Tag Archives: special session

From The Texas Tribune: How the Texas Legislature will operate next year is up in the air

It’s unclear what typical functions at the Texas Capitol will look like in January, or whether they will even exist. Credit: Austin Price for The Texas Tribune

The Texas Legislature meets in less than 100 days. Nobody knows how the session will look.

The Texas Capitol is a bustling place when the Legislature is in session — the elevators are crowded, the hallways are packed, the committee hearing rooms are overflowing and the chamber floors are covered with state lawmakers.

But with less than 100 days until the 87th regular session and the coronavirus pandemic still upending once-regular ways of life, it’s unclear what typical functions at the Capitol will look like in January, or whether they will even exist.

That uncertainty this close to the session could have ramifications for what members say will be one of the toughest legislative sessions in recent years: tackling billions of dollars in shortfalls to the state budget, undergoing the process of redrawing the state’s political maps, and navigating issues like health care and public education that have been a focus during the pandemic.

On top of that, the Capitol has been closed to most everyone for months, prompting questions about the access that the public will have to the legislative process.

Senate and House members spearheading logistical discussions say that while much remains up in the air, the two chambers are working together to implement session rules that are consistent for both chambers. With wildly different dynamics in the 31-person Senate and the 150-person House, though, some suggest that the two chambers may not end up on the same page.

“Our primary concern is safety, transparency and public access,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat who serves as vice chair of the House Administration Committee. “There’s so much up in the air.”

State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, chair of the committee, said the House is “in conversation with the lieutenant governor’s office,” but noted that “until there’s a presumed speaker, we don’t have a lot of guidance” in the lower chamber.

To Geren’s point, there’s only so much the House can do to prepare for the next session when its speaker is retiring and control of the lower chamber could flip to Democrats in November. There aren’t any declared candidates yet in the race to replace Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. However, if a member collected the votes needed to win before January, they could become the presumptive speaker and informally lay the groundwork on what protocols would be in place.

On the Senate side, rumors have lingered for weeks over what Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has told senators to expect come January. On a recent call with Senate chairs, according to several people who had knowledge of the call but weren’t authorized to speak on the record, Patrick outlined a worst-case scenario that involved limiting the legislation allowed for consideration and banning the public, press and lobbyists from entering the chamber.

A senior adviser for Patrick declined to comment for this story. And state Sen. Bryan Hughes, a Mineola Republican who chairs the Senate Administration Committee, did not respond to requests for comment.

Some decisions have already been made. Plexiglass dividers have been installed in several House committee hearing rooms, Geren said. Such barriers, he said, won’t be installed on the 150 House floor desks in the chamber after a trial run with a couple of them because they would interfere with the light used by new mobile sanitizing machines, as The Dallas Morning News first reported. House and Senate offices have also offered free webcams to offices in preparation for conducting more business virtually.

The Legislature, though, still faces a list of seemingly never-ending questions: Should temperature checks or some other form of screening be required before people enter the building? How can the House spread out 150 desks on the chamber floor — and will press and essential staff still be allowed on it? How can the public testify on legislation in committee hearing rooms, particularly on measures that generate a lot of interest?

Buoying those questions are layers of uncertainty about whether the virus will spike this winter, whether a vaccine will be available — and accessible — and, heading into the November election, whether Democrats will have control over the House, which could mean a change in leadership style to counter the GOP-controlled Legislature.

In August, Geren sent members results from a House survey over how and when the Capitol should reopen. Not every member responded, but those who answered questions about requiring temperature checks upon entering the Capitol and requiring face masks while inside committee rooms and public meeting spaces overwhelmingly supported those measures.

Howard told the Tribune that members are considering different sorts of screening protocols for how the public enters the Capitol but that no decisions have been made on what that could look like.

Since mid-March, the Capitol has been closed to the public, preventing members from holding interim committee hearings inside the building with public testimony. Those hearings are usually scheduled to help members consider or research business that could come up during the next session.

On Monday, hearing notices were posted for Senate Higher Education and Education interim committee hearings, both of which are set to happen next week. Each notice states that access to the Capitol “is limited to legislators and staff only” — and that only invited testimony will be allowed. “Invited testimony will be conducted via video-conference,” the notices say.

As a sort of workaround in the House, the speaker’s office released a memo in July detailing three options for how to conduct committee business while also adhering to lower-chamber rules, which do not allow for virtual hearings. Some committees have carried out interim business following that guidance.

Still, Democrats and Republicans have called on Gov. Greg Abbott, who oversees the Capitol, to reopen the building in recent weeks, arguing that if in-person fundraisers and public schools can resume, so can interim committee hearings. Such requests have gone unanswered publicly, and a spokesperson for the governor did not respond to a request for comment for this article. A spokesperson for the State Preservation Board also declined to comment.

“It certainly looks like we’re not going to have anything open before session starts,” Howard said. “We’ve really had no opportunity to have interim hearings, which has been extremely frustrating.”

State Rep. Phil King, a Weatherford Republican who chairs the House Redistricting Committee, said that “right now, we’re just locked out” — and added that it’s his “strong preference” that the Capitol reopen as soon as possible.

“I think it’s time now,” he said.

In the meantime, some members are already mapping out what office-specific guidelines they may issue for the 87th session. While most members say they are waiting to finalize those plans until closer to January, a number of them have already laid out protocols.

