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Teach the Vote's Week in Review: May 28, 2021

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Teach the Vote

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Date Posted: 5/28/2021 | Author: Jennifer Mitchell

It is the last weekend of the 87th Texas Legislative Session, arguably one of the most dysfunctional on record, and we still don’t know if some major education bills will cross the finish line. ATPE urges educators to use Advocacy Central to stay in touch with their lawmakers this weekend regarding bills that are still being negotiated. Read about this week’s developments below, and be sure to follow @TeachtheVote and the ATPE lobbyists on Twitter for the latest updates throughout the Memorial Day weekend:

BUDGET: The Legislature has given final approval to Senate Bill (SB) 1 by Nelson (R-Flower Mound), the bill providing for the state’s two-year budget. After the economic downturn brought about by COVID-19, SB 1 may be the session’s one bright spot, funding maintaining funding for the 2019 school finance reforms with money enough money for projected enrollment growth and no substantial cuts. The House vote Thursday was 142-6, and the Senate approved it unanimously on Wednesday. Now the bill heads to Gov. Greg Abbott, who has the power to execute line-item vetoes within the massive budget.

The budget is the only bill the Legislature is required to pass each session. Had the Legislature failed to pass SB 1, an immediate special session would have been a near certainty. Nevertheless, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick this week demanded that the governor call a special session in June to address bills that were not passed by the House this session, including a bill to prohibit political subdivisions from hiring lobbyists. Abbott quickly asserted that it would be his decision alone to call a special session and decide which legislation might be included in that. As in past sessions, there remains an unresolved state agency sunset matter that could also necessitate a special session if the Legislature does not address that by Sunday. Patrick said Thursday he would not hold the sunset bill hostage in order to force the issue.

SCHOOL FINANCE, TESTING & ACCOUNTABILITY: Several big education-related bills remain in play this final weekend. One is the so-called school finance “clean up” bill, aimed at improving the changes made by last session’s major school finance and reform bill, HB 3 (2019).  HB 1525 by Huberty (R-Kingwood) was loaded up with amendments on the Senate floor, including provisions from several other bills. The Senate added outcomes-based funding bonuses to the bill, which ATPE and many education groups oppose. The Senate bill also allows the state to use some of the federal emergency funds that Texas schools will receive to supplant other state funding. Language to streamline professional development requirements for educators (taken from SB 1267), authorization for a tutoring program (taken from SB 1356), and pre-Kindergarten class-size limits (taken from SB 2081) were among the numerous amendments the Senate put on this bill Wednesday. The Senate notably refused to include language to protect the teacher pay raises enacted last session. Read more about the Senate’s changes to the bill in this Teach the Vote blog post.

HB 4545 by Dutton (D-Houston) is the accelerated instruction bill that has also been approved by both the House and Senate now, albeit in different versions. Earlier in the session this bill also contained controversial outcomes-based bonus funding provisions that were later removed from the bill. UPDATE: Late Friday evening the House voted to accept the Senate version of this bill and send it to the governor.

Last weekend it appeared unclear whether a major school accountability bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1365 by Bettencourt (R-Houston), would survive the House’s rigid calendar deadlines. But the House voted on the bill this week after making several positive changes to the bill, which had previously been opposed by many in the education community. The House’s version of SB 1365 adds language to remove concerns that the bill would expand the education commissioner’s power to take over operations of a school district, another year’s pause in accountability ratings for 2021-22, and various clarifications on school ratings. The Senate now must decide whether to accept the House’s changes to the bill or request a conference committee.

The House also voted Friday to accept the Senate’s changes to HB 3261 by Huberty, which deals with the electronic administration of STAAR tests.

CIVICS: One of the most controversial bills of the session, House Bill (HB) 3979 by Toth (R-The Woodlands), appears to be dead barring a complete abdication of the normal legislative rules. The Senate passed its version of HB 3979 last weekend with a 2 a.m. vote on new language the public had not been allowed to see. (Read more about that development in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.) The author of the bill hoped the House would vote today to accept the Senate’s changes to the bill and move it to the governor’s desk for signature. But the House instead rejected the bill on procedural grounds, sending it back to the Senate at a point in the session when there is little chance for reviving it.

UPDATE: There was a remarkable effort taken tonight to revive HB 3979 in the Senate. Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) moved that the Senate strip off the floor amendments they previously added to the bill, which the House ruled to be out of order. Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) said the attempt to bring HB 3979 back up violated the rules setting deadlines for bills to be considered and would require a four-fifths vote of the Senate. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick overruled the point of order by West and said the "motion to recede" would require only a majority vote. The Senate then voted along party lines, 18-13, to pass the earlier House-approved version of HB 3979 and send it to the Governor.

Read more about Friday's developments on HB 3979 in this blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.

The Legislature is still considering related bills aimed at addressing civics education, which Gov. Abbott identified as a priority this session. SB 1776 by Campbell (R-New Braunfels), for example, is a bill that encourages schools to post copies of founding documents and creates an elective high school course on founding principles of the United States. After the House and Senate passed different versions of this bill, SB 1776 has been sent to a conference committee. Educators will be watching to ensure lawmakers do not attempt to add the more prescriptive and controversial language from HB 3979 into that or any other bill.

