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Association of Texas Professional Educators

Will teachers turn out for Mike Collier?

He sure hopes so.

Mike Collier

On his long-shot campaign to unseat incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Collier is hoping he’s popular in a lot of rooms that look like this one — where after hearing from him, education-focused voters in a reliably red county said in interviews that they planned to vote for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, then cross over to back Collier.

Collier, a Houston accountant and a failed 2014 candidate for Texas comptroller, is at a deep, perhaps insurmountable disadvantage in deep-red Texas, where Patrick has served in state government for more than a decade and accumulated about 35 times as much cash on hand.

Still, Collier says he can see a path to victory — and it starts here, in a crowd of retired teachers, scribbling on the bingo card-like sheets they’ve prepared for the occasion, sipping coffee out of teeny foam cups, some nodding along and a few nodding off.

But are there enough rooms like this to carry him to victory?

[…]

If Collier is positioning himself to draw center-right Republicans back over the line, public education may be his best issue. Patrick is not an uncontroversial figure among teachers, retired teachers and public school parents.

As a former chair of the Texas Senate’s public education committee and as the leader of the upper chamber, Patrick has championed what he calls “school choice” and critics, many of them public school educators, call “vouchers” — programs that would give Texas families subsidies to fund private school tuition for their kids. During last summer’s special session, as the Legislature debated an influx of cash for public schools, the Texas House offered up $1.8 billion — $1.5 billion more than Patrick’s Texas Senate proposed.

“When you have 700,000 school employees, they’re not all going to be on the same page. That said, I do feel like if there’s any one person out there that they’re most unified about it’s probably the lieutenant governor,” said Monty Exter, a lobbyist at the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

As a senator, Exter said, Patrick “was pushing reforms that lots of educators are not necessarily in favor of. He doesn’t seem to favor class-size restrictions and they really, really do. He really does favor vouchers and they really, really don’t. And the funding issues have died in his hands or at his hands.”

If public education is your issue, then I don’t know how you can even think of voting for Dan Patrick. It’s just that generally speaking, public education hasn’t been a big motivating issue for a lot of people, even those who have a direct stake in it. Maybe this is the year, I don’t know. The story talks about how pro-education candidates lost in this year’s Republican primaries, but that misses the point. Collier doesn’t need a majority of Republican voters to defect for him to win. If base Democratic turnout is sufficiently high – still a big if, even with the encouraging early voting numbers so far – he probably needs between ten and twenty percent of them. That’s doable, and it’s within the range of past performances. That’s an if on top of an if, but at least it’s a chance. If the teachers want to send a message, it’s in their capacity to do so.

How bad is the “Patrick Lite” bathroom bill?

For one view, there’s this, from Texas Competes:

A review of press coverage shows that the Texas “bathroom bill” debate generated $216 million in publicity for the state of Texas in the period from January 10, 2016 through May 22, 2017.

During the 85th Texas legislative session, 25,774 local, state, and national articles were written about the efforts to pass bathroom and changing room restrictions on transgender adults and children. More than 20,000 of these articles were published outside of Texas.

The media tracking service Meltwater was used to generate the data; its language-detecting algorithm deemed 73% of the coverage, or $155.5 million, “neutral;” 25%, or $56.4 million, “negative;” and 2%, or $4 million, “positive.” A review of coverage categorized as “positive” by the software revealed that these stories largely described efforts by performing artists, businesses, sports organizations and others to protest “bathroom bills.” Overall, the sentiment calculated across all news coverage was deeply negative, as seen in the chart below. (The February 2017 spike in sentiment was largely related to a “positive” story covering the NBA’s decision to move its All-Star Game from Charlotte to the LGBT-inclusive city of New Orleans.)

The topic of bathroom restrictions for transgender Texans has been shepherded into the spotlight by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and vocal anti-LGBT backers like Empower Texans, Conservative Republicans of Texas, and Texas Values.

Texas business leaders and small business owners have consistently cited the war for talent as a major concern related to the state’s anti-LGBT reputation. “HR executives and business leaders voice concern to us when stories about discrimination dominate the news about Texas,” said Jessica Shortall, Managing Director of Texas Competes, a coalition of nearly 1,300 Texas employers and chambers of commerce making the economic case for an LGBT-friendly Texas. “We cannot maintain the pipeline of talent needed to fuel this state’s economy in the face of national coverage that tells young workers that Texas is in the business of discrimination.”

