The U.S. Department of Education issued final regulations this week for its implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, modifying some of its proposed regulations released in May in response to public comment. TCTA, along with 21,608 others, submitted comments on the 192-page controversial and comprehensive set of rules, protesting, among other things, the proposal to require states to issue a single summative accountability rating to schools and school districts. TCTA asserted that ESSA did not require summative accountability ratings, and that such a requirement implicitly encourages controversial school accountability measures such as A-F school grading systems. Read more

TCTA testified in support of proposed Texas Education Agency rules requiring new construction projects in school districts to provide extra square footage for classrooms larger than 25 students in grades 5-12 as well as in classrooms with large furniture and equipment. The testimony at a Dec. 1 TEA hearing on proposed revisions to school facilities rules was in addition to written comments TCTA submitted. While supporting several TEA proposals for facilities, TCTA also urged the rules to require more space for K-4 classrooms with more than 22 students to ensure adequate space for learning and increased student safety. Read more.

The TRS Board of Trustees received a briefing at its December meeting on the current fiscal health of the pension fund as well as updates on the TRS-Care and ActiveCare health insurance programs. The pension fund is stable and healthy, though it is just shy of some key benchmarks. News for health insurance was not as good. Because funding for TRS-Care is inadequate, the plan will be insolvent some time after the current budget cycle unless funding is increased or benefits decreased in 2017. Meanwhile, premium costs for ActiveCare are rising steadily. It is difficult to predict how the Texas Legislature will act in the upcoming session, but TCTA remains committed to pushing for increases in the state contribution to teacher health insurance premiums. Read more.

After hearing hours of public testimony, including a response from the publisher, the State Board of Education formally voted Friday, Nov. 18, 2016, to reject the controversial Mexican-American studies textbook, Mexican American Heritage. The board vote was unanimous, and prevents the book from being placed on the board-approved list of instructional materials. In other action, the board voted to provide $2.46 billion from the Permanent School Fund to Texas public schools over the next two years and set eight priorities for the upcoming legislative session. Among the priorities are returning instructional materials approval back to the board, as well as requesting funds to assist the board in creating and implementing a long-range education plan, and prohibiting public dollars from going to vouchers.

The Joint Interim Committee to Study TRS Health Benefit Plans appointed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus issued its report on Nov. 17, 2016. The 200-page document includes background and recommendations for how to resolve the problems that plague both the active and retiree health insurance plans administered by TRS. Unfortunately, rather than endorsing the proposal from TCTA and others that more state funding be provided to help active employees with their premiums, the only recommendation for making ActiveCare more affordable was to reduce the plan options to only the lowest level of coverage and maintain the current funding structure.

TCTA was successful in persuading the Texas Education Agency to make changes in its proposed rules related to school interventions and sanctions. The final version incorporates our suggestions to provide for stakeholders to be notified of a campus’s unacceptable rating after two consecutive years, and to give input in the development of a campus turnaround plan. TEA developed the rules in response to HB 1842, passed in 2015, which provided a new intervention and sanction plan for struggling schools. Click here to read more about TCTA's recommendations.

The U.S. Department of Labor made major changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act that will become effective Dec. 1, 2016. While these changes are likely to cause a great deal of turmoil in private industry, they are unlikely to affect most TCTA members. The main change to the rules is the minimum salary that must be paid in order for an employee to be exempt from the FLSA overtime pay requirements. An exempt employee is not entitled to be paid overtime at time and a half wages for hours worked over 40 hours per week. Click here to read more.

Texas fourth- and eighth-graders are outperforming most of their peers in science, according to the latest Nation's Report Card released Oct. 27, 2016. White, African-American and Hispanic students in both grades rank in the top 10 nationally based on their average scores on the 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), the Texas Education Agency said.

The 2017 Texas Elementary and Secondary Teachers of the Year were named at an Oct. 14, 2016, luncheon in Austin. The Elementary Teacher of the Year, also selected as the Texas nominee for the National Teacher of the Year competition, is Allison Ashley of Austin ISD. The Secondary Teacher of the Year is Deborah Campbell of San Angelo ISD. Three TCTA members were finalists and seven others were recognized as Regional Teachers of the Year. Click here to read more.

Almost two years and 4,800 public comments after releasing controversial proposed rules for teacher preparation programs under the federal Higher Education Act, the U.S. Department of Education adopted final rules last week. After TCTA and others called into question USDE’s proposal to base teacher preparation program accountability “in significant part” on the performance of graduates’/new teachers’ students on state tests, USDE backed down, revising the rules to be much less prescriptive. Click here to read more.