Here’s how TRS legislation ended up in the 86th legislative session

As the 86th legislative session came to a close yesterday, there were some significant changes made to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) that warrant a closer look.

TRS Pension Reform

Senate Bill (SB) 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R – Houston), sponsored in the House by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R – League City), was passed 31:0 in the Senate and 145:1 in the House on the last day to pass bills. The bill will immediately reduce the funding window on the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) pension from over 90 years to pay off the unfunded liability to under 30 years. Reducing the time frame to less than 30 years also allowed the legislature to provide current retirees with an additional pension payment during the current fiscal year. The 13th check, as the supplemental payment is often called, will be the amount of the retiree’s regular monthly annuity payment up to a maximum amount of $2,000.

ATPE was strongly in support of shoring up the TRS pension fund as it will ensure that the primary retirement income for many Texas educators will be viable for decades to come. The passage of SB 12 also saves the state and taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars in interest on the pension fund’s liabilities, and it puts the TRS fund in a position for policymakers to begin considering a permanent cost of living adjustment for retired educators as early as the next legislative session in 2021.

SB 12 calls for the state’s contribution to immediately increase from 6.8% to 7.5% in the 2020 fiscal year, which begins on Sept. 1, 2019. The state contribution rate will then continue to increase over time until the rate reaches 8.25% in 2024. School districts not paying into Social Security currently contribute 1.5% to the pension fund. Beginning in the 2019-20, all school districts will contribute toward TRS pensions with the district rate increasing by a tenth of a percent each year beginning in the 2021 fiscal year, until the district rate reaches 2% in 2025.  Active school employees’ contributions to TRS will remain at their existing rate of 7.7% for the next two years. Employee contributions will increase to 8% in the 2021-22 school year and 8.25% the following year.

Aside from injecting more money into the TRS pension fund, SB 12 contains a few additional provisions that are worth noting. For one, the bill maintains a provision that ensures that if the state’s contribution to TRS should decline in the future, then school district and active employee contributions to the fund would be reduced by the same percentage. It is worth noting, however, that any future legislature could vote to change this. SB 12 also includes a change for the handful of school districts that currently pay into Social Security on behalf of their employees. As noted above, those districts that opt to make Social Security contributions will no longer enjoy an exemption from paying into TRS, which Rep. Greg Bonnen said would add about $20 million per year to the fund. Only institutions of higher education will now be exempt from participating in contributing into the TRS pension fund for their covered employees.

Here is a summary of the details provided by TRS staff on how the final adopted version of SB 12 is funded over time:

 

TRS Healthcare

ATPE hoped that the conference committees for SB 12 and House Bill 3, the omnibus school finance bill that also passed, would find better ways to help active and retired teachers deal with the rising costs of their healthcare. There were internal discussions about increasing the state share of active employee health insurance costs. Currently, the state pays $75 per month toward premiums and requires school districts to pay a minimum of $150 per month on behalf of their staff. Employees cover the rest of the cost of their health insurance premiums. SB 12 significantly increases the state’s share of contributions going into the TRS pension system, and the final version of HB 3 does require districts to spend additional dollars on employee compensation (which could include increasing the district’s share of health insurance costs). Despite these improvements, neither bill addressed the inadequacies of the state’s share of active employee premiums in the end.

State lawmakers did make good on their pre-session promises not to raise TRS-Care rates for retiree health insurance. The state budget in House Bill 1 includes $230 million in supplemental funding to cover the projected shortfall in the TRS-Care trust fund. State leaders pushed TRS not to raise rates last fall when it became apparent that the amount of the shortfall for the upcoming biennium was going to be less than originally projected. The savings were largely due a combination of successful TRS contract negotiations and favorable provisions of the federal Affordable Healthcare Act taking effect. Unfortunately, barring a substantial change in the healthcare landscape, the projected shortfall for the 2022-2023 biennium is much larger than what lawmakers had to deal with this session to address the shortfall expected for the next two years.

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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.

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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.


 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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From The Texas Tribune: This session’s biggest mental health bill got killed on a technicality — then resurrected

This session’s biggest mental health bill got killed on a technicality — then resurrected” 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.

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, has tried to kill several bills this session. Photo by Juan Figueroa/The Texas Tribune

A major mental health bill prioritized by the state’s top leaders as a way to help prevent school shootings was partially revived late Tuesday night hours after it appeared to have been abruptly killed on a technicality during a dramatic night in the Texas House.

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, raised a “point of order” on Senate Bill 10, which created a Texas Mental Health Consortium aimed at bringing together psychiatric professionals from Texas medical schools and other health care providers to connect children to mental health services. Stickland’s point of order contended that an analysis of the bill provided to lawmakers was inaccurate. After the House recessed for nearly an hour and a half so parliamentarians could analyze the technicality, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, somberly announced a ruling in Stickland’s favor.

