Category Archives: School Finance

School finance and property tax reform bill signed into law

Gov. Abbott signs HB 3 into law at a ceremony at Parmer Lane Elementary in Pflugerville ISD, June 11, 2019.

Just before noon today, Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill (HB) 3 into law. The bill signing took place in front of a crowd of reporters at an elementary school in Pflugerville ISD. The governor was flanked by his fellow members of the “Big Three,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton). Also up on stage were members of the House and Senate education and finance committees, the superintendents of San Antonio ISD and Longview ISD, and Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath.

The ceremony began with remarks from Gov. Abbott about the importance of this legislation in improving school finance and reducing property taxes, with emphasis on the success of the legislature in working together on a solution in the absence of a court order. Lt. Gov. Patrick, Speaker Bonnen, Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), and the bill’s author, House Committee on Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston), also spoke at the bill signing ceremony, giving thanks and praise for the efforts of those who collaborated on HB 3.

Notably, Speaker Bonnen thanked the people of Texas, for whom he said the school finance and reform bill had been passed. This remark is a testament to the power of educators and public education supporters across Texas who have made their voices known through voting and advocacy. As we watch the implementation of HB 3, some parts of which take effect immediately while others are delayed, ATPE will stay vigilant in ensuring the integrity of the promises made by our leaders. Stay tuned for more updates as implementation rolls out over the next several months. To learn more about what’s in the bill, check out our detailed HB 3 blog post here.

86th Texas Legislature passes school finance bill

Tonight, the Texas House and Senate both gave final approval to compromise legislation that will spend more than $11 billion over the next two years on public education and providing property tax relief to Texans.

The House first passed the conference committee’s version of House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee and has spearheaded efforts to reform the state’s school finance system over the course of several years. The vote in the House was 139 to zero. About two hours later, the Senate followed suit, passing the HB 3 conference committee report by a vote of 30 to zero. Now the bill heads to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott for signing.

Read ATPE’s statement on the passage of HB 3 here. For analysis of the bill from ATPE’s lobby team, check out our blog post from yesterday. ATPE congratulates Chairman Huberty and all those who worked on this major effort to improve funding for Texas public schools.

Tomorrow is the last day for the House and Senate to take substantive action on remaining bills, and they are expected to vote on the state budget, school safety legislation contained in Senate Bill 11, and Senate Bill 12, a bill to increase contributions to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) and provide a 13th check to retied educators. Stay tuned to our blog here and follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the very latest updates.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 24, 2019

We’re down to the final stretch of the 86th legislative session, and there’s been major breaking news about education bills in the last 24 hours. Here’s a look at this week’s headlines from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


Legislators have reached a deal on priority legislation to address school finance, property tax relief, and teacher retirement funding. The deal was announced in a press conference yesterday afternoon by, Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R-Houston), and Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton), along with the House and Senate conferees on House Bill 3 (Senators Larry Taylor, Donna Campbell, Jane Nelson, Kirk Watson, and Royce West and Representatives Dan Huberty, Trent Ashby, Diego Bernal, Mary Gonzalez, and Ken King). They happily announced that negotiations had concluded and a compromise had been made on the school finance bill, House Bill 3; the property tax bill, Senate Bill 2; and Senate Bill 12 pertaining to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS).

Architects of the compromise provided reporters with an explanatory flyer highlighting its elements, which can be viewed here, and ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell reported on the announced deal on our Teach the Vote blog yesterday, and we’ve got updated information about the bill posted on our blog today.

As of this Friday afternoon, the final conference committee reports on these bills had not been released to the public, so many of the finer details about the agreement remain unknown. Meanwhile, we know that the school finance bill raises the basic allotment, aims to reduce recapture by 47% over the next two years, and caps the rate of local school district property tax increases at 2.5% starting in the year 2021. The plan is said to raise the state’s share of education funding from its current level of 38% up to 45%.

The final version of HB 3 also aims to increase pay to some educators by providing additional funding to districts through a $140 million merit pay program and various other allotments. Teacher pay was another of Gov. Abbott’s emergency issues so declared earlier this session, along with school finance reform. To the extent that the compromise bill raises funding for school districts generally, HB 3 requires school districts to spend a significant portion of those increases to improve compensation. The final version of HB 3 does not include any across-the-board pay raise requirements, however.

The agreement on SB 12 is expected to raise the state’s contribution to the TRS pension program in order to make it actuarially sound and provide current retirees with a 13th check. While the amount of the 13th check will vary, it is believed that the average amount of this payment will be around $2,000. The state is also increasing funding for TRS-ActiveCare, which will help active school employees with their healthcare costs.

Check out our lobbyists’ latest comprehensive blog post here for more detail on what is in the final versions of these high-profile bills. As we enter the final days of the session, don’t forget to follow the Teachthevote.org blog and our Twitter account for the most up-to-date information about the bills.


Legislation aimed at improving school safety and providing for mental health interventions for students is one step closer to passing. The issue was one of the emergency items Governor Abbott declared during his State of the State address in January.

After dying on a technicality earlier this week, a major mental health bill, Senate Bill 10 by Rep. John Zerwas (R- Richmond), was brought back to life when major portions of it were grafted onto another bill late on the night of the House’s deadline for passing bills on second reading. The carrier bill is Senate Bill 11, this session’s major school safety bill. SB 10 which would create a Texas Mental Health Consortium of mental health professionals from universities and health care providers around the state in order to identify children with mental illness and connect them to resources. SB 11 requires more training for school resource officers and encourages teaching students about how to prevent domestic violence, in part.

Yesterday afternoon both the House and Senate voted to send the newly expanded SB 11 to a conference committee.


Aside from House Bill 3, another bill pertaining to student testing remains pending and is generating a lot of attention among educators this week. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that HB 3906 by Rep Dan Huberty (R – Kingwood) as amended by the Senate dramatically impacts STAAR and remains pending at this late stage of the session.