State Rep. Jon Rosenthal’s office, for example, has established a set of guidelines that staff and the lawmaker “will adhere to independent of rules and procedures the House Administration Committee provides the members for the 87th Legislative session,” according to a memo from the Houston Democrat’s office and assuming he wins reelection.

Masks will be required to enter Rosenthal’s Capitol office, which will not allow more than six people inside at a time. Rosenthal and his staff, the memo says, will also be tested for the virus “a minimum of once per week.” And interns, should they be hired, will work from home unless “dramatic changes happen” to prevent the spread of the virus.

On the other hand, state Rep. Briscoe Cain, a Republican from Deer Park and a member of the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus, said he and his staff “absolutely will not” mandate masks — and that his “office will be open to all just as it has been since I was first elected.”

“It won’t bother me if visitors want to wear [a mask], I’m not going to make them take them off,” Cain told the Tribune. “In 2017 or 2019, if someone wanted to wear a mask, I would not have cared.”

Another Republican, state Rep. Dade Phelan of Beaumont, said his office is considering limiting staff and the number of visitors allowed in the office at one time. He said his office is also thinking about trying to move meetings online, though no decisions have been made yet. Across the rotunda, state Sen. Borris Miles’ staff members said they have already installed a plexiglass shield at the front desk in the Houston Democrat’s office.

Meanwhile, a group of House Democrats including state Reps. Joe Moody of El Paso and John Turner of Dallas have spent the past several months working on a governance platform to add to the conversation about what the session should look like.

“Keep the ‘People’s House’ accessible to all who wish to safely participate,” read a line in a one-pager that was presented at the House Democratic Caucus’ recent virtual retreat. “Institute daily COVID checks for everyone entering the Texas Capitol,” reads another. Another one: “Propose penalties to discourage anyone from flouting pandemic rules.”

The pandemic has, of course, impacted other issues tied to the Legislature and its usual timeline. In addition to addressing the billions of dollars in shortfalls to the state budget and other core issues during session, state lawmakers are also set to undergo the once-in-a-decade process of redrawing the state’s political maps.

The pandemic has already halted several hearings that both the House and Senate redistricting committees had scheduled across the state during the interim. And, on top of that, King, chair of the House Redistricting Committee, said the census data that helps lawmakers draw political maps is not expected to arrive until at least June — which could put the Legislature on track to work beyond the 140-day regular session.

“I think we’re headed for a special session on redistricting regardless,” King told the Tribune.

Others agree. At a virtual event in July, the lieutenant governor said the Legislature could be in session until at least September, citing the budget and redistricting.

“I’ve told my staff and I’ve told senators,” Patrick said, “don’t plan any vacations until maybe after Sept. 30 of next year.”


The Texas Legislature meets in less than 100 days. Nobody knows how the session will look.” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

 

State comptroller says Texas is in a recession

In an interview Tuesday morning, April 7, 2020, with Texas Tribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar repeated a statement he had already made to legislators in private last month regarding the combined economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and plummeting oil prices.

“I know that we are unfortunately in a recession,” said Hegar, whose office oversees the state’s finances. “I just don’t know how deep or how wide it’s going to be.”

The comptroller’s certification revenue estimate in October 2019 projected that the state would end the current budget cycle with a balance of $2.9 billion in general revenue and $9.3 billion in the state’s economic stabilization fund (ESF), which is often referred to as the “rainy day fund.” Hegar said he plans to release a revised revenue estimate in July, which he predicts will be several billions dollars less. Many are questioning just how much of a toll the double-whammy of a pandemic and an oil price war will take on the state’s budget — especially after legislators significantly increased public education funding under House Bill (HB) 3 in 2019.

Hegar said Tuesday the state is expected to have enough cash flow to meet its obligations through the end of the current budget, which runs through August 31, 2021. While contributions to the ESF are expected to decrease as a result of declining oil and gas revenues, the comptroller’s office is still projecting a balance of $8.5 billion in the fund by the end of the current budget cycle.

Altogether, Hegar said he does not believe legislators will need to be called into a special session this year to shore up the current budget, but he added that the start of the next legislative session in January 2021 will be quickly upon us. Next session, legislators anticipate facing the daunting task of funding state priorities over the next budget cycle with significantly less money available.

The reason less money will be available has to do with how Texas government is funded. Since Texas does not have an income tax, sales and use taxes account for 57% of state revenue. Local governments are funded by a combination of sales and property taxes. When places like bars, restaurants, and stores make less money, they send in less sales tax revenue. Surging unemployment has the same effect on sales taxes by depressing consumer spending, as well as inhibiting people’s ability to keep up with their property taxes.

All this is happening at the same time the demand for government services such as unemployment, healthcare, and food assistance is increasing. The result is an unprecedented strain on government at every level, yet Hegar noted that state agencies should look for ways to cut spending.

The comptroller’s office is currently working off of sales tax revenue reports released in March detailing economic activity that happened in February, which was before social distancing was enforced. April sales tax numbers will provide a better look at the economic impact of business closures and downsizing, but that report won’t be available until the end of May. Hegar is waiting on those numbers to give a better estimate of the impact on the state budget in the planned revised revenue estimate this summer.

So what does this all mean for public education? It’s still unclear. Hegar noted Tuesday that  education and health and human services make up the two largest components of the state budget. Hegar noted that state leaders will likely begin discussing ways to cut agency spending during the current budget cycle, but he suggested that areas like the Foundation School Program (FSP) and Medicaid should be exempted from cuts this year. The FSP is the finance formula that flows funding for public education to local schools.

