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Texas House approves landmark school finance bill

Chairman Huberty addresses the Texas House before its final vote approving House Bill 3, April 3, 2019.

A major effort to improve the state’s school finance system took a giant step forward today after the Texas House of Representatives passed House Bill (HB) 3 this afternoon.

The bill, authored by House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), adds billions in new funding for Texas public schools, as well as tax relief for local property owners who have dealt with the increasing burden of funding public education while the state’s share of funding responsibility has decreased over the years. Efforts to reform the school funding system last session, also spearheaded by Chairman Huberty, failed after the House and Senate could not reach an agreement in 2017, despite debating the issue extensively in both a regular and special session. Instead, the legislature convened a commission to study the issue over the last two years. HB 3 approved by the lower chamber today reflects a massive amount of work and compromise.

In a press release issued today, ATPE expressed thanks to House members and, in particular, Chairman Huberty and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) for their leadership in moving the bill forward. “ATPE provided input on HB 3, and we are grateful that the concerns of Texas educators were given meaningful consideration,” said ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes. “HB 3 as adopted by the full House today represents a major step forward in replacing our outdated school funding system with one that will prioritize funding for students who need it the most, place greater emphasis on early learning, alleviate some of the burden on local taxpayers, and help Texas recruit and retain the best teachers,” added Dr. Holmes.

During today’s floor debate, the House added language to ensure that as school districts receive additional funding, their employees will be guaranteed pay raises. The floor amendment was authored by Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) and received bipartisan support plus the approval of the bill’s author. As amended, HB 3 now requires districts to spend at least 25 percent of any increase in the basic allotment on salary increases for their full-time employees, except for administrators. One-quarter of those salary increases may be doled out at the district’s discretion, while 75 percent of the increases must be funded in an across-the-board manner giving an equal amount to each eligible employee. Other pay raise amendments that had been pre-filed were withdrawn once it became clear that the House leadership would accept the Turner amendment.

ATPE also appreciates that the House kept other language out of HB 3 that might have derailed its chances for passing today. For example, there was no appetite for an amendment filed by Rep. Matt Schaefer attempting to add merit pay back into the bill. Citing the work of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, Rep. Schaefer argued that the state’s current compensation system for teachers “values tenure” rather than quality. A merit pay proposal was originally included in HB 3 as filed but was removed after ATPE and other educator groups expressed concerns about it and the emphasis it would inevitably place on standardized test scores. Rep. Schaefer withdrew the amendment today in the face of obvious opposition to it.

The House’s final vote on HB 3 today was 148-1. Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) was the lone “no” vote on the bill. Speaker Bonnen exercised his right to cast a supporting vote from the chair, which typically occurs only for bills that are a very high priority of the House leadership or when there is a need for a tie-breaking vote.

Today’s vote helped fulfill Speaker Bonnen’s pledge to make passing a school finance reform bill a top priority; Bonnen announced right after becoming speaker on opening day of this legislative session that he was stocking the House members’ lounge with disposable cups reading, “School Finance Reform – The Time is Now.”

HB 3 heads next to the Texas Senate, where Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) has filed his own school finance bill, Senate Bill 4, but has largely waited for the House to act on its more comprehensive bill.

House Public Education Committee hears bills on pre-K, tech apps, educator prep, data transparency, and more

On Tuesday, April 2, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard several bills related to a variety of topics.

ATPE registered positions in support of three of the bills heard in committee:

  • House Bill (HB) 1517 (Coleman, D-Houston): Would require schools, including charters, to notify parents if they do not have a full-time nurse for 30 or more consecutive instructional days. The bill excludes schools that enroll fewer than 10,000 students.
  • HB 2030 (Turner, John, D-Dallas): Would allow eligible three-year-olds enrolled in pre-K to continue their eligibility the next school year, which helps parents avoid intensive paperwork of re-registration and reduces the administrative burden on districts.
  • HB 2184 (Allen, D-Houston): Would create collaborative policies for improving a student’s transition from an alternative education setting back to the regular classroom. A committee substitute for the bill clarifies that teachers who implement the transition plan are included on the planning committee.

