Sunday, June 21, 2009

What happened to the $1.9 billion in federal education money I have been hearing about that is supposed to give teachers a pay raise?

Now that the 81st legislative session is over, there is only one hurdle left to clear for bills approved by the Legislature. Gov. Rick Perry has until today to veto any bill sent to his desk. Any bill that Perry does not sign or veto by then will automatically become law. So far there has been no indication that Perry will take action on any of the major education-related bills approved this session, such as House Bill (HB) 3, the accountability system overhaul, and HB 3646, the school finance bill. However, Perry also has the authority to veto individual items in the state budget, which could effectively negate legislation by doing away with needed funding.

There also still remains the issue of whether the state is authorized to use federal stimulus money to provide school districts $1.9 billion in additional funding through HB 3646. Part of that funding will be used to provide teachers, nurses, librarians and counselors an across-the-board pay raise of at least $800. The Legislature opted not to use the state’s general revenue to fund the bill, which means the U.S. Department of Education must approve using stimulus funds for this purpose before the pay raises can be granted. There is no word at this time on when that ruling will be issued.

There is also no word yet on when Perry will bring legislators back to Austin for a special session or what exactly will be included in the call for a special session. Only items included in the call can be addressed during a special session. The main reason for the special session, and the only issue that must be dealt with, is the sunset provisions for major state agencies such as the Department of Transportation. If the sunset deadlines for these agencies are not extended, the agencies will be required by law to cease operations. However, there are several other issues that might be included in the call, such as expanding the children’s health insurance program (CHIP) and increasing unemployment aid for out-of-work Texans. Insiders are speculating that the special session will be called for the week after the July 4 holiday. This would put pressure on legislators to finish up quickly because most are planning to attend a legislative conference starting July 20 in Philadelphia.


Is the Texas pledge of allegiance's new reference to "under God" unconstitutional?

Texas pledge of allegiance reference to “under God” is constitutional
Croft v. Perry, ___F.Supp.2d___ (N.D. Tex. Mar. 26, 2009), is an important case.

A district court has held that a 2007 law amending the Texas Pledge of Allegiance to include the phrase “one state under God” does not violate the Establishment Clause. The Texas Education Code requires school districts to make the recitation of the U.S. and Texas pledges mandatory. Students may opt-out by written request of a parent/guardian.

A group of parents sued alleging that the 2007 amendment’s reference to “God” violates the Establishment Clause. Treating the claim as a facial challenge, the court analyzed the issue under the Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), three-prong test. Because the parties were only contesting the secular purpose prong, the court focused on that prong, along with three other questions raised by the parents: (1) whether the statute unconstitutionally endorses religion; (2) whether the statute favors one religious sect over another; and (3) whether schoolchildren are coerced into affirming a religious belief.

The court first discussed the case law on whether the inclusion of the phrase “under God” in the U.S. Pledge is constitutional. It pointed out that two U.S. Court of Appeals Circuits, the Fourth and the Seventh, had ruled the U.S. Pledge is constitutional, and that the Fifth Circuit had noted that references to God in a motto or pledge have “withstood constitutional scrutiny.” It rejected the parents’ reliance on Newdow v. U.S. Congress, 292 F.3d 597 (9th Cir. 2002), because the initial panel ruling that inclusion of “God” in the U.S. Pledge rendered it unconstitutional was subsequently withdrawn. Lastly, it noted that the Supreme Court has on several occasions indicated in dicta that the U.S. Pledge is constitutional.

Turning to the question of whether the law has a secular purpose, the district court concluded, based on the legislative history, that the purpose of the law, to have the state pledge mirror the language in the national pledge, is secular in nature. It found without significance the parents’ contention that the motive of some legislators for enacting the law was to promote religion.
With respect to whether the law unconstitutionally endorses religion, it found the endorsement test “closely” tied to Lemon’s purpose prong. Relying on Supreme Court dicta and circuit court rulings that found no endorsement in the words “under God,” it found that the Texas Pledge does not unconstitutionally endorse religion by effect or purpose. Addressing the parents’ claim that the law favors Judeo-Christian beliefs over other religious beliefs, such as Hinduism, the court said the “under God” reference was no more than a “broad acknowledgment of a divine being,” even if it referred to a singular deity. Lastly, the district court rejected the parents’ assertion that the law was unconstitutional because of its coercive effect on students. Citing West Virginia State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), it acknowledged the state cannot compel students to recite the pledge, but found that the state had effectively dealt with this ban by providing an opt-out provision.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

What is the Texas Education Agency and what are its powers and duties?

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is the governmental body in Texas that implements and enforces the provisions of the Texas Education Code.

The TEA is composed of the Commissioner of Education and the TEA staff.

There are fourteen specific powers and duties the TEA are granted through the Education Code under section. 7.021. For any other educational function not mentioned in 7.021, the TEA has no power and it is up to school district (or open-enrollment charter school) to handle the issue. (TEC 7.003).

The fourteen specific educational functions of the TEA are:

1. to administer and monitor compliance with education programs required by federal or state law, including federal funding and state funding;
2. to conduct research, analysis and reporting to improve teaching and learning;
3. conduct hearings involving state school law at the direction and under the supervision of the commissioner;
4. establish and implement pilot programs established by the Texas Education Code;
5. manage an investment capital fund (grants for schools) designed to encourage student achievement and promote more local control of schools;
6. develop a teacher recruitment program;
7. carry out duties under the Texas Advanced Placement Incentive Program;
8. carry out duties related to adult and community education (Chp. 29);
9. develop a program for driver education and traffic safety (Chp. 29);
10. help children with visual impairments (Sec. 30);
11. help administer regional day school programs for the deaf (Chp. 30);
12. maintain computer and telephone systems for the schools;
13. review school district budgets and require uniform accounting;
14. coordinate scholarship programs with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board .

The TEA is also empowered to enter into educational contracts with the federal government provided it provides written notice to the governor and the legislature 30 days prior.

I've been employed as a part-time teacher. Do the provisions of the Texas Education Code apply to me?

A "classroom teacher" as defined by the Texas Education Code is any person who meets the following criteria:
1. is required to hold a certificate issued under Subchapter B, Chapter 21;
2. is employed by a school district;
3. works an average of four hours each day (remember, this is an average and doesn't mean you have to work every day- only averaging four hours each day);
4. teaches in an academic instructional setting or a career and technology instructional setting.

TEC 5.001(2),(5)

Remember that the term "classroom teacher" specifically excludes a teachers-aide, or a full-time administrator.

What is Texas's educational mission and objectives?

According to the Texas Education Code, Sec. 4.001(b), the objectives of public education are:

1. Parents will be full partners with educators in the education of their children;

2. Students will be encouraged and challenged to meet their full educational potential;

3. Al students will remain in school until they obtain a high school diploma;

4. All students will be provided with a well-balanced and appropriate curriculum;

5. Educators will prepare students to be thoughtful, active citizens who have an appreciation for the basic values of our state and national heritage and who can understand an productively function in a free enterprise society.

6. Personnel who are qualified and highly effective will be recruited, developed and retained.

7. The state's students will demonstrate exemplary performance in comparison to national and international standards.

8. School campuses will maintain a safe and disciplined environment conductive to student learning.

9. Educators will keep abreast of the development of creative and innovative techniques in instruction and administration using those techniques as appropriate to improve student learning.

10. Technology will be implemented and used to increase the effectiveness of student learning, instructional management, staff development, and administration.