Category Archives: 85th Legislature

Senate committee approves budget proposal

ThinkstockPhotos-185034697_gavelcashThe committee substitute to Senate Bill (SB) 1, the Senate’s budget bill, was voted favorably out of the Senate Finance Committee on a vote of 15 to 0 this morning. The SB 1 committee substitute, which appropriates $106.3 billion in general revenue, reflects all of the recommended modifications to individual articles of the budget made by the work groups and adopted by the full Finance Committee.

In her comments, committee chairwoman Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) stated that SB 1 fully funds the Foundation School Program (FSP), including $2.6 billion for enrollment growth. Nelson also touted $25 million in spending for broadband expansion through the e-Rate program; $65 million to a new public / private partnership for pre-K (the committee substitute cuts $180 million in pre-K grants from SB 1 as it was originally filed); and $316 million to fund SB 788 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which would reform TRS-Care.

Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) probed staff from the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) on how to reconcile claims that SB1 fully funds the FSP while spending nearly $1.4 billion less in general revenue on the program. In response, LBB staff confirmed that SB 1 does fund the amount that current law calls for in FSP entitlements, but the funding level is $1.4 billion lower this session because increases in local property values mean that less funding is required through state general revenue. Due to this continued supplanting of state funding with local property taxes, the proportion of the state’s share of FSP funding is projected to decline to 38% or less by the end of the biennium.

SB 1 as substituted is expected to be brought up for a vote on the floor of the full Senate on Tuesday, March 28.

House Public Education reviews grab bag of school bills

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to consider a score of bills touching a variety of subjects. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) began the hearing by referring the following bills to the Subcommittee on Educator Quality, chaired by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian): HB 49, HB 218, HB 331, HB 333, HB 460, HB 816, HB 972, HB 1255, HB 1403, HB 1469 and HB 1485.

The day’s testimony began with HB 1291 by state Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), which would add “American principles” to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The TEKS would include the study of the Founding Fathers of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 639 by state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson (R-Waco) would authorize districts to obtain health benefit plan, liability or auto insurance for partner businesses and students participating in CTE programs. Anderson suggested insurance is important in the event of accidents related to CTE instruction.

HB 1645 by state Rep. J.M. Lozano (R-Kingsville) would require school districts that offer varsity letters to adopt a policy that allows students to earn a letter for participating in a Special Olympics event. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 69 by state Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) would require each school district and open-enrollment charter school to include in the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) report the number of children with disabilities residing in a residential facility who are required to be tracked by the Residential Facility Monitoring (RFM) System and are receiving educational services from the district or school.

HB 264 by state Rep. Ana Hernandez (D-Houston) would require TEA to continue until 2020 providing outreach materials to districts required under Section 28.015, Education Code, regarding public school curriculum changes under House Bill 5, which passed in 2013. The section includes explanations of the basic career and college readiness components of each endorsement, requirements to gain automatic college admission, and financial aid requirements for the TEXAS grant and the Texas Educational Opportunity Grant Program. The section is currently set to expire September 1, 2018.

HB 452 by state Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) would require report cards to include the number of students in each class. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 728 by state Rep. Bobby Guerra (D-Mission) would create an advanced computer science program that would satisfy the curriculum requirements for a third math or science credit.

HB 1270 by state Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo) would allow schools to excuse student absences for the purpose of visiting a military recruitment center. A similar provision currently allows for excused absences to visit a college or university campus.

HB 136 by state Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) would include a CTE objective under the public education objectives enumerated in Section 4.001(b), Education Code. The text would read, “Objective 11: The State Board of Education, the agency, and the commissioner shall assist school districts and charter schools in providing career and technology education and effective workforce training opportunities to students.”

HB 1389 by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-Dallas) would include prekindergarten in the 22-student class size limit currently in effect for kindergarten through grade four. The bill would result in smaller class sizes for schools that are currently over the limit, but would not carry a significant fiscal impact to the state budget. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 710 by state Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) would extend free half-day prekindergarten to full-day for the same set of eligible students. Research has shown early childhood education improves student learning through the elementary grades, leading to improved educational outcomes overall. According to the fiscal note, the change would cost $1.6 billion over the 2018-2019 biennium. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 620 by state Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) would allow districts the option of moving the school start date to the second Monday in August, up from the fourth, and require instruction time measured in minutes, as opposed to days. This would allow districts more flexibility in scheduling, provide additional time to prepare for first semester assessments, and allow for earlier summer release. No fiscal impact to the state is anticipated. ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of the bill, pointing out that current restrictions can be burdensome when it comes to predictably and adequately allocating instruction time.

