Vetoes and Signings by Gov. Abbott

Gov. Greg Abbott on June 15 vetoed a good bill providing for notice to parents when their child’s school lacks full-time staffing by a school nurse or nurses. SB 196 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) was a simple measure designed to protect children’s health by enabling parents to anticipate and make arrangements to address gaps in expected health-care coverage at school–especially important for students with serious or chronic illnesses requiring urgent attention in a crisis. The SB 196 notice requirement could have been satisfied easily by school districts, with a simple notice via their website, and a House floor amendment ensured that the bill did not affect districts with fewer than 10,000 students.

Passage of the bill, despite its modest scope, was contentious in both the House and Senate, foreshadowing the governor’s veto. In the House, even with the small-district exemption the bill initially failed to pass, by a vote of 67 to 79. Upon reconsideration, it got through on a vote of 80 to 63. On that key vote, 53 Democrats and 27 Republicans voted for the bill, with 63 Republicans supplying all the votes against. Earlier, in the Senate, it got through on a vote of 18 to 13.  All 11 Senate Democrats were for the bill, but only 7 of the Senate’s 20 Republicans voted for it.

The governor’s rationale for vetoing the bill was threadbare indeed, ignoring its intent and the ease of compliance with the notice requirement. Said Abbott:  “Our public schools should be focused on educating students in the classroom. Senate Bill 196 detracts from that focus and imposes a needless regulatory mandate on schools.” Despite the governor’s misplaced concern, this bill that can only help students focus on learning in the classroom will remain a high priority of the Texas AFT School Nurse Task Force.

Abbott on June 15 vetoed 49 other bills and signed more than 400. Among those he signed were two meriting mention here:

HB 22 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) postpones initiation of A-F grades to rate individual public schools until 2019, though the state will go ahead with A-F ratings of school districts starting next school year. The delayed campus ratings give the Legislature in its January 2019 regular session another chance to think again about the wisdom of imposing simplistic letter grades purporting to measure student achievement, campus progress, and closing of gaps between student subgroups via one overall score on an A-F scale. The original HB 22 passed by the House had postponed the letter grading for districts as well as campuses until 2019, and it forbade the use of a single summative letter grade for either districts or individual schools.

SB 1882 by Sens. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) and Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) provides both financial incentives and a two-year exemption from accountability sanctions for a struggling campus in a school district that contracts out its functions to a charter operator. House amendments to the bill may have opened the door for community schools to benefit from these incentives as well, however. Look for more on this topic in future Hotlines.

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