House drops the hammer on curriculum bill, sends UIL bill to governor
Texas Legislature Curriculum | Instruction Privatization | Vouchers
Date Posted: 5/28/2021 | Author: Jennifer Mitchell
(UPDATED) One of the most controversial bills of the 87th legislative session, House Bill (HB) 3979 by Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands), appeared to be dead on procedural grounds following a House debate today, but the Senate brought the bill back up for another vote tonight to send it to the Governor despite objections.
Proponents of the social studies curriculum and pedagogy bill that garnered national media attention said HB 3979 was aimed at preventing the teaching of “critical race theory” in Texas public schools. Opponents, including ATPE, said the bill was an attempt to circumvent the State Board of Education’s role in adopting curriculum standards with guidance from Texas educators, who were largely denied opportunities to provide input on the bill this session. The Senate adopted its version of HB 3979 last week in the middle of the night when the public had not been given any chance to see the language.
Today, Rep. Toth attempted to move that the House accept the Senate’s changes to the bill, which would have sent HB 3979 straight to the governor’s desk. Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock) took to the back microphone of the House floor to ask questions of the author. After an intense exchange with Toth, Talarico raised a point of order against the bill, saying the Senate amendments to HB 3979 were not germane and therefore out of order. House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Nederland) sustained the point of order after consulting with the House parliamentarian, which has the effect of sending the bill back to the Senate. Because of legislative session deadlines, there does not appear to be a pathway for the bill to be corrected by the Senate and returned to the House in time for another vote.
UPDATE: Despite rules that spell out firm deadlines for bills to clear various procedural hurdles, the Texas Senate is desperately trying to revive HB 3979. Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), who shepherded the bill through the Senate and authored much of the amending language the Senate added to it last weekend, is asking his colleagues to strip off those amendments and pass the House version of the bill. Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) raised a point of order, saying it is too late under the Senate rules to act on the bill unless four-fifths of the chamber votes to suspend the rules. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick overruled the point of order and refused to explain rationale for the ruling. The Senate subsequently voted along party lines, 18-13, to approve the "motion to recede" and finally pass HB 3979. Many are questioning the constitutionality of the ruling.
Earlier Friday, the House voted to accept the Senate version of HB 547 by Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls), That motion to concur sends the “Tim Tebow” bill to the Governor’s desk now. HB 547 is an ATPE-opposed bill that gives home-schooled students access to UIL despite holding them to lower academic standards for eligibility. The Senate removed House floor amendments to the bill that would have allowed students under supervision of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department to participate in UIL and prevented coaches from having to wait until six weeks into the school year to receive documentation of a home-schooled student’s academic eligibility. The House vote on Rep. Frank’s motion to concur in the Senate amendments and approve the final version of the bill was 80-63, unofficially.
ATPE has had a longstanding position in our Legislative Program opposing measures to require UIL to open its membership to home-schooled students and to allow parents to verify the students' eligibility to participate. ATPE members warned that the bill will gut the "No Pass, No Play" rule for UIL, create an unfunded mandate for school districts, encourage failing students or those who do not wish to take the STAAR exam to withdraw from public schools. Notably, many in the home-schooling community also object to the bill and are urging Gov. Greg Abbott to veto HB 547. ATPE members can use Advocacy Central to send a message to the governor about HB 547.
As of 4:30 pm Friday, several significant education-related bills are awaiting action by the House or Senate because the two chambers have approved differing versions of the same bill. The chamber of origin can vote to accept the amendments made by the other chamber or request the appointment of a conference committee to negotiate changes. The bills not yet acted upon include the school finance cleanup bill HB 1525, the virtual school expansion bill HB 1468, and the accountability bill SB 1365, among others. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.
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