The following bills were also heard by the committee:

  • HB 963 (Bell, C., R-Magnolia): Would add technology applications courses to the career and technical education (CTE) allotment, so that students in those courses would receive the same weighted funding as students in CTE courses.
  • HB 1468 (Talarico, D-Round Rock): Would create a “public school mental health task force” to determine the effectiveness of school counseling programs and ways to improve school climate and report that data to the Texas Education Agency (TEA).
  • HB 2984 (Allison, R-San Antonio): Would require the State Board of Education (SBOE) to add essential knowledge and skills (TEKS) to the technology applications curriculum related to coding, computer programming, computational thinking, and cybersecurity. One witness noted that the TEKS are set to be revised in 2021 regardless.
  • HB 3007 (Turner, Chris, D-Grand Prairie) Would require TEA to provide districts all source data that was used in computing their accountability ratings. Rep. Turner stated that districts are not given access to all the data used to determine their A-F accountability ratings and that his bill gives districts the opportunity to view the data during the appeals process. Witnesses representing Arlington ISD, who requested the bill, testified that their college, career, and military readiness data was missing information on 206 students.
  • HB 3217 (Ashby, R-Lufkin): Would reauthorize institutions of higher education to offer a bachelor’s degree in education and eliminate the 18-semester-hour cap on the number of education courses allowed for a degree. One witness testified against the bill, stating that Texas needs subject matter specialists and that content hours should not be decreased. The Texas Association of Colleges for Teacher Education spoke to the importance of pedagogy and testified that students would not experience longer degrees as a result of the bill.
  • HB 3323 (Burns, R-Cleburne): Would require a school district to post employment policy documents on its website.
  • HB 3435 (Bowers, D-Garland): Would establish March 1 as Texas Girls in STEM Day.
  • HB 3966 (Raymond, D-Laredo:  Would require the governor to designate Holocaust Remembrance Week in public schools.
  • HB 3710 (Bell, K., R-Forney): Would require TEA to develop free, electronic tutorials for end-of-course assessments at an estimated cost of $3/student.
  • HB 4310 (Dutton, D-Houston): Would require districts to allow teachers sufficient time to teach a given curriculum and states that districts may not penalize a teacher for failing to follow the scope and sequence timeline if the teacher determines that the students need more learning time.
  • HB 4487 (Frullo, R-Lubbock): States that students sent to the campus behavior coordinator are not considered to have been removed from the classroom for purposes of reporting in the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS).
  • HCR 59 (Guillen, D-Rio Grande City): Would designate the second week of November as School Psychologist Appreciation Week.

The House Public Education Committee will meet again on Thursday, April 4, to hear bills on UIL and student health, and again on Tuesday, April 9, to hear bills related to charter schools. In news from the full House, Chairman Huberty’s school finance and tax reform bill, House Bill 3, will be up for debate in the House chamber on Wednesday, April 3. Follow @TeachtheVote and your ATPE lobbyists (@ATPE_AndreaC, @ATPE_MontyE, @ATPE_JenniferM, and @markwigginstx) on Twitter for updates on the action!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 29, 2019

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


The Texas House of Representatives debated its budget bill, March 28, 2019.

During a late night floor session on Wednesday, the Texas House unanimously approved a $251 billion state budget billHouse Bill (HB) 1. The bill includes a $9 billion appropriation for improving the state’s school finance system and providing property relief to homeowners. The public education-related funding increases in the House budget would be implemented via HB 3, Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) omnibus bill that ATPE supports. The full House is slated to debate HB 3 on the floor next Wednesday, April 3.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Finance Committee is preparing to approve its budget bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, in the coming days. During a meeting yesterday, the committee decided to add money to its bill to match the House’s $9 billion funding proposal for public education. The two chambers are likely to disagree, however, on how that money should be spent.

Read more about the House’s big budget vote in this article from The Texas Tribune republished on our Teach the Vote blog. We urge ATPE members to use our convenient tools on Advocacy Central to send a message to House members thanking them for their vote on the budget to increase public education funding and urging them all to similarly support HB 3 next week.


ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand testified before a House committee, March 26, 2019.

This week two important bills affecting the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) advanced in both the House and Senate.

House Bill (HB) 9 by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), which increases contributions to TRS and provides retirees with a 13th check, received a hearing the House Committee on Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services on Tuesday. The bill was left pending in  committee but is expected to be voted out favorably in the near future. ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand testified in favor of HB 9 during the hearing.

Also, Senate Bill (SB) 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) was voted out of the full Senate by a unanimous vote on Monday. SB 12, which ATPE also supports, raises the contribution rates into TRS, albeit differently from the House’s bill, and provides retirees with a 13th payment, but the payment would be lower. For more information on the differences between the two bills, check out this blog post by ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.


On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), heard a number of bills focused on student discipline issues. ATPE supported bills such as Senate Bill 1451, which prohibits negative action on a teacher’s appraisal solely on the basis of the teacher’s disciplinary referrals or documentation of student conduct, and Senate Bill 2432, which would add harassment to the list of conduct that will result in the mandatory removal of a student from the classroom. For more information on the bills heard, plus other pending bills that were voted on during this week’s committee hearing, check out this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


Meetings of the House Public Education Committee have been known to take on a theme and focus on bills that pertain to the same issue. The theme of this week’s meeting of the committee was school safety. Members of that committee on Tuesday heard 35 bills related to topics in school safety such as school hardening, access to mental health resources, and increased law enforcement on school campuses. ATPE registered a position in support of six bills including House Bill 2994 by Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock), which would require the Commissioner of Education to develop mental health training material for school districts. A thorough breakdown of the bills heard during this committee meeting can be found in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


FEDERAL UPDATE: On Thursday, March 28, 2019, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos sat before the Senate Appropriations Committee to defend President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget for the Department of Education. DeVos faced questions on her support for increasing federal funding for school choice while eliminating or decreasing funding aimed at teacher effectiveness, special populations, and loan assistance. Watch more coverage of the hearing here for the full scoop.


