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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 5, 2021

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

Texas Legislature Congress | Federal COVID-19 Elections

Date Posted: 2/05/2021

This week featured some surprise announcements about Texas House committees, and a confirmation hearing for Dr. Miguel Cardona in Washington, D.C. Here’s a summary of the week’s developments up from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.

gov-sots-02-01-21.jpgLEGISLATIVE UPDATE: Governor Greg Abbott’s State of the State address on Monday urged the 87th Texas Legislature to work on five “emergency items.” They include expanding broadband access, preventing efforts to “defund the police,” strengthening the bail bond system, ensuring “election integrity,” and providing civil liability protections from COVID-19-related lawsuits against businesses that remained open during the pandemic. Under the Texas Constitution, lawmakers cannot pass any bills during the first 60 days of session, except those relating to emergency items. Read more about Abbott’s priorities in this post by ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.

Texas House Public Education committee Chairman Harold Dutton (D-Houston)

The long-awaited Texas House of Representatives committee assignments are out! Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) will chair the House Public Education Committee alongside vice-chair Rep. J.M. Lozano (R-Kingsville). Dutton takes over as chair following Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), who held the position since 2017 and will remain on the committee. Other members of the committee include Reps. Alma Allen (R-Houston), Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), Ken King (R-Hemphill), Steve Allison (R-San Antonio), Keith Bell (R-Kaufman), Brad Buckley (R-Killeen), Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso), Terry Meza (D-Irving), James Talarico (D-Round Rock), and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston). Find more detail on the new committee assignments in this post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.

Cardona_Sen_conf_hearing_02-03-21.jpgFEDERAL UPDATE: Former educator Dr. Miguel Cardona, President Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Education, shared his “teacher voice” during his U.S. Senate confirmation hearing this week. Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee posed several questions to Cardona on topics such as reopening schools, testing and accountability, and vaccinations for educators. Cardona framed himself as a staunch advocate for public schools, educators, and students. Read more about his positions in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

Also, this week the U.S. Department of Education indefinitely extended a February 1 deadline for states to request federal testing and accountability waivers. In his confirmation hearing, Cardona said he believes there is still value in administering the tests but wants to let states weigh in on the matter. As Connecticut Commissioner of Education, Cardona decided to keep standardized testing for the 2020-2021 school year without using the data for accountability. Read more about the changes to the federal waiver timeline in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

Jennifer_Jendrzey_RYHT.jpgJennifer Jendrzey, Raise Your Hand Texas

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: A recent poll by the non-profit Raise Your Hand Texas (RYHT) Foundation found that Texans stand by their public schools and teachers, with 92% expressing the same or more appreciation for their schools than before the pandemic. The poll also found most Texans believe schools need more funding to address COVID-19 challenges, that cuts would impact the quality of public education, and that STAAR is ineffective for measuring what it purports to measure or promoting good teaching. Read more about the poll in this guest post by RYHT’s Jennifer Jendrzey.

With the Texas Education Agency’s push for in-person learning, staff absences have caused major issues for schools that need adults in classrooms. A shortage of substitutes only adds to the problem. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter spoke with the Texas Tribune this week on the issue and said, “Anything that you’re doing that’s adding instability to that environment is going to lower your students’ ability to uptake knowledge. To think that’s not going to affect the learning of students, whether they’re virtual or in person — it’s going to impact it.”

Finally, ATPE held a recent webinar on “COVID-19 & Your Rights: An Update,” which covered vaccines, denial of remote work accommodations, teacher evaluations, and more. ATPE members can login to watch the webinar here. For educator concerns related to COVID-19, please visit ATPE’s Coronavirus FAQ and Resource page.

ELECTION UPDATE: A date has been set for the Texas House District 68 special election runoff. Election Day will be Tuesday, Feb. 23, and early voting will begin Tuesday, Feb. 16. Click on the links here for candidates David Spiller (R-Jacksboro) and Craig Carter (R-Nocona), to view their Teach the Vote profiles, including their responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey. In the special election that prompted the runoff, Spiller earned 43.88% of the vote while Carter had 18.07%. ATPE expresses condolences for the recent car accident that tragically took the lives of Carter’s family members.

This February, we celebrate Black History Month. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), founded by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1915, declared “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity” as this year’s theme. Black history and American history are one in the same. We encourage educators and their students to spend time learning more about African American history and the Black experience during February and beyond. Find numerous teaching and learning resources in this post from ATPE.

AATVC-Logo.pngIt’s official! This year’s ATPE at the Virtual Capitol closing session will feature newly appointed Texas House Public Education committee Chairman Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Public Education committee member Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), and Senate Education committee member Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Forth Worth). You won’t want to miss this special event on Sunday, February 21! ATPE members can register for free and check out the rest of the day’s offerings, including panel presentations, legislative issue updates, live Q&A, and advocacy training at atpe.org/ATPE-at-the-Virtual-Capitol.


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