Charter fact of the week: Charter schools enroll 6% of Texas students but receive 16% of state funding. Learn more facts on why charters are a threat to true public education.
Charter bill backed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick moves forward
SB 28 passed the Senate last week, but the fight continues to stop this bad bill in the House. This bill among others would pave the way for rapid charter-school expansion by allowing charters special perks not available to real public schools with elected governance. SB 28’s House companion, HB 3279, would completely eliminate the authority of our elected State Board of Education to veto bad charter applications, instead giving the unelected commissioner of education all authority to approve new charters (with no elected oversight at either the local or state level).
You can help stop these bills by sending your state representative an online letter letting them know that charter schools are an unaccountable second school system that drains taxpayer funds from our true public schools. Send your letter now!
House to debate its version of the budget, while #StopTheSwap issues are ‘a topic of major discussion’
Education Commissioner Mike Morath updates State Board of Education Members on federal funding.
The House version of the state budget will likely be debated on the floor Thursday after the budget bill passed through the House Appropriations Committee last week. The $246.7 billion proposal for the biennium will eventually need to be reconciled with the Senate’s version at $250.7 billion.
The House plan continues the investments made to school finance from 2019’s HB 3, and passed a supplemental bill to plug holes in the existing budget, amounting to $5.5 billion, with additional state revenue generated this year.
Still left unaddressed is the $17.9 billion in federal aid to Texas schools. The money is meant to invest in our schools, which have faced additional costs from the pandemic, as well as providing a boost for learning initiatives to ensure students make up any lost academic ground in the past year. Texas AFT has led the charge to ensure that this money isn’t supplanted, meaning that funds should go directly to schools as new money instead of being used for existing budget needs. You can send an online letter telling your lawmakers to #StopTheSwap. (The House budget bill does have a rider that specifies that these funds be used as intended by Congress.)
On Wednesday, Education Commissioner Mike Morath briefed the State Board of Education on the federal funds. “I know this has been a major topic of discussion,” Morath told board members. He said the holdup on getting funds to schools is based on “very complicated” requirements tied to the funding—including a link between K-12 and higher education ensuring that both are not subject to reductions in funding proportionally. The fact that K-12 received an enormous bump in state funding with HB 3 just before the pandemic, while higher education did not, has created a “conundrum,” he said.
Morath said that as a “state employee” he can’t advocate on the issue directly but that he is having ongoing discussions with officials to “resolve this problem as quickly as possible.” That’s where you come in. We can advocate. We need to keep the pressure on to get these funds distributed and ensure they go where intended. Send your letter to lawmakers now!
TRS Board changes substitute rule to allow retirees to work for the summer without district surcharges
Last week, the TRS Board of Trustees adopted an emergency amendment that would expand the definition of a substitute to include service retirees that return to work during the summer on a temporary basis due to the imminent peril of the learning loss as a result of the COVID/summer slide. The change would not penalize districts for hiring these retirees now classified as substitutes for the summer.
‘Hold harmless’ provision meant to help schools could penalize Austin ISD for taking safety precautions
Volunteers for Austin ISD head out to knock on doors in an effort to get students back in the classroom.
School officials breathed a sigh of relief in March when TEA announced that districts would be “held harmless” when computing their state revenue for the entire school year—meaning that they would be funded on expected enrollment instead of actual under declines in enrollment during the pandemic. However, the ruling came with a significant string attached that required districts to have maintained in-person instruction in late fall. Those that broke that rule during the third six-week term would be required to increase their in-person attendance in the final six weeks of the year by 20%.
Austin ISD closed its campuses and went with remote-only instruction the week after Thanksgiving after spikes in COVID-19 cases and the likelihood that the situation could get worse after the holiday. That move to ensure safety now means Austin must increase its in-person attendance—from a snapshot average of 24%—to 44% for the final six weeks or risk losing $5 million in state funding. (Initial reports of $30 million were erroneous.) “I think it’s awful what TEA is doing,” said Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, our union representing Austin ISD employees. “Our district was just trying to keep kids and teachers safe, and now the state wants to take away a chunk of funding for violating their byzantine rules?”
Emails from principals and the Austin ISD superintendent went out this week urging parents to send their remote-learning kids back to campus. The emails—which painted classrooms as the safest place a child could be—failed to mention the possible loss of funds, so parents were confused why the district would bother to push in-person attendance with only six weeks left. It’s unclear at this point on whether any other districts are facing similar threats of funding loss.