As originally filed, HB 3906 primarily broke what are large, single day, tests into smaller tests that could be administered over multiple days, with those days falling over a number of weeks or even months. All of the mini-tests would have to fit within the same time frame as the current STAAR test they are meant to replace. The goal was to reduce student stress, allow for the test to be closer in time to the content being taught, and make the information gleaned from the test more useful to students and teachers during the school year in which the test is given.

The Senate put a number of additional provisions into the bill. The most controversial provision is a move from third through eighth grade reading tests, which do not include an integrated writing test, to third through eighth grade language arts tests, which do include embedded writing tests. There are currently stand-alone writing tests in fourth and seventh grades. The new format could certainly be viewed as an increase of four additional writing tests.

There have been conflicting reports on tests that are required by federal law. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) does not require ANY state-level writing tests. In fact, the US Department of Education sent the Texas Education Agency (TEA) a letter informing the agency that Texas was out of compliance with federal law because it included two standalone writing tests as requirements.

In addition to the new writing tests proposed in HB 3906, the Senate also added the following provisions to the bill:

  • Third-grade STAAR results as disaggregated by Pre-K attendance to be added to the state’s early education report;
  • A prohibition against STAAR testing on a Monday;
  • A limit on multiple choice questions to no more than 75 percent;
  • State-developed benchmark tests;
  • A requirement to administer the vast majority of the STAAR test electronically by the 2022-23 school year, as well as a transition plan;
  • Creation of a new Assessment Advisory Committee; and
  • A study on STAAR testing.

Due in large part to what they see as in an increase in testing, parents and teachers alike have been calling on their legislators to oppose this bill. As a result, the House voted on a motion from Rep. Huberty to send HB 3906 to a conference committee today.

ATPE encourages those who are willing to continue advocating with regard to HB 3906 to consider calling out specific provisions, such as the additional writing assessments for deletion from the bill while recommending that more favorable components be passed into law. ATPE members are reminded that they can use Advocacy Central to easily contact their legislators by phone, email, or social media.


 

More detail on the legislative deal to address school finance, property taxes, and TRS

As the ATPE lobby team reported here on our blog yesterday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, collectively known as the “Big Three” heads of government, held a press conference Thursday afternoon to announce that negotiators had finalized a grand bargain to address property tax relief, school finance reform, and funding for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Gov. Abbott told media that lawmakers had reached agreement on the budget, House Bill (HB) 1; the property tax relief bill, Senate Bill (SB) 2; HB 3, which deals with a combination of property taxes and school finance; and SB 12 addressing TRS funding. Each of the three leaders took turns explaining parts of the final compromise.

The only details available yesterday were in the form of a handout given to members of the media and the comments made by the elected officials. As of Thursday afternoon, most legislators had not even seen the actual text of the final plan. Even though the bills have not yet been made available to the public as of 5:30 this Friday afternoon, ATPE’s lobbyists have had their first “unofficial” look today at the new bill language proposed for HB 3 and can provide some additional insights and observations.

SCHOOL FINANCE

The price tag of the newest version of the school finance legislation has expanded to more than $11 billion. According to the handout shared with reporters yesterday, the compromise plan includes $4.5 billion intended to:

  • Increase the basic allotment from $5,140 to $6,160 per student.
  • Fund full-day pre-K for low-income students
  • Adopt high-quality reading standards for grades K-3
  • Create a dyslexia identification program
  • Support dual-language programs and extended year summer programs for economically disadvantaged students
  • Provide outcomes-based bonuses for college, career, and military readiness (CCMR)
  • Fund transportation at a rate of $1.00 per mile, as opposed to on a per-student basis
  • Quadruple funding for building and equipping new facilities
  • Direct more funds to schools with higher concentrations of under-served students, including dropouts, students in special education, and students in residential treatment facilities

Here are some additional details gleaned from the previewed language of the final bill:

Outcomes-based funding:

  • Controversial outcomes-based funding tied to third-grade reading performance was removed from the final bill.
  • The bill includes outcomes-based bonuses for college, career, and military readiness that are tied to the number of graduates who exceed a minimum threshold to be determined by the commissioner.
  • The bonuses paid to the school district would be weighted based whether or not the graduating students are educationally disadvantaged (either $3,000 or $5,000 per student above the minimum number of students established by the commissioner for each group).
  • The bill also defines the readiness standard for each category of college, career, or military, with commissioner authority for setting some criteria.
  • School districts will be required to spend at least 55 percent of the bonuses they receive in grades 8 through 12 to improve readiness outcomes.
  • The bill calls for TEA to conduct a study on alternative career readiness measures for small
    and rural school districts with results to be reported to the legislature by January 1, 2021.

Bilingual education funding:

  • In addition to other uses already outlined in current law, districts will be allowed to use funding associated with bilingual education for “incremental costs associated with providing smaller class sizes.”
  • Districts must now use at least 55 percent of the bilingual allotment to provide bilingual education or special language program, and the bill authorizes the commissioner to reduce a district’s FSP amount in subsequent years by an amount equal to the amount of bilingual education or
    special language funds the commissioner determines were not used in in this manner.

Career and technology:

  • The Career and Technology Allotment is expanded to cover students in grades 7 through 12, rather than just high school students.
  • The bill adds funding for students enrolled in a campus designated as a P-TECH school or a campus that is a member of the New Tech Network and focuses on project-based learning and work-based education.
  • For purposes of the allotment, the definition of “career and technology education class” is broadened to include technology applications courses generally (rather than being restricted to approved cybersecurity courses).
  • Similar to the bilingual allotment, districts must use at least 55 percent of the career and technology allotment for providing CTE programs in grades 7 through 12.
  • Districts will be entitled to reimbursement if they pay a subsidy for a student in a special education or career and technology program to earn a license or certificate, as allowed under current law.

Early education:

  • The bill adds an early education allotment for students in grades K-3 where funding is increased for educationally disadvantaged students and students of limited English proficiency who are enrolled in a bilingual or special language program. The funds must be used to improve student performance in reading and math in Pre-K through through third grade.
  • While not tied specifically or directly to funding, HB 3 calls for school boards to adopt five-year plans for early childhood literacy and mathematics proficiency that include annual goals for student performance. The plans should include goals for aggregate student growth on certain assessment instruments and targeted professional development for teachers in these early grades.

Miscellaneous:

  • HB 3 calls for using current year property values to determine school districts’ available tax revenue, as opposed to the prior year’s values under current law. This change has been highly controversial, with several districts complaining that they will lose money with this change.
  • School districts or charter schools that offer an additional 30 days of half-day instruction for students in grades pre-K through 5 will be entitled to additional incentive funding.
  • The bill’s new Fast Growth Allotment applies to school districts in which enrollment for the past three school years is in the top quartile of student enrollment growth for the entire state. These districts will be entitled to additional funding equating to the basic allotment multiplied by 0.04 for each student in average daily attendance.
  • Districts will be entitled to reimbursement of fees they pay under existing law for the administration of college-prep assessments to high school juniors and seniors.
  • The bill calls for TEA to partner with a public institution of higher education to study and report to the legislature on geographic variations in the cost of education and transportation costs. Results of the study must be reported by Dec. 1, 2020.

TEACHER PAY & BENEFITS

The plan announced yesterday aims to spend $1.6 billion over the next two years to provide what state leaders have described as “dynamic pay raises” for teachers, librarians, counselors, and nurses, while prioritizing veteran educators. They also indicated in yesterday’s press statements that the state would contribute $922 per teacher over the next two years to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas in order to make it actuarially sound. The plan includes $140 million for a merit/incentive pay program, $30 million annually for an extended year program that rewards teachers who work an additional 30 days during the summer, $8 million for mentoring new teachers, and $6 million toward professional development for teachers in blended learning instruction. Here are some additional details based upon ATPE’s reading of the bill.

Educator compensation:

The increase in the basic allotment will also cause an increase in the state’s minimum salary schedule that applies to teachers and some other educators. This will have the effect of increasing the floor for many educators, providing raises for some, and increasing the state’s share of TRS pension contributions while lowering the district’s share.

According to ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier, HB 3 also includes a mechanism to automatically require districts to increase some educators’ pay under certain circumstances. Here are some more details:

  • If the basic allotment of a district increases from one year to the next, the district must use at least 30% of the difference in the funding level to provide pay increases to certain full-time school employees who are not administrators. (For instance, if a district had an increase in student funding from one year to the next of $100,000, the district would need to spend at least $30,000 on increased compensation.)
  • Of this “at least 30%” amount, 75% of that funding must be used for compensation increases for full-time classroom teachers, counselors, librarians, and school nurses. However, districts must prioritize using this money for increasing the compensation for classroom teachers with more than five years of experience.
  • The other 25% of the “at least 30% amount” may be used as determined by the district to increase compensation for full-time district employees.
  • Unlike the earlier versions of HB 3, there is no requirement that these compensation increases be made in an across-the-board manner with each eligible employee receiving the same amount. There is also no guarantee that all of the employees in these categories would receive a salary increase under this bill.
  • It is unclear but presumed that the compensation increases allowed under this section of the bill would be in addition to potential stipends provided by districts’ participation in extended school year, mentoring, or merit pay programs that are also in HB 3.

Merit pay:

ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell provided additional insights on the bill’s merit pay language. The new “Teacher Incentive Allotment” is structured in a manner similar to the Senate’s adopted proposal for merit pay, but the final HB 3 proposal will give districts more flexibility, reduce the commissioner’s authority to set criteria compared to what was in the Senate plan, and place less emphasis on student performance and test scores compared to the Senate plan. While the allotment does provide districts with new funding that is specifically allocated for teacher compensation, there are few guarantees that the teachers who demonstrate the merit as defined by this bill will receive substantially higher pay. Still, we are pleased that legislators listened to our requests that they remove troubling test-based criteria from the merit pay plan.