ELECTION UPDATE: The 86th Texas Legislative session is more than halfway over, and issues like school finance, teacher pay, and school safety remain key topics. This is a direct result of the tremendous educator turnout during the 2018 elections and proof of the power of democracy – informed and engaged citizens holding their elected officials accountable. Practicing and modeling civic engagement require voting in every election. On May 4, 2019, many Texans will have the chance to vote in local elections for school boards, mayoral seats, bonds, and more. Make sure your voter registration is up to date so you will be able to participate. The last day to register to vote in the May election is April 4. Early voting runs April 22-30, 2019. Visit VoteTexas.gov to learn more about how to register and vote.

From The Texas Tribune: Texas House approves 2020-21 budget plan, with extra $9 billion for school finance, property tax relief

By Edgar Walters, Cassandra Pollock and Alex Samuels, The Texas Tribune
March 27, 2019

Texas House Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas, R-Richmond, talks with House Speaker Dennis Bonnen on March 27, 2019, as the House took up the budget debate. Photo by Emree Weaver / The Texas Tribune

Texas House approves 2020-21 budget plan, with extra $9 billion for school finance, property tax relief” 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.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.

In Dennis Bonnen’s first major test as speaker of the Texas House, the chamber he oversees resoundingly passed a $251 billion budget Wednesday after a long but largely civil debate — a departure from the dramatics that have typically defined such an affair.

Though lawmakers proposed more than 300 amendments to the spending plan, Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, and his chief budget writer, state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, finished the night with their budget plan largely intact. After 11 hours of relatively cordial discussion, lawmakers agreed to withdraw the vast majority of their amendments or move them to a wish list portion of the budget, where they are highly unlikely to become law.

The budget passed unanimously on the final vote. The legislation, House Bill 1, now heads to the Senate, whose Finance Committee was set to discuss its budget plan Thursday.

“I’m proud of where we are in the bill that we are sending to the Senate,” Zerwas said at the end of the marathon debate. “Each and every one of you should be incredibly proud of the work that you’ve put in here.”

The two-year spending plan’s highlight — a $9 billion boost in state funding for the public education portion of the budget — remained unchanged. Of that, $6 billion would go to school districts, and the remaining $3 billion would pay for property tax relief, contingent on lawmakers passing a school finance reform package.

The budget plan would spend $2 billion from the state’s savings account, commonly known as the rainy day fund, which holds more than $11 billion.

“I’m not here to compare it to previous sessions,” Bonnen told reporters after the House budget vote. “But I’m here to tell you we had a great tone and tenor tonight, and I’m very proud of the business that we did.”

Some of the more contentious budget proposals floated by lawmakers never reached the floor. An amendment from state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, for example, would have asked members to vote on the issue of across-the-board pay raises for public school teachers. Such a proposal has divided the Legislature this session, with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Senate in favor and much of the House opposed. Raymond withdrew his amendment Wednesday evening, saying he planned to bring up the issue again when the House debates its school finance bill.

Debate on HB1, the House state budget bill, continues into its 12th hour as State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Dallas, shows the strain of a long night. March 27, 2019.
Debate on HB1, the House state budget bill, continues into its 12th hour as State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Dallas, shows the strain of a long night. March 27, 2019. Photo by Bob Daemmrich for the Texas Tribune. 

 

A proposal from state Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville, to prohibit disaster recovery dollars from benefiting noncitizens and “illegal aliens” was quietly withdrawn after sparking controversy earlier this week. Across the aisle, state Rep. Jessica González, D-Dallas, withdrew her amendment that would have required Gov. Greg Abbott’s office to prepare a report on domestic terrorist threats posed by white supremacists.

Bonnen worked behind the scenes in the days preceding the vote, House lawmakers said, in the hopes of avoiding the discord that has erupted during the chamber’s marathon budget debates in past sessions. On Tuesday, top lieutenants for Bonnen met for a handful of informal gatherings to offer concessions in exchange for lawmakers dropping some of their more controversial amendments, according to people familiar with the meetings.

The result was one of the shortest budget debates in recent memory. Lawmakers gave preliminary approval to the two-year spending plan minutes after the clock struck midnight. Under former House Speaker Joe Straus, lawmakers in 2017 and 2015 went home well into the morning, after several explosive exchanges between Straus’ allies and the chamber’s hardline GOP membership.