HB 729 by state Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) would integrate character traits instruction into the TEKS, and require a center for education research to study the effects of character traits instruction on student attendance and disciplinary problems. Bohac suggested emphasizing positive character traits would improve school performance overall. ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in favor of the bill, noting that statewide standards would eliminate the patchwork implementation of character traits instruction.

HB 404 by state Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) would create higher education curriculum review teams charged with reviewing changes to the TEKS. Currently, the State Board of Education (SBOE) appoints TEKS review committees composed largely of K-12 teachers, as well as up to seven “experts” as defined by board rules. This bill would define a process and expert panel with at least five years of higher education teaching experience in the relevant subject or a doctorate in education. The panel would be selected the Higher Education Coordinating Board and higher education commissioner, which would insulate the experts from the appearance of political influence. The bill would also protect the panel’s recommendations by setting a two-thirds vote threshold for SBOE.

Rep. Anchia described the bill as “a work in progress.” ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified in favor of the bill, and advocated for ensuring that K-12 educators have a meaningful impact on the process as well. Recently, SBOE has taken steps to improve its TEKS review process, and ATPE supports a collaborative effort to codify improvements in statute in order to ensure the success of future reviews.

HB 539 by state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) would allow the children of military service members to enroll full-time in the state virtual school network. According to TEA, roughly 12,000 students, about 0.3 percent of the state’s total enrollment, are currently enrolled in the virtual school network. Approximately 63,500 military dependents are enrolled in grades three through twelve. The Legislative Budget Board assumes 0.5 percent, or 318 students, would enroll in the virtual school network. Based on that, the fiscal note assumes the change would cost an additional $5.3 million – which Chairman Huberty and Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Highland Park) disputed, suggesting the expense was overstated.

HB 367 by Vice-Chairman Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would expressly allow schools to donate surplus unserved cafeteria food to hungry children on campus through a third-party non-profit. Some schools already do this, but this bill would guarantee that right in statute and give rulemaking authority to the commissioner of education. No significant fiscal implication to the state is anticipated.

HB 357 by Chairman Huberty would extend free prekindergarten eligibility to the children of anyone eligible for the Star of Texas Award for police, firefighters and emergency medical first responders killed or seriously injured in the line of duty. According to the fiscal note, no significant impact on the budget is expected. ATPE supports this bill.

All those bills were left pending.

The board unanimously approved HB 223 by state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), which would provide districts the option of providing childcare services or assistance with childcare expenses to students at risk of dropping out through the existing compensatory education allotment. Since the allotment provides a set amount of funding, the change would not fiscally impact the state. The bill will head to the House floor next.

The committee also resumed consideration of HB 21, House leadership’s priority school finance bill that would add $1.6 billion to public education. Huberty warned that without HB 21, the budget would effectively fund $140 less per pupil and there would be no plan for dealing with the expiration of ASATR.

Noting he has had numerous meetings with stakeholders, Huberty suggested hardship grants for districts losing ASATR could be stair-stepped. Additional transportation funding could be capped at five percent of the total spend, Chapter 41 districts at 15 percent and ASATR at 80 percent, or $100 million in 2018 and $60 million in 2019. Discussing whether lawmakers should offer more or less flexibility regarding grant fund allocation, TEA recommended erring on the side of being more prescriptive in order to provide clear direction.

For the 327 school districts whose property taxes are maxed out at $1.17, the committee entertained testimony suggesting raising the yield on “copper pennies.” It’s important to note that the more the state spends on public education in general, the less school districts will be forced to rely on local homeowners for funding. In other words, real property tax relief – not the bumper sticker kind, but meaningful relief – begins with putting more state money into public education.

Concluding the hearing, Chairman Huberty signaled his intent to vote on a committee substitute at next Tuesday’s hearing. That meeting will focus on bills dealing with public school accountability, including “A though F.”