In a February UT/TT 2017 poll, a majority of Texans said that it’s “not important” for the legislature to pass a bathroom law. In March, the Public Religion Research Institute released a poll showing that 53% of Americans oppose laws requiring transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to their sex at birth. In a recent USA TODAY poll, Americans aged 18 to 35 – a group representing the current and future talent pool for many Texas employers – oppose bathroom laws by nearly a two-to-one ratio.

You know how they say there’s no such thing as bad publicity? This will be a test of that. And I’m sure North Carolina’s glad we’re getting all the attention for being transphobic and unwelcoming now. It’s taking some of the heat off of them.

As bad as the perception is, the reality may be somewhat less harsh, though that remains to be seen.

“I think it’s going to depend on how people interpret the amendment,” said Dax Gonzalez, assistant director of governmental relations for the Texas Association of School Boards, which represents the state’s school districts and provides guidance to them on policies related to transgender students.

Under Paddie’s interpretation, the amendment would nix existing trans-inclusive policies at some school districts that allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice at school. (Some Texas school districts allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity through formal policies or on a case-by-case basis.)

But the school board association, which endorsed the measure on Sunday night, argues school districts could probably maintain such policies, possibly with a few tweaks, because of the measure’s “flexibility.”

“I think what it boils down to is that this amendment is pretty flexible and open to interpretation,” Gonzalez added.

[…]

After the Sunday vote, Straus suggested the Paddie amendment would not require schools to make significant modifications to how they “handle sensitive issues.”

School groups agree because providing single-stall facilities for students seeking bathroom-related accommodations is something school districts “would do anyway,” so the amendment doesn’t make a “significant change” on that front, said Jennifer Canaday, governmental relations director for the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

When it comes to the amendment’s possible effects on efforts to accommodate transgender students beyond single-occupancy bathrooms, Canaday echoed the school board association in saying there was “enough ambiguity” in the amendment to allow for different interpretations by school districts.

But she indicated that the school group — which deemed bathroom-related legislation “a solution in search of a problem” — was still sifting through any possible repercussions for trans-inclusive policies in place across the state.

“Obviously there’s some confusion,” she said. “It may take some time [to figure out] how school districts interpret this.”

I strongly suspect that more forward-thinking districts like HISD will continue to accommodate trans students as best they can, while districts with jerks for Superintendents like Pearland ISD will take a hard line. It will inevitably be up to the courts to sort it out.

One major danger zone in all this is privacy concerns.

The measure poses an excruciating dilemma for Texas schools that have quietly agreed at parents’ requests to keep secret the birth genders of some students.

To comply with state law, teachers might have to send transgender students to the bathroom of their birth gender or to a single-occupancy bathroom, shocking their peers.

The legislation “really boxes in school systems,” said Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, a spokeswoman for the national transgender rights organization Trans Equality.

[…]

Currently, each school and school district determines how to handle students whose birth genders are secret — a small portion of Texas’ thousands of transgender minors. A survey conducted by the Williams Institute at UCLA indicated that 13,800 Texas teens identify as transgender, but the number of children under age 13 is not known.

Even if this law isn’t quite as bad as it could be, given its limited reach, it’s still potentially catastrophic for thousands of children. Not everyone is out, and not everyone wants to be, but what is a school to do with a trans kid who doesn’t want his or her classmates to know about that? Trans kids are already at an elevated risk for suicide. When something bad happens, don’t say we weren’t warned. The DMN, Burkablog, and Deadspin, both of which note the lack of any response so far from the NCAA, have more.

UPDATE: The Senate will reject the “Patrick Lite” amendment in SB2078. Nothing good can come of this.

Meet the latest education scam

Free money! What could possibly go wrong?

BagOfMoney

An ambitious new player has emerged in the controversial effort to use taxpayer dollars to help Texas parents send their kids to private or religious schools.

Texans for Education Opportunity, which launched in May, supports all forms of “school choice,” including charters and traditional public schools, said Executive Director Randan Steinhauser, an Austin-based school choice activist and public relations consultant who co-founded the nonprofit advocacy organization.

