USDE to fix troubled TEACH grant program
The U.S. Department of Education released a plan Dec. 9 to help teachers who have been wrongly hit with debts, sometimes totaling tens of thousands of dollars, because of a troubled federal grant program.

Following an NPR investigation, the Education Department in May launched a top-to-bottom review of the TEACH grant program, which gives money for college to those who agree to teach a high-need subject, like math or science, in a Title I school for four years after graduation. Problems with paperwork led to thousands of grants being turned into loans. USDE now says it will give teachers who lost their grants a second chance to prove they were meeting the program’s teaching requirements. 

The department is working to finalize the details of its fix by the end of January. Teachers who had TEACH grants converted to loans are encouraged to go to www.studentaid.gov/teach-reconsideration for more information.

TRS Board receives updates on pension fund
The TRS Board met Dec. 13 and 14 in Austin with a few key items on the agenda. The board received a briefing on the actuarial status of the pension fund, learning that, as expected, recent board action resulted in lowered financial indicators.

Trustees also were provided with TRS staff's update of a 2013 study that reaffirms the cost-effectiveness of the current structure of the pension plan.

School finance commission discusses options
The Texas Commission on Public School Finance spent Dec. 11 discussin g a long list of recommendations developed over the last 10 months for improving the quality of public schools. Ideas include incentivizing schools to offe r high-quality pre-K and increasing salaries for effective teachers. Members also discussed Gov. Greg Abbott's recent proposal to provide property tax relief and what impact that would have on schools.

Commission members plan to vote on a draft report on Dec. 19, and are expected to deliver a final version by the end of the year. Key members of the commission, including House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty , said they would only support recommendations that include a call for more state funding for education.

School safety commission likely to recommend an end to Obama-era discipline guidance
In response to the Parkland, Florida, shooting in March, President Donald Trump appointed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to lead a Federal Commission on School Safety. The commission was tasked with engaging a variety of stakeholder groups — teachers, parents, administrators and law enforcement — and ultimately providing actionable recommendations for districts and school systems.

The commission's final report, due later this month, is expected to call for the rescission of Obama-issued school discipline guidance that aimed to reduce discrimination but was considered by some critics to be an example of federal overreach. The report also is expected to provide best practices for states and districts to consider in developing their own guidelines on school safety. It will likely refrain from proposals of new federal guidance but encourage the adoption of proven policies on mental health treatment and school building security. The report is not expected to recommend any new gun restrictions.

SBEC considers new certification requirements
During a December meeting, Texas Education Agency staff presented the State Board for Educator Certification with a phased-in certification redesign proposal that would require teacher certification candidates to pass a subject-specific pedagogical performance assessment before becoming certified, starting in 2022-23.

Still in the discussion stages, the new requirements would not apply to currently certified teachers adding certification by examination.

Teacher wins appeal in request for assault leave
A teacher was injured when she was standing in the hallway during a passing period and was knocked to the ground by a student. Her ankle was broken in the incident, and the teacher missed work from May 22 until the end of the school year. She applied for assault leave, but her request was denied by the school district. Officials determined that the injury was the result of an accident not an assault. The teacher appealed to the commissioner of education, who reviewed the case and ruled that the district was required to grant assault leave to the teacher due to the student's reckless behavior.

TEA releases testing calendars for 2019, 2020
The Texas Education Agency recently revised its student assessment calendars for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years. The STAAR paper assessments will continue to be available during a one-week testing window for April and May. Online testing for April and May STAAR assessments will continue to be available during a two-week testing window.

TEA issues final academic accountability ratings
The Texas Education Agency released the final 2018 state academic accountability ratings for public school districts and charter schools. The final ratings include decisions on the appeals submitted after preliminary ratings were released in August. The commissioner granted the appeals of three school districts and 12 campuses after receiving 172 requests this year, up from 66 requests in 2017.

  • TCTA will be closed Dec. 24-Jan. 4 for the holidays. (Weekly eUpdates will resume on Jan. 11.)
  • Jan. 8 is the opening day of the 86th Texas Legislature.
  • Jan. 21 is the deadline to register online for TCTA's 2019 Convention. (Hotel rooms must be booked by Jan. 16 to get the discounted rate.)
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