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Teach the Vote's Week in Review: Feb. 25, 2022

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

Educator Preparation | Certification Texas Legislature Congress | Federal Elections Educator Rights TEA | Commissioner | SBOE Privatization | Vouchers

Date Posted: 2/25/2022

The ATPE Governmental Relations team recaps this week’s education news, legislative and election updates, and regulatory developments.

ELECTIONS: Today is the last day of early voting in the Texas Primary election! If you filled out an application for ballot by mail (ABBM), today is also the last last day for your county’s early clerk to receive that. Election Day is Tuesday, March 1, and the polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. that day.

New on our advocacy blog today, ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell has written an in-depth report on the billionaires who are bankrolling candidates in the 2022 primary elections with a specific goal in mind: getting a private school voucher bill enacted in Texas next year. Read about their million-dollar wagers on Tuesday's election outcomes here.

As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins writes in this blog post, early voting turnout in this year’s primary elections has been quite low. The silver lining to low turnout? Everyone who votes in the primary will have a turbocharged impact. Or as TexasTribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey describes it in this editorial today, the power rests with “the 3% of Texans deciding who governs the other 97%.”
Because most districts are drawn to favor one party over another, many legislative and SBOE seats will be decided during the primary elections Tuesday. In “winner-takes-all" primary races, whoever wins the primary will win the election because nobody from an opposing party signed up. View a list of those primaries in this blog post.

With so much at stake, ATPE urges educators to learn about the education stances of candidates and then vote in one of the two primaries. Here’s how:
  • Use Teach the Vote to read the profiles of all state-level candidates. You’ll find links to the candidates’ websites and social media accounts, notes on endorsements by major newspapers and education-related groups, state legislators’ education voting records, links to news stories about the candidates, and their responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey.
  • Watch archived video of recent education-focused candidate forums hosted by the nonprofit organization Raise Your Hand Texas to learn more about the people vying for your vote in Tuesday's primary elections.
  • Vote411.org and your county election website are good resources to create and print out a sample ballot before heading to the polls. Remember you can’t use your cell phone in the voting booth! The Texas Educators Vote coalition also has a great “Who Does What” resource to help voters understand the different education players on their ballot.
  • Review voting basics, such as where to find your polling places, in this blog post, and learn more about Texas primaries in this follow-up post.
Let’s go vote, educators!

ABUSE: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a non-binding opinion this week that providing gender-affirming care to youth constitutes child abuse. Given that teachers are required to report abuse within 48 hours of suspecting it, many have inquired as to the opinion’s impact on the classroom.

In an article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, ATPE Managing Attorney Paul Tapp says, “The definition of child abuse is actually stated in the Texas Family Code,” and emphasizes that Paxton’s opinion is just that – an opinion. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter also spoke on the issue with the Dallas Morning News, adding that teachers do have a duty to report child abuse, but “it is up to the Texas Legislature and the courts to determine what constitutes abuse.” Notably, the Legislature declined to pass a bill in 2021 that would have expanded the statutory definition of child abuse as Paxton interprets it.

Upon the release of Paxton’s opinion, Gov. Greg Abbott promptly sent a letter to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) directing the agency to investigate any reports of children undergoing gender-affirming care. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath was copied on the letter, signaling that Abbott expects teachers to report abuse using the criteria in the new AG opinion.

Abbott and Paxton are both fending off multiple opponents in a Republican primary that has made state policies toward transgender youth a focal point.

VIRTUAL: The Texas Commission of Virtual Education held its first meeting Wednesday of this week. Last year’s HB 3643 by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) ordered the creation of the commission to study ways to improve virtual education and make recommendations to lawmakers before the 2023 legislative session. The commission is made up of 13 political appointees including elected officials, business owners, and lawyers, as well as one teacher and one administrator. The commission is chaired by Rex Gore, who is one of the governor’s appointees to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) and a board member for IDEA charter schools.
The first meeting featured a lengthy presentation by TEA on the myriad failures of virtual education during the pandemic. The agency also testified about the mixed performance of full-time virtual programs in the Texas Virtual Schools Network (TxVSN), which offers virtual courses to students across the state. The commission will hold monthly meetings through December, although only one will allow public testimony. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

RULEMAKING: ATPE submitted public comments this week on a proposed Commissioner’s rule that would implement last year’s House Bill 4545. The bill decoupled grade advancement from standardized testing, while also establishing a hefty protocol for tutoring students who don’t perform well on state tests. The bill has been difficult to implement amid the COVID-19 pandemic and related staffing shortages, often forcing teachers to spend extra time tutoring students when their plates are already full. ATPE recommended that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) revise the proposed rules to clarify that even though certified teachers are the best equipped to provide accelerated instruction to struggling students, the law allows other trained individuals, such as retired teachers or instructional aides, to take on this task.

FEDERAL: The U.S. Department of Education this week announced a $35 million competition aimed at improving teacher quality. Educator preparation programs with winning applications will receive awards for their undergraduate and teacher residency programs. The Teacher Quality Partnership (TCP) will prioritize educator diversity; student social, emotional, and academic needs; and student equitable access to opportunities and resources. The focus on high-quality teacher preparation and clinical experiences before an educator enters the classroom as a teacher of record are key areas of advocacy for ATPE. 

CONTRACTS: Our recent reporting has highlighted ATPE’s success in lobbying the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to change its rules regarding penalties for educators who break their contract by resigning from their school district without permission. In a new blog post this week, ATPE’s attorneys explain how the changes might affect you and what to know about resignations, releases, and sanctions. Also, check out the latest installment of the ATPE Podcast, in which ATPE Managing Attorney Paul Tapp explains the three types of educator contracts in Texas and what the renewal (and nonrenewal) process looks like for each.

SBEC: The State Board for Educator Certification gained a new member last week with Gov. Greg Abbott’s appointment of Cristina Galindo. Galindo teaches English in a Houston ISD performing and visual arts high school. The next SBEC meeting is April 29.
VIDEO: In a fourth video message brought to you by ATPE, Friends of Texas Public Schools, and Pastors for Texas Children, Reverend Natalie Webb discusses the fearmongering over alleged pornography in schools and describes it as a political stunt aimed at censoring public education. Webb calls on the community to protect teachers from political attacks and to vote. Find all videos from this series here.

Edwin OrtizATPE: We're saying a bittersweet farewell to longtime ATPE staffer Edwin Ortiz today. Edwin has been with ATPE for the last 15 years in our Governmental Relations department, serving as Political Involvement Coordinator and overseeing our PAC fundraising and many other projects. We thank Edwin for his years of service and wish him all the best in his new professional endeavor!



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