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Our thoughts and prayers are with all TCTA members, their families, colleagues, students and neighbors affected by Hurricane Harvey. Donations and volunteers will be needed in the months ahead as Southeast Texas recovers and starts to rebuild. We've put together a list of resources for those directly impacted by the storm along with ways to help.

Due to the changes made recently in school retiree health insurance, many retirees opted to drop their TRS-Care coverage. Re-enrollment after dropping TRS-Care is typically only allowed in special circumstances (e.g., the death of a spouse). However, TRS has received a number of requests from retirees wishing to re-enroll and has opened up enrollment through Feb. 28, 2018, for retirees who terminated their coverage between June 1, 2017, and Jan. 1, 2018.

After a U.S. Department of Education review found problems with the state's proposed plan to implement the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, Texas could end up with two different systems to measure accountability.

Much of the department’s critique of Texas’s plan centered on state law accountability provisions that could potentially run afoul of ESSA requirements. Given that state laws can only be changed by the Legislature, which next meets in 2019, it is unclear how state and federal law conflicts can be resolved before then. This could lead to two separate accountability systems — one state, one federal — in contradiction to the state's initial goal of structuring the new state accountability system so it aligned with ESSA accountability requirements. 

The U.S. Department of Education has ordered the Texas Education Agency to fix ongoing issues related to special education. In response to USDE and a Jan. 11, 2018, order from Gov. Greg Abbott to respond within seven days, TEA on Jan. 18 released a preliminary corrective action plan to address the issues identified by USDE. TEA will seek public comment on the draft beginning Jan. 23.

The Texas Education Agency on Jan. 3 notified school administrators of a growing threat to K-12 school employees nationwide who are paid via direct deposit.

Cyber criminals are using phishing emails to attempt to gain account login information from users so they can change bank account information to reroute employees’ directly deposited paychecks.

The TRS Board of Trustees received a briefing on the annual actuarial valuation of the pension fund — the analysis of the retirement fund’s health as of Aug. 31, 2017. The valuation showed mostly positive news, including a 12.9 percent return on investments for the fiscal year, which was well above the assumed 8 percent. The TRS fund now holds more than $146 billion in overall assets, up from $134 billion in 2016.

Efforts encouraging Texas teachers and other school employees to become more involved in the 2018 statewide and legislative elections appear to have drawn the attention of certain statewide leaders and groups.

During a recent effort to revise State Board for Educator Certification rules regarding continuing professional education requirements for standard teacher certificate renewal, TCTA was instrumental in ensuring that teachers continue to have as much flexibility as possible in selecting which CPE opportunities they pursue. 

In a significant victory for educators and students in Hurricane Harvey-impacted school districts, Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced Dec. 14 that he would seek a federal accountability waiver from the U.S. Department of Education to ensure the state has maximum flexibility as accountability decisions are made. TCTA and others had expressed concerns about whether student test results from hurricane-impacted schools would accurately represent students’ knowledge or ability, given the significant trauma and displacement many of them had experienced.

In anticipation of slightly exceeding the federal 1 percent state-level cap on the percentage of students taking an alternative assessment, the Texas Education Agency posted for public comment a waiver request to the U.S. Department of Education for the 2017-18 school year. TCTA submitted comments supporting the waiver request.