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.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

@BingGives - By Inviting Others to Give

I just took advantage of the coolest opportunity to donate $100 to a classroom project which will leverage technology to help preschool students with special needs expand their communication skills. The opportunity came thanks to Bing - yes, the search engine folks!

It all started yesterday when I received the innocent looking Tweet you see at the start of this blog.

Innocent looking, except I'm super suspicious when it comes to Twitter and someone asking me to follow them so they can DM me! Online safety first, you know! 

So, I went to the @BingGives Twitter profile, and was reassured when it showed up as a verified account with over 13,000 followers. I noticed they were inviting other educators to follow them in the same way that they had invited me, and I followed a link from their profile page which took me to information on the Bing Cause Team. By now I was pretty convinced that they were legit, so I followed them.

Today, @BingGives sent me a DM (a private Twitter message) with a code to redeem for a $100 donation to a classroom project of my choice at

At, individual teachers sign up to request donations for classroom projects. After the projects are vetted, they are posted and donors can give tax deductible donations to support the projects. According to the DonorsChoose website, "All projects are submitted by public school teachers who seek resources essential to their students' success. Donors can choose from thousands of classroom projects, and then hear back from the classroom they chose to help."

I searched for projects in my area and selected one in which a teacher of special needs 3-5 year olds wants to add technology to her classroom to help them build their communication skills. You can visit the project I selected to receive my $100 from @BingGives at this link.

I think this is a unique and impactful approach to charitable giving in the education realm. Bing recognizes educators who are engaging on Twitter by inviting them to support projects designed by fellow educators, and by doing so they might create donors who give back again in the future by introducing them to Not to mention the positive vibe the giver experiences (at least I did!) knowing that they are supporting student learning in ways a school or teacher is unable to fund.

This is a win-win-win-win-win program! Kudos to @BingGives and the team behind them. If you get an invite from them, investigate it for yourself, then take the opportunity to do a good deed for a fellow educator and their students!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Contact the TX Senate Finance Committee ASAP! #txedbudget #txbudget #savetxschools

I received an email this morning from Save Texas Schools reminding me that the Texas Senate is expected to issue its budget bill tomorrow, Thursday, April 21st. It is important that Texans concerned about school finance contact these Senate members and thank them for and encourage them in their efforts to create a budget that does not cut as deeply as the House version of the budget does.

If you doubt the difference, take a look at these cuts from Round Rock ISD and see the number of programs and jobs that can be saved under the Senate version of the budget versus the House version.

Save Texas Schools provided this handy contact list for the Senate Finance Committee members. Now you have no excuse for not contacting them! Even if your Senator is not listed there, contact at least one of them. As a Texan, their decisions impact you and your schools no matter where you live.

Here is a suggested email, also from Save Texas Schools.
Dear Senator _____________________, 

Education is the greatest investment we can make in the future of our state. I understand the current budget crisis, but I also know that Texans can find solutions to the toughest problems. I ask you to support the following: 

1. Finding new revenue and non-revenue sources of funding that will reduce the proposed budget cuts to education. Proposed cuts will put 100,000 teachers out of work, close schools and eliminate vital programs. 

2. Use of most or all of the Rainy Day Fund to reduce budget cuts. This is the time the fund was created for. Given the current price of oil, the fund will also replenish quickly. 

3. Fixing the ongoing structural deficit, so that we are not back here in 2013 with the same crisis. I am encouraged by Senator Ogden’s proposals to reform the failed Margins Tax. 

Texas is currently 44th in its investment in education, and will likely be 50th if the new cuts are enacted. This is not acceptable! We are a wealthy state and the current crisis is man-made. Let’s fix the problem, stop the politics, and invest in our children. 

Sincerely, (Name) (Address)

I encourage you to speak with passion from your own heart, however. I think emails that are individualized gain more attention; they do not look like one organization's "blast campaign", but show the true feelings of the constituents. That said, if all you have time for is the suggested email above, then send it! They need to know we care about education and we are paying attention to what they do.

Speak up, Texans! The future of our children depends on it!!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

ACTION ALERT: Texas HB 6 With Vital Instructional Materials Funding- House is Voting April 6th!

