The clock is ticking on the 84th legislative session. Here’s the latest news on the following legislation we are following closely:
- “A through F” school ratings
- Other bills in the Senate Education Committee today
- Payroll deduction bill
- State budget
- Bills in the House Public Education Committee today
- Early childhood education bills
- Bills in jeopardy
Earlier today the Senate Education Committee heard HB 2804 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R). ATPE Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg testified against the bill this morning. He explained to the committee that the bill contains accountability provisions that ATPE supports but that we cannot support HB 2804 in its current form because of its language requiring “A through F” accountability grades to be used for campus ratings. Gregg said it was “egregious and wrong” to refer to students as failing. ATPE also submitted as written testimony a copy of a column penned by ATPE Governmental Relations Manager Jennifer Canaday for the Summer 2015 issue of ATPE News. In the article entitled “The Failed Rhetoric of Failing Schools,” Canaday contends that “stigmatizing children” by labeling their schools as failing ‘”does nothing to support them or the educators working on their behalf.”
This evening the committee voted out a substitute version of the “A-F” bill. The vote was unanimous, although Sens. Royce West (D) and Sylvia Garcia (D) stated that they were “begrudgingly” voting for HB 2804. The committee also recommended that the new version of HB 2804 be placed on the Senate’s special “local” calendar for uncontested bills, a rather surprising move considering the opposition the bill has faced from many stakeholders.
The Senate Education Committee also heard today HB 2811 by Rep. Ken King (R) relating to curriculum standards and instructional materials and HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) dealing with interventions and sanctions for low-performing schools. The committee is proposing a comprehensive substitute for HB 1842, and because of its length, Chairman Larry Taylor (R) advised the the committee would not attempt to vote out the bill until tomorrow. HB 2811 was approved by the committee this evening. A late addition to the committee’s agenda for today was HB 1431 by Rep. Susan King (R) which calls for development of an industry-related course to train students to communicate in a language other than English for business purposes. The committee voted out that bill with a favorable recommendation, along with HB 2186 by Rep. Byron Cook (R), the ATPE-backed suicide prevention training bill for educators. Among other pending bills that the committee voted out today were Rep. Gary VanDeaver’s (R) bill eliminating the STAAR test for writing, HB 1164, and Rep. Dan Huberty’s (R) HB 743 pertaining to testing and curriculum standards; ATPE has supported both of those bills.
The House Committee on State Affairs held a limited public hearing today on SB 1968 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R), a bill eliminating the payroll deduction option for school and state employees to pay voluntary dues to a professional association. ATPE opposes the bill. Rep. Byron Cook (R), the committee’s chairman, allowed only a couple hours for the hearing, which meant that many of the witnesses who signed up to testify – including ATPE’s Brock Gregg – were unable to do so. While the limitations on testimony upset some members of the committee, Cook stated that he was trying to strike a balance between “folks who think we’re going too slow and folks who think we’re going too fast” in considering SB 1968. Cook called the bill poorly drafted and said that SB 1968 had “languished in the Senate,” had arrived in the House “very flawed,” and would be subject to “a valid point of order” that would kill the bill if his committee sent it to the House floor as written. After hearing two hours of testimony, Cook announced that the committee was adjourning and leaving the bill pending. At this point, no plans have been announced for the committee to meet again prior to Saturday’s deadline for bills to be voted upon and reported out of House committees.
Pieces of the budget puzzle are being filled out as the end of session nears. Conference committee meetings are continuing today on HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R), which is the state’s budget bill. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson reports that the committee is recommending $1.5 billion in new funding for public education, which is far less than the amount the House had proposed in its version of the budget. HB 1 is the only bill the legislature must pass in order to avoid a special session. A deal between the House and Senate hinged on reaching agreement on tax cuts. We reported yesterday that the Senate Finance Committee passed the House’s plan to reduce the business franchise tax. Today, the House Ways and Means Committee passed SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R) containing the Senate’s favored proposal to increase the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000; that bill is subject to voter approval in a November election.
BILLS IN THE HOUSE PUBLIC EDUCATION COMMITTEE TODAY
The House Public Education Committee also held its last regular meeting today. Its agenda included hearing one bill that ATPE opposes, SB 1222 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) to give the commissioner of education subpoena power. While we do not necessarily oppose giving the commissioner limited power to subpoena documents, we believe educators who are targeted in an investigation should have equal access to evidence gathered by the commissioner. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann submitted written testimony against SB 1222.
In addition, the committee took votes this evening on several pending bills that have already been heard, including SB 1200 and SB 1241 both by Sen. Larry Taylor (R). SB 1241 is Taylor’s bill to create deregulated “innovation zones” for some low-performing schools, which ATPE has opposed. Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R) educator preparation bill, SB 892, was approved tonight, as was SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) to require cameras in special education classrooms, and a handful of other bills.
EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
There have been major developments on a couple of bills ATPE supported this session pertaining to early childhood education. First, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has signed into law SB 925 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R). The bill calls for the commissioner of education to create literacy achievement academies for teachers of reading in Kindergarten through third grades. In selecting educators who are eligible to participate, preference will be given to teachers at campuses where at least 50 percent of the students are educationally disadvantaged. The bill entitles a teacher who attends a literacy achievement academy to receive a stipend.
Additionally, the House voted today to concur in amendments made by the Senate to HB 4, which is Rep. Dan Huberty’s (R) high-profile pre-Kindergarten bill. Today’s unanimous vote sends the bill to the desk of Gov. Abbott, who has been a strong supporter of the measure and who declared early childhood education a priority issue for consideration this legislative session.
BILLS IN JEOPARDY
A pair of ATPE-supported community schools bills appear to be on life support. SB 1483 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D), was taken off the Senate Intent Calendar containing bills eligible for floor debate in the upper chamber. The House version of the bill, HB 1891 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D), passed the lower chamber on May 14, but was only today referred to a Senate committee, leaving practically no time for it to make it through the legislative process at this stage.
Most of the components of a package of priority legislation favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), including several high-profile bills pushed by the well-funded group Texans for Education Reform (TER), appear far less likely to pass this session. One of the bills is Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 14 to expand and expedite the state’s parent trigger law that enables certain low-performing schools to be deregulated and managed by outside entities. The Senate approved the bill in mid-April; the House Public Education Committee heard the bill Tuesday night but left it pending. Neither SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) nor HB 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) to repeal the state minimum salary schedule for teachers has been voted out of the House Public Education Committee, which has a Saturday deadline to act on bills. Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) virtual voucher bill, SB 894, has not garnered enough support for a floor vote in the Senate; Taylor is also carrying a charter school bill, SB 1897, that includes language allowing for expansion of virtual charter schools and has already been approved by the Senate, but the House Public Education Committee has not opted to hear that bill. Similarly, the House Public Education Committee has not heard SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D), which is the TER-backed bill to create a statewide Opportunity School District. With TER’s “local control school district” bill (HB 1798) already defeated by the House, that means the reform group has had little success this session, despite an expensive marketing and lobbying campaign, in attempting to deregulate and privatize the management of public schools it deems to be unacceptable. Last but not least, there is SB 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), the private school voucher tax credit bill lauded by Lt. Gov. Patrick, which has failed to gain traction in the House after passing the Senate by a vote of 18 to 12 on April 21.
This is a critical time for education bills both good and bad. ATPE encourages you to remain actively involved in the legislative process and keep talking to your legislators about bills of concern. For the very latest updates, follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter.