Author Archive

Letter to Commissioner Mike Morath and the TEA regarding funding for Hold Harmless

December 21, 2020

December 18, 2020

Commissioner Michael Morath

Texas Education Agency

1701 N. Congress Avenue

Austin, Texas 78701                              

Dear Commissioner Morath,

We write you today to respectfully request that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) continue the Hold Harmless Guarantee for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year.  An extension of the Hold Harmless would ensure our public school systems have continued flexibility and financial security to continue to provide academic instruction and programs while adjusting to the ongoing challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our school districts need full funding so they can continue to focus on student learning and mental health, employing and retaining staff to maintain programs, and keeping everyone healthy and safe.

The ongoing conditions and uncertainty of the pandemic into 2021 demands further stability for public education.  TEA previously indicated it would monitor whether further adjustments to the Hold Harmless will need to be addressed for the second semester, but has not indicated if this important and necessary funding will be extended.  Meanwhile, our districts are facing deadlines to make critical decisions regarding their budgets, including consequences to staffing and programs, if the Hold Harmless does not continue.

An extended Hold Harmless will allow districts the security to ensure that they can fulfill the commitments in their budgets.  Districts have seen losses in enrollment due to the pandemic and anticipate those losses to be compounded by traditionally lower enrollment in the second semester despite their diligent efforts.  The combination of lower enrollment and lower attendance in the spring makes the next six months extremely onerous without continuation of the Hold Harmless. Despite any such enrollment loss, ongoing budget and other education commitments and obligations remain.

The impact of COVID-19 has resulted in a learning loss for students whose education has been disrupted for the second school year in a row.  Using Hurricane Katrina as an example, it has been reported that students in that crisis suffered significant learning loss.  We do not yet know the long-term learning loss of the pandemic, but we do know that schools will need intervention strategies to address the learning slides that are reflected in assessments from the beginning of this school year.  Potential reductions in staff, programs, and services due to loss of funding if the Hold Harmless is not extended will have a direct impact on some of the most vulnerable students and will have a long-lasting negative effect on their educational attainment.

Unfortunately, waiting for the 87th Legislative Session to mitigate the damage from such preventable loss of funding will be too late to help students this school year.  The budget passed by the 86th Legislature is more than sufficient to fund the Hold Harmless Guarantee for the full current school year.  Our urgent concern is that, if the Hold Harmless is not extended for the second semester, the process of making difficult and harmful decisions to reduce staffing, in addition to cutting programs for students, may be forced on school districts immediately.  We must not let this happen.

We respectfully ask TEA to continue the Hold Harmless for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.

Your thoughtful consideration and prompt action on this request in furtherance of your continued service to the education, safety, and development of our students is sincerely appreciated.

