At a press conference held this afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker of the House Rep. Dennis Bonnen announced that a deal has been reached on legislation to address school finance, property tax relief, and the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Flanked by members of the conference committees that worked on the bills, the “big three” shared highlights of the final negotiated versions of House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 12 and thanked those who worked on the compromise.
A flyer was shared with reporters touting major components of the agreement, including increasing the basic allotment for schools; providing $5 billion in property tax relief; funding full-day pre-K for low-income students and increasing the funding to serve other students with special needs; calling for outcomes-based funding tied to college, career, and military readiness; reducing recapture by 47% in the next two years; and offering $2 billion in various forms to assist with “dynamic teacher compensation.”
Specific details on the educator compensation piece are unknown at this point, but the new version of HB 3 has been characterized as including both a merit pay program and funding to increase salaries for veteran teachers (those with at least five years of experience), librarians, counselors, and school nurses. Immediately following the press conference, HB 3 author and House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty told reporters that the merit pay program would not be test-focused but would use T-TESS to help determine which teachers are eligible to become recognized, exemplary, or master teachers. Chairman Huberty added that Texas Tech University would be tapped to act as a “referee” for the program.
The deal announced today also provides for increased funding into the TRS pension program in order to make it actuarially sound. Also, it is believed that the state would substantially raise its contributions for active educators’ healthcare premiums under this agreement.
Actual bill language has not yet been released, but ATPE will update our Teach the Vote blog with additional details as soon as our lobbyists have a chance to see and analyze the new bills.
Four days remain in the regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature, and significant deadlines for bills attach to each day that passes.
On Tuesday night, the House worked actively until the midnight hour, which was the deadline for Senate bills to be passed on second reading in order to stay alive. (The deadlines for House bills to make it out of the lower chamber and be sent over to the Senate already passed earlier this month.) This week’s related deadline for passing Senate bills on third reading and final passage on Wednesday night was less dramatic, with House members wrapping up their business by about 7 pm. Over on the other side of the capitol, the Senate worked late into the night last night to catch up and get a number of House bills passed on second and third reading.
Among the bills that survived this week’s deadlines was the ATPE-supported Senate Bill 11, containing a number of school safety and mental health initiatives that were a top priority for the governor this session. Read more about that bill’s curious journey through the legislative process here.
The deadlines hitting this week signal that the overwhelming majority of the thousands of bills filed this session are dead (for the most part), leaving only those bills that have been approved in some form by both the House and Senate. If both chambers have approved a bill in the same form, then the bill is enrolled and sent to the governor. The process is trickier for bills that get amended in different ways by the House or Senate. Each chamber will spend the next couple of days examining their bills that have come over from the other chamber with amendments and deciding what to do with them. The author of each bill can move to concur with the changes made by the other chamber, or can request the appointment of a conference committee to negotiate a final version of the bill. Friday, May 24, is the last day for House members to make such decisions.
Some of this session’s most important bills, especially relating to public education and ATPE’s legislative priorities, remain pending in conference committees at this point. These include the budget, a bill to increase contributions to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), and a major school finance and reform bill that has dominated the conversations this session.
For House Bill 3, the school finance bill, senators and state representatives have taken very different approaches on how to tackle the issue of educator pay. With Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen repeatedly proclaiming “the time is now” for school finance reform, the House approved HB 3 with an across-the-board pay raise for all school district employees except administrators. Under the leadership of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Senate has favored a larger pay raise for teachers and librarians only, and senators also included in their version of HB 3 a controversial merit pay plan that has been pushed hard by Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. The conference committee for HB 3 also must grapple with differing views on how to help school districts generate sufficient funds for their operations while also facilitating property tax relief to homeowners.
The TRS bill, Senate Bill 12, is designed to increase state funding for the educators’ pension fund and give current retirees a 13th check, but its final language largely depends on how much money is available to achieve those goals. That decision hinges on what happens with HB 3 to address the state’s larger school finance needs.
A press conference scheduled for this afternoon by the governor, lieutenant governor, and house speaker may provide insight on the progress of these conference committees.
