The Texas House Public Education Committee met Monday-Tuesday, July 25-26, 2022, to hear invited and public testimony on a number of issues related to the committee’s interim charges. Following are highlights of the two-day hearing, organized by discussion topic.
2022-23 Teacher Vacancies
Rep. Gary VanDeaver began the meeting by noting that schools are struggling to fill open teacher positions, and this issue must be a priority for the committee. He said that he spoke to a principal in his district who said the district is not planning on offering biology in the upcoming school year because they are unable to find a teacher. Administrators hope to be able to hire one next school year, and they will double-up on courses — not the best remedy but an example of what schools are facing. Chair Harold Dutton Jr. said that the committee would look at this issue at its September meeting, but there is little they can do prior to the school year to alleviate the current shortage. He said he believes this will certainly be on the committee’s agenda during the next legislative session.
Later in the hearing, when responding to a question about the link between recruiting and retaining teachers and classroom discipline, Kyle Lynch, superintendent, Seminole ISD, encouraged the committee to consider putting teeth back into the truancy laws and filing on students and parents. He stressed the need for children to be in school for schools to be able to impact their lives. Reducing the current burdens on teachers would also go a long way in helping schools recruit and retain teachers, as would eliminating the cap on teacher salaries.
During his testimony, Northside ISD Superintendent Brian Woods said he believes relaxing some of the restrictions and barriers to rehiring retirees could be of great benefit in filling teacher vacancies as well as other critical positions (counselors, custodians, and food service employees, among others). He said he believes a financial analysis of the surcharge school districts must pay could be of value.
During his testimony, TASA Executive Director Kevin Brown said there is general fatigue in the education profession at all levels, including teachers, bus drivers, counselors, custodians, and superintendents. Some of this is attributable to COVID, political discourse, and the regulatory environment we are in. Brown said he believes most policy decisions are made with the best intentions, but decisions must be made with the foresight of how they will play out and impact what occurs in classrooms. Social media is also taxing teachers and negatively impacting morale, he said.
Throughout the hearing, discussions between committee members and panelists were had about what is contributing to the staff shortages,and the following reasons were given: school discipline, pay, better paying jobs outside of public education, political discussions around public schools, attacks on teachers personally or as a profession, high-stakes testing (STAAR), the A-F accountability system, COVID, feeling unappreciated, among other factors.
Implementation of HB 3 (2019) and HB 1525 (2021)
The first panel provided an overview of the impact of HB 3 (school finance) and HB 1525 (Reading Academies) on their school districts. Elizabeth Fagen, superintendent, Humble ISD, began her testimony by thanking the committee for hold harmless and virtual funding that was desperately needed during turbulent times. She said the fast-growth funding from HB 3 has allowed her district to keep up with growth, and she hopes the Legislature will continue with virtual funding for schools and increase funding for special education. She noted that HB 3 encouraged schools to focus on teachers and provided funding for them as well as creating the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA), which she hopes will continue to be funded next session. As to how to address the teacher shortage, Fagen suggested considering childcare incentives and/or college incentives for those teachers in good standing. She also stressed the need to have local accountability systems be seen alongside STAAR. She pointed out that COVID has changed parent perspectives on keeping children at home when they are sick and that it impacts school funding. She said that lawmakers should discuss required minutes, attendance, and average daily attendance next session. Regarding school safety, she recommended the state fund an anonymous reporting app that connects with first responders so they can act if needed and work on social media monitoring and reaching out to tech companies for assistance. She also stressed the importance of mental health providers.
Kyle Lynch, superintendent, Seminole ISD, thanked the committee for the historic investment in students and funding schools through HB 3. He noted that HB 3 guaranteed approximately a 3% gain for almost all school districts and provided salary increases for most employees. However, he pointed out the current rate of inflation is causing costs to skyrocket and is consuming the salary increases provided from HB 3 funding, and schools are struggling to keep up with increased costs in areas like transportation. He suggested the Legislature consider increasing the amount districts receive per mile given the increased cost of diesel. Lynch reminded the committee that the Transition Formula Grants that ensured all districts would receive a minimum increase of 3% (per HB 3) will expire in fall 2024 and create a fiscal cliff for approximately 125-150 school districts and charter schools. He said this will result in state funding cuts for school districts such as Seminole. He also reminded the committee that federal funding provided to assist school districts will expire at the same time they are trying to keep up with the accelerated learning requirements contained in HB 4545.
