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EduLege Tracker 4-4-19

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EduLege Update Volume VII, Number 22
April 4, 2019
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association

Something for everybody…

The Texas House has passed landmark school finance legislation that would provide 650,000 teachers and school staff members with a minimum pay raise of roughly $1,850; increase state funding for every school district in the state and reward local property owners with some modest tax relief.

By a vote of 148-1, the House approved its top priority of the session: overhauling the way public education is financed by the state and infusing schools with new money to improve student achievement.

The legislation—House Bill 3—was authored by Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty, R-Humble, and would pump an additional $6.3 billion in state funds into Texas’ public education system and send another $2.7 billion to schools to reduce ever-growing local property taxes.  

"We are finally reforming public education in the state of Texas and not by court order, so that's a pretty important thing," Chairman Huberty said when introducing his bill.

HB 3 passed the House after relatively quick and smooth debate, with all but one legislator supporting it.

The one opposing vote was cast by Representative Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus. During House debate, Representative Stickland took issue with the provision of the bill that allows schools to extend the school year, characterizing it as an attack on summer vacation.

The most significant change to the bill on the House floor came from State Representative Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, who chairs the Democratic Caucus.

Representative Turner’s amendment mandates that school districts earmark at least 25 percent of their basic per-student allotment to provide salary increases for all full-time campus employees—but not district administrators.

The amendment guarantees that at least $2.4 billion of the new state funds included in HB 3 will go toward a pay raise for every teacher and support staff member.

"It starts with a recognition that every person who has a positive effect on a child's life, for our schools that means our teachers, it means our nurses, our counselors, educational aids, custodial workers, bus drivers, every full time employee should get and deserves a raise," Representative Turner said.

In addition to the pay raises, HB 3 would increase annual per student funding by nearly $900 to $6,030, while boosting funds for students who need extra instruction in learning English. It would also fund full-day pre-kindergarten for low-income students and provide greater funding to better educate dyslexic students.

One thing that’s not currently included in HB 3 is a merit pay proposal.

Initially Chairman Huberty included a $140 million merit pay program in his legislation, but he subsequently removed it after teacher organizations expressed dissatisfaction.

The bill now goes to the State Senate, where several points of contention exist.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who narrowly won re-election last year, has promised to give every Texas teacher and school librarian a $5,000 pay raise—leaving it to districts to decide about potential salary increases for other employees.

The House and Senate also disagree on a merit pay program and how to structure tax relief for local taxpayers.

If a comprehensive school finance proposal is to pass this session, legislators must settle those differences before the Legislature adjourns on May 27.

Who’s abandoning whom?

The Texas Education Agency has cited at least 220 teachers for leaving their jobs and breaking their employment contracts this academic year, placing those educators at risk of temporarily losing their licenses.

State rules generally require that teachers terminate their contracts at least 45 days before the beginning of a school year. Those who break their contract outside of that 45-day window without good cause or approval of the local school board can have their teaching license suspended for up to one year.

“Good cause” is defined to include serious illness or health condition of the teacher or a family member, relocating to a new city for a spouse’s job or a significant change requiring the teacher to devote more time to the family than the job allows.

TEA opens a “contract abandonment” case every time a school district files a complaint about a teacher leaving his or her contract early. So far in the 2018-2019 school year, the state has opened more cases of teacher abandonment than in any year since 2014.

This year’s spike of teachers under investigation for breaking their contracts is a 68-percent increase over last year, when the state opened 131 cases of teacher abandonment. Texas opened 198 cases in the 2015-2016 school year.

Case records reveal that teachers leave their classrooms for a mix of reasons.  Some leave for higher salaries—or better jobs—in other professions. Other cited reasons include mental health or the declining health of a family member.

One in 10 Texas teachers quit the profession after their first year, according to state records. Five years after earning their teaching certificate, three in 10 teachers are either no longer in the profession or have left the state.

Still, the vast majority of teachers stay on the job throughout the school year.

Texas is home to more than 358,000 teachers, and fewer than one percent of them are accused of abandoning their contracts in any given year.

