was a resolution. Chair Aaron Kinsey (R-Midland) recognized Dr. Keven Ellis for his years of service as Chair. Ellis was first elected to the SBOE in 2016 and served as chair from September 2019 to December 2023.  

Friday brought Chapter 230 before the full board for a vote. Hickman began by giving a brief history of the SBOE’s 13-0 veto of edTPA in June 2022. He criticized TEA for its lack of engagement with the RFP respondent (SHSU) and urged the parties to work together to improve the promised revised RFP for the TxTPA. He also stated unequivocally that he would veto a rule asking to require edTPA without this other option. Member Tom Maynard (R-Florence) was also critical of the process that he saw as engineered to reach a desired outcome. Ellis (R-Lufkin), who was chair at the time of the edTPA veto, joined his colleagues in stating that the Texas option needed to be given a sincere and honest chance. Many members voiced concerns that the edTPA issue was lumped with other necessary rulemaking, making a veto unlikely. The final vote for the rule, 8-6, was far from a resounding victory for the SBEC.  

The BlackRock Backlash 

Last week, in the wake of SBOE Chair Aaron Kinsey’s (R-Midland) unilateral move to divest $8.5 billion of the Permanent School Fund (PSF) from BlackRock and in response to over 13,000 letters sent by Texas AFT members, the SBOE finally responded to the public outcry. Kinsey, though, didn’t take the lead on responding to the debacle. This deferral is interesting considering that Kinsey was quick to take credit for the move when he spoke at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Policy Summit just days after the divestment announcement.  

Instead, SBOE Trustee Tom Maynard (R-Florence), the chair of the Permanent School Fund Corp., brought up the issue with the board. In his comments, Maynard defended Kinsey’s move, stating that the board had a responsibility to “not only honor the letter of the law … but also to fulfill the spirit of the law.”  

Maynard is referring to Senate Bill 13, the law that requires Texas public funds and endowments to divest from entities that are seen as boycotting fossil fuels. Maynard stated that, until BlackRock is removed from the comptroller’s list of companies, the PSF will not invest with BlackRock. 

Despite its placement on the comptroller’s list, BlackRock does not oppose fossil fuels. In fact, BlackRock is one the largest managers of fossil fuel investments in the world, with $170 billion invested in American energy companies. 

Even though BlackRock is listed by the comptroller, the PSF was not necessarily required to divest. The law includes language that allows for public funds to maintain their investments if doing so is in the fund’s best fiduciary interest. SBOE member Rebecca Bell-Metereau (D-San Marcos) suggested that the divestment from BlackRock was made based on political, not fiduciary reasons.  

“It seems to me this is a case that somehow feelings were hurt, and this is a matter of politics rather than a financially sound decision,” she said. 

Kinsey, who had no problem speaking at length to a supportive crowd at the TPPF Policy Summit, said little to defend his move at the board meeting. He reiterated his support and suggested there was extensive discussion on divestment.