“This budget night is unlike any other I have experienced in my time in the House — both in it’s shorter duration and civil tone,” said state Rep. Matt Krause, a Fort Worth Republican and Freedom Caucus member, in a text message after the debate concluded. “I think Speaker Bonnen deserves the bulk of the credit for creating an environment of civility and decorum. This is how the Texas House should operate when debating the big issues for the state of Texas.”

Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, addresses the house floor during budget night at the State Capitol on March 27, 2019
Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, addresses the house floor during budget night at the State Capitol on March 27, 2019. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune 

 

So while Bonnen’s first budget night as speaker was hardly free of controversy — an argument over the effectiveness of the state’s “Alternatives to Abortion” program, for example, derailed movement on amendments for nearly an hour — the occasional spats paled in comparison with those of years past. There were no discussions at the back microphone of lawmakers’ sexual histories, as happened in 2015, and no one had to physically restrain House members to prevent a fistfight over the fate of a feral hog abatement program, as happened in 2017.

Still, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, continued his long-running campaign against the feral hog program. And though the exchange ranked among the evening’s rowdiest, it was more than tame by last session’s standards.

State Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, again opposed Stickland’s amendment to defund the program, which reimburses local initiatives to eradicate wild hogs. Stickland responded, “Members, although I respect the thoughtful words of Rep. Springer … let’s end this program right here, right now.”

Stickland’s amendment failed, with just four votes in favor.

In an earlier dustup just before 2 p.m., state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, who led the House budget negotiations over health and human services programs, was seen in a heated exchange with state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano.

A few minutes later, Leach proposed an amendment that would allow Texas to expand Medicaid coverage for women up to a year after they give birth. To cover some of the costs, Leach’s amendment recommended cutting $15 million from a program in Abbott’s office that reimburses film and video game makers who work in Texas.

Extending postpartum Medicaid coverage “is simply more important and should be a higher priority” than the film incentives program, Leach said.

Democrats gathered at the back microphone to oppose the motion, saying the funding should come from elsewhere.

“I appreciate that you’re trying to help women’s health,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, who said she supported the film incentives as a job-creation program. “If we found another source, would you create another amendment?”

“I’m not going to agree to hypotheticals,” Leach replied. The amendment subsequently passed without a recorded vote after putting Democrats in the awkward position of voicing opposition to a Medicaid coverage expansion they otherwise supported.

A more ambitious Medicaid coverage expansion, which would have provided publicly funded health insurance to low-income Texans under the Affordable Care Act, failed for a fourth legislative session. The Medicaid expansion amendment brought by state Rep. John Bucy III, D-Austin, was rejected with 66 votes in favor and 80 opposed.

Still, Democrats saw some wins Wednesday. For example, an amendment by state Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton, that would require the Department of State Health Services to conduct a study on vaccination rates among children at licensed child care facilities was approved in a 79-67 vote. Another successful amendment by state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, directs the state to come up with a transition plan for when a pot of federal health care safety-net funding, known as the 1115 waiver, dries up in 2021 and 2022.

Complicating budget negotiations was news of an updated property tax reform proposal, which was expected to be laid out in committee before the House convened but was instead postponed until after the budget debate. Debate over that updated proposal, which drew opposition from Democrats and hardline Republicans, carried over onto the floor as its author, state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, met with committee members to discuss the high-priority legislation.

The debate on the HB 1 ended with a procedural move spearheaded by Turner and Burrows to wrap up the remaining amendments and send them to the wish list portion of the wish list portion of the budget. That section of the budget, known as Article XI, is considered a graveyard for most line items.

Passing an amendment to the wish list is “just a way to get you off the main,” state Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, said in protest earlier in the evening, shortly before one of her proposals was shot down.

State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond (right), speaks with Rep. Dennis Paul, R-Houston (left), in the House Chamber on March 27, 2019, the day the House will take up HB1, the 2020-21 budget plan.
State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond (right), speaks with Rep. Dennis Paul, R-Houston (left), in the House Chamber on March 27, 2019, the day the House will take up HB1, the 2020-21 budget plan. Photo by Emree Weaver / The Texas Tribune 

 

The two-year budget wasn’t the only spending plan advanced by the House on Wednesday.

Lawmakers also approved a $9 billion supplemental spending plan to pay for leftover expenses that aren’t covered in the state’s current two-year budget, mostly for Hurricane Harvey recovery and health and human services programs.

A $4.3 billion withdrawal from the state savings account covers the largest share of expenses in the supplemental bill. Another $2.7 billion comes from the state’s general revenue, and $2.3 billion are federal funds.

The legislation, Senate Bill 500, returns to the Senate, whose stopgap spending plan approved earlier this month carried a $6 billion price tag.