Voucher alert: Patrick’s priority bill to be heard Tuesday

NO VOUCHERSUPDATE: This post has been updated to reflect that SB 3, originally scheduled for a committee hearing on Thursday, March 16, will be heard instead on Tuesday, March 21.

The Senate Education Committee will hear Senate Bill (SB) 3, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s priority voucher bill authored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), Thursday Tuesday, March 21, at 9 a.m. The bill has been referred to as a “school voucher on steroids,” because it contains not one, but two forms of vouchers.

The bill sets up two different voucher programs: An education savings account (ESA) and a tax credit scholarship. One funnels public tax dollars through parents while the other allows a private vendor to redirect taxpayer money, but the result is the same. Under both, public tax dollars are sent to private entities without public oversight, transparency, or accountability. (My colleague, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter, has a thorough run-down of the bill and both proposed voucher programs here.)

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1ATPE will oppose SB 3, as we do all efforts to privatize public education and redirect needed taxpayer dollars to private or home schools, but your voice must be heard too! ATPE members can log on to Advocacy Central to inform their legislators of their opposition to SB 3 and encourage committee members to vote against the legislation.

Visit the Senate broadcasts page to watch the hearing live on Thursday or search the archived footage for a chance to catch the hearing at a later date. All educators with free time over spring break are encouraged to attend and register their opposition to SB 3!

From The Texas Tribune: Analysis: A window into who Texas legislators’ favorite employees are

Lawmakers want to stop deducting dues for union and non-union employee associations from state paychecks — but only for the employees they disagree with. 

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State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, the chairwoman of the Senate State Affairs Committee, listened to testimony during a Sept. 14, 2016, committee meeting. Photo: Marjorie Kamys Cotera

The union dues bill is a great example of the difference between an ideological piece of legislation and a case of lawmakers just picking favorites.

Texas allows state and government employees to deduct the dues for their unions and employee association from their paychecks — an automatic payment that improves collections and retains members for those groups and that saves the employees the trouble of writing checks or sending payments every month. It doesn’t cost the state anything; the groups that benefit pay the processing costs.

The governor had a line about stopping the practice in his state of the state speech a few weeks ago. The lieutenant governor put Sen. Joan Huffman’s legislation against the practice on his list of priorities, giving it a low number — Senate Bill 13 — and a fast ride through the process. The Senate State Affairs Committee voted it out on Thursday. The full Senate will get the next look. Two years ago, similar legislation passed in the Senate and then died in the House at the end of session.

Republicans like the bill, and it’s not hard to figure out why. It zings teacher and trade unions that often favor Democrats, and it’s a crowd-pleaser for conservative audiences. Groups like the Texas branch of the National Federation of Independent Business favor the legislation, too, saying the dues checkoff enables their legislative foes and has no public purpose.

Legislators are selective in their scorn: Some public employees are easier to kick than others.

But the bill wouldn’t end the practice of allowing public employees to pay their dues automatically through a payroll deduction — a detail that undermines the argument that this is about unburdening state and local payroll clerks.

Like the legislation that failed two years ago, Huffman’s bill would allow police, fire and emergency responders to keep their payroll deductions in place. Teachers would be cut out, as would prison guards, social workers and other public employees.

Legislators are selective in their scorn: Some public employees are easier to kick than others.

Lawmakers who don’t think the state ought to be collecting dues for employee unions and associations would be voting to end the practice. On the other hand, if you just want to bust unions and associations that tend to vote for the other party, outlaw it for them but leave your own supporters alone.

It’s a modern spoils bill, rewarding public employees thought to support the people in charge and punishing dissenters.

State law already prevents payroll deductions for political purposes — the union and non-union associations collecting these dues can’t use that money for the political action committees or for other political expenses. But the groups frankly admit that without the automatic payments, they’d lose some members. They like painless payments for the same reason streaming media companies and other subscription services like them: If people don’t have to write checks or consider payments every month, they’re more like to remain enrolled.

The debate is coming earlier in the session this time around, increasing chances that lawmakers will hear a full argument on the merits before the end of the session.

