Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 17, 2023
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Date Posted: 3/17/2023
The ATPE Governmental Relations team recaps the past week’s education news, legislative and election updates, and regulatory developments.
- Senate committee to hear voucher bills Wednesday; educators urged to speak out
- One teacher compensation bill set for a committee hearing along with voucher proposals
- Lawmakers to discuss TRS benefit increases in committee hearings next week
- State formally announces takeover of Houston ISD effective June 1
- Senate Education Committee discusses virtual schools, mental health, and more
- House Public Education Committee holds first votes of the session
- Announcements and engagement opportunities for Texas educators
VOUCHERS: The Texas Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), is scheduled to hear five voucher bills on Wednesday, March 22. The committee's agenda includes the Senate’s priority voucher bill, Senate Bill (SB) 8 by Creighton, which would create an education savings account (ESA) voucher with additional parental rights provisions. Read more about SB 8 in this blog post. Voucher-backing groups are paying for supporters from around the state to attend Wednesday's hearing and a State Capitol rally headlined by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) the preceding day.
ATPE opposes vouchers that allow taxpayer funds to be used for private schools that are not held accountable and do not have to comply with laws that protect students. We are encouraging educators to tell their lawmakers how these bills would harm Texas public schools and students. ATPE members can log in to Advocacy Central and use our anti-voucher message campaign to contact legislators. You can also record a short video message explaining why legislators should reject all these voucher bills.
COMPENSATION: Several bills dealing with teacher compensation have been filed this session. SB 9 by Creighton, another one of the Senate’s priority bills, includes language on teacher pay in addition to many other non-compensation provisions. SB 9 is set for a committee hearing Wednesday. The bill calls for a renewed emphasis on and additional funding for the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA), which to date has provided additional compensation for a only a handful (less than 5%) of the state's teachers. SB 9 also provides for a one-year increase in all teachers' salaries, but the amount of the increase is unspecified for now.
As discussed above, the Senate Education Committee will hear SB 9 alongside five private school voucher bills at its March 22 hearing. The decision to hear SB 9 and the voucher bills together is noteworthy, considering longtime speculation that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) may prevent the Senate from approving a teacher pay raise bill unless vouchers are also passed.
On the House side, related compensation bills such as House Bill (HB) 11 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) and HB 100 by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) also look to spend more on TIA. The House bills additionally call for repealing and replacing the current self-adjusting 20-step minimum salary schedule with a three-step fixed-dollar-amount system.
Related: In our March 16 member newsletter, ATPE erroneously identified SB 9 as a bill that eliminates the minimum salary schedule currently found in law. HB 11 and HB 100, would replace the minimum salary schedule, but that provision is not contained in SB 9. We apologize for the error.
TRS: A handful of ATPE-supported bills to improve educators' retirements benefits are on the move in the Texas Legislature. The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing Wednesday, March 22, on a bill that would increase benefits for retired educators. SB 10 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) is co-authored by all 30 of the other senators. The bill would provide a one-time $7,500 payment or "13th check" to TRS retirees who are at least 75 years old, plus a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for those who retired before certain dates. Educators who retired before Sept. 1, 2013, would qualify for a 4% COLA, and those who retired before December 31, 2021, would qualify for a 2% COLA under this legislation.
The House Committee on Pensions, Investments & Financial Services is also meeting next week. Committee members are expected to take votes Monday on pending bills already heard by the committee, and a second committee meeting is scheduled for Wednesday. The March 22 committee agenda includes House bills similar to SB 10 that would also enable a cost-of-living adjustment for TRS retirees. Read more about the House bills in this earlier Teach the Vote blog post.
HOUSTON ISD: After weeks of speculation, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) confirmed Wednesday its plan to take over the management of Houston ISD. The move enables Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to appoint a new superintendent and a board of managers to replace the elected HISD board of trustees. None of the changes will take place until June 1, however. Read more about the takeover plans in this blog post from ATPE Associate Executive Director Jennifer Mitchell.
The state takeover of HISD has been the subject of court battles and legislative debates over several years, and the fights continue. Following the news from TEA this week, several groups filed a federal lawsuit against TEA to try to stop the takeover on grounds that the action is discriminatory.
VIRTUAL SCHOOLS: The Senate Education Committee met Wednesday to consider nine bills, including a proposal to lift the moratorium on full-time virtual schools in Texas. According to the Coalition for Public Schools, of which ATPE is a member, SB 1068 by Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) would constitute a virtual voucher because it would open up taxpayer funds to an unlimited number of full-time virtual programs run by for-profit virtual curriculum providers.
The Senate committee also heard bills this week relating to student mental health services, school safety, charter schools, and more. Read about the hearing in this blog post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
HOUSE PUBLIC ED: The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to consider 12 bills on issues ranging from health screenings to assessment of special needs students, including three bills supported by ATPE. One of the ATPE-supported bills was HB 1416 by Rep. Keith Bell (R-Forney), which aims to “clean up” the law created by 2021's HB 4545 by Dutton. The bill from last session called for accelerated instruction and tutoring for many students, which burdened schools dealing with staffing challenges and overextended teachers.
The House Public Education Committee also took votes this week on pending bills relating to student absences, teacher certification provisions for military veterans, and the participation of non-public students in UIL activities. ATPE Lobbyist Tricia Cave recapped the March 14 hearing in this blog post.
Related: The House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Article III also met this week to discuss budget provisions for public education and higher education.
ANNOUNCEMENTS: Voting began this week for two spots that are open on the TRS Board of Trustees. Active educator members can submit votes for an at-large trustee, while retired educators can vote for a trustee spot and the at-large position. In both instances, Gov. Abbott will appoint a trustee from among the top three vote earners for each position. Voting ends May 5, and the new trustees' term will run from September 2023 to August 2029. Learn more about the election on the TRS website.
The State Board of Education (SBOE) is soliciting applications from individuals to serve on work groups for the review of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for certain Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses. The summer CTE TEKS review will include courses from the animal science, plant science, and agribusiness programs of study in the Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources career cluster and the aviation maintenance program of study in the Transportation, Distribution, and Logistics career cluster. Additionally, the review will include two CTE science courses that may satisfy a science graduation requirement: Principles of Technology and Scientific Research and Design. Learn more about the SBOE work groups here.
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