Lawmakers in 2017 underfunded Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor and disabled, requiring a $4.4 billion infusion of state and federal funds. The Legislature must pass the stopgap funding bill before the end of May if the Texas Health and Human Services Commission is to be able to pay health care providers on time.

The supplemental bill also includes:

  • Nearly $2 billion to reimburse school districts, state agencies and universities for costs they took on after Hurricane Harvey
  • About $1.3 billion to shore up a system that pays out teacher pensions, contingent on the passage of a pension reform bill, which includes $658 million from the state savings account to provide a one-time “13th check” made out to retired teachers
  • Nearly $11 million for the Santa Fe Independent School District, which experienced a mass shooting last year that left 10 dead and 13 wounded
  • $2 million for state mental hospital improvements, which includes funding to plan the construction of new hospitals in the Panhandle and the Dallas area.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/03/27/texas-budget-house-2019/.

 

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

TRS bills move forward in both chambers

ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand testified in the House Pensions Committee, March 26, 2019.

The 86th Legislature has been considering bills to increase contributions to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), which ATPE supports. Preserving the solvency and defined-benefit structure of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) pension program for educators is an ATPE legislative priority this session.

On the Senate side, one high-profile measure on the move pertaining to this priority is Senate Bill (SB) 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R – Houston). After the bill received approval last week from the Senate Committee on State Affairs, which Sen. Huffman chairs, the full Senate passed SB 12 unanimously out of the upper chamber on Monday, March 25, sending it on its way to the House.

Meanwhile, a House committee today heard its own version of how to increase financial support for TRS, as well as for the state’s current retired educators. House Bill (HB) 9 by Greg Bonnen (R – Friendswood) was heard this morning by the House Committee on Pensions, Investments & Financial Services. The bill was left pending in committee today but is expected to receive a favorable committee vote in the near future.

Byron Hildebrand

ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand delivered our association’s testimony strongly supporting HB 9 in committee today. Hildebrand, who is also a retired educator, thanked legislators for taking a positive step forward with legislation aimed at making the TRS pension found sound, and he encouraged lawmakers to continue to take steps to do great things for active and retired teachers. Click here to watch today’s committee hearing, where HB 9 was the first bill considered. (Hildebrand’s testimony begins at approximately the 43-minute mark in the archived broadcast.)

While SB 12 and HB 9 both increase contributions to TRS and provide a 13th check to current retirees, the bills differ on the amount of the increased contribution, who would pay for it, and the size of the 13th payment. At 2.5%, the overall increase in TRS contributions under SB 12 would be a half percent more than the 2% increase called for by HB 9. However, HB 9 puts the responsibility for paying for the entire contribution increase on the state by raising the state’s rate from 6.8% up to to 8.8%. SB 12 only raises the state’s contribution rate from 6.8% to 8.25%, while also raising the active member rate from 7.7% to 8.25%, and raising the school district contribution rate from 1.5% up to 2%. HB 9 also begins and finishes raising the contribution rate a year sooner than SB 12 would. In terms of 13th payments, SB 12 offers all retirees a $500 bonus, while HB 9 would provide current retirees a 13th check in the same amount as their regular monthly annuity up to $2,400.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these two ATPE-supported bills as they continue to move through the legislative process.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 22, 2019

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


Now that the bill filing deadline has passed and the 86th legislative session is beyond its halfway point, it’s time for the legislature to do the one thing that it is mandated to do in every session: pass a budget. “Budget Day,” though it doesn’t have an official date in each legislative session, is when the House or Senate passes its version of a budget bill. Things get heated, legislators stay on the floor until the wee hours of the morning, staving off delirium to fight for every penny possible for their constituents’ legislative priorities. At stake this session is the future of public education funding, deemed an emergency issue this session by Gov. Greg Abbott and a top priority of the leadership in both the House and Senate.

For its part on the school finance front, the House Public Education Committee unanimously approved Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) comprehensive school funding bill, House Bill (HB) 3, on Tuesday of this week after making a number of changes requested by ATPE and other education stakeholders. Those changes included removing a controversial merit pay proposal from the bill. Read more about the revisions made to HB 3 in this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell. The new and improved school finance and tax reform bill is expected to be brought up by the full House for a floor debate within a couple of weeks.

With the momentum behind major public education bills like HB 3, it is now up to lawmakers to put aside enough money for the next biennium to make those school funding proposals a reality. On the House side, those budget decisions will be made via HB 1, which is the House’s version of the budget bill that is scheduled for a floor debate next week. State representatives will be spending the weekend drafting and pre-filing their amendments to the massive budget bill before its lengthy budget debate happens on Wednesday, March 27. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and be sure to follow us and our lobbyists on Twitter for updates on the budget debate next week.

