666 new laws in effect as of 9/1

Looking upward into the Texas State Capitol dome.
Texas State Capitol Building Dome interior details.

Many of the 666 laws that went into effect across Texas this Wednesday will have a direct impact on the everyday lives of public school educators and support personnel. Though many laws went into effect as soon as they were signed early this summer, this group of 666 constitute the majority of the bills passed by the House and Senate during the 87th regular legislative session this spring took effect September 1, the start of the new state fiscal year.  

The state officially entered a new fiscal biennium on September 1. The new state budget, SB 1,  fully funds the current school finance formulas and accounts for student enrollment growth and inflation. 

Along with the budget, HB 1525, was enacted to clean up the school finance formulas put in place by HB 3 in 2019. While this piece of legislation has many moving parts, of note to educators, is the  requirement for school districts to maintain any teacher salary increases resulting from HB 3 so long as the district’s overall funding doesn’t decrease. HB 1525 also delays the required completion of reading academies professional development until the 2022-2023 school year. 

HB 2519 makes major changes to the State Board of Educator Certification (SBEC) sanctions and complaint procedures. SBEC now must promptly and clearly notify teachers of any suspension of their certification. The law also stops SBEC from revoking a teacher’s certificate for contract abandonment if the educator “has no disciplinary history with the board and demonstrates that the notice of resignation given was reasonable under the circumstances.” The law now requires SBEC to consider mitigating factors to a teacher’s resignation and to consider alternatives to sanctions. 

SB 1365,  mandates that only accountability system grades A through C will be given for the 2021-2022 school year. Campuses that do not receive a grade A through C will go ungraded instead of receiving a D or F rating. A new provision of the lawl also states that if a campus previously failed for multiple years  receives a C, the improvement would halt TEA interventions. Under the new law, accountability sanctions from a D rating are less harsh than before, and it also establishes that a D performance rating rather than just an F shall be  among the criteria the commissioner considers with a renewal of a charter for an open-enrollment charter school. However Texas AFT remains concerned that this law continues to over-emphasize the Texas Education Agency’s ability to take over a school district due to the performance of one campus.

One of the most notable laws passed during the regular session was HB 3979, the teacher censorship bill supposedly designed to prohibit the teaching of critical race theory in public schools. The real purpose is to limit diversity, equality, and inclusion efforts in Texas public schools. The law particularly targets discussions of contemporary racism and sexism, especially systemic discrimination, current events, and “controversial” issues. 

Despite this law taking effect Wednesday, there has been no guidance provided by TEA on what changes teachers can expect or what if any sanctions a teacher could face if accused of violating this provision. The bill requires changes to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) to be completed by the State Board of Education by December of 2022. This is a multi-year process that also affects instructional materials. Stay tuned for more information on how HB 3979 and the recently passed SB 3 interact. 

Hopefully, prekindergarten teachers are already seeing smaller class sizes thanks to  the passage of SB 2081.  This law brings pre-K class sizes in line with the previously set class-size limit for kindergarten through fourth grade and caps them at 22 students. 

Under SB 1351, a campus may donate food to a nonprofit organization through a parent of a student enrolled at a campus, or a person who is directly and officially affiliated with the campus.  School transportation funds can also now be used for the transporting of meals and instructional materials to a student’s residence during a declared disaster. 

SB 741, allows school marshals at public schools, private schools, and junior colleges to carry concealed handguns on their person at all times, even when in close contact with children.

HB 3610, which is intended to be an indirect tax break for charter schools and would allow owners of buildings to avoid property taxes when leasing to charter schools would also be going into effect September 1, however, a recent Texas Supreme Court decision found this type of tax break to be unconstitutional, so the bill cannot be implemented without a constitutional amendment by the Texas legislature.