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Teach the Vote's Week in Review: April 16, 2021

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

School Finance Educator Preparation | Certification Retirement | TRS | Social Security Texas Legislature Congress | Federal Elections TEA | Commissioner | SBOE Privatization | Vouchers Deregulation | Charter Schools Testing | Accountability

Date Posted: 4/16/2021

It was another fast-paced week as the Texas Legislature, State Board of Education, and TRS Board of Trustees all held multiple meetings this week. Catch up on the week's many developments as reported by ATPE's lobbyists below. 

BUDGET: ATPE’s lobby team provided a comprehensive update earlier this week on the status of the budget-writing process and funding for public education. The Texas Senate has already approved its version of the next two-year state budget in Senate Bill (SB) 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound). A House committee heard the bill and amended it with its own language Monday. Next up will be an always-lengthy House floor debate, expected to occur April 22. Even with the budget well on its way through the legislative process, questions remain about billions in federal relief dollars not yet allocated for Texas public schools. Read more about the funding negotiations in this blog post. ATPE encourages our members to use Advocacy Central to contact their legislators urging them to send the federal relief funds to school districts as soon as possible.

The House Public Education (HPE) Committee met Tuesday of this week to hear several testing-related bills and other legislation regarding school safety, special education, and more. ATPE provided written testimony against House Bill (HB) 3979 by Rep. Steve Toth (R-Conroe), which would restrict teachers’ freedom of pedagogy in subjects such as social studies and civics. ATPE also supported several bills heard by the committee on Tuesday, including HB 3668 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), which would eliminate non-federally required state assessments, decouple grade promotion and graduation from assessment scores, and require the education commissioner to apply for federal testing waivers for districts impacted by a disaster. Find more information in this blog post about the Tuesday hearing by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

The HPE Committee also met on Thursday evening to approve a long list of bills that had already been considered in public hearing. The approved bills included a mix of those supported and opposed by ATPE. Those opposed by ATPE included HB 622 by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio), which would decrease the rigor of educator preparation, as well as a couple of bills authored by the Chairman of the HPE Committee, Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston). Dutton’s HB 3731 would create instability in the accountability system without any improvements and HB 4465 would provide too much authority to the appointed Commissioner of Education to determine how districts spend much-needed disaster-relief funds. It wasn’t all bad news Thursday night, as the committee also approved 11 bills supported by ATPE, such as HB 2802 by Rep. Jay Dean (R-Longview), which would require TEA to apply for a waiver of assessments for the 2020-2021 school year, among other things. Read about all the bills approved by the HPE Committee in this blog post by Chevalier.

The Senate Education Committee met twice this week, culminating Thursday in a hearing on a virtual voucher proposal, SB 27 by the committee's chairman, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified against the bill, which would expand full-time virtual school programs in Texas. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has predicted that learning loss resulting from virtual education during the pandemic will require multiple years of intensive intervention, which ATPE believes makes it ill-advised for the state to spend money to expand virtual programs without further study. Read a recap of Thursday’s meeting in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. ATPE members can use Advocacy Central to send a message to their lawmakers about the risks of virtual voucher bills here.

The committee also met Tuesday and considered a bill, SB 1590 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), that would allow virtual observations of educator candidates by educator preparation programs (EPPs), which ATPE cautioned could weaken the rigor of the EPP process and leave educators less prepared. Among other bills, the committee also heard ATPE-supported legislation that would add suicide prevention information to student identification cards. Read more about Tuesday’s meeting in this post by Wiggins.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: The Texas Senate voted this week to pass a bill, SB 28 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), that would weaken the authority of the State Board of Education (SBOE) to regulate the approval of new charter school chains. Currently, the SBOE may veto applicants that wish to open new charter chains in Texas with a simple majority vote. As a body of elected officials, the SBOE veto is an important way voters can exercise their input when it comes to opening new charter schools with taxpayer money.

Sen. Bettencourt offered an amended version of SB 28 on the Senate floor this week that would increase the SBOE’s threshold for vetoing charters to nine votes out of 15, watering down voters’ voices in the process. The bill also would exempt charters from municipal zoning requirements that help ensure order and public safety, also giving local taxpayers a say in charter expansion. ATPE and other public education organizations oppose the bill. The full Senate passed SB 28 this week by a narrow margin, and it will now head to the House. ATPE members can access more about SB 28 here on Advocacy Central.

OTHER LEGISLATION: ATPE lent our support to a handful of other education-related bills heard this week by committees other than House Public Education and Senate Education. On Tuesday in the House Human Services Committee, ATPE supported HB 3225 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin), which would help school districts access crucial funds for students by requiring Medicaid reimbursement to districts for healthcare services provided to eligible students. Also on Tuesday, ATPE supported HB 269 by Rep. Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio), heard by the House Transportation Committee, which would establish specialty license plates for Texas teachers with at least 15 years of service and retired teachers with at least 20 years of service. Finally, in the House Public Health Committee Wednesday, we supported HB 3819 by Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth), which would protect school nurses by allowing them, with parental authorization, to administer asthma medication to students exhibiting asthma symptoms, such as constricted breathing, even if they do not have an asthma diagnosis.

SBOE: The State Board of Education met Wednesday through Friday of this week while the Legislature was in session. Of note during the week’s meetings, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath acknowledged last week’s tech-related failure of the STAAR test administration in his presentation to SBOE members Wednesday. The commissioner said he took full responsibility for the failure and told the board the agency has ended its relationship with testing vendor ETS. As noted in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, that contract had been terminated well before the failure for unrelated reasons.

The commissioner also reiterated that it is still the law for students to take the STAAR test this year, despite opposition by ATPE and many state legislators. The board spent most of the week working on scheduled revisions to the science curriculum standards (TEKS), as well as celebrating the upcoming birthday of board Chair Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin).

TRS: The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees also met this week.  The board passed an emergency rule aimed at helping school districts use retired educators to address COVID-19 learning loss this summer. Board members also discussed how some Districts of Innovation are offering their employees cheaper healthcare options that are having the effect of driving up costs for TRS-ActiveCare. Read more about the board meeting and a couple of TRS-related bills considered by the Legislature this week in this blog post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.

FEDERAL: U.S. Congressman Kevin Brady (R-Texas, The Woodlands) announced this week he will not seek re-election after his current term. Brady is the ranking Republican member of the powerful U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, which he previously chaired. He has also been one of the leaders of the ATPE-backed effort to repeal and replace Social Security offsets such as the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) that reduce many educators’ retirement income.

ELECTIONS: There is another important election approaching May 1, and early voting begins Monday, April 19. Depending on where they live, voters may have the opportunity to elect mayors, city council members, and school board trustees, and to vote on school and city bond proposals and more. ATPE encourages educators to be sure they are registered and learn what will be on their local ballot in May. Find more information about early voting, what’s on your ballot, and what you will need to vote in this recent ATPE blog post.

CORONAVIRUS: Many educators have asked questions about their rights concerning COVID-19 vaccines and teaching during the pandemic. Visit ATPE’s frequently updated COVID-19 FAQs and Resources page to find answers to common questions and more.



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