Teach the Vote's Week in Review: Jan. 15, 2021
School Finance Texas Legislature COVID-19
Date Posted: 1/15/2021
- LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: Highlights from the first week of the session
- CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: New TEA guidance plus data on enrollment, learning loss
- ATPE shares feedback on proposed Blended Learning Grant rule
- Texas budget outlook not as bleak as expected
- Registration opens for ATPE at the Virtual Capitol
LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: The 87th Texas Legislature began conducting business this week, with each chamber holding opening day ceremonies Tuesday, January 12, followed by rule adoptions Wednesday and Thursday. The House elected Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) as its new Speaker by a vote of 143-2. The Senate elected Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) as President Pro-Tempore. For more on opening day, see this blog post by the ATPE lobbyists.
The Texas House and Senate each adopted rules for the session, most of which determine key aspects of how the chamber functions, including procedures for committee hearings. Notably, the House did not extend a virtual option to the general public for committee testimony, saving this ability for invited testimony only. In-person testimony by the public will be permitted in House committee rooms for those who follow mask, social distancing, and room capacity limit rules. On the Senate side, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was successful in lowering the threshold to bring a bill to the Senate floor for consideration, changing the number of votes necessary from 19 to 18 to match the number of Republicans in the Senate. Read more about the new Senate and House rules in this blog post by ATPE's lobbyists.
This afternoon Lt. Gov. Patrick announced his Senate committee assignments for the session. House committee assignments are not expected for a few more weeks. Read about the new Senate committees in today's breaking news blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.
Also breaking late this afternoon, the Texas Department of Public Safety reportedly plans to close the State Capitol to visitors next week due to threats of armed protests. Both the House and Senate have already adjourned this week and do not plan to return to the Capitol until Tuesday, January 26.
CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released data this week showing an overall 3% enrollment decline in public schools from October 2019 to October 2020. More than half the decline is attributed to early childhood, pre-K, and kindergarten grades. From September to October 2020, however, there was a 32% increase in students receiving on-campus instruction, with children in younger grades more likely to show up in person than those in higher grades. More data will be available in late February and is expected to be disaggregated by student demographics. Read more in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.
TEA also released a report this week on student learning loss, albeit with many caveats expressing the severe limitations of the data and discouraging generalization of the results. Using the optional end-of-year and beginning-of-year assessments offered by the agency, TEA estimates that students lost 3.2 months of learning from March 2020 through early fall 2020. This is in addition to the assumed 2.5 months of "summer slide" learning loss exacerbated by the pandemic. Read more from TEA here.
As always, for educator concerns related to COVID-19, visit ATPE's Coronavirus FAQ and Resource page.
ATPE submitted formal comments this week on the Commissioner of Education's proposed rule for the Blended Learning Grant program created through last session's House Bill (HB) 3. Our comments focused on urging the Texas Education Agency to clarify its definition in the proposed rule of blended learning, which ATPE believe differs from common understanding of those terms and makes troubling assumptions about what constitutes a classroom. Read more about our concerns with a link to our comments in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.
Many sighed with relief Monday as Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar released the Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE), which details where Texas stands financially and the amount of money the Legislature can work with in writing the state budget for the next two years. Hegar's presentation showed the budget will be tight, with a deficit of $950 million, but not as dire as previously projected. Small budget cuts, the Economic Stabilization Fund, and federal funds are all on the table as options to offset the deficit. Read more in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
The better-than-expected budget forecast is welcome news as the Texas school community worries about the resources our public schools will need to deal with the challenges of COVID-19. Maintaining the funding gains of HB 3 is an ATPE legislative priority this year. Not only must the state address temporary enrollment declines and the resulting loss in funding to many schools, but educators also know the key to future success will be securing resources for smaller class sizes, increased staffing, and other proven remediation strategies to mitigate learning losses caused by the pandemic. Read more about the concerns in this new article today from the Texas Tribune, republished here on our blog.
ATPE members are invited to register for ATPE at the Virtual Capitol, a legislative symposium and advocacy training event. Join ATPE Governmental Relations and special guests online Sunday, February 21, for panel presentations, legislative issue updates, live Q&A opportunities, and advocacy training. Registration is free and now open at atpe.org/ATPE-at-the-Virtual-Capitol. ATPE members will need to log in and provide their member number to register.
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A great week in Texas!