The exceptions could be the most interesting part of the fight. Instead of a straight-up argument over whether and when public workers should be allowed to sign up for payroll deductions for this or that, this is shaping up as a debate over which public workers should have the privilege — a debate over good eggs and bad eggs.

All lawmakers like first responders and want to be seen as supporting them. They all love education but some of them don’t like teachers, especially when they form groups that lobby on their behalf. Lots of lawmakers have remarkably low regard for their own employees, the workforce they deride as the bureaucracy.

When the session is over, voters will have a good look at how those groups rank with their lawmakers. Even if the dues bill passes, Texas will still have payroll deductions for union and non-union employee groups — but only for the groups that have found favor with or that are feared by the people in elected state office.

This isn’t about the paychecks. It’s about the politics.

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/02/17/analysis-window-who-texas-legislators-favorite-employees-are/.
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Senate committee hears from dozens opposed to payroll deduction bill

On Monday, Feb. 13, the Senate Committee on State Affairs, chaired by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), conducted a public hearing on Senate Bill (SB) 13, Huffman’s own bill to eliminate the rights of some public employees to use payroll deduction for voluntary association dues. Dozens of ATPE members traveled to Austin to attend the hearing. Among the many witnesses who testified against SB 13 were ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey, State President Julleen Bottoms, State Vice President Carl Garner, State Secretary Byron Hildebrand, and State Treasurer Tonja Grey.

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Early in the hearing, Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) questioned the bill’s author on why she chose to file a bill that would prohibit payroll deduction by some public employees (such as educators, correctional officers, and CPS workers) while exempting fire, police, and EMS employees from the prohibition. ”I just think it’s problematic to say this group of people does it this way and this group of people does it that way,” Sen. Estes said, noting that he would prefer to see a bill without an exception for first responders that would apply equally to all public employees. “Why?” Estes asked the bill’s author about the discriminatory impact of her bill.

 

In response to the questions from Estes and her other fellow senators, Chairwoman Huffman explained that she was comfortable excluding law enforcement and emergency personnel from the bill because they “serve the community… with great honor and distinction.” Huffman added that groups representing first responders don’t interfere with “business issues,” which was a complaint raised by a pair of business lobbyists who testified against SB 13.

It is not clear what type of “business interference” the supporters of this bill believe ATPE has been guilty of organizing. The examples cited by a representative of the National Federal of Independent Business (NFIB) were federal minimum wage and equal pay laws that she claimed unions were opposing nationally. ATPE has not taken a position on any such legislation in Washington, and ATPE’s Godsey pointed out in his testimony that our organization has been supportive of business. “We love small business,” Godsey emphasized to the committee. “We have never spent one dime lobbying against small business.”

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Sens. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) and Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) asked a number of questions during the hearing about why this bill was needed. They illustrated, for example, that no school board members or superintendents have complained about the current law requiring districts to let educators deduct association dues from their paychecks. Several of the teachers who testified during Monday’s hearing pointed out that their school leaders were supportive of leaving the current law alone and letting school employees continue the practice of using payroll deduction for their association dues. ATPE State President Bottoms, for example, noted that her own superintendent had even traveled to Austin Monday to support her appearance at the SB 13 hearing.

Although not a member of the committee, Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) also sat in on the hearing and  asked a number of questions about why the bill targets certain associations while allowing payroll deductions for other purposes, such as insurance premiums and taxes. ATPE appreciates the support of those senators from both parties who have taken issue with SB 13, principally for the discriminatory message that it sends to hardworking educators and the fact that the bill is wholly unnecessary. It solves no identified problems and does not produce any cost savings to the state. Interestingly, Chairwoman Huffman conceded during her opening remarks about SB 13 that there are no taxpayer costs associated with public employees using payroll deduction for their association dues. In admitting this, Huffman openly contradicted recent claims by both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott that this legislation would prevent “taxpayer resources” from being used to collect union dues.

While the committee heard testimony from numerous ATPE members and other educators on Monday, members of the law enforcement community were also on hand to express opposition to SB 13. Even though law enforcement officials are currently exempted from Huffman’s bill, they nevertheless urged lawmakers not to discriminate against teachers and expressed disappointment that the Senate was even hearing such a bill as SB 13. ATPE sincerely appreciates the support of police, fire, and EMS employee associations to defeat this unnecessary bill.