Sunday, May 26, is the very last day that lawmakers can vote on conference committee reports, which contain the negotiated versions of those bills. The pressure is on those legislators appointed to conference committees to work out agreements between the House and Senate language of these bills. In some cases, conference committees may add entirely new language to the bill and can ask the House and Senate to approve a motion to go “outside the bounds” of the original legislation. Even for the bills that make it all the way through the legislative process, there is another waiting period in which the governor can decide whether to exercise his veto authority. June 16 is the deadline for the governor to act.
The takeaway is that we still have a few days left to wait and see what, if any, compromises are struck on major bills like House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 12. Stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog for updates and follow us on Twitter for major developments in these final days of the session.
The Texas Senate on Monday approved a bill to massively overhaul public school finance, but did so while backing away from a proposal to use an increased sales tax to lower school district property taxes.
After an hours-long debate on dozens of proposed changes, the Senate voted 26-2 on House Bill 3, which under the version passed by the upper chamber would increase student funding, give teachers and librarians a $5,000 pay raise, fund full-day pre-K for low-income students, and lower tax bills.
The House and Senate will have to negotiate their significant differences over the bill — including how to offer teacher pay raises and property tax relief — in a conference committee before it can be signed into law.
“When you’re doing something as complex as this, there’s going to be something you don’t like,” said state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, the bill’s author, anticipating tension throughout the day’s debate.
Since school districts levy the majority of property taxes in Texas, many lawmakers have been seeking ways to help reduce those portions of Texans’ tax bills. But since the state is required to ensure school districts have enough money to educate students, any tax relief effort would have a significant cost — requiring the state to reimburse schools, if they’re unable to collect enough from local property taxes.
Taylor had originally included several provisions that would provide ongoing tax relief, paid for by an increase in the sales tax by one percentage point.
Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, had thrown their support behind that sales tax swap, arguing it would help Texans who are currently being taxed out of their homes. But the proposal has serious detractors in lawmakers from both parties in both chambers who are opposed to a higher sales tax.
So Taylor stripped the increase from HB 3 and offloaded some of the more expensive property tax relief provisions in the bill. The bill no longer includes an expansion in the homestead exemption from school district taxes. It lowers property tax rates by 10 cents per $100 valuation, instead of 15 cents, saving the owner of a $250,000 home $250 instead of $375.
The legislation would still limit the growth in school districts’ revenue due to rising property values, a proposal pitched before session began by the governor. School districts that see their property values significantly increase would have their tax rates automatically reduced to keep tax revenue growth in line. That would now start next year, instead of in 2023.
“The bill before us today has no linkage to the sales tax and is not contingent upon a sales tax,” Taylor said.
Instead, the bill creates a separate “Tax Reduction and Excellence in Education Fund” to fund school district tax relief. State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said a working group came up with a plan to get $3 billion from several sources, including the severance tax on oil and gas extraction and an online sales tax.
“This does not increase any taxes of any kind,” he said.
A few senators didn’t vote yes on HB 3 because they didn’t know the cost of the bill or how their school districts would be affected by it.
“The lack of a fiscal note delineating the total cost of the bill was unacceptable,” said state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, who voted against the bill along with state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe.
Creighton echoed those concerns about not knowing the legislation’s price tag, though he said he agreed with its policy.
“Before the session ends, I will have another chance to vote on the final bill, and I look forward to supporting it once I have a clear understanding of the impacts on school districts in Senate District 4, and the true cost of the legislation, which will have implications for all Texas taxpayers,” he said in a statement after the vote.
The House and Senate have passed versions of HB 3 that are similar in some ways: Both would raise the base funding per student — a number that hasn’t budged in four years — and would provide about $780 million for free, full-day pre-K for eligible students.
Among the disagreements: how to make sure school employees get much-needed raises. The Senate has prioritized $5,000 pay raises for all full-time teachers and librarians. The House has directed districts to give all school employees about $1,388 in raises on average statewide and designated extra money for raises to be given at districts’ discretion.
Senate Democrats’ efforts to extend those $5,000 raises to full-time counselors and other employees failed along party lines Monday.