 


House Public Education Committee hearing, March 19, 2019

In addition to approving HB 3 earlier this week, the House Public Education committee also heard 21 other bills when it met on Tuesday, March 19. The subjects of the bills ranged from the compensatory allotment to  a proposal to make personal financial literacy courses mandatory for graduation. The committee also voted to send 14 previously heard bills to the House floor, including the high-profile school finance and tax relief bill, HB 3. For more information on the bills heard during Tuesday’s committee meeting, read this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier. Next Tuesday, the committee will meet again to hear a long agenda full of school safety bills.

Senate Education Committee hearing, March 19, 2019

The Senate Education committee also met Tuesday, March 19, to hear a number of bills, including several relating to educator misconduct. Most of the bills heard on that subject were filed by Sen. Paul Bettencourt as follow-ups to his Senate Bill 7 enacted by the legislature in 2017. The Senate Education Committee voted to advance three bills to the Senate floor. Read more in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. On the agenda for next week’s Senate Education Committee hearing are several bills relating to student discipline.

 


Two high-profile bills positively affecting Teacher Retirement System (TRS) pension benefits are slated for legislative action next week.

First, Senate Bill (SB) 12, by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) is on the calendar for debate by the full Senate next week. As we reported in last week’s wrap-up, SB 12 was previously heard and approved by the Senate State Affairs Committee. SB 12 would shore up the educator pension fund by gradually increasing what the state, school districts, and educators contribute to TRS over a period of six years.

The second bill is House Bill (HB) 9 by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), which is scheduled for a public hearing by the House Pensions/Investments/Financial Services Committee on Tuesday morning, March 26, 2019. ATPE will be testifying in support of the bill. HB 9 would increase contributions to the TRS pension fund placing the entirety of the responsibility of paying for the contribution increase on the state. It also provides for TRS retirees to receive a 13th check equal to up to $2400 of their annuity payment.

Despite their different methods, both of these ATPE-supported bills are aimed at making the pension fund actuarially sound, which would make it possible for the state to provide a much-needed cost of living adjustment to those retired educators who are receiving TRS benefits.

 


House committee advances major school finance reform bill

Today the House Committee on Public Education voted to move forward a comprehensive school finance reform bill. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) offered a new committee substitute version of his House Bill (HB) 3 today, which the committee approved by a vote of 13 to zero.

The committee substitute for HB 3 reflects changes that were made in response to testimony on the original bill as filed. As we reported here on our blog, ATPE testified neutrally on HB 3 at last week’s committee hearing. We supported the bill’s provision of additional funding for public schools, tax relief, and other positive measures, but ATPE opposed language in the original bill that would have allowed school districts to exempt themselves from complying with the state’s minimum salary schedule and a controversial merit pay proposal. The substitute version of the bill approved today removes those portions of HB 3, which all four of the state’s major teacher groups and several individual educators opposed in testimony last week. ATPE greatly appreciates the willingness of Chairman Huberty and the House leadership to hear our concerns, and we are happy to support the new and improved version of this important bill as it moves forward.

HB 3 does not include an across-the-board educator pay raise in the same manner as the Senate’s well-publicized Senate Bill 3, but the House bill advanced today would raise the state’s minimum salary schedule by increasing the basic allotment from $5,140 up to $6,030. Additionally, with Chairman Huberty’s striking from HB 3 a controversial merit pay plan that was tied to a $140 million educator effectiveness allotment, school districts will be able instead to use those funds for incentives and pay raises to help staff quality teachers at high needs campuses, in rural schools, and in areas experience a critical teacher shortage. Other bills proposing an across-the-board pay raise for certain educators continue to be debated this session.

View the newest version of HB 3 here, along with the author’s summary of changes made to the bill. View ATPE’s press release on today’s committee vote approving HB 3 here. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on the progress of HB 3, which is expected to be sent to the House floor for its consideration within the next couple of weeks.

Texas House files major school finance reform bill

Flanked by other members of the Texas House, Rep. Dan Huberty and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen announce the filing of HB 3 during a press conference on March 5, 2019.

Numerous members of the Texas House of Representatives filled a crowded room at the State Capitol today for a press conference heralding the filing of House Bill (HB) 3.

The much-anticipated school finance reform bill has been filed by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee, with the support of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton). At this morning’s press conference, Chairman Huberty shared that approximately 90 representatives had already signed on to co-author the bill.

HB 3 as filed calls for raising the basic allotment by $890 per student and increasing the minimum salary schedule that sets a statewide floor for paying teachers, librarians, school nurses, and counselors. The bill aims to help districts fund full-day pre-Kindergarten programs and also provides money that can be used for merit pay programs for teachers. During today’s press conference, Chairman Huberty insisted that the bill’s incentive pay proposal for teachers, which was inspired by recommendations of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, would be based on factors other than the STAAR test. HB 3 does not include any across-the-board pay raise for educators like the one found in SB 3 on which we’ve also been reporting recently. The $9 billion price tag for HB 3 includes provisions for property tax relief, as well, since the bill provides funding to help school districts lower their tax rates by 4 cents and also aims to reduce districts’ recapture payments.