Click here to watch archived video of the hearing. Sen. Huffman’s introduction of SB 13 begins at the 13:45 mark during the broadcast. The testimony on this bill begins at 1:11:28 during the broadcast. Also, visit ATPE’s Facebook page for video highlights and links to news reports about the hearing. ATPE members are urged to continue calling and writing to their legislators about SB 13 and its House counterpart, House Bill 510. For additional resources on communicating with lawmakers, check out ATPE’s Advocacy Central.

Hearing

Speaker Straus announces House committee assignments

Today, Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) shared his much-anticipated announcement of committee assignments for the 85th Legislature.

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Rep. Dan Huberty

Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) will chair the House Public Education Committee, a post vacated by the retirement of former chairman Jimmie Don Aycock. Huberty has served on the committee since being first elected in 2011, and he previously served as a school board member for Humble ISD. ATPE looks forward to working with Chairman Huberty on education issues and appreciates the experience he brings to the position. We’re also looking forward to having Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) in the vice chairman’s role this session.

The House Appropriations Committee will be chaired by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Simonton). This is yet another leadership position that opened up with the retirement of former chairman John Otto. The committee oversees state funding issues, including the public education budget.

Chairman Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) will continue to oversee the House Committee on State Affairs, which is likely to hear anti-teacher bills to eliminate payroll deduction for educators this session. Another chair held over is Chairman Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi), who will lead the House Calendars Committee that plays an important role in getting bills through the legislative process. Chairman Dan Flynn (R-Van) continues in his role as chairman of the House Pensions Committee, overseeing many aspects of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS).

View the complete list of committee assignments here.

Dan Patrick’s voucher bill

Near the beginning of session before senators starting filing their bills, the lieutenant governor routinely reserves a block of the first fifteen to twenty bill numbers for high priorities. This year, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick reserved numbers one through thirty for his preferred bills. While Lt. Gov. Patrick cannot file bills himself, he works with various senators to carry what are unquestionably his priorities and marks them as such with one of his low bill numbers.

Vouchers have always been a top political priority for Lt. Gov. Patrick. This session, Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) is the state budget bill; SB 2 is the lieutenant governor’s tax relief bill; and third on the list, SB 3, is the lieutenant governor’s voucher bill.

SB 3 contains both an education savings account (ESA) and a tax credit scholarship. While each program funnels public tax dollars to private, non-transparent, and largely unaccountable education settings, making both programs clearly voucher programs, the mechanics of how they shift those dollars are separate and distinct. Here’s a more detailed look at each program contained in SB 3:

Dan Patrick’s ESA program:

The ESA program as proposed in SB 3 would apply to any child who either has been in the public school system during the preceding school year or has never been in the public school system but was born after September 1, 2012. It would give those children access to a bank account from which their parent or guardian can at their discretion pay for “educational expenditures” using a debit card. The amount that a child would receive under the program is dependent on two factors, household income and student disability. Here is an approximate breakdown based on a family of five (two parents, three kids):

  • A family with a household income over $105,118 would receive $5,510 for each eligible child.
  • A family with a household income under $105,118 would receive $6,888 for each eligible child.
  • A child who is eligible to participate in an ISD special education program or has a Section 504 designation would receive $8,266 regardless of household income.

The numbers above are based on a percentage of the average state and local public education funding a child receives in Texas, which is approximately $9,184*. That amount does not include federal funding; nor does it include additional weighted funding a student in the free or reduced price lunch program or a student identified as needing special education services may receive. For reference, the median household income in Texas is $55,653.

In every circumstance, a student receives less funding under an ESA program than the child would receive as a student of a public school.

