As the 86th Texas Legislature began its regular session in January 2019, it was dubbed the “session of the teacher” and was marked by abounding promises to fix school finance and provide pay raises to the most important in-school factor contributing to student success: our teachers. Indeed, this session’s legislation included several pro-public education proposals such as a multi-billion dollar school finance and property tax reform bill, efforts to provide an across-the-board teacher pay raise, school safety enhancements, and measures to shore up the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), while mostly avoiding troublesome and divisive topics such as payroll deduction and tactics to privatize education.
However, bills rarely reach the finish line in the same form as they started, while most others don’t make it at all. In fact, there were more than 10,000 bills and resolutions filed this session, but only 1,429 House and Senate bills were finally passed. As a reminder, bills that do finally pass the legislature are still subject to review by the governor. Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed three bills that were on ATPE’s tracking list. The governor vetoed House Bill (HB) 109 by Rep. Armando Martinez (D-Weslaco), which would have required charter schools to give students Memorial Day off as school districts are currently required to do, yet the bill exempted districts of innovation (DOI). Gov. Abbott explained in his veto statement that the bill would have exempted up to 859 school districts, and suggested the legislature draft more targeted legislation in the future. The governor vetoed HB 455 by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston), which would have required the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to develop a model policy on recess that encourages age-appropriate outdoor physical activities. Despite praising the bill’s good intentions, the governor called HB 455 “bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake.” Gov. Abbott also vetoed HB 3511 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), which would have created a “Commission on Texas Workforce of the Future.” The governor called the bill redundant and duplicative of work being done by the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative, which involves the Texas Workforce Commission, TEA, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB).
To learn how education issues fared during the 2019 session that ended on Memorial Day, ATPE offers this comprehensive summary prepared by our lobbyists: Jennifer Mitchell, Monty Exter, Mark Wiggins, and Andrea Chevalier. You’ll also find within this post an update on the actions taken by the 86th Texas Legislature on ATPE’s legislative priorities for 2019.
Here’s a list of the topics covered in this post:
ATPE’s top legislative priority this year was improving Texas’s school finance system, and more specifically, supporting legislation to dramatically improve that system in order to provide every child access to an exemplary public education.
Gov. Greg Abbott (R) declared school finance reform to be one of his top priorities and an emergency item for early consideration by the 86th Legislature. Newly elected House Speaker Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) did his part to keep school funding on the minds of state representatives by providing them with cups reading, “School Finance Reform – The Time is Now.” While a handful of school finance bills were filed this session, House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) quickly became the session’s signature piece of legislation. HB 3 was a culmination of selected recommendations from last year’s Commission on Public School Finance that was created by the 85th legislature, as well as other input from education stakeholders such as ATPE.
ATPE supported the version of HB 3 that was approved by a vote of 148-1 in the House chamber. The House-approved bill called for providing billions of dollars to public schools; included important programmatic changes such as full-day pre-K and dyslexia and dual language funding; and it increased the basic allotment. Importantly, the bill as it left the House did not include merit pay provisions ranking teachers competitively or basing their compensation on their students’ performance; nor did the bill tie district funding to the results of student assessments like the STAAR. The Senate sponsor of HB 3, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), pushed forward a revised version of the bill in the upper chamber, which was approved by the Senate on a vote of 26-3 with two senators “present not voting.” As an updated version of the bill progressed through the Senate and ultimately reached a conference committee, ATPE continued to work to keep merit pay and other negative provisions out of the final bill.
State leaders announced on May 23, 2019, that a deal on HB 3 and other key legislation had been reached. Known as the Texas Plan, the final version of HB 3 as passed by the House and Senate now awaits the Governor’s signature as of our writing of this report. It is important to note that the final bill includes approximately $5.2 billion for property tax compression in addition to the $6.2 billion for school resources, and it reduces school districts’ vulnerability to recapture.
In its final form, HB 3 also makes a number of education policy changes that fall outside the scope of traditional school finance legislation, addressing such topics as the creation of a “do not hire” registry for educators who have been accused of misconduct and requiring teachers to demonstrate proficiency in the science of teaching reading. Fortunately, HB 3 as finally passed does not rank educators across or within districts and expressly prohibits compensation being tied to testing in local teacher designation systems. The bill also does not tie school funding to students’ third grade reading scores.
Read more about the major changes to school finance and education policy that are contained in HB 3 in this detailed ATPE blog post about the omnibus bill here on Teach the Vote.
