The board of trustees for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas met in Austin this week. Of note on their agenda was a discussion of proposed TRS-ActiveCare pricing for 2020.
Overall, the premiums for all ActiveCare plans will be increased by 3.9 percent on average, which is significantly lower than market averages, with the average increase for the ActiveCare I – High Deductible plan and ActiveCare Select at 3 percent and the increase for the ActiveCare II plan at 8.9 percent.
Note: ActiveCare II was closed to new enrollees after the 2018 plan year.
You can see the exact premium increases and benefits changes for the different coverage options on the attached rate card, or for more in-depth information, view the TRS Benefits Committee board board book at pages 16-31.
Senate Education Committee meeting April 16, 2019.
This week was a busy one for the Senate Education Committee. On Tuesday, the committee chose to postpone its originally posted hearing of the House’s school finance reform bill, House Bill 3. The committee postponed the hearing of HB 3 by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) in order to flesh out more of the Senate’s committee substitute for the bill. We expect HB 3 to heard later next week and are urging educators to reach out to their senators about the bill.
ATPE supported HB 3 as passed by the House almost unanimously. The bill was amended from its original version as filed to remove controversial language that would allow school districts to opt out of the the minimum salary schedule and fund merit pay that likely would have been tied to student test scores. ATPE encourages educators to contact their senators now and urge them to keep merit pay and other negative provisions out of HB 3 when it moves through the Senate. For additional information and direct communication links to lawmakers, ATPE members should visit Advocacy Central.
In lieu of HB 3, various other bills were discussed during Tuesday’s Senate Education Committee meeting, with topics ranging from sex ed to charter school regulation to accountability laws. The committee also voted to advance several bills, such as Senate Bill (SB) 1412 to allow a school at risk of closure to execute an accelerated campus excellence turnaround plan. For more on Tuesday’s Senate Education Committee hearing, read this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
The committee will meet again on April 23, 2019, to hear bills relating to school district funding and governance, student internships, staff development, and more. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for coverage of the hearing and announcements when HB 3 is scheduled for hearing.
On Wednesday, April 18, the full Senate passed a bill to further restrict the ability of school district employees and school board members to talk about political content at school.
SB 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) amends existing “political advertising” laws and was passed by a vote of 25 to 6. Senators who voted against the ATPE-opposed bill were Sens. Jose Menendez, Borris Miles, Beverly Powell, Kel Seliger, John Whitmire, and Judith Zaffirini.
During the Senate floor debate, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. amended the bill to add prohibitions on electioneering using school resources by charter school employees or governing board members. Charter schools had not been included in the original version of SB 1569 as filed. Sen. Fallon also agreed to amend the bill on the floor to strike language from the original version that would have prohibited school districts from being able to share information that factually describes the purpose of a bond measure and does not advocate for its passage or defeat.
SB 1569 no longer includes highly troubling language in its original version that would have prohibited school employees from advocating for or against “a political philosophy” or “a matter of public interest.” However, ATPE notes that the bill still includes overly broad language aimed at stifling political involvement by public school employees, contractors, or board members. SB 1569 as passed by the Senate greatly expands the existing definition of political advertising to include support or opposition for a candidate, political party, public officer, or measure that is “directed to an individual person or multiple persons through any form of communication.” While Sen. Fallon indicated during floor debate that he does not intend for his bill to prevent educators from talking to one another about politics, especially after school hours, the language of the bill itself as quoted above suggests otherwise.
SB 1569 as passed by the Senate would also subject public school employees to criminal penalties if they “facilitate” legislative advocacy by students. ATPE is disappointed that senators would support legislation to prevent educators from teaching students about the legislative process without fear of being arrested.
Now that SB 1569 has been passed by the Senate, ATPE urges educators to contact their state representatives and ask them to oppose this unnecessary anti-public education bill. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central for additional information on SB 1569 and communication tools.
Other bills on the move this session that have garnered scrutiny from the education community include HB 281 by Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville) and SB 29 by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) relating to political subdivisions’ use of public money for lobbying activities. These bills would prohibit school districts from using public funds to pay for lobbying, whether by an employee of the district paid to lobby or an outside association that uses the public funds for activities that might include lobbying. Neither bill would affect the ability of school district employees to use their own personal funds to join associations, such as ATPE, that engage in lobbying activities.
Legislators, staffers, and stakeholders crowded a conference room Thursday, April 18, 2019, for a quick meeting of the House Public Education Committee to vote on bills.
