House Public Education Committee advances Senate bills and schedules a voucher hearing, and Senate State Affairs Committee approves contentious curriculum bill
Texas Legislature Educator Rights Curriculum | Instruction Privatization | Vouchers Deregulation | Charter Schools
Date Posted: 5/17/2021
For the second time this session, the House Public Education (HPE) Committee held a formal meeting Monday, May 17, to vote on bills that have not been publicly heard by committee. The committee voted today to advance several Senate bills to the House floor but did not take action today on a voucher bill that was expected to be included. Instead, the HPE committee announced that it will meet again Tuesday, May 18, to hear Senate Bill (SB) 1716 by Taylor (R-Friendswood), the voucher bill aimed at circumventing the public school’s responsibility to provide special education services to students by allowing parents to direct where those public dollars are spent.
ATPE opposes SB 1716. Read our written testimony on the bill here. SB 1716 would codify the Governor’s Supplemental Special Education Services voucher program that was created without legislative approval using federal COVID emergency relief funds during the interim. The program sends up to $1,500 of taxpayer dollars to eligible families for supplemental special education services or materials obtained through private vendors. ATPE believes special education programs should be fully funded through the public school system to meet the needs of students receiving special education services as required and protected by federal law. This legislation has not been supported by the special education or the public education community. It is worth noting that SB 1716 has no House companion bill, and HPE Committee Chairman Dutton (D-Houston) had been criticized for signaling that his committee would put the bill to a vote without allowing any testimony on it, undoubtedly playing into the decision to delay taking action on the bill.
ATPE continues to encourage educators to contact their legislators about SB 1716 and other troubling bills. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central for quick communication tools and links.
All the following bills were approved 12-0 (Rep. González absent) by the HPE committee today unless otherwise noted:
- SB 369 by Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) would allow a parent to opt their child out of the requirement to fill out a free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) in order to graduate. Committee substitute version of the bill recommended for placement on the House's Local and Consent Calendar.
- SB 776 by Lucio (D-Brownsville) would require UIL to create an adaptive sports program for students with disabilities. Committee substitute version recommended for placement on the House's General Calendar.
- SB 797 by Hughes (R-Mineola) would require schools to display a copy of the national motto “In God We Trust” if the item is donated or purchased using private donations and meets certain requirements. This bill was previously left pending after failing to receive enough affirmative votes in a committee meeting last week. Similar bill language was amended onto SB 1776, which the full House approved on second reading Monday, May 10. Vote on the committee substitute for SB 797: 8 Ayes, 4 Nays (Allen, Bernal, Meza, Talarico), recommended for the General Calendar.
- SB 1191 by Seliger (R-Amarillo) would specify that a police officer hired to cover an extracurricular activity or event is not considered a school resource officer. Recommended for the Local and Consent Calendar.
- SB 1696 by Paxton (R-McKinney) would order the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to coordinate the anonymous sharing of information about cyber-attacks or other cybersecurity incidents between public and private schools. This bill was previously left pending after failing to receive enough votes in a committee meeting last week. Vote: 10 Ayes, 2 Nays (Allen, Meza), recommended for the General Calendar.
- SB 1955 by Taylor would allow parents to organize learning pods to home-school their children together and prohibit school district involvement in such pods. Committee substitute version recommended for the General Calendar.
- SB 2066 by Menéndez (D-San Antonio) would change references to “students of limited English proficiency” in state law to “emergent bilingual students.” Recommended for the General Calendar.
- SB 2158 by Campbell (R-New Braunfels) would require TEA to provide at-home fingerprinting and DNA kits for optional use by parents of elementary school students in order to help locate missing children. Committee substitute recommended for the General Calendar.
Also today, the Senate State Affairs Committee voted to advance the highly contentious social studies curriculum bill, House Bill 3979 by Toth. ATPE opposes the bill’s overreach into curriculum decisions, which is the purview of the SBOE, and into the pedagogical decisions of the classroom teacher. As we noted in our written testimony against the bill today, ATPE does not take positions on specific content that should or should not be taught, believing instead that Texas teachers, as professionals, should be afforded the trust and respect to make appropriate decisions regarding the delivery of content. Sen. Powell (D-Ft. Worth) was the lone no vote on HB 3979 in committee today; Sens. Lucio and Zaffirini (D-Laredo) were absent for the vote. Sens. Hughes, Birdwell (R-Granbury), Campbell, Hall (R-Edgewood), Nelson (R-Flower Mound), and Schwertner (R-Georgetown) all voted for sending HB 3979 to the full Senate.
A Senate companion version of the curriculum bill, SB 2202 by Creighton (R-Conroe), could also be brought up for a vote by the HPE Committee. With more deadlines approaching, other bills that could come up for a vote by the HPE committee in the next few days include a problematic charter school bill that ATPE opposes, SB 28 by Bettencourt (R-Houston), which is a companion bill for Dutton's HB 3279. SB 28 would arbitrarily weaken taxpayer oversight and public accountability for charter schools, even though they are publicly funded. Although the committee substitute eliminates the provision in the original bill that required a supermajority of SBOE members for a charter veto, SB 28 still places limitations on the discretion of the elected body in making determinations about new charter applications. Furthermore, the bill does not address the lack of taxpayer oversight over the main mode of charter expansion, which is through charter expansion amendments that are approved solely by the commissioner. This bill failed to receive enough affirmative votes in HPE at its May 11 meeting. Please see ATPE’s prior written testimony against SB 28 here.
Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.
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