Unheralded Wins for Schoolchildren and Educators in the 2011 Legislature

You already know the big picture coming out of the 2011 regular and special sessions of the Texas legislature:  deep and unnecessary budget cuts in public education, with those cuts then used as a phony rationale for attacks on educators’ pay and contract rights.

While the battle over these major issues dominated the headlines, other efforts were under way on your behalf throughout the session, and many of these bore fruit. Here are several examples:

Health-care pay supplement for support personnel:
Texas AFT with the help of Senate allies blocked an attempt to eliminate the $500 state-mandated pay supplement that since 2001 has helped make health insurance more affordable for support personnel.

Educational-aide scholarships: We succeeded in blocking efforts to repeal this valuable program. Thanks to a House amendment by Rep. Donna Howard, Democrat of Austin, we also preserved eligibility to continue in the program for those already in it, modifying a legislative plan to restrict access only to employees studying toward certification in shortage subjects. But funding for this program remains in doubt for the coming two years.

Protecting your political voice: With a huge helping hand from the Texas AFL-CIO, we soundly defeated an attempt to hinder voluntary political contributions and expenditures by public employees and their unions.  HB 2986 by Rep. Tan Parker, Republican of Flower Mound, never even got a hearing in committee, and no equivalent measure made it into any bill in the regular or special session. Although Rep. Myra Crownover, Republican of Lake Dallas, tried to insert a related nuisance provision into SB 8 in the special session, her amendment was removed after Texas AFT came up with a point of order against it. Thanks go to Sen. Wendy Davis, Democrat of Fort Worth, for raising the point of order that helped finish off this bad proposal.

Defending neighborhood schools: We defeated a destructive House version of a bill (SB 738) that would have facilitated takeover of neighborhood public schools by private operators, and we also blocked bills to increase the number of charters issued to such operators, without proper oversight or quality control, by the State Board of Education.

Testing excesses:
We blocked legislation that would have placed even more excessive emphasis on high-stakes state tests, by misusing the results achieved by a teacher’s students on state exams as a decisive factor in the teacher’s individual evaluation. (Regrettably, progress was stymied on Texas AFT’s alternative approach, calling for district-level pilot programs to develop an appropriate evaluation methodology with full teacher involvement.)

Safe Schools Act: A new law strengthens requirements to provide full, immediate notice of a student’s serious criminal history to teachers and other school personnel with supervisory responsibility over the student. Law-enforcement officials and superintendents or other administrators who fail to carry out this duty will be subject to professional-licensing sanctions. (We’ll publish a lot more on this and other subjects in an upcoming analysis of notable bills of the 2011 legislature. Be on the lookout for a notice of publication in an upcoming Hotline with a link to the analysis.)