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TCTA's Ann Fickel provided testimony at a meeting of the House Pensions Committee in Dallas on Thursday, May 10. The Dallas City Council Chambers were packed with retired teachers, several of whom also testified with their concerns about retirement and health insurance benefits.

TEA issued the final version of its strategic plan for special education in response to a federal monitoring report that required TEA to correct areas of deficiency, including the proper identification of special education students and assuring access to appropriate services at the local level. A key focus is rectifying a situation identified by the federal Office of Special Education Programs in which some school districts delayed or denied potentially eligible students the right to an initial evaluation for special education in order to avoid exceeding TEA’s former 8.5 percent monitoring target for referral of students for special education services.

The Texas Retirement System Board of Trustees had scheduled action during its April meeting to lower the pension fund’s assumed investment return rate — a key financial benchmark in evaluating the health of the pension fund — from the current 8 percent. With one of the nine trustees absent, the board was deadlocked on revising the rate, so it will remain at 8 percent for now.

TCTA testified as the Teacher Retirement System Board of Trustees considered new premium rates and plan changes for ActiveCare health insurance in the 2018-19 school year. The board voted to increase premium rates for levels 1-HD, Select, and 2 by 4.4 percent, 5 percent, and 9.5 percent, respectively. 

Former First Lady Barbara Pierce Bush died Tuesday, April 17, 2018, at her Houston home. She was 92. Her long history as an advocate for education prompted TCTA to honor Bush as a Friend of Education in the Private Citizen Category in 1996.

In conjunction with Commissioner Mike Morath's release of his final decisions regarding the A-F Accountability System Framework, TEA noted that an appendix with be included with the Accountability Manual to address any adjustments to be made due to the impact of Hurricane Harvey on testing and accountability measures. TEA also announced its intent to seek a federal waiver to exclude second-year English Learners from the state accountability system for 2018.

The Senate Education Committee met April 4 to consider interim charges that included an examination of high-quality campuses and programs and a review of the Texas Virtual School Network. TCTA contract lobbyist Lindsay Gustafson testified to provide a counterpoint to the committee’s discussion of virtual education. While committee members seemed to support removing many of the virtual school regulations in current law, Gustafson explained that these limitations were important and had been carefully thought out.

TCTA’s Ann Fickel testified before the Senate State Affairs Committee on April 4 to urge continued support for the TRS defined benefit plan and increased funding for retirement benefits, TRS-Care, and active employee health insurance. The committee was charged with reviewing the structure and benefits of the Teacher Retirement System and monitoring the implementation of last session’s legislation that drastically revised insurance costs and benefits for retirees.

TEA is requesting feedback on two testing revisions for special populations: a new pilot test for evaluating LEP students whose ARDs have determined eligibility for STAAR, and enhancements to the STAAR Alternate 2.

TEA has announced several revisions and clarifications that apply to the 2018 testing administration.