Also controversially for some, the Senate includes money providing bonuses to schools based on third-grade test scores and funding districts that want to provide merit pay for their top-rated teachers. Many teacher groups have opposed both, arguing it would put more emphasis on a flawed state standardized test.
State Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, failed to get an amendment to the bill approved that would strike tying any funding to third-grade test scores.
Teachers, parents and advocates following on social media had paid attention to Powell’s amendment, mobilizing in support through a Twitter hashtag “#NoSTAARonHB3.”
Taylor pointed out that the bill also allows school districts to use assessments other than the state’s STAAR standardized test, which has lately come under renewed scrutiny, with researchers and advocates arguing it doesn’t adequately measure students’ reading abilities. He approved an amendment requiring the state to pay for school districts to use those alternative tests, which he estimated would cost about $4 million.
After a couple weeks of anticipation and delays, the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing Thursday on the major school finance legislation being considered this session.
Sen. Larry Taylor explains his school finance proposal to the Senate Education Committee on April 25, 2019.
Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) jointly heard both his version of Senate Bill (SB) 4 and House Bill (HB) 3 by House Public Education Committee Chairman, Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), taking testimony on the two bills together. Sen. Taylor shared newly proposed Senate substitute language for the bill, which differs from the ATPE-supported version of the bill that the full House passed almost unanimously. We expect the committee to add the new Senate language into HB 3 as a committee substitute and move it on to the full Senate. For now, HB 3 was left pending and may be put for a committee vote later next week, according to Chairman Taylor.
ATPE Member Stephanie Stoebe testifying before the Senate Education Committee, April 25, 2019
The Senate’s version of the school finance bill calls for a pay raise for classroom teachers and librarians, similar to SB 3, and includes several positive programs that would increase funding for students with the greatest needs. Unfortunately, the Senate bill also includes a controversial merit pay plan and would require school districts to share teacher evaluations with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for purposes of a statewide ranking of teachers by the commissioner of education. ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell testified neutrally on the bill raising asking the merit pay proposal to be removed and suggesting that the money could be used instead for programs in high-needs campuses or for locally developed differentiated pay programs that offer more flexibility for school districts. ATPE member and former Texas Teacher of the Year Stephanie Stoebe also testified during the hearing.
Read more about Thursday’s HB 3/SB 4 hearing and the other bills heard during this hearing can be found and here and here, including ATPE’s written testimony on the bill.
ATPE is urging educators to keep contacting their senators about HB 3, urging them to keep problematic merit pay language out of the bill and approve additional funding for public schools. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central to quickly and easily send a message to their senators.
The Senate Education Committee also met on Tuesday of this week, hearing 16 bills and voting to advance several more to the full Senate. One of the bills heard was SB 139 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso), which ATPE supports. In the wake of the federal government’s finding that the state of Texas had denied special education services to students, SB 139 deals with letting parents know about the right to have their children evaluated for special education. The bill also calls for using federal funds to reimburse school districts for any increases in the number of evaluations.
Read more about the bills heard during Tuesday’s Senate Education Committee hearing in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
House Public Education Committee hearing, April 23, 2019
The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to hear a plethora of bills as end-of-session deadlines are nearing. May 6, 2019, is the last day that House committees can report out House bills to keep them alive in the legislative process.
ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier was on hand at Tuesday’s hearing to register support for many of those bills, including House Bill (HB) 1763 by Rep. Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso) that would make the children of educators eligible for that district’s free pre-kindergarten program. A similar provision has been included in the Senate’s school finance bill discussed above. ATPE also supported HB 4030 by Rep. Alex Dominguez (D-Brownsville) that would provide funding for school districts to have a least one ability inclusive playground in their district.
ATPE provided written testimony against HB 3623 by Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), which would require that teachers on continuing contracts meet a “growth standard” in order to keep their jobs. The committee also heard several other bills that have not yet been voted out. For more information on Tuesday’s hearing, check out this blog post.
On Wednesday, the committee met briefly for the purpose of taking votes on another two dozen bills. The House Public Education Committee will meet again on Tuesday, April 30, to begin hearing Senate bills.
