Teach the Vote's Week in Review: Nov. 11, 2022
School Finance Retirement | TRS | Social Security Texas Legislature Congress | Federal Elections Curriculum | Instruction TEA | Commissioner | SBOE Privatization | Vouchers Deregulation | Charter Schools
Date Posted: 11/11/2022 | Author: Jennifer Mitchell and Mark Wiggins
The ATPE Governmental Relations team recaps the past week’s education news, legislative and election updates, and regulatory developments.
- Few unexpected outcomes for Texas in low-turnout Nov. 8 election
- Private school voucher supporters claim election night victories
- SBOE to meet next week ahead of board changes
- TEA releases financial accountability ratings
- Texas federal judge blocks Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan
- TRS offers new and improved benefits handbook for Texas educators
- ATPE attends Friends of Texas Public Schools event
- Happy Veterans Day to those who have served our country!
ELECTION: Voter turnout was extremely low in Texas for the midterm elections held Tuesday, Nov. 8. It was the first election cycle following the once-per-decade redistricting process, which made fewer seats competitive, but all statewide candidates were also on the ballot with several high-profile races.
Republicans once again swept the statewide races, with Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) winning reelection by 11 percentage points. The Texas Legislature saw few competitive races and the partisan makeup of the House and Senate will likely be similar to the 2021 legislative session. Results are still unofficial as ballot counts are finalized, and a few close races could lead to recounts. Read more in this election recap by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell and Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
VOUCHERS: ATPE has been reporting for many months on the prominence of vouchers in this year’s election campaign rhetoric. Major statewide candidates, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, made the push for enacting private school vouchers in Texas a key focal point of their campaigns. With the election behind us, groups that back vouchers are claiming credit for election night victories by candidates they consider to be allies.
The American Federation for Children endorsed Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) in their 2022 reelection campaigns and said this week about the election outcomes, “Thanks to the leadership of Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick, educational freedom was on the ballot this election and won handily.” The Texas arm of the group also congratulated the following Republican candidates it hailed as “school choice champions” on their wins Tuesday night: legislative candidates Caroline Harris (House District (HD) 52), Rep. Morgan Meyer (HD 108), Rep. Angie Chen Button (HD 112), Rep. John Lujan (HD 118), and Rep. Lacey Hull (HD 138); and SBOE candidates L.J. Francis (District 2), Will Hickman (incumbent member in District 6), Julie Pickren (District 7), Evelyn Brooks (District 14), and Aaron Kinsey (District 15).
Patrick has referred to the state’s public schools, particularly in urban areas, as “dropout factories.” Attempting to garner support from more moderate, rural Republican lawmakers who often reject vouchers because they offer no benefit to rural students, Patrick has already signaled that he will advance a voucher proposal that excludes rural schools and focuses solely on larger metro areas.
As we reported last week, the Texas Commission on Special Education Funding is meeting Monday, Nov. 14, at 1:30 p.m. in Austin, and its agenda will include discussing Education Savings Account (ESA) vouchers for students in special education. View a broadcast of the meeting here.
SBOE: The State Board of Education (SBOE) will be meeting next week in Austin to finalize a bare-bones revision to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for social studies that implements changes required by Senate Bill (SB) 3, passed in 2021. It will be the last meeting for Members Georgina Perez (D), Ruben Cortez (D), Lawrence Allen, Jr. (D), Matt Robinson (R), Sue Melton-Malone (R), and Jay Johnson (R) who are finishing out their terms. Six newly elected members will be sworn in when the 15-member board next meets in January: Melissa Ortega (D), L.J. Francis (R), Staci Childs (D), Julie Pickren (R), Evelyn Brooks (R), and Aaron Kinsey (R).
Several candidates running for SBOE and local school boards this year made "critical race theory (CRT" a frequent talking point in their campaigns. But for some, anti-CRT messaging may have been more of a diversion than a top priority. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins says curriculum debates are "the shiiny object that gets all the headlines." He spoke Wednesday to Houston Public Media about the role charter schools played in influencing SBOE election outcomes. The new article – a follow-up to an October feature story that included ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell – discusses the prevalance of CRT messaging by pro-voucher and pro-charter candidates, as well as the impact unprecedented campaign spending by the charter industry may have on the board moving forward.
FIRST: The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released its 2021-22 Financial Accountability (FIRST) ratings for public schools this week. The financial ratings are assigned on an A-F rating system and are designed to encourage schools to focus spending on direct instruction. A complete list of FIRST ratings can be found here.
LOANS: We reported on Teach the Vote a few weeks ago that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit had issued a ruling preventing any federal student loans from being forgiven under a program launched by the Biden administration. The program is limited to those who earn less than $125,000 and is intended to provide up to $10,000 in relief to most eligible applicants. The U.S. Department of Education was continuing to accept applications for loan forgiveness while that case was being reviewed.
However, a new ruling this week by a federal district court in Texas has the loan forgiveness application process on hold now, too. Plaintiffs in the Texas case, who were ineligible for the new debt relief, argued the public had been given no opportunity to comment on the changes to federal rules that made the loan forgiveness program possible. The judge ruled that the Biden administration did not have clear authority to create the program. The Texas case is expected to be appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court eventually.
These and other pending court challenges against the loan forgiveness program leave borrowers in a difficult situation not knowing how long it will take to reach a resolution. In the meantime, borrowers can sign up for email updates from the U.S. Department of Education here.
TRS: The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas released a new and improved TRS Benefits Handbook to help educators learn more about their retirement benefits. According to the agency, the new handbook includes tools to help members learn about retirement tiers, how benefits are calculated, what to do for major life events, and how to update beneficiary information. Access the new handbook here.
FOTPS: ATPE was a sponsor for the annual Friend of the Year Awards Dinner hosted by Friends of Texas Public Schools in Waco this week. The group honored Laura Yeager with its Friend of the Year award. Yeager is the director of the Texas Educators Vote coalition, of which ATPE is a charter member. She also helped launch the education advocacy groups Just Fund It TX and Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA). Yeager has previously been a guest writer for ATPE’s Teach the Vote advocacy blog. Attending the event on behalf of ATPE were State President Stacey Ward, State Vice President Jayne Serna, State Secretary Jason Forbis, State Treasurer Jerrica Liggins, State Past President Karen Hames, Region 12 Director Christina Flores, Executive Director Shannon Holmes, and Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.
VETERANS: The ATPE Governmental Relations team sends best wishes and thanks to the many members of our education community who have also served in the armed forces. On this Veterans Day 2022, we appreciate all those now or previously serving in the military for their service and contributions to our country.
ATPE Members: Sign up for our Thanksgiving Week Teacher Trot Virtual 5K Fun Run/Walk! The registration deadline is Thursday, Nov. 17. Learn more here.
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Thank you for being active in all of this, guys!