  • School districts would be eligible for additional funding through this allotment for certain teachers who are designated as recognized, exemplary, or master teachers. It is important to emphasize that these funds do not flow directly to the teachers who earn the designations but are paid to the districts instead.
  • The designations are defined in a new statute under which a school district or open-enrollment
    charter school has the local option of designating a certified classroom teacher as a master, exemplary, or recognized teacher for a five-year period. Designations would be noted on the teacher’s virtual certificate maintained by SBEC. Teachers will have no vested property right in the designation according to this bill, and any designation found to have been made improperly will be voided. HB 3 repeals various older “master teacher” statutes that are being replaced with this program.
  • Districts are not required to participate in this new local optional teacher designation program, but we assume that most will want to participate in order to qualify for the additional state funding that is tied to it.
  • The bill requires the commissioner to set “performance and validity standards” that will mathematically allow for all eligible teachers to earn the designation. The bill adds that these standards “may not require a district” to use a state assessment instrument like the STAAR test “to evaluate teacher performance.”
  • Districts may designate a nationally board-certified teacher as recognized even if the teacher does not otherwise meet the performance standards set by the commissioner.
  • The teacher designations will be based on the results of single year or multiyear appraisals of the teachers pursuant to the existing T-TESS statutes. Unlike the Senate’s merit pay proposal that called for a competitive statewide ranking of teachers based on student performance, districts will determine eligibility for the new merit designations using evaluation criteria, which under the existing T-TESS statutes incorporate observations of teacher performance and the performance of teachers’ students. These determinations will be subject to the performance standards set by the commissioner, however, and the local designation system must be validated.
  • For the validation element, Texas Tech University is tasked with monitoring the quality and fairness of the local optional teacher designation systems. The commissioner is required to ensure that the local optional teacher designation systems “prioritize high needs campuses.” TEA will be required, with cooperation from the participating districts, to evaluate the effectiveness of the local optional teacher designation systems and report their findings to the legislature.
  • The commissioner may adopt fees and rules to implement this program.
  • The amount of the funding paid to districts through this allotment will vary. Districts may receive between $3,000 and $9,000 for each recognized teacher; between $6,000 and $18,000 for each exemplary teacher; and between $12,000 and $32,000 for each master teacher. We presume that specific amounts paid within these ranges will be determined by the commissioner and outlined more specifically in commissioner’s rules to be adopted later.
  • If the recognized, exemplary, or master teacher works at a rural campus or one that serves a higher number of disadvantaged students, a funding weight is applied to the allotment that entitles the district to higher funding.
  • Districts must certify annually that they are spending the allotment in compliance with the law. They are required to show that they have “prioritized high needs campuses” in their use of the allotment.
  • The districts will be required to spend at least 90 percent of the allotment “for the compensation of teachers” who are employed at the same campus as the campus where the teacher who earned the designation and enabled the district to receive the additional funding is employed. Note that this does not specifically require the teacher who earned the designation corresponding to the allotment to receive any additional funding. In other words, districts will have discretion on how they spend these funds for teacher compensation.
  • Beyond the 90 percent requirement, districts may use the allotment for costs associated with implementing the teacher designation program.
  • Unfortunately, there is no language in the bill ensuring that this allotment cannot be used by school districts to supplant other district funds for teacher compensation.

TAX RELIEF

The proposal includes $5 billion for tax relief that is intended increase the state’s share of education funding to 45 percent from 38 percent. The governor’s office claims the plan will lower school property tax rates by an average of eight cents per $100 of property valuation in 2020 and 13 cents in 2021, and provide an additional 2.5 percent tax compression starting in 2021. The plan also requires efficiency audits before holding a tax election.

RECAPTURE

Part of the plan addresses recapture, often commonly referred to as a “Robin Hood” system, which seeks to ensure equity by transferring tax revenue from property-wealthy districts to those that are property-poor. The promotional materials indicated that recapture would be reduced by $3.6 billion as part of the $11.6 billion investment made in HB 3 to buy down property taxes and reform school finance formulas.

OTHER PROVISIONS

The negotiated version of HB 3 contains a number of provisions that bear little relation to “school finance.” For instance, the bill requires the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to adopt rules that that will pertain to new certificates issued after Jan. 1, 2021 and will require teachers to demonstrate proficiency in the science of teaching reading before they can be assigned to teach any grade level from prekindergarten through grade six.

The bill also adds new reading standards for kindergarten through third grade students. Under these standards, school districts and open-enrollment charter schools must use a phonics curriculum that
uses systematic direct instruction to ensure all students obtain necessary early literacy skills. Districts must also ensure that teachers of grades K-3 and principals at the campuses serving those grades have attended a literacy achievement academy by no later than the 2021-2022 school year. Additionally, the district or charter school must certified that it has prioritized placement of “highly effective” teachers in classrooms for grades K-2. The commissioner will adopt rules to implement these new provisions.

Other non-finance related provisions of the bill include measures related to educator misconduct and eligibility to work in a public school.

  • The bill will create a “do not hire” registry of educators who are ineligible for employment. HB 3 adds requirements for reporting alleged misconduct to TEA and SBEC. To facilitate such reporting, SBEC will be required to set up a new internet portal that superintendents will use to share such information.
  • The bill gives the commissioner of education authority to investigate and sanction non-certified employees in a manner similar to SBEC’s current disciplinary authority over certified educators.
  • The commissioner will also have broad access to school district records, the criminal history record clearinghouse, and law enforcement records from criminal cases to ensure compliance with the requirement to report allegations of misconduct.
  • For Districts of Innovation (DOI), failure to comply with the reporting requirements can invalidate their designation as a DOI.

ATPE’s Governmental Relations staff members are continuing to analyze the newly designed versions of these bills and will provide additional details throughout these final days of the session. We expect the House and Senate to vote on them either Saturday or Sunday, and we hope that the new bill text for HB 3 and SB 12 will be shared with the public this evening. Be sure to follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the latest rapidly developing updates.

State leaders announce deal on school finance, property tax relief, and TRS legislation

At a press conference held this afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker of the House Rep. Dennis Bonnen announced that a deal has been reached on legislation to address school finance, property tax relief, and the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Flanked by members of the conference committees that worked on the bills, the “big three” shared highlights of the final negotiated versions of House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 12 and thanked those who worked on the compromise.

A flyer was shared with reporters touting major components of the agreement, including increasing the basic allotment for schools; providing $5 billion in property tax relief; funding full-day pre-K for low-income students and increasing the funding to serve other students with special needs; calling for outcomes-based funding tied to college, career, and military readiness; reducing recapture by 47% in the next two years; and offering $2 billion in various forms to assist with “dynamic teacher compensation.”

Specific details on the educator compensation piece are unknown at this point, but the new version of HB 3 has been characterized as including both a merit pay program and funding to increase salaries for veteran teachers (those with at least five years of experience), librarians, counselors, and school nurses. Immediately following the press conference, HB 3 author and House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty told reporters that the merit pay program would not be test-focused but would use T-TESS to help determine which teachers are eligible to become recognized, exemplary, or master teachers. Chairman Huberty added that Texas Tech University would be tapped to act as a “referee” for the program.

The deal announced today also provides for increased funding into the TRS pension program in order to make it actuarially sound. Also, it is believed that the state would substantially raise its contributions for active educators’ healthcare premiums under this agreement.

Actual bill language has not yet been released, but ATPE will update our Teach the Vote blog with additional details as soon as our lobbyists have a chance to see and analyze the new bills.

With the legislative session clock ticking, major education bills remain pending

Four days remain in the regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature, and significant deadlines for bills attach to each day that passes.

On Tuesday night, the House worked actively until the midnight hour, which was the deadline for Senate bills to be passed on second reading in order to stay alive. (The deadlines for House bills to make it out of the lower chamber and be sent over to the Senate already passed earlier this month.) This week’s related deadline for passing Senate bills on third reading and final passage on Wednesday night was less dramatic, with House members wrapping up their business by about 7 pm. Over on the other side of the capitol, the Senate worked late into the night last night to catch up and get a number of House bills passed on second and third reading.

Among the bills that survived this week’s deadlines was the ATPE-supported Senate Bill 11, containing a number of school safety and mental health initiatives that were a top priority for the governor this session. Read more about that bill’s curious journey through the legislative process here.

The deadlines hitting this week signal that the overwhelming majority of the thousands of bills filed this session are dead (for the most part), leaving only those bills that have been approved in some form by both the House and Senate. If both chambers have approved a bill in the same form, then the bill is enrolled and sent to the governor. The process is trickier for bills that get amended in different ways by the House or Senate. Each chamber will spend the next couple of days examining their bills that have come over from the other chamber with amendments and deciding what to do with them. The author of each bill can move to concur with the changes made by the other chamber, or can request the appointment of a conference committee to negotiate a final version of the bill. Friday, May 24, is the last day for House members to make such decisions.

Some of this session’s most important bills, especially relating to public education and ATPE’s legislative priorities, remain pending in conference committees at this point. These include the budget, a bill to increase contributions to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), and a major school finance and reform bill that has dominated the conversations this session.

  • For House Bill 3, the school finance bill, senators and state representatives have taken very different approaches on how to tackle the issue of educator pay. With Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen repeatedly proclaiming “the time is now” for school finance reform, the House approved HB 3 with an across-the-board pay raise for all school district employees except administrators. Under the leadership of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Senate has favored a larger pay raise for teachers and librarians only, and senators also included in their version of HB 3 a controversial merit pay plan that has been pushed hard by Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. The conference committee for HB 3 also must grapple with differing views on how to help school districts generate sufficient funds for their operations while also facilitating property tax relief to homeowners.
  • The TRS bill, Senate Bill 12, is designed to increase state funding for the educators’ pension fund and give current retirees a 13th check, but its final language largely depends on how much money is available to achieve those goals. That decision hinges on what happens with HB 3 to address the state’s larger school finance needs.

A press conference scheduled for this afternoon by the governor, lieutenant governor, and house speaker may provide insight on the progress of these conference committees.

Sunday, May 26, is the very last day that lawmakers can vote on conference committee reports, which contain the negotiated versions of those bills. The pressure is on those legislators appointed to conference committees to work out agreements between the House and Senate language of these bills. In some cases, conference committees may add entirely new language to the bill and can ask the House and Senate to approve a motion to go “outside the bounds” of the original legislation. Even for the bills that make it all the way through the legislative process, there is another waiting period in which the governor can decide whether to exercise his veto authority. June 16 is the deadline for the governor to act.

The takeaway is that we still have a few days left to wait and see what, if any, compromises are struck on major bills like House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 12. Stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog for updates and follow us on Twitter for major developments in these final days of the session.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 17, 2019

With major session deadlines hitting this weekend, here’s a look at this week’s legislative developments, courtesy of the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified in the House Public Education Committee, May 14, 2019.

  The House Public Education Committee met once again on Tuesday to continue hearing bills already passed by the Senate. As reported by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier in this blog post, much of the focus of Tuesday’s hearing centered on the  Accelerated Campus Excellence (ACE) turnaround programs proposed by Senate Bill 1412. While the bill contains some measures that ATPE supports, we testified against the bill due to its provisions for the forced ranking of teachers in a school district (which could possibly be based on student performance on standardized tests) and requiring districts to contract with third-party vendors to implement their ACE programs. Similar legislation has been moving through the Senate Education Committee, and related language is being considered as part of House Bill 3, the school finance bill that is pending in conference committee. Read more about that bill below.

Under mandatory session deadlines, this week marked the last week for bills to be heard by House committees in order for them to have a chance of reaching the House floor. The House Public Education Committee also met Thursday to vote out more of the pending bills.


Senate Education Committee meeting, May 14, 2019.

Like its counterpart in the lower chamber, the Senate Education Committee met twice this week on Tuesday and Thursday to hear its final bills of the session. Although the committee can still meet to vote out pending bills that have already been heard, the committee will not hear any additional bills or take testimony from this point forward. One such formal meeting is taking place this afternoon, where the committee is expected to vote on additional pending bills.

During this week’s earlier meetings, the Senate Education Committee voted to advance a number of bills supported by ATPE, including House Bill 165 enabling high school students in special education programs to receive endorsements and House Bill 2424 requiring the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to establish and issue new micro-credentials for educators. The committee also approved HB 4205, which as amended is another of the ATPE-opposed bills pertaining to ACE campuses and the criteria under which teachers would be eligible to work on those campuses.

More on these Senate Education Committee hearings can be found in this week’s blog posts from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins here and here.


The most high-profile bills of the 86th legislative session pertaining to public education are being negotiated by conference committees appointed for the purpose of resolving differences between House and Senate versions of the same bill. Among those bills is the state budget in HB 1, which is the only bill required to be passed before time runs out. Fortunately, the conference committee for HB 1 is holding its last meeting this afternoon, signaling that a final budget deal is near.

