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.
House leaders announced the filing of HB 3 on Tuesday, March 5, 2019.
On Tuesday, leaders of the Texas House of Representatives held a press conference to announce the filing of House Bill (HB) 3. The much-anticipated school finance reform bill was filed by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee, with the support of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton). Numerous state representatives from both parties signed on to co-author the bill immediately upon its filing.
HB 3 aims to provide $9 billion for a combination of school finance changes and property tax relief. HB 3 would lower the property tax bills of many homeowners by funding four cents’ worth of school property tax compression per $100 of property value. The bill injects additional funding into certain areas, including emphasizing pre-Kindergarten programs and help for students with dyslexia and other special needs, but HB 3 in its initial version also includes a number of provisions that are concerning to ATPE and other educator groups.
HB 3 does not include an across-the-board pay raise like Senate Bill (SB) 3, which has already passed the full Senate. HB 3 instead provides funding for a statewide merit pay program and calls for changes to the structure of the state’s 20-year minimum salary schedule (MSS). The changes outlined in the bill include an increase in the MSS steps for fully certified teachers (excluding those working under a probationary or emergency type of certificate). However, HB 3 also authorizes school districts to adopt their own performance-based salary schedule for teachers in lieu of following the state’s MSS.
HB 3 contemplates a statewide merit pay program through which the top one-third of teachers who meet certain other criteria may earn additional compensation upon receiving “recognized, exemplary, or master teacher designations.” The commissioner would establish most criteria for this program. Designations would only be available to a teacher of record who also holds a leadership role and would be based upon criteria that include student assessments, student perception surveys, and appraisal data. Designations earned by a teacher would be valid for a five-year period and noted on the teacher’s virtual certificate. HB 3 allows SBEC to revoke or suspend a teacher’s designation and also allows the commissioner to revoke, suspend, or modify a district’s own criteria for participating in the program. Interestingly, HB 3 states that the 22:1 class-size limit currently found in law would no longer apply to classes taught by any teacher who earns a designation under this program.
Read more about the filing of HB 3 in this blog post and watch for updates in the next few days as the House plans its first public hearing of HB 3 on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. As with other major school finance and teacher compensation bills that have been filed this session, ATPE views HB 3 as merely a starting point for ongoing discussions in the House. We look forward to working with Chairman Huberty and House leaders on changes to this bill as it moves forward, and ATPE hopes to help the House and Senate reach an ultimate compromise on school funding improvements that will benefit students and educators across the state.
On Monday, the full Senate passed SB 3 to provide a $5,000 across-the-board pay raise for teachers. During the floor debate on Monday, SB 3 author Sen. Jane Nelson amended the bill to include librarians. The bill was passed unanimously. Read more about SB 3 here.
The Senate Education Committee met Tuesday, March 5, 2019, to discuss a major school safety bill and several bills dealing with school marshals. The hearing follows Gov. Greg Abbott’s declaration of school safety as an emergency issue for this legislative session. Among the bills heard was Senate Bill (SB) 11 filed earlier this week by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). SB 11 includes a number of enforcement provisions addressing school safety plans. The bill also includes a loan repayment assistance program for school counselors in high-needs areas. SB 11 requires schools to develop multihazard emergency operations plans and assemble threat assessment teams. ATPE supported the bill during the committee hearing. Read more in this blog post.
ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testifies in the House Public Education Committee on March 5, 2019.
On Tuesday, March 6, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard six bills related to STAAR testing. Tuesday’s hearing included hours of invited testimony from teachers, district leaders, parents, and TEA staff. The committee also heard several other bills including HB 851 by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) that would extend the expiration date for the law providing for Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs). Read more about the hearing in this blog post.
A new federal bill to provide tax relief for educators is gaining traction and bipartisan support. H.R. 878, the Educators Expense Deduction Modernization Act, would allow teachers to deduct up to $500 from their federal taxes (instead of $250 under current law) for any classroom supplies that they purchase. Four members of the Texas congressional delegation have already signed on as cosponsors of the ATPE-supported legislation. Read more in this blog post.
