Legislative Update: Vouchers get committee approval, Senate votes to scrap salary schedule, House advances pre-K
Date Posted: 4/08/2015 | Author: Jennifer Mitchell, CAE
The Texas Senate approved two major bills relating to teacher quality yesterday, including one opposed by ATPE and most other groups representing Texas educators. First, the Senate passed Senate Bill (SB) 892 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R), which deals with educator preparation. ATPE supported the bill as filed when it was heard by the Senate Education Committee on March 19, since the bill called for enhancing the existing GPA requirements for admission into an educator preparation program (EPP). The bill, however, was subsequently amended to a version that ATPE does not support. In its current form, SB 892 adds language enabling alternative certification programs to take advantage of "late hire" provisions that place teachers into the classroom before they've had sufficient training, and it caps the minimum GPA requirement for EPP candidates at 2.5, which is lower than what is provided for in current statute. SB 892 passed the Senate on April 7 by a vote of 30 to 1, with Sen. Don Huffines (R) offering the only vote against the bill. (Huffines similarly opposed the bill when it was approved by the Senate Education Committee.) SB 893, also by Sen. Seliger, was approved by the full Senate yesterday, too. The bill deals with teacher appraisals, employment, and compensation; most notably, it calls for elimination of the state minimum salary schedule for teachers. ATPE and most educator groups opposed the bill when it was heard by the Senate Education Committee on March 19. Several floor amendments were added to SB 893 yesterday, including one by Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Larry Taylor (R) requiring the commissioner of education to develop a training course to help administrators implement new appraisal processes and another floor amendment by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D) that modifies Advanced Placement Incentives that may be paid to teachers. The Senate rejected by a vote of 24 to 7 a floor amendment by Sen. Jose Menendez (D) that attempted to restore the minimum salary schedule for teachers in the bill. The Senate ultimately passed SB 893 by a vote of 27 to 4, with Sens. Menendez, Rodney Ellis (D), Eddie Lucio (D), and Royce West (D) voting against the bill on third reading.
The House Public Education Committee met April 7 to hear several high-profile bills. The hearing began with Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock (R) providing new details on his bill to overhaul the state's school finance system. Aycock explained that House Bill (HB) 1759 will eliminate many of the existing funding allotments for special populations and circumstances and place those funds into the basic per-student allocation instead. Watch for more details on HB 1759 coming soon from ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified against a controversial bill to do away with the minimum salary schedule for teachers. House Bill (HB) 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) is a bill relating to teacher appraisals, professional development, salaries, and employment. The bill was identical at the time of filing to SB 893, which passed the full Senate yesterday in an amended format. Exter's testimony highlighted ATPE's concerns about eliminating the minimum salary schedule for teachers and the potential for school districts to rely heavily on students' standardized test scores and value-added measures of student performance in evaluating and making employment decisions about teachers. The bill was left pending in the committee yesterday. ATPE appreciates those members who have contacted their legislators asking them to oppose HB 2543 and SB 893, and we encourage you to keep letting members of the House of Representatives know how these bills would negatively impact teachers. Visit our Officeholders page to find contact information for your state representative. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter also testified yesterday in support of SB 149, by Sen. Kel Seliger (R), a measure that would give some high school students a chance to graduate despite failing a STAAR exam. SB 149, sponsored on the House side by Rep. Dan Huberty (R), has broad support from the education community and parents, and the bill already passed the Senate by a vote of 28-2 last month. Exter asked the committee to consider amending the bill to provide similar options for students who were high school seniors during the previous two school years and were denied an opportunity to graduate based on failing a STAAR test that was required. The House Public Education Committee approved SB 149 unanimously during yesterday's hearing.
The Senate Education Committee also met April 7 to hear bills relating to interventions for low-performing schools and to vote out pending bills. The committee considered SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D), along with two bills by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), who chairs the committee: SB 895 and SB 1241. The first two bills would place certain low-performing schools into a statewide "Opportunity School District." Read more about the legislation in our blog post from yesterday. Chairman Taylor's SB 1241 also subjects low-performing schools to the possibility of alternative management through the creation of "Innovation Zones." ATPE Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg testified against the aforementioned bills based on concerns about enabling private entities to manage public schools, the potential impact on educators' contract rights, and the likelihood that parents and local voters would lose their ability to have input on school governance decisions. All three bills were left pending, but the committee did vote out a related piece of "parent trigger" legislation. A committee substitute version of SB 14 by Chairman Larry Taylor was approved by the committee on a vote of 7 to 1, with one committee member present not voting. Also in yesterday's Senate Education Committee hearing, Gregg testified in support of SB 1483 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D), a bill promoting the use of a community schools model for turning around struggling schools as an alternative to reconstitution or privatization. The bill was left pending. The Senate Education Committee also approved Chairman Larry Taylor's private school voucher bill, SB 4, which ATPE opposes. The bill was amended and substituted, and its new text has not yet been made available, but the new version incorporates elements of another privatization bill, SB 642 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R). ATPE testified against the voucher bills during their March 26 hearing, and you can read more about them on our Issues page. The committee's vote yesterday on SB 4, though not yet officially reported, was 7 to 3.
On the House floor today, state representatives debated House Bill (HB) 4, by Rep. Dan Huberty (R), a bill relating to a hig- quality pre-kindergarten program provided by public school districts. The bill, which ATPE supported when it was heard by the House Public Education Committee on March 10, is aimed at flowing additional money to school districts that agree to implement certain quality control measures in their pre-K programs. Several floor amendments were considered during today's lively debate. The House approved an amendment by Rep. Eric Johnson (D) to prohibit state standardized testing of pre-K students and rejected an amendment by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D) attempting to impose an 18:1 pre-K class-size limit. A small group of legislators who oppose the bill raised points of order (procedural objections) against the bill and offered amendments attempting to reduce the state's pre-K plan to a limited pilot program with reduced funding. Those attempts were unsuccessful, and the House ultimately voted 129 to 18 to advance the bill to third reading.
Tomorrow, April 9, the Senate Education Committee will meet again to consider a number of bills. The agenda includes a bill that would prevent school districts from hiring employees with certain criminal histories, bills relating to the procedures by which school districts adopt textbooks, a measure to give the commissioner of education the ability to issue subpoenas when investigating educator misconduct allegations, and even a bill pertaining to the use of sunscreen in schools. Visit Teach the Vote for updates after the hearing.
In national news, U.S. senators leading an effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), are making progress. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn), who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced yesterday that they have reached a bipartisan agreement on a rewrite that they believe will fix many of the problems of the ESEA. A committee hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday, April 14. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for additional details from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann later this week.
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