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Senate Education Committee holds first meeting of 2021 legislative session

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

Texas Legislature TEA | Commissioner | SBOE

Date Posted: 3/18/2021 | Author: Mark Wiggins

The Senate Committee on Education, chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), held its first meeting of the 87th Texas Legislature Thursday, March 18. The committee heard six bills and an update from Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.  

Commissioner Morath began the hearing by telling lawmakers the state is currently sitting on $17 billion in unallocated federal relief funds intended for Texas schools. About $12 billion of that amount comes from the third round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) III funding provided through the American Rescue Plan bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden earlier this month. 

During the committee hearing, Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) emphasized the importance of providing schools with the information necessary to confidently set their budgets, which will include the additional challenge of recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic both structurally and academically. 

Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) suggested tying any future funding hold harmless provision to a requirement or incentive for schools to implement extended instructional time in order to mitigate pandemic-related learning loss.  

West and Morath also discussed the idea of allocating some federal funds to expand the number of districts participating in the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA), which is the performance pay program established under the 2019 school finance reform legislation House Bill (HB) 3. Morath said it is still too early to evaluate the TIA participants, which include roughly 4,000 teachers – insisting the program will be evaluated on a 5–8-year timeline. 

Responding to questions from Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), the commissioner suggested that the state could hold back some of the federal funding for its own long-term projects instead of delivering it to school districts for immediate use. 

Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) pointed out the universally poor outcomes related to full-time virtual learning and questioned why the state would even consider programs intended to continue that practice when there are more effective ways of helping students, such as supporting great teachers. 

Sen. West asked Morath to weigh in on allowing individual school districts to provide their own full-time virtual curriculum through the Texas Virtual School Network (TxVSN). The commissioner suggested that some districts will be able to do it better than others, depending upon their in-house expertise.  

Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) confronted the commissioner over his lack of response to multiple letters from the senator requesting the STAAR be waived this year. Sen. Menendez pointed out that teachers have plenty of other diagnostic instruments for use in evaluating student progress that are not STAAR. Morath apologized for not replying to the senator in a timely manner. Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) followed by implying members could not demand rigor and then oppose the STAAR. Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) agreed that STAAR is a “useful tool,” and suggested parents could use more training in how to interpret and use the results. 

Following the commissioner’s presentation, the committee heard testimony on the following bills:  

  • Senate Bill (SB) 178 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville). The bill would direct every school district with 300 or more students to employ a school counselor in each school by the 2029-30 school year, with a minimum of one counselor for every 300 students. The process would begin by requiring every district currently with 500 or more students to employ a counselor, with a minimum of one counselor for every 500 students. The requirements would gradually ramp up to the 2029-30 goal. ATPE supports this bill.  

  • SB 179 by Sen. Lucio, which would require school boards to adopt a policy that requires a school counselor to spend at least 80 percent of their total work time on actual counseling and not other duties, such as administering tests. ATPE has long supported this proposal, which has been filed during multiple legislative sessions. 

  • SB 89 by Sen. Menendez, which is aimed at addressing individualized education programs (IEP) that were disrupted during the pandemic. The bill would require a supplement to be provided for each student’s IEP during the 2019-20 or 2020-21 school year stating whether the IEP was disrupted and whether compensatory educational services are appropriate.  

  • SB 338 by Sen. Powell, which would allow a school district to adopt uniform general conditions for all district building construction contracts and add a representative from the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) and from the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) to the state committee that reviews uniform general conditions.  

  • SB 204 by Sen. Schwertner, which would remove need for an interlocal contract for a district to provide transportation outside its boundaries.  

  • SB 442 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), which would require all school health advisory committee (SHAC) members to be appointed by the local school board. Each district would be required to post SHAC meeting minutes online, and each board would be required to adopt a policy establishing the process for the adoption of curriculum or curriculum materials for the district's human sexuality instruction, including a provision providing public comment. Hughes submitted a committee substitute that dropped the portion of the bill as filed that would have required the meetings to comply with open meetings laws. 

Chairman Taylor has not yet posted an agenda for the committee’s next meeting, but we expect the Senate Education Committee to meet again next Thursday, March 25. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates. 


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