Tag Archives: drugs

House Public Education Committee hears Senate bills for the first time this session

On Tuesday, April 30, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard, for the first time, bills sent down from the upper chamber. The Senate bills heard were those that did not have a companion (a similar or identical) House bill. Seven bills were on the agenda, covering topics from opioid addiction and abuse in schools to military-connected students.

ATPE registered support for the following bills heard today:

  • SB 1451 (Taylor, R-Friendswood): Would prohibit a teacher from being assigned an area of deficiency in an appraisal solely on the basis of disciplinary referrals or documentation of student conduct. The bill also prohibits a district from disciplining a teacher for documenting bad student behavior.
  • SB 2432 (Taylor, R-Friendswood): Would allow for the disciplinary removal of a student who “engages in conduct that contains the elements of the offense of harassment” against a school employee. This includes harassment of teachers and threats made by students to inflict harm.

The following bills were also heard by the committee:

  • SB 54 (Zaffirini, D-Laredo): Would require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to conduct a study on how to appropriately evaluate students who spend at least 50% of their instructional day in a regional day school for the deaf.
  • SB 372 (Campbell, R-New Braunfels): Would allow the governing board of a charter to employ security personnel and enter into memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with law enforcement to have school resource officers (SROs).
  • SB 435 (Nelson, R-Flower Mound): Would add a duty to local school advisory health committees (SHACs) to recommend appropriate grade levels and curriculum for instruction regarding opioid addiction and abuse and methods of administering an opioid antagonist (a substance that would inhibit or interfere with the effects of an opioid).
  • SB 522 (Zaffirini, D-Laredo): Would replace the term “functionally blind” with wording from the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Would specify that an individualized education plan (IEP) for a student with visual impairment is required to provide instruction in braille if deemed appropriate by the student’s IEP team, based on an evaluation of their proficiency in relevant skills and their instructional needs.
  • SB 1557 (Lucio, D-Brownsville): Would establish the Purple Star Campus program, which would recognize campuses that develop practices and programs catering to military-connected students.

The House Public Education committee plans to meet again to hear more Senate bills that don’t have House companions next Tuesday, May 7, 2019 at 8 A.M. Furthermore, the Committee will likely vote out Senate bills at some point this week, potentially as early as today. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for legislative updates.

ATPE testifies on educator healthcare

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III, which oversees the public education budget, met Wednesday at the Texas Capitol to discuss interim charges related to TRS-Care. Chairman Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) began by noting the roughly $1 billion shortfall facing the system heading into the 2017 legislative session, which lawmakers only partially filled. Without those funds, the system would have been insolvent. The program faces another shortfall heading into the 2019 session, which begins in January.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies before House Appropriations Article III Subcommittee September 5, 2018.

Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas Executive Director Brian Guthrie estimated that the fiscal year ending in 2021 will face a roughly $410 million shortfall, which is down from previous projections. Guthrie explained that TRS-Care is funded as a percentage of payroll, which is not growing at the same rate as health care costs. This is the fundamental reason why TRS-Care has begun to face repeated shortfalls. Retirees have born additional costs as a result of the underfunding, and roughly 30,000 have chosen to leave the program because they can no longer afford to participate.

Guthrie suggested that the best case scenario for TRS-Care would be for the legislature to appropriate an amount more than is needed to simply keep the fund solvent, the excess of which could become the corpus of an investment fund that would be able to provide long-term funding stability, similar to the TRS pension trust fund.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter credited the House and Chairman Ashby in particular for preventing the collapse of TRS-Care last session. Exter suggested allocating additional dollars to the base funding formulas for TRS-Care, as opposed to providing supplemental funding each biennium. Exter shared a story from a retiree whose incontinence medication shot up to $500 after the most recent TRS-Care changes. To that end, Exter suggested expanding the list of free and near-free medications, particularly in maintenance drug categories. In addition, allowing retirees access to café plans or health savings accounts (HSA) would allow retirees to allocate tax-deferred dollars on the front to help with budgeting towards their annual deductible. Finally, Exter noted that preventing retirees from leaving TRS-Care or banning them from returning after testing other private plans violates free market principles and harms consumers.

Beyond TRS-Care, Exter warned of problems associated with TRS-ActiveCare and the pain experienced by active educators who are seeing health care costs rise more quickly than their paychecks. The 86th Texas Legislature will also be faced with issues relating to the TRS pension fund. Both will vie with TRS-Care for attention and resources.

Chairman Ashby indicated that the changes to TRS-Care have generated enormous attention, and voiced optimism that this will lead to positive outcomes for both active and retired educators’ health care next session.