SPECIAL ELECTION UPDATE: Voters in Texas House District 145 have elected a new state representative to fill the seat vacated by former representative and now Senator Carol Alvarado. Democrat Christina Morales, a Houston entrepreneur, beat out challenger and former City Councilwoman Melissa Noriega,securing 59% of the vote in a special election runoff held Tuesday night. ATPE congratulates Representative-Elect Morales and looks forward to working with her for the remainder of this session.
Voting is currently underway for San Antonians living in House District 145. The race to fill the seat vacated by by former state representative and current Bexar County Commissioner Justin Rodriguez is down to two opponents: former City Councilman Ray Lopez (D-San Antonio) and businessman Fred Rangel (R-San Antonio). Today is the last day of early voting. The special election runoff for this seat will take place next Tuesday, March 12.
Hundreds of ATPE members traveled to Austin earlier this week for ATPE at the Capitol, our political involvement training and lobby day event hosted every legislative session year.
On Sunday, Feb. 24, ATPE members gathered at the JW Marriott for a series of training sessions. They heard a welcome message from ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand and learned how to advocate for ATPE’s legislative priorities with help from the ATPE lobbyists and Executive Director Shannon Holmes. Attendees spent the day networking with their colleagues and shopping at the ATPE Boutique for merchandise with sales benefiting the ATPE-PAC.
The day finished with a panel discussion featuring State Board of Education member Keven Ellis (R) and State Representatives Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) and Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint). The closing session was moderated by Spectrum News Capital Tonight political anchor Karina Kling and gave ATPE at the Capitol attendees an opportunity to ask the panel questions about school finance, testing, retirement, and more.
ATPE members boarded buses to the State Capitol early Monday morning, Feb. 25, to meet with their own legislators, sit in on hearings, and share their advocacy messages in support of public education. ATPE at the Capitol attendees gathered for a group photo Monday afternoon outside the Senate’s chamber, which prompted brief appearances by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). ATPE’s state officers also visited with House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
When the full House and Senate convened their floor sessions Monday afternoon, Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) and Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) presented honorary resolutions recognizing ATPE members in each chamber and applauding them for their work on behalf of Texas public schools and students.
This year’s ATPE at the Capitol event coincided with a hearing Monday by the Senate Finance Committee on Senate Bill (SB) 3, which would provide teachers an across-the-board salary increase of $5,000. Many ATPE members attended and even testified before the committee in support of Chairwoman Nelson’s high-profile bill, including ATPE State Vice President Tonja Gray. Read more about the SB 3 hearing below.
At the conclusion of Monday’s hearing on Senate Bill (SB) 3, the Senate Finance Committee voted unanimously to send the high-profile teacher pay raise bill to the Senate floor. The vote came after consideration of a few amendments and hearing from more than a dozen educators who testified on the bill, including several ATPE members. SB 3 has already been placed on the Senate Intent Calendar and could be brought up for floor consideration as early as next week.
During ATPE at the Capitol activities on Monday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made a brief appearance before the crowd of ATPE members at the state capitol and talked about the bill. He shared that he expects SB 3 to be either the first or second bill passed by the full Senate this session. With 27 co-authors already signed on to the bill, it appears evident that SB 3 will make it out of the full Senate with ease and head over to the Texas House for consideration.
SB 3 is likely to face tougher scrutiny in the lower chamber, where House leaders have criticized the bill and expressed a preference for advancing a merit pay proposal similar to what has been recommended by the Texas Commission on Public School Finance and Gov. Greg Abbott (R). ATPE expects the House’s school finance and teacher compensation omnibus bill to be filed within the next few days, as House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty announced plans for a press conference about the House bill on Tuesday, March 5, with committee hearings expected during the week of March 11.
Read more about Monday’s SB 3 hearing and ATPE’s testimony in this blog post. Tune in to Teach the Vote next week for more on the budget and school finance discussions. We’ll have analysis of the anticipated House bill, plus updates on the budget writing process as the Senate take a deeper dive on SB 1 with the appointment of work groups for various sections of the draft budget. As announced by Chairwoman Nelson on Monday, Sens. Paul Bettencourt, Charles Perry, and Royce West will serve on a work group chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor for the public education portion of Article III of the budget.
