Texas Legislature begins 87th session Tuesday
The Texas Legislature begins its 87th session on Tuesday, and the biggest question mark for lawmakers, staff and lobbyists is how exactly the COVID-19 pandemic will affect legislative operations and the ability of stakeholders (including your TCTA lobby team) to influence the proposals considered inside the Capitol building. Rules adopted early in the session will provide a clearer picture of how legislative operations will change. The pandemic is also having a major impact on the state budget, with many cuts expected during the session. Comptroller Glenn Hegar will provide an updated revenue estimate in the coming days.

The expectation is that committee and floor action will focus on higher priority legislation, with fewer bills getting through the process. TCTA will continue to pursue our legislative priorities, such as preserving HB 3 funding for public schools and eliminating STAAR testing this spring, both of which have significant support from legislators. Click here to read our session preview.

Riots in D.C. as Congress certifies election
Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., will also get off to a new start in the coming weeks. After a day of chaos at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Congress rejected an effort to dispute election results, certifying the Electoral College vote and clearing the way for President-elect Joe Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration. On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called for President Trump's immediate removal from office, blaming him for inciting the riots at the Capitol that left at least four dead.

Democrats will begin Biden's term with control of Congress though by slim margins after both Democratic challengers won Senate runoffs on Tuesday in Georgia. Vice President Kamala Harris will be called on to break ties in the Senate since Democrats and Republicans will each hold 50 seats.
Schools to get more funds as Congress OKs COVID relief bill

Congress closed out 2020 by passing another massive coronavirus relief bill, which President Trump signed on Dec. 27. The bill provides $600 stimulus for eligible adults and children along with another $54 billion in aid for schools, which will allow TEA to extend its deadline for districts to apply for reimbursement. The legislation did not extend emergency sick and family leave provisions, allowing them to expire Dec. 31. Some Texas districts have chosen to adopt local COVID-19 leave policies to replace the expired federal provisions. Members should keep an eye on local school board action and may want to encourage adoption of local leave policies to cover employees with COVID-19 exposures or positive test results.

Texas is slowly rolling out COVID-19 vaccinations as the number of cases and hospitalizations set records. Click here for the latest info on COVID-19 cases in Texas schools. As of Dec. 20, nearly 63,000 students and 36,000 staff had tested positive since August. The dashboard is updated on Fridays.

In late December, the Department of State and Health Services entered phase 1B for vaccination, which includes residents age 65 and older and those age 16 and older with underlying medical conditions, such as heart disease, obesity and cancer. Some school districts, including Austin, Houston and Lubbock, began vaccinating eligible employees this week, but it will likely be months before enough doses are available for everyone who wants one.

We have all the latest state and federal guidance in our COVID-19 FAQs on 2020-21 Education Issues. This week we updated information based on TEA's announcements about STAAR tests, accountability ratings and teacher appraisals. 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.
TEA awards contracts to move STAAR tests online

The Texas Education Agency has awarded contracts totaling $388 million to Cambium Assessment and Pearson to develop and administer STAAR tests for the next four years. The move away from ETS is part of TEA's effort to move all testing online by 2022.

In a report to state leaders released Monday, TEA estimated school districts would need to collectively spend about $4 million to improve internet connectivity, and then spend about $13.4 million more annually for extra bandwidth and staff training. The investment is needed to allow online administration of STAAR tests for all students beginning in the 2022-23 school year. State lawmakers will weigh in on TEA's report and plans for online testing during the upcoming legislative session.
TEA seeks teachers to review home learning materials

TEA is developing Texas Home Learning, an optional set of resources for Texas educators including TEKS-aligned instructional materials, aligned professional learning, and technology supports during this new learning environment.

Before being released, THL Instructional Materials undergo a rigorous review process that includes input from Texas educators. TEA is seeking educators to join focus groups to review materials. Click here to nominate yourself or another educator. Focus groups will require 1-2 hours of work each month.
Biden picks Miguel Cardona as Education Secretary
President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Miguel Cardona, Connecticut’s education chief and a lifelong champion of public schools, to serve as education secretary. If confirmed by the Senate, Biden said Cardona would offer America “an experienced and dedicated public school teacher leading the way at the Department of Education.” Click here to read more.
TEA seeks educators to review PK-3 certification exams during conference
The Texas Education Agency and the Evaluation Systems group of Pearson are seeking educators to participate in a Marker Selection and Standard Setting Conference for the Texas Educator Certification Examination program. Below are brief descriptions of the test development activities that approved committee members will be asked to take part in during this conference: 
  • Marker Selection: The role of the Marker Selection committee is to review examples of responses to pilot-tested constructed response items. Committee members will select and approve a set of responses that illustrate each score point on the scoring scale.  
  • Standard Setting: The role of the Standard Setting Committee is to examine each question included on an exam form and provide standard-setting judgments that will be considered by the Texas Education Agency in determining the passing standard for the exam. 
Participants have the opportunity to make a difference in Texas teacher development and performance, engage in professional growth and collaboration with educators in their field, and earn Continuing Professional Education credits. Committee meetings will be held in February.

Click here to apply for a committee. Click here to nominate a colleague.
Check out the latest edition of The Classroom Teacher now
Check your mailbox for the winter 2020-21 edition of The Classroom Teacher. Along with the legislative preview mentioned above, this issue also includes an update on the challenges of teaching amid the pandemic, options for educators as emergency COVID leave ends, what's ahead for the U.S. Department of Education and statements from TCTA's candidates for statewide office in 2021.

If you're among our members who have opted to go green, you can click here to read the digital version of the magazine now.
Tell your new colleagues about half-price dues
If you have new colleagues on campus, reach out and invite them to join TCTA. Second-semester hires can join TCTA and receive full membership benefits for half the cost. (Enrollment ends Feb. 1, 2021, and membership will expire Aug. 31, 2021.) Click here for the application and more information.
  • Jan. 18 is Martin Luther King Day.
  • The State Board of Education meets Jan. 26-29.
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