The state is also awaiting federal coronavirus aid recently passed by Congress, which will send billions of dollars to schools across the nation. Future federal aid packages are likely to have an additional impact on the state budget going into next session. There are already talks coming out of Washington about a fourth coronavirus stimulus bill that could provide as much as one trillion dollars in additional aid.

The one phrase Hegar repeated multiple times throughout this morning’s 45-minute interview was “managing expectations.” The comptroller was clear that the state is in the midst of a recession driven largely by the COVID-19 outbreak and aggravated by the oil price war. We still don’t know how many billions of dollars this will drain from the state’s budget going forward, but it will be significant. We’ll have a better look when the comptroller releases his revised estimate in July.

You can watch the full Texas Tribune interview with Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar here.

Special Texas House runoff election results for Jan. 28, 2020

Voters in three Texas House districts hit the polls on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, to elect their new state representatives. The special runoff elections in Ft. Bend County’s House District (HD) 28, HD 100 in Dallas, and Houston’s HD 148 were needed after those three state representatives resigned their seats late last year. No candidate earned enough votes in the original special elections on Nov. 5, 2019, to win any of these House seats outright. The winner in each of tonight’s runoffs will serve out the remainder of the current term of office, ending just prior to the start of the next regular legislative session in 2021.

Here’s a look at the results of the three special election runoffs held tonight:

HD 28 Runoff:

This was a race to fill the seat previously held by former Rep. John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), who resigned in 2019 to become executive vice chancellor for health affairs for the University of Texas System. As reported on the Texas Secretary of State’s website, a total of 30,074 votes were cast in this highly publicized runoff, representing an impressive 20% of the registered voters in that district. This figure exceeded turnout in the original November special election and is believed to be higher than any other Texas House special election taking place since at least 1992.

  • Gary Gates (R) earned 58.05% of the vote to win the race. He is a real estate investor from Rosenberg.
  • Eliz Markowitz (D), an educator from Katy, received 41.95% of the vote.

HD 100 Runoff:

This seat was previously held by former Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) who resigned last fall after being elected Mayor of Dallas. Per the Texas Secretary of State’s website, only 2,479 voters weighed in on this all-Democratic runoff.

  • Lorraine Birabil (D) was declared the winner with 66.28% of the vote. She is an attorney from Dallas with a background in public policy.
  • James Armstrong, III (D) received 33.72% of the vote. Armstrong leads an affordable housing organization in Dallas.

HD 148 Runoff:

This race was to fill the remainder of the term of former Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston), who also resigned in 2019. The Texas Secretary of State’s website reported that 6,915 votes were cast in this special runoff election.

  • Anna Eastman (D) won with 65.47% of the vote. Eastman is a social worker who previously served on the Houston ISD board of trustees.
  • Luis LaRotta (R), a Navy veteran from Houston now working in the energy industry, earned 34.53% of the vote.

Barring a special session, it is unlikely that any of the winners of tonight’s runoff will have an opportunity to vote on legislation this year before their terms expire in Jan. 2021. However, all six of the candidates in the above runoffs are also vying for a full term in these same seats during the regular 2020 elections, meaning that their names will be on the ballot again in the Texas primary election that is only weeks away. The winners of tonight’s special election will now have the advantage of claiming incumbent status during the remainder of this 2020 election cycle. Be sure to check out their candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote before the next elections on Super Tuesday in March 2020.

Why March 6 Matters: Payroll Deduction

Early voting is underway NOW for the March 6 Texas primary elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote in this election! Today, we’re taking a closer look at payroll deduction.


Politicians like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) have led the effort for two sessions now to make it more difficult for educators to join professional associations such as ATPE by attempting to ban educators from voluntarily deducting membership dues from their paychecks. Gov. Greg Abbott added his support ahead of last year’s special session when he followed Patrick’s lead in deeming the issue a “priority.”

Proponents have marketed payroll deduction bills as an effort to keep the government from collecting “union dues” with taxpayer resources. The truth is that it isn’t about unions or taxpayer resources at all; it’s about educators.

Consider this: The major bills on this topic have explicitly singled out educators, regardless of union status — but exempted major unions representing other public employees. These bills would actually have a greater impact on NON-union professional associations such as ATPE, and they specifically protect other public employee professionals who are members of unions that collectively bargain. Collective bargaining is illegal for school employees, and no one in Texas is forced to join a union or pay union dues thanks to our right-to-work laws.That’s why the legislative efforts to make it harder for educators to spend their own money to voluntarily join a professional association are so misguided here in Texas.

Further evidence of the politically motivated nature of these bills is the fact that payroll deduction of professional dues does not cost the state or taxpayers anything. That’s a fact that authors of the bills were finally forced to concede during the 2017 legislative sessions but other politicians have continued to ignore. Payroll offices exist regardless of whether association membership dues is among the long list of optional deductions available to public employees. Those other deductions include things like taxes, insurance, newspapers, health clubs, and charitable donations. Furthermore, a school district can even charge associations a fee if it determines there is any additional cost associated with deducting dues for the group’s members. (See Texas Education Code, Section 22.001.)


During debate on the issue last year, bill author Sen. Joan Huffman said she was comfortable exempting certain public employees deemed “first responders” because they “serve the community… with great honor and distinction.” Educators — just like firefighters, police officers, and EMS professionals — are public servants and everyday heroes. In the wake of last week’s tragic news stories of the horrific violence that took place at a Florida high school, it is hard to imagine educators, many of whom took bullets or sheltered their students to protect them from the gunfire, would be considered anything other than first responders who serve their communities with great honor and distinction.