As stated above in the ESA plan, parents may legally spend entitlement dollars on “educational expenditures.” These would include:

  • Tuition and fees at:
    • an accredited private school (ex. – IQA, Winston School);
    • a postsecondary educational institution; or
    • an online educational course or program (ex. – K-12 Inc.);
  • Textbooks or other instructional materials
    (Under an ESA neither the content nor quality of textbooks or instructional materials is publically vetted as they are for public schools. Here are examples of some texts that could be published using tax dollars under an ESA program for use in a non-public school: Sharia Law, Wicca, Young Earth Science.);
  • Curriculum
    (Much like textbooks, neither the quality nor content of curriculum is vetted under an ESA program. Here is an example of a commercially available curriculum program that could be paid for with public money under an ESA, although it would never be found in a public school - ATI (what is ATI);
  • Fees for classes or other educational services provided by a public school, if the classes or services do not qualify the child to be included in the school ’s average daily attendance;
  • Fees for services provided by a private tutor or teaching service (so vague it could cover almost anything);
  • Fees for educational therapies for a child with a disability;
  • Computer hardware and software and other technological devices, not to exceed in any year 10 percent of the total amount paid to the program participant’s account that year (ex. $551 – $826, multiplied by the number of children with a voucher, toward a new flat screen TV);
  • Fees for a nationally norm-referenced achievement test or examination, an assessment instrument adopted by the agency under Section 39.023, an advanced placement test or similar examination, or any examination related to college or university admission; and
  • Fees for the management of the participant’s account charged by a financial institution.

Swiping Credit CardSome parents will, of course, seek to cash in their student’s entitlement or directly spend the taxpayers’ money on unsanctioned purchases, such as rent, food, or even less scrupulous items. The primary means of deterring financial mismanagement on behalf the parent or guardian, assuming they get caught, is criminal prosecution. Having an incarcerated parent is not typically a precursor to improved academic performance.

The competing plan in SB 3 is a Tax Credit Scholarship.

Dan Patrick’s Tax Credit Scholarship program:

This part of SB 3 would allow an insurance company to redirect tax dollars out of state general revenue and into the coffers of a private vendor, which would then use those dollars to selectively grant scholarships for private schools. The bill also creates the bureaucratic framework under which the vendor would be awarded this lucrative administrative contract from the state.

Under SB 3, the Texas Comptroller would select a single 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity (such as a religious organization or private school operator) to serve as the states “Educational Assistance Organization” (EAO). In exchange for a 10% administrative fee retained on all the money it takes in, the EAO first receives dollars from insurance companies and issues those companies a receipt they can give to the comptroller for a dollar-for-dollar deduction on their taxes, up to half of their total tax bill. The EA then disperses those scholarships directly to private schools in accordance with SB 3. So for every $100 million the EAO takes in, it gets to keep $10 million in administrative fees right off the top. Additionally, the EAO can hold onto the money it collects for up to two years meaning that it could also quite easily invest that money (e.g. in a jumbo CD or other investment that carries virtually no risk) and collect yet another $1 -$3 million in profits off the earnings. All in all, this is a pretty good deal for the vendor that lands the contract.

The initial cap on the Tax Credit program in SB 3 is $100 million, but it would rise to approximately $260 million over the first 10 years and more than a billion dollars within 25 years. At that point, the EAO vendor would be able to draw approximately $130 million off the program annually.

Under the tax credit scholarship plan, the EAO vendor can make two different types of payments:

  • a scholarship payment of either 75 percent of average ADA ($6,888 for 2015-16) or 50 percent of average ADA ($4,592 for 2015-16); or
  • an educational expense assistance (EEA) payment of $500 (this amount increases by 5% each year).

An eligible student may be awarded both a scholarship payment and an educational assistance payment. In order to be eligible a student must meet the following eligibility requirements:

Income: The family’s income cannot exceed double the free or reduced lunch guidelines, which is $105,118 for our family of five.

The student must also:

  • be in foster care;
  • be in institutional care; or
  • have a parent on active duty in the military

Additionally, the student must:

  • have attended public school the preceding year;
  • have never attended public school, but be starting school in Texas for the first time (this could be a kindergarten student, first grader, or out of state/country student); or
  • be the sibling of an eligible student. (This would make students who had been attending a private school but who have a sibling who is eligible under the former bullets also eligible.)

