Senate panel reviews TRS, TEA budget requests
While the aftermath of last week’s winter storm was the focus of much legislative discussion this week, the Senate held budget hearings for TEA and TRS on Monday. The TEA hearing was generally mild, but TRS was on the defensive after Executive Director Brian Guthrie got an earful from legislators about agency spending. Click here to read more.

The TRS Board of Trustees meets Friday to review health plans. You can watch the meeting live or view the recording here. We'll share more on what's discussed on our website and in next week's eUpdate.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick outlined his legislative priorities this week. Among them are two education items: SB 27 on virtual learning options and SB 28 titled as the "Charter School Equity Act."

State Rep. Harold Dutton, the new chair of the House Public Education Committee, talked with the Texas Tribune about his priorities for the session today. He discussed STAAR testing, expressed support for continuing House Bill 3 funding levels, and said there would be some kind of "hold harmless" in relation to district funding during the pandemic, saying details were being worked out. Click here to watch the conversation.

Throughout the session, you can find daily Updates from the Capitol and track key legislation related to education in our Bill Summaries.
Biden administration supports spring standardized testing

The U.S. Department of Education says states must resume the annual testing of students that was suspended a year ago amid the pandemic. In a letter to state school chiefs and governors, USDE said it remains "vitally important that parents, educators, and the public have access to data on student learning and success." However, USDE urges states to apply for waivers from the accountability requirements of ESEA and provides guidance encouraging state flexibility in the administration of statewide tests.

The letter suggests states consider administering a shortened exam, offering remote assessment when possible, and/or extending the testing window into the summer or even the fall. These suggestions largely line up with decisions Commissioner Morath had already made with regard to the 2021 STAAR exams, though Morath has indicated remote assessment is not feasible.

Morath gives remote learners an out on STAAR

Although TCTA and others continue to call for the commissioner to seek a waiver to suspend STAAR testing this year, the USDE's recent letter makes that unlikely. However, Commissioner Morath has indicated that parents of remote learners who don’t believe in-person testing is safe can keep their children home. “It’s not opting out of the STAAR test. It’s opting for remote education,” Morath told the Texas Tribune. Additionally, TEA guidance gives further clues about what kind of repercussions schools and students would face should students opt out of taking STAAR. Click here to read more.
TCTA requests flexibility, deadline extension to collect TELPAS writing samples

TCTA has heard from several members who have concerns about their ability to collect the writing samples required by TELPAS to assess the progress that English learners have made in the past year. Despite the varied learning environments students are experiencing this year, TEA says these samples should be collected by April 2.

TCTA sent a letter to Commissioner Morath and others this week to request flexibility and the extension of timelines regarding the collection of TELPAS writing samples, given the difficulties posed by the pandemic. Click here to read more about TEA's TELPAS requirements.
TEA seeks TCTA members for ELL focus groups in March

TEA and the Columbia University Center for Public Research and Leadership are looking for TCTA members to participate in two one-hour focus groups in March to help create a strategic plan for English language learners. Volunteers can take part in one or both focus group sessions.

Interested participants should teach English learners, in schools with large EL populations, or be passionate about supporting EL students. The content of the focus group will center around four main subjects:
  1. Defining English learner success
  2. Role of the teacher and other stakeholders in supporting English learners
  3. Availability and allocation of resources for English learners
  4. Opportunities for and challenges to improving English learner success
Focus group participants will be entered into a raffle for a gift card during each session. If you are interested in participating, email legislation@tcta.org.
State's COVID dashboard updates delayed by storm

The state dashboard tracking COVID-19 infections among students and educators has not been updated since Feb. 18 due to winter storm-related delays in reporting. The state expects to begin updating the dashboard again Friday, with results through Feb. 14.

We have all the latest state and federal guidance in our COVID-19 FAQs on 2020-21 Education Issues. While this information is not legal advice, we hope it helps answer questions you may have about COVID-19's impact on schools. Members who have specific concerns or questions should call the Legal Department at 888-879-8282 to speak with a staff attorney.
Booster club parent files grievance against principal

A parent filed a grievance against a principal, complaining that the principal made negative comments about her and demanded that she be removed as a booster club board member. The parent requested a written apology and written answers to questions that the parent addressed to the principal regarding his actions. The parent also requested that the principal be disciplined by the district. After the district's board of trustees declined to grant these remedies, the parent filed an appeal to the commissioner of education. Click here to read more.
Survival Guide wins Best in Category at TSPRA Awards

TCTA's Survival Guide and The Classroom Teacher magazine won Best in Category and received a Gold Star at the Texas School Public Relations Association 2020 Star Awards Banquet on Wednesday. TCTA won three more Gold Stars — for our eUpdate newsletter, and the 2020 TCTA Convention postcard and delegate handbook — and one Silver Star for our 2019 Christmas Card. 
Convention links emailed to delegates, guests
Delegates and member guests who registered to attend TCTA's 2021 Virtual Convention on Friday and Saturday should check the email they used to register for the password they'll need to access the convention website to log in to Zoom sessions. If you registered and did not receive that email earlier today, please email tcta@iemshows.com or call 936-240-4566 for assistance.
26 Texas schools nominated for 2021 National Blue Ribbons

Gov. Greg Abbott recently announced 26 Texas public schools had been nominated for 2021 National Blue Ribbon honors. “These 26 schools exemplify academic excellence, and I thank the teachers, staff, administrators, students, and parents for their outstanding work,” Abbott said in a statement. Winners will be announced in September. Click here to see the list of nominated schools.
  • TRS Board meets Feb. 26.
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