Tag Archives: Jane Nelson

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.

Senate Bill 1: The budget’s starting point

Background with money american hundred dollar billsThe Senate Finance Committee this week began a string of meetings to flesh out plans for a Texas state budget for the next two years. Following an organizational meeting on Monday, the committee began hearing testimony Tuesday on Article III of the budget, which includes public education. Both in her written statement and over and over again in comments during Monday’s and Tuesday’s hearings, committee chairwoman Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) called Senate Bill (SB) 1 a “starting point” from which the senators on the finance committee, and eventually the entire Senate, can work to produce the Senate’s eventual budget proposal.

So where did Chairwoman Nelson and her colleagues start?

On Monday, Nelson began by laying out a budget that spends roughly $3 billion less in general revenue than its predecessor over the last biennium (House Bill 1 of 2015) and $4-6 billion less than would be needed to maintain the level of services funded during the current biennium considering inflation and population growth. She also started lowering expectations by laying out a budget proposal that spends about a billion dollars less than the revenue the state is projected to bring in, according to the comptroller.

While the numbers were not promising, the chairwoman also started the process by announcing two work groups that would be tasked with proposing solutions for two of the state’s most pressing budgetary and policy trouble areas, school finance and the out-of-control cost of health care. The two areas of the budget that these issues impact account for more than 85 percent of the state’s discretionary budget.

On Tuesday, the actual work of going through the budget one agency at a time began. First up; Texas Education Agency (TEA), which includes the $42 billion Foundation School Program (FSP), followed by the Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS), and Texas’s schools for the visually impaired and the deaf.

Several members of the committee spent the majority of Tuesday morning trying to prove, while convincing no one, several points: (1) That the state is not under-funding education; (2) thet neither local property taxes nor recapture dollars have been spent outside of the education budget; and (3) that high property taxes and the disparity between significant increases in local revenue dedicated to education versus much smaller increases in state revenue going to education should be blamed on local tax assessors and school boards, not the legislature. The committee also heard from TEA staff about spending on the various projects administered by the agency outside the Foundation School Program. Many of these standalone programs are funded at levels below the current biennium, and several have been zeroed out completely in the base budget.

Tuesday afternoon, the committee heard from the Commissioner of Education and from executive directors of TRS, the Texas School for the Visually Impaired, and the Texas School for the Deaf. Each presented their exceptional items, budget requests above and beyond the agencies’ base budget needs. Brian Guthrie, the executive director of TRS, had the most challenging reception from the senators, several of whom would like to abandon Texas’s defined benefit pension system and replace it with a defined contribution 401(k)-style system that would both reduce state liability and result in increased profits for wealthy campaign donors. Ultimately, Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) redirected questioning away from the TRS pension trust fund, which is in reasonably good health, and toward the separate TRS-Care health insurance fund, which over the years has become unsustainable in its current form and will run out of money in the upcoming biennium without significant structural changes and increased funding.

After the committee concluded the testimony from the state agency heads, they heard public testimony, including from ATPE. In addition to a general plea for prioritizing education spending, we requested the committee’s consideration in three specific areas. First, we asked that the senate approve TEA’s full funding request of $236 million for the high quality pre-kindergarten grant created last session, for which the current draft of SB 1 provides only $150 million. Second, we asked that the legislature increase state funding for health insurance for active educators. The state has not increased its share of funding for TRS-ActiveCare since that program began in 2001, and funding that was once in line with what private employers provide is now far less than the private market and woefully inadequate. Finally, ATPE echoed much of the rest of the education community in requesting that additional school property tax revenue collected due to increased property values be used to increase the education budget instead of being used to replace state dollars that legislators want to spend elsewhere – in other words, the concepts of “supplement not supplant” and property tax transparency.

If this was the Senate’s starting point, what are the next steps?

Today, Jan. 27, the work group tasked with reimagining the school finance system will meet for the first of what will likely be several times. It is a joint meeting with the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). They will be taking invited testimony from several stakeholder and school finance experts. At some point in the coming weeks, the Article III (education) subcommittee will also meet and begin to negotiate potential changes from the base budget. The work of these two groups will eventually inform both the budget and a separate school finance bill that would then have to be negotiated with the House, before a final budget and possibly and school finance bill finally makes its way to the governor’s desk.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and atpe.org/advocacy for updates as the budget-writing process continues.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 20, 2017

Here are education news highlights for this Inauguration Day edition of our wrap-up:


 

President Donald J. Trump took the oath of office today on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Immediately upon being sworn in as the nation’s 45th president, Trump gave a rather nontraditional inauguration speech more reminiscent of his days on the campaign trail, painting a bleak picture of the current state of U.S. economic affairs and vowing to help America “win again.” On education, Trump made reference to “an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” Media pundits were quick to respond that measures such as graduation rates have generally shown improvement despite the fact that a majority of states have decreased their education spending in recent years.

