Tag Archives: Paul Bettencourt

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 17, 2017

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Here’s a look at this week’s education news from ATPE:

17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_ATC_1217-49_StopVouchersOn Tuesday, March 21, the Senate Education Committee will hear Senate Bill (SB) 3, a voucher bill by the committee’s chairman Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). The bill is among the lieutenant governor’s highest priorities to pass this legislative session, and educators are being urged to contact their senators to oppose this bill. ATPE members can use our communication tools at Advocacy Central to quickly message their senators about this bill.

NO VOUCHERSAs reported by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann in a blog post earlier this week, SB 3 has been called a “school voucher on steroids,” because it authorizes both Education Savings Account (ESA) vouchers for parents to spend on their children’s home or private schooling and tax credit scholarships to pay for private schools. To learn more about the dangers of these two programs, check out ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter’s recent analysis of the bill here.

The Senate Education Committee had originally planned to hear SB 3 this week, but the voucher bill was postponed to next Tuesday. During yesterday’s hearing, the committee instead heard testimony on three bills pertaining to reporting on counselors, the use of epinephrine auto-injectors (epi-pens) in private schools, and the sequencing of high school math and English courses. ATPE supported SB 490 that requires districts to report the number of school counselors providing counseling services at a campus, which is aimed at collecting data on counseling in order to better understand the role counselors play on a campus.


HPE_03-14-17On Tuesday, March 14, the House Public Education Committee heard a number of bills, as reported by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins in a blog post this week. ATPE weighed in on a number of the bills that included such subjects as curriculum standards, pre-kindergarten programs, and the school start date.

Next week, the committee’s Subcommittee on Educator Quality will meet Monday, March 20, to consider bills pertaining to educator misconduct, certification, and the importance of high-quality mentoring for new teachers. The full committee’s hearing on Tuesday, March 21, will cover two dozen bills, including a number of measures aimed at changing the state’s accountability system. The highest profile bill on that list is House Bill (HB) 22 by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) to modify the controversial “A through F” accountability grading system. The committee also plans to resume its discussion of the chairman’s school finance reform bill, HB 21.


cutting budget with scissor on wooden backgroundAlso this week, Congress got its first formal look at President Trump’s proposal for the next federal budget. As expected, the 2018 budget proposal includes significant cuts to education funding as a whole and significant increases to initiatives preferred by the president. Trump’s plan includes an overall $9 billion in cuts to the U.S. Department of Education while a total of $1.4 billion would be added to fund charter school expansion, Title I funding portability, and likely vouchers. Read more about President Trump’s budget proposal as well as the latest developments involving the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s most recent federal update blog post.


As the both chambers of the 85th Legislature continue to work on their respective budget proposals, the full Senate Finance committee met this week to adopt the suggestions of its subject area work groups, including the Article III work group on public and higher education.

The full Senate Finance Committee cut an additional 276 million net dollars in programmatic and grant funding out of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) budget. Those cuts are in addition to programmatic cuts not related to the Foundation School Program (FSP) already found in the Senate’s base budget bill as filed. The largest cuts were a net cut of $140 million from non-formula pre-K funding, $104.6 million out of the Instructional Materials Allotment, and $47.5 million from the New Instructional Facilities Allotment. The cuts to all other programs in TEA’s budget totaled approximately $37 million and included things like substantial cuts to the Math and Reading Academies.

The Senate did add dollars to some TEA programs above its introduced budget. The additions totaled approximately $50 million and included items like $25.2 million for the E-rate program that will draw down a $250 million federal match to provide broadband to school districts currently lacking it; $391,000 on two additional investigators and one support staff member to address cases of inappropriate relationships between educators and students investigated by TEA; and $10 million restored to the Student Success Initiative, which had been zeroed out in the introduced budget.

While TEA program and grant funding took the largest cuts ($276 million) this week, TRS got the biggest boost, a net increase of $290 million over the Senate’s introduced bill after additions and cuts. The Senate added $316 million in funding for TRS-Care contingent on the passage of legislation that makes significant structural changes to the retiree healthcare plans.

Meanwhile, the House adopted very few changes to its version of the proposed public education budget this week, but did adopt one very important contingency rider. That rider would allow an additional $1.47 billion of General Revenue to be appropriated to the FSP; for the Basic Allotment to be increased from $5,140 to $5,350; and for implementation of a statutory FSP payment deferral in fiscal year 2019 which reduces the cost of the budget by $1.87 billion. The rider is contingent on the passage of school finance legislation such as Rep. Dan Huberty’s HB 21 plus a bill that would enact the FSP deferral. ATPE has advocated for such a deferral to help address budget deficits this session.