Increasing educator compensation through plans that foster both retention and a robust workforce at every Texas public school was another ATPE legislative priority this session. We advocated for compensation plans that would allow for local flexibility, encourage educator input, involve factors more meaningful than students’ standardized test scores, and align with other efforts to promote and enhance the education profession.
Leading up to the November 2018 Texas elections and heading into this year’s legislative session, Lt Gov. Dan Patrick (R) made teacher pay a central tenet of his communications. During campaign messaging, he first promised educators a $10,000 pay raise before ultimately scaling back his plan to the $5,000 pay raise encapsulated in Senate Bill (SB) 3 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound).
SB 3’s first high-profile hearing by the Senate Finance Committee coincided with the timing of ATPE at the Capitol, our lobby day event held every legislative session, and several ATPE members testified at the hearing. The Senate quickly passed the more than $4 billion bill out of the upper chamber within the first 60 days of session, after Gov. Abbott declared teacher pay to be another emergency item this year. SB 3 as passed by the Senate called for across-the-board pay raises for classroom teachers and librarians.
However, SB 3 stalled in the House as the lower chamber grappled with its larger school finance bill, HB 3. For its part, House members proposed smaller, state-funded, across-the-board pay raises at the district level that would cover all public school employees except administrators in their version of HB 3. Later in the session. SB 3-style pay raise language momentarily regained life in the Senate’s version of HB 3, but did not make it into the final version of the school finance bill. Ultimately, the combination of legislators opposed to across-the-board raises and the prioritization of property tax compression by state leaders, including Lt. Gov. Patrick, doomed the proposal for a $5,000 across-the-board teacher pay raise.
While it does not guarantee an across-the-board, state-mandated pay raise, the final compromise version of HB 3 does contain two significant provisions on educator compensation. The first requires districts to spend 30 percent of the new revenue they receive under HB 3 on compensation. Seventy-five percent of that portion must be spent on teachers, counselors, librarians, and nurses; with a prioritization of spending the money to increase compensation for classroom teachers with more than five years of experience. Districts are not required to give to every employee within this category an increase. The remaining 25 percent of the compensation carve-out may be spent on compensating other full-time staff who are not administrators. Additionally, districts likely can choose to spend these dollars on benefits such as insurance premiums in lieu of salary hikes.
HB 3 also allows districts to assign their teachers performance designations and draw down additional state funding for compensation based on the combination of a teacher’s designation and the student demographics of the campus in which they teach. The additional funding ranges from $3,000 to $32,000, depending on a teacher’s designation and other factors, but the total amount of money budgeted by the state for this program is only $140 million for the biennium, meaning that it may end up being limited to only a handful of districts. Based on the wording of HB 3, state funding under this program will flow to the districts rather than directly the individual teachers who may earn the designations, allowing districts substantial discretion in how they spend the additional money.
For more information on the compensation provisions found in HB 3 as finally passed, view our blog post about the bill’s details here on Teach the Vote.
Teacher Retirement System (TRS):
ATPE had two legislative priorities for this session that were connected to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Our first priority was preserving educators’ pension benefits, which have remained largely stagnant for several years as a result of the legislature’s failure to inject more money into the system. This year, ATPE actively supported legislative efforts to preserve both the solvency and the defined-benefit structure of the TRS pension program. We also teamed up with Equable, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for pension plan sustainability, to jointly promote legislation that would address the TRS funding shortfall.
ATPE’s other TRS-related legislative priority was funding educators’ healthcare needs. We aimed to help the state and school districts provide active and retired public educators with more affordable and accessible healthcare benefits. With healthcare costs on the rise nationally, active and retired educators alike have seen their medical costs eat up an increasingly larger percentage of their take home pay or TRS annuities.
Retired teachers can rest a little easier knowing that the passage of Sen. Joan Huffman’s (R-Houston) SB 12 (pending the Governor’s signature, of course) will provide a much needed increase in contributions to TRS, making the fund actuarially sound and ensuring that the primary retirement income for many Texas educators will be viable for decades to come. Read more on the details of changes made to TRS, including the provision of a 13th check for current retirees, in this ATPE blog post for Teach the Vote.
