Thursday, May 12, 2011

Texas HB 400 - The Final Stand Thursday, May 12th

Well, today is it! It is the last day that HB 400, legislation which would make PERMANENT changes to Texas law in response to what should be a TEMPORARY budget crisis.

Instead of addressing the real issues - including a structural deficit that has been well documented - legislators are attempting to remove class size caps,weaken the very few contract rights that Texas teachers have, and do away with the state minimum salary scale. All of these moves are detrimental to the quality of education Texas students receive and the caliber of educators that Texas will be able to retain and recruit in the future.

I used this convenient tool from Texas Can Do Better to send an email to my representative on Tuesday, when HB 400 last came up. I customized the email, although you do not have to do that. It is important that you contact your representative TODAY. The Texas Can Do Better tool makes it very easy. You have no excuse for not acting!

Here is my previous post on HB 400 which outlines many concerns (information on the Phillips amendment is no longer pertinent, as sadly, it has been defeated), and the text of the email I sent Tuesday is below.

Please join me in letting our legislators know we want the REAL problems of the budget and deficits dealt with instead of "work-arounds" that wind up hurting public education in Texas. Now, go write and call without delay!

Subject Line: Vote no on HB 400: A temporary revenue crisis is no excuse for permanent repeal of all these educational quality standards and employee safeguards

Dear Representative Gonzales,

I am writing once again to urge you to vote NO on HB 400. I was extremely disappointed to hear that the Phillips Amendment, written by your fellow Republican and which made the provisions of HB 400 temporary, was tabled yesterday. I hope it comes back up for consideration.

I understand you are a co-author of this bill. I do not understand why you believe permanent changes to law that fall heavily on students and teachers are necessary for what should be a temporary budget crisis.

HB 400 permanently eliminates the 22-to-1 cap on the size of K-4 classrooms, by changing the standard to a district-wide average. Both this average and a new 25-to-1 cap for individual classrooms also would be subject to waiver. The bill also wipes out special requirements of smaller class sizes for students at risk of failing standardized state tests.

HB 400 permanently eliminates the state minimum salary schedule for teachers, counselors, nurses, and librarians, replacing salary floors with a mandate to districts to institute test-driven “performance pay.”

A "performance pay" driven salary system is unfair in many aspects, not the least of which is the fact that not all teachers teach subjects which are tested by the state testing system, and teachers who do teach those subjects teach vastly different populations of students. The teacher of GT students will have little trouble earning "performance pay", while a teacher who has dedicated himself or herself to working with students who struggle academically will have much greater challenges. Why institute a system which potentially punishes teachers who are working with the neediest students?

HB 400 kills teachers’ contract safeguards. It takes away the right to an independent hearing before an impartial hearing examiner for a teacher faced with a mid-contract termination. It deprives term-contract teachers of timely notice of proposed non-renewal, shifting the notice date to the last day of instruction, so teachers must wait five extra, anxious weeks before they know if they are employed for the coming year. Teachers on continuing contracts meanwhile lose one of the main benefits of those contracts: seniority protection in case of layoffs. In a financial crisis, districts might be tempted to release veteran teachers with the highest salaries for layoffs first. Losing experienced teachers is detrimental to our children's education and leaves no one behind to mentor teachers new to the profession.

A temporary revenue crisis is no excuse for permanent repeal of all these educational quality standards and employee safeguards. I urge you to block HB 400 and work instead on limited, temporary measures like emergency class-size waivers based on undue financial hardship and temporary salary adjustments as a substitute for layoffs. Above all, I urge you to work for adequate funding of our public schools to avoid the need for such measures.

Thank you for your time in reading my concerns and considering them as you vote on HB 400.