Texas AFT Comments on TEA Rules for A-F Ratings

Texas AFT Comments on Proposed Amendments to §97.1051 and Proposed New §97.1060

Texas AFT strongly opposes the proposed amendments because these changes would have the effect of putting struggling districts and their elected boards on the fast-track to state takeover without allowing sufficient time to see if the turnaround improvement plan (TIP) works before the Commissioner may intervene.

The statute that allows for these rules passed in 2017. However, in the intervening time since then, there have been no invitations for stakeholder input regarding how these substantial rule changes could affect public schools, their employees, and students. We urge the commissioner to delay implementation until such time that stakeholders can have a say in the drafting of these rules.

Section 97.1051 – Texas AFT supports the addition of an “intervention pause” that would allow a district the time to properly implement a TIP. It makes sense to first give ample opportunity for a district to make substantial improvements before the state removes the elected governance from a local community. This is a particularly important rule considering the unique circumstances some districts face, such as recovering after a natural disaster.

Section 97.1060(b) – The last sentence seems to contradict current statute by stating the “subsection applies to an overall or domain “D” rating. This seems contrary to Section 39.101(b)(2) of the Texas Education Code (TEC), which states that the interventions and sanctions apply to a district or campus ordered to develop and implement a Targeted Improvement Plan …only if the district or campus is assigned… an overall performance rating of D as provided by Subsection(c).” So, the statute does not refer to the rating of individual domains – only district or campus overall ratings of D.

We also have concerns about the lack of Commissioner approval required of TIPs. Under the statutory scheme in Section 39.107, the plans need to be submitted by a certain date. However, these rules would allow the Commissioner to hold districts accountable the same as if these plans had been submitted and approved. Also, districts will not have had the benefit of the Commissioner’s “guidance” and help by agency staff as contemplated by Section 39.107.

Section 97.1060(e) – This appears to contradict Section 39.101(c), TEC. After an initial D rating, the TIP is developed and implemented. Then, if there are additional Ds in the subsequent year, the Commissioner can implement interventions and sanctions. They shall continue “for each consecutive school year thereafter” in which a D rating is received. It appears that the Commissioner’s rule would mean that if ratings went back and forth – say, D, D, C, D, that intervening C would not make a difference.

Section 97.1060(f) – The wording of this section is troubling in several respects. First, just a plain reading of the (f) seems to suggest that all the sanctions listed here are available if a “needs improvement rating is the most recent performance rating assigned to the district.” In other words, (f) does not seem to refer to or take into account the first D rating year in which a TIP is developed and implemented. Upon the first D rating, the D-rated district would appear to become subject to the interventions in (f) before allowing time for a TIP to be implemented.

Second, the sanctions and interventions detailed in Section 39.107 of the TEC are all part of a stair-step process. For example, Section 39.107(d) sanctions, appointment of board of managers, alternative management of the campus, and closure of the campus, are only implemented two years after the implementation of the campus turnaround plan (and only if commissioner determines that the plan will not work to improve things by the second year). Then, according to Section 39.107(e), three years out from the implementation of the turnaround plan, the Commissioner can appoint the board of managers to govern the district, or close the campus.

According to these proposed rules, once a district receives a D and develops a turnaround plan, all interventions become available to the Commissioner. Although Section 39.101 of the TEC states a second year D is unacceptable performance, the procedures in 39.107 allow for a longer period to see if the TIP yields results. A second D triggers the sanctions regime but the sanctions have to be imposed in accordance with Section 39.107.

Section 97.1060 (g) – As mentioned above, Section 39.107 of the TEC is part of a stair-step process. The point of a stair-step of interventions is to start with the least radical of the interventions to see if this works. Subsection (g) allows for immediate and substantial interventions.

Section 97.1070(h) – This would allow the Commissioner to use sanctions and interventions against an entire district even if there is only one troubled campus. Under these rules, districts will not have a fair shot to develop a TIP, will not get help from the Commissioner and TEA on the plan, and most importantly, would not have enough time to allow the plan to work.