Unlike cities and counties, school districts do not receive an increase in revenue as property values climb. Lynch said he supports the compression provided in HB 3, but once a school district hits the floor for how low their rate can go, there is no longer a benefit to the school district or an increase in funding for students. It simply increases recapture and doesn’t reduce the amount taxpayers must pay.
Recapture continues to grow even though HB 3 provided temporary relief. Lynch noted that more than $3 billion was collected by the state last year and increases in this amount will continue if no legislative action is taken next session. Increasing the Basic Allotment would provide relief to all school districts and assist in alleviating the impact of factors such as inflation and recapture. He recommended the committee consider allowing early recapture payment discounts akin to what corporate taxpayers enjoy when paying state sales tax.
Brian Woods, superintendent, Northside ISD, began his testimony by acknowledging the recent tragedy in Uvalde and the delay of this hearing, given the incident, and how the focus around school safety and the teacher shortage has been brought to the forefront of recent conversations about Texas public schools as we start a new school year. Woods noted that HB 3 was historic legislation that made sweeping changes in many areas impacting schools and students.
Woods pointed out that HB 3 made a major investment in early learning through the creation of the Early Education Allotment, which is approximately $835 million. NISD has spent approximately $29 million to fund full day pre-K expansion and Reading Academies and received a little less than $10 million from the state under the Early Education Allotment. The allotment has not covered the full costs of those programs in NISD. Some of the costs related to pre-K expansion can be attributed to having to convert facilities to meet the needs of smaller/younger students. Woods emphasized that he believes the investment in expanding pre-K will show benefits immediately and long-term and is a worthwhile investment from the state.
Woods noted that it takes years to stand up a system such as the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA) and for it to become effective, especially in larger school districts.
Woods echoed earlier testimony that no inflation index is tied to the Basic Allotment in the current school finance system, which is painful as districts put together budgets for 2022-23. NISD is no longer a fast-growth district, with enrollment impacted by COVID, so difficult budget decisions have had to be made this year. Rep. Dan Huberty said he wished he had fought harder for including an index tied to the Basic Allotment in HB 3, because schools would be in a better position today. He noted that increasing the Basic Allotment allows for more flexible money for schools, increases all the weights, helps recapture districts, and takes more of the state share of funding. Woods suggested looking back at a one-time index focused on 2019 and in 2023 looking at an index going forward if inflation exceeds a specified amount set in legislation.
Woods noted that the CCMR outcomes bonus has been a struggle in his district partially because of the timing of COVID; it hampered the district’s ability to meet the criteria. For NISD, this new outcome bonus represents approximately 50% of what used to be called the high school allotment for the school district. He also recommended the committee review the outcomes criteria based on exams such as the SAT, ACT, and others in light of the fact that some higher education institutions are no longer using those exams or are considering discontinuing using them in perpetuity when considering students’ acceptance into the institutions or access to coursework.
The comp-ed adjustment based on the density of poverty in a neighborhood has been very beneficial in helping the educationally neediest students in NISD, Woods said. He did express concern over the underrepresentation of some people who may not have been captured in the most recent census numbers. There may be an undercount of the youngest and neediest students, he said.
Woods reminded the committee about the drastic cuts in state funding for public education in 2011 and noted that many of the circumstances present then resemble what is occuring now with federal funding. The added pressure of inflation only compounds the problems facing the state and school districts. Districts began to recover from the 2011 budget cuts only after the passage of HB 3 in 2019.
The second panel included representatives from several state associations, including TASA Executive Director Kevin Brown. He expressed appreciation for the landmark legislation, HB 3, which infused billions of dollars into public education and restructured the school finance system. HB 3 served to restore funding cuts from 2011, but he said there is concern about another funding cliff in 2025 when federal funds have been spent.