Sincerely,

Representative Steve Allison

House District 121

Representative Alma A. Allen

House District 131

Representative Rafael Anchia

House District 103

Representative Trent Ashby

House District 57

Representative Ernest Bailes

House District 18

Representative Michelle Beckley

House District 65

Representative Keith Bell

House District 4

Representative Diego Bernal

House District 123

Representative César Blanco

House District 76

Representative Dwayne Bohac

House District 138

Representative John Bucy III

House District 136

Representative DeWayne Burns

House District 58

Representative Angie Chen Button

House District 112

Representative Cecil Bell

House District 3

Representative Terry Canales

House District 40

Representative Sheryl Cole

House District 46

Representative Nicole Collier

House District 95

Representative Philip Cortez

House District 117

Representative John Cyrier

House District 17

Representative Drew Darby

House District 72

Representative Alex Dominguez

House District 37

Representative John Frullo

House District 84

Representative Gary Gates

House District 28

Representative Barbara Gervin-Hawkins

House District 120

Representative Mary Gonzalez

House District 75

Representative Vikki Goodwin

House District 47

Representative Bobby Guerra

House District 41

Representative Roland Gutierrez

House District 119

Representative Sam Harless

House District 126

Representative Cody Harris

House District 8

Representative Cole Hefner

House District 5

Representative Ana Hernandez

House District 143

Representative Able Herrero

House District 34

Representative Gina Hinojosa

House District 49

Representative Donna Howard

House District 48

Representative Celia Israel

House District 50

Representative Jarvis Johnson

House District 139

Representative Julie Johnson

House District 115

Representative Kyle Kacal

House District 12

Representative Stan Lambert

House District 71

Representative Brooks Landgraf

House District 81

Representative Lyle Larson

House District 122

Representative Jeff Leach

House District 67

Representative Ben Leman

House District 13

Representative Oscar Longoria

House District 35

Representative Ray Lopez

House District 125

Representative J.M. Lozano

House District 43

Representative Armando Martinez

House District 39

Representative Trey Martinez Fischer

House District 116

Representative Will Metcalf

House District 16

Representative Terry Meza

House District 105

Representative Ina Minjarez

House District 124

Representative Joe Moody

House District 78

Representative Christina Morales

House District 145

Representative Andrew Murr

House District 53

Representative Lina Ortega

House District 77

Representative Leo Pacheco

House District 118

Representative Tan Parker

House District 63

Representative Jared Patterson

House District 106

Representative Mary Ann Perez

House District 114

Representative Four Price

House District 87

Representative Richard Pena Raymond

House District 42

Representative John Raney

House District 14

Representative Ron Reynolds

House District 27

Representative Eddy Rodriguez

House District 51

Representative Ramon Romero

House District 90

Representative Carl Sherman

House District 109

Representative Hugh Shine

House District 55

Representative-Elect Shelby Slawson

House District 59

Representative Reggie Smith

House District 62

Representative John Smithee

House District 86

Representative Drew Springer

House District 68

Representative Lynn Stuckey

House District 64

Representative James Talarico

House District 52

Representative Ed Thompson

House District 29

Representative Senfronia Thompson

House District 141

Guidelines for Reopening Texas Schools Fall 2020

July 17, 2020

There are still many questions regarding what education in Texas public schools will look like this fall. I hope this post answers at least some of your questions. If you still have questions, please feel free to reach out to my office at (210) 829-5519.

Schools will open in-person/ on-campus or virtually/remotely

The goal is for schools to be open for on-campus instruction but significant flexibility is being afforded local districts. Districts are provided local discretion to utilize remote learning, without loss of funding, for up to four weeks. TEA will grant a waiver for up to an additional four weeks of remote learning, with full funding, upon a formal action request by the local district. Some districts may choose to use all or part of these periods for remote learning, while others may choose to start on-campus learning earlier. How learning is provided will be weighed against the public health and safety interests of students, teachers, staff, and the public.

Local schools have authority to set their calendars and determine safety protocols

Local school districts have the flexibility to choose the COVID-19 safety protocols they consider most appropriate for their schools but, to the extent there are mandatory requirements for public health, individuals in the schools must still follow them. To assist schools in developing their COVID- 19 safety protocols, the Texas Education Agency has published minimum health protocols for public education as a starting point, but know that a single standard would not work for all schools.

Remote learning tools and access

The Texas Education Agency is developing remote learning tools for local school districts to use, at their discretion, at no cost to them, to facilitate families who wish to continue at-home instruction for longer than the first four weeks of the 2020-2021 school year.

The TEA is also developing the best way to ensure students are able to access virtual education, including Internet access and learning devices. To support this, the state is allocating $200 million to provide Internet access and learning devices for the 2020-2021 school year to students who need them.

Schools or classes may temporarily transition to remote learning to disinfect should someone test positive

In the event that a particular school or classroom has a confirmed positive case of COVID- 19, the school or classroom may temporarily transition those students to virtual learning while the school or classroom undergoes a deep clean/disinfection.

The school or classroom may be closed for up to five days without a loss of funding so long as virtual learning is provided and attendance is taken during such closure. The decision whether to temporarily transition to virtual learning or make up any days is left to the discretion of the local district.

The state is providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to schools

The state is providing PPE, including masks, face shields, gloves, hand sanitizer, and thermometers, to all local school districts in
sufficient quantities to start the fall semester. The PPE is paid for by the state, not the local school district. These supplies are available for local school districts to distribute at no cost to teachers, staff, and students.

Families first leave applies to teachers and staff

Families First, which was included in federal legislation enacted in response to the COVID- 19 pandemic, provides certain paid sick leave options to employees who have COVID-19 and/or are caring for dependents with COVID-l9, among other circumstances. Any teacher or other staff member who qualifies for Families First may use it.

Local Health Authorities and emergency closure orders

Local health authorities have the ability, subject to oversight of the Texas Department of State Health Services, to order the closure of public schools for public health reasons, whether for COVID-19, influenza, or other infectious diseases. Any decision to do so should balance the health needs of all stakeholders. Beyond concerns regarding COVID-19, local health authorities must consider all the health needs of students, including mental health, physical well-being and safety, and access to nutrition.

Read more at the Texas Education Agency website.

