Key Lawsuit Win on Teacher Evaluations; News on Vouchers, School Nurses and Retiree Health Care

Nurse-Staffing Notification, Community Schools, Employee Decision-Making, Accountability Bills Gain Ground:  HB 1847 by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), a good bill requiring parents to be notified when their child’s school does not have a school nurse available throughout the school day, won quick, unanimous approval in the House Public Education Committee yesterday. Strong testimony by school nurse Starla Reichek of the Houston Federation of Teachers helped make the case for this consumer-protection measure. The bill’s language also extends to notice when librarians and counselors are not on campus full-time, matching the text of a Senate bill by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), SB 196, that has already passed in the Senate.

The House Public Education Committee on Wednesday also gave unanimous approval to another good bill, HB 3861 by Reps. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), which promotes the use of the proven community-school model for the turnaround of academically struggling schools.
You can send a letter to your legislators to encourage favorable action in the full House and Senate via the legislative-action page of the Texas AFT website.

Yet another helpful bill passed without dissent by the Public Education panel, HB 3767 by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston), would require school districts to certify each year that their site-based decision-making committees are properly constituted–meaning among other things that their professional-staff representatives must be elected, as required by law.

HB 22 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), the main House bill on accountability this session, passed the House by a vote of 146 to zero on Thursday afternoon.  The bill would delay implementation of A-F school ratings until the 2019-20 school year, giving the Legislature one more regular session in 2019 to review and possibly replace this ill-advised rating system. The bill also would prohibit labeling a district or school with a single overall letter grade. Student performance on state exams could not account for more than 50 percent of ratings of student performance and school progress; districts could use multiple other measures of student performance.

Another Failed Attempt to Pass Special-Education Vouchers:  Quick action by anti-voucher House members kept a special-education voucher amendment from being added to HB 23, a bill on autism-related grants by Rep. Huberty. The voucher amendment by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) was withdrawn after Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell), Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint), and Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) raised questions that clearly identified the amendment as a voucher plan of the type the House has thoroughly rejected already this session, funneling public funds to private schools without accountability.

Retiree Health Care:  HB 3976 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) is the bill we have characterized as necessary to keep the state’s TRS-Care plan for retirees’  health care afloat but not yet sufficient to protect many retirees from steep increases in their share of the costs. The bill is definitely more favorable to retirees than a plan put  forward by the Senate, and House members passed HB 3976 Thursday by a margin of 140 to zero.

Texas AFT Settlement of Lawsuit with TEA Scores Win Against Misuse of “Value-Added” in Teacher Appraisal:  Texas AFT filed suit one year ago in state district court to challenge the authority of the Texas commissioner of education—Mike Morath—to dictate how to measure student performance for the purpose of teacher appraisals.  Texas AFT filed the suit because the commissioner attempted to enshrine in state rules the misuse of test scores as part of an exclusive list of permissible methodologies for teacher evaluation. The state-recommended system for evaluations developed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) is the recently-developed Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System, or “T-TESS.”

Now, as part of a negotiated settlement of the Texas AFT lawsuit, the commissioner has agreed to strike from state rules any reference to specific measures of student performance, including so-called “value-added data based on student state assessment results.” Under the agreement, the commissioner has agreed to revise current state regulations so that school districts are free to use any method they choose to measure how teachers’ students progress academically. This change applies to the statewide T-TESS as well as to a locally developed appraisal system. The settlement agreement also makes clear that local appraisal systems are not subject to state requirements giving specific weight to certain elements that make up the teacher’s appraisal.  Those weights are to be determined by the local school district that develops its own teacher appraisal system.

“The legislature gave the commissioner the authority to recommend the use of a commissioner-approved appraisal model, not to dictate to districts,” said Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro. “The law clearly allows districts to develop their own locally designed alternative model, and the commissioner simply had no legal basis for telling districts how to measure students’ performance for purposes of teacher evaluation.  This successful resolution of our lawsuit is a vindication for teachers who have argued against the use of state assessment data in their evaluations.  It is also a victory for school districts that want to develop meaningful tools to appraise and support teachers.  Local school districts, working in collaboration with their teachers and staff, now have a clear path to develop meaningful teacher evaluation systems that support good teaching rather than reinforce a broken system of over-testing and over-reliance on standardized tests.”