With regard to the passage of HB 1525 in 2021, Brown thanked the committee for adding the small and midsize adjustment to the Basic Allotment for purposes of calculating CTE funding, reestablishing the Gifted and Talented allotment, the one-year extension on completion of the Reading Academies, the extension of the autism and dyslexia grant, and the flexibility allowing districts to use comp-ed funds for instructional coaches and other purposes. Allowing school districts to use TIMA funds for costs associated with distance learning, including Wi-Fi, hot spots, and more, was also greatly appreciated by TASA members, Brown reported. The exclusion of outcomes-based funding was also a priority for TASA members, he said.
Brown reminded the committee that there was a one-time $600 million carve-out of TIMA funds last session and a commitment was made to restore that funding in 2023. The Reading Academies are supported by TASA generally and members agree the quality is good, but there does need to be some review of the overly burdensome requirements on teachers to complete the training. Brown said that TASA members appreciate the flexibility provided by TEA to this point, but there is still frustration among educators, some of which is attributable to lack of compensation tied to the academies.
Moving forward, inflation is a huge concern for TASA members, Brown said. It’s impacting every facet of school budgets: diesel, salaries and benefits, and more. Echoing earlier comments, Brown expressed concern about the sustainability of funding and the potential funding cliff in 2025 when federal funding goes away. He encouraged the Legislature to look at funding enrollment vs. ADA, especially with portions of the truancy laws being gutted in recent years. He also noted that Texas is still ranked 40th in funding per student across the states.
Raul Trevino, assistant superintendent, Rio Hondo ISD, testified that the CCMR indicator has benefited his district, which has a high poverty rate. He said that RHISD partnered with other organizations and higher education to establish a Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), sought CCMR-related grants, and attained JET grant awards to build capacity in CTE programs. Dr. Danny King, Region 1 ESC executive director, discussed other district CCMR partnerships.
A representative of Beacon Health Education discussed the SHAC legislation and said that TEA guidance was limited. She suggested that members consider ways to enforce the SHAC statute and recommended extending the expiration date for the legislation.
ATPE’s Dr. Andrea Chevalier shared insight gleaned from membership via numerous surveys. The survey results indicate: teachers are overloaded; the Reading Academies content is valued by new teachers, but a repeat for veteran teachers; the training can take up to 120 hours to complete; and many respondents did not receive compensation for the time needed to complete the training after school hours. Chevalier offered recommendations, including allocation of a dedicated stipend and establishment of a microcredential for educators who complete the training.
Mary Jane Bowman and Cicely Jones of Grand Prairie ISD testified in support of the Reading Academies. They shared data showing a high growth rate in K-3 student achievement and improved grade 3 STAAR results since the onset of the academy training.
During his testimony, Northside ISD Superintendent Brian Woods said his district has compensated teachers for the additional time and work required outside of the school day, but not all school districts have been able to do the same. He noted that most people agree the Reading Academies are important, but unfortunately, the timing for the implementation has been during COVID.
Implementation of House Bill 4545 (87th Legislature)
Invited testimony included representatives for Amplify Education, North Texas Tutoring Corps
and the Texas Charter School Association. Although there was no ISD representation on the panel, TASA, TASB, TSA, and TACS submitted written testimony on the legislation, which relates to accelerated instruction and the Strong Foundations Grant Program.
During his testimony, Northside ISD Superintendent Brian Woods asked that careful review be given to why STAAR scores recently increased and not just assume it was due to the Reading Academies or school districts’ compliance with the requirements of HB 4545 (2021), since those programs have not been implemented long and the labor shortage has made it extremely difficult for districts to comply with the more rigid remediation requirements.
During his testimony, TASA Executive Director Kevin Brown asked the committee to look at the overly prescriptive requirements in HB 4545, noting that students’ needs vary, and teachers should be able to differentiate and tailor remediation based on a particular student’s need. He also advised the committee of TASA’s continued work on community-based accountability, through which local school districts have their own accountability systems that measure success based on factors important to the community. He explained that reports from these systems that districts share with their communities provide a broader and more holistic picture of what is actually happening in public schools, aside from STAAR and attendance.