Morath apologizes for STAAR glitches, while an outbreak of COVID-19 is traced back to a campus testing site
Education Commissioner Mike Morath told State Board of Education members that the glitches crashing the online STAAR testing earlier this month for some 250,000 students were an “unacceptable challenge, given everything that folks have been through.”
“We at TEA are responsible for ensuring STAAR can be administered flawlessly, and we’ve failed to do that,” Morath said.
Meanwhile, Austin ISD’s Anderson High School saw a significant spike in COVID-19 cases (from 3 to 14 cases) after many students returned to campus for STAAR testing earlier this month. Some 93 other students were forced to quarantine after close-contact exposure. Texas AFT has been a leader in pushing the state to #StopSTAAR.
Texas House passes permitless carry for guns
Law enforcement officials from across Texas gathered at the Capitol last week to oppose the permitless carry bill.
A handful of Democrats, including House Public Education Chair Harold Dutton, joined almost all Republican lawmakers in the Texas House Thursday to pass HB 1927—which would allow concealed carry of handguns without a license. The bill now heads to the Senate.
On second reading, a simple amendment from Rep. Shawn Thierry (D-Houston) to provide more safety and efficiency for schools was voted down on a mainly party-line vote. As it stands in law now, you can’t bring guns on to school properties, even with a Concealed Handgun License. However, HB 1927 lists a defense to prosecution for violating that prohibition that the gun holder in question must have been told orally that permitless carry on school property is not allowed. Thierry and Rep. Dan Huberty worked on an amendment on third reading that was accepted that allowed written communication to serve the purpose of notification, saving school personnel from having to orally confront gun-toting citizens.
The House Public Education Committee
Good bills passed out of committee include:
- HB 81 (Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin) allows campuses to operate as a community school as part of a turn-around program, recognizing that community schools use proven school-improvement strategies. This bill would create a standard for community school elements and processes, based on best practices both locally and nationally, while delaying accountability sanctions. Texas AFT has been a pioneer in implementing the model in Texas, and currently we have community schools’ initiatives in Austin, El Paso, Houston, Corpus Christi, and Dallas, with many other districts exploring the model.
- HB 2802 (Jay Dean, R-Longview) allows schools to apply for a testing waiver from the U.S. Department of Education if a natural disaster significantly disrupts education. If the waiver isn’t granted, the results of the assessments cannot be used to evaluate school performance, assign ratings, and impose interventions.
Bad bills passed out of committee include:
- HB 3731 (Harold Dutton, D-Houston) would accelerate the number of public school districts and their elected boards that would be susceptible to state takeover by the appointed commissioner of education. This bill seeks to punish schools based on an accountability system that relies heavily on flawed standardized STAAR test scores. Texas AFT has long opposed A-F ratings and opposes this detrimental change to the system.
- HB 4545 (Harold Dutton, D-Houston) would create an outcomes-based funding scheme to fund districts based on their students’ performance on standardized tests. Texas AFT opposes outcomes-based funding, especially when it relies on standardized tests.
From the Senate
Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) speaks on SB 28 on the Senate Floor Thursday.
- On Wednesday, the Senate passed SB 29 (Charles Perry, R-Lubbock), which would discriminate against transgender students by forcing them to “compete in sports associated with their biological sex as determined at or near birth.” Texas AFT President Zeph Capo has summarized our opposition to the bill: “As if the bathroom bill wasn’t cruel enough, some of our state senators feel they need to launch an unneeded crusade against a select group of kids, putting schools in the unthinkable spot of implementing state-sanctioned discrimination. I say let them play, and keep out of it.” The House Public Education Committee will hear the House companion, HB 4042 (Cole Hefner, R-Mt. Pleasant), requiring public school students to participate in interscholastic athletic activities based on their biological sex assigned at birth.
- SB 1529 (Joan Huffman, R-Houston) passed the Senate last week. This bad bill would create a new Texas Court of Appeals (in addition to the 14 existing court of appeals divided into districts) with judges elected statewide instead of regionally. The court would automatically hear all cases “brought by or against the state or a state agency, board, or commission, or by or against an officer of the state or a state agency, board, or commission.” If it becomes law, SB 1529 would create a highly partisan court made up of Republicans, because of the party’s dominance in statewide elections.