This week the conference committee for HB 3 also continued its meetings on the school finance legislation, aiming to release a compromise bill next week. As negotiations progress, ATPE is hopeful that the bill’s final version will include an across-the-board raise for educators, although it is unclear what amount will be attached to that raise and how it will be structured. While the final bill will most likely contain some form of merit pay, there seems to be a desire among legislators to limit the use of STAAR test data in determining such pay. Additionally, we are optimistic that a final compromise on HB 3 will no longer include many of the controversial outcomes-based funding proposals and additional testing that the Senate included in its version. Even as these rumors are promising, ATPE urges our members to continue to contact your legislators to share your voice on HB 3 using our quick and easy tools on Advocacy Central.

Another bill that has been referred to a conference committee is SB 12, containing language to increase state contributions to TRS and provide retired educators with a 13th check. Since both bills deal with a substantial amount of state funding, a compromise proposal for the TRS bill is likely to be shared only once an agreement has been reached on the larger HB 3. For the latest updates on these bills, be sure to follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter.


Educators’ right to a political voice continues to be a subject of interest in the final rush of session, and bills that could have a negative impact on the education community remain active at various stages in the legislative process.

Unlike last session, this year no legislator filed a bill to limit the ability of educators to pay their voluntary membership dues to organizations such as ATPE through the convenience of payroll deduction. However, there are some legislators still hoping to pass a ban on payroll deduction as an amendment to another bill in these last few days of the session. One failed attempt came earlier this week when Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) floated a trial balloon during a House floor debate on a bill pertaining to the comptroller’s electronic funds transfer system. Recognizing that it was unlikely to succeed, Rep. King withdrew his amendment that was aimed at limiting payroll deduction options for certain public employees who receive payments electronically from the comptroller’s office, such as retirees’ annuities.

There is still a possibility that a similar payroll deduction amendment could be added to Senate Bill (SB) 29 by Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville), which is a high-profile First Amendment-related bill that could come to the House floor this weekend. SB 29 has been described by its supporters as banning “taxpayer-funded lobbying,” but opponents say the bill is actually aimed at weakening the ability of locally-elected school boards, county leaders, and city governments to petition the state on matters of concern to local voters. In its current form, SB 29 proposes to prohibit such governmental entities from paying dues with taxpayer funds to organizations that lobby the legislature on certain issues. Notably, the bill’s anti-lobbying provisions would not apply to charter schools. The interest groups responsible for promoting SB 29 have a long history of fighting against public education and pushing bills aimed at weakening public schools.

Meanwhile, the clock is running out on other bills more directly aimed at educators. SB 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) would outlaw certain political conversations between public school employees while on school grounds. This ATPE-opposed bill was left pending in the House Elections Committee, which has no further plans to meet this session. However this same committee did vote to advance SB 9 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), which would increase the penalties associated with various prohibited election-related activities. While pitched as a way to protect the integrity of local elections, many of the provisions are written so broadly that they threaten to have a chilling effect and depress voter turnout in many cases. SB 9 also could be heard on the House floor as soon as this weekend.


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 10, 2019

It was another busy week at the Texas State Capitol for ATPE’s Governmental Relations team. Here’s a look at the latest headlines:


Members of the HB 3 conference committee began their deliberations on a final school finance bill, May 10, 2019

This week the House and Senate appointed members to a conference committee for the session’s major school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 3. The conferees are state Reps. Dan Huberty (R-Humble), Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), Ken King (R-Canadian), and Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint); and state Sens. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), Jane Nelson (R-Flower  Mound), Royce West (D-Dallas), Kirk Watson (D-Austin), and Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels).

As the conferees work through the differences between the House and Senate versions of HB 3, ATPE is opposing the inclusion of merit pay and monitoring the final bill’s mechanism for raising teacher pay. Additional information on the bill can be found in this article shared from the Texas Tribune.

With the conference committee beginning its hard work to reach a compromise on the bill, ATPE urges members to keep pressure on their legislators to demand a final version of HB 3 that meets students’ needs without increasing testing or using student performance to determine how schools are funded and how teachers are paid. Visit Advocacy Central (member login required) to send a quick message to your legislator about HB 3.


On Monday, May 13, the House Elections Committee is scheduled to consider Senate Bill (SB) 1569, which would have a tremendous chilling effect on educators’ freedom of speech under the First Amendment and hamper the ability to teach students about legislative processes.

Authored by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper), SB 1569 would prohibit educators from communicating about politics with their colleagues, even if they are on break and in a non-classroom setting. Violators would face a criminal penalty. The Texas Senate approved SB 1569 despite ATPE’s raising these concerns, and added an amendment that would also have the effect of preventing educators from promoting civic engagement as required by the TEKS by encouraging students to communicate with their elected officials.

There is a very high likelihood that the House Elections Committee will vote to advance SB 1569 one step closer to becoming law, which makes it imperative that educators contact their state representatives TODAY and urge them to oppose this bill in any way possible. For more information on SB 1569, read this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. ATPE members can use our tools on Advocacy Central to easily call or write to their representatives about this harmful bill set to be heard on Monday.


The House took a recorded vote on HB 1133, relating to class-size limits on May 9, 2019.

The Texas House delivered a major victory Thursday night in defense of current class-size limits. Members worked until the midnight deadline Thursday, May 9, which marked the last chance to pass bills that originated in the House on second reading. One of the bills on the cusp of passage was HB 1133 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), which would have changed the current hard cap of 22 students in a single elementary grade classroom to an average, having the effect of allowing class sizes to dramatically expand. A vote on the bill was delayed several times yesterday as amendments were considered and the author attempted to drum up support for the measure among his House colleagues.

ATPE joined with other education groups in opposing the bill, and thanks to the many phone calls and letters from teachers all over Texas, legislators scuttled HB 1133 by a vote of 97 nays to 44 ayes on the House floor last night. You can see how your legislator voted by clicking here. If your state representative is listed among the nays, we urge you to write, e-mail, call, or tag them on social media today expressing your THANKS for voting to protect class size restrictions in Texas!