The inauguration festivities this weekend cap off a busy week in Washington, where Trump’s cabinet picks have been undergoing confirmation hearings on the hill. Former Texas governor Rick Perry, nominated to head the U.S. Department of Energy, fielded questions yesterday during a low-key and noncontroversial session with the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is expected to face little resistance to his confirmation. The same cannot be said of Trump’s pick to lead the Education Department (ED). Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos failed to temper growing fears at her confirmation hearing earlier this week. The hearing was held late Tuesday in the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. While HELP Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) praised her nomination and his Republican colleagues on the committee seemed in step with advancing her nomination as early as next week, Democrats expressed serious concerns.

As reported by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann in her full report of this week’s hearing, the questions DeVos refused to answer, or in some cases couldn’t answer, are getting the most attention. She failed to promise to preserve funding for public schools and expressed confusion over the nation’s special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Not surprisingly, she also dug in hard on her support for vouchers, refusing to tie apples-to-apples accountability and reporting requirements to public money sent to schools outside of the traditional public school system.

A mandatory ethics review on DeVos was also released today. The review identified 102 potential financial conflicts of interest, from which she has agreed to disassociate. Senators will have until Tuesday to look over information on these conflicts of interest; the committee’s vote is expected to be held that day. Look for more from Kate on the vote and the ethics review next week.

Following the hearing, concerns about DeVos grew outside of the Capitol as well, and the expressed dissatisfaction for her nomination grew significantly on social media. Texans can call or write their senators to register their disapproval for DeVos’s nomination. ATPE members, log in to Advocacy Central to access contact information for Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) if you’d like to send a quick message to your senators about Betsy DeVos.

 


U.S. Dept of Education LogoThe U.S. Education Department (ED) wrapped up its final days under the Obama administration this week. As we have been reporting on Teach the Vote, it is the department expected to be headed up soon by billionaire Betsy DeVos, who despite nationwide opposition from the education community has ample Republican support to achieve more than the votes needed for Senate confirmation. In the meantime, though, there will be a very temporary change in leadership at ED. It was announced this week that Phil Rosenfelt, the deputy general counsel for ED, will be the acting secretary between the end of Secretary John King’s term as of today, and the confirmation of ED’s next secretary.

In his final week of work, Secretary King oversaw the issuance of two new non-binding guidance documents (find those here and here) and withdrawal of the controversial proposed rule on “supplement, not supplant.” The latter is a piece of federal law that requires states to show that federal money is only used to bolster a state’s education budget, not replacing any dollars that would otherwise be dedicated to education. ED’s interpretation of the law as it was slightly altered under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) altered the way states must demonstrate compliance. While the department compromised on many elements of the original proposal as it progressed through the rulemaking process, the latest version still garnered considerable disagreement among stakeholders. Most expected the rule to face elimination under the Trump administration. The department explained that it simply ran out of time under the current administration.

 


Earlier this week, Texas Senate and House leaders shared details on their respective plans for writing the state budget to cover the next two years. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter shared highlights of the two proposals in a blog post earlier this week. The Senate Finance Committee, chaired once again by Sen. Jane Nelson (R – Flower Mound), will commence hearings on its budget bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, next week. The committee is slated to begin taking testimony Tuesday on Article III, the portion of the budget that covers public education, and ATPE’s Exter will be there to share our input. Watch for more coverage of the budget hearings next week on Teach the Vote.

Dollar fanThe House budget proposal calls for spending a bit more money on public education than the Senate’s version, and leaders on the House side have even expressed interest in looking to the state’s Economic Stabilization (“Rainy Day”) Fund for additional resources this session. The House plan includes contingency language that would authorize an extra $1.5 billion for public education if the 85th Legislature passes a school finance bill that reduces recapture and improves equity. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins writes for our blog today, increasing the state’s share of education funding is the key to lowering property tax burdens at the local level, and that is expected to be a prominent talking point during Tuesday’s budget hearing.

 


The first major private school voucher legislation was filed this week. Senate Bill (SB) 542 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, and its companion House Bill (HB) 1184 by Rep. Dwayne Bohac, are a rehash of the tax credit scholarship legislation filed last session by Bettencourt, Bohac, and others. The tax credits for funding scholarships to be used at private schools are one of several varieties of private school voucher that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and like-minded senators have been pushing for multiple sessions. While a related voucher bill did pass the Senate in 2015 with significant assistance from the lieutenant governor, Bettencourt and others pushing for privatization found little appetite for vouchers in the House.