The House Public Education Committee met twice this week to hear bills on topics such as civics education, bullying, and virtual schools.
During the committee’s first hearing on Tuesday, April 16, ATPE offered testimony on bills like HB 496 by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio) aimed at improving student safety by requiring a bleeding kit program in public schools. Read ATPE’s written testimony here. ATPE also testified against HB 429 by Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano), which would expand virtual school programs that may not be efficient or of adequate quality. Read ATPE’s written testimony against HB 429 here. Other bills heard on Tuesday included the ATPE-supported HB 3133 by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) that would allow school district employees to use their personal leave for compensation on school holidays.
The committee met again on Thursday, April 18, for a hearing that lasted until 11 pm and again featured discussions of a wide variety of topics. ATPE supported bills such as HB 414 by Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van) calling for a Teacher Protection Act, HB 3403 by Rep. Phillip Cortez (D-San Antonio) to require school district employment policies to include anti-bullying measures for educators, and HB 3638 by Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) to repeal certain laws identified as unnecessary or duplicative by a mandate relief working group on which ATPE served last year.
The committee also convened while the House was in session on Thursday to vote out additional bills, such as Rep. Gina Hinojosa’s HB 43 on charter admission policies and Rep. Diego Bernal’s HB 4242 calling for a study of the readability of STAAR tests.
Read more about the bills considered by the House Public Education Committee in this week’s comprehensive blog posts from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier here and here.
ATPE has long advocated for Texas lawmakers to increase funding of educators’ pension programs through the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). As we have been reporting throughout the session, the 86th Legislature is considering ATPE-supported bills to increase state contributions to the TRS pension fund and provide retirees with a 13th check.
In support of this ongoing effort, ATPE has joined forces with Equable, a national nonprofit organization that works to facilitate retirement plan sustainability and income security, to promote pension reforms this session that will address the TRS funding shortfall and help ensure that Texas educators have a stable retirement plan in the future. ATPE and Equable are urging educators to reach out to their legislators in support of bills like SB 12, which is scheduled for debate by the full House next week.
Learn more about our TRS-related advocacy and find additional resources at PayTheBillTX.org.
The one bill that the 86th Legislature must pass in order to avoid a special session – the state’s budget bill – is making further progress. Members of the House and Senate have voted to send HB 1 to a conference committee to iron out differences between the two chambers’ versions of the budget proposal.
On the House side, Appropriations Committee Chairman John Zerwas will co-chair the conference committee joined by Reps. Greg Bonnen, Sarah Davis, Oscar Longoria, and Armando Walle. Senate conferees, which noticeably included no Democratic senators, are Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson plus Sens. Joan Huffman, Lois Kolkhorst, Larry Taylor, and Robert Nichols. The HB 1 conference committee has planned its first meeting for Tuesday, April 23.
Also sent to a conference committee was the legislature’s supplemental appropriations bill for the current biennium, SB 500. That bill’s conference committee is similarly co-chaired by Sen. Nelson and Rep. Zerwas. The other conference committee members for SB 500 are Sens. Huffman, Kolkhorst, Taylor, and Chuy Hinojosa, along with Reps. Giovanni Capriglione, Mary Gonzalez, Rick Miller, and Toni Rose.
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.
On Thursday, April 4, 2019, the House Public Education Committee met to hear bills on several topics, including home-schooled students’ participation in UIL, student health, protected speech, and the available school fund.
ATPE supported several of the bills on yesterday’s committee agenda:
House Bill (HB) 348 (Nevárez, et al., D-Eagle Pass): Would allow school districts to provide increased compensation to a teacher who completes an autism training provided by a regional education service center. This bill was not actually heard by the committee yesterday due to a last-minute change.
HB 1602 (Hernandez, D-Houston): States that a school district may not begin instruction before 8 am and calls for appropriating over $755 million to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for the purpose of offsetting the additional transportation costs associated with the bill. Rep. Hernandez said that 34% of Texas schools start in the 7 am hour, and some students wait in the dark for the bus as early as 5:45 am. A student testified for the bill, saying it would help her get more sleep and receive less disciplinary action. ATPE member Yen Rabe also testified in support as one of several witnesses who cited increased safety and student well-being if the school day were to start later.
HB 2738 (Meyer, R-Dallas): Would expand educator misconduct provisions adopted through SB 7 from the 2017 legislative session to also include non-certified employees, such as those who may work in charter schools and Districts of Innovation. The bill would require TEA to create a “do-not-hire” registry of these non-certified persons.