School Safety and Student Health:
One of the most sweeping bills the legislature passed this session was SB 11 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), which was aimed at improving school safety in the aftermath of the 2018 deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. School safety and mental health were among the issues that Gov. Abbott declared as emergency items for the 86th legislative session, following round-table discussions his office held with stakeholders, including ATPE state officers, during the interim.
Although SB 11 and a related mental health bill, SB 10, took a meandering path through the session, legislators ultimately placed a specific focus on improving students’ mental health and assigning specialized teams at each campus to identify individuals who may pose a threat to themselves or others. The bill’s largest component sends $100 million to school districts over the next two years through a school safety allotment for use on facilities and security programs. Read the rest of what SB 11 does in this ATPE blog post for Teach the Vote.
Other school safety-related bills that were passed this session include HB 1387 by Rep. Cole Hefner (R-Mt. Pleasant), which removes caps on the number of school marshals who can serve a public or private school, and HB 2195 by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas), which requires that a school district’s multihazard emergency operations plan include a policy on responding to an active shooter situation. Freshman Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Ft. Worth) also passed a bill that pertains to the information law enforcement officials are required to share with school districts when a student is arrested. Her SB 2135 helps superintendents and school boards work together with law enforcement agencies to exchange information that can be used to conduct a threat assessment or prepare a safety plan related to a student who may pose a threat.
Another noteworthy bill that passed this session and could be directly attributed as a reaction to recent school shootings was HB 496 by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio). It sets forth protocols for the provision and use of bleeding kits in public schools, as well as training of students and staff to respond to traumatic injuries.
A couple of education-related bills were passed this session that aim to prevent or respond to the growing problem of child sex trafficking. HB 111 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint), calls for school district employees’ training to include recognizing the signs of sexual abuse and sex trafficking of children with significant cognitive disabilities. HB 403 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) similarly requires superintendents and school board trustees to undergo training in identifying and reporting sexual abuse, human trafficking, and other maltreatment of children.
Lawmakers also approved bills this session that address students’ mental health, HB 18 by Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo) is a bill that grew out of interim recommendations and strives to help school employees be aware of and provide interventions for students with mental health challenges, substance abuse, or a history of trauma. HB 19, also by Rep. Price, requires mental health professionals in each Education Service Center (ESC) region to provide training and resources to help address public school students’ mental health. Additionally, Rep. Todd Hunter’s (R-Corpus Christi) HCR 137 designates the month of September as Suicide Prevention Month for the next 10 years. Also, SB 435 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) requires local school health advisory councils to recommend appropriate opioid addiction and abuse curriculum that can be used by the school district.
Finally, there are some student health-related bills that passed and are worth mentioning. This session Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) finally passed HB 76, a bill he has carried for several sessions aimed at providing student athletes access to cardiac assessments before they participate in certain activities sponsored by the University Interscholastic League (UIL). Rep. Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches) also passed HB 684 enabling school nurses and other trained public school employees to provide assistance to students with seizure disorders. Likewise, HB 2243 filed by physician and Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Houston) aims to help school nurses administer asthma medication to certain students. SB 869 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) calls for an ad hoc committee to consult with the commissioner of education on updating guidelines for the care of students with food allergies who are at risk for anaphylaxis.
A handful of bills pertaining to student testing are on their way to the governor’s desk as of our writing of this report. Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R-Amarillo) bill to continue Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs), SB 213, has already been signed into law by Gov. Abbott. The ATPE-supported bill originally aimed to make the IGC law permanent, but its final version simply extends the sunset date for the law to September 1, 2023, making it ripe for consideration again during the 2021 or 2023 legislative session.
The largest testing bill that passed this session is HB 3906 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), which makes a variety of changes to how state assessments are administered and the content of the tests. Additionally, HB 1244 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) changes the end-of-course exam for U.S. History to include 10 questions from the civics test used in the naturalization process; and HB 1891 by Rep. Lynn Stucky (R-Denton) will allow those who reach a required score on high school equivalency exams to be exempt from taking the Texas Success Initiative assessment.
Read more about these bills and others pertaining to testing in this ATPE blog post for Teach the Vote.
During the interim, special education advocates worked diligently on the state’s Special Education Strategic Plan and Corrective Action Response, which was ordered by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) due to Texas’s artificial 8.5% cap on special education enrollment. Advocates also worked with the Texas Commission on Public School Finance last year, carrying legislators into the session with renewed energy for special education reforms.