ATPE circulated this letter to lawmakers in 2015 opposing similar, though not identical, tax credit voucher bills in the 84th session. ATPE continues to oppose this and all forms of voucher legislation during the 85th legislative session and urges lawmakers in both chambers to do the same this year. For a preview of what is likely to the session’s other primary voucher vehicle, Education Savings Accounts, check out ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter’s recent blog post, ESAs: A Bad Deal for Students in Need.

CPS square logoRelated: The anti-voucher Coalition for Public Schools, of which ATPE is a member, will hold a legislative briefing and press conference on Monday, Jan. 23. A pro-voucher rally sponsored by Texans for Education Opportunity, Aspire Texas, and other groups is happening Tuesday at the capitol in connection with National School Choice Week.

 


Sen. Larry Taylor

Sen. Larry Taylor

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced his Senate committee assignments for the 85th Legislature this week. There were few changes from last session in terms of committee leadership, with Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) continuing to oversee the Senate Education Committee and Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) again chairing the Senate Finance Committee that will write the state’s budget. Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) stays on as chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee, where her bill to take away educators’ right to payroll deduction for their association dues is expected to be heard.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) will no longer serve on the Senate Education Committee, having been tapped instead to chair the Senate Committee on Administration. She is one of three senators from last session’s education committee roster being replaced; also gone are Sens. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) and Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso). The new senators joining the education committee this year are Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), Brian Hughes (R-Mineola), and Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio). These appointments reflect the lieutenant governor’s decision to change the Republican-Democratic split on the committee from 7-4 back in 2015 to its new party breakdown of 8-3. Patrick also stacked the committee with several supporters of privatization, hoping to clear a path for his priority voucher legislation to move quickly through the Senate.

For more on the Senate committee announcement and a link to the full roster, check out this week’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann. House committee assignments have not yet been released.

 


17_web_Spotlight_ATC_RegistrationOpenFinally, ATPE members are reminded to register for ATPE at the Capitol, our upcoming political involvement training and lobby day event in March. This is the best chance for educators to learn more about the high-profile education bills being deliberated this session with presentations from ATPE’s lobbyists and legislative leaders like Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor. Best of all, ATPE members will be empowered to add their voices to the debate, meeting with their lawmakers face-to-face on Monday, March 6, at the Texas State Capitol. The registration deadline is Feb. 3, and complete details for ATPE at the Capitol are available on our website 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.

More legislators express support for funding retired educators’ healthcare

As we reported yesterday, Rep. John Otto (R-Dayton), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, announced this week that the House budget will contain full funding for TRS-Care, the health insurance program for retired educators.

Soon thereafter, Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), who chairs the corresponding Senate Finance Committee, was quoted as saying, “It is important to several members, myself included, that we devote resources to TRS-Care and our teachers. The Senate Finance Committee is working very hard on these and other budget issues.”

Today, Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van), who chairs the House Committee on Pensions that oversees the Teacher Retirement System, joined the chorus of legislators pledging support for increasing educators’ healthcare funding. Flynn stated in part, “I am glad that the House is going to address the shortage of funding for retiree health care over the next two years as we continue to assess long-term solutions in my committee for those who served our state and our school children for so many years.”

House budget leader: Retirees’ healthcare will be fully funded

House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Otto (R-Dayton) announced this morning that the House budget will contain full funding for the program that provides health insurance to retired public school employees, TRS-Care.

TRS-Care covers more than 240,000 retired education employees and is projected to run out of funding in 2016 if the state does not intervene. Although it is still very early in the process of developing the state budget, Chairman Otto’s pledge means that $768 million will be included in the House version of the state’s 2016-17 budget. The Senate’s version of the budget does not currently include this amount; however, Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) has indicated that she is willing to work toward finding a solution to the funding crisis.

ATPE has testified in front of both the House and Senate budget committees this session calling upon the state to act now to increase funding for both active educators’ and retirees’ health insurance programs. Increasing healthcare funding was also one of the legislative priorities discussed at ATPE’s Political Involvement Training and Lobby Day activities earlier this week. Many ATPE members visited the Capitol on Monday to share ATPE’s message about the need to properly fund TRS-Care and ActiveCare.

Both programs are facing financial problems largely because state funding for both TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare has seriously lagged the actual cost of coverage and typical employer contribution rates. Active education employees’ health insurance funding from the state has not changed since 2001, remaining at $75 per employee per month. State funding for retirees’ health insurance was temporarily reduced in 2011 and has not followed health insurance trends.

The state budget is not expected to be finalized until May, so there are still many weeks of negotiations left. ATPE will continue delivering the message that it is vital that these programs be properly addressed by the state. We encourage each of you to contact your elected officials to share your personal experience as an educator dealing with employee health insurance costs, and urge the state to increase its contributions to both programs.