Using 2015-16 numbers, a private school could be awarded a scholarship of $4,592 plus $500 in EEA money for a student from a family of five with an income between $78,839 and $105,118. A private school could be awarded a scholarship of $6,888 plus $500 in EEA money for a student from a family of five earning less than $78,839. Again for reference, the median household income in Texas is $55,653. A public school could be awarded $500 in EEA money for a student from a family earning less than $105,118. However there is no requirement, or even encouragement, in SB 3 to award any money to public school students.

Unlike SB 3′s ESA plan, these tax credit scholarships, don’t go to parents, but rather they go directly from the private EAO to the private school(s). This vendor preference and enhanced level of control have made this the voucher of choice for the Catholic Dioceses of Texas and its network of private religious schools, as well as for the Private School Association of Texas.

What if the Legislature were to pass both provisions of this bill?

NO VOUCHERS

If both of Gov. Patrick’s vouchers were to come to fruition under the current language of SB 3, many students would be eligible to double dip from both programs.

In any scenario, these vouchers are a reckless choice for the 85th legislature to pursue.

* There are many ways to calculate average state and local funding which result in variations in the total.

The latest on the misguided fight over educators’ payroll deduction

As ATPE has been reporting on Teach the Vote and atpe.org, two bills have been filed this session aimed at preventing educators from using payroll deduction for their association dues. They are House Bill 510 by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) and Senate Bill 13 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston). The legislation to ban payroll deduction has been declared a legislative priority by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). Dubbed an effort to keep the government from collecting “union dues,” these politically motivated bills actually have a greater impact on non-union professional entities such as ATPE. That’s why saving payroll deduction while educating lawmakers about the ugly political motives behind these bills is an ATPE legislative priority for 2017.

ATPE members should be familiar by now with the national movement to ban the use of payroll deduction by public employees. A controversial bill to keep school employees from using payroll deduction for their association dues, while allowing police, fire, and EMS workers to continue to payroll deduct their union dues, passed the Texas Senate in 2015 but never made it out of a House committee. This week, that same committee – the House Committee on State Affairs –shared its 2016 interim report, which includes a section on “union dues.” It’s an issue the committee was tasked with studying as an interim charge last year. The report notes that when the House State Affairs committee held a hearing on that bill last session, “Over 200 witnesses registered,” but only “17 were in support of the legislation.” The supporters of the 2015 bill included the same business groups who were invited to submit comments on the interim charge.

Excerpt from House State Affairs interim report

Excerpt from House State Affairs interim report

The House committee’s interim report summarizes arguments both for and against proposed legislation to ban payroll deduction, with supporters likening it to a taxpayer-funded “unfair political advantage” given to labor unions “that advocate against business in Texas” and “attack businesses that choose to remain union-free.” The report sums up arguments against the bills, including the facts that there is no cost to taxpayers since unions can be charged a fee for any dues collection-related costs and dues cannot be used for political contributions. The committee report concludes by acknowledging concerns about constitutionality of the legislation and notes that “one very essential question remains unanswered: What groups should be included in the bill, or, alternatively, what groups should be excluded from the bill?”

Knowing that a bill to ban payroll deductions would again be filed for consideration in 2017, the House State Affairs Committee’s ultimate recommendation on this interim charge was as follows: “The legislature should seek input about the policy rationale from both sides of the debate regarding the need for the law change and most importantly, what groups the bill should address.”

Clearly, the 85th legislature needs to hear from educators on why there is no actual need to change this law and no valid argument for taking away school employees’ right to use payroll deductions from their own wages as they choose.

ATPE members should explain to lawmakers why these bills are unnecessary, especially since no taxpayers dollars have ever been at risk as a result of the payroll deduction laws. Educators are also urged to ask their legislators why public school employees are the ones being targeted by these bills. If the proponents of these bills are truly concerned about unions that “attack businesses” and send their dues out of state to fund “anti-business policy campaigns,” as suggested by NFIB-TX in written testimony, then it makes no sense for them to pursue bills like SB 13 and HB 510 that punish groups such as ATPE, an organization not affiliated with any national union and a longtime supporter of right-to-work laws.