FEDERAL UPDATE: In Washington, DC this week, education and a Texas elected official were in the news.
On Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) joined U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at a press conference announcing his filing of new bill offering federal tax credits to individuals or corporations who fund private school voucher scholarships. Read more about the voucher push in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
Also in Washington, the House Education and Labor Committee announced five informational hearings to formally launch the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). The HEA was last re-authorized in 2008. The five hearings will cover the cost of college; higher education accountability; costs of non-completion; the roles of community colleges, historically black colleges and universities, and minority-serving institutions; and innovation in degree pathways. The hearings have not been scheduled yet. Conversations around affordability and accountability are also taking place between Ranking Member Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday, Feb. 26, and considered 21 bills over the course of several hours. The agenda included bills pertaining to health and student safety, use of technology and instructional materials funding, recess policies, and more. Read more about Tuesday’s discussions in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier who attended the hearing. Next Tuesday, March 5, the committee will meet again to hear a number of bills relating to student assessments.
Last Friday, Feb. 22, the State Board for Educator Certification held its first meeting of 2019. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier attended the meeting and provided this summary of the board’s discussions.
Related to educator preparation and certification, it’s almost time for new teachers and principals to share their feedback on educator preparation programs (EPPs). The Texas Education Agency (TEA) will be collecting data from principals of first-year teachers and all first-year teachers to help assess the effectiveness of various EPPs. The results of the principal survey will be used for EPP accountability. Both principals and teachers will have access to training modules before completing the surveys. The surveys will become available on April 3, 2019. Find more detailed information about the surveys here.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced a total of six emergency items in Tuesday’s State of the State address to a joint session of the 86th Texas Legislature. The State of the State is traditionally delivered by the governor at the beginning of each legislative session, and is the state equivalent to the national State of the Union address delivered by the president.
The governor often uses the State of the State as an opportunity to announce emergency items for the current legislature. The first 60 days of the legislative session are meant for organization and bill filing, and legislators cannot vote on bills until after 60 days have passed. Emergency items declared by the governor are the only exception.
Standing ovation for teacher pay announcement during State of the State address, Feb. 5, 2019.
Governor Abbott listed six emergency items on Tuesday: School finance reform, teacher pay, school safety, mental health, property tax relief, and disaster response.
What does this mean functionally? The legislature may vote on bills under these emergency headings immediately instead of waiting for the March 8 deadline, theoretically granting them a one-month head start ahead of other bills. Yet few of these bills have been filed, and none have begun the committee process that marks the first major step in a bill’s journey to becoming a law. For this reason, the practical impact of designation as emergency items has more to do with sending a signal to legislators and the public that these are the governor’s top priorities.
In addition, each of these items is expected to require a significant amount of state funding. The budget offered by the Texas House would provide $7.1 billion in new revenue for public education, contingent upon spending a significant portion of that money on providing property tax relief, ostensibly by rebalancing the state and local share of education funding. Increasing the state’s share will ease the burden on local property taxpayers, but will not increase overall public school funding. To increase overall school funding will require spending additional money on top of what is required to ease local tax pressure.
Increasing teacher pay will require another tranche of state funds. The Texas Senate has proposed Senate Bill (SB) 3, which would grant teachers a $5,000 annual raise. The bill’s cost is tagged at $3.7 billion for the first biennium. Gov. Abbott’s comments today on teacher pay implied that he prefers a plan under development by House leaders to provide a differentiated pay program that could create a path for select teachers to earn as much as $100,000. This would apply to far fewer teachers than the Senate’s plan and consequently carry a much smaller price tag.
School safety, mental health, and disaster response will each require further funding. Fortunately, the biennial revenue estimate delivered by Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar in January projects legislators will have roughly $12 billion more than they budgeted the previous two years. It’s important to note that some of that money will be taken up by inflation and population growth. Some of the emergency items, such as disaster response, are prime targets for one-time spending from the Economic Stabilization Fund. The state’s “rainy day fund,” as it is often called, is projected to total $15.4 billion by the end of 2021.
ATPE Executive Director Dr. Shannon Holmes moderated a panel discussion on teacher compensation Thursday at a conference for the Texas Association of Midsize Schools (TAMS). The discussion included state Reps. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), who is a member of the Texas House Public Education Committee, and Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches), who filed a high-profile teacher compensation bill in 2017 during the 85th Texas Legislature.
