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Teach the Vote's Week in Review: April 1, 2021

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

School Finance Retirement | TRS | Social Security Texas Legislature Congress | Federal Privatization | Vouchers Deregulation | Charter Schools

Date Posted: 4/01/2021

The Texas Legislature wrapped up a short but busy week ahead of the holiday weekend, holding late-night debates and advancing several bills out of committee. Here is a special Thursday edition of weekly legislative highlights from ATPE Governmental Relations, as we also say "Happy Birthday" to ATPE today!

Sen. Jane NelsonThe Texas budget is moving along. The $250 billion Senate Bill (SB) 1 made its way out of the Senate Finance Committee this week. Before moving to advance the bill, Sen. Jane Nelson, the bill’s author and chair of the committee, stated her belief that SB 1 fully funds public education, including $3.1 billion for enrollment growth, and fulfills requirements of last session’s House Bill (HB) 3, which refined the school finance system, and SB 12 that significantly increased funding for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS).

In the lower chamber, the House Appropriations Committee began finalizing its own budget recommendations after several weeks of subcommittee meetings. On Wednesday, the House committee adopted recommendations for Article III, the education portion of the budget.  

The full Senate is expected to debate SB 1 next Tuesday. Once voted out of the Senate, the bill will head to the House Appropriations Committee, where it is likely to be amended with the House’s budget language and then sent to the House floor. We anticipate House floor consideration of the budget bill during the week of April 19.

Questions about the distribution of federal relief funds persist in both budget committees. Senate Finance Chairwoman Nelson acknowledged this week that SB 1 contains none of the more than $29 billion in federal funding available to Texas from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act. She declined to directly answer a question about whether federal funding would flow directly to schools. As for the House's budget proposal, the Legislative Budget Board confirmed that there currently are no federal relief funds in it either. ATPE and many other education groups have been urging lawmakers to act quickly to help school districts access the federal relief funds. ATPE members can reach out to their legislators about this issue via Advocacy Central.

On Tuesday, the House Public Education (HPE) Committee considered its longest agenda yet, meeting well into the night after members spent several hours on the House floor. The committee heard multiple bills regarding virtual education, including the ATPE-supported HB 3643 by Rep. Ken King, which would create a commission to study virtual education before expanding it (as a few ATPE-opposed bills on the docket aimed to do). The committee also approved a few pending bills, including Rep. Huberty’s school finance “clean up” bill, HB 1525, and Rep. Diego Bernal’s HB 999 geared toward helping high school seniors impacted by the pandemic graduate regardless of their STAAR scores. Read more about the hearing in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.  

The Senate Education Committee held a brief meeting Wednesday to vote on bills previously heard. The committee narrowly approved SB 28 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a charter-related bill opposed by ATPE and many other members of the education community. As approved, Bettencourt’s committee substitute version of the bill would limit the State Board of Education’s ability to veto new charter school applications. Read more about the bills voted on by the Senate Education Committee in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

The House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services Committee voted Wednesday to advance thesunset” bill for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) on to the full House. HB 1585 by Rep. Stan Lambert includes recommendations of the Sunset Advisory Commission to improve TRS operations and member benefits. Among the recommendations are reducing the retire/rehire return-to-work penalty for educators. For more information on the sunset bill, revisit this blog post by ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter from last week.

OTHER LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEES: ATPE weighed in on a few education bills that were heard by other committees this week in Austin.

At Monday's meeting of the House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee, ATPE supported HB 822 by Rep. DeWayne Burns, which would require a student to be expelled from school if they engage in criminal conduct that includes terroristic threats. The bill would help to protect students and staff who feel threatened and unsafe in the school environment.

In the House Corrections Committee hearing Wednesday, ATPE supported two bills related to the Windham School District (WSD) for incarcerated youth. HB 30 by Rep. James Talarico would require the WSD to offer high school diploma coursework for students under age 18 (or age 22 for students receiving special education services). HB 3457 by Rep. James White aims to create parity between WSD teachers and those in other school districts by applying the same 45-day penalty-free resignation deadline for teacher contracts and ensuring teacher evaluations are confidential. Both bills support WSD-related positions in our member-adopted ATPE Legislative Program.

FEDERAL: The Biden administration released details Wednesday on its new proposal for major infrastructure improvements, including $137 billion in federal funding for public schools, community colleges, and child-care facilities. According to a White House fact sheet, “The President’s plan invests $100 billion to upgrade and build new public schools, through $50 billion in direct grants and an additional $50 billion leveraged through bonds. These funds will first go toward making sure our schools are safe and healthy places of learning for our kids and work for teachers and other education professionals, for example by improving indoor air quality and ventilation.” The infrastructure proposal also mentions initiatives to provide technology and labs in schools, make schools greener, and improve school kitchens in order to better address school nutrition needs. Dubbed the “American Jobs Plan,” the full proposal has a $2 trillion price tag, funded in large part through corporate tax increases, and would be rolled out over an eight-year period. The Biden administration is also expected to share a preview of its federal budget priorities tomorrow.

ELECTIONS: It may be April Fool’s Day, but it’s no joke that today is the deadline for Texans to register to vote in the May 1 uniform election. Many local officeholders are chosen during May elections, along with decisions about taxes and bonds in many parts of the state. ATPE encourages educators to be sure they are registered and learn what will be on their local ballot in May. Read more in this ATPE blog post.

CORONAVIRUS: All Texans age 18 and older (16 and older for the Pfizer vaccine) became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine this week. Texans 80 years of age and older will still be prioritized for the vaccine. Find more information about how to obtain the vaccine by visiting the Texas Department of State Health Services website here. For additional information about COVID-19 considerations for educators, check out ATPE’s COVID-19 FAQs and Resources.



Deann Lee

Thank you for keeping up with it ALL!!!

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