Implementation of Senate Bill 1365 (87th Legislature)
Dee Carney, education consultant, testified on behalf of the Texas School Alliance. She commended the merits of SB 1365 and asked that TEA align their guidelines/rules with the intent of the legislation, which relates to accountability ratings, interventions, sanctions, and fiscal management. Dr. Darryl Henson, superintendent, Marlin ISD, praised aspects of the legislation and said that it had been very helpful for his struggling district.
Implementation of Senate Bill 1716 (87th Legislature)
TEA’s Justin Porter discussed the funding sources and distribution of the grant for supplemental special education services and instructional materials created by SB 1716. He said that $79–$118 million was needed next year to serve all families on the waiting list, and moving forward, $45 million annually would be needed to continue the grant.
Steven Aleman, Disability Rights Texas, expressed three concerns: 1) equitable participation – the grant is not serving low income or students of color; 2) economies of scale; and 3) the “mission creep” aspect of this service. Aleman recommended establishing a trigger requirement, providing a direct transfer of the needed technology to families, and focusing on the fundamental student supports needed in public schools.
COVID-19 and Learning Loss
Dr. Derek Little, Dallas ISD, described how the district was leveraging ESSER funds and partnering to address loss. He said that schools in most need participated in the Reading Academies first and had reading interventionists.
Dr. Millard House, superintendent, Houston ISD, described his focus on helping underperforming schools. He discussed the national teacher shortage and explained his support for grow-your-own programs. He noted that HISD is focused on building trust, providing equitable resources, and ensuring great schools and programs in every community. He said that HISD has an ESSER dashboard that shows how ESSER dollars are being spent.
Merl Brandon, superintendent, Stanton ISD, provided virtual testimony focused on the value of district partnerships, such as that with the Martin County Hospital District to provide tele-medication services with the goal of keeping students and teachers in the classroom. He also described the importance of instructional partnerships, face-to face instruction, the benefits of SB 1365, and quality tier 2 interventions.
Dr. Keven Ellis, chair of the State Board of Education, updated the committee on the SBOE’s unanimous June veto of edTPA, an exam used for teacher certification purposes that the State Board for Educator Certification had approved to replace the current multiple-choice Pedagogy and Professional Responsibilities (PPR) exam. Ellis repeated several times that the SBOE’s veto was not a “nail in the coffin” of edTPA in Texas but rather a means to slow the process so that the SBEC could look at the exam in a broader context to approach implementation differently. He said that edTPA is better than PPR, but there are concerns about the cost and investment, and the fact that other states have reversed their decisions to adopt edTPA. (See the written testimony that TASA and numerous other education-related organizations submitted to the SBOE on edTPA.) Ellis reported that he and other SBOE members have had discussions with SBEC members since the veto, and all parties are committed to “getting it done but getting it done right.” He also noted that Texas, like the rest of the nation, is in a teacher shortage right now, and that cannot be overlooked because implementing a much more rigorous and robust exam now could exacerbate the shortage.
Tom Maynard, SBOE member and former teacher and school board member, said that PPR certainly has deficiencies and that edTPA works well for teachers delivering instruction in a classroom setting. However, for teachers who instruct students in a shop setting or administer other types of experiental learning, edTPA falls short. He would like Texas to create an exam that will work better in the Career and Technical Education (CTE) space and is working with experts in this field on this issue.
Rep. Dan Huberty expressed concerns about the time and money spent thus far on the edTPA pilot being wasted and questioned Ellis about the SBOE’s veto of the SBEC decision. Ellis responded that when the SBEC looked at edTPA, they looked only at whether it was better than PPR. They did not consider using another test alongside it or how the exam would be implemented. He used the example of STAAR, which the state uses to both assess students and hold schools accountable, and said he feared “we would be getting into the same boat” with edTPA. Ellis said he thinks the state needs different tools to assess teachers and hold educator preparation programs accountable. He reported that the SBOE and SBEC are in discussions about holding a joint work session on edTPA in September. He said edTPA pilots will continue until there is a resolution.