The House has created a website with additional information about HB 3, including a downloadable flier, at TheTexasPlan.com. Speaker Bonnen, Chairman Huberty, and other proponents of the bill are also encouraging use of the social media hashtag #TheTimeIsNow in promoting the bill. Readers of our blog may remember that on opening day of this legislative session, Speaker Bonnen shared that he had placed styrofoam cups in the House members’ lounge featuring the phrase, “School finance reform: The time is now.”

Chairman Huberty announced today his plans to have the House Public Education Committee hold a public hearing on HB 3 on March 12, and then have the committee make any necessary changes and vote the bill out on March 19 for floor consideration soon thereafter. Huberty also noted that he continues to engage in talks with Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), who is spearheading similar school finance reform efforts in the Senate and plans to file his own version of a school funding bill (to be identified as Senate Bill 4) this week.

ATPE appreciates the high priority being placed on fixing the state’s broken school finance system this session, as well as improving teacher compensation, addressing school safety, and shoring up the Teacher Retirement System. We look forward to participating in the upcoming hearings on HB 3 and all other related bills that are being debated this session. We will continue to work collaboratively with the 86th Legislature to craft comprehensive solutions that will address our public school students’ complex funding needs, the desire to improve educator compensation, efforts to ensure that our schools are safe learning environments, and the increasing pressure of making sure teachers’ pension and healthcare benefits are properly funded so that we can recruit and retain the best educators in Texas.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 8, 2019

Here’s your chilly edition of this week’s education news highlights from the ATPE Governmental Relations staff:


Andrea Chevalier

ATPE is excited to welcome Andrea Chevalier, the newest lobbyist to join our Governmental Relations team.

Andrea joins us most recently from the office of state Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint), where she served as Legislative Director and oversaw a host of issues, including public education. She is also a former classroom teacher with experience working in both the traditional public school and charter school environments. Andrea attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied chemistry; earned her Masters of Education in Secondary Education at the University of North Texas; and is currently working on completing her doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and Policy from UT.

Andrea will be lobbying and reporting on a variety of issues being debated by the legislature this session, working closely with the House Public Education Committee, and covering educator quality regulations considered by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). Watch for her blog posts here on Teach the Vote and follow her on Twitter at @ATPE_AndreaC.

 


On Tuesday, Gov. Gregg Abbott addressed a joint session of the 86th Legislature, delivering his traditional “State of the State” address. He outlined his legislative priorities for the session, punctuated by the declaration of six issues as emergency items that would warrant expedited action by lawmakers. All six of the issues bear close ties to public education, including most notably school finance, school safety, and teacher pay. Abbott’s declaration of these school-related emergency issues is a testament to the impact of the 2018 election cycle in which the Texas public education community was much more noticeably vocal and active. Tuesday was also the day for President Donald Trump to deliver his State of the Union address. That speech, which had been postponed due to the recent federal government shutdown, contained far less education-related content. Read more about both the State of the State and State of the Union speeches in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

 


The two legislative committees that oversee public education policy issues in Texas have begun holding regular meetings and hearing testimony. The Senate Education Committee held its first meeting of the legislative session this week, receiving an overview presentation by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. The committee also learned about the status of special education programs in Texas. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and provided this detailed summary for Teach the Vote.

The House Public Education Committee, which began its work a little earlier this session, held two meetings this week, both heavily focused on the topic of school finance. The committee similarly heard from Commissioner Morath, along with members of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Read more about those hearings in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier. The committee is slated for two more meetings next Tuesday and Wednesday, and the agenda will include testimony by stakeholders about school finance and the recommendations of the commission that studied the issue last year. ATPE has been invited to testify on Wednesday, and we’ll provide details next week here on our blog and on @TeachtheVote on Twitter.

 


On Monday of this week, the House Appropriations Committee announced its subcommittees that will work on various sections of the state budget. Committee members were also briefed by staff of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Teacher Retirement System (TRS). ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and provided an in-depth report here for our blog. On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Finance Committee has also been holding several meetings to review the draft budget. Next week, Senate Finance committee members turn their attention to Article III, which contains the education budget. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter will be there for those meetings starting Monday and will provide updates next week for Teach the Vote.

 


SPECIAL ELECTION UPDATE: Voters in San Antonio’s House District 125 will head to the polls Tuesday to elect a new state representative. Early voting has taken place this week for the special election to fill the vacant seat of former Rep. Justin Rodriguez, after he resigned to serve as Bexar County Commissioner. The five candidates vying for the HD 125 seat are Steve Huerta (D)Ray Lopez (D)Fred Rangel (R)Coda Rayo-Garza (D), and Art Reyna (D).