ELECTION UPDATE: The deadline for early voting in the May 4th election is Tuesday, April 30.
This uniform election day is reserved for municipalities and local political subdivisions like school districts to place measures such as bonds on the ballot or to fill vacancies in local offices. Contact your county clerk to find more information on what measures, if any, will be on your ballot locally.
ATPE encourages educators to vote in every election! Find more election information at VoteTexas.gov.
Today, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting in Austin to consider several important items. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier is attending the meeting and provided the following update.
Today’s SBEC agenda includes a vote to begin the pilot phase of a replacement pedagogy test called EdTPA. Educator preparation programs including those at the University of Texas at Austin, Baylor University, Texas Women’s University, Sam Houston State University and alternative and post-baccalaureate programs overwhelmingly opposed EdTPA, citing concerns with the increased cost to candidates ($281) and data and validity concerns with the two-year pilot. Those who support EdTPA testified that teachers must be better prepared and that using a more authentic assessment to spur change in EPPs is a viable route for accomplishing this.
The board also voted to finalize details for the new “Principal as Instructional Leader” certificate and discussed changes to special education certification, which would break the certification into three to four more focused certifications based on student age and disability level.
Watch for a more detailed report on today’s SBEC meeting later on our Teach the Vote blog.
The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board voted this week to approve next year’s premiums for TRS-ActiveCare. Rates will be increasing by 3.9 percent on average. Read more details on the rate change in this blog post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, who attended the board’s meetings this week.
This week the full House voted almost unanimously to approve a bill to increase state contributions to the TRS pension fund. SB 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), sponsored in the House by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), received final House approval on Thursday. The House substituted its own language – taken from Rep. Bonnen’s HB 9 – into SB 12 before approving it. The House floor vote was 145 to 1, with Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) casting the only vote against the bill. The bill will now head back to the Senate where it most likely will be referred to a conference committee.
The House proposal raises the rate of the state’s contribution into TRS without raising rates for individual educators or school districts. It also offers retirees with a larger 13th check, capped at $2,400, compared to the Senate’s original version of SB 12 called for capping the payment at $500.
The Senate Education Committee, meeting today, has postponed its consideration of a major school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 3, until next week. Originally on the agenda for today’s meeting, the hearing of the bill by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) was pushed back a week to allow the Senate more time to complete its drafting of a Senate committee substitute for the bill.
HB 3 is now expected to be heard by the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, April 23.
As we have reported here on Teach the Vote, the engrossed version of HB 3 passed the Texas House with a near unanimous vote of 148-1. The House bill language reflected changes made in the House Public Education Committee, which Rep. Huberty chairs, to address concerns of ATPE and numerous other stakeholders. Significant changes made to the original bill as filed included removal of a controversial merit pay plan that would have tied teacher pay to student performance (likely measured by standardized test scores), which the overwhelming majority of the education community including all of the state’s major teacher organizations opposed. Language that would have enabled school districts to opt out of the state’s minimum salary schedule was also removed from HB 3 as filed by the House Public Education Committee. During floor debate of HB 3, the House also added a provision requiring an across-the-board pay raise for all school district employees except administrators. For these reasons and its addition of $9 billion into funding Texas public schools and property tax relief, ATPE was proud to support the House’s engrossed version of HB 3.
ATPE is urging educators to contact their senators now about HB 3 to share feedback on this important bill that is expected to be heard next week. Of particular concern is the language in the bill pertaining to educator pay. Although the Senate has already passed its own bill calling for a $5,000 pay raise for teachers and librarians, leaders in the Senate have also expressed interest in adding merit pay to any school finance bill that passes this session. For instance, Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), who is sponsoring HB 3 in the Senate, also filed his own school finance reform bill that includes both merit pay for select teachers and controversial outcomes-based funding tied to students’ test performance (Senate Bill (SB) 4).
Now that HB 3 has made its way to the upper chamber, ATPE is urging the Senate to keep merit pay out of HB 3 and avoid changing the bill in such a manner that would erode its widespread support and momentum this session.