ATPE registered in opposition to HB 1324 by Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls), which would require public schools participating in UIL activities to provide home-schooled students who meet certain eligibility requirements with the opportunity to participate in the activity. Districts would likely incur costs from this mandate, and HB 1324 does not ensure that home-schooled students would be subject to the same requirements and thus on a level playing field with their public school peers. Testimony on this bill was split between those who had concerns about implementation, costs to public schools, and increased government oversight, and those who wanted to be able to participate in UIL activities, especially sports. Read ATPE’s written testimony against the bill here.
The following bills were also heard by the committee yesterday:
HB 873 (Allen, D-Houston): Would require the admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) committee to review students’ behavior intervention plans (BIPs) at least annually for those who have a BIP as part of their individualized education plan (IEP). This bill also requires changes to the student code of conduct, including parent notification about the student’s BIP or if the student needs a BIP when violations of the code occur, and it changes law around the use of restraints and time-outs, requiring detailed notification to parents. Lastly, the bill requires that if a school district takes disciplinary action against a student with disabilities that results in a change in placement, the district must conduct a behavioral assessment and develop or revise the student’s BIP.
HB 1131 (Cole, et al., D-Austin): Would create the “Texas Public Finance Authority” to act as a “paying agent” under current law for the guarantee and payment of bonds. School districts could also borrow money from the new authority.
HB 1906 (Burns, R-Cleburne): Would allow a parent of a student with severe cognitive disabilities to request that the child be exempted from required assessments. The ARD committee would make further determinations on whether the student should be exempted and what the best assessment instrument for the child would be. Special education advocates testified about concerns with making sure someone is still held accountable for growth and progress of these students, and argued that assessments should be fixed rather than removing students from taking assessments altogether.
HB 2097 (Krause, et al., R-Fort Worth): This bill would allow only Arlington ISD to withdraw from TRS-ActiveCare under a pilot project. Representatives of the school district testified that healthcare costs for its employees under TRS are too high, but members of the committee were cautious and indicated there should be more study on statewide impact before allowing one district to have special treatment.
HB 2244 (González, M., D-Clint): Would define what is protected speech and require school districts to adopt a policy establishing rules regarding students’ right to exercise freedom of the press at school. Testimony supporting the bill included remarks from students, teachers, a professor, and a lawyer.
HB 2393 (Burrows, R-Lubbock): Would require the State Board of Education (SBOE) and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to develop a hunter education course for students in grades 7-12 that a school district can use as a part of its physical education curriculum. Rep. Burrows stated that there are barriers to children being able to take hunter education and that many violations have been committed by hunters, presumably as a result of lack of education.
HB 2555 (Parker, R-Flower Mound): Would update the guidelines on food allergies and require school boards and governing bodies of charters to update their policies on caring for students with food allergies who are at risk of anaphylaxis.
HB 2689 (Dean, et al., R-Longview): Would require each school superintendent to designate a cybersecurity coordinator to serve as a liaison between the district and TEA. Rep. Dean stated that student data, such as social security numbers, are particularly valuable and in need of protection.
HB 2739 (Meyer, et al., R-Dallas): Would require private school administrators to report misconduct by educators they employ to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) and allow them to obtain information from SBEC any reports the board has about prior misconduct or criminal histories of such individuals.
HB 2740 (Meyer, et al., R-Dallas): Would require the Department of Family and Protective Services to release information regarding child abuse and neglect investigations and allegations to private schools, as it does for public schools.
HB 3683 (Dutton, D-Houston): Would allow the commissioner to authorize a charter or campus program to provide a dropout recovery program for grades 9-12, at which 50% of the enrollment must be students who are age 17 or older. Eligible students would include those who have dropped out or been in a disciplinary alternative education setting, as well as homeless students, working students, asylees and refugees, or at parent request. Charter school advocates testified that the bill would improve student retention and completion.
HB 4205 (Craddick, R-Midland): Would allow repurposed campuses to be operated in partnership with certain nonprofits that have a successful record of operating a campus or charter. Former Speaker Craddick stated that a school slated for closure has only two options (close the campus or appoint a board of managers), and his bill offers a third option by allowing non-profit charters to partner with the school district to reopen the school. TEA General Counsel Von Byer said the campus would still have to be closed and repurposed, and that the repurposed campus would have to serve a majority of new students and offer a distinctly different academic program.
