TEA touts additional school days program as solution for… | TCTA
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TEA touts additional school days program as solution for COVID-19 disruptions

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TEA has begun providing information to school districts about using a newly created program that provides half-day funding for up to 30 additional school days (the Additional Days School Year, or ADSY) for grades pre-K through 5 as a solution for dealing with COVID-19 educational interruptions for the upcoming school year. This program was created in House Bill 3 during the 2019 legislative session, and Commissioner Mike Morath has enthusiastically promoted it, including as the focus of his presentation to TCTA members at our winter 2020 annual meeting. TEA is recommending additional days in conjunction with major revisions to the school calendar.

TCTA is not aware of a surge of districts planning to make such changes for 2020-21, but teachers should be alert to any such discussions because of the many challenges and the need for strong educator input.

The ADSY program was originally intended to provide districts with additional state funding to enhance instructional time through a revised school calendar, either for individual campuses or an entire district, with an emphasis on helping struggling students. Under these new provisions of HB 3, districts can get half-day funding for up to 30 days of additional classroom time in pre-K through 5. TEA provided three suggested options on how the additional time could be structured in its early communications about the program.

In a new PowerPoint presentation available on the TEA website, the agency predicts that the 2020-21 school year is “likely to include short-term disruptions to instruction and high student absenteeism” in anticipation of additional waves of COVID-19 infections, and recommends that districts be prepared to revise their school calendars. It also proposes that districts consider the ADSY option in conjunction with a revised calendar.

The TEA presentation specifically suggests that converting to an “intersessional calendar” — akin to year-round school — would be beneficial for teachers and students. TEA’s recommendation includes six additional weeks of intersessional breaks that can be used for remediation, acceleration, or enrichment; school closures due to resurgence of COVID-19; and/or bad weather make up days. The revised calendar could involve an earlier start date, longer mid-year breaks, and a later end date. (An example is provided with two weeks off at Thanksgiving, four weeks in December/January, three weeks in March, and six weeks in June/July.)

TEA notes that districts wishing to change their start dates should use the District of Innovation process to do so.

Educators and others have many concerns about making such a transition, especially on short enough notice to implement during the upcoming school year:

  • Would the plan involve different campuses being on different calendars? What about being on a vastly different schedule from neighboring districts — how would this affect teachers whose own children are on a different schedule from their work calendar? How might differing schedules impact extracurricular activities, including those involving competition with other districts?
  • Would teachers be paid for any additional days? Would contracts need to be revised? TEA communications have anticipated that some of the additional funding would be used for salaries, and in fact Morath’s presentation to TCTA members in February asserted that teacher salaries could increase by an average of $5,000 under the additional days program, but the law does not specify how salaries would be handled.
    Whether and how much educators would receive in additional compensation for working additional days appears to be left up to local school districts. The contracts teachers are being asked to sign by school districts seem to be even more vague about duration than they have been in the past, according to communications received by TCTA lawyers. Such contracts may be subject to a legal challenge if districts attempt to interpret them as allowing districts to drastically change terms of employment without an agreement by the employee. Members with concerns about contracts or any local proposals should call our legal department at 888-879-8282. Any legal challenge to a school district action must usually start with a grievance that must be filed within 10 to 15 days from the day the employee should have known about the situation, so it is especially important to pay attention to what your district is doing and be prepared to take action quickly. Since many meetings are happening virtually, it is not particularly difficult to log on to school board meetings and even to speak about matters that are on the agenda.
  • What about the funding? Since state funding is only for half days, districts would have to come up with additional local funds to pay for the full daily costs of operating schools for additional days. And what happens after the 2021 legislative session, when the state and districts alike will be struggling to make ends meet after this year’s economic recession?
  • Can districts get buy-in from teachers, parents and the community? A drastically changed calendar impacts many aspects of a school district and the surrounding areas, and school boards must ensure that the idea has the support of all different kinds of stakeholders if the program is to be successful. Teachers may have difficulty obtaining summer child care or pursuing higher education coursework under a revised schedule. Businesses relying on summer activities (camps, recreational facilities) would be adversely affected by a shortened summer break.
  • Many educators have firmly resisted the conversion of their district to a District of Innovation. Making such a change solely to revise the school calendar could open the door to other possible exemptions from law, such as teacher/parent/student rights and protections.

Next steps

TEA has not yet released the details of how districts can draw down ADSY funds, so districts will be discussing the issue during the budgeting process.

Any districts newly considering a revised calendar must get approval from the school board for the change in start date and other dates. If the plan involves additional days, there also must be approval for salaries for teachers and other employees, and other considerations such as food and transportation, maintenance, and other areas of support.

Districts that would require a District of Innovation plan must go through the process outlined in law, which requires a school board resolution, formation of a committee to develop the plan, development of a plan that must be posted for 30 days, and approval by a majority vote of the district-level decision-making committee in a public meeting. The plan must also be approved by a two-thirds vote of the school board. A revision to an existing plan must also go through a similar approval process. Some Districts of Innovation have taken away important employee rights, such as planning and preparation time, or have extended the probationary contract period for experienced teachers. Many of them eliminated elementary class size caps. If your district tries to create or amend its DOI plan, you should pay close attention as the scope of the plan may go beyond a change in the school calendar. If your district does not have a legally constituted district-level planning committee where faculty representatives are elected by the faculty, you should call the TCTA legal department before any DOI proposal is submitted to the committee.

What you can do

If your district is considering this option, contact your campus/district administrators to see if there is a place for you or local CTA leaders to get involved in the process. If the plan requires DOI involvement, for example, ask to be included on the DOI committee and make sure your district has a legally constituted district-level decision-making committee. And if you are a TCTA member, call our legal department at 888-879-8282 with any questions and concerns about your district’s specific proposal.