A comprehensive update on major education bills in the 84th Legislature

Where do high-profile education bills stand with several deadlines hitting this week for bills to move forward or face near-certain death in the 84th legislative session?


State budget

HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R) is the state’s appropriation bill and the one piece of legislation that must pass this month in order to avoid a special session. HB 1 is pending in a conference committee where representatives and senators are trying to reach a compromise on what amounts the state should spend on public education and other needs. A major sticking point in the negotiations is how and how much money to provide for tax cuts, which numerous legislators made campaign promises to pursue this session. The House version contains funds for enrollment growth as well as an additional $2.2 billion aimed at increasing equity within the public education system. The Senate’s version provides an additional $1.8 billion in new revenue after their tax cut proposal is factored in. The Senate’s version also assumes that the cost of enrollment growth will be covered by increases in property tax revenue.

Related to state appropriations, the 84th legislature is considering numerous tax cut proposals and measures to curtail state spending. It is believed that most of these bills would have a negative long-term impact on public education funding.

School finance

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) filed HB 1759 to try to reform the state’s school finance system, which has been ruled unconstitutional. The bill was approved by the House Public Education Committee, which Aycock chairs, but it has not yet been placed on a House calendar for floor debate. With the session’s strict deadlines looming, HB 1759 will have to receive a preliminary floor vote in the House by Thursday in order to survive.

TRS

Few serious legislative proposals have been offered regarding the TRS pension trust fund after changes were made in 2013 to ensure that the fund and the benefits it provides are secure. The House Pensions Committee recently heard several bills that would increase benefits for current retirees – either temporarily through a one-time 13th check as in HB 1967 by Rep. Jim Keffer (R), or in a more long-term fashion through a cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA). The COLA bills heard by the committee included HB 45 by Rep. Mando Martinez (D), HB 701 by Rep. Alma Allen (D), HB 1149 by Rep. Ana Hernandez (D), HB 2873 by Rep. Alma Allen (D), and HB 3259 by Rep. Abel Herrero (D). All of these bills to increase benefits were left pending in the committee. These proposals would pay for benefit increases with pension trust fund investment returns above the amount that is needed to make the trust fund actuarially sound. Because of the late point in the session in which these bills were heard, it is unlikely that they will make it through the legislative process.

Much-needed funding for TRS-Care is addressed in a pending supplemental appropriations bill, HB 2 by Rep. John Otto (R). The bill includes an extra $768 million for retirees’ health care. HB 2 passed the House back on April 1 and is awaiting a committee hearing in the Senate while budget negotiations continue.

HB 3453 by Rep. J.M. Lozano (R) establishes a joint interim committee to study TRS-ActiveCare, including options for allowing districts to opt out of the program and for allowing regional rates to be created instead of the single, statewide rates currently used. The House passed the bill as amended on May 11 by a vote of 121 to 12. (The bill has a companion, SB 1232 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), which has not been heard by a Senate committee.)

Private school vouchers

SB 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) is backed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick as the Senate’s signature voucher bill. It calls for creating a tax credit for businesses that contribute money to private school scholarships. The full Senate passed SB 4 on April 21 by a vote of 18 to 12. All Democratic senators voted against the bill except for Sen. Eddie Lucio (D), who voted for it. All Republican senators voted for the bill except Sens. Konni Burton (R) and Robert Nichols (R), who opposed it; Sen. Kel Seliger (R) was absent on the day of the SB 4 vote. Voucher supporters are continuing to push House Speaker Joe Straus (R) and other state representatives to move the bill forward this session. Click here to find ATPE’s talking points in opposition to SB 4, which you are encouraged to share with your state representatives.

SB 1178 by Sen. Don Huffines (R) is a bill that originally called for creating a private school voucher program through the use of education savings accounts. Under such a plan, the state would fund bank accounts to be accessed by parents and used to pay private school tuition and fees, private tutoring, or costs associated with home schooling. SB 1178 has been modified to instead call for an interim study on the possible future use of education savings accounts. The Senate passed the new version of SB 1178 on May 11 by a vote of 21 to 10. Click here to find out how your senator voted on the bill, which heads now to the House for consideration.