Both representatives agreed about the need to increase teacher compensation, which has become a major topic of discussion heading into the 86th Texas Legislature. Some of the most serious plans proposed thus far have featured differentiated pay, in which top-performing teachers are eligible for higher paychecks. Rep. VanDeaver noted that the major concern with these plans revolves around how top-performing teachers are identified. ATPE has consistently warned that student test scores should not be the primary metric for this purpose.
Rep. Gary VanDeaver, ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes, and Rep. Travis Clardy at the TAMS conference on Dec. 6, 2018
Rep. Clardy acknowledged that a critical part of any raise this session will be identifying state funding for that purpose. Legislation addressing teacher pay during the 2017 special session did not include state funding and instead asked districts to pay for raises out of their own pockets, which effectively tabled the discussion.
The conference featured other panels related to public education, including one featuring state Reps. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) and Ken King (R-Canadian), both members of the House Public Education Committee, as well as State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin). All three serve on the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, which was created in part by the failure of a House-sponsored school finance reform bill last session. Rep. Bernal vowed that if the commission fails to come up with a real plan to reform the finance system before the new session begins, the House will come up with its own plan and challenge the Senate to pass it.
Thursday’s event furthered underscored the extent to which the focus will be on public education in the upcoming legislative session. Many lawmakers who have seemed uninterested in addressing school finance in the past are now championing reform efforts. Rep. King and others suggested Thursday that the results of the most recent election sent a strong message that Texas voters want legislators who will advance the interests of public education.
In the weeks prior to the upcoming midterm elections, many people across the state have been bombarded with a slew of campaign ads featuring members of both parties vying for the votes of the general public. One such ad features Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick discussing a $10,000 raise that he alleges he championed for educators. But there’s a problem: no such thing ever happened. ATPE Past State President Carl Garner quashes that claim and explains why such rhetoric is offensive in this guest post.
Over the past two weeks of early voting we’ve been highlighting what’s at stake for educators in the 2018 midterm elections. This past week we’ve examined a myriad of issues like why it’s important to elect pro-public education candidates to the State Board of Education and why vouchers are a threat to public schools. Over the years, teachers have had to deal with a barrage of attacks: attempts to limit their ability to join professional associations, school funding cuts, and exorbitant increases in health care costs, to name a few. That has made an already demanding job that much more difficult. With Nov. 6 a few days away, it’s time for educators to asses the hand they’ve been dealt and whether the legislature is holding up its end of the bargain; then vote accordingly.
Governor Abbott showcased his plan to patch up the state’s school finance system to business leaders and educators earlier this week. Without having received the recommendations of the Commission on Public School Finance, which has not yet concluded its work (although it is expected to report its findings by the end of this year), Abbott has proposed a plan that would limit the amount of property tax revenue school districts can raise and would give school districts financial rewards for improving student performance. The proposal gave pause to Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), vice chair of the House Public Education Committee. Bernal had this to say with regards to the proposal:
“It would be a shame if school finance was merely a Trojan horse for his property tax agenda,” he said. “What that means is that it’s not about the students at all.”
As multiple committees and the Texas Commission on Public School Finance spend this interim looking at the issue of teacher compensation, ATPE is taking advantage of opportunities to share our expertise and our members’ feedback with lawmakers on the issue. This week, the Senate Education Committee took its turn at discussing teacher pay, and ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann was one of the experts invited to testify at Monday’s hearing. Kuhlmann shared a number of things lawmakers should consider as they discuss any future plans to address teacher compensation in Texas, above all that those plans be funded, sustainable, and built from an adequate base.
The federal government has approved a revised plan outlining how Texas will comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). After Congress enacted the law in December 2015 and the U. S. Department of Education (ED) issued regulations to interpret it, states have been required to submit their plans for ESSA compliance. Texas’s original plan was sent back for modification. For more on the final ESSA plan that has now been approved by the feds, check out this week’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.