To invigorate everyone even more, news broke just before session that our state faced penalties from ED due to the Texas Education Agency’s failure to maintain “state financial support” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Essentially, the state spent $33.3 million less on special education in 2012 than in the year before, and thus, Texas was being assessed a $33.3 million financial penalty by ED. Unfortunately, the state has continued this trend, and it is now estimated that the federal penalty will reach $233 million.
Legislation passed this session hopes to address this issue going forward. The funding changes in the major school finance bill, HB 3, and under the state’s supplemental appropriations bill, SB 500 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), should help address Texas’s issue with maintenance of financial support. HB 3 raises the mainstream weight from 1.1 to 1.15; creates a new dyslexia weight of 0.1; and establishes a special education allotment advisory committee. SB 500, the supplemental budget, includes over $219 million to settle maintenance of financial support costs and prevent future penalties.
Other bills will impact special education beyond funding, such as HB 165 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), which will allow students in special education programs to earn high school endorsements on their transcripts, and SB 139 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso), which will provide parents with clearer notice on special education rights, including information related to evaluation and eligibility. Additionally, SB 522 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) improves the development of individualized education programs (IEPs) for students who are visually impaired, and SB 2075 by Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney) aims to improve school districts’ compliance with dyslexia screening and parental notification.
Protecting educators’ right to use payroll deduction for the voluntary payment of their professional association dues was another ATPE priority for 2019. In 2017, ATPE and other groups that represent public employees fought off vigorous, politically motivated efforts to repeal the payroll deduction statute, with the issue being named a top priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and even being added to Gov. Greg Abbott’s list of urgent issues that he felt necessitated a special session that summer. Those efforts failed last session, and ATPE was prepared to fight any similar legislative efforts this session.
Despite frequent pleas from far-right groups like Empower Texans and the Texas Public Policy Foundation to compel the 86th Texas Legislature to do something about the “union dues” issue, ATPE is pleased to report that not a single bill was filed this year aiming to eliminate payroll deduction for educators. There were some efforts in the final days of the session to try to amend language onto other bills that could prevent public employees from using payroll deduction, but those efforts failed.
Early in the session, the House Public Education Committee heard HB 1133 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford). This bill would have changed the current hard cap of 22 students in a single elementary grade classroom to a campus-wide, grade-level average, having the effect of allowing class sizes to dramatically expand. ATPE strongly opposed this bill, but it was unfortunately voted favorably out of the committee. After weeks of inaction on the bill, the language from HB 1133 was abruptly amended as a House floor amendment onto one of Rep. Huberty’s school accountability bills, HB 3904. The next day, this language was stripped from HB 3904 following a third-reading amendment by Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie). What followed was quite extraordinary. Within hours, HB 1133 was added to a floor calendar and set to be voted on by the full House. Rep. Stickland postponed a vote on the bill three times, and when he finally allowed for a vote, the House defeated HB 1133 by a vote of 44 yeas and 97 nays. For more about the debate and to find out how your legislator voted on HB 1133, check out our coverage here on the Teach the Vote blog. ATPE thanks those who called their legislators and helped us oppose this bill in order to protect class-size limits, which are part of ATPE’s member-adopted legislative program.
Private School Vouchers:
ATPE’s final legislative priority for the 86th legislative session was opposing the privatization of public schools through programs such as vouchers, scholarships, tax credits, education savings accounts, or allowing private entities to take over the authority and accountability vested in locally elected school boards. During the 2017 legislative sessions, private school vouchers were a top priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and voucher legislation easily passed the Texas Senate only to be stalled in the House. The House members’ unambiguous opposition to vouchers last session, combined with the strong statement made in 2018 by educators showing up in higher numbers at the polls, dissuaded lawmakers and even state leaders from pushing a voucher priority this year. ATPE is happy to report that no major private school voucher bills like the ones filed last session were heard in committee this time around.
There were a handful of bills considered this session that ATPE and others deemed to be virtual voucher bills. The primary bill in this group was SB 1455 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). SB 1455 would have eliminated statutory limitations on a student’s ability to demand access to more than three virtual school courses in a semester. The bill also called for expanding the number of full-time virtual school programs and access to those programs for students in grades K-2. Virtual school programs while accessed through a school district or charter school are operated almost exclusively by private, often for-profit, providers. Research has consistently shown that such full-time programs do a poor job of educating students compared to traditional brick-and-mortar schools, but they are a source of large profits for the providers at the expense of taxpayers. Other similar bills were filed this session by Sens. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) and Bob Hall (R-Edgewood). Thankfully, all of these ATPE-opposed virtual school expansion bills failed to make it out of the House Public Education Committee this session.
