Sunday, June 5, 2011

Please Avoid Unnecessary & Harmful Changes to Education Law

Texas Capitol © 2006 Larry D. Moore
Used Under a Creative Commons ShareAlike License
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Texas_capitol_day.jpg
Below is the text of an email I just sent to my representative in the Texas legislature. When Senator Wendy Davis forced a special session to bring to light the major changes to education funding in our state that were being ramrodded through at the end of the regular session, she did a good thing. Unfortunately, the special session has also provided opportunities for harmful education legislation that died in the regular session to see the light of day again. If you are a Texas parent, educator, or concerned citizen, please look into these issues for yourself and write your representatives ASAP with your concerns. The session is moving at a furious pace...time is of the essence in communicating with your legislators!

I am thankful for the many educators and organizations who are helping to keep me informed of these quickly evolving issues via email and social media. By working together and letting our voices be heard, we can make a difference!


Dear Representative Gonzales,

I recently wrote about my appreciation of you during this legislative session on my blog. You can visit the post here if you are interested: http://edtechsandyk.blogspot.com/2011/05/learnings-from-participation-in-texas.html. It's a lengthy post, so you can scroll to the My Representative Listens section toward the end if you want to just read what I wrote about you.

As bills regarding Texas school children, their parents, and their teachers are being rapidly filed during the special session, as your constituent I would ask you to avoid unnecessary and harmful changes to Texas education law. As my blog post stated, I have appreciated your listening ear throughout this legislative session, and I know I can count on you once again to consider my views on these matters. 

My understanding of education issues this session is that they revolve around the overall state budget shortfall. I know that the House and Senate are close to an agreement on how to cut $4 billion in spending on public education from the 2011-2013 Texas budget. While the issues surrounding this shortfall have been frustrating to me, I am even more frustrated with the "related" legislation that is working its way through the special session and is potentially harmful to students, parents, and teachers involved in our education system.

As I list the bills below and ask you to oppose them, my fundamental questions about each one are: 
  • What is the purpose of the proposed legislation in light of the current education funding crisis? 
  • Does the proposed legislation help mitigate the the present budget crisis, and if so, how
  • If it does indeed help to mitigate the crisis, should it not be a temporary measure to answer what should be a temporary crisis?
  • How will the proposed legislation, be it temporary or permanent if passed, negatively or positively impact the educational experience of students, the right of parents to be informed about their child's education, and the professional and ethical treatment of educators in Texas?
I realize that some of these bills may not make it out of committee, but given how quickly things seem to be moving, I feel it is prudent to express my opinions now rather than later.