  • If you believe it’s unfair for lawmakers to single out educators for punishment because of their choices to join professional associations, then lawmakers need to hear from you.
  • If you think educators should be treated the same as other public employees like firefighters and police officers, then lawmakers need to hear from you.
  • If you are an educator who wants to continue to have options for managing your own money and believes the legislature has no business interfering with your personal choice to join a professional association, then lawmakers especially need to hear from you.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1ATPE members can log onto our website and use our tools at Advocacy Central to send quick messages to their legislators about this and other issues. We encourage you to call or write your legislators now, before these bills are on the move, and ask them to oppose this unnecessary legislation intended to silence the voices of the public education community. Let them know the facts behind payroll deduction and the people who would be affected by these bills if passed. If your representative or senator is one of the authors or co-authors supporting these bills, they still need to hear from you and understand that there are many voters who oppose the unfairly written SB 13 and HB 510.

Portrait of a young man with tape on mouth over colored backgroundToo often, the legislature makes decisions about public education based on input from non-educators. This could easily become another example of education laws and policies being steered by special interests outside of our school community because educators aren’t speaking up. And in this instance, if educators don’t speak up and oppose the ban on payroll deduction, their voices will carry far less weight in the future.

Texas Senate committee assignments for the 85th legislature

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick released his Senate committee assignments yesterday for the 85th Legislature.

As expected, Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) will continue to chair the Senate Education Committee, and Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville) will continue to serve as vice-chair. Senators Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), Brian Hughes (R-Mineola), and Carols Uresti (D-San Antonio) were added to the committee in lieu of Senators Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), and Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) who served on the committee last session but were not reappointed. The number of committee members stays the same, but the balance of power is tilted further toward Republicans who picked up a seat while Democrats lost one. Senators Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), Don Huffines (R-Dallas), Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), Van Taylor (R-Plano), and Royce West (D-Dallas) make up the remainder of the committee.

The Senate State Affairs Committee, which is expected to receive Lt. Gov. Patrick’s priority Senate Bill (SB) 13 to ban payroll deduction for educators, also maintains a chair in Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston), but newly elected Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) will take over as vice-chair. Chairwoman Huffman is the author of SB 13 and authored and passed out of her committee the same bill last session.

View all of the Senate committee assignments here.

 

Both chambers release versions of proposed Texas budget

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick confirmed yesterday that Senator Jane Nelson (R – Flower Mound) will continue to serve as the chair of the Senate Finance Committee for the 85th legislative session. Upon her reappointment, Sen. Nelson filed the Senate’s budget bill, Senate Bill 1.  SB 1 spends $103.6 billion in state revenue over the next two years, which is $1.3 billion less than the Comptroller’s 2018 and 2019 revenue projection.

The Senate issued a press release highlighting the fact that the budget includes “$2.65 billion to cover enrollment growth in public schools and $32 million more for high-quality pre-k programs.” This is $86 million less than the additional $118 million that would be needed to extend current pre-k funding to cover both years of the upcoming biennium.

Girl showing bank notesAs filed, SB 1 represents a continuation of current school funding formulas. However, according to the Senate press release, Nelson calls  “making sure the school finance system better meets the needs of students” a critical decision to be made by lawmakers this session.

Other specific items outlined in the budget per the SB 1 press release include:

  • $1 billion to address state hospital and mental health facility needs;
  • $63 million to clear the waitlist for community mental health services;
  • $20 million for a program to help veterans dealing with PTSD or other mental health issues;
  • $260 million to improve Child Protective Services;
  • $25 million for high caliber bulletproof vests for Texas law enforcement officers;
  • $800 million for border security measures approved last session; and
  • A 1.5 percent across-the-board spending reduction for all expenditures not related to public education.

The Senate press release on SB 1 can be found here.

On the House side, Speaker Joe Straus has not yet named which representative will replace former Rep. John Otto (R – Dayton) as the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Otto did not seek re-election in 2016. Still, the House did release its version of a plan for the base budget yesterday, too. The Speaker’s press release touts the House budget plan as one that “puts additional resources into public education, child protection and mental health while increasing state spending by less than 1 percent.”

The House budget proposal:

  • Funds enrollment growth of about 165,000 students over the next two years;
  • Includes an additional $1.5 billion for public education that is contingent upon the passage of legislation that reduces recapture and improves equity in the school finance system; and
  • Includes $108.9 billion in general revenue.

The Speaker’s press release can be found here.