For additional information and direct communication links to lawmakers, ATPE members are urged to visit Advocacy Central.
On Wednesday, the Texas House of Representatives passed landmark school finance reformlegislation. By a vote of 148-1, Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) House Bill 3 passed the lower chamber, clearing the way for its consideration next by the Texas Senate.
The ATPE-supported school finance bill as finally passed by the House allocates billions in new money for public schools, reduces recapture, and provides homeowners with property tax relief. The House added bipartisan compromise language to HB 3 during Wednesday’s floor debate to ensure that all full-time public school district employees in non-administrator roles will also receive pay raises.
Read more about the bill and Wednesday’s major vote in this blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as attention turns to the Senate to find out how the upper chamber will respond to the school finance bill.
The Senate Education Committee and House Public Education Committee both held multiple meetings this week to hear a variety of education bills.
The Senate Education Committee’s meeting on Tuesday, April 2, 2019, largely focused on hearing bills pertaining to dual credit. The agenda for Thursday, April 4, included a host of bills relating to virtual schools, including some bills that ATPE opposes. Other pending bills previously heard by the committee were also voted out with favorable recommendations for the full Senate. Read more about the Senate committee’s activities this week in blog posts here and here from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins who covered the hearings.
On the other side of the Capitol, the House Public Education Committee’s Tuesday hearing covered topics ranging from pre-K to technology and educator preparation. The agenda for the committee’s Thursday hearing also featured a wide variety of issues, including one bill that ATPE opposes to require school districts to let home-schooled students participate in UIL activities. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier covered the House Public Education Committee hearings, and you can read her reports on the two meetings from this week in blog posts here and here.
ATPE is urging educators to oppose two Senate bills that would endanger free speech rights and limit the ability to teach students about content that relates to “a political philosophy” or “a matter of public interest.” The bills are Senate Bill 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) and Senate Bill 904 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), and both of them got a favorable nod from the Senate State Affairs committee this week.
SB 1569 and SB 905 would expand current laws that restrict the use of public resources for “political advertising.” The bills are unnecessary, since state law already prohibits using school resources for electioneering which is enforced by the Attorney General, and these two bills will have harmful unintended consequences.
SB 1569 would broaden the definition of political advertising, impose harsh restrictions on political speech by public school employees, and make it nearly impossible to teach students about elections or civic responsibility or anything deemed to fall under the vague category of “a matter of public interest.” SB 904 also tries to limit political speech by restricting access to government communication systems like a school district’s Wi-Fi network. It also calls for fining any third party that sends political advertising to a government email address. SB 904 will unreasonably penalize innocent third parties and have a chilling effect on free speech and political involvement by educators, even making it hard to teach students about anything related to politics.
Both SB 1569 and SB 904 appear to be reactions to the surge in educator participation in elections last year, and both bills are likely to spark constitutional challenges if passed. Based on their obvious targeting of the education community, both bills are reminiscent of unsuccessful efforts last legislative session to dissuade educators from joining professional associations that advocate for public education. With yesterday’s committee vote, these two bills have the potential to reach the full Senate for a floor debate very soon. ATPE is urging educators to contact their senators and ask them to reject SB 1569 and SB 904. Read more about the bills in this blog post. ATPE members can click here to visit Advocacy Central and send a quick message to their senator.
SB 12 is being sponsored on the Senate side by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R- League City), who chairs the Article III (education) subcommittee in House Appropriations and is the author of another bill to increase funding for TRS via House Bill (HB) 9. (That bill, which ATPE also supports, was already heard by the House Pensions committee last week.) ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that during this week’s hearing on SB 12, Chairman Bonnen offered a committee substitute version of Senate Bill 12 that would replace its language with the language from his HB 9. After a brief hearing on the bill, the committee took the somewhat unusual step of immediately voting the committee substitute version of SB 12 favorably out of committee and recommending that it go to the full House for further consideration. The bill, which appears to be on an expedited track, will next go to the House Calendars Committee which has the authority to set the bill on a House calendar for a scheduled for debate. Once the bill has been approved by the full House, which it is expected to easily do, it will return to the Senate where Sen. Huffman will likely send SB 12 to a conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate language.
