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Legislative Update: Budget approval and more on the final countdown

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

Date Posted: 5/29/2015 | Author: Jennifer Mitchell, CAE

We're in the home stretch of the 84th legislative session. Here's the latest on education-related bills that are still on the move:

State budget and TRS funding

HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R) is the state's appropriation bill and the one piece of legislation that must pass in order to avoid a special session. The House passed its version of HB 1 on April 1 by a vote of 141-5. The Senate approved its version of the bill on April 14 by a vote of 30-1. The House version contained funds for enrollment growth as well as an additional $2.2 billion aimed at increasing equity within the public education system. The Senate's version provided an additional $1.8 billion in new revenue after their tax cut proposal was factored in. The Senate's version also assumed that the cost of enrollment growth will be covered by increases in property tax revenue. HB 1 was sent to a conference committee where representatives and senators negotiated a compromise on what amounts the state should spend on public education and other needs. The budget deal calls for funding enrollment growth plus an additional $1.5 billion for public education. Today the House and Senate are both considering the conference committee report and taking final votes on the budget plan. The Senate voted 30 to 1 to approve HB 1. Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D) voted against the motion, saying she preferred to see more spending on education and healthcare. Sen. Kevin Eltife (R) voted for the bill but only after he spoke passionately about his belief that state needs are not being adequately addressed in the appropriations. The House approved the budget a short time later by a vote of 115 to 33. Tuesday evening the Senate unanimously passed its version of a supplemental appropriations bill, HB 2 by Rep. John Otto (R), sponsored in the upper chamber by Sen. Jane Nelson (R). (The House passed its version of the bill back on April 1.) Yesterday, the House voted 145 to 1 to accept the Senate amendments to the bill, which will send HB 2 on to the governor. Rep. David Simpson (R) was the only no vote on the motion to concur. The supplemental appropriations include much-needed funding in the amount of $768 million to help cover costs of TRS-Care health insurance for retirees over the next two years.

Tax cuts and spending restrictions

The budget deal between the House and Senate hinged on reaching an agreement on tax cuts. The leaders of both chambers ultimately agreed on two tax cut proposals: increasing the homestead exemption to reduce property taxes and lowering the business franchise tax. SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R) contains the Senate’s favored proposal to increase the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000; if the bill passes, that increase in the exemption will be subject to voter approval in a November election. The bill is pending in a conference committee. HB 32 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R), which permanently reduces the state’s franchise tax by 25 percent, is already on its way to the governor. In addition to tax cuts, the 84th legislature has also considered multiple measures to curtail state spending. One of the primary measures is SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R), which is designed to limit the state's constitutional spending limit, based on a calculation that factors in population growth and inflation. After the House changed the bill, the Senate refused to concur in House amendments and has requested a conference committee.

Accountability and "A through F" ratings

Two major accountability reform bills are still in flux. HB 2804 is a comprehensive bill by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) intended to overhaul the state's accountability system and place slightly less emphasis on the role of student test scores in how schools are rated. Unfortunately, the bill was amended to add a controversial plan, which ATPE opposes, to assign "A through F" grades to school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. The House passed the bill by a vote of 102 to 26 after an attempt to strip out the "A-F" language from the bill was narrowly defeated. Read more about the House debate here on our blog. The Senate passed its own version of the bill unanimously on May 25. Now the House must decide whether to accept the Senate's changes. HB 2804 is on today's House calendar. HB 1842 also by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) deals with school accountability sanctions and interventions. The bill provides for turnaround strategies for schools considered low-performing. The House passed HB 1842 by a vote of 143 to 1 on May 13, with Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R) casting the lone vote against the bill. The Senate approved a substitute for HB 1842 on Tuesday night, May 26, around midnight. The upper chamber added numerous floor amendments, many taken from other bills that were procedurally dead. The controversial amendments include Sen. Larry Taylor's (R) "innovation zones" school deregulation language from SB 1241 and Sen. Royce West's (R) "Opportunity School District" (now called a  "School Turnaround District") plan from SB 669. Language dealing with charter and virtual school expansion was also added to HB 1842. Chairman Aycock is expected to refuse the Senate's changes to the bill and ask the House today for a conference committee to be appointed.