For the .02 percent crowd…

The Texas Senate has approved a bill that would permit local school boards to allow School Marshals to carry concealed handguns in the presence of students during school hours.

Under current state law, teachers, custodians and other school employees who have been trained and certified as School Marshals and are allowed to have guns at school must keep the weapons under lock-and-key, if they have “regular, direct contact with students.”

Senate Bill 406 by Senator Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, would leave it up to districts to decide whether these School Marshals employees can carry concealed handguns when students are present.

The bill passed by a vote of 28-3.  State Senators José Menéndez of San Antonio, José Rodríguez of El Paso and Kirk Watson of Austin, all Democrats, voted in opposition.

School Marshals must be trained by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, and are required to renew their licenses every two years.

The program was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013, but most districts have—so far—chosen not to utilize it. Of the nearly 700,000 school employees in Texas, just two one-hundredths of one percent (.02 percent) have been certified under the program by the start of the current school year.

Senator Birdwell’s bill now goes to the Texas House for consideration.

Appeal the rebuke…

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says that her department has not begun to implement an Obama-era regulation that is designed to ensure that children of color are not disproportionately punished or sent to special education classrooms, despite a court order.

A federal court ruled last month that the Trump administration must implement the rule immediately. However, Secretary DeVos told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that the Education Department was still “reviewing the court’s decision and discussing our options.”

The only option—other than implementing the rule—appears to be an appeal of the court decision.

Published in the final days of the Obama administration, the rules were supposed to have taken effect in 2018. Secretary DeVos moved last summer to delay them for two years. The court decision, issued March 7, was a rebuke of her action.

Under the regulation, states face tighter rules about how they tabulate data about the demographics and treatment of students in special education, to ensure that there are not racial disparities.

The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, an advocacy group for children with disabilities, sued Secretary DeVos for delaying implementation of the regulation.

The federal court found that the department violated the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to provide a “reasoned explanation” for its delay, and by failing to consider the costs of the postponement. It also lifted the two-year delay that Secretary DeVos had imposed.

Tarnish on an incredible record…

The University Interscholastic League has slapped former Duncanville girls basketball coach Cathy Self-Morgan with a three-year suspension from coaching—and a public reprimand—for flagrant recruiting violations.

A three-year suspension is the maximum length that the UIL State Executive Committee can impose.

The Duncanville High School girls basketball team was also placed on two years’ probation, meaning that the UIL will keep a close eye on the program to make sure there are no further problems.

Ms. Self-Morgan—one of the winningest coaches in Texas history—won eight state championships and holds a record of 1,170-287 in her 42-year career. Her 19 seasons at Duncanville resulted in five state basketball titles and a record of 638-83.

She announced in February that she was resigning, and planned to retire, effective March 30.

However, Ms. Self-Morgan also said that she was leaving the door open for a possible return to coaching.  But if she wants to coach again at a UIL-member school, she would be required to appear before the Executive Committee.

According to UIL, the only other coach who is currently suspended is former Port Isabel head football coach Jaime Infante, who in August received a one-year suspension, three years’ probation and a public reprimand.

Sound familiar?

There’s a new group that’s formed in Florida to lobby that state’s legislature on behalf of public school students, and it’s named—Pastors for Florida Children.

At a press conference recently to announce their formation, a coalition of pastors said that they are “faithfully supporting and advocating for Florida’s public schools, teachers and its children.”

The faith leaders say that they will demand that the Florida Legislature pass a pro-student budget and reject school privatization and charter expansions.

Around the country, faith leaders are joining hands with public school advocates to lobby state legislatures for more funding, and to oppose student vouchers and other so-called “choice” proposals. 

Fort Worth Pastor Charles Johnson first launched the effort right here in Texas.

EduLege is provided by the Texas School Public Relations Association as a service to its members.

Long-time TSPRA member Andy Welch, the retired Communication Director for the Austin School District, compiles and writes EduLege.  Questions or comments may be directed to him at andywelch1@gmail.com.

For more updates on education news from throughout the state, visit the TSPRA website.