Although not technically a “voucher” bill, ATPE believes it is worth mentioning this session’s version of the so-called “Tim Tebow” bill. Session after session, lawmakers have filed bills named in honor of the famous athlete who was home-schooled. The bills attempt to force public schools to allow home-schooled students to participate in their activities through the University Interscholastic League (UIL). The latest iteration was HB 1324 by Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls), which ATPE opposed based on our member-adopted legislative program. During its hearing by the House Public Education Committee, ATPE submitted written testimony against HB 1324, expressing our concern that there was no assurance under the bill that home-schooled students would be required to meet the same prerequisites for UIL participation as public school students. The bill was expected to be brought up for a committee vote a couple weeks later, but was left off of the vote list, likely in response to growing opposition to HB 1324. ATPE appreciates the members, educators, parents, coaches, and other stakeholders who called their legislators to oppose this bill.
In the previous regular legislative session of 2017, charter schools walked away with $60 million in first-time state facilities funding and the ability to operate school district campuses and receive financial benefits through “1882 partnerships,” a reference to the enabling legislation, SB 1882 (2017). While charter school legislation did not take center stage this session, several bills affecting charter schools are headed to the governor’s desk.
Some bills that passed this session have the effect of treating charters in the same manner as traditional public schools. HB 109 by Rep. Armando Martinez (D-Weslaco) prohibits charters from operating on Memorial Day; HB 2190 by Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) allows children of charter school employees to attend their parents’ school; and SB 372 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) allows charter governing bodies to employ security personnel, commission peace officers, and enter into agreements with law enforcement to assign school resource officers. Additionally, SB 2293 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) subjects charter school employees to the same collective bargaining and anti-striking laws as all other public school employees. SB 2293 also creates a common application for charter school admission and a requirement that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) maintain and report on the nebulous “charter waiting list” often cited by charter school proponents as justification for their further expansion.
While the above-referenced bills do bring some parity between charters and traditional public schools, ATPE also supported several bills this session that would have had an even greater impact but did not pass. For instance, HB 43 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) would have prohibited charters from using exclusionary admission policies based on students’ discipline history, and HB 1853 by Rep. Leo Pacheco (D-San Antonio) would have required charter schools to employ certified teachers.
Other bills that passed this session will impact charter school finance and expansion. The previously discussed omnibus school finance bill, HB 3, affects charter school funding, including requiring charters to pay their fair share into TRS and removing the charter benefit of the small and midsize adjustment. SB 668, a mandate relief bill by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), allows charters to submit an expansion approval request up to 18 months before expanding and requires that charters notify school superintendents affected by the expansion. Unfortunately, this is a pared-down version of stricter notification requirements that were included in the bill as it left the House. Other related bills that passed include HB 4258 by Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston), which provides the attorney general with the sole authority to approve the tax-exempt status of charter school bonds, nixing the authority of municipalities. Lawmakers also approved SB 2117 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), which provides the financial benefits of 1882 partnerships to previously established partnerships in Spring Branch ISD and Aldine ISD that were formed prior to the final implementation of SB 1882. Lastly, SB 1454 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) improves the transparency of the sale, lease, and disposition of closed charter schools and their assets.
A couple of other charter-related bills passed the legislature, including HB 4205 by Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland), which allows for large charter operators to repurpose a closed public school district campus with the requirement that the same students who were at the campus before it was closed be admitted. Finally, HB 1051 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) makes permanent the Goodwill Excel Center, an adult high school diploma and industry certification charter school pilot program, and codifies its best practices.
Legislators also passed several bills related to student discipline this session. HB 3630 by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) and SB 712 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) are identical bills prohibiting the use of “aversive techniques,” which are described as techniques or interventions intended to inflict pain or emotional discomfort. This includes sprays, electric shocks, using a device to restrain all four extremities, and denial of the ability to use the restroom. Teacher organizations worked with the bill authors to ensure that this legislation would not prevent an educator from using a technique outlined in a student’s behavioral intervention plan (BIP) or from removing a student from class when necessary.