SB 894 also by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) is a costly bill to expand home-schooled and private school students’ access to the state’s Virtual School Network. ATPE opposed the bill in committee, and it is part of a package of controversial reform proposals favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and pushed by Texans for Education Reform (TER). Even in the conservative Senate that is friendly to voucher bills, SB 894 has faced significant hurdles with legislators questioning its large fiscal note. Still, as of today, SB 894 remains on the Senate Intent Calendar, signaling that a floor debate and subsequent vote could occur at any time.

Student testing

SB 149 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) allows for individual graduation committees to decide if certain students may be graduated from high schools despite failing a required STAAR test. ATPE strongly supported the bill. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed SB 149 into law on May 11, and the bill takes effect immediately.

HB 742 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) would eliminate some STAAR tests that are not required by federal law. As filed, the bill called for eliminating tests in writing, social studies, and U.S. history. The House Public Education Committee approved a substitute version of the bill that only eliminates the eighth-grade social studies test. The ATPE-supported measure has not yet been placed on a House calendar for floor debate and may not survive the House’s rigid end-of-session deadlines.

HB 743 also by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) attempts to reduce the amount of time spent on state-mandated testing in grades three through eight and limit the breadth of curriculum standards (TEKS) that are included on those tests. The bill also calls for auditing of the state’s contracts with test vendors such as Pearson. HB 743 passed the House on May 4 with only Reps. David Simpson (R) and Jonathan Stickland (R) opposing the bill. The ATPE-supported bill now awaits a committee hearing in the Senate. 

Accountability and “A through F” ratings

ATPE has opposed legislative proposals calling for “A through F” grading of public school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. The primary bill on “A-F” ratings was Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 6, which was yet another piece of the TER-backed reform package being pushed by Lt. Gov. Patrick. (Two identical House companion bills, HB 2109 and HB 2176, were not heard before the deadline and therefore are dead bills.) Read ATPE’s statement in opposition to SB 6 here. The Senate passed SB 6, but the House left it pending in committee, opting instead to add similar “A-F” language to another accountability bill that is on the move, HB 2804.

HB 2804 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) is a comprehensive bill to overhaul the state’s accountability system. It includes language calling for “A-F” ratings of campuses. The bill is on the House calendar today awaiting a floor debate, where it is expected to be amended. ATPE has worked with representatives on several floor amendments to try to improve the bill. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates if the House schedule permits consideration of this bill before time runs out.

Aycock has also filed HB 1842 relating to sanctions and interventions for low-performing schools. It does provide for alternative management options, as well as other school turnaround strategies such as the use of a community schools model that ATPE has supported. (See notes on SB 1483 below.) HB 1842 was passed on second reading today in the House after several floor amendments were added.

SB 1483 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D) is the bill ATPE has supported promoting the use of a community schools model for turning around struggling schools as an alternative to reconstitution or privatization. The Senate Education Committee approved a substitute version of the bill on April 23. SB 1483 has been placed on the Senate Intent Calendar for a possible floor debate soon. Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D) is carrying an identical companion bill, HB 1891, which passed the House Public Education Committee unanimously on April 23 and is now sitting on the House calendar for a possible floor debate if time permits.

SB 1200 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) calls for creation of a committee to recommend a new system for student assessment and public school accountability. The Senate unanimously approved SB 1200 on April 30, and it awaits a hearing by the House Public Education Committee. The bill is a rare one that is supported by a variety of stakeholders, including educator groups such as ATPE and reform groups such as TER. (Its identical companion bill, HB 4028, has not been heard and is procedurally dead at this point.)