- On Thursday, the Senate Education Committee met to hear SB 27, which significantly expands virtual education and creates a new virtual voucher. The committee heard testimony in opposition to the bill over the voucher issue and concerns over how students with special needs would be served. The bill was left pending.
- Individual graduation committees support students who have failed to perform satisfactorily on end-of-course tests and provide them with an alternative path toward graduation. These committees allow students facing language barriers, severe testing anxiety, or learning disabilities to stay on the path to graduation and are an effective way to evaluate students. However, these committees have been implemented on a temporary basis as state law authorizing their implementation is usually subject to expiration. HB 1603 (Dan Huberty, R-Houston) seeks to make individual graduation committees a permanent fixture of Texas’ public school system. The bill passed the House last week and now heads to the Senate. Senator Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), a longtime champion of individual graduation committees, filed the senate companion, SB 177.
- The House Ways and Means Committee heard HB 59. That bill would eliminate school district M&O taxes and have the committee study potentially replacing them with a regressive sales tax. Texas AFT is concerned the bill could cost the state $58 billion in critical revenue to fund schools over a biennium. The bill was left pending in committee.
- The Teacher Retirement System of Texas went through a Sunset Commission review process, which evaluates the effectiveness of state agencies and suggests possible legislative changes, during the interim. The bill, HB 1585, authorizing the continuation of TRS passed the House last week and heads to the Senate, where it’s companion bill, SB 706, has passed the Senate Finance Committee.
Good Bills of the Week:
HB 2800 by Rep. Jay Dean (R-Longview) removes writing and social studies assessments, as well as the U.S. History end-of-course assessment. Texas AFT has heard from stakeholders across the state that students are being overtested and the toll on their mental health outweighs anything the state gains by measuring students in this way. These particular exams are not required under federal law. The bill was left pending in the House Public Education Committee.
Similar to Rep. Dean’s bill, HB 3668 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) reduces the amount of standardized testing to only what is required in ESSA. The bill also requires SBOE to reduce the frequency of testing and for the commissioner to apply for a federal testing waiver during a disaster declaration. Overtesting has been an issue in the state for years and has been particularly challenging while dealing with the pandemic. Both of these bills would help to alleviate some of the stress our students and staff have endured this past year and when the state faces another disaster. The bill passed the House Public Education Committee Thursday.
Texas AFT will hold its biennial convention virtually on June 25-26. The Texas AFT Convention is the highest governing body of our state union. Delegates have the power to set the general policies of the organization by adopting convention resolutions, amending the constitution and by-laws, and electing the Texas AFT president and secretary-treasurer.
Those interested in being delegates for local unions should contact your union directly for more information. Guests also are welcome to register for and attend the convention. See our Convention 2021 page for more information. Deadline to register is June 15.
PSRP Conference: From Surviving to Thriving
Sign up today for AFT’s PSRP Virtual Conference to share best practices, tactics, and strategies for organizing, as well as the camaraderie and “can do” PSRP spirit that make support professionals the heart and soul of our workplaces. This year’s conference will begin the evening of Friday, April 23, and continue through Saturday, April 24.
The virtual conference will help equip members with the tools they need to strengthen their union for the challenges it faces now with COVID-19 and reopening, as well as our ongoing fight for dignity, respect, and living wages. Without the traditional costs of travel and lodging, the 2021 conference is accessible to even more members and locals than in previous years. You can find more information and registration AFT’s website.
Culturally Responsive Teaching
The Bridges Institute for Professional Development is hosting a webinar on Wednesday, April 28 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. to provide educators with the following skills:
- Operationalize the connection between culture and cognition.
- Demonstrate how a “caring educator” with high expectations functions in the classroom.
- Design strength-focused lessons and activities.
- Implement research-based pedagogy in classrooms with ethnically diverse students.
CPE credit will be issued to all participants. Register for free here.
Improve your professional development plans and goals
Have you been given control over your professional development plan and goals? Professional growth goals drive changes in practice that result in increased student performance. The Bridges Institute for Professional Development will present a “Goals Setting and Professional Development Webinar” on Wednesday, April 21, from 6–8 p.m. You can learn how to take ownership of your professional goals during your end-of-year conference. Registration is free.