But she said the group’s main goal is to get Texas lawmakers to create “education savings accounts” — a program under which the state would dole out taxpayer money directly to parents via debit card to cover approved education-related expenses, like private school tuition, tutors or homeschooling materials. About a half-dozen other Republican-dominated states, including Florida and Arizona, have already created such programs, although most of them target specific student populations, including disabled and low-income students. (Nevada is an exception, offering assistance to all students.)

Literature provided by Texans for Education Opportunity, which appears to be the first statewide organization focused solely on school choice, suggests the state offer up to $7,800 for any student pursuing an alternative schooling route. That is about 90 percent of what the state provides on average to traditional school districts per student for annual maintenance and operations, the pamphlet says.

The concept is similar to private school vouchers, in which taxpayer funds are awarded directly to schools, but it is larger in scope.

Monty Exter, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said education savings accounts are worse than vouchers because there is no good way to control how parents spend the money. The states that have implemented such programs have included no provisions that allow them to reclaim money if parents spend it on “a flatscreen TV or a bag of crack,” he said.

“Who’s to say that a laptop isn’t an educational expenditure, but who’s to say that it is? Who is going to police that?” he said. “Are we going to pay someone at the state level to monitor this program, and how much is that going to cost?”

Exter said that concern is separate from the larger one school and teacher groups have long expressed in opposing such programs — that they divert much-needed dollars away from struggling public schools.

Yeah, well, I’ll give you three guesses where the money for this might come from; there’s no mention of any vehicle to pay for this scheme in that intro email or their website. With a board of directors that includes Phil Gramm and a big donor to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, I’m pretty sure the creation of an extra source of tax revenue is not on the table. This is a scam, plain and simple, and the real question is who will be dumb enough to fall for it and/or dishonest enough to shill for it.

Judge Dietz would like the Lege to please fix school finance already

So would the rest of us, Your Honor.

In his first major appearance since finding the Texas school finance system unconstitutional in 2014, state District Judge John Dietz said Sunday that a solution to the state’s unequal and ineffective public education system should come from the Legislature.

“We are dooming a generation of these children by providing an insufficient education, and we can do better,” Dietz told hundreds of teachers gathered in Austin. “It’s in our best interest to do better.”

In his decision last September, Dietz ruled in favor of more than 600 Texas school districts that brought the case. The districts, which serve three-fourths of the state’s estimated 5 million public school students, argued that the state is not meeting its constitutional obligation to adequately fund public education.

“Whether we like it or not, this lies with the legislature, not the courts,” Dietz said. “Even if I am wrong, what do they say about what they have in their own materials? The achievement gap is substantial, persistent, and it has been for ten to 15 years.”

Dietz’s comments were met with applause at a training hosted by the Association of Texas Professional Educators – the largest independent teachers’ organization in Texas, and the largest of it’s kind in the United States, with an estimated 100,000 members.

[…]

Then attorney general, now Gov. Greg Abbott attempted to remove Dietz from the case last year, questioning his impartiality based on a series of emails between the judge and school district lawyers. But at ATPE, lobbyists remain optimistic that Abbott will work with them to solve problems affecting public education.

“We think that this governor is a breath of fresh air in education, and he wants to work with public educators, unlike the previous governor,” [Brock Gregg, ATPE’s governmental relations director] added. “But it is yet to be seen if the money will follow the idea. Until substantial funding is directed towards education, we are working at the edges.”

I’m glad they’re optimistic – I guess anyone can look good compared to Rick Perry – but color me skeptical for now. Abbott did defend the 2011 cuts in court, then declined all calls to settle after Judge Dietz’s ruling, preferring instead to draw this out by appealing to the Supreme Court. And even if you do have faith in Abbott, Dan Patrick gets a say in this, too. He thought those 2011 cuts were a good idea. Given a choice between these guys coming up with a solution and waiting for the Supreme Court to impose one, I’ll take my chances on the latter.

Tax cuts >>> public education

Well, what did you expect?

BagOfMoney

Senate budget writers have enjoyed praise from conservatives for their focus on tax cuts, but they’re about to get an earful from educators who think their promises could cost Texas public school students.