Teacher salaries and evaluations

SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R), a bill proposing to do away with the state minimum salary schedule for teachers and impose additional state requirements for appraisals and personnel decisions, remains pending in the House. (Its companion bill, HB 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R), did not get voted out of the House Public Education Committee and is now procedurally dead.) ATPE opposes the legislation. Despite being pushed aggressively by TER and being a key part of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s controversial reform agenda, the education community has rallied against these bills with persistent calls and emails to legislators. At this point in the session, SB 893 could still be revived, and ATPE members are urged to keep reminding their state representatives about the harm this bill would do to the education profession. Learn more about the history of the bills here, and read our message to legislators here.

SB 1303 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D) is a bill that ATPE supported calling for teachers to receive a $4,000 pay raise. It was heard on April 30 but remains pending in the Senate Education Committee. Other pay raise bills have been filed but not heard this session.

Payroll deduction

SB 1968 is Sen. Joan Huffman’s (R) bill to eliminate educators’ ability to use payroll deduction to pay dues to educator associations. The Senate passed SB 1968 on May 7 by a party-line vote of 20 to 11. All Republican senators voted for the bill, while all Democratic senators opposed the bill. ATPE members are strongly urged to call their state representatives and ask them to oppose this anti-educator bill. Click here to access talking points about SB 1968 that you can share with your representatives. Read more about the Senate vote and the bill’s history on our recent blog post here.

Parent trigger or “empowerment”

SB 14 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) would expand and speed up existing “parent trigger” laws that make certain low-performing public schools more susceptible to private management. It is another bill being promoted by Texans for Education Reform (TER). The Senate amended and then approved the bill by a vote of 25 to 6 with Sens. Rodney Ellis (D), Jose Menendez (D), Carlos Uresti (D), Kirk Watson (D), John Whitmire (D), and Judith Zaffirini (D) voting against it. SB 14 has not yet heard by the House Public Education Committee. (A House companion bill, HB 1727, was not heard in committee and is procedurally dead at this stage.)

“Local control school districts”

SB 1012 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R) and HB 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) are bills to modify existing state laws allowing for the creation of privately managed home rule charter districts. The bills would change the name of home rule districts to “local control school districts,” a rather misleading term considering that locally elected school boards would most likely lose much of their authority to govern the district under these proposals. The bills are also troubling because they would exempt “local control school districts” from many of the quality control measures, such as elementary school class-size limits, found in the Texas Education Code. Once again, SB 1012 and HB 1798 are among the bills supported by TER while opposed by ATPE and most of the education community. The Senate Education Committee heard SB 1012 on April 16, and left the bill pending. A substitute version of the bill was laid out in committee today, but SB 1012 was again left pending due to opposition from representatives of school districts that the bill purports to help. Meanwhile, HB 1798 is on the House calendar awaiting a possible floor debate.

Opportunity School Districts

Legislators have filed several bills this session calling for the state’s lowest performing schools to be deregulated and placed into a statewide “Opportunity School District.” ATPE has opposed these TER-backed bills based on concerns about privatizing the management of otherwise public schools and exempting them from education laws aimed at ensuring quality, such as class-size limits and requirements to hire certified teachers. These bills include HB 1536 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D), SB 895 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), and SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D). HB 1536 is pending in the House Calendars Committee and unlikely to survive the House’s stringent deadlines. Its companion bill, SB 895, was deliberately left pending in the Senate Education Committee, as its author agreed to support SB 669 instead. SB 669 passed the Senate with amendments on May 7 by a vote of 20 to 11. Click here to find out how your senator voted on the measure, which now heads to the House for consideration.

Innovation zones

SB 1241 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) similarly subjects low-performing schools to the possibility of alternative management through the creation of “Innovation Zones.” ATPE opposed the bill in committee. On May 11, the full Senate amended and approved the bill by a vote of 22 to 9. Those voting against the bill were Sens. Rodney Ellis (D), Chuy Hinojosa (D), Lois Kolkhorst (R), Eddie Lucio (D), Jose Menendez (D), Jose Rodriguez (D), Carlos Uresti (D), Kirk Watson (D), and John Whitmire (D); Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D) first opposed the bill on second reading and then voted for the bill on third reading. SB 1241 moves now to the House for consideration.