Partnerships Among K-12, Higher Ed, and the Workforce
Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, Commissioner of Higher Education Harrison Keller, and Texas Workforce Commissioner Bryan Daniel provided overviews of the status of partnerships among K-12, higher education institutions, and the workforce in Texas. Morath mentioned that the state is leading the nation in high school programs that allow students to earn associate degrees while simultaneously completing their high school diplomas.
Dr. Annette Tiel, superintendent of Del Valle ISD, provided testimony on her district’s CTE classes and programs, including internships that prepare students for the workforce. Her suggestions to the committee for increasing partnerships among K-12 and the workforce included additional funding for internship programs. She also noted that lack of alignment is the biggest obstacle K-12 faces in establishing partnerships with industry as business partners are often not prepared to offer curriculum because they train employees on the job. She said it is hard for them to articulate the skills needed to develop them into curriculum. Rep. Brad Buckley, a veterinarian, suggested that trade associations might be the best resource for writing such curriculum because businesses don’t always have the time or bandwidth to do that.
HD Chambers, superintendent of Alief ISD, pointed out that K-12 partnerships with higher ed and the workforce are relatively new; only for the last 10 years has there been guidance and “guard rails” available on them. He said that in order for districts to have meaningful workforce development programs, districts must have the right facilities, and he suggested the Legislature keep in mind the brick-and-mortar needs of these programs. Having buildings with properly outfitted classrooms and labs available to students, he said, helps create a different mindset among those who might have not previously pursued post-secondary education. Chambers also said that Texas still doesn’t have buy-in from business partners in policymaking. He said that most European countries with meaningful pathways for students to support their economies go first to employers and ask what they expect of graduates. In the U.S., K-12 and higher ed are doing the outreach after the fact, asking employers to create systems in their industries to match what education is doing. Chambers asked what the state can do to incentivize businesses and HR directors to align with schools. Other suggestions for the committee included working as closely as possible with the higher ed committee on providing dual credit and consistent dual credit funding across Texas as well as looking at assessments other than the TSIE to allow students to take dual credit courses with the goal of increasing student access. At the conclusion of his testimony, committee members thanked Chambers, who is retiring, for providing so many hours of testimony over the years and being a valuable resource for legislators.
Will Krebs with Project Lead the Way testified on the importance of preparing students for the jobs of today while being aware of the demand for tomorrow. He said that we should have every expectation that the computer science field will expand, and students today who are not being prepared to be fluent in certain aspects of computer science, such as being safe and practicing cyber hygiene, will see their employment affected down the road, even if they’re not pursuing computer science jobs.
Michael Gonzalez with The Rural Schools Innovation Zone briefed the committee on his organization. He said that “three visionary superintendents in south, rural Texas collaborated to create the Zone,” which is a “new, independent nonprofit laser-focused on expanding postsecondary opportunities for kids.” The Rural Schools Innovation Zone is a partnership among Premont, Brooks County (Falfurrias), and Freer ISDs. Every district has a specialized academy. Freer has health science, while Premont offers the STEM Discovery Zone, which includes education in cybersecurity, robotics, and more, as well as a grown-your-own educator academy. Brooks County ISD now has a JROTC program that wouldn’t have come to be with just one district applying for it, but was successful with the tri-district partnership. The district also offers a more traditional CTE academy featuring welding, construction, etc. that has led to students starting their own businesses. The Zone is open to all students in the three districts and provides them with free transportion as well as free supplies and materials. The result has been a quadrupling of the number of students taking dual credit courses across the three districts and double the number of students earning industry certifications. The Zone was started with grant funding, and last year began a tuition funding model. 17 CTE teachers are employed across the three districts, and Teacher Incentive Allotment funds have helped retain teachers with very little turnover. Gonzalez told the committee that the Zone should be a model of collaboration for K-12 and holds great promise for replication.
Dr. Kim Alexander, CEO of Edu-Nation, provided virtual testimony in which he explained that Edu-Nation is a nonprofit service provider for P-20 systems in small, rural districts. Developed originally in collaboration with Texas A&M University, it was called the “Roscoe model” and now is referred to as the CEN model. The goal was to reverse the trend of extremely low postsecondary participation (13%) of rural graduates. Alexander said high expections for all students (who earn college degrees as they complete their high school diplomas) and apprenticeships are key to the model, which is now in use in 15 districts with a total of 19,000 students.