The real goal behind discriminatory payroll deduction bills like these is to weaken the combined influence of educators (as well as public education supporters as a whole) at the Texas Capitol by attacking their ability to conveniently and safely support professional associations that fight to ensure teachers have a seat at the table when it comes to setting public education policy at the state level.

There are elected officials and candidates who respect your profession, and there are those who don’t — and who are already attempting to weaken your voice. Bills like these aimed at silencing educators at the Capitol will certainly be filed again in 2019. If Texans don’t turn out in force during the 2018 elections and select more officeholders who value educators and respect their service, those bills will become law and more of the doors of government will be closed to educators.


Go to the CANDIDATES section of our Teach the Vote website to find out where officeholders and candidates in your area stand on payroll deduction and other public education issues. Because voting districts in Texas are politically gerrymandered, most elections are decided in the party primary instead of the November general election. That’s why it is so important to vote in the primary election. Registered voters can cast their ballot in either the Republican or Democratic primary, regardless of how you voted last time.

Remind your colleagues also about the importance of voting in the primary and making informed choices at the polls. Keep in mind that it is illegal to use school district resources to communicate information that supports or opposes specific candidates or ballot measures, but there is no prohibition on sharing nonpartisan resources and general “get out of the vote” reminders about the election.

Early voting in the 2018 primaries runs Tuesday, Feb. 20, through Friday, March 2. Election day is March 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 25, 2017

Welcome back to school, educators! Here’s this week’s ATPE wrap-up of education news:

 


TRS logoTRS has posted info on its website and social media telling plan participants in areas affected by Hurricane Harvey that they can fill prescriptions in advance of the storm.

Both CVS Caremark and Express Scripts are allowing one-time emergency refills of medications for those in areas affected by the hurricane.

The article on TRS’ website informing participants they can pick up medications in advance of the storm and which provides the PBMs’ phone numbers can be found here.

Participants with questions about how to access prescriptions, can contact TRS pharmacy benefit managers at the following numbers:

• Active employees: CVS Caremark 1-800-222-9205 (option 2)
• Retirees: Express Scripts 1-877-680-4881

TRS participants can get to the article from the “What’s New” section of the TRS homepage and from the health care news main page.

 


Retirement planning written on a notepad.The board of trustees of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) was scheduled to meet today for the first time following the conclusion of the 85th legislature’s special session. However, the meeting has been postponed until Sept. 1 on account of Hurricane Harvey and the inability to secure a quorum.

To learn more about changes the board is expected to consider for TRS-Care when it meets next week, check out this recent post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.

 


ATPE Input on the Texas ESSA Plan_FINAL_Page_1As we reported yesterday, ATPE has submitted formal input this week on the draft Texas state plan for ESSA compliance recently shared by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Click here to read ATPE’s feedback, prepared by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, which focuses on aspects of the federal such as student assessment, setting long-term performance goals for students, and analyzing school climate as a quality indicator.

 


tea-logo-header-2This week, TEA also announced the availability of a new Equity Toolkit to help school districts comply with ESSA requirements to submit equity plans reporting on whether low-income students and students of color are served at disproportionate rates by “ineffective, inexperienced, or out-of-field teachers” in the district. Learn more about the toolkit in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


ATPE state officers and staff have been talking to the media about the 85th legislature recent special session and how educators feel about issues heading into the 2018 election season.

Jennifer Canaday

Jennifer Canaday

A guest editorial by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday was published this week by both the Houston Chronicle and the Austin American-Statesman. In her piece entitled “Maybe it’s time for a legislative gap year,” Canaday writes about the legislature’s decision not to make any major changes to the state’s school finance system in a way that would also provide local property tax relief. “The Legislature, unfortunately, punted on an opportunity to make structural changes to our beleaguered school finance system, opting to study the issue for two more years,” writes Canaday. “Like a seventh- or eighth-year college student still living at home, at some point the Texas Legislature must complete its studies and start working on the real job of fixing what is broken.”

Tonja Gray

Tonja Gray

The legislature will instead appoint a new commission to study and recommend improvements to the school finance system. ATPE State Secretary Tonja Gray spoke to reporters with KTXS in Abilene  about the commission and about her experiences testifying at committee hearings during the regular and special sessions. Gray said she was happy to see the legislature’s passage of a measure to provide additional funding for retired teachers’ healthcare needs.

Gary Godsey

Gary Godsey

Byron Hildebrand

Byron Hildebrand

ATPE State Vice President Byron Hildebrand and ATPE Executive Director also taped an appearance for the debut episode of “In Focus,” a new public affairs program produced by Spectrum News Austin and Spectrum News San Antonio. Local viewers can catch the program at 9:30 am on Sunday mornings beginning Sept. 3, 2017. For a sneak preview, check out this clip featuring Hildebrand discussing retired teachers.

 


 

TRS to vote on changes to retiree healthcare plan next week

Drugs and MoneyIf you are a retired educator or someone planning to retire soon from the profession, you’ll be interested in next week’s meeting of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees. The board will meet Friday, Aug. 25, to discuss and adopt modifications to the TRS-Care healthcare program for retirees.

