Bills to Watch Next Week: ‘Teacher Bill of Rights,’ COLA, Higher Ed Attacks

The first of several notable deadlines for this Legislature happens Monday, May 8, which is the final day House committees can pass out House bills for a full vote. 

After Monday, House bills that have not been passed out of committee are effectively dead — unless they’re amended onto other bills moving through the process. 

Senate committees will continue to hear bills that have been passed out of the House, and House committees will continue to hear bills that have been passed out of the Senate. 

With that said, there is still much to pay attention to in the final three weeks of this session. 

SB 9: The ‘Teacher’s Bill of Rights’ & a One-Time Bonus

On Tuesday, the House Public Education Committee will hear Senate Bill 9 by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), which has been touted as a “Teacher’s Bill of Rights” and includes several aspects relating to pay and working conditions. 

Right now, the bill is a mixed bag. There are real positives: 

  • Clearly defined duty calendar for educators
  • Free Pre-K eligibility for children of teachers
  • Allows ‘contract abandonment’ under specific circumstances without sanction
  • Employed retiree reimbursement fee, which would help districts hire more retired educators
  • Certification exam fee waivers for special education and bilingual education candidates
  • Teacher time study and state-level teacher vacancy data
  • New-teacher mentoring program and a teacher residency program

But there are also major drawbacks, most notably for your paycheck. There is no across-the-board pay raise in SB 9. Instead, the bill: 

  • Offers a $2,000 one-time bonus for classroom teachers in districts with more than 20,000 students
  • Offers a $6,000 one-time bonus for classroom teachers in districts with fewer than 20,000 students. 

Expands the pay-for-performance Teacher Incentive Allotment.

If House Bill 100 is a cost-of-living adjustment for current educators (albeit a minuscule one), then SB