HB 4613 (Shaheen, R-Plano): Would allow parents to request an exemption from state and federal testing requirements for special education students, potentially through a federal waiver. Special education advocates testified with concerns on meeting federal reporting requirements and having accountability for all students, including those with disabilities.
HB 4611 (Huberty, R-Humble) and its related House Joint Resolution (HJR) 151 (Huberty, R-Humble): Would propose a constitutional amendment to allow the General Land Office’s (GLO) School Land Board to transfer up to $600 million to the available school fund. The current allowable contribution is only $300 million. Testimony from both the GLO and from Dr. Keven Ellis of the SBOE was neutral, focused on finding avenues to increase funds to the available school fund.
The following pending bills heard during prior meetings were voted favorably from committee on Thursday: HB 851, HB 1026, HB 1517, HB 1639, HB 1640, HB 1823, HB 2511, HB 2984, HB 3007, HB 3217, HB 3323, HB 3435, HB 3966, HCR 59, HB 843, HB 1160, HB 1276, HB 1632, HB 2030, HB 2184, HB 4310, and HB 2210.
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 State President Byron Hildebrand testified in the House Pensions Committee, March 26, 2019.
The 86th Legislature has been considering bills to increase contributions to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), which ATPE supports. Preserving the solvency and defined-benefit structure of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) pension program for educators is an ATPE legislative priority this session.
On the Senate side, one high-profile measure on the move pertaining to this priority is Senate Bill (SB) 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R – Houston). After the bill received approval last week from the Senate Committee on State Affairs, which Sen. Huffman chairs, the full Senate passed SB 12 unanimously out of the upper chamber on Monday, March 25, sending it on its way to the House.
ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand delivered our association’s testimony strongly supporting HB 9 in committee today. Hildebrand, who is also a retired educator, thanked legislators for taking a positive step forward with legislation aimed at making the TRS pension found sound, and he encouraged lawmakers to continue to take steps to do great things for active and retired teachers. Click here to watch today’s committee hearing, where HB 9 was the first bill considered. (Hildebrand’s testimony begins at approximately the 43-minute mark in the archived broadcast.)
While SB 12 and HB 9 both increase contributions to TRS and provide a 13th check to current retirees, the bills differ on the amount of the increased contribution, who would pay for it, and the size of the 13th payment. At 2.5%, the overall increase in TRS contributions under SB 12 would be a half percent more than the 2% increase called for by HB 9. However, HB 9 puts the responsibility for paying for the entire contribution increase on the state by raising the state’s rate from 6.8% up to to 8.8%. SB 12 only raises the state’s contribution rate from 6.8% to 8.25%, while also raising the active member rate from 7.7% to 8.25%, and raising the school district contribution rate from 1.5% up to 2%. HB 9 also begins and finishes raising the contribution rate a year sooner than SB 12 would. In terms of 13th payments, SB 12 offers all retirees a $500 bonus, while HB 9 would provide current retirees a 13th check in the same amount as their regular monthly annuity up to $2,400.
Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these two ATPE-supported bills as they continue to move through the legislative process.
Now that the bill filing deadline has passed and the 86th legislative session is beyond its halfway point, it’s time for the legislature to do the one thing that it is mandated to do in every session: pass a budget. “Budget Day,” though it doesn’t have an official date in each legislative session, is when the House or Senate passes its version of a budget bill. Things get heated, legislators stay on the floor until the wee hours of the morning, staving off delirium to fight for every penny possible for their constituents’ legislative priorities. At stake this session is the future of public education funding, deemed an emergency issue this session by Gov. Greg Abbott and a top priority of the leadership in both the House and Senate.
For its part on the school finance front, the House Public Education Committee unanimously approved Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) comprehensive school funding bill, House Bill (HB) 3, on Tuesday of this week after making a number of changes requested by ATPE and other education stakeholders. Those changes included removing a controversial merit pay proposal from the bill. Read more about the revisions made to HB 3 in this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell. The new and improved school finance and tax reform bill is expected to be brought up by the full House for a floor debate within a couple of weeks.
With the momentum behind major public education bills like HB 3, it is now up to lawmakers to put aside enough money for the next biennium to make those school funding proposals a reality. On the House side, those budget decisions will be made via HB 1, which is the House’s version of the budget bill that is scheduled for a floor debate next week. State representatives will be spending the weekend drafting and pre-filing their amendments to the massive budget bill before its lengthy budget debate happens on Wednesday, March 27. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and be sure to follow us and our lobbyists on Twitter for updates on the budget debate next week.