Home-school students participating in UIL

SB 2046 by Sen. Van Taylor (R), often referred to as a “Tim Tebow bill,” would require school districts to permit area home-schooled students to participate in UIL activities at the public school. ATPE opposes the bill and the selective participation of home-schooled students in public school activities, especially when they are not held to equal academic standards as their public school student peers and competitors. The Senate passed SB 2046 on May 11 by a vote of 27 to 4. Those voting against the bill were Sens. Robert Nichols (R), Jose Rodriguez (D), Kel Seliger (R), and Kirk Watson (D). The bill heads now to the House.

Charter schools

SB 1897 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) would authorize the commissioner of education to grant multiple charters to a charter holder in certain circumstances. In addition to providing for the expansion of charter schools, the bill waters down laws pertaining to charter school accountability measures and sanctions for low-performance. A new version of the bill also includes language relating to expansion of the state’s virtual school network. ATPE opposed the bill when it was heard in committee. The Senate passed the substitute version of SB 1897 on a vote of 22 to 9 on May 11. Those voting against the bill were Sens. Rodney Ellis (D), Sylvia Garcia (D), Chuy Hinojosa (D), Jose Menendez (D), Robert Nichols (R), Jose Rodriguez (D), Carlos Uresti (D), Kirk Watson (D), and John Whitmire (D). The bill heads now to the House.

Several bills remain pending that deal with regulation of and funding for charter schools. These include SB 1900 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R) providing for funding of charter facilities, which has been approved by the Senate Education Committee, and HB 2251 by Rep. Rafael Anchia (D) to accelerate funding for charter schools experiencing enrollment growth, which has been placed on the House’s local and consent calendar. Rep. Marsha Farney (R) has filed HB 1170 to classify certain charter schools as local governmental entities and HB 1171 relating to immunity provisions for charter schools; both bills easily passed the House and have been sent to the Senate. (Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) is carrying companion bills to those two measures, SB 1567 and 1569.) Also still pending are companion bills HB 3347 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) and SB 1898 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) which would clean up laws passed in 2013 relating to procedures for revoking a charter.

HB 4047 by Rep. Alma Allen (D) was filed at ATPE’s request to ensure that charter school teachers have the right to join or not join a professional association and the right to be politically active in the same manner as teachers at traditional public schools. It received unanimous approval of the House Public Education Committee on April 23 and has been placed on the House calendar for floor debate.

Educator preparation and certification

SB 892 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) was originally filed as a bill to increase the rigor of educator preparation, but the bill has been amended to become one that actually lowers the standards for entrance to an educator preparation program and is now opposed by ATPE.  SB 892 passed the Senate but has not been heard so far by the House Public Education Committee. (A companion bill, HB 3494 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R), was left pending in committee and is now procedurally dead.) Read more about SB 892 here.

HB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R) also deals with educator preparation and amends an existing law that permits educator preparation programs to exempt up to 10 percent of each cohort of candidates from the state’s minimum GPA requirement for future teachers. In its current form, this ATPE-supported bill requires those exempted from the GPA rule to pass a content exam prior to admission to the educator preparation program. The House passed HB 1300 on May 12 by a vote of 141 to 2 with Reps. Jonathan Stickland (R) and James White (R) voting against the bill.

Another educator preparation bill is HB 2566 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R). When the bill was heard in committee in mid-April, ATPE testified neutrally. The bill makes a number of changes to educator preparation rules and the accountability system for educator preparation programs, including a requirement for considering the results of a teacher satisfaction survey. HB 2566 requires all candidates for teacher certification, including those pursuing alternative certification, to undergo training relating to the instruction of students with dyslexia (currently required only for candidates in traditional educator preparation programs). The current version of the bill does not make any changes to the GPA requirements for educator preparation candidates. HB 2566 as substituted was unanimously approved by the House Public Education Committee on April 28, and the bill is now on the House calendar and eligible for floor debate if time permits.

HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R) changes the composition of the State Board for Educator Certification and requires one non-voting member of the board to have worked for an alternative certification program. It also makes changes to the accountability system for educator preparation programs. ATPE supported the bill when it was heard in committee. On April 28, the House Public Education Committee unanimously approved a substitute version of the bill, which now sits on the House calendar awaiting floor debate.

Pre-kindergarten

HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) is an ATPE-supported bill to increase funding to pre-kindergarten programs that implement certain quality control measures. Broadly supported and also declared a priority issue by Gov. Greg Abbott, HB 4 generated controversy after a panel of advisors to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) publicly derided the bill and public schools. Both the House and Senate ultimately passed different versions of the bill, and the House must now decide whether to accept the Senate’s changes or refer HB 4 to a conference committee.

Suicide prevention

ATPE is supporting a pair of bills to try to curtail the epidemic of youth suicide. HB 2186 by Rep. Byron Cook (R) is a bill pertaining to suicide prevention training for school employees. ATPE encouraged Rep. Cook to file the bill at the request of one of our members, Coach Kevin Childers from Fairfield ISD, who lost his teenage son to suicide. HB 2186 would modify existing law that requires certain educators and school district employees to be trained in recognizing possible warning signs for suicidal thoughts by students. The bill is referred to as the “Suicide Prevention Training Act in memory of Jonathan Childers.” The House passed HB 2186 on May 7 by a vote of 139 to 3 with Reps. Matt Rinaldi (R), Matt Schaefer (R), and Jonathan Stickland (R) voting against it.

SB 1169 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R) contains similar language relating to training for school employees in recognizing the warning signs for suicide. The bill is being referred to as “the Jason Flatt Act in memory of Jonathan Childers.” The Senate passed SB 1169 on May 12 by a vote of 29 to 1. Sen. Robert Nichols (R) cast the lone no vote, while Sen. Rodney Ellis (D) was absent during the vote on SB 1169.

Breast-feeding accommodations for school employees

The legislature is considering a couple of bills relating to accommodations for new mothers working in public schools. HB 786 by Rep. Armando Walle (D) would require schools and other public employers to provide certain accommodations for employees to express breast milk and prohibit workplace discrimination against such employees. The House passed HB 786 by a vote of 90 to 47 on April 27, but it has not yet been heard by a Senate committee. SB 1479 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D) is a similar measure that applies particularly to school employees and requires school districts to provide break times and suitable locations for educators to express breast milk. The Senate Education Committee approved the bill on May 5 by a vote of 9 to 2, with Sens. Lois Kolkhorst (R) and Donna Campbell (R) voting against SB 1479. It has been placed on the Senate Intent Calendar for floor debate soon. ATPE has supported both of these bills.

Epi-pens

SB 66 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D) deals with the use of epinephrine auto-injectors, commonly known as epi-pens, in school settings. Epi-pens are often used to treat anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction. SB 66 requires each school district and open-enrollment charter school to adopt a policy on epi-pen use, including training and authorizing school employees to administer an epi-pen. The bill requires districts and charters to provide parents with annual written notice of their epi-pen policies. Related to the lawful use or non-use of an epi-pen in a school setting, SB 66 also includes immunity protections against liability for school personnel and calls for a state advisory committee to review schools’ usage of epi-pens. The bill has made it through the Senate and is on the House calendar.

Cameras in the classroom

Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) has filed SB 507, a bill requiring school districts to equip self-contained classrooms serving students in special education programs with surveillance cameras. The Senate approved the bill on May 11 by a vote of 24 to 7, with Sens. Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Don Huffines (R), Jane Nelson (R), Robert Nichols (R), Charles Perry (R), and Charles Schwertner (R) voting against the measure.


ATPE encourages members to keep communicating with your legislators about these bills. Even bills that appear to be dead by virtue of failing to meet session deadlines can be revived in the form of amendments to other bills. Our lobby team will keep you posted with updates and email alerts whenever action is needed. Don’t forget to sign up for our Teach the Vote email updates and follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the latest developments.

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5 thoughts on “A comprehensive update on major education bills in the 84th Legislature

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