The starting budgets of the state House and Senate, released last month, are similar on many fronts, but not with respect to education. Faced with $4.5 billion in additional revenue from increasing property values, the House has chosen to reinvest a portion of that in public education while the upper chamber is focusing on tax relief, a decision not sitting well with educators.

“I don’t know how you could say that budget prioritized public education,” Lonnie Hollings-worth, governmental relations director at the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, said of the Senate budget. “We think the priority should be to fund our public schools and not to do tax cuts.”

A cursory glance at the Senate’s document indicates the upper chamber wants to provide billions more this biennium for public education funding. But the promises of many senators, including new Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, to provide $4 billion in tax relief leave only around $200 million available for schools.

On the House side, budget writers have pledged to funnel $2.2 billion of the property value growth revenue into public education. The money comes with strings attached, but education advocates say the decision to re-invest this money into education shows the lower chamber’s commitment to meet the needs of schools.

“We appreciate that the House leadership recognizes there is a need and is moving in that direction,” said Josh Sanderson, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, the state’s largest educator group. “We’re trying to get that same acknowledgement in the Senate.”

Good luck with that. Look, the Republicans were clear on what their priorities were. Public education was not high on the list. If there’s a few bucks left over after tax cuts and border security and roads and maybe some other tax cuts, then sure, whatever. If and when the Supreme Court forces them to spend more on education, then they’ll deal with it, as minimally as they think they can get away with. But until then, this is what we elected. EoW and Better Texas Blog have more.

Get ready for larger class sizes

Back in 1984, one of the school reforms that resulted from the Perot Commission was a mandate that elementary school classes could have no more than 22 students in them. Many things have changed since then, but that standard has remained. Now it may be a casualty of the current budget crunch.

Any statewide change in the standard could translate into hundreds of millions of dollars for the state and districts. The 22-pupil limit is costly because every time a class in the five affected grade levels hits 23 or more students, a new class must be created with an additional teacher and classroom.

One superintendent from the Houston area said each new class costs his district $100,000 to $150,000. Superintendent David Anthony of the Cypress-Fairbanks school district also said his district added more than 70 classes last year.

The legislative committee’s recommendations could loom large as lawmakers grapple with what is expected to be a record revenue shortfall approaching $15 billion. About 60 percent of the state’s general revenue funds are spent on education.

The leaders of the special committee – Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands – said class size standards will be scrutinized. Shapiro and Eissler also chair the education committees of their respective chambers.

“If a change seems feasible, we could try it,” said Eissler, who maintained that quality teachers are much more important than class size in improving student achievement. “The research doesn’t show any particular significance to 22 to 1. You really have to get below 18 to make a difference.”

Eissler said he understands, though, why teachers would be reluctant to see any change in the standard.

[…]

Richard Kouri of the Texas State Teachers Association said that if anything, the state should take the requirement even further by “pushing class sizes down further at campuses that are low-performing or in danger of becoming low-performing.”

Teacher groups also point out that school districts can get waivers to be exempted from the 22-to-1 limit if they claim they lack classroom space or can’t find qualified teachers for additional classes. But superintendents dislike the requirement that they must notify parents whenever they seek exemptions for larger classes and in some cases must hold a public hearing.

This school year, 144 districts received waivers from the state that allowed larger classes at 544 elementary schools. The Dallas school district had waivers at 31 campuses.

In all, nearly 1,800 classrooms – with almost 40,000 students – had more than the maximum number of pupils this year.

“The Texas Education Agency never denies waivers,” said Josh Sanderson of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, insisting that school districts don’t need to have the class size rule changed because they can get exempted from it when necessary.

There’s certainly room to argue over whether or not the 22-1 ratio is the difference-maker it was when it was first adopted. As Rep. Eissler points out, the right answer if you really want to improve classroom performance would be to reduce the teacher-student ratio even further. It’s likely the case that there are more cost-effective solutions for achieving that improvement, but that is a known solution. Allowing the ratio to be increased instead as a cost-cutting measure is just another reminder of what our priorities are as a state, and a reminder (as if we needed one) that the school finance question still hasn’t been answered. We do know how to do things more cheaply, because we’ve had a lot of practice with that. We’ll be doing it again soon. Doing things better never seems to be more than a theoretical option.