Texas House Public Education Committee Testimony on House Bill 3

On Monday, Oct. 28, Nicole Conley, Chief Business and Operations Officer at Austin ISD provided testimony to the Texas House Public Education Committee on the Texas Education Agency’s implementation of recent legislation in House Bill 3, including:

  • The College Career Military Readiness Outcome Bonus focusing on equity and stability in investments, as well as criteria beyond student performance on standardized test
  • Public Education Information Management System requirements, including how new data codes and elements affect school districts.
  • Expansion of Compensatory Education categories, reviewing allowable expenses and funding tiers and extended year funding.

Read her full testimony:

House Public Education Committee
October 28, 2019
Testimony on House Bill 3

I am Nicole Conley, Chief Business and Operations Officer at Austin ISD. Thank you for the opportunity to share with you Austin ISD’s experiences on implementation of HB3.

I want to thank Chairman Huberty, members of this committee, and the Texas Legislature for making school finance reform a priority in the 86th legislative session.  As a result of the passage of HB3, Austin ISD provided our hard-working and deserving employees the biggest raises in recent history—6 percent for all employees and 7 percent for teachers, counselors, and librarians with five or more years' experience.  We reduced our deficit from $30 million to less than $3 million.  Because of the state’s increased investment in public education, we avoided cutting programs and nearly 400 teaching and staff positions.

As you know, during my time on the School Finance Commission, I worked to compel the members to reconsider some of the arduous and administratively burdensome spending compliance rules that got in the way of school districts ability to align programing to actual student needs. And while the Commission was receptive, the initial results of HB3 based on the information that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has released thus far, indicates more rules and requirements than ever before. So, even though we received more money under HB3, our challenge now has become, how to ensure we get to retain new revenue from our entitlements under HB3.  

We appreciate the enormous task that the TEA must undertake to implement many of the components of HB3. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has launched a web video series, “HB3 in 30,” to help inform school districts and the public about the implementation of the measures in House Bill 3.  We assume that rule-making will follow to legally implement TEA’s interpretation of the various elements of HB3. Thus far, TEA has released videos on 21 topics, which presumably previews what the Commissioner will propose in rule-making, and they are scheduled to release more through January. And because many of us had already approved our budgets well in advance of some of this guidance, we are all working to understand the impacts of these new requirements on our budgets, reporting and student information systems.  We now have new spending codes and PEIMS data reporting elements that will necessitate programming changes to our systems. 

I have been asked to specifically address College Career Military Readiness (CCMR) Outcomes Bonus. I think we can all safely agree with little debate that we want all of our students to obtain the knowledge and skills to be successful in career, college and life. So the goals of CCMR outcomes are well-intended. However, tying funding to outcomes can have some unintended consequences for some of our most vulnerable students who need the most support which is worrisome for the following reasons:  

  1. Program supports and services can become destabilized for current students if funding is tied to the performance of those students who preceded them. When students arrive in Austin, we do all we can to serve them well, including providing college and career counseling, guidance, and support.  Our CCMR bonus projections come very close to what we received under the high school allotment.  Therefore, we have kept these programs in place with the hopes that we will have funding continuity and receive enough of the bonus to cover the costs.  But this year, we have even more students, with more needs, and greater demands.  Therefore, it is difficult to plan and sustain programming with the possibility of year over year student performance fluctuations that could create a misalignment between current needs and available resources.  Adding a mechanism to ensure sufficient funding for program sustainability should be established.   
  2. The reliance on standardized tests and passing scores under CCMR can undermine equity because we can already predict which students will perform well and those who won’t under standardized tests.  We’ve heard the Commissioner speak about the strong correlation between performance on standardized tests and poverty.   Under the CCMR bonus, districts receive $5,000, $3,000 and $2,000 for every economically disadvantaged, non-economically disadvantaged and special education student that meet CCMR bonus criteria, respectively, above the minimum thresholds of 20%, 9% and 0%.  Even though districts will receive $2,000 more for economically disadvantaged students, it isn’t enough to subsidize all the costs for supports outside of schools that wealthier families can often provide such as: extended tutoring, mentoring and college test prep programs.  Therefore, I suggest that the threshold in the CCMR bonus for economically disadvantaged be zero, which is similar to special education.  Further, the bonus amount for special education should be substantially increased considering the intensity of supports needed for our special ed. students.  In AISD, we expend two times the per pupil amount over general ed. for our special needs students. 
  3. Further, the psychological effects of being deemed a “failure” based on high-stakes tests creates a harm that almost can’t be undone.  As a result, some colleges and universities have moved away from standardized tests and indicate that high school grades and courses taken provide a better forecast of college performance.  Currently CCMR requires passage of a standardized test and enrollment in college, obtain an industry certification, or enlistment in the military.  Considering this, I recommend that the criteria be changed from “and” to “or.” 
  4. Lastly, “military ready” should not mean that the student actually enlists in the military.  Requiring that a student actually enlist and the school district acquire the enlistment records places an undue burden on a district and deprives the district of the bonus it has earned by investing in the student’s preparedness without any control on whether the student actually enlists.  Several of my colleagues and I believe that being “military ready” includes criteria such as completing JROTC courses and meeting the ASVAB cut score, but not include enlisting in the military.

Again, the goals of the CCMR Outcomes Bonus are commendable. However, these goals would be better supported under a funding structure that ensures stable and adequate funding for programs and supports for our most vulnerable students.  

I would also like to take the time to offer some general observations and concerns about implementation of HB3:

Every year, we submit millions of lines of data to TEA under PEIMS requirements. As a result of HB3, TEA has established more than 20+ new data codes and elements that we must submit in PEIMS which has resulted in additional costs, time and resources.  For every PEIMS change, districts must: 1) modify the data system to capture it; 2) train staff on how to determine which code should be entered and how to enter it; 3) figure out how we will extract the information for the PEIMS submission; 4) determine and operationalize a PEIMS submission validation and sign off process;  5) determine and operationalize a way to monitor the data on an ongoing basis because we can’t wait until the PEIMS submission is due to worry about whether it’s accurate; and, add resources to ensure audit compliance.  Since this is the first year of implementation, we strongly encourage leniency and wider latitude from the TEA when determining compliance, especially with the substantial changes under the calculation of compensatory education allotments.  

We do appreciate the expansion of approved categories of spending under Comp Ed and allowing for the inclusion of prior At-Risk criteria.  We also would like to see Social Emotional Learning (SEL) included as an allowable expense category on any campus serving economically disadvantaged students. In Austin, we have many economically disadvantaged students who attend schools outside of their neighborhoods and their receiving schools are often challenged to find resources to support them. If SEL becomes an allowable expense for any campus that serves economically disadvantaged students, we can build a culture of inclusiveness that supports economically disadvantaged students regardless of where they are attending school.  

We also appreciate the tiered funding under the new Comp Ed program that reflects the variability of need when considering poverty. We would like to see homeless and foster care included in the highest tier for funding and look forward to offering these suggestions to the Comp Ed Advisory committee.

And since we are using census data for Comp Ed, purposes, can we eliminate the huge administrative burden from the administration and collection of income verification forms?

And while I could go on, my last suggestion is in regards to the requirements to access extended school year funding.  TEA has indicated that in order to obtain extended year funding, districts must offer a minimum of 180 instructional days. This requirement is in conflict with what was passed by the 84th Texas Legislature, which replaced language requiring 180 days of instruction with language requiring districts and charter schools to operate for a minimum of 75,600 minutes. We would like to see TEA’s interpretation to be more consistent with standards for minutes of instruction.  

That concludes my statements and I appreciate the opportunity to testify and will take any questions that you may have.