As we reported on Teach the Vote back in June, TRS recently announced several changes to the design of its healthcare plans after the legislature failed to completely fill a funding shortfall during the regular session. But in response to outcries from educators, legislators convinced Gov. Greg Abbott to add retiree healthcare costs to his call for the special session that ended Tuesday. The legislature passed House Bill 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty during special session that will funnel $212 million in additional money to TRS for healthcare.

TRS logoThe attached document from TRS staff provides details on plan changes that TRS board members are expected to adopt next week. Changes to TRS-Care will go into effect on Jan 1, 2018.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 28, 2017

The Texas Legislature is wrapping up its second week of a special session. Here are stories you might have missed:


During this second week of the special session, bills pertaining to teacher compensation and funding for teachers’ healthcare were on the move in both the Texas House and Senate. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided the following update on their current status:

Senate Bill 19 was filed as the vehicle for the lieutenant governor’s plan to address the need for better teacher pay and funds for TRS-Care. The bill, carried by Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson was heard in and passed out of her committee on Saturday. During the hearing ATPE, other teacher organizations, and individual teachers such as ATPE State Treasurer Tonja Gray all expressed strong concerns about a provision of the bill that mandated school districts to spend roughly a billion dollars statewide on teacher pay raises without providing any state funding to cover the mandate.

In addition to the unfunded mandate, SB 19 includes a one-time bonus in 2018 for teachers who have been in the classroom more than six years ($600 for teachers with 6-10 years’ service, $1000 for teachers with 11 or more years of service). The bill also includes additional funding to reduce health insurance costs for retired teachers on TRS-Care. The longevity bonus and TRS-Care portions of SB 19 are paid for during the upcoming biennium through a deferral of payments to managed care organizations (MCOs). MCOs coordinate health services for those enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP programs for low-income and disabled individuals. If finally passed, SB 19 will increase the state’s projected Medicaid shortfall, which the next legislature will have to cover, from $1.2 to 1.6 billion.

The full Senate took up SB 19 on Tuesday, July 25. Senators removed the unfunded pay raise leaving only the one-time funding for longevity bonuses and TRS-Care supplemental spending. Republican Senators rejected floor amendments by Democratic Senators Kirk Watson of Austin and Jose Menendez of San Antonio to ensure more suitable or ongoing funding beyond 2018, leaving that for a future legislature to decide whether the additional funding for teacher bonuses and TRS-Care will be continued. SB 19 was received by the House yesterday and will likely be referred to a House committee early next week.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the House Appropriations Committee this week.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the House Appropriations Committee this week.

Also happening Tuesday, July 25, the House Appropriations Committee met to hear House Bills 24, 20, 76, and 151, among others. HB 24 by Representative Drew Darby calls for giving teachers an across-the-board $1,000 pay raise. Unlike the pay increase that was ultimately removed from SB 19, Darby’s HB 24 includes three distinctive features. One, the raise would be paid for during the current biennium. HB 24 does this by calling for an appropriation from the state’s rainy day fund, or as Rep. Darby called it, the state’s “mattress fund.” Rep. Darby stated in his explanation of the bill that he felt $11 billion was too much money to keep in a mattress, and that the state should find more responsible ways to invest those funds. Second, HB 24 includes language that ensures the money appropriated will be used to supplement, not supplant, current teacher salaries and that salaries could not simply be reduced again in future years. Third, the bill would change the state salary factor funding formulas such that it would increase the state appropriation called for in the base budget for future legislatures. This does not bind future legislators, but it does create a starting point of funding the HB 24 pay raise in future years so as to better ensure that there will be state funding for the raises.

House Bills 20, 76, and 151 have been filed respectively by Representatives Trent Ashby, Drew Darby, and Lance Gooden; all call for supplemental appropriations of varying amounts for TRS-Care. HB 151 would send additional dollars form the state’s General Revenue fund, while HB 20 and HB 76 call for spending dollars out of the rainy day fund to boost TRS-Care. HB 76 and HB 151 were left pending in the committee, while HB 20 was voted out of committee favorably and is on its way to the House Calendars Committee to be scheduled for floor debate in the near future. HB 20 calls for an additional $212 million for TRS that would be used to reduce premiums and deductibles.

For a closer look at the breakdown of how SB 19 and HB 20 would be anticipated to impact TRS-Care, check out this comparison chart.

 


The Texas Senate is taking a break this weekend after working throughout last weekend and several late nights to advance a controversial agenda pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. As reported by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann in her blog post this week, the Senate passed a private school voucher bill disguised as a school funding measure in the form of Senate Bill 2, a bill dictating the policies local school boards must adopt regulating the use of bathrooms in Senate Bill 3, and the politically motivated Senate Bill 7 to prohibit educators and certain other public employees from using payroll deduction to pay their voluntary association dues, while allowing other public employee association members deemed “first responders” to continue the practice. Less controversial measures passed by the Senate included a bill that funds one-time bonuses for experienced teachers and extra money to offset increased healthcare costs for retired educators in 2018, as well as a bill appointing a state commission to study school finance between now and the next legislative session.

17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_StandUpPublicEdNow that several anti-public education measures have sailed through the Senate and been sent to the House, and Gov. Abbott is threatening that lawmakers who oppose his agenda will be blacklisted, now is the time for House members to hear from their own voters and especially educators. ATPE is urging its members to call and write to their state representatives urging them to oppose bills like SB 2 and SB 7 that would defund public schools and needlessly punish public school employees. Visit Advocacy Central for quick and easy tools to communicate with your lawmakers about these issues. While you’re on Advocacy Central, be sure to also check out which lawmakers are supporting bills like these and let them know you disapprove. With only a couple weeks left in the special session, it’s critical for educators to speak up now!