Congress advanced the omnibus spending bill to President Trump overnight and it received his signature this afternoon. The $1.3 trillion spending plan played out in a dramatic fashion, emerging Wednesday with support from both Republican and Democratic leadership, but with some waffling from President Trump.
After a bipartisan U.S. House vote of support (256-167) on Thursday and a similar vote in the Senate (65-32) that followed early Friday morning, President Trump again expressed consternation over the deal. He tweeted that he was considering a veto based on two missing pieces: full funding for his border wall and a plan for individuals that fall under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Ultimately, President Trump signed the legislation, but not without additional expressions of concern. Before the press this afternoon, he called the bill a “ridiculous situation” and told Congress he would never vote for a bill like this again, referring to its high price tag and lack of transparency. Trump said he was only signing it because it was a matter of national security and included increased spending for the military, the largest in history. He also highlighted several things he considers wins, like some initial funding to begin work on his border wall and dollars to address the opioid epidemic.
President Trump’s signature prevents a government shutdown that loomed at midnight tonight. Learn more about the spending plan, particularly as it relates to a funding boost for education, in this post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.
ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the Texas Commission on Public School Finance on March 19, 2018.
The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met in Austin this week on Monday, March 19. The commission spent the day taking both invited and non-invited testimony from the public as the members consider their recommendations to the 86th Legislature for modifying the state’s school finance system. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter offered public testimony on behalf of ATPE, highlighting ways the school finance system could be overhauled to provide property tax relief. (The commission previously heard invited testimony from ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey during an earlier meeting last month.) Read a full recap of Monday’s hearing and the extensive public testimony in this week’s blog post.
Ahead of Monday’s meeting, a consortium of education groups briefed the media on a new poll showing that most Texans support increasing the amount spent on public education. For more on the poll results, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
A subcommittee or working group of the school finance commission tasked with studying school expenditures also held a meeting the following morning to take additional testimony relative to their charge. The working group is chaired by Rep. Dan Huberty, who also chairs the House Public Education Committee. Read more about Tuesday’s working group session here.
The chair of the full commission sparked controversy this week after he made comments questioning whether the state should spend money on students he referred to as “slow learners.” Special education advocacy groups were quick to complain about Chairman Scott Brister’s remarks, as reported by the Austin American-Statesman in this article that also features a quote from ATPE’s Exter.
The next meeting for the Commission will be on April 5, 2018 at 9 a.m. in the William B. Travis Building, Room 1-104, located at 1701 N. Congress Ave., Austin, TX. The meeting will be webcast at: http://www.adminmonitor.com/tx/tea/.
The plan carries a $211 million price tag, which does not include a substantial cost anticipated to be incurred by local school districts. The districts will be expected to perform the bulk of the work meeting the needs of children who were wrongfully denied special education services in the past due to districts’ following a TEA directive to limit special education enrollment. Because of this funding challenge, many school administrators are warning they will need additional financial support from the state in order to properly serve qualifying children. The Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (TCASE) noted this in a press release this week, saying the TEA plan “is rich with school district monitoring and compliance measures, but fails to offer adequate financial and other support to districts.” Read the full TCASE press statement here.
Interim legislative hearings are in full swing now, and multiple committees are discussing how to address the state’s funding challenges that have a direct impact on public education.
Earlier this week, the Senate Finance Committee met to consider “options to increase investment earnings of the Economic Stabilization Fund,” often referred to as the state’s rainy day fund. Texas State Comptroller Glenn Hegar warned this week that the state could face a downgrade of its credit rating if it does not look at changing the way the $11 billion fund is invested. Decisions about the fund could have future implications for how the state funds teacher pensions and other education-related endeavors. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter has written more about the hearing in his blog post this week.
Another tough issue being debated by numerous committees this interim is teacher compensation. Several high-profile elected officials running for re-election have made teacher pay raises a key talking point in their campaign messaging, but few concrete plans or identified sources of funding have been proposed. On Monday, March 26, the Senate Education Committee will take its turn at debating the issue. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has been invited to testify on the issue. Stay tuned to our blog next week for updates on this and other hearings.
A NONPARTISAN VOTER EDUCATION PROJECT OF THE ASSOCIATION OF TEXAS PROFESSIONAL EDUCATORS