Latest Capitol Updates

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Patrick, Straus offer very different approaches to public education | January 13, 2017 - 12:28pm

The divide between the Texas Senate and House on education issues is becoming more sharply defined, even in these early days of the session.

Rules debates bring the drama | January 11, 2017 - 6:16pm

It always gets interesting — and it's often substantively important — when individuals or factions challenge the leadership. Both the House and Senate adopted their housekeeping rules today, but not without discord.

85th Legislature convenes | January 10, 2017 - 1:43pm

Day One of the 140-day 2017 legislative session began Tuesday as the House and Senate convened at noon. New and returning lawmakers took the oath of office, and House members elected Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) to a record-tying fifth term as House Speaker.

Preliminary accountability ratings released Jan. 6 by the Texas Education Agency as it transitions to a new A-F rating system sparked concerns from educators and education groups statewide after grades across the board were lower than many expected.

Those of us who are involved in Texas politics can often predict the starting point of a legislative session with some accuracy, but the trajectory and the endpoint are always much trickier. For example, we know that “school choice” (some type of private school voucher plan) is a top priority of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and that a bill will be filed to accomplish this. But — will a voucher/ESA bill be seriously considered in the House, which has been firm in its resolve against voucher programs in the past? Private school choice is only one of many education issues that will be a big part of the 2017 legislative session. But it is not the only issue that will highlight the differences between House and Senate goals for the next five months.

TCTA objected when a recent TEA rule proposal omitted a key provision. TCTA-initiated SB 1259, passed in 2015, restored provisions benefitting special education students and their regular education teachers. TCTA submitted comments and also testified at a TEA hearing on the proposed rules, pointing out that they did not contain important language from SB 1259 requiring that the regular education teacher who participates in an ARD committee meeting must be one who will implement a portion of the student’s IEP. Read more

Commissioner of Education Mike Morath recently released proposed rules to change the student performance standard categories for STAAR, effective for the 2016-17 school year. He recommends the current phase-in schedule be replaced with a final set of standards and labels to indicate four levels of student performance. Read more

A Texas congressman has proposed significant changes to the Social Security system. His legislation would cut benefits for all but the lowest-income Social Security recipients, and would phase in an increase in the retirement age to 69. The bill also includes a replacement for the Windfall Elimination Provision — the federal law that reduces Social Security benefits for many educators who earned benefits through previous Social Security participation but do not pay in to Social Security through their school. Click here to read more.

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.