Student testing and curriculum

HB 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) attempts to reduce the amount of time spent on state-mandated testing in grades three through eight and limit the breadth of curriculum standards (TEKS) that are included on those tests. The bill also calls for auditing of the state’s contracts with test vendors. HB 743 previously passed the House on May 4 and on May 25, the full Senate passed an amended version of it. The House refused to accept the Senate's changes to the bill and is appointing a conference committee. HB 1164 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) would eliminate state-mandated STAAR writing tests and instead have school districts assess students’ writing ability using locally-approved methods. It passed the House unanimously on April 30. The Senate passed a substitute version of the bill on May 25 by a vote of 26 to 5, with Sens. Brian Birdwell (R), Konni Burton (R), Donna Campbell (R), Bob Hall (R), Jane Nelson (R), and Charles Perry (R) opposing it. The House voted on Wednesday, May 27, to accept the Senate's changes to the bill. The vote on the motion to concur was 96 to 45, and it sends HB 1164 to the governor's desk. HB 1431 by Rep. Susan King (R) calls for development of an industry-related course to train students to communicate in a language other than English for business purposes. It passed the House on May 8 by a vote of 134 to 6. The Senate approved the bill this Tuesday, May 26. HB 2349 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relates to student testing and curriculum standards. The bill makes several technical changes to testing requirements that were modified in 2013 pursuant to House Bill 5. ATPE has supported the bill, which received a unanimous vote in the House on May 11. The Senate  passed a substitute version of HB 2349 unanimously on Wednesday, May 27.  Today the House must decide whether to accept the Senate's changes or send the bill to a conference committee. SB 313 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) is another bill ATPE has supported that deals with narrowing the curriculum standards, state testing, and instructional materials. The Senate passed the bill unanimously on May 5. On May 25, the House removed language in the bill calling for a diagnostic assessment (the Texas Success Initiative) to be administered to students in the 10th grade. They also added a statement to clarify that a State Board of Education review of the curriculum standards should not result in a need for new instructional materials in any subject other than English language arts. Rep. Ron Simmons (R) offered an amendment today to allow students in special education a means to opt out of STAAR testing requirements, to the extent allowed under federal law. Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock (R), who is sponsoring the bill in the House, expressed concern that the new language might run afoul of federal testing requirements but allowed the House to vote on the measure, which passed. The House finally passed the bill, as amended, on May 26 by a vote of 125 to 19. The Senate opted not to accept the House’s changes to the bill and has appointed a conference committee. SB 968 by Sen. Royce West (D) adds a prescription drug misuse awareness component to the school health curriculum. On May 7, the Senate approved it 28 to 3, with Sens. Konni Burton (R), Jane Nelson (R), and Robert Nichols (R) voting against it. The House unanimously approved the measure on Wednesday, May 27.

Educator preparation, certification, and discipline matters

Late Tuesday night, the Senate considered HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R), an educator preparation and certification bill being sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Kel Seliger (R). The bill, which ATPE supported in the House, changes the composition of the State Board for Educator Certification and requires one non-voting member of the board to have worked for an alternative certification program. It also makes modifications to the accountability system for educator preparation programs. The Senate made several changes to the bill. First, the Senate version of HB 2205 incorporates language from Sen. Seliger’s dead bill, SB 892, that lowers the statutory minimum GPA for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 to 2.5. The Senate initially accepted a floor amendment by Sen. Jose Menendez (D) filed at our request to restore the 2.75 GPA language that is in current law. After conferring with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), the Senate stripped off the Menendez language, based largely on the lieutenant governor’s objection to keeping the GPA at 2.75. (Ironically, Patrick was the Senate sponsor of the 2013 bill that raised the minimum GPA from 2.5 to 2.75.) As amended by the Senate, HB 2205 also requires 30 hours (up from 15) of field-based experience that must be delivered in a classroom setting (not online) before an alternative certification candidate may be hired as a teacher of record; that change is opposed by alternative certification providers. The Senate also added two of Sen. Paul Bettencourt's (R) dead bills onto HB 2205 as floor amendments. One amendment added language from his SB 1003 making it easier for school districts to issue teaching permits to non-certified teachers, while his SB 1222 language added onto the bill gives the commissioner of education power to issue subpoenas when investigating educators for possible misconduct. The Senate's vote on HB 2205 as amended was 28 to 3, with Sens. Bob Hall (R), Jane Nelson (R), and Robert Nichols (R) voting against it. The bill is on the House's calendar today for a vote on whether to accept the Senate amendments to the bill or send it to a conference committee. HB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R) amends a law that permits educator preparation programs to exempt up to 10 percent of each cohort of candidates from the state’s minimum GPA requirement. The bill as approved requires those exempted from the GPA rule to pass a content exam prior to admission. The House passed HB 1300 on May 12 by a vote of 141 to 2, with Reps. Jonathan Stickland (R) and James White (R) voting against it. This ATPE-backed bill is now on the governor's desk after being unanimously approved by the Senate on May 22.

