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EduLege Tracker 6-6-19

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EduLege Update Volume VII, Number 39
June 6, 2019
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association

Will higher salaries help?

Nearly one in three public school teachers in Texas calls it quits before reaching their sixth year in the classroom, according to recently released state data, and education advocates are split on whether the billions of dollars that the Texas Legislature recently approved for pay raises will persuade them to stay longer.

The teacher turnover rate was 31.3 percent in 2018, but has remained relatively constant over the past four years.

Before the Legislature adjourned on May 27, it approved a $6.5 billion plan that, among other things, would boost pay for school teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians. The legislation was designed to benefit teachers with more than five years’ experience. Governor Greg Abbott is expected to sign the plan into law by Sunday, June 16.

According to the Texas Education Agency, slightly fewer than a third of the nearly 17,700 educators who began working as a certified teacher in the 2013-2014 school year left the profession before the beginning of last school year, taking jobs in private schools or moving out of state. The 31.3 percent of educators who left before school started in 2018 represents a slight increase from the fall of 2017, when 30.9 percent of teachers left the job before their sixth school year. The statistics are a subtle improvement from 2015 and 2016, when around 34 percent of teachers quit before hitting that six-year anniversary.

Clay Robison of the Texas State Teachers Association said veteran teachers need to be financially rewarded to help keep them in the classroom, but beginning teachers also need encouragement to keep them in the profession.

“It’s unfortunate, but that’s what happens when you don’t pay beginning teachers professional salaries,” he said. The state boost in teacher pay will help, but its success in keeping young educators in the classroom “depends on how patient these new teachers are,” Mr. Robison said.

The average salary for a Texas teacher is $54,122, according to TEA, or about $6,000 less than the national average. The minimum salary for a beginning teacher is $28,080 and climbs annually, although many school districts pay above that starting base rate.

TEA found that teachers who moved to Texas from other states quit the fastest.  After five years on the job, nearly half of the 1,828 teachers who began working in Texas in the 2013-2014 school year were no longer teaching in public schools, according to state data. Last year, about 15 percent of the teachers who moved to Texas quit after just one year on the job.

Teachers who graduate from traditional university undergraduate programs are most likely to stay, with 75 percent of those teachers remaining on the job after five years.  However, universities are graduating fewer future teachers. The number of teachers who received their classroom training in an undergraduate program fell by 15 percent over the last five years to 6,485 teachers who entered the classroom last fall.

Alternative certification programs are picking up the slack. Programs such as Teach For America produced 12,029 teachers who entered Texas classroom last school year, nearly double the number of teachers who took the traditional university route.  However, 34 percent of teachers from alternative certification programs also left the job before they would have returned a fifth year.

They won’t teach for Houston…

The Houston school board has voted to end the district’s contract with Teach For America.

In recent years, about 35 Teach For America corps members have joined the Houston school district annually, committing to a two-year program. Corps members are district employees and earn salaries paid by the district, though they cost Houston an additional $3,000 to $5,000 in fees related to recruitment and support.

Board members voted 4-4 to continue the Teach for America contract, with a majority vote needed to support its renewal. Trustees approved the contract in 2018 by a 4-3 vote, but the outcome this year flipped, with Board President Diana Dávila changing her vote from “Yes” to “No.”

Opponents of renewing Teach For America’s contract noted that corps members are less likely to remain in the district long-term than are educators who are certified through more traditional methods. Some Houston trustees also quibbled with the fees paid to Teach For America at a time when educators across the district are receiving modest salary increases.

A 2019 study by the Center on Research & Evaluation at Southern Methodist University found that Texas students are slightly more likely to pass state standardized tests when they are taught by a Teach For American corps member.

Bill-signings are underway…

Governor Abbott has signed House Bill 18, an omnibus bill meant to provide more mental health services to students in Texas public schools. 

State Representative Four Price, R-Amarillo, and State Senator Kirk Watson, D-Austin, shepherded HB 18 through the Legislature this spring. The new law will require that school districts offer mental health and suicide prevention curricula to students, if they also offer physical health classes.

The curricula and instruction for the class will include identifying the signs of various mental health conditions and substance abuse; strategies for maintaining positive student relations; conflict resolution and information about how grief and trauma affect student learning.

School districts will be partnering with local mental health authorities for specific content.

HB 18 now allows school districts to employ or contract with non-physician mental health professionals—a psychologist, registered nurse, or a licensed social worker—to help provide instruction.

Last year's school shooting at Santa Fe High School sparked Governor Abbott to call for the Legislature to provide greater mental health services for Texas students.

“Often times we wait until it reaches a crisis point or other negative outcomes arise before we really do anything about it. And that needs to change. It's a whole paradigm shift. It's a philosophy change,” said Greg Hansch from the Texas chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

There is no additional state money appropriated to help develop new curriculum, but the Texas Council of Community Centers, a coalition of local mental health authorities, is expected to hire additional staff to help school districts implement the provisions of HB 18.

* * *

The governor is expected to sign three other school-related bills today.  They are:

  • Senate Bill 11, the so-called School Safety Bill, which provides additional state money to local districts to “hardening” campus security features.
  • House Bill 18, the legislation which requires mental health training of teachers so that they can better identify students who are a threat to themselves and others.
  • House Bill 1387, the legislation that lifts the caps on the number of armed School Marshals that can be assigned to any campus.

