Retiree pension bill upcoming; Teacher of the Year pushes back against STAAR

by Rob D’Amico, Texas AFT Communications Director
(Follow on Twitter @damicoaustin and @TexasAFT)

While tax talk dominates Capitol, a couple key education bills wait in the wings

An Austin ISD bus driver outlines the need for higher pay for support staff: see below. (Photo: Ricardo Brazzeill / Austin American-Statesman)

While legislators are focused on bills for property tax revenue caps, there’s still plenty of action ahead for bills relating to public education. The Senate Education Committee had planned to hear SB 3, its school finance bill, on Tuesday, but that was taken off the agenda after the committee chair — Sen. Larry Taylor — noted that he wanted to get the tax issue settled first. (It’s looking like Wednesday for a vote on the tax issue, then possibly next week for school finance.)

But here are a couple of other key items slated for this week:

  • (Update: action on this bill was delayed, with possible action the week of April 22) On Tuesday, the House is scheduled to hear a bill providing increased state contributions to the TRS pension fund, with a one-time “13th check” for retirees capped at $2,400. You may recall that the Senate’s plan called for increases in contributions from employees and districts as well, with a 13th check capped at $500. We’ll be advocating the House plan. (The Senate plan came from SB 12. A House committee substituted its provisions into the bill, which is scheduled to be voted on Tuesday.)
  • HB 4095 by Rep. Michelle Beckley (D-Carrollton) would require school districts to develop a policy outlining “benchmarks” for the square footage expected to be covered by custodians. While this may sound a bit esoteric, we’ve seen our local unions encounter ongoing problems of districts cutting back on the number of custodians hired and requiring them to cover huge area — sometimes in multiple buildings. This bill would force districts to examine reasonable workloads for custodians that then could be enforced.

And since we’re talking custodians, here’s another piece in the Austin American-Statesman examining the need for a pay raise for support staff in our schools.

Teacher of the year calls on teachers to ‘mobilize against STAAR testing’

2019 Texas Teacher of the Year, Jeff Wheatcraft, writes a nice opinion piece in the Dallas Morning News urging teachers to:

“….mobilize, join together with many voices and tell our state representatives to pass legislation eliminating or severely reducing the high stakes of state standardized tests and the state’s A-F rating of schools and districts that is based largely on STAAR scores. Invite lawmakers to your classes; show them the drawbacks to focusing on filling in bubble sheets. Make sure they see the amazing things students can aspire to when not hampered by benchmarks, practice tests and STAAR reading passages. Together we can make change that puts students first.

Wheatcraft is one of a growing number of voices objecting the misuse of the STAAR test and decrying its negative impacts on teaching our kids.

As a state we have spent the better part of three decades experimenting to determine if all this testing will improve the success of students after leaving our school systems. The results: a resounding no. While there are glimmers of hope around the state, where teachers are making incredible changes focused on student engagement, where teachers are not teaching students to be better at tests, but these schools are few and far between.
My own district supports teachers to design engaging work for students instead of focusing on STAAR, but, because of the high stakes attached to STAAR, most schools and districts feel the pressure to focus heavily on testing, some to the point that students can no longer read books in English class, but instead they have to read STAAR passages.