Wrapping up a full week at the Texas State Capitol, here are stories from ATPE that you might have missed while you were STAAR testing:
Two major pieces of anti-public education legislation hit the Senate floor this week. First, the Senate passed Senate Bill (SB) 13 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), an anti-educator bill that prevents school district employees from using payroll deduction for their association dues at no cost to taxpayers. ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell Canaday provided a summary of Wednesday’s debate of the bill on second reading, during which a number of Democratic senators questioned the author’s decision to exempt “first responders” from the punitive bill and tried unsuccessfully to expand that exemption to cover educators, too.
The lively debate highlighted ATPE’s advocacy against the bill before senators voted on party lines to approve the measure, ironically just hours after take time to honor retired teachers visiting the Senate that day. Those voting for the anti-educator SB 13 were Sens. Bettencourt, Birdwell, Buckingham, Burton, Campbell, Creighton, Estes, Hall, Hancock, Huffines, Huffman, Hughes, Kolkhorst, Nelson, Nichols, Perry, Schwertner, Seliger, Larry Taylor, and Van Taylor. Those voting against SB 13 were Sens. Garcia, Hinojosa, Lucio, Menendez, Miles, Rodriguez, Uresti, Watson, West, Whitmire, and Zaffirini.
The Senate was back in session yesterday evening to take a final vote on SB 13, again along party lines with 20 Republican senators voting to send SB 13 to the House and 11 Democratic senators voting against the bill. It was another opportunity, though, for some Democrats in the Senate to ask why teachers were being picked on with SB 13 and why business groups in the private sector like NFIB should care about how public employees spend their paychecks. Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. called the legislation “a show of disrespect” toward hard-working teachers. Sen. Royce West pointed out the highly partisan motives behind the bill, and Sen. Kirk Watson stated that it was wrong for lawmakers to try to silence certain groups and not others simply because you disagree with their message. Sen. John Whitmire warned his Senate colleagues of the bill’s “intended consequences” of silencing only those politically active groups who are deemed to be working against Senate Republicans’ legislative priorities this session. But Whitmire also warned of some unintended fallout during the next election cycle, observing that many educators do tend to vote in Republican primaries and saying, “You’ve awakened a sleeping giant.”
Thursday’s floor action in the Senate also brought up a high-profile voucher bill, SB 3 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), which has been deemed on of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top three priorities this session. The bill’s author presented a brand new version of the bill on the floor, designed to limit the availability of the vouchers to larger urban and suburban counties. The changes were designed to lower the bill’s very high cost and garner support from a few rural Republican senators who had been objecting to SB 3.
The new voucher bill ultimately passed yesterday on an 18 to 13 vote. Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. was the lone Democratic senator to vote for the bill. All other Democrats voted against SB 3, joined by Republican Sens. Robert Nichols, Kel Seliger, and Joan Huffman. (Although Huffman voted against the bill, she earlier joined with Republicans in voting to suspend the rules to allow the voucher bill to be heard on the floor.) For more on the voucher bill that passed the Senate and is headed next to the House, read this story from The Texas Tribune republished here on our blog about SB 3.
While the Senate was focusing its attention on questionable “priorities” of the lieutenant governor that would harm public education, the House Public Education Committee was attempting to find solutions to real problems, such as improving the state’s malfunctioning school finance system. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on our blog, the committee passed Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) school finance measure, House Bill 21, by a vote of 10 to one on Tuesday. The committee also heard a number of bills relating to charter schools this week and resumed discussion of Huberty’s HB 23 aimed at improving the A-through-F accountability system. Next week, the committee plans to consider bills dealing with health and safety, as well as special education.
The committee’s Subcommittee on Educator Quality also met this week for further discussions of bills dealing with improper relationships between teachers and students. Again, Mark Wiggins has a blog post with details on Monday’s hearing.
The Texas House and Senate continue to take differing approaches on the state budget. As ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reports, the full Senate took up Senate Bill 1 (SB1), the Senate’s budget bill, this Tuesday, March 28, for second and third reading. After offering no amendments, the Senate passed SB1 unanimously. The bill was then sent to and received by the house later that day where it was read for the first time on the House floor and referred to the House Appropriations Committee.
House Appropriations took up House Bill 1 (HB1), the House budget, and House Bill 2 (HB2), the House supplemental appropriations bill, on Wednesday, March 29. Chairman Zerwas laid out SB1 in lieu of HB1 and then substituted the language in SB1 with the language in HB1, plus some of the language that was originally in HB2, essentially making SB1 the House Bill with the Senate’s caption. The committee then voted unanimously to send SB1, as substituted, and HB2 to the full House for consideration.
Yesterday, March 30, House Calendars Committee Chairman Todd Hunter adopted a calendar rule on the House floor that impacts SB1, which will be considered by the full House next Thursday, April 6. The rule, which was adopted, does two things. One, it memorializes the House rule requiring a 72-hour layout for any amendment to a general appropriations bill. This means that any amendment to the budget will have to be filed with the House Clerk’s office by 10 a.m. Monday, April 3, or be subject to a challenge. Second, the rule requires that any amendment to the budget that proposes additional spending in one area must cut an equivalent or greater amount of spending from another area of the budget. This means that the overall amount of the budget cannot increase on the House floor without support of the supermajority required to suspend the calendar rule.
Follow @TeachTheVote or individual ATPE lobbyists on Twitter next Thursday for live updates on the budget as they occur from the floor of the Texas House.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced this week the availability of 2016 Snapshot: School District Profiles on its website. The online resource annually compiles characteristics of every school district and charter school in Texas. View the data here.
The Senate Education Committee also met yesterday, hearing bills pertaining to virtual schools, special education, and the scheduling of teacher work days. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided this blog update with full details on the hearing.