Senate Education Committee meeting, May 9, 2019

Members of the Senate continued hearing bills sent over from the House this week. During a meeting of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, May 7, committee members turned their attention to bills focusing on mental health.

Among the bills heard by the committee on Tuesday, HB 18 would compel districts to use evidence-based practices in counseling and encourage positive behavior interventions. HB 906 would form a “collaborative task force on public school mental health services” to study current practices and their impact. ATPE supported a number of bills, including HB 111, which would create training for educators that equips them with the skills to recognize abuse and maltreatment of student. Despite opposition by ATPE and other education groups, the Senate Education Committee also voted to advance SB 947, which would expand full-time virtual schools. This bill was then approved by the full Senate on Friday by a vote of 29-2. For more on the bills heard during Tuesday’s committee meeting, check out this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

The Senate Education Committee reconvened on Thursday, May 9, to hear even more bills from the House, including HB 455, a bill supported by ATPE that would require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to develop a model policy on recess that encourages age-appropriate outdoor physical activities. The committee passed nine bills during its Thursday meeting, including HB 18, the omnibus mental health bill heard earlier in the week. For a rundown of Thursday’s hearing, check out this additional blog post.


The House Public Education committee also met on Tuesday, May 7. ATPE supported several of the bills heard during this meeting, including SB 11 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), which contains several provisions to improve school safety standards. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter also gave neutral oral testimony on Sen. Taylor’s SB 1455. The original version of the bill would have greatly expanded virtual schools in the state of Texas; however, a committee substitute laid out by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) reins in some of the objections ATPE had voiced about the bill. For more on this hearing of the House Public Education Committee, read this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


 

From The Texas Tribune: Texas Senate approves school finance reform bill, but opts not to fund it with a sales tax hike

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks from the dais in the Senate chamber last month. Photo by Juan Figueroa/The Texas Tribune

Texas Senate approves school finance reform bill, but opts not to fund it with a sales tax hike” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

The Texas Senate on Monday approved a bill to massively overhaul public school finance, but did so while backing away from a proposal to use an increased sales tax to lower school district property taxes.

After an hours-long debate on dozens of proposed changes, the Senate voted 26-2 on House Bill 3, which under the version passed by the upper chamber would increase student funding, give teachers and librarians a $5,000 pay raise, fund full-day pre-K for low-income students, and lower tax bills.

The House and Senate will have to negotiate their significant differences over the bill — including how to offer teacher pay raises and property tax relief — in a conference committee before it can be signed into law.

“When you’re doing something as complex as this, there’s going to be something you don’t like,” said state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, the bill’s author, anticipating tension throughout the day’s debate.

Since school districts levy the majority of property taxes in Texas, many lawmakers have been seeking ways to help reduce those portions of Texans’ tax bills. But since the state is required to ensure school districts have enough money to educate students, any tax relief effort would have a significant cost — requiring the state to reimburse schools, if they’re unable to collect enough from local property taxes.

Taylor had originally included several provisions that would provide ongoing tax relief, paid for by an increase in the sales tax by one percentage point.

Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, had thrown their support behind that sales tax swap, arguing it would help Texans who are currently being taxed out of their homes. But the proposal has serious detractors in lawmakers from both parties in both chambers who are opposed to a higher sales tax.

So Taylor stripped the increase from HB 3 and offloaded some of the more expensive property tax relief provisions in the bill. The bill no longer includes an expansion in the homestead exemption from school district taxes. It lowers property tax rates by 10 cents per $100 valuation, instead of 15 cents, saving the owner of a $250,000 home $250 instead of $375.

The legislation would still limit the growth in school districts’ revenue due to rising property values, a proposal pitched before session began by the governor. School districts that see their property values significantly increase would have their tax rates automatically reduced to keep tax revenue growth in line. That would now start next year, instead of in 2023.

“The bill before us today has no linkage to the sales tax and is not contingent upon a sales tax,” Taylor said.

Instead, the bill creates a separate “Tax Reduction and Excellence in Education Fund” to fund school district tax relief. State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said a working group came up with a plan to get $3 billion from several sources, including the severance tax on oil and gas extraction and an online sales tax.

“This does not increase any taxes of any kind,” he said.

A few senators didn’t vote yes on HB 3 because they didn’t know the cost of the bill or how their school districts would be affected by it.

“The lack of a fiscal note delineating the total cost of the bill was unacceptable,” said state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, who voted against the bill along with state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe.

Creighton echoed those concerns about not knowing the legislation’s price tag, though he said he agreed with its policy.

“Before the session ends, I will have another chance to vote on the final bill, and I look forward to supporting it once I have a clear understanding of the impacts on school districts in Senate District 4, and the true cost of the legislation, which will have implications for all Texas taxpayers,” he said in a statement after the vote.

State Sens. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, and Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, marked themselves “present, not voting.”

The House and Senate have passed versions of HB 3 that are similar in some ways: Both would raise the base funding per student — a number that hasn’t budged in four years — and would provide about $780 million for free, full-day pre-K for eligible students.

Among the disagreements: how to make sure school employees get much-needed raises. The Senate has prioritized $5,000 pay raises for all full-time teachers and librarians. The House has directed districts to give all school employees about $1,388 in raises on average statewide and designated extra money for raises to be given at districts’ discretion.

Senate Democrats’ efforts to extend those $5,000 raises to full-time counselors and other employees failed along party lines Monday.

Also controversially for some, the Senate includes money providing bonuses to schools based on third-grade test scores and funding districts that want to provide merit pay for their top-rated teachers. Many teacher groups have opposed both, arguing it would put more emphasis on a flawed state standardized test.

State Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, failed to get an amendment to the bill approved that would strike tying any funding to third-grade test scores.