Early childhood education

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has signed into law two pieces of legislation supported by ATPE that deal with early childhood education. HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) is a bill to increase funding to pre-kindergarten programs that implement certain quality control measures. Abbott signed the bill at a formal ceremony yesterday. He previously signed SB 925 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R), which calls for the commissioner of education to create literacy achievement academies for teachers of reading in Kindergarten through third grades. The bill gives preference  to teachers at campuses where the majority of students are educationally disadvantaged and entitles teachers who attend the academies to be paid stipends. Gov. Abbott declared early childhood education a priority issue for consideration this legislative session.

Suicide prevention

ATPE has pursued legislation this session to try to curtail the epidemic of youth suicide by making available additional training for educators in spotting and responding to the warning signs of suicide. At ATPE’s request, Rep. Byron Cook (R) filed HB 2186 in memory of Jonathan Childers, who committed suicide in 2013. Jonathan was the teenage son of Coach Kevin Childers, an ATPE member from Fairfield ISD. The Childers family’s story is featured in our latest issue of ATPE News. The House passed HB 2186 on May 7 by a vote of 139 to 3 with Reps. Matt Rinaldi (R), Matt Schaefer (R), and Jonathan Stickland (R) voting against it. HB 2186 was passed unanimously on the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar on Wednesday of this week. The House is expected to vote today on accepting the Senate's amendments to the bill, which should send it to the governor's office soon.

Breast-feeding accommodations for school employees

HB 786 by Rep. Armando Walle (D) would require schools and other public employers to provide certain accommodations for employees to express breast milk and prohibit workplace discrimination against such employees. ATPE has supported the bill. The House passed HB 786 by a vote of 90 to 47 on April 27. The Senate passed an amended version of the bill on May 24 by a vote of 23 to 7. Since the House refused to accept the Senate's changes, the bill has been referred to a conference committee.

School counselors

HB 18 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relates to college and career readiness training for certain public school counselors. The bill would create post-secondary education and career counseling academies for certain school counselors and make stipends available to those who attend the academies. ATPE supported the bill. The House passed an amended version of the bill on May 12 by a vote of 136 to 9. The Senate added several floor amendments to HB 18 and passed it on Wednesday, May 27 by a vote of 30 to 1; Sen. Konni Burton (R) was the lone dissenter. The House must decide to accept the Senate's changes or appoint a conference committee.

Charter schools

Only a small number of bills dealing with regulation of and funding for charter schools have made it this far through the legislative process. HB 2251 by Rep. Rafael Anchia (D) is designed to accelerate funding for charter schools experiencing enrollment growth. The House approved it on May 15, and the Senate approved the bill on Tuesday, May 26; both votes were unanimous. Rep. Marsha Farney (R) has filed HB 1170 to classify certain charter schools as local governmental entities. It passed the House on May 8 with only a single no vote from Rep. Terry Canales (D). The Senate unanimously approved a substitute version of HB 1170 on Wednesday, May 27. The House must decide whether to accept the Senate's changes or send the bill to a conference committee. Farney's HB 1171 relates to immunity provisions for charter schools; it passed the House and Senate unanimously, but also was amended by the Senate. Both of these bills on the calendar today for a decision by the House.

Cameras in the classroom

SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) calls for school districts to equip self-contained classrooms serving students in special education programs with video surveillance cameras. The Senate approved the bill on May 11 by a vote of 24 to 7, with Sens. Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Don Huffines (R), Jane Nelson (R), Robert Nichols (R), Charles Perry (R), and Charles Schwertner (R) voting against the measure. The House approved it unanimously on Wednesday. Several changes have been made to the bill, including amendments that give parents and the Texas Education Agency access to the videos. The bill has been referred this week to a conference committee.

Paperwork reduction

HB 1706 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) is designed to reduce school paperwork requirements. It passed the House unanimously on May 4, and the Senate approved it on Wednesday of this week.
With help from ATPE members who reached out to their legislators this session, we've managed to stop several bills that would have done great harm to the education profession. These included numerous high-profile private school voucher bills; proposals to eliminate the state minimum salary schedule for teachers; a bill to ban school districts from offering a payroll deduction option for school employees to pay their association dues; and proposals to make it easier to deregulate low-performing schools and take away the governing authority of locally elected school boards through "parent trigger" petitions or converting entire school districts to so-called "local control school districts." We thank you for your grassroots advocacy efforts. Our fight is not over. In the last few days of this long session, conference committees will negotiating deals on bills that remain contested, and some of those bills still contain language that we oppose. Stay tuned for updates on the bills not yet finalized. For the latest news, be sure to follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter.


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