Texas PTA to Gov. Abbott: 'State assessments have no place in the 2020-2021 school year.'
On July 13, Texas PTA sent a letter to Governor Abbott urging that the state request a waiver for STAAR testing from the U.S. Department of Education for this school year. The letter reads in part,
“When school begins, the state must allow educators time to focus on the needs of the students […] It is critical we give our children, educators, and schools time to recover instructionally and emotionally from last school year while coping with an uncertain future.
“There is not a scenario in which administration of STAAR testing is appropriate in the coming year. Not one scenario. The focus now must be allowing all Texans – including students and families, educators and school districts – time to adequately adapt to a crisis we are still very much living every day. This virus spreads with indiscriminate reach, and our parents are rightfully nervous to send their children to school in August. 
“Until we close the gap on equitable education – offering the real choice between classroom instruction and virtual instruction for students based on need, not on their household income or where they live – we are not ready to return to STAAR testing.”
Texas schools navigate changing guidance ahead of new school year
On July 7, the Texas Education Agency announced comprehensive public health guidance for students to return to school, including guidelines for the use of masks; COVID-19 screening of students, teachers, staff, and visitors; learning environment options for students; and funding.
But as coronavirus continues to surge across the state, concern over the reopening of schools has mounted. On July 17, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath shared updates to the TEA's guidelines. School districts will now be able to temporarily limit access to on-campus instruction for the first four weeks of school (previously three). After that, a school district can continue to limit access to on-campus instruction for an additional four weeks if local health conditions are unchanged and with a board-approved waiver request to TEA. One week prior to the start of on-campus instruction, districts must post a summary of their plan to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in schools and provide for the safety of students, teachers, and staff.
> Click here to view Commissioner Morath’s video message to Texas teachers and parents.
During the same week of breaking news, Governor Abbott announced that schools will be allowed to operate virtually, without losing state funding, if a local health agency orders classrooms to remain closed.
Information on the 2020-2021 school year is changing almost daily. Watch the TEA website for the latest news.
22 years later, Health Education TEKS get updating
For several months, the State Board of Education (SBOE) has been engaged in the process of updating the curriculum standards for health education courses taught in schools. Known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), these standards are the minimum criteria that public school students must learn in health courses.
This is the first update of the Health Education TEKS by the SBOE in 22 years and provides an extraordinary opportunity to ensure that all Texas students are receiving information that will keep them physically and mentally safe.
Texas PTA has submitted comments to the SBOE with specific recommendations regarding the Health Education TEKS. These recommendations address a wide variety of instructional elements, including sexual and reproductive health, healthy and unhealthy relationships, information on immunizations, and the dangers of vaping. Visit these links to review the proposed TEKS and submit a comment to TEA.
On June 29, the SBOE heard virtual testimony from over 200 witnesses, the majority of which are in favor of these recommendations. The SBOE will reconvene September 8-11 to hear proposed changes and make amendments to the draft language. A final vote on the revised Health Education TEKS will take place November 17-20.
Texas PTA partners with GHP, works to close connectivity gap
COVID-19 has cast a spotlight on many hardships facing Texans year-round. One such problem is the lack of reliable internet access in homes across the state, which has prevented many students from participating in distance learning. According to a June 2020 report from Common Sense Media, 1,828,917 Texas students lack adequate high-speed connection (34%) and 1,229,459 lack devices (25%).
Texas PTA is partnering with the Greater Houston Partnership (GHP), the U.S. Chambers of Commerce Foundation, and National PTA on the Every Student Connected campaign to raise awareness and close the connectivity gap in our state and nation.
Together we are working to quantify the needs of our students and advocate for state, federal, corporate, and private funding to address these needs. Until we dedicate time and resources, we cannot hope to ensure an equitable education for all children.
The Connectivity Gap: Share Your Story
Parents: Does your home lack reliable internet or a computer/tablet that your children can use for school?
  • What was the spring semester like for you and your children when school buildings closed, and instruction moved online?
  • Did your children continue to learn?
  • Did they have access to their teachers to lead curriculum and answer questions?
  • If you had connectivity but not enough devices for multiple children, how did you address that?
Teachers: Did any of your students last semester lack internet or necessary devices?
  • What challenges did you face when attempting to maintain regular contact with your students?
  • How did you address the lack of connectivity?
  • How do you feel about your students’ readiness for the new school year?
PTA Leaders: If you have not faced this challenge personally, reach out to your community and help us gather these important stories. Through testimonials, we hope to raise awareness and provide even more justification for policy solutions. 
Submit your story with Texas PTA here.
State allocates $200M to help students access remote learning
Just last week, Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick, Speaker Bonnen, and Senate Finance and House Appropriations Committee Chairs announced that the state will allocate $200 million in CARES Act funding to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for the purchase of eLearning devices and home internet solutions. This funding will help enable remote learning for Texas students who lack connectivity, a true necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic. TEA will purchase and distribute devices, hotspots, routers, and more based on needs identified by local education agencies (LEAs). Funding for internet solutions and eLearning devices will require a matching contribution from LEAs, or from their local city or county.
Texas faces $4.6B deficit due to COVID-19
Comptroller Hegar released an updated estimate today for Texas’ current budget. Because of the coronavirus pandemic and low oil prices, the amount of general revenue available for the state’s current two-year budget is projected to be roughly $11.5 billion less than originally estimated. That puts the state on track to end the biennium, which runs through August 2021, with a deficit of nearly $4.6 billion. Hegar indicated this latest estimate carries “an unprecedented amount of uncertainty” and could change drastically in the coming months.
Texas PTA Advocacy Committee for 2020-2022 announced
Congratulations and welcome to Texas PTA President-Elect and Chairman of the Advocacy Committee, Tim Greenwell (pictured). Members of the committee are:
Karen Burnell
Jennifer Broddle
Beatrice Cruz
Dominique Harvey
Adrian Hicks
Cherie Moeller
Melinda Samberson
Neil Shelby
Kelley Thomas
Trina Thompson
The committee will meet virtually in the next few weeks to begin on-boarding and consideration of priorities for the coming legislative session that begins in January 2021.
A Message from President-Elect Tim Greenwell
Texas PTA is committed to advocating for students and schools year-round and in any climate, especially when so much disruption from COVID-19 has impacted our kids' lives. We encourage our members and friends to share Texas PTA's statements and other advocacy-related content online. And please watch for action alerts, which will guide you step-by-step on how to call for change from your state legislator. Watch a message from Texas PTA's President-Elect here.
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