UIL: After the Senate voted last weekend to approve its version of House Bill (HB) 547 by Frank (R-Wichita Falls), the House voted Friday morning, May 28, to accept the Senate’s changes. That move sends the “Tim Tebow” bill to the Governor’s desk.

HB 547 is an ATPE-opposed bill that gives home-schooled students access to UIL despite holding them to lower academic standards. The Senate removed House floor amendments to the bill that would allow students under supervision of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department to participate in UIL and prevent coaches from having to wait until six weeks into the school year to receive documentation of a home-schooled student’s academic eligibility. The House vote on Rep. Frank’s motion to concur in the Senate amendments and approve the final version of the bill was 80-63. ATPE and many in the home-schooling community are urging Gov. Abbott to veto HB 547. Read more about today's vote in this Teach the Vote blog post.

VIRTUAL SCHOOLS: The Legislature has given final approval to HB 3463 by Ken King (R-Canadian), an ATPE-supported bill that creates a commission to study virtual education during the interim. The House voted Friday to accept the Senate’s minor changes to that bill and send it to the Governor.

It’s unclear yet what will happen to HB 1468 by Keith Bell (R-Forney), which would expand virtual education options. The Senate approved the bill with changes, adding protections for teachers but also extending the sunset date for the bill from 2023 to 2027. The House can accept those changes or send the bill to a conference committee. UPDATE: The House voted Friday evening to send this bill to a conference committee.

SPECIAL EDUCATION: SB 1716 by Taylor (R-Friendswood) is another piece of legislation that remains in limbo, although the House and Senate appear to have reached agreement to remove the most troubling aspects of the bill that would have allowed for a voucher for students in special education. The House approved the supplemental education services bill this week with amendments that made those changes. The Senate has not yet indicated whether it will accept the House’s version of SB 1716 or request a conference committee. However, the Senate also took the House’s version of this bill and added it to the school finance cleanup bill, HB 1525, as a floor amendment. 

CHARTERS: Charter school bills have seen mixed results in this final week of the session. ATPE opposed HB 3610 by Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio), a bill to create a new tax exemption for any property leased or purchased by a charter holder. That bill was approved by the Senate last weekend and sent to the Governor.

However, the House declined to pass SB 487 by Hughes (R-Mineola), which would have affected the ability of local governments to enforce zoning, permitting, and property laws with respect to charter schools. The bill was killed by procedural means, as had been the case for its House companion bill, HB 1348, earlier this session.

The highest-profile bill pertaining to charter schools this session, SB 28 by Bettencourt, narrowly passed the Senate in April but did not advance to the House floor.

RETIRE/REHIRE: The state has for many years applied financial penalties when educators retire and then return to work in a school district shortly thereafter. After the COVID-19 pandemic drew attention to the need to hire additional staff, lawmakers considered several bills this session relating to retire/rehire issues. 

The Legislature this week passed the ATPE-supported HB 3207 by Herrero (D-Corpus), which waives the retire/rehire penalty in its entirety during a declared disaster, such as COVID-19 or a hurricane, within the geographic area covered by the disaster. HB 3207 is on its way to the governor’s desk after barely making it past the Senate Education Committee at its final meeting of the session, as ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on here.

SB 202 by Schwertner (R-Georgetown) is another ATPE-supported bill on its way to the governor’s desk. The bill will ensure school districts cannot require their retire/rehire employees to pay for any employer contributions the district is required to make to TRS.

A conference committee was also appointed to negotiate a final deal on SB 288 by Seliger (R-Amarillo), an ATPE-supported bill that would require TRS to send a warning notice to retire/rehire employees before withholding their annuity payments.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS: Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) requested Friday that his SB 1267 be sent to a conference committee rather than accepting House changes to the bill. The bill was the product of work during the interim by a stakeholder group, including ATPE, that recommended streamlining various Texas laws on educator professional development. The House amended the bill Tuesday evening, restoring some of the training requirements that the Senate bill would have eliminated.

On a request by Rep. Dutton, the House voted Friday to send his HB 572 to a conference committee. The bill deals with dropout recovery programs.

The House voted Friday to accept the Senate’s versions of HB 246 by Murr, HB 999 by Bernal, HB 750 by Burns, HB 2721 by Lucio, and HB 2519 by Darby. The House adopted the conference committee report on the ATPE-supported HB 5 by Ashby, a major bill to expand broadband access in Texas.

Despite its favorable recommendation by the Senate Education Committee in a rare Saturday evening meeting that ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on last weekend, the full Senate did not bring up HB 2554 by Gates (R-Richmond) before time expired for floor debates on House bills this week. The ATPE-opposed bill called for the creation of a vocational high school diploma.

HB 1585 by Lambert (R-Abilene), the sunset bill for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas, was signed into law by Governor Abbott Friday. The governor also signed into law Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 17 by Hughes (R-Mineola), which urges Congress to repeal Social Security offsets in federal law that have a negative impact on many educators when they retire.

Gov. Abbott signed into law HB 773 by VanDeaver (R-New Boston), an ATPE-supported bill that would add an indicator into the school accountability system for students who successfully complete a program of study in career and technical education (CTE). 

CORONAVIRUS: ATPE has updated our COVID-19 FAQ and Resources page to address questions about Governor Greg Abbott’s recent executive order prohibiting mask mandates and what it means for schools and educators.



Deann Lee

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