There also remains a vacancy in Houston’s HD 145, where Democrats Melissa Noriega and Christina Morales have advanced to a runoff in that special election. The date of the runoff election for HD 145 has not yet been announced, but is likely to be held in March. Read more about the two runoff candidates in this article from the Houston Chronicle.

 


 

House Appropriations hears from TEA and TRS

The House Committee on Appropriations met Monday to hear from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Teacher Retirement System (TRS) on the issues of school safety, school finance, the teacher pension system, and active and retiree educator health insurance. Before delving into the meat of the hearing, Cmomittee Chairman John Zerwas (R-Fulsher) also announced membership of the subcommittees that will be overseeing separate subject areas of the budget.

The subcommittee on Article III that oversees public education funding will be chaired by Rep. Greg Bonnen, and include Vice-chair Armando Walle and Reps. Mary Gonzalez, Donna Howard, Matt Schaefer, Carl Sherman, Lynn Stucky, and Gary VanDeaver.

House Appropriations Committee meeting Feb. 4, 2019

Other subcommittees include: the subcommittee on Articles I, IV, V; the subcommittee on Article II; the subcommittee on Articles VI, VII, VIII; and a new subcommittee on  Infrastructure, Resiliency, and Investment.

The committee heard first from Texas Education  Commissioner Mike Morath on the topic of school safety, including physical precautions such as metal detectors and alarms. Morath noted there is no single investment in school safety that will address all current weaknesses and that the agency isn’t and hasn’t traditionally been tasked or resourced to help districts with regard to mental health components of school safety.

TEA’s Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez followed with a high-level overview of how public schools are funded. Lopez explained how the basics of tax rates, weights, allotments, and adjustments work to together to create a districts M&O entitlement; facilities funding; charter funding; and recapture. Also mentioned during the discussion were statutory quirks and system complexities like the fact that the basic allotment is set in statute, but legislators each session have the option of funding at higher levels through the appropriations bill. The committee also discussed how in 2011 the legislature created a mechanism called the Regular Program Adjustment Factor that allows lawmakers to decrease the entire Foundation School Program (FSP) entitlement for every district with a single adjustment.

TR) Executive Director Brian Guthrie walked committee members through pension fund operations. Guthrie explained the TRS board’s decision to lower the assumed rate of return last summer to 7.25 percent down from 8 percent, which came as a result of market forecasts and input from the fund’s actuary. This caused the funding period for pension fund liabilities to extend from 32 years up to 87 years. Under state law, the TRS fund cannot offer a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to retirees unless the amortization period noted above is within 31 years.

Guthrie noted that the agency is requesting a 1.8 percent increase in the contribution rate in order to achieve a 30-year amortization period, which would allow for the possibility of a future increase in benefits, such as a COLA. This would cost $1.6 billion for the biennium from all funds.

Responding to a question from Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, Guthrie estimated the average pension payment for a TRS annuitant to be about $2,000 per month. This average figure covers all classes of public education employees, including auxiliary staff, such as bus drivers and custodial staff. For classroom teachers who have worked in Texas schools for 30 years, that amount is closer to $4,000 per month.

Guthrie then explained the healthcare programs under the agency’s umbrella: TRS-Care for retired educators and TRS-ActiveCare for active educators. Healthcare costs have skyrocketed in Texas, despite rising at a level slightly below the national average. This resulted in a $1 billion shortfall for TRS-Care heading into the previous legislative session, which was addressed by a temporary infusion of additional state funding, coupled with a significant increase in fees and reduction in benefits. The fund continues to run at a deficit.

Rep. Schaefer asked what impact a pay increase would have on the pension fund. Guthrie indicated that if all teachers saw a raise, there would be a negative short-term impact for TRS as a result of higher salary calculations for retiring members without the benefit of higher contributions. Guthrie suggested this could be mitigated by phasing in the salary increases’ impact on the calculation of a member’s highest five years of earnings. Guthrie suggested the short-term impact on TRS-Care would be positive.

Asked by Rep. Stucky how much it would cost to make TRS-Care sustainable, Guthrie suggested it would take more than $12-15 billion to create a corpus sufficient to produce funding as a result of investment returns. Even then, that process would take some time to get up and running. The deteriorating value of TRS-Care has led many retirees to leave the program, which exacerbates the financial stresses facing it. Guthrie added that the population was beginning to stabilize.

TRS-ActiveCare, which allows smaller and mid-size school districts to enjoy the benefits of group coverage through a combined risk pool, also faces affordability challenges due to statutory restrictions on how that program is funded. Five percent of districts – primarily the state’s largest districts, such as Austin and Houston – have opted out of TRS-ActiveCare. Last session, legislation was considered to allow districts a one-time opportunity to opt in or opt out, but such a bill was not passed ultimately.