Dr. Desmontes Steward, superintendent of Gainesville ISD, talked about how “eye-opening” it was for him to go from working in larger school districts with robust P-TECH programs to leading a rural district. He said the lack of resources available at much smaller schools is a major obstacle to building partnerships with higher ed and the workforce. Gainesville participates in a new program called the Red River Promise, which provides 60 hours of college at no cost to students who meet the prerequisites. Steward called the progam a “game changer.” He said students have been so excited about the opportunity that they work hard to complete the prerequisites, and that most important, these students now have hope. He asked the Legislature to continue to back programs like the Red River Promise that have been successful.
Curriculum and Instructional Materials
Commissioner Morath gave a broad overview of curriculum and instructional materials in Texas. He cited a study that said only 17% of lessons U.S. students receive are on grade level, with the percentage being 19% in Texas. He also expressed concerns with curricular materials used in schools, explaining that since 2011, when the Legislature removed the SBOE’s authority to review/approve instructional materials, Texas has a “state-recommended, district-selected” policy. He told the committee that it would be useful for the SBOE to once again be involved in instructional material review, while allowing districts local discretion and latitude. He also recommended the continued development of OER materials, expanded training and support for teachers and principals on how to teach materials well, and improvements in instructional materials transparency — even a web-based portal through which parents could see what their kids are learning each week. He also recommended additional capacity supports as district audit and evaluate the efficacy of curriculum. Such audits, he said, should be encouraged as much as possible.
Rep. James Talarico asked Morath if he was aware of any curriculum that bullies or grooms students. The commissioner answered that TEA has received complaints that would appear to substantiate some instructional materials in use do that. He said the agency has reviewed materials made available to students that common citizens would find inappropriate. Talarico asked what statewide policy needs to be put in place to prevent that. Morath said that focusing on the quality of curriculum and ensuring it is free of ideological bias are important. Talarico pointed out that bullying a child or grooming a child is illegal, and that is different than having materials that some simply consider to be “not great.”
Morath continued his testimony on the issue of parent empowerment in schools. He cited a long list of the rights that parents currently have in the public K-12 system. These included the right to request their children go to different schools than those they are zoned for and the right to view instructional materials. Morath said that whether transfer requests are granted varies by district, and that “it’s one thing to sit in your jammies and know [what your student is learning] and another to have to set up a meeting to go look through binders” to know, which he called operational reality. Morath noted the right of parents to temporarily remove their child from instruction if they do not want their child to receive a specific lesson and that parents have some specific rights about health instruction. He explained that districts have grievance policies that allow anyone to grieve anything to the school board, and sometimes they can be appealed to the commissioner (about 200 per year are). Morath explained that he can overrule a board only if a rule has been broken and that no discipline or grading matters can be appealed to commissioner. He also explained that parents have certain rights under federal special education legislation. He also said that recent state law requires that the public be allowed to opine on every topic on which a school board will take a vote but he said few topics must be publicly covered so parents can speak to them. Morath said that parents have the right to involve themselves in their child’s accelerated instruction academic plan, and now, a parent can enforce that their child remain in their current grade rather than being promoted.
Talarico asked what role accusations against educators is playing in the teacher shortage. Morath answered that “rights start, stop, and revolve around parents and if you assume otherwise you’re making an egregious mistake.” He said responsibility is different than rights, and as a father when he sends his children to school, it’s a partnership. He expects the school and the parents to both do all they can to educate the child, but at the end of the day “it is still his kid.” Morath said that teachers are leaving the profession because they are being overworked from a time perspective, often handling both instructional design and delivery. He said the degree of support and training in student discipline are also key drivers. The No. 3 factor, according to the commissioner, is pay. “There is no data on societal factors [causing teachers to quit], but we do have anecdotes.”
The committee hearing continued late into the evening with a number of parents and others testifying on the topic of parent empowerment.
The committee will meet next at 10 a.m., Tuesday, August 9, to hear invited and public testimony on interim charges related to assessment and accountability. Learn more.