Slipped in – slipped out…

A proposed legislative review of Texas' plan to improve its Special Education services won’t happen because state legislators nixed the idea in the final days of the legislative session that adjourned on May 27.

Last January, after a 15-month investigation, the U.S. Department of Education concluded that Texas had effectively capped the statewide percentage of students who were enrolled in special education services, denying programs to thousands of special needs students.

The Texas Education Agency says that it has a comprehensive—and costly—strategic plan to correct those deficiencies, and has set a goal of implementing a more comprehensive array of special education services and programs by June 2020.

In an attempt to provide some legislative oversight, State Representatives Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, and Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, added an amendment to Senate Bill 619 that would require that the state to review TEA’s progress towards improving special educaiton programs. The bill identified which state agencies will be evaluated by the state’s Sunset Advisory Commission, which will report its findings to the 2021 Legislature.

But the final version of SB 619 scrapped the special education review, and Representative Hinojosa is angry that the provision was deleted by the Senate.

“I’m not quite clear why we stripped it,” she said. “Too many parents of kids in special education do not have confidence that our state is doing right by them, and there are plenty of reasons why.”

Not some of our finest moments…

Kirbyville superintendent Tommy Wallis—whose brief tenure in deep East Texas was dogged by issues surrounding his previous job in Bryan—has been replaced, and will serve as “Superintendent Emeritus” for the final six months of his contract.

Mr. Wallis will remain employed at Kirbyville through Dec. 31, and paid slightly more than $75,000.

“I am retiring, and the rest is personal," Mr. Wallis said. “It's nobody's business.”

Mr. Wallis was hired as Kirbyville superintendent six months after he was forced to resign from Bryan. Documents subsequently released there show he was accused of creating “an intimidating, hostile and offensive work environment,” and forcing employees to “work under distress.”

* * *

The Marlin school district Board of Managers has been ordered by State Conservator Jean Bahney to place Superintendent Michael Seabolt on paid administrative leave.

A state conservator has the authority to direct the board and oversee the general administration of the district.

Marlin faces closure for the fourth consecutive school year, despite two years of state interventions. The district has failed state academic accountability standards based on standardized exam scores for seven consecutive years.

Marlin’s 2018 academic accountability grade was “F,” on the state’s new A-F Report Card grading system.

Mr. Seabolt has been Marlin’s superintendent since 2015.

* * *

The Fort Worth teacher who reported undocumented students in her school to President Trump through a series of public tweets—that she thought were private messages—has been fired.

The Fort Worth school board voted unanimously to terminate Georgia Clark, an English teacher at Carter-Riverside High School, who tweeted that the campus had been “taken over” by “illegal students from Mexico,” and that Mr. Trump was elected “on the promise that a wall would be built to protect our borders.”

According to KDFW-Television, Ms. Clark was suspended in 2013 after she allegedly referred to a group of students as “Little Mexico,” and another student as “white bread.”

At the time of her firing, Ms. Clark was also under investigation by the district for a complaint that she allegedly told a student to “Show me your papers…you are illegal,” after the student asked for permission to use the bathroom.

* * *

An Austin principal who was accused of discriminating against immigrant parents has resigned her campus position, and will not take another job with the school district.

Gabbie Soto, the former principal of Andrews Elementary, was removed from her position in April, just days after a handful of parents as the school alleged that she barred them from attending a field trip or serve as campus PTA officers because of their immigration status.

Some staff members also alleged that Ms. Soto created a hostile and retaliatory work environment at the school.

* * *

Mike Atkinson, one of the state’s longest-tenured high school football referees, has been suspended for the entire 2019 season by the Texas Association of Sports Officials after making racist comments that were recorded.

Mr. Atkinson, who has been a high school football official for 45 years, admits to using the N-word several times in conversations—audio clips of which were provided to the Houston Chronicle by the person who made the recordings.

“I thought these were private conversations between friends,” Mr. Atkinson said.  “We were back and forth. I understand what it sounds like, but I was baited into it.”

What's left to take away?

The Trump administration is canceling English classes, recreational programs and legal aid for unaccompanied minors who are incarcerated in federal migrant shelters, saying the immigration influx has created a critical budget crisis.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement has discontinued the funding for activities—including soccer—that have been deemed “not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety, including education services, legal services and recreation,” U.S. Health and Human Services spokesman Mark Weber said.

Surging migration at the southern border has overwhelmed the U.S. immigration system, and has fueled the budget strain. Federal officials have asked Congress for $2.9 billion in emergency funding to expand migrant shelters and care. The program could run out of money in late June.

Children who arrive with or without a parent accounted for nearly 40 percent of U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehensions in May.

The move to curtail services for unaccompanied minors could run afoul of a federal court settlement and state-licensing requirements. Carlos Holguin, a lawyer who represents minors in a long-running lawsuit that spurred a 1997 federal court settlement that sets basic standards of care for children in custody, immediately slammed the cuts as illegal.

“We’ll see them in court if they go through with it,” attorney Holguin said.  “What’s next? Drinking water? Food?. . .Where are they going to stop?”

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.