Tag Archives: Texas Senate

Senate interim charges include investigating educators’ political activity

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Texas) released interim charges for state senators late Wednesday. The Senate interim charges for the 86th Texas Legislature include language mirroring that used to justify a pair of bills this past session that were aimed at discouraging educators from being politically active.

After every legislative session, the Senate and House each release their own set of interim charges. Individual charges are assigned to each legislative committee and represent those legislators’ “homework” before returning to Austin for the next session. The idea is that members of each committee will study those charges, conduct hearings during the interim, and return the following legislative session prepared to file bills on those topics. The charges also typically include directions to monitor the implementation of bills recently passed into law and recommend any adjustments that may need to be made during the next legislative session.

The 2019 Senate interim charges include studying educator recruitment, preparation, and retention; a review of disciplinary alternative education programs (DAEP); studying the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) corrective action plan for special education; a review of how investments are made by the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) and the Permanent School Fund (PSF); monitoring school districts’ implementation of the increases to teacher compensation ordered under House Bill (HB) 3; and investigating advocacy by local communities and public schools misleadingly characterized as “taxpayer lobbying.”

Of particular note is a charge directing the Senate State Affairs Committee to “ensure compliance with laws that prohibit school trustees and employees from improperly using public funds to advocate for or against any candidate, measure, or political party.” While ATPE fully agrees that public funds should not be used for electioneering, unfounded accusations targeting educators were used during the 2019 legislative session to justify a pair of bills aimed at chilling educators’ political speech. It is particularly worth noting that these accusations were leveled by officials who have taken positions opposed to public education in the past and were made following a 2018 election cycle in which the public education community was acknowledged to have played a major role in electing pro-public education candidates.

Senate Bill (SB) 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) would have dramatically expanded the legal definition of electioneering solely as it applies to educators. It would have subjected educators to criminal penalties for violating “political advertising” laws if they engage in the act of discussing anything of a political nature on school property, regardless of whether that conversation occurred in private, between friends, or off the clock. A similar bill, SB 904 by state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) would have imposed cumbersome restrictions on e-mail signups and public WiFi systems. You can read more about those bills here and here. Notably, Sen. Hughes has recently been appointed by Lt. Gov. Patrick as the new chairman of the State Affairs Committee that will conduct this investigation during the interim and would likely hear any such bills filed next session.

The following list includes excerpts from the 2019 Senate interim charges that may be of interest to educators. The charges are broken up by committee, each of which is listed in bold. You can read the full list of all interim charges released on Wednesday here.

Senate Committee on Criminal Justice

Crimes Against Students with Disabilities: Examine whether current laws are effectively protecting students with disabilities. Make recommendations to improve student safety, while also protecting educators’ abilities to maintain order and safety for everyone in the classroom.

Senate Education Committee

Teacher Workforce: Examine best practice models to recruit, prepare, and retain highly effective teachers. Review teacher professional development, continuing education, and training for teachers, and recommend improved training methods to improve student academic outcomes.

Alternative Education Students: Study current local, state, and national policies and programs for alternative education student populations. Make recommendations to strengthen existing programs and encourage the development of new innovative models.

Adult Education: Identify and evaluate current innovative programs that assist non-traditional students (first-time adult learners, re-enrolling students, working adults, and educationally disadvantaged students) in completing a high school diploma, GED, post-secondary degree, or workforce credential, including a review of adult education charter schools and their performance framework. Make recommendations to help successful expansion with partnered business and education entities.

Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs: Review disciplinary alternative education programs, including lengths of placement, quality of instruction, and the physical conditions of these facilities. Make recommendations to support and promote the academic success of these programs and enhance the ability of public schools to meet the needs of these students through innovative school models.

Digital Learning: Assess the Texas Virtual School Network and recommend model legislation that improves digital learning for students, families, and educators in a 21st Century classroom.

Special Education Services: Evaluate ongoing strategies to continuously improve special education services for students in public schools including, but not limited, to the Texas Education Agency’s corrective action plan.

Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Education passed by the 86th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following: Senate Bill 11, relating to policies, procedures, and measures for school safety and mental health promotion in public schools and the creation of the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium; House Bill 3, relating to public school finance and public education; and House Bill 3906, relating to the assessment of public school students, including the development and administration of assessment instruments, and technology permitted for use by students.

Senate Finance Committee

Investment of State Funds: Review the investment strategies and performance of funds invested through the Teacher Retirement System, the Permanent School Fund, and university funds. Make recommendations to better coordinate and leverage Texas’ purchasing power to maximize investment income to the state.

Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Finance passed by the 86th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following: Senate Bill 12, relating to the contributions to and benefits under the Teacher Retirement System; …House Bill 4388, relating to the management of the permanent school fund by the School Land Board and the State Board of Education and a study regarding distributions from the permanent school fund to the available school fund; House Bill 4611, relating to certain distributions to the available school fund; …District implementation of increases in teacher compensation provided by the 86th Legislature; and Efficiencies in state-funded health care programs that reduce or contain costs and improve quality of care. Assess the quality and performance of health plans that contract with the state, including contract compliance, financial performance and stability, quality metrics, and consumer surveys, among other indicators. Monitor the implementation of Health and Human Services Commission Rider 19 and Article IX, Section 10.06.

Senate State Affairs Committee

Elections: Study the integrity and security of voter registration rolls, voting machines, and voter qualification procedures to reduce election fraud in Texas. Specifically, study and make recommendations to: 1) ensure counties are accurately verifying voter eligibility after voter registration; 2) improve training requirements for mail-in ballot signature verification committees; 3) ensure every voter has access to a polling station, particularly in counties that have adopted countywide polling; 4) allow the voter registrar, county clerk, and Secretary of State to suspend an unqualified voter’s registration or remove an ineligible voter from a list of registered voters; and 5) ensure compliance with laws that prohibit school trustees and employees from improperly using public funds to advocate for or against any candidate, measure, or political party.

Taxpayer Lobbying: Study how governmental entities use public funds for political lobbying purposes. Examine what types of governmental entities use public funds for lobbying purposes. Make recommendations to protect taxpayers from paying for lobbyists who may not represent the taxpayers’ interests.

Why November is important: It’s the maths, y’all

Politics involves a lot of math.

A candidate needs fifty percent of voters plus one in order to get elected to office. The Texas Legislature meets for 140 days, but can’t pass legislation until 60 of those days have passed – unless acting upon an emergency item declared by the governor.

Here’s another equation for you:

The Texas Senate consists of 31 members and requires a vote of three-fifths of those present and voting to pass most major legislation. That means if everyone is present, a bill needs the support of 19 senators to pass. In the current makeup of the Texas Senate, 20 are Republicans and 11 are Democrats.

This actually is an important bit of math for supporters of public education.

In the past legislative session alone, we’ve seen legislation harmful to public education pass along largely party line votes under the direction of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. This includes voucher bills to strip funding from public schools in order to create taxpayer-funded subsidies for private schools. It also includes payroll deduction bills designed to rob teachers of their influence at the Capitol by making it more difficult to join educator associations such as ATPE.

A recent article by the Texas Tribune put the Senate math in the context of the 2018 general election, and pointed out that the outcomes of a handful of races this November could have some very significant ramifications when it comes to the next legislative session.

Multiple senators who voted for vouchers and against teachers last session are currently up for reelection and facing serious challenges this November. The Texas Tribune highlighted three of the most high-profile races in which sitting senators now find themselves in the hot seat, in large part due to their past anti-public education votes: Sens. Don Huffines (R-Dallas), Konni Burton (R-Colleyville), and Joan Huffman (R-Houston).

If just one of those incumbents lose their race, a single Republican could defy the lieutenant governor and stop a voucher bill in its tracks. If two are defeated, the lieutenant governor won’t have enough votes to force through anti-education bills along party lines as he did last session.

In the latter case, members would be forced to work across party lines – and the balance of power would shift away from the lieutenant governor, giving individual members more freedom to vote in the interests of their constituents, rather than party leaders.

There’s also a twist.

The special runoff election underway this week to fill the Senate District 19 seat previously held by a Democrat has attracted the lieutenant governor’s attention; Lt. Gov. Patrick knows flipping that seat would change the math again. That’s why it’s no surprise to see Patrick loudly campaigning for the pro-voucher Republican candidate running in that San Antonio-area special election that will be decided on Tuesday, Sept. 18:

Also, an unresolved dispute between Gov. Greg Abbott and retiring Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) means the 2019 legislative session will begin with the Senate one seat short. That lowers the magic number for passing bills via one party’s super-majority to only 18.

It’s tempting to look at this all in terms of “Rs” and “Ds,” but that ignores important issues like public education, where there are Republicans who disagree with the lieutenant governor, but either don’t number enough to overcome the magic number or fear the lieutenant governor’s current absolute power. Changing the math changes both.

File it under the list of reasons this upcoming general election is important. Maybe your friends aren’t the type to get hyped up about voting. Maybe they just don’t find elections that exciting. I offer an alternative appeal:

Math!

Now that’s exciting!