The following is a legislative action alert I received today from Jennifer Bergland and TCEA Advocacy. It is reposted here with permission. HB 6 is the companion bill to SB 6 which I testified on before the Senate Education Committee last week. Even if you are reading this late in the day Tuesday, call your rep! I called last week on a different matter at 7:30 PM thinking I'd get voice mail, and I got a live person!

ACTION ALERT: Call your Representative today!

HB 6 will be voted on by the Texas House of Representatives on Wednesday morning.  Call your representative's office today and urge them to support this bill. Attached is a document that highlights the benefits of HB 6. This bill is vital for technology funding for Texas school districts.  

When you call, ask to speak to the legislative aide who handles education issues for the representative. 
  • Inform them that HB 6 will be voted on by the House on Wednesday (April 6th)
  • Ask them to vote for HB 6 and 
  • Oppose any amendment that might delay the implementation of the Instructional Materials Allotment. 
You can find out who your Representative is here

You can find their contact information here

You could also follow up with a quick email urging them to support the bill and email the attached document.

If you have any questions, please let me know.

Jennifer Bergland
Texas Computer Education Association
Director of Governmental Relations and Membership Services

In response to Jennifer's call to action, I called my representative's office on my lunch break today and spoke with one of his aides. Later, I sent this follow-up email to him:

Dear Representative Gonzales,

I am your constituent and I am contacting you today to

- ask you to vote for HB 6 which will come before the House for a vote on Wednesday, April 6th, and

- to oppose any amendments which will delay the institution of the Instructional Materials Allotment created by HB 6.

HB 6 deletes the word ''textbook'' from current education law and updates it to the phrase ''instructional materials''. It also establishes an Instructional Materials Allotment in place of the current textbook allotment, giving school districts more flexibility and local control in choosing the materials they feel are best suited to instructing their students in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).

As a taxpayer, I feel it is a better use of my tax dollars to allow districts to purchase the best materials for their students, whether they be traditional textbooks or digital content and the technology needed to deliver the content. It is a waste of my tax dollars to continue to purchase only textbooks which are often outdated by the time they are printed or which sit on shelves collecting dust because forward-thinking educators are using alternative materials to design instruction based on their students' learning needs.

As an educator, I believe the flexibility afforded by HB6 if it is passed will give my colleagues the opportunity to exercise their professional judgement in choosing instructional materials that will meet the needs of the students in their classrooms. It will also help us continue to work toward the goals Texas has set for its schools, which by 2020 includes students ''hav(ing) on-demand access to all appropriate digital resources and technologies to complete activities that have been seamlessly integrated into all core content areas, providing learning opportunities beyond the classroom that are not otherwise possible.''

(Above quote taken from Texas Education Agency 2010 Progress Report on the Long-Range Plan for Technology, 2006-2020; accessed from the TEA website).

For your additional information, please see the following documents:

Information on HB 6 from Texas Computer Education Association. (I shared this same document with your Chief of Staff Chris Sanchez when I visited your office at the Capitol on Monday, March 21st)

A copy of my personal testimony before the Senate Education Committee on SB6, the companion bill to HB6. The bills are very similar and my reasons for supporting SB6 are the same as my reasons for supporting HB6.

Thank you for taking time to read this information and your consideration of support for HB 6.

OK folks! Your turn! If you are a Texas educator, please email and call your Texas House Representative right away! 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Message for Texans

This is why. Why I have been thinking and blogging about budgets and politics and legislation lately. Because the thousands of Juliannas and Matthews and Amandas and Seans in Texas schools deserve educations that are adequately funded to provide rigorous instruction in core courses, enrichment classes to broaden their experiences and tap into their talents, and support programs to fill in the gaps in areas where they struggle.

Texas school children do not deserve to be pawns in a political game of balancing the Texas budget with a "cuts only" approach while the governor and legislators refuse to access available Rainy Day funds to mitigate the crisis or permanently fix the structural deficit that helped get us here in the first place.

Do not let our kids down.

Citizens, please email, call, and write your legislators today and tell them to prioritize education funding.

Legislators, please listen to the majority of Texas citizens who do not want to drastically cut education funding.

Texas children and the future of our state are worth it!