Please Oppose HB 8 (Eissler - still in Public Ed. Committee)
  • HB 8 would eliminate the state minimum salary schedule for teachers, replacing it with a single minimum salary of $27,320. What is the purpose of this elimination? The minimum salary schedule is not breaking Texas public schools (most schools pay over this salary schedule already) and it gives persons who choose education as their profession assurance of a minimum salary which increases based on experience over time. If Texas wants to keep attracting potential educators to our schools, we need to stay competitive with the multiple other states who guarantee minimum salaries for their teachers.
  • HB 8 would also make it easier for districts to fire teachers in the middle of the school year if needed for a reduction of force. Such a provision would allow districts an "out" if they plan poorly for the number of staff they can afford at the start of a school year. It would also negatively affect students who would loose teachers with whom they've already bonded and who know their educational progress and needs well. There is no reason a properly run school district should have to declare a RIF in the middle of a school year.
  • HB 8 includes a provision for increasing class sizes to up to 25 students without directly notifying parents. Parents should be notified individually in writing, not simply via a website posting, if their child's educational experience is going to be impacted by increased class sizes.
  • HB 8 strikes the requirement that in the event of a RIF teachers on continuing contracts are to be let go in reverse order of seniorityGetting rid of this requirement will put long term, experienced educators at greater risk for losing their jobs because they make higher salaries than teachers with fewer years of experience. To deprive students of the most experienced educators is not in the students' best educational interest, nor is it in the best interest of less experienced teachers who depend on the mentorship of their more experienced colleagues. Throwing out seniority as a factor in RIFs is also disrespectful to teachers who have dedicated themselves to the profession and their district for the long term.
  • HB 8 strikes the requirement that in the event of a RIF teachers are to be let go in reverse order of seniority. Getting rid of this requirement will put long term, experienced educators at greater risk for losing their jobs because they make higher salaries than teachers with fewer years of experience. To  deprive students of the most experienced educators in a district is not in the students' best educational interest, nor is it in the best interest of less experienced teachers who grow in their educational practice under the mentorship of their more experienced colleagues. Throwing out seniority as a factor in RIFs is also disrespectful to teachers who have dedicated themselves to the profession and their district for the long term.
Please Oppose HB 17 (Callegari - still in Government Efficiency and Reform Committee)
  • HB 17 would eliminate the state minimum salary schedule for teachers. My reasons for opposing this are listed above under HB 8 which includes the same elimination.
Please Oppose HB 18 (Eissler - passed out of Public Ed. Committee June 5th)
  • HB 18 eliminates the need for districts to show undue hardship to petition for class size waivers during the critical literacy building grades K-4. Class size waivers at these grade levels should only be considered as a last resort.
  • HB 18 also allows a district to delegate waiver requests to the superintendent, which would bypass the need for a public hearing before the school board. Parents should have a right to hear from a district why an action which will impact their children's learning opportunities is being considered and should have a forum for asking questions and sharing their opinions about such a decision.
  • HB 18 allows notice of a class-size waiver to simply be posted to a district website rather than individually mailed to the families of affected students. As I stated on a similar provision of HB 8, parents should be notified individually in writing, not simply via a website posting, if their child's educational experience is going to be impacted by increased class sizes.
Please Oppose HB 19 (Aycock - passed out of Public Ed. Committee June 5th)
  • HB 19 will take away the rights of educators to a hearing in front of an impartial, independent hearing examiner when faced with a mid-contract termination of their employment because of a declaration of “financial exigency” by their school district. This bill changes the non-renewal process for all educators on term contracts. Instead of holding termination hearings before the school board or an independent hearing examiner appointed by the commissioner of education as in current law, school districts could hire outside attorneys to conduct non-renewal hearings with lesser procedural safeguards than under current law. Surely an educator should be able to directly face the persons who are deciding not to renew their contracts and should have the right to an impartial party taking part in the process?
Please Oppose HB 20 (Huberty - passed out of Public Ed. Committee June 5th)
  • Like the same provision in HB 8, HB 20 changes the number of days prior to the end of the school year that an employee must be notified of non-renewal of contracts from 45 days to 15. This will lead to increased anxiety for teachers wondering if they will be employed the next school year and lessen by a month the amount of time they have to pursue another position. A 45 day notice allows most teachers in a district to put away concerns about future employment and allows them to focus more energy on teaching students during the critical Spring standardized testing season.
Please Oppose HB 21 (Shelton - passed out of Public Ed. Committee June 5th)
  • Like a similar provision in HB 8, HB 21 strikes the requirement that in the event of a RIF teachers on continuing contracts are to be let go in reverse order of seniorityGetting rid of this requirement will put long term, experienced educators at greater risk for losing their jobs because they make higher salaries than teachers with fewer years of experience. To deprive students of the most experienced educators is not in the students' best educational interest, nor is it in the best interest of less experienced teachers who depend on the mentorship of their more experienced colleagues. Throwing out seniority as a factor in RIFs is also disrespectful to teachers who have dedicated themselves to the profession and their district for the long term.
  • Additionally testimony was given on this bill that the legislation, if passed, would retroactively change the provisions of continuing contracts and as a result would very likely be struck down when challenged in the Texas court system. 
Please Oppose HB 33 (Sid Miller - still in Government Efficiency and Reform Committee)
  • HB 33, the proposed Taxpayer Savings Grant Program, effectively initiates a private school voucher system whereby parents who put their children in private schools will be able to receive partial reimbursement for their private school tuition from the State of Texas.
  • The argument that money will be "saved" because the grant will be less than the per-pupil allotment that would have gone toward the child's education in public school is weak at best. Regardless of the amount of money spent, the fact remains that taxpayer money meant to fund public education which is already $4 billion dollars short for the next biennium will be given to private schools which are not accountable through adherence to state law and mandates for how they spend the money. 
  • It is the right of every citizen to decide how to best educate their children, however, money collected for the education of public school children should stay dedicated to public schools.

Representative Gonzales, I thank you once again for taking the time to read my views on pending legislation. These requests and opinions come from the heart of an experienced professional educator who is deeply concerned for the future of our public school system and the teaching profession in Texas.

Above all else, on these bills as well as other education and budget related bills, I ask you to make decisions that you know in your heart are in the best interest of and which prioritize the quality education of Texas students. Legislation which weakens parental involvement, reduces the number of experienced educators serving our children, or results in current and potential educators being less attracted to the teaching profession in Texas is not in the best interest of our state's children.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...