But hours later, provisions from SB 10 were added to Senate Bill 11, a school safety bill that the lower chamber passed earlier in the evening. State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, sponsored SB 10 in the House and successfully amended it to SB 11 over Stickland’s objections shortly before a midnight House deadline to advance bills from the upper chamber.

SB 10 is one of several proposals that the state’s GOP leaders championed in the wake of the deadly shooting last year at Santa Fe High School. Gov. Greg Abbott named it an emergency item in his State of the State address earlier this year, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick designated it one of his 30 legislative priorities.

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, the bill’s author, told senators earlier this year that it was her “best shot” at helping students in the aftermath of school shootings. It had bipartisan backing and cleared the upper chamber unanimously more than two months ago.

“I think it was a well-intentioned bill that had some very bad unintended consequences,” Stickland told the Tribune by phone Tuesday night, an hour after his point of order initially knocked the bill out of contention. “I think it could have been stronger on parental rights to make sure our constitutional rights are protected in the bill.”

Asked if he was bracing for backlash from leadership over killing such a high-profile bill, Stickland said, “I expect it.”

Within a couple of hours, Stickland got it.

As it became clear Tuesday that Stickland’s point of order would torpedo the legislation, key players who worked on SB 10 moved quickly to figure out next steps. Zerwas, a Richmond Republican, walked across the Capitol rotunda into the Senate, where he spoke with Nelson, presumably about news of the bill’s fate.

“It’s unfortunate that there were some people who were getting some negative comments from their constituencies that felt the need to vote against this bill or somehow kill this bill,” Zerwas told the Tribune. “And one of those happened to be Jonathan Stickland, who’s pretty adept in finding points of order and calling them, and he wins some, he loses some, and unfortunately, he happened to win one with Sen. Nelson’s bill.”

Just before 11 p.m., state Rep. Greg Bonnen, a Friendswood Republican and brother of the House speaker, made a motion to revive the mental health bill by amending a sweeping school safety bill passed earlier Tuesday. He offered a cryptic message that there was “an opportunity to do some additional work” in order to “further make safe our schools in the state of Texas.”

Stickland approached the chamber’s back microphone with questions.

“Is this something we’ve seen before?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” Greg Bonnen said.

Stickland attempted to delay the motion, asking procedural questions about how the chamber was going to reconsider a portion of a bill that had already passed. He then gave a speech imploring colleagues not to reconsider SB 11, the school safety bill.

“Maybe you plan on voting for it, and that’s fine,” Stickland said. “But here’s what I can promise you: One day, there’s gonna be something that you care about where you might be in the minority. … You’re going to hope that these rules and our traditions and the way that this House operates protects you and your ability to stand up for your constituents.”

At one point, Stickland and a group of lawmakers huddled at the front dais to discuss his attempts to prevent adding the mental health provisions to the school safety bill.

“I’m sick of this shit,” Stickland could be heard telling Dennis Bonnen.

Zerwas eventually succeeded in reviving major elements of the mental health bill, despite two further attempts from Stickland to prohibit the amendment on technicalities.

Stickland has built a reputation for being a thorn in the side of House leadership, under both Bonnen and former House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. A former member of the hardline conservative Freedom Caucus, which he resigned from earlier this session, Stickland cast the lone “no” votes on several high-priority bills this year, including the House’s school finance reform proposal.

On a number of occasions this session, Stickland has tried to kill legislation ranging from the controversial to the uncontested. In April, for example, he successfully knocked several measures off of that day’s local and consent calendar, which is typically reserved for uncontroversial legislation. Stickland’s reasoning? Liberties were under attack.

On Monday, he used a point of order to successfully halt a bill that would have made it illegal to leave an unattended dog tied up in an inhumane manner. And earlier Tuesday, Stickland unsuccessfully called a point of order on SB 11, the school safety bill that would later be used as the vehicle to revive SB 10.

It was one of two school safety bills that advanced in the Legislature within hours of each other. The Senate also approved a House bill that would abolish the cap on how many trained school teachers and support staff — known as school marshals — can carry guns on public school campuses.

The nonprofit Mental Health America ranks Texas last among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., for youth access to mental health care. According to its 2019 report, The State of Mental Health in America, 71.3% of youth in Texas with major depression go untreated, compared with the national average of 61.5%.

Acacia Coronado, Emily Goldstein, Alex Samuels, Patrick Svitek, Aliyya Swaby and Alexa Ura contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/05/21/texas-mental-health-bill-killed-over-technicality/.

 

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.

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From The Texas Tribune: Welcome to Hell Week for the Texas Legislature

Analysis by Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune
May 20, 2019

Analysis: Welcome to Hell Week for the Texas Legislature” 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.

Dense fog blankets the dome of the Capitol in Austin. Photo by Emree Weaver / The Texas Tribune

Here at the beginning of a week in which most bills in the Texas Legislature will die, the big priorities set out at the beginning, in January, are still alive: school finance, property tax reform, school safety and responses to Hurricane Harvey.

Lots of other proposals are fading fast.

As of Friday, just over 5% of the 7,324 bills filed in the House and Senate this session had made it all the way to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk. That tells you a bit about what will happen in the next few days. When this is over, when lawmakers have gaveled out on Memorial Day, that percentage will have jumped considerably. Two years ago, 18% of the filed bills made it to the governor. Four years ago, it was 21%. And in 2013, it was 24.4%.

But don’t just look at success; that won’t explain the dramatic tension of the next few days. Look instead at the overwhelming failure rate. Only about 1 bill in 5 — 1 in 4 in a good year — makes it out of a regular session alive. Everything else (that hasn’t found new life as an amendment to other legislation) meets its final end in the final week — when procedural deadlines form a bottleneck that most of the stampeding legislation doesn’t survive.

Those failures are not always surprising to the authors of bills, but failure is a tough ending when a legislator has worked for 20 weeks or more to make some changes in the state’s law books.

The big stuff is all right — at least for a minute — but other things you’ve probably heard or read about are in peril, a list that includes new laws that would allow people and businesses to discriminate when that’s based on “sincerely held religious beliefs”; limits on local residents’ ability to block oil and gas pipelines, power lines and other infrastructure projects; and loosening of the state’s current restrictions on medical marijuana. There’s also the Senate confirmation of Abbott’s Secretary of State appointee, David Whitley, who presided over the state’s botched search for noncitizens on the state’s rolls of registered voters and who’s out of a job if the Senate doesn’t confirm him before the session ends. Until Sunday night, it also included changes to election laws sought by Republican lawmakers; that bill didn’t get onto the House’s final calendar, but its provisions could find their way into other legislation before the session ends.

That’s a tiny sample of what’s in the air, and it’s changing fast. Some of the items on that list have already died once or twice, only to pop up in some other form. You’ll know in a week or so — after Memorial Day — what’s really dead and what really passed.

The Texas Legislature’s Doomsday Calendar — the dramatic name for the deadlines that stack up at the end of a regular legislative session — only has a few squares left.

Four of those are red-letter days:

  • Tuesday, May 21, the last day Senate bills can be considered for the first time in the House.
  • Wednesday, May 22, the last day the House can consider Senate bills on a local and consent calendar, which is for uncontested legislation, for the first time.
  • Friday, May 24, the last day the House can decide whether to accept or negotiate Senate changes to bills.
  • Sunday, May 26, the last day the House and Senate can vote on final versions of bills they’ve been negotiating.

The last day — the 140th — gets a Latin name, but not a red border. It’s sine die, the last day of the 86th Texas Legislature’s regular session.

Another clock starts then, marking the time between the end of the legislative session and Father’s Day — June 16 — the last day Abbott can veto legislation passed by the House and Senate.

That’s an important deadline, but it’s not one that legislators can control. Their ability to steer the state will ebb soon — but not just yet. For them, we’re entering make-or-break week.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/05/20/welcome-to-texas-legislature-hell-week/.

 

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.

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Senate Education Committee winds up last hearing

The Senate Education Committee met late Friday afternoon to consider another round of bills sent over from the House. The meeting was not posted in advance, with Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) instead announcing the meeting an hour and a half ahead of time from the Senate floor. Sen. Taylor said Friday would be the committee’s last meeting. The committee heard testimony on the following bills:

  • HB 637, which would eliminate a law that ties the salaries of the superintendents of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Texas School for the Deaf to other administrators at their own schools. The salary is currently limited to 120 percent of the annual salary of the highest paid instructional administrator at the school. Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) explained that this created a problem when the top staffer departed one of these schools and the superintendent’s salary dropped ten percent as a result. Sen. Watson further explained that the salary would be capped in the budget instead.
  • HB 808, which would require reporting demographic and academic data in districts with more than 1,000 African-American males. Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston) explained that this is intended to study and address academic performance within this demographic group.
  • HB 1387, which would eliminate the cap on school marshals. The current cap is one marshal per 200 students. This bill drew numerous witnesses to testify in opposition, despite the late posting.
  • HB 2195, which would require an active shooter emergency policy to be included in a school district’s multi-hazard emergency operations plan.
  • HB 2526, which is aimed at eliminating a problem arising when a boundary between two school districts passes through a single homestead, causing the owner to pay taxes to both districts.
  • HB 4270, which would allow a municipal management district to provide funding for improvement projects for public education facilities as part of the long list of improvement projects or services they can provide.

The committee voted to advance HB 637, with Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) voting no; HB 808, with Sens. Bettencourt, Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), and Hall voting no; HB 1387, with Sens. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville), Beverly Powell (D-Burleson), Watson, and Royce West (D-Austin) voting no; HB 2195; and HB 2526.

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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.


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