House Public Education Committee hearing, March 19, 2019
In addition to approving HB 3 earlier this week, the House Public Education committee also heard 21 other bills when it met on Tuesday, March 19. The subjects of the bills ranged from the compensatory allotment to a proposal to make personal financial literacy courses mandatory for graduation. The committee also voted to send 14 previously heard bills to the House floor, including the high-profile school finance and tax relief bill, HB 3. For more information on the bills heard during Tuesday’s committee meeting, read this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier. Next Tuesday, the committee will meet again to hear a long agenda full of school safety bills.
Senate Education Committee hearing, March 19, 2019
The Senate Education committee also met Tuesday, March 19, to hear a number of bills, including several relating to educator misconduct. Most of the bills heard on that subject were filed by Sen. Paul Bettencourt as follow-ups to his Senate Bill 7 enacted by the legislature in 2017. The Senate Education Committee voted to advance three bills to the Senate floor. Read more in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. On the agenda for next week’s Senate Education Committee hearing are several bills relating to student discipline.
Two high-profile bills positively affecting Teacher Retirement System (TRS) pension benefits are slated for legislative action next week.
First, Senate Bill (SB) 12, by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) is on the calendar for debate by the full Senate next week. As we reported in last week’s wrap-up, SB 12 was previously heard and approved by the Senate State Affairs Committee. SB 12 would shore up the educator pension fund by gradually increasing what the state, school districts, and educators contribute to TRS over a period of six years.
The second bill is House Bill (HB) 9 by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), which is scheduled for a public hearing by the House Pensions/Investments/Financial Services Committee on Tuesday morning, March 26, 2019. ATPE will be testifying in support of the bill. HB 9 would increase contributions to the TRS pension fund placing the entirety of the responsibility of paying for the contribution increase on the state. It also provides for TRS retirees to receive a 13th check equal to up to $2400 of their annuity payment.
Despite their different methods, both of these ATPE-supported bills are aimed at making the pension fund actuarially sound, which would make it possible for the state to provide a much-needed cost of living adjustment to those retired educators who are receiving TRS benefits.
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.
In addition to preparing for the upcoming ATPE at the Capitol events this weekend, your ATPE lobbyists were once again busy covering legislative happenings in and around the Capitol this week. Here’s a look at this week’s developments:
The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) held ts first meeting of 2019 today in Austin. The board took action on several items, including a new superintendent certificate program to be offered by the Harris County Department of Education and approval of new standards for the English as a Second Language (ESL) supplemental certificate. The board also heard lengthy testimony on the upcoming EdTPA performance-based assessment pilot included within the Teacher Certification Redesign plan, which led to a discussion of concerns among the majority of the board. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier attended today’s meeting and will be posting a full wrap-up of the discussions for our blog in the coming days.
The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees also met this week. For highlights of the board’s discussions, check out this blog post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, who attended the meetings on Thursday and Friday, Feb. 21-22.
The House Public Education Committee began hearing bills this week. Members considered bills on public education topics including pre-K class sizes, educator preparation, assessment, and special education. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified for the first time before the committee in support of a bill that would improve and pay for mentoring programs. ATPE supported seven out of the 11 bills on the agenda. For more on the hearing, read this blog post by Chevalier.
On Wednesday, Feb. 20, the House Appropriations Committee’s Article III subcommittee met to continue its review of the state education budget. The subcommittee heard from te leaders of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Teacher Retirement System (TRS) before inviting stakeholders to weigh in on the topic of education funding. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified about the need to prioritize funding for public education this session as well shoring up the TRS pension fund. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as budget talks continue this session.
On Sunday and Monday, hundreds of educators will arrive in Austin for ATPE at the Capitol, our biennial legislative advocacy and political involvement training event. ATPE members will spend Sunday attending training sessions on the association’s legislative priorities and hearing from elected officials about efforts to reform the state’s school finance system, among other education issues. On Monday, ATPE members will visit with their legislators and watch the House and Senate in action.
Also happening on Monday, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a public hearing on Senate Bill (SB) 3, which aims to increase funding for public schools and give teachers a $5,000 raise. ATPE State Vice President Tonja Gray will be giving invited testimony at the hearing. Follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for updates on Monday’s hearing and watch for a full recap of the event next week here on our Teach the Vote blog.
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