Teach the Vote's Week in Review: April 9, 2021
School Finance Educator Preparation | Certification Retirement | TRS | Social Security Texas Legislature Congress | Federal COVID-19 TEA | Commissioner | SBOE Deregulation | Charter Schools Testing | Accountability
Date Posted: 4/09/2021
The Texas Legislature is steadily moving the state budget along and continuing to hear education bills. Here are this week’s developments as reported by the ATPE Governmental Relations team:
- Biden administration shares its federal budget proposal
- State budget bill heads to the House after full Senate approval
- House Public Education Committee advances controversial bills on virtual schools and accountability
- Senate Education Committee hears a light agenda, taking no votes
- ATPE lends support for bills to increase retirement income for educators
- ATPE opposes bill for charter school tax breaks
- Feds grant a testing waiver to D.C. while Texas deals with online STAAR test woes
- COVID-19 resources and updates
FEDERAL BUDGET: President Joe Biden today shared the first look at his administration’s proposal for the next federal budget. As anticipated, the plan calls for a significant jump in federal education funding compared to recent years. The nearly $103 billion in requested funding for the U.S. Department of Education focuses heavily on assisting disadvantaged students and high-poverty schools. One billion of the funding would be earmarked for hiring school counselors and other mental health professionals for schools in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) would also get a funding boost, as would community schools, if Congress agrees. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as the federal budget debate continues.
STATE BUDGET: The Texas Senate unanimously approved its proposed state budget in Senate Bill (SB) 1 on Tuesday. The floor debate included multiple questions about the status of federal COVID-19 relief funds approved by Congress that have not yet been allocated to Texas school districts, but few answers. The House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to begin considering SB 1 on Monday.
There was also a proposal heard by the House Appropriations Committee this week seeking to create a special process for dealing with the appropriation of federal funds outside of the normal legislative process used during session. ATPE joined the three other statewide teacher groups in opposing the measure, House Bill (HB) 2021, which would allow a small group of lawmakers to decide on the use of any federal funding that is received while the Legislature is not in session. Our written statement opposing the bill focused on the lack of transparency, opportunity for stakeholder input, and representation on the proposed new commission.
ATPE members can use our tools on Advocacy Central to reach out to their legislators urging them to send the federal relief funds to school districts as soon as possible.
The House Public Education (HPE) Committee met twice this week, once to hear new bills and again to vote on pending bills that had already been heard. ATPE testified on several of the bills heard Tuesday, including a proposal to create a new type of vocational school district and a bill that would water down educator preparat requirements, both of which ATPE opposed. Read more about Tuesday’s hearing on new bills in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.
In HPE’s Wednesday meeting, the committee voted to advance 11 bills, including two significant bills that ATPE opposes. HB 1468 would expand virtual education, despite concerns over its effectiveness, and HB 3270 would change statewide accountability laws to address the state’s ongoing legal battle with Houston ISD and expand the ability of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to take over the management of a school district. Read this blog post from Chevalier for more on the bills approved by the committee Wednesday.
The House Public Education Committee will meet again Tuesday, April 13. Its upcoming agenda includes bills regarding student testing, curriculum, school safety, and more.
The Senate Education Committee met Thursday to hear several new bills, including an ATPE-supported proposal to streamline professional development requirements for educators. ATPE also supported a bill that would allow transportation allotment funds to be used to deliver meals and instructional materials to students. The committee did not take any votes this week. Read more about Thursday's hearing in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
Next week, the committee will meet Tuesday, likely the start of twice-weekly meetings for this committee. The agenda for April 13 includes bills pertaining to bilingual education, educator preparation, suicide prevention, and more.
RETIREMENT: This week state legislators in both chambers also heard several bills that seek to improve retirement income for educators. First, ATPE supported several bills heard by the House Pensions, Investments & Financial Services Committee Wednesday that would help retired educators. Many of the proposals would provide a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) or an additional “13th check” annuity payment to educators. ATPE also supported bills that would address the retire/rehire penalty for retired educators who want to work in public schools within their first year of retirement. For more detail on the hearing, see this blog post by ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.
ATPE also expressed our support for Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 17, which was heard by the Senate Committee on State Affairs this week. The resolution urges the U.S. Congress to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO), two provisions in federal law that reduce many educators’ Social Security earnings. The Texas Legislature has no authority to change the federal law, but the resolution is aimed at expressing state lawmakers’ support for eliminating the two offsets.
CHARTER SCHOOLS: The House Ways and Means Committee heard HB 3610 this week, which ATPE opposed. The bill would exempt charter schools from paying property tax, including on leased property, resulting in a reduction in the revenue that helps fund public schools. At issue is property that charter schools often lease through a third party, which despite being paid for with public funds can end up being owned by a private entity rather than the state if the charter school ultimately closes. (Property owned, rather than leased, by a charter school is already tax-exempt.) Entitling a third party to tax breaks intended for public schools would effectively force taxpayers to subsidize for-profit businesses that happen to rent space to charter chains.
STUDENT TESTING: This week the U.S. Department of Education (ED) granted the first waiver of testing requirements to the District of Columbia, which argued they would not be able to safely administer their assessments this year as 88% of D.C. students are still engaged in distance learning. ED has consistently denied various waiver requests of other states, while approving other requests to simply reduce testing. Some Texas legislators have filed bills this session, such as HB 3668 up for consideration in the House Public Education Committee next week, that would require TEA to request a testing waiver from the federal government.
These testing-related developments come on the heels of a botched first online administration of standardized testing this week in Texas. As reported by The Texas Tribune, many students were sent home this week after significant technical issues arose with computer-based STAAR tests. TEA issued a statement to the Legislature blaming the breakdown on its testing vendor and noting that tests would be administered by a new vendor next year.
CORONAVIRUS: Find the latest information about vaccines by visiting the Texas Department of State Health Services website here. Also, check out ATPE’s frequently updated COVID-19 FAQs and Resources to find answers to common questions about COVID-19's impact on educators.
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