Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Texas HB 400 is Bad News for Teachers and Students #txedbudget #savetxschools

The more I read about Texas HB 400, the more concerned I become about its provisions, and the more grateful I am that it was sent back to committee on a technical point of order yesterday. I hope that time runs out on this bill before it passes.

After reading the information below, if you agree that HB 400 is bad news for teachers and students, be sure to contact your representative today and let him or her know how you feel.

ATPE has a good summary of what this bill will do in their 4-21 legislative update. I will quote the points below for your convenience, but I encourage you to visit their web page as well:
If passed, HB 400 would:
  • Eliminate the experienced-based minimum salary schedule for teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians, and require each district to create new compensation systems based on performance factors such as student test scores and teacher appraisals. 
  • Eliminate the 22:1 student-to-teacher class-size limit for grades K-4, and allow districts to place up to 25 students in a class. Under HB 400, districts would only have to meet a 22:1 district-wide average student-to-teacher ratio. 
  • Allow districts to permanently weaken educator contract and due process rights as well as salary protections. The bill changes timelines and notification procedures as well as eliminates your right to a neutral hearing officer in a contract termination.
  • Allow a district to declare financial exigency for a reduction in force (RIF) without demonstrating that it has exhausted the alternatives, as well as give districts the permanent ability to furlough educators’ professional development days and reduce salaries.
  • Make permanent changes even though districts are dealing with a temporary budget crisis, and make it easier for districts to terminate educators or reduce salaries indefinitely.
Here are some news stories which shed a little more light on the bill and who supports and opposes it.

Last Wednesday, I received information on this bill from TCTA, the professional organization that I belong to, and in response, I emailed and phoned my representative. At the time, the bill was set for debate and vote on Thursday, so I used some of TCTA's language in my email to my representative. Below is the email I sent to him.

Dear Representative Gonzales,

First, I want to thank you for taking the time to personally call me yesterday and let me know that you had supported HB 6 and that it had passed the House unanimously. As your constituent, I appreciate the time you took to listen to my concerns and make a vote in the best interest of Texas public education and learning materials for students.

Representative Gonzales, I was encouraged to note during the 2010 election campaign that your wife is an educator. I was hopeful based on your close ties to the education profession that you would be a friend of education and teachers as you make your decisions and represent your constituents in the legislature. Today I am hoping more than ever that you are truly a supporter of education and the education profession in Texas.

I am writing today to ask you to oppose HB 400 in its current form and support the Phillips amendment to HB 400 being brought forth by your fellow Republican Larry Phillips.

HB 400 in its current form is detrimental to public education in Texas because:
  • It harms classroom instruction by allowing larger class sizes and removing parent notification provisions. Aside from being very detrimental to young students, larger class sizes = fewer classrooms = fewer teachers. This is not a proposal to save teacher jobs or help prepare students for the new accountability system.
  • By permanently eliminating the state minimum salary schedule and other salary-related laws, HB 400 allows districts to reduce teacher salaries significantly and permanently. The salary schedule is one of the few mechanisms the Legislature has to direct money to instruction.
  • The bill permanently removes key legal protections for teachers so that districts can terminate contracts mid-year much more easily – making it easier to fire teachers, not save their jobs. This reduces incentives for districts to look for cuts outside the classroom or do good financial planning.
I realize we are in difficult economic times and this bill may seem as if it is intended to give school districts more flexibility during the current budget crunch, but if that is the true purpose, then why does the bill propose to make these changes permanent? Instead of permanently weakening provisions which protect quality instruction (class size limits), forever taking away a guaranteed minimum salary for teachers (making the profession less attractive and allowing districts to direct dollars away from the classroom), and removing legal contract protections for teachers (again making the profession less attractive and reducing incentives for districts to look for budget cuts outside the classroom),it would be wiser to implement temporary provisions to mitigate the current funding crisis.

The Phillips amendment to HB 400 allows some temporary changes to current law to give districts flexibility during the financial crisis and minimize teacher job losses. 
  • The commissioner of education could temporarily ease the requirements for obtaining a class-size waiver, but parental notification provisions should be retained.
  • Limited salary reductions and furloughs would be allowed temporarily during the budget crisis, but only to the extent of district funding losses, and only after a public hearing to fully explore all options. 
  • Furloughs/salary reductions would have to apply to all contractual personnel, i.e., administrators as well as instructional staff. 
Thank you for your time in considering my concerns regarding HB 400 and my request that you support the Phillips amendment.

It turns out that my representative is one of the bill's co-authors, but that did not dissuade me from writing to let him know my opinion.

Your turn! If you are as concerned as many educators are about the provisions of this bill, make sure you take advantage of its return to committee and let your representative know how you feel.