On June 6th, Governor Greg Abbott called a special session and listed 20 priorities to be addressed during the 30 day special session, which began on July 18. Gov. Abbott later added school finance reform and Teacher Retirement System TRS-Care funding. The Legislature passed very few of Governor Abbott’s priorities, leaving the possibility of a second special session open. Most notably, the Legislature did not pass either school voucher or bathroom legislation. Additionally, teachers will be missing out on their raises, as the chambers failed to agree on how to finance a teacher pay bump. Perhaps the biggest “victory” of the special session was the extension of important state agencies via sunset legislation, a bill that was held hostage during the regular session that ended in May, and forced Abbott to call the special session in the first place. The Legislature also passed legislation on school finance reform – HB 21 by Representative Dan Huberty – initially a $1.8 billion influx to public schools in Texas, which would have added $1.5 billion to the basic allotment. The Senate stripped the bill down to ~$300m, focused primarily on various special education grants, support for small and rural schools, and extension of ASATR to prevent many districts from shuttering schools. This bill will have little to no effect on the school districts in Dallas County. However, the bill did establish a School Finance Commission to evaluate and suggest changes to Texas’ school finance system. It remains to be seen whether this commission will be a serious effort to overhaul the beleaguered school finance system, but we will keep an eye out as the members are selected and the commission’s efforts are underway. Overall, little was accomplished during the special session – for better or for worse. Our efforts remain on interim charges, such as supporting development of the EC-3 teaching certificate and the Early Childhood Institute at DCCCD.
When House Bill 4 was passed by the 84th Texas legislature in 2015, it was simultaneously applauded and criticized. The author of the bill, state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, said he wanted “to make sure that we do the right thing for our little kids.” Governor Greg Abbott heralded the bill as a move toward advancing quality Pre-K education. Lawmakers championed the bill as a way to boost quality Pre-K programs. It did not seek to expand Pre-K to serve children who are not eligible under federal guidelines. The bill, they said, was to make sure quality Pre-K was offered, and provided $118 million in grants for school districts and charter schools that adopted new standards for Pre-K curriculum and teacher qualifications, as well as improving parental engagement and progress monitoring measures. Almost two years later - and with the Texas legislature heading into its 85th session - the grant is up for renewal, and without action by the legislature in the upcoming session, the funding will disappear, leaving districts across the state scrambling to maintain quality Pre-K programs with fewer resources. With this in mind, The Commit! Partnership (as part of a statewide effort commissioned by Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium, and in partnership with Texans Care for Children) took a deep dive into the data generated since the grant was funded. Specifically, Commit! analyzed HB4 participation and implementation in six districts in Dallas County - Dallas, DeSoto, Duncanville, Irving, Richardson and Mesquite ISDs - and one district in Collin County, McKinney ISD. These districts represent 321,053 students, 64 percent of Dallas County students (not including the students from McKinney ISD), and make up 6 percent of Texas students. Many of the schools participating said they applied for funding for a range of goals meant to enrich their existing Pre-K programs, including enhancing supports for their teachers and aides, strengthening their family engagement programs to equip parents with the ability to engage in learning with their child, and expand their programs to include some full-day options. But a program with an expiration date also caused districts to proceed with some caution. Districts expressed reluctance to use the funds to invest in long-term goals like program expansion or additional teachers for fear that later - if the legislature opted to let the program die either by vote or neglect - they would have to dial back those plans and reduce staffing later. For those same reasons, many did not use the grant funds to expand to a full-day program. In fact, one district (Duncanville ISD) even opted to decline the funds completely because of the insufficient funding for full-day Pre-K, and several opted to only add full-day programs in a few select schools. Make no mistake: high-quality Pre-K is absolutely imperative for Dallas County, and the legislature renewing HB4 will help school districts sustain new quality measures that have been implemented. This will also give additional time to measure the impact of the program in terms of student performance. The [...]