Suspending the STAAR Test: Letter to Education Commissioner Mike Morath

July 13, 2020

July 9, 2020

 

Commissioner Mike Morath

Texas Education Agency

101 Congress Avenue

Austin, Texas 78701

 

Dear Commissioner Morath:

Thank you for your dedicated leadership guiding our public education system during these difficult times. I have joined your initial daily and then twice weekly calls with Superintendents and members of the Legislature so know first hand the tireless efforts you have devoted to the unprecedented pressures.  We are most appreciative.

As a parent, grandparent, former school board member, and current member of the House Public Education Committee, I feel compelled to join colleagues and others and express my deep concerns regarding resuming STAAR testing during the 2020 – 2021 school year. I appreciate your commitment to measurement and accountability, but this is neither the time nor the vehicle for such purpose. I most respectfully urge you to reconsider any such plans.

Our students, teachers, administrators, and parents have been through, and continue through, serious challenges. This past school year and the learning process was disrupted, teachers and parents were saviors in their efforts to keep the process moving remotely, but we must acknowledge that the learning process was impacted. The remote efforts presented challenges. Despite best efforts, digital divide issues were evident and remain. Further compounding the challenges is the fact that a significant number of students could not be located and missed the remote education entirely. The remedial issues appear to be significant. We will face challenges addressing not only those students who missed any learning, but also addressing the varied remote experiences. In short, how can a STAAR test be fairly and accurately applied in view of the inescapable circumstances ? Why subject our students, teachers, and parents to such an exercise that will not provide fair and accurate measurement or accountability ? I respectfully suggest that our children’s education will be far better served and advanced by securing appropriate waiver from accountability testing for the upcoming school year and utilizing any testing for diagnostic purposes only to determine our students current learning level and any necessary remedial efforts as a result of the unprecedented complications negatively impacting the last semester.

No one knows better than you what our students, teachers, administrators, and parents have been through these past months. The upcoming school year will have sufficient challenges reestablishing our children’s education and learning. Subjecting all to STAAR testing and the traditional ramifications will not further that vital restoration. Let’s please focus on that key purpose.

I sincerely appreciate your thoughtful consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

Steve Allison

Texas Workforce Commission Update

April 8, 2020

These are challenging times for all of us. Please know that my office and I are doing all that we can do to help however and wherever possible. While the Texas Workforce Commission is doing their best to provide timely benefits to all eligible Texans, we’ve heard from many of you about issues applying on the website or inability to get through the TWC phone lines. While my office is working to resolve your issues as quickly as possible, the TWC has given my office the following updates on their efforts to enhance service and capacity. They continue to update their website so please continue to visit www.twc.texas.gov/jobseekers/unemployment.

Website

The Texas Workforce Commission is continuing to update the webpages on their website for COVID-19 related information for Employers, Jobseekers, and Child Care. TWC has updated the Jobseekers page with information on the federal unemployment insurance benefits passed in the CARES Act. In addition to this information, an infographic was posted that explains to claimants what they should do in order to file for benefits. The Child Care page also continues to be updated with resources for parents who are seeking child care assistance due to COVID-19.

Also, on TWC’s main homepage, a link has been added where you can view data on COVID-19 related Unemployment Insurance Claims numbers, including a breakdown of claims by county..

Unemployment Insurance Claims Capacity

TWC is continuing to receive historically high numbers of unemployment insurance claims. Since March 14th, TWC has taken over 800,000 claims.

Call volumes at TWC’s tele-centers and web traffic to TWC’s online Unemployment Insurance application system remains at historically high levels. In addition to the actions TWC has previously taken to increase capacity, TWC is taking further efforts. Two additional call centers have come online and TWC is working on a third addition to go online next week. A second third-party call center will come online this week and the TWC is working on signing an agreement with a third call center that will go online next week. This will bring TWC’s total number of call centers up to seven. Also, TWC’s call center hours will increase to 7 AM – 7PM.

TWC has also been working with AT&T to add 400 lines to their Tele-center network as well as additional line capacity to their automated payment request line.

Also, those who have filed for Unemployment Insurance Benefits may have received notices from TWC stating they need to contact TWC by a certain date, and failure to do so will result in their not receiving benefits. Due to the volume of claims, TWC is waiving any such stated deadline. So if an individual receives one of these notices, they will not be penalized if they fail to contact TWC by the date specified to provide additional information.

TWC is working to further increase the server capacity of their system by increasing the number of servers from 10-20. Previously, they had increased the number of servers from 5 to 10.

TWC is also working with Deloitte to create a separate site for the public to use for claim submission.