While both versions of the bill would increase the overall contribution rate into the TRS pension system and provide current retirees with a 13th check, the House language does so by focusing the entire increase on the state’s contribution rate without raising the rates of educators or school districts. Additionally, the House version provides for a substantially larger 13th check, up to $2400 per retiree vs $500 dollars per retiree in the Senate version of the 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.
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 bill, House 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee on March 12, 2019
Members of the House Public Education committee heard more than 12 hours of testimony this Tuesday on House Bill 3 (HB 3), the House’s comprehensive school finance reform bill. Stakeholders from parents to teachers and even children on spring break testified about the $9 billion bill. Many witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing expressed support for the bill, but a number of them shared reservations about its move to roll funding for gifted and talented programs into the basic allotment and a proposed merit pay plan that the commissioner of education would oversee under HB 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood).
ATPE testified neutrally on HB 3 stating that while the bill as filed has many positive qualities and would inject much-needed funding into the public education system, it also includes some troubling changes regarding the state’s minimum salary schedule and using teacher evaluations and student performance data for merit pay. Many witnesses, including ATPE, who expressed concerns about the merit pay plan noted that it would be difficult if not impossible for the commissioner to determine which teachers might receive merit pay under HB 3 without using data from student test scores, even though the bill itself does not specifically call for the use of the STAAR for this purpose. ATPE opposes the use of student performance data, including test scores, as the primary measure of a teacher’s effectiveness for purposes of compensation, which ATPE shared with the committee during our testimony that was delivered by Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter on Tuesday.
Currently, HB 3 is still pending in committee with a substitute version of the bill expected to be discussed next Tuesday, March 19. Read more about Tuesday’s school finance hearing in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.
On Wednesday, the House Public Education Committee reconvened to hear a host of other bills related to topics such as Districts of Innovation (DOI) and school start dates. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 1051, a bill that would make permanent the Goodwill Excel center permanent, a charter school offering a successful dropout recovery program for adult students. ATPE also supported HB 340 relating to full-day pre-k and HB 1276 relating to educator certification. More details on bills heard during Wednesday’s hearing can be found here.
Earlier this week, the White House released the president’s 2020 budget proposal, which is little more than a statement of the president’s priorities given that Congress actually passes the federal budget. The proposal would cut billions from the Department of Education’s budget compared to what Congress previously enacted, while funding controversial programs such as school privatization and performance-based compensation. Read a more detailed analysis of the President’s budget proposal on our Teach the Vote blog here.
The Senate State Affairs Committee met Thursday morning to hear a number of bills. Among them was Senate Bill 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston). SB 12 would increase the TRS contribution rate and get the fund back to a point of actuarial soundness by the end of the biennium. In addition to the increased contribution rate, the bill would also fund a small 13th check of $500 for current TRS retirees. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of the bill. For more background on why TRS contribution increases are now needed, check out this previous blog post about actions taken by the TRS board of trustees in the summer of 2018.
Residents of the San Antonio area’s House District 125 elected Democrat Ray Lopez to represent them in the House in a special election held this Tuesday. Lopez, a former city council member will be serving in the seat vacated by current Bexar County Commissioner and former HD 125 state representative Justin Rodriguez. ATPE congratulates Representative-Elect Lopez and looks forward to working with him. This election was the last in a series of special elections meant to fill seats that were vacated after last fall’s elections. As we reported last week, Houston area residents of House District 145 last week elected Democrat Christina Morales to fill the seat vacated by former representative and now Senator Carol Alvarado.
Last Friday evening the Senate released its version of a school finance reform proposal, Senate Bill 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). While the Senate has worked diligently to pass an across-the-board teacher pay raise bill this session (SB 3), its version of a more comprehensive school finance reform plan is a little less robust than its counterpart in the House. SB 4 includes provisions for outcomes-based funding and merit pay for classroom teachers. Read more information about the Senate bill in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
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