 


Dollar banknotes heapWhile the Senate has worked to rapidly advance the governor’s controversial agenda, the House under the leadership of Speaker Joe Straus has stuck to its pledge to continue working on school finance solutions during this special session. The House Public Education Committee held hearings Monday and Tuesday on a number of finance-related bills, including several that were refiled from the regular session. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended and reported on the hearings for our blog here and here.

Bills advanced by the committee included Chairman Dan Huberty’s special session versions of House Bill 21, a comprehensive school finance reform bill that would inject additional money into public schools, provide increased funding through weighted formulas for bilingual students and those with dyslexia, and offer hardship grants to certain districts facing the loss of ASATR (Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction) funding this year; House Bill 22 to extend ASATR; and House Bill 23 providing grants to schools serving students with autism.

The House Public Education Committee will meet again Tuesday, Aug. 1, to hear a number of additional bills. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

 


tea-logo-header-2Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced this week that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) will release Texas’s plan to satisfy new federal education laws on Monday. Congress passed and former President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December 2015. Since then, the U.S. Department of Education, under the direction of both the Obama and Trump administrations, has spent time developing, altering, and in some cases even omitting the rules that govern the law. Those rules are now finalized, and states are now tasked with submitting their individual plans to satisfy the law and remaining rules. The federal law returns some education decision making to states and, in several areas, offers states an opportunity to alter the way they plan to satisfy federal education requirements.

Stay tuned for more next week on how Texas plans to handle the new law. The release of the Texas ESSA plan on Monday will also initiate the first day of a thirty-day public comment period.

 


At the annual ATPE Summit held in Austin earlier this month, Humble ATPE member Gayle Sampley authored a resolution for ATPE to honor House Speaker Joe Straus and House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty for their support of public education. On Tuesday, Gayle visited the Texas State Capitol and joined members of the ATPE lobby team to present the honorary resolution to Chairman Huberty, who is also Gayle’s own state representative.

Humble ATPE Member Gayle Sampley presents an ATPE honorary resolution to Chairman Dan Huberty, joined by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins

Humble ATPE Member Gayle Sampley presents an ATPE honorary resolution to Chairman Dan Huberty, joined by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


 

Dan Patrick’s Texas Senate plows ahead

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick outlines special session proposals.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick outlines special session proposals.

In a matter of days, the Texas Senate, under the direction of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, plowed through Governor Greg Abbott’s special session priorities on education. The blitz began late last week and continued through the wee hours of this morning, when several more contentious education items were granted final approval. The pieces of legislation now head to the Texas House, where the lower chamber began work with a significantly different focus: on a meaningful approach to fixing the state’s broken school finance system and state-funded, sustainable options for increasing teacher pay and the state’s contributions to retirees.

The Senate worked until 2am this morning, passing a voucher proposal that was paired with needed funding for certain school districts and facilities funding for charter schools; a prohibition on educators’ ability to utilize payroll deduction to pay professional association dues; a teacher pay bonus bill that includes one-time supplemental funding for TRS-Care; a “bathroom bill” that would dictate related local school policies; and not a fix, but another commission to study school finance. Here’s more:

SB 19: teacher bonus & TRS-Care

After spending a significant amount of time yesterday debating Lt. Gov. Patrick’s priority legislation regarding the use of bathrooms in public schools, among other public spaces, the chamber moved on to several other pieces of legislation affecting public schools, students and educators. It started with its teacher pay bill, SB 19, authored by Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound). The bill was originally marketed by its author and the Lt. Gov. as a teacher pay raise, but ATPE, among others, pushed back against that notion when it was heard in committee over the weekend.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies in Senate Education Committee on July 21, 2017

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies in the Texas Senate.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter told members of the committee that educators appreciated two portions of the bill, the state-funded bonus for teachers and the needed one-time supplemental funding for TRS-Care, but he expressed opposition to the piece termed a “teacher pay raise,” which wasn’t state-funded and required school districts to “re-prioritize” funding. ATPE State Secretary and Abilene educator Tonja Gray also testified on the bill in committee, telling members: “I don’t want a pay raise on the backs of my students.” She explained that in an environment where Texas schools are already underfunded, an unfunded mandate to provide teacher pay raises would result in cuts to valuable programs or educators.

When the bill hit the full Senate floor for debate, the empty pay raise portion was removed and the bill was passed out of the chamber with overwhelming support. Senator Nelson, as the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Finance who writes and passes the state’s biennial budget, assured educators that she will prioritize a pay raise next session. ATPE looks forward to working with her to deliver on that promise to educators in 2019 as the 86th Texas Legislature convenes, and we will continue to fight on behalf of educators for a state-funded, sustainable, and meaningful pay raise. The House has its own versions of bills to address teacher pay and retiree benefits that are already on the move.

Related, the Senate also hosted a hearing over the weekend to consider proposals to fund a teacher pay raise in the next legislative session. ATPE submitted written testimony in opposition to the proposals, saying that “ATPE believes the legislature should pivot its focus on teacher pay to developing plans for long-term investments that do not come out of existing money already dedicated to public schools.” Both proposals received initial skepticism and one was in the process of being written as it was heard in committee. Both were left pending in committee and may stay there since the Senate removed the unfunded pay raise from its teacher pay bill.