Regarding the removal of students, SB 2432 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) adds criminal harassment against a district employee to the list of conduct that will result in a student’s automatic removal from a classroom. This would mandate that a student who threatens a teacher or sends them harassing electronic communications is immediately removed from class. Another bill also by Sen. Taylor, SB 1451, states that negative action may not be taken against an educator solely on the basis that the teacher made disciplinary referrals or documented student misconduct. ATPE supported these bills.
Lawmakers spent considerable time this session discussing ways to improve student performance at public schools that are struggling under the state’s accountability system. Finding a programmatic “fix” that will dramatically improve performance in a reasonably short period of time, and in particular, one that is capable of being replicated, has long been an elusive goal of state and local policymakers and many education reformers. The latest attempt is called the “Accelerated Campus Excellence” (ACE) approach. The program, which began in Dallas ISD and has spread to a handful of other districts mostly in the DFW metroplex, has shown some promise and caught the attention of lawmakers when it was discussed during interim hearings of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance last year.
In a nutshell, ACE consists of a robust set of wraparound services for students at a persistently struggling campus, along with salary incentives and additional training for the teachers at the campus. The program utilizes a campus reconstitution approach, where a principal, often new to the campus, assembles a team of educators, some of whom are already teaching at the campus but many of whom are new. Many aspects of ACE mirror initiatives that ATPE has long advocated, such as using financial incentives to entice high-quality, often more experienced, educators to work at hard-to-staff campuses; offering robust mentoring and professional development; and providing students with robust wraparound supports. Unfortunately, the high cost of both the educator stipends and the wraparound services has made the longer-term sustainability of an ACE program questionable.
Several bills this session included provisions that would add ACE program language to state law, including both the House and Senate versions of HB 3. Regrettably, most of the provisions included in such bills featured heavy reliance on students’ standardized test performance data, including the use of STAAR data, to select educators for ACE campuses; provisions that rank teachers competitively by district or statewide, again based largely on student performance; and giving the appointed commissioner of education extreme control over the programs and their approval.
Ultimately, the ACE provisions were removed from HB 3, the omnibus school finance bill. However, the legislature did also pass HB 4205 by Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland) which had been amended with language from another stand-alone ACE bill, SB 1412 by Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock). HB 4205 as finally passed contains a watered down and unfunded provision that allows districts, subject to commissioner approval, to use a version of ACE as a turnaround plan for a multi-year IR campus under Section 39.105 of the Texas Education Code.
In addition to advancing pro-public education legislation, ATPE worked to stop proposals this session that would have hindered the ability of our schools, teachers, and students to receive the best education possible. Specifically, ATPE worked to block SB 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) and SB 904 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola). These bills would have had the combined effect of subjecting educators to extensive restrictions on political speech that go far beyond those that apply to any other group of public employees. Under these bills, teachers would have faced criminal penalties for all kinds of innocuous activities, including break room conversations of a political nature and teaching students about civic engagement as required by the Texas curriculum standards. Neither bill made it all the way through the legislative process.
ATPE also opposed SB 9, another controversial bill by Sen. Hughes that would have significantly increased the criminal penalties for mistakes made by voters, decreased voter privacy, and made voter registration more difficult. The Senate passed SB 9 on a party line vote, but the measure stalled in the House late in the session where it could not make it onto a calendar for floor consideration.
Another pair of bills that were of concern to some education groups were SB 29 by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) and HB 281 by Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville), aimed at preventing public entities from hiring lobbyists or paying dues to associations that lobby the legislature. While it is difficult to speculate what impact those bills might have had on groups like ATPE that do not receive their dues dollars from public entities, there is no question that weakening the ability of local schools to communicate their needs to the legislature was one of the authors’ goals. Fortunately, a deluge of messages from public education supporters all over Texas helped convince legislators to reject the bill in a major late-session vote on the House floor on May 20.
It is widely believed that these bills were filed in response to pressure from certain anti-public education groups reacting to the overwhelming pro-public education sentiment expressed by many voters in the most recent elections. Some of these bills came perilously close to becoming law, and ongoing advocacy by educators during the legislative session was among the key determining factors in preventing them from making it to the governor’s desk.
Indeed, if there is a single takeaway for the education community following the 2019 legislative session, it is reinforcement of the fact that political participation by educators is essential for the defeat of anti-public education bills. Stated differently, the engagement of educators in every election cycle and through grassroots communications with their elected officials, especially during a legislative session, is what produces successful outcomes for public education. ATPE thanks all those who helped prioritize the needs of public schools, educators, and most importantly, students during this 86th legislative session.