In addition, TWC has hired 78 of the 100 emergency hires the agency has posted to increase staff at TWC’s call centers.

Last week the TWC also added a chat bot to their internet home page which is capable of answering common questions about unemployment benefits. Currently, the chat bot has helped over 175,000 Texans by responding to over 456,596 questions. Also, the chat bot is a learning chat bot so it grows the number of questions it can answer over time. It began last week being able to answer 20 questions and already has increased its capacity to 54 of the most common questions. They have also upgraded the bot to have the ability to handle 20,000 concurrent users. This service helps call volumes by answering these basic questions that would otherwise need to be answered by the TWC call centers.

Finally, last Friday, TWC announced staggered claims filing to help ease the numbers of individuals trying to file claims at one time. TWC has recommended that claimants file unemployment insurance claims and make other calls at assigned times based on their area codes. This measure is designed to spread out the demand on the system to allow more Texans to file claims and receive assistance concerning benefits.

 

Unemployment Insurance Benefits

The first of the federal unemployment insurance benefits enacted under the CARES Act are now online. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program provides benefits for individuals not traditionally eligible for unemployment benefits, such as those self-employed or independent contractors.

Again, TWC has published an info-graphic on their website which provides information about how to access benefits, whether for an initial application or where there was a prior denial.

The Emergency Increase in Unemployment Insurance Benefits, which is the extra $600 in addition to an individual’s weekly amount of unemployment insurance benefits, will go live beginning this Sunday, April 12.

Child Care

TWC continues to work with Health & Human Services Commission (HHSC) Child Care Licensing and the Governor’s Frontline Child Care Task Force to provide child and family care resources for frontline workers essential to the COVID-19 response.

What my office is doing to help

For the past few weeks, I have been requesting that TWC extend it’s hours and days to better respond to the volume of calls and claims. We are pleased to report that TWC has now extended its hours to 7 am to 7 pm and, beginning April 14th, the call centers will operate 7 days a week.

To further assist with the volume of calls and claims to TWC, I am offering to loan our Legislative Director, German Lopez, to TWC to assist with the volume of calls and claims being received by TWC. I anticipate other House and Senate staff members being similarly made available to assist both TWC and the hundreds of thousands of Texans suddenly finding themselves unemployed due to the ramifications of COVID – 19.

Our Chief of Staff, Rocky Gage, and I will continue to be available to assist with any questions or issues, so please reach out to us at any time at (512) 463-0686.

We will continue to keep you informed of any developments we believe will be of assistance to you, either through further updates like this or postings on the Resource page of our website (stevefortexas.com) and, in the meantime, please stay safe and well.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE STEVE ALLISON ANNOUNCES HE WILL SEEK RE-ELECTION

August 16, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DATE: August 19, 2019
CONTACT: Craig Murphy
PHONE: 817-845-0111
EMAIL: Craig@MurphyNasica.com

State Representative Steve Allison today announced he will seek re-election to the Texas House. Allison currently serves Texas House of Representatives District 121 in northeast San Antonio and the communities of Alamo Heights, Olmos Park and Terrell Hills.

“Serving the citizens of Texas House District 121 is a genuine honor and responsibility, which I take seriously and hold in the highest regard. It is with this dedication and humility that I announce I will seek re-election,” Allison said. “Working collaboratively with my legislative colleagues, we passed transformational school finance reform, increased teacher pay, cut $5 billion in local property taxes, funded the testing of backlogged rape kits, and protected religious freedom and the right to life.”

In his first term, Allison also passed legislation to strengthen school safety, and provide much-needed mental health programs to prevent tragedies before they happen.

Steve also helped successfully create a commission to study how we select judges in Texas – a priority measure for Governor Abbott. Steve was also chosen by his fellow Republican legislators to serve on the important Policy Committee which advises the full Caucus on the policies that best strengthen the Texas economy and advance the party’s priorities.

“This year was productive, but we have more work to do,” said Allison. “We must ensure the new plan for public education funding is successfully put in place as we focus on improving achievement levels for Texas students. We must further lower property taxes, improve infrastructure investment, and work to give Texas the best medical care in America.”

Allison is an attorney with more than 40 years of experience. Throughout his career, Allison has worked to defend free enterprise. Allison has long been active in his community, including past President of the Alamo Heights School Board and Vice Chair of the VIA Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Steve and his wife, Peggy, have been married for 50 years. They have two adult sons, five grandchildren, and a beloved golden retriever. The Allisons are longtime members of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, where both have taught children’s Sunday school and Steve has served on the vestry.

##30##