Teachers, parents and advocates following on social media had paid attention to Powell’s amendment, mobilizing in support through a Twitter hashtag “#NoSTAARonHB3.”

Taylor pointed out that the bill also allows school districts to use assessments other than the state’s STAAR standardized test, which has lately come under renewed scrutiny, with researchers and advocates arguing it doesn’t adequately measure students’ reading abilities. He approved an amendment requiring the state to pay for school districts to use those alternative tests, which he estimated would cost about $4 million.

Emma Platoff contributed to this story.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/05/06/texas-senate-school-finance-sales-tax/.

 

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 3, 2019

We’re wrapping up another week of legislative action at the Texas State Capitol. Here’s the latest news from your ATPE Governmental Relations staff:


The session’s major school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 3, is set for a debate on the floor of the Senate on Monday, May 6, 2019. While the Senate’s version of the bill contains several positive changes that would improve funding for public education, ATPE and other education groups have grave concerns about certain aspects of the bill that tie funding and compensation to student performance.

The Senate Education Committee called a meeting inside the Senate chamber to vote on House Bill 3, May 1, 2019.

The Senate floor debate on HB 3 was originally planned for today, but postponed in response to complaints that senators needed more time to prepare floor amendments. The Senate Education Committee accelerated its schedule this week for the school finance bill, asking members to vote HB 3 out of committee during a hurriedly called meeting on Wednesday. Chairman Larry Taylor apologized for the rapid pace, which he attributed to House deadlines for passing related legislation to fund the school finance bill.

Several committee members complained about being forced to vote on a new substitute version of the bill that they only received hours before the meeting. Three senators asked to be marked as “present not voting,” while others said they would vote for HB 3 in committee, despite having objections to parts of it, only to keep the process moving and with the understanding that they would have more time for consideration of floor amendments and a robust debate. Read more about the committee’s vote on HB 3 here.

ATPE urges educators to contact their senators and ask them to remove bad language from the bill, including a merit pay program that would replace existing evaluation laws with a new system, largely controlled by the appointed commissioner of education. ATPE opposes the plan, which dictates new evaluation criteria including student surveys of teachers and calls for a statewide competitive ranking of all teachers that will depend heavily on their students’ STAAR test results. ATPE members can log into Advocacy Central to learn more about the bill and send a quick message to senators.


While most of the attention has been on the school finance legislation, the House Public Education Committee and Senate Education Committee turned their attention this week to other bills sent over from the opposite chamber. On Tuesday, the House committee heard bills on student discipline and school safety. The Senate committee also heard bills pertaining to student health and safety and voted to advance some pending bills that would require school districts to share more financial information on their websites. For a full recap of Tuesday’s hearings from our ATPE lobbyists, check out Andrea Chevalier’s blog post on the House Public Education Committee and Mark Wiggins’s blog post on the Senate Education Committee hearing. Both committees will meet again on Tuesday, May 7.

 


ELECTION UPDATE: Tomorrow is uniform election day and an opportunity for many voters to cast ballots on local elections for bonds, school board trustees, and other local matters. Find more election information at VoteTexas.gov or contact your county clerk to find out what might be on your ballot locally. Let’s help reinforce the message that Texas educators care enough to vote in every election!


Last week we reported briefly on the April 26 meeting of the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier attended the meeting and provided a full summary of the board’s deliberations, which included hearing mixed testimony on a plan to replace certain certification exams. Learn more about last Friday’s SBEC meeting here.


As we roll into the last month of the legislative session, here’s a look at where some other bills of interest to public education stakeholders currently stand.

ATPE has supported legislation to increase state funding for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) pension fund, making it possible for future cost of living adjustments. Senate Bill (SB) 12 would accomplish those goals and provide retirees with a 13th check. The House and Senate have passed different versions of the bill with near unanimous support, and we expect the bill to be referred soon to a conference committee. Learn more about ATPE’s push for pension improvements at PayTheBillTX.org.

The 86th legislature has been considering numerous bills related to school safety, declared an emergency issue this session by Gov. Greg Abbott. One of the most high-profile bills is Sen. Larry Taylor’s SB 11. The ATPE-supported bill passed the full Senate this week by a vote of 29-2 and has been sent to the House, where it will be heard on Tuesday by the House Public Education Committee.

The House Public Education Committee will also hear another bill by Chairman Taylor next week that ATPE does not support. It’s SB 1455 aimed at expanding virtual schools in Texas despite their questionable performance record. ATPE provided oral and written testimony against the bill when it was heard on the Senate side. The House committee hearing on this one is set for Tuesday.

ATPE has been closely watching a couple of bills aimed at expanding the statutory definition of “political advertising” for the purpose of limiting educators’ ability to communicate about political matters during the school day. SB 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon has passed the full Senate and been referred to the House Elections Committee. The extremely broad bill restricts educators from using “any form of communication” to support or oppose candidates or measures, and it even adds criminal penalties for educators who “facilitate” legislative advocacy by students. SB 904 by Sen. Bryan Hughes is still on the Senate Intent Calendar awaiting a floor debate by the upper chamber. That bill also extends restrictions on political advertising to school district WiFi networks in a way that would criminalize educators’ reading or communicating about politics even using their own personal smartphones. SB 904 also punishes third-party organizations that send political messages to public email addresses, such as those used by school districts. ATPE members can find additional resources on these bills on Advocacy Central.

Other bills of interest to educators are HB 281 by Rep. Mayes Middleton and SB 29 by Sen. Bob Hall that would prohibit school districts from using public funds to pay for lobbying activities. The House bill has not yet been heard by the full House. The related Senate bill was passed by the full Senate on a vote of 18-13 and has been referred to the House Committee on State Affairs.

For the latest updates on education bills being considered this legislative session, be sure to follow @TeachtheVote and our team of lobbyists on Twitter.