This week marks the end of a productive legislative session in Austin. Motivated by local data and community input, this session the Commit! Partnership focused advocacy efforts on strengthening supports for early childhood education. Advocacy efforts centered on two key problems. First, only 80% of our four year olds eligible for free district pre-K actually enroll, due to a shortage of seats, teachers and the lack of a full day option for parents who need it. We have an ACCESS problem. Second, only 55% of our Kindergartners one year later are judged “Kindergarten Ready” due to a lack of full day pre-K programs and sufficient teachers specifically trained in Early Childhood Education. We have a QUALITY problem. To start addressing these problems, one success this session was the passage of HB 4, providing grant funding to districts whose pre-K program meets certain quality standards. The legislation allocated up to $1,500 per eligible pre-K student, with total funding capped at $130 million for the 2016-2017 biennium. The quality measures that a district must meet to access the grant funding include curriculum standards which meet the pre-K guidelines, a parental engagement plan, EC-specific credentialing or training of teachers, and measurement of student progress. Equally important, HB 4 will also strengthen the availability of data at the district and campus level in order to help us effectively make the legislative case for additional funding in subsequent sessions. While the funding offered through HB 4 was not sufficient to implement high-quality, full day pre-K across the state (as offered by pre-K champions Rep. Eric Johnson in HB 1100 and Sen. Royce West in SB 1752), the creation of an annual Early Education Report will allow us to develop subsequent proof points of the value of high-quality, full day pre-K in the districts where it occurs. With this data in hand, Commit! and its partners will continue to fight to fund full day quality pre-K for our students next session. On the other hand, HB 3836/SB 1810, which was sponsored by Rep. Giddings in the House and Sen. West in the Senate and designed to allow DCCCD to offer a baccalaureate degree in Early Childhood Ed if regional universities were unable to comprise a plan to adequate address our critical workforce shortage, fell short. Although this bill passed 144-0 in the House under the leadership of area Reps. Giddings, Koop, Anchia, Anderson, Meyer, Alonzo, Johnson, Rose, and Villalba, it did not come to a vote in the Senate Higher Ed committee. As a community, our Dallas County coalition of school districts, EC providers, business coalitions, foundations, non-profits, and Higher Ed institutions was unprecedented. While the failure of HB 3836/SB 1810 was disappointing, we will nevertheless continue to focus on what we can do to continue to bring the best-prepared educators in front of our region’s youngest, most disadvantaged learners, including laying the groundwork for successful passage of a similar legislative measure next session. The active participation of Commit! partners and stakeholders across the county has [...]
Commit! Partnership sponsors legislation to substantially increase number of high quality early childhood teachers in Dallas region
Our region has a severe shortage of high quality early childhood educators and needs a robust pipeline of quality early childhood educators to start our students off with a solid foundation for success in school. The Commit! Partnership is advocating for legislation that will give the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) the ability to create a high quality Early Childhood 4 year degree.
SB1810, authored by Senator Royce West, and HB3836, authored by Representative Helen Giddings, would allow select junior community colleges, including DCCCD, the ability to offer a 4 year Early Childhood Education bachelors degree.
The vision is to create a branded partnership early childhood institute at DCCCD that will attract substantial private and public dollars and expertise from our region.
Chaired by former State Senator Florence Shapiro, the Commit! Advocacy Council has hit the ground running in the spirit of championing our county’s children! The council is comprised of an impressive group of bipartisan state legislators from Dallas county, district trustees, and advocacy experts. Constituents within Dallas County will be pleased to know these leaders are joining forces to discuss and advocate on behalf of the education of Dallas County's students. Following the council’s inaugural policy roundtable, the council has been advocating for two pieces of legislation, both of which will improve Commit!’s ability to gather data that can be used to improve education. The first, Senate Bill 172, amends the Texas Education Code to allow the Commissioner to add a multi-dimensional tool to the approved list of kindergarten readiness diagnostic tools. Currently, districts are required to give a literacy assessment at the beginning of kindergarten, and the state pays $5 for the assessment. By adding a multi-dimensional tool to the approved list, districts will have a choice of giving a literacy or multi-dimensional assessment. A multi-dimensional tool goes beyond the literacy tools currently approved by additionally assessing a student’s social emotional development, language and communication skills, and physical development - all of which are helpful in determining a student’s overall readiness for kindergarten. The second piece of legislation involves strengthening the Education Research Centers and is still being drafted. Stay tuned for more information about the progress of the Advocacy Council's efforts, and Happy 83rd Legislative Session!
On October 11, education organizations impacting Dallas County kids joined together for the Inaugural Dallas Education Advocacy Roundtable. Hosted by Commit!, the Dallas Regional Chamber, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and Childcare Alliance, the event provided a forum for local education organizations to submit and present policy briefs for community feedback. After months of planning, the roundtable included four panels - Childhood Education, Traditional K-12 Education, Alternative K-12 Education and Supplements to Learning – featuring a total of eighteen policy presentations. The audience full of education advocates, including retiring State Senator Florence Shapiro, was given opportunity to ask questions and make comments specific to each of the individual policies. Just coming together to collaboratively think about and discuss legislative policies that traditionally have been developed by organizations in isolation is a giant victory for the local education community. But to maximize the power of our collective voices, Commit! has asked all roundtable attendees to indicate which of the presented policies they would be willing to support on behalf of their organizations. Those policy briefs with the most supporting organizations will be presented to a group of local legislators in November with the intention of gaining their support prior to the next legislative session in Austin, which begins January 8.