It’s time for our weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE’s Governmental Relations team:
This week the Senate Education Committee approved a sweeping voucher bill that would provide corporate tax credits to help fund private education and allow parents to receive public tax dollars to be used for private or home school expenses. Senate Bill (SB) 3 by Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) is one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top three priorities for the 85th Legislature to pass.
ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying
On Tuesday, March 21, the committee spent 10 hours listening to witnesses on both sides of the voucher debate. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified against SB 3. Read more about the hearing and our testimony in this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann. The SB 3 hearing had originally been scheduled for the previous week during which many public school educators and students would have been on spring break. Fearing that a larger contingency of pro-public education witnesses would come to the hearing to testify against SB 3, the hearing was postponed to this Tuesday instead.
The Senate Education Committee met again Thursday, March 23, to vote on pending bills, including SB 3. Chairman Taylor shared a new committee substitute version of the bill, which modified the language in an effort to reduce the bill’s massive fiscal note. The new version tightens up qualifications for some providers of education services such as tutoring that could be funded via the bill; removes automatic funding increases for the corporate tax credits, and changes the Education Savings Account (ESA) program to give parents access to an online payment portal instead of a debit card. While the switch to an online portal could make it less likely for parents to use ESA funds for illegitimate purposes, it also creates a potential new hurdle for rural or low-income parents with limited internet access. The committee voted to send the new substitute version of SB 3 to the full Senate by a vote of 7 to 3.
Sens. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), Royce West (D-Dallas), and Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) voted against SB 3 after expressing concerns about the voucher bill. Sen. West pressed representatives of the Legislative Budget Board for details on the bill’s negative fiscal impact to the state. Sen. Seliger observed that SB 3 would most likely have the largest fiscal note of any bill approved by a Senate committee other than the Finance committee, which hears budget bills. Seliger went on to raise alarms about the lack of accountability provisions for private entities that would benefit from the voucher money and the likelihood that SB 3 would lead to state funds being spent on indoctrinating students through religious institutions.
The only Democrat on the committee who voted for SB 3 was the vice-chairman, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville). He was joined by Chairman Taylor and Sens. Van Taylor (R-Plano), Bob Hall (R-Canton), Don Huffines (R-Dallas), Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), and Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). Sen. Donna Campbell (R-San Antonio) was not present during the committee’s vote.
It is not clear whether there are enough votes in the Senate to bring SB 3 up for a floor vote in the near future, which requires three-fifths of senators present to agree to hear the bill. We encourage ATPE members to keep contacting their senators about opposing SB 3 and other bad bills such as the legislation to eliminate educators’ right to use payroll deduction. Find sample messages and other communication tools at Advocacy Central.
Related: Other bills getting a favorable vote from the Senate Education Committee yesterday were SB 579 by Sen. Van Taylor regarding the use of epi-pens in private schools, SB 826 by Chairman Larry Taylor dealing with the sequencing of high school math and English courses, and a committee substitute to SB 490 by Sen. Lucio that requires districts to report the number of school counselors providing counseling services at a campus.
While the Senate Education Committee devoted its attention this week almost entirely to the private school voucher bill, the House Public Education Committee and its Subcommittee on Educator Quality heard a number of bills this week dealing with issues such as testing and accountability, educator misconduct, and improving school finance.
ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifying
First, the subcommittee met on Monday, March 20, to hear bills pertaining to educator misconduct, certification, and the benefits of mentoring for new teachers. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified at the hearing and penned a blog post this week summarizing the discussions. The subcommittee will meet again on Monday, March 27, to hear additional bills on educator misconduct, including SB 7 that has already passed the Senate.
On Tuesday, March 21, the full House Public Education Committee conducted a hearing that was almost as long as the Senate’s voucher hearing, but the House committee discussed some two dozen bills, most relating to state standardized testing and how schools are rated under our accountability system. Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) House Bill (HB) 22 was the most high-profile bill heard, and ATPE testified for the bill. Check out this blog post from Mark Wiggins for complete details on the hearing, including a list of smaller bills that were voted out favorably.
Next week, the House Public Education Committee is turning its attention to charter schools with a hearing Tuesday, March 28, mostly on bills pertaining to funding, facilities, and authorization of charters. The committee will also hear additional testimony on Chairman Huberty’s school finance reform bill, HB 21, for which a committee substitute is expected to be released next week. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote next week for updates.
Tomorrow, March 25, is the Save Texas Schools rally at the Texas State Capitol. Supporters of public education are encouraged to attend the event that starts at 10 a.m. and will feature appearances by legislators, remarks by Superintendent John Kuhn who also spoke during ATPE at the Capitol, and student performances. Visit savetxschools.org for more information.
This week the Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved SB 1, the state budget bill. The full Senate is expected to debate the budget on the floor next Tuesday. For details on the Senate’s proposal for funding state services during the next two years, read this week’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.
In national news this week, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued a landmark ruling in the case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, which focused attention on how school districts must accommodate students with disabilities under federal law. The lawsuit was brought by the family of a student with autism who felt that the public school’s individualized education program (IEP) did not meet the student’s needs and wanted funding for private education instead. At issue was the extent to which an IEP must produce educational benefits for the student in order for the school district to be considered compliant with the law.
The unanimous SCOTUS ruling is expected to spur school districts to do more for students with disabilities, but the decision was also newsworthy because of the fact that it overturns prior lower court rulings, including one 10th Circuit appellate decision written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, now going through U.S. Senate confirmation for a seat on the nation’s highest court.
ATPE will have more on the ruling and what it means for special education programs in public schools next week on our blog.
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