Gary G. Godsey

Gary G. Godsey

Related: Read a recently published op-ed by ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey, in which he urges lawmakers to consider using the state’s rainy day fund to address imminent education funding needs.

Also check out this Spectrum News story in which ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter is interviewed about the Senate’s proposed pre-K cuts.


In other news this week:

The Texas Senate passed another of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s legislative priorities through Senate Bill (SB) 6. The controversial bill by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) to regulate bathroom usage policies of school districts and other governmental entities was approved by a vote of 21-10, despite considerable public opposition to the measure.

Among the flurry of new bills filed just before last Friday’s deadline for lawmakers to submit new legislation were two TRS-related bills that have caused a minor stir on social media. Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s (R-Houston) SB 1750 and SB 1751 revive the concept of converting the TRS defined-benefit pension plan in the future to a defined contribution program, more like a 401(k) plan, or a hybrid of the two. The first bill calls only for an interim study of the idea, while the second bill would authorize TRS and ERS (the agency overseeing a similar pension plan for state employees) to create such a program as an alternative for new employees. At this point, there are no indications that SB 1751 will gain traction this session when lawmakers are much more focused on the funding challenges associated with the TRS healthcare programs. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was interviewed about the bill this week by Spectrum News.

Donna Bahorich

Donna Bahorich

The Senate also voted unanimously this week to confirm Donna Bahorich’s continuation as chair of the State Board of Education (SBOE). Bahorich was first elected to the SBOE in 2012, and she has held the role of board chair, a gubernatorial appointment, since 2015. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath was also confirmed.


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Senate committee to hear voucher bills this Thursday

The Senate Education Committee will meet at 8 a.m. this Thursday morning, March 26, and plans to consider a number of private school voucher bills that have been filed this session. The following voucher bills are scheduled to be heard on Thursday:

Senate Bill (SB) 4 by Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). The bill is co-authored by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-San Antonio) and freshman Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). SB 4 is the major school voucher bill being promoted by the Senate leadership, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). It provides for both tax credits to educational assistance organizations that pay scholarships for students to attend private schools and also education tuition grants to be awarded to parents of eligible children attending private schools. Eligible students include those entering kindergarten or first grade, those in foster or institutional care, and those in families with household income that is equal to or less than 150 percent of the standard for qualifying for free or reduced lunch. As filed, the bill provides that grants paid to parents and scholarships paid by educational assistance organizations could not exceed 75 percent of the state’s average per-pupil spending. The total tax credits awarded by the state would be capped at $50 million per fiscal year. There is also language in the bill restricting state regulation of participating private schools.

SB 276 by Sen. Campbell would create a “taxpayer savings grant program” that is supposed to result in “state savings and government efficiency.” The bill would create a private school voucher in the traditional sense by offering parents reimbursement of tuition paid for their children to attend private schools. The reimbursements would come out of the state coffers and would amount to the lesser of the actual tuition or 60 percent of the state’s average per-pupil expenditure in the public schools.

SB 642 by Sen. Bettencourt calls for “a franchise or insurance premium tax credit for contributions made to certain educational assistance organizations.” Similar to the organizations included in Chairman Taylor’s SB 4, the “assistance organizations” mentioned in this bill are private entities that would receive tax credits from the state in exchange for providing scholarships for students to attend public or private schools. Bettencourt’s bill was originally referred to the Senate Finance Committee and then transferred to the Senate Education Committee.

SB 1178 filed by another freshman, Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas), sets up a voucher program through the use of education savings accounts for students attending private or home schools. Under this bill, the state would give parents access to public funds in a bank account, which could be withdrawn via a debit card and used to pay for private school tuition and fees, private tutoring, or various costs associated with home schooling their children. Participation would be limited with a preference given to educationally disadvantaged students or those with disabilities. Participating students would have to take tests annually and have their results reported to TEA, and the commissioner of education would establish rules to kick students out of the voucher program if they fail to “demonstrate satisfactory academic progress” as determined by the commissioner. The bill imposes some accreditation requirements and restrictions on private school admission policies but largely prohibits the state from attempting to regulate the private schools, tutors, or other providers participating in the voucher program. UPDATE: As of March 25, this bill has been removed from the committee’s agenda for the March 26 hearing.

ATPE will oppose these bills and any efforts to direct taxpayer dollars that are needed for public education to private or home schools. Visit our page called “The Issues” to read more about these and other voucher bills and ATPE’s opposition to privatization in general. To watch live video of the hearing, click here on Thursday or search the same site for archived video shortly after the hearing.