Jan. 29, 2021: Tell Morath to #CancelSTAAR; Charters need to follow the rules; Townhall for school counselors; and TRS healthcare threatened by DOIs

After Morath says ‘no’ to standardized test waivers, it’s time for us to say ‘Cancel STAAR!’

Greg Abbott and Mike Morath

In Texas, we’ve reached more than 2 million cases of COVID-19, and more than 36,000 Texans have died. The Texas economy is struggling. Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath should be pulling out all the stops to expand rapid COVID-19 testing and get vaccines to front-line workers like educators.

Are they? No.

Their priorities lay elsewhere — with the STAAR test. This week, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath was asked whether he would cancel STAAR if Texas were to receive a federal testing waiver.

He said, “No.”

While Texas educators risk their lives to teach in person by state mandate, TEA is handing out contracts totaling $388 million to develop and administer STAAR for the next four years. If Texas chose to drop the STAAR test 10 months ago as the pandemic first took hold, it would be inconsistent not to waive high-stakes standardized testing once more, with the situation far worse. If the well-being of our students, educators, and schools is truly a priority, that is the least we can do.

Write TEA Commissioner Mike Morath right now and demand that he drop the STAAR. Your letter will be delivered automatically to his office.

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‘Innovation’ status threatens TRS healthcare as districts mull pulling out of the system

TRS LogoSome districts are trying to use the DOI process to abandon the Teacher Retirement System of Texas healthcare program, a move that threatens the quality and affordability of healthcare for all school employees.

TRS ActiveCare provides healthcare coverage for 440,000 people and is self-funded, with premiums paid for by public school employees, districts, and the state.

Districts using DOI in order to exempt themselves from participating in TRS ActiveCare pose serious problems for the TRS system and all school employees.

First, while DOIs might save money by choosing a competing healthcare plan for their employees instead of paying into TRS ActiveCare, the competing healthcare plan is almost guaranteed to provide lower quality coverage.

Second, districts with exemptions from paying into TRS ActiveCare also jeopardize the stability of the system overall. Public insurance plans like TRS ActiveCare work best when the system is populated by a high number of participants. When DOIs exempt themselves, they are shrinking the pool of participants in the system. The remaining participants are likely to be higher risk patients who require more specialized healthcare services.

In order to protect TRS ActiveCare, the Committee on Pensions, Investments, & Financial Services recommended in their interim charges that the 87th Texas Legislature take action to “explicitly prohibit independent school districts from using District of Innovation status (as) a method for opting out of TRS-ActiveCare.”

Note that Texas AFT originally fought the DOI legislation because of the possibility of districts opting out of many quality safeguards in the Education Code–such as the 22:1 class size law, provisions of teacher contracts, duty-free lunch, planning and preparation time minimums, and other provisions that work for our students and teachers.

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Texas AFT urges SBOE to reject charter applicants without site addresses

And as a bonus, SBOE receives a primer on Texas AFT’s work as a union

Patty Quinzi in Zoom meeting testimonyLegislative Counsel Patty Quinzi takes a moment to inform SBOE members that Texas AFT is indeed a union. Watch the video.

This week, newly-elected State Board of Education board members were sworn in and committee assignments were made. Matt Robinson from Friendswood was elected chair of the School Initiatives Committee, which also includes SBOE members Hickman, Johnson, Davis, and Cortez.

While hearing an agenda item on the next round of charter school applicants, Patty Quinzi, Texas AFT Legislative Counsel, testified before the committee urging them to not approve any charter applicants that do not have a site address for the proposed school:

  • Charter applicants often include a series of zip codes without any specific address which fails to provide nearby public schools the proper notice to issue an accurate “statement of impact” of how a charter would affect the public school;
  • Quinzi also urged the board to keep the public in the charter application process by not limiting testimony time when gathering public input on charter applicants;
  • The SBOE is the only elected body with oversight over charter schools, yet last year it cut off dozens of witnesses, including school superintendents, elected school board members, parents, and even students who signed up to testify in opposition of a proposed San Antonio charter school.
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Lawmaker asks for OAG opinion on whether charters are exempt from municipal law

Sen. Larry Taylor

Sen. Larry Taylor penned a letter in December to Attorney General Ken Paxton asking whether charters are exempt from municipal laws. Municipalities are crucial in keeping the selection process fair. Their jurisdictions must be taken seriously. There is no room to allow these charter schools, with self-appointed boards, to function above the law.

Taylor writes that open-enrollment charter schools require a Special Use Permit to operate on agricultural land, claiming they are being unfairly evaluated in zoning laws (not true) and that the state is responsible for determining whether or not a site is appropriate for the construction and operation of a public school (also not true). Keep a look out for future attempts to make privatization through charter expansion even easier in Texas.

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Rep. Mary Gonzalez joins school counselors for town hall next week

School Counselors Week Banner: Text and image of half lightbulb, half brain

For National School Counseling Week, we want to highlight the issues surrounding mental health in our schools during this pandemic and the difficult, important work school counselors do to address the need.

We’ll also discuss what the Texas Legislature could do to help. Join us for a Facebook Live Rep. Mary Gonzalez and school counselors from Education Austin for this important discussion on Wednesday, Feb. 3 at 6pm.

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Good bills of the week:

Terry Canales HB 47 Terry Canales (D- Hidalgo) states that school employees who contract COVID-19 would be presumed to have contracted the disease at work for purposes of receiving worker’s compensation. Currently, workers applying for workers compensation benefits have to prove the connection between the disease and the employer.

 

 

Gina Hinojosa HB 1246 Gina Hinojosa

(D-Austin) would change the way the state measures daily attendance for purposes of funding public schools. Instead of utilizing daily attendance requiring in-person attendance, Hinojosa recommends the use of average enrollment to more accurately reflect the costs of educating students.

 

 


Rep. Penny Morales Shaw speaks with Texas AFT activists


Penny Shaw Campaign Photo next to her speaking on Zoom screen
Houston Texas House Rep. Penny Morales Shaw made a guest appearance at Texas AFT’s Legislative Kickoff last week to share her public education agenda: “For the past ten months, educators, school staff, and students have had to face unthinkable hardships to keep schools going and prevent a gap in children’s education. This session, we must prioritize our students and educators in Texas.”


 

Local Leader Spotlight: Veronica Hernandez, President of Socorro AFT

Socorro AFT President Veronica Hernandez (center) with State Rep. Mary González
and Sen. César Blanco.

Born and raised in El Paso, Veronica Hernandez has served as Socorro AFT president since the local union was chartered in 2008. Since she started as an organizer with the Texas AFT Associate Membership Program in Socorro in 2002, local union membership has grown from under 100 to some 2,000.

Hernandez is a tireless advocate and has led her members to an amazing string of victories –from coordinating vaccinations for school nurses to a continuing series of pay raises for employees. Read more on how Hernandez has built power for her union with our local leaders spotlight.

 


Governor to give State of the State address online MondayGreg abbott speaking at press conference tableGov. Greg Abbott will deliver the State of the State address on Monday, February 1, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. A number of websites will carry the speech, including, KXAN TV.

Abbott is expected to provide an update on the state’s COVID-19 response and outline his priorities for the 87th Legislature, which could come in the form of his “emergency items” that are allowed fast tracks in the Legislature. Texas AFT will be watching for the governor’s views on public education and protecting educators and all school personnel in the pandemic.

 


Bridges Institute Presents: Trauma Informed Practice Series

Flier showing teacher and students at table, dates of series.The Bridges Institute for Professional Development invites you to attend our five-part webinar series on trauma-informed practices. Each session will begin at 6 p.m., and CPE credit will be issued for each session attended.

Participants will learn and practice research-based trauma-informed practices to boost student resilience and gain a deeper understanding of how adversity can impact children’s developing brains, bodies and behaviors, while exploring strategies that promote healing from various traumatic events. Register for this free series of workshops here.

 

 

 


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