July 2: SBOE and TEA Provide More 20-21 Info; Lawmakers Push for CARES Act Money to Go to Schools; Supreme Court Recap


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2020-2021 Outlook: What we know about next year

TEA Commissioner: Texas will require STAAR testing in 20-21 school year; Texas AFT vows to fight

Despite repeated and numerous demands from lawmakers, parents, and educators, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told the State Board of Education this week that students will be required to take the STAAR test this coming 2020-2021 school year. According to Morath, there will be changes to testing such as an expanded testing window and an extended period for online testing.

Because of the cancelled testing this academic year, Morath said it’s going to be difficult to calculate growth and allocate resources. We think that’s nonsense.

Standardized testing does not accurately assess the academic readiness of students and will further stress students and families struggling to deal with the impact of COVID-19. To say this is a tone-deaf move by TEA would be an understatement. Mandating STAAR testing with no end to the pandemic in sight, no way of knowing how schools will be able to open and stay open, much less provide quality instruction to all students, is cruel. Our students and families deserve better. Our profession deserves better. Texas AFT will continue to fight to cancel STAAR, especially this upcoming year.

SBOE discusses sex ed standards, charter schools amendments

This week, the State Board of Education discussed Texas health curriculum standards for the first time since 1997. The SBOE heard from over 260 witnesses who testified past 1:00 a.m., the vast majority of whom supported robust health standards for comprehensive sexuality education including curricula about sexual orientation and gender identity.

Currently, Texas health standards support abstinence-only curricula, which do not properly address informed consent and sexual violence prevention, sexual orientation, or gender identity. While Texas teen birth and pregnancy rates have consistently ranked among the highest in the nation, more than 80 percent of school districts still teach abstinence-only or provide no sex education at all. The SBOE will hold a second public hearing in September and will take a final vote on the standards in November.

In addition, board member Georgina Perez pressed the commissioner on the pending approval of nearly 100 charter school expansion amendments. In April, eighteen education organizations sent a letter to the commissioner pleading with him to deny these amendments. If approved, the expansion amendments would increase charter student enrollment by 77,080 students with an additional cost to the state of approximately $90 million annually above the cost to the system if these students were enrolled in school districts. The commissioner stated that the charter amendment requests, for which he has sole authority to approve, are still pending.

Later, the conversation on charters continued with a robust discussion led by Ruben Cortez and Georgina Perez about whether the Permanent School Fund should add an additional $1 billion in bond backing for unaccountable charter schools that are prone to bond default. The attempt to halt this expanded liability failed by a 9-5 vote against the motion to delay consideration until the state has more certainty on the budget outlook. We thank board members Perez and Cortez for being vigilant stewards of state education dollars at an unprecedented time when our public schools are being asked to do more with less.

 

 

 

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Lawmakers tell Morath: Use CARES Act money for COVID-19 expenses

Lawmakers put pressure on TEA Commissioner Mike Morath to use CARES Act money to supplement funding to school districts for COVID-19 expenses. Earlier this week TEA received letters from sixty-five Texas State Representatives and members of the Congressional Delegation. The letters came independent of each other but carried the same message: CARES Act money needs to go directly to school districts.

TEA made the decision in June to use CARES Act funds to offset their losses instead of distributing money directly to school districts. This was not the intent of the CARES Act passed by Congress. Texas Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia stated in a press release: “When I voted for the CARES Act, I voted on behalf of the public schools and the students in my district and across Texas, hoping they would directly receive important federal dollars needed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Lawmakers expressed disappointment with TEA’s decision to use CARES Act money to backfill their budget and urged the agency to reconsider: “it will force district officials to go back to the drawing board to find a way to keep their districts afloat financially and keep their students and teachers engaged educationally.”

Lawmakers made three clear requests in their letter to TEA: one, school districts should be reimbursed 100 percent of their COVID-19 expenses; two, extend the timeframe for reimbursement through August 1st; three, that reimbursements for additional COVID-19 expenses be prioritized from discretionary TEA funding. School districts have already had to absorb costs because of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as potentially millions in additional costs for students and educators to safely return and/or access online instruction.

The cost to safely re-open schools in the time of COVID-19 are significant and still unknown. TEA holding back CARES Act money hinders our local schools as they plan a reopening to safely educate students amid a pandemic.

Read letter from Texas Congressional Delegation

Read letter from Texas State representative

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Espinoza v. Montana: Supreme court vote benefits privatization advocates, harms educators

https://www.texasaft.org/policy/rulings/espinoza-v-montana-supreme-court-vote-benefits-privatization-advocates-harms-educators/The Supreme Court provided privatization advocates a significant nationwide victory this week with their ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. The court ruled 5 to 4 that Montana’s disqualification of religious schools from its tax credit voucher program violates a parent’s’ right to religious freedom. The court found that if a state subsidizes private education, it must also apply tax credits for school vouchers to religious schools as well, even if states have specific laws, called “No-Aid” amendments, banning public dollars from going to religious institutions. AFT President Randi Weingarten criticized the ruling saying, “We should be prioritizing additional resources for public education and other vital social programs, not diverting them to private purposes.”

The good news is the Texas Legislature has steadfastly refused to throw public money at private school vouchers of any kind, so this ruling doesn’t have a direct impact on us. However, privatization advocates never give up, and we expect the fight to continue next session as they use the current pandemic to push private school vouchers as well as privately run, unaccountable charter schools.

 

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TEA Clarifies Remote Attendance Policy for 2020-2021

Last week, TEA announced plans for adjusting attendance requirements during the 2020-2021 school year, including specific plans for remote learning attendance policies which we discussed last week and you can read about here. This week, TEA updated and clarified those policies.

The update clarifies that synchronous instruction is not expressly prohibited, but just that for Pre-K through 2nd grade, the synchronous method of taking attendance is prohibited. The TEA also clarified that SPED funding and funding for Career and Technical Education will continue as long as remote instruction for those students continues. The TEA also outlined an asynchronous attendance plan involving paper packets for students who do not have internet access.

The plan outlines how asynchronous learning plans can be submitted to TEA for their approval and stated that they will begin reviewing submitted plans on July 20th. The deadline for submitting plans is October 1st.

The full list of attendance and enrollment FAQs, including more updates from this week not discussed here, is available by clicking here.

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Early Voting Begins in Texas

You can cast your ballot early through July 10 for Primary Runoff/Special Election in Texas on July 14. Texas AFT worked hard to endorse public education champions across the state from State Senator Royce West, who needs to move up to the U.S. Senate, to Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, who deserves a promotion to the State Senate. A cadre of strong female candidates like Akilah Bacy in Houston and Rep. Lorraine Birabil need your support in the Texas House. Vote for our endorsed candidates! And don’t forget to wear a mask!

Check our 2020 elections page for more info: https://www.texasaft.org/campaigns/election-2020/

Pol. adv. paid for by Texas AFT COPE

 

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Texas American Federation of Teachers represents more than 65,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees across the state. Texas AFT is affiliated with the 1.6-million-member American Federation of Teachers.