SB 7: prohibition on payroll deduction for educators

A mere hour after praising educators endlessly as senators worked to approve the teacher pay bill on the floor of the Senate, Lt. Gov. Patrick turned the chamber’s attention to SB7, the bill by Senator Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) that selectively targets educators in an attempt to silence their collective voice. Unlike the teacher pay bill, which received no attention during the regular session, the bill to eliminate educators’ right to utilize payroll deduction to pay voluntary professional association dues has been a priority of the Lt. Gov. and Texas Senate for years now.

G3 testimony B&CDuring both the committee hearing and as the bill was debated on the floor of the full Senate, the discriminatory, purely political, and completely unnecessary nature of the bill was highlighted once again. ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey testified to the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce that educators feel “besieged, besmirched and really like they’re second class citizens.” Testifier after testifier pushed back against the proponents’  rhetoric about busting unions and glass claims about eliminating associated costs to government. Educators, police officers, fire fighters, and many other public servant employees showed up to prove that this bill isn’t wanted by anyone, aside from a couple of heavily funded special interest groups that have made it their top priority to silence educators, which they see as too effective at fighting harmful policies like vouchers.

During floor debate, more truths emerged. Senator Hughes shared Governor Abbott’s promise to veto any bill that includes first responders, a status of employment he and others deem superior to educators and other public servants like CPS workers and correctional officers. Amidst questioning on why the bill picks winners and losers, Senator Hughes finally admitted that some people “don’t like the advocacy of labor unions,” acknowledging that the bill is about silencing the advocacy efforts of the public employees targeted under the bill, which amounts primarily to educators. And as all involved continued to push back against the lie that payroll deduction for association dues costs the state, the bill author could only say that he wants to get the government out of the process for the targeted professions only.

Democratic members of the Senate offered amendments to exempt educators under the bill, broaden the definition of first responder to include educators, null the targeted prohibition until associated costs can be identified, delay the legislation’s enacting date to give the targeted labor organizations more time to adjust, and more, but Senator Hughes rejected them all and the bill remained unchanged. The bill passed the Senate with support from all Republicans, except for one, Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville). He joined the Democratic members of the Senate to stand with educators in opposition. During the regular session, a nearly identical bill was sent to the House where it received no attention during the regular session. The House version of that bill died in committee and the Senate bill never received a hearing once it made it over. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on the special session version of this legislatio.

SB 2: special education voucher & certain school funding

NO VOUCHERSFirst up in the Senate was SB 2, the voucher bill authored by Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). Paired with the $10,000 voucher for special education students was continued ASATR funding for certain schools that stress the funding is necessary. The bill also contains $60 million in facilities funding for fast growth school districts, $60 million for facilities funding for charter schools, and a grant program termed the “educational expense assistance program” for public school special education students to access up to $500.

The voucher portion of the bill is, this time, in the form of a “tax credit scholarship.” Certain entities could receive tax credits in return for contributions made to the voucher program. Students with special needs could then access vouchers to pay for private school tuition. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter expressed ATPE’s concerns with the voucher portion of the proposal, saying that we should be focused on fixing things for special education students within public schools, rather than offering them money to go elsewhere. Tax credit scholarships, like all vouchers, are guilty of funneling public tax dollars out of the public school system. Offering tax credits to corporations will lower the general revenue Texas earns through taxes, and unless funds are raised elsewhere, cuts will have to be made in order to cover the deficit.

ATPE also encouraged legislators to take up the issues of ASATR and facilities funding independent of the politically charged voucher proposal. The Senate pressed ahead with the combined voucher and funding proposal, instead, and SB 2 passed the chamber 19-12. Two Republicans voted against the proposal, Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) and Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), and one Democrat supported the bill, Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. (R-Brownsville). The bill heads to the House where the chamber took several overwhelming votes to reject vouchers during the regular session.

SB 16: commission to study school finance

The Senate also began with work on school finance, but unlike the House that is working on a bill to fix the system, the Senate bill would create a commission to further study school finance in Texas. SB16 is authored by Senator Larry Taylor, who filed a permanent fix supported by ATPE during the regular session. However, he chose not to advance that bill during the regular session, instead altering the House’s school finance bill by adding his voucher proposal. In the special session, he maintains that more studying of school finance should be done prior to passing a fix to the system. ATPE submitted written testimony that said it is time for legislators to act on school finance. We also encouraged the legislature to include educators on any commission that passes.

When SB 16 was debated on the Senate floor Monday, legislators agreed with our request to add an educator and amended the bill to include an active or retired educator to the commission. The chamber passed the legislation unanimously and sent it to the House where more extensive work to fix school finance is underway.

SB 3: bathrooms

The Senate chamber spent the better part of yesterday debating SB 3 by Senator Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham). After hours of testimony in committee and hours of debate on the Senate floor only days later, the Senate advanced the proposal, 21-10, with all Republicans and one Democrat, Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. (R-Brownsville), voting to advance the legislation. Speaker of the House Joe Straus has sided with business and school districts and made his feelings on the legislation fairly clear, saying he just doesn’t think it is needed legislation. The House offered a bathroom proposal limited to public schools that it was willing to advance during the regular session, but it did not receive the seal of approval from the Senate.

 

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1It is important that members of the legislature hear from you on these issues deemed priorities by Governor Abbott. ATPE is encouraging all members to visit Advocacy Central to send a message to state legislators about these proposals as they continue to make their way through the process during the special session. Tell them to focus on meaningful pay and benefits for your profession and adequate school funding for your local schools. Let them know that vouchers and targeted prohibitions on payroll deductions for educators are distractions from the real issues faced by Texas public school children. You can also utilize the resource to thank your individual senators who voted with public education and educators!

School finance reform bill heads to full House

The House Public Education Committee approved school finance HB 21 Tuesday by a vote of 10-1, with state Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) voting in opposition. The committee unanimously approved HB 22, which would extend ASATR funding, and HB 23, which would create an autism grant program. One or more could reach the House floor by Monday.

House Public Education Committee meets July 25, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meets July 25, 2017.

Noting concerns raised by some over changes from the regular session version of the bill, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) indicated he would be open to floor amendments to HB 21 restricting charter school funding in the bill to special needs and dropout recovery schools, as well as extending hardship grants to 1993 hold harmless districts.

The committee met Tuesday morning to consider additional bills related to school finance and other subjects. Among those is HB 22 by state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), which would extend additional state aid for tax reduction (ASATR) funding to certain school districts for an additional biennium.

HB 98 by Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would create a mentor teacher program, and is identical to HB 816 filed by Bernal during the regular session. The program would allow schools to assign a veteran teacher to mentor a new teacher for at least two years, and receive a stipend and specialized mentorship training. Mentors would be required to meet with mentees at least once a week in order to discuss district context and policies, instructional practices, professional development, and expectations. Mentors and mentees would be guaranteed release time to facilitate mentoring activities, including classroom observation and coaching. According to the fiscal note for HB 816, the program would cost a modest $3 million over the next biennium in order to provide a $250 allotment for each of the 5,800 educators forecast to participate in the program. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 140 by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) would allow districts to include full days of attendance for each student who attends full-day prekindergarten. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 178 by state Rep. Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio) would extend career and technology education (CTE) allotment eligibility to the eighth grade. Currently, only high school programs are eligible for weighted funding through the CTE allotment.

HB 248 by state Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) would extend ASATR funding to districts that received ASATR funding for the 2016-2017 school year and operated a campus in a county in which no other district operated a campus. Funding under HB 248 could be counted against the total amount of attendance credits required to be purchased by districts under recapture.

HB 256 by Vice-chair Bernal would modify the Legislative Budget Board’s (LBB) report on equalized funding elements under the public school finance system. The bill would add a requirement that the LBB adopt rules necessary to enable each student to achieve satisfactory performance on state assessment instruments and include in its report recommendations regarding the equalized funding elements necessary to do so.

Chairman Huberty announced the House could see a long day on the floor next Monday, and the committee will therefore plan to meet again next Tuesday.

House Public Education sets focus on school finance

The House Public Education Committee held its first hearing of the special session Monday at the Texas Capitol. After championing public education during the regular session, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) made clear that the committee will continue to devote its time to real solutions to public education issues, beginning with school finance.

House Public Education Committee meeting July 24, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting July 24, 2017.

HB 21 by Chairman Huberty remains House leadership’s priority school finance bill, and the refiled special session version contains a few changes from the engrossed version approved by the Texas House during the regular session. The current bill would roll the transportation and high school allotments into the basic allotment, which would increase by $375 to $5,140 from $4,765, and would increase the guaranteed level of state support for interest and sinking (I&S) funding. HB 21 would create a weighted allotment for students with dyslexia or related disorders and increase the weight for the bilingual allotment. The legislation adds $25 million in charter school funding and would gradually increase the small-sized district adjustment over a five year period. It includes $159 in hardship assistance grants for districts that are scheduled to lose funding under additional state aid for tax reduction (ASATR).

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified in support of HB 21, pointing out that the committee’s decision to focus on meaningful school finance solutions sends a strong message that the Texas House continues to put children first. ATPE supported HB 21 during the regular session as well.

HB 23 by Chairman Huberty is identical to HB 23 filed during the regular session, which would create a five-year grant program to provide money for districts and charters that provide innovative services to students with autism.  The total number of eligible school programs would be capped at ten, giving priority to collaborations between multiple districts and charters. Funds would be capped at $20 million total, and $1 million for each individual program. According to the fiscal note, HB would cost the state $258,000 through 2019 and $10.1 million each following year. Chairman Huberty argued the pilot program would help drive innovation in a much-needed area of education. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 61 by state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) would grant school districts required to reduce their wealth per student the ability to count their transportation allotment against the total amount of attendance credits the districts is required to purchase.

HB 62 by Rep. Hinojosa would order the Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner to reduce the taxable value of property of a school district that provided social security coverage for district employees before January 1, 2017, by a percentage of value equal to the percentage of the district’s required contribution for social security coverage.

HB 194 by state Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) would gradually increase the small-sized district adjustment under the Foundation School Program over a five year period and eliminates the bracketing to districts that contain at least 300 square miles. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 197 by Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would increase the weight for the bilingual education allotment to .25 from .1. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 234 by Vice-chair Bernal would increase the weight for the compensatory education allotment to .25 from .2. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 258 by state Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) would increase the basic allotment by $1,075 and increase weighted funding for bilingual education and students with disabilities. It would also eliminate the high school allotment and increase the guaranteed level of funding per cent of tax effort. Additionally, HB 258 would order a study of the funding weights and a review of the state’s school finance system following each legislative session. ATPE supports this bill.

All bills were left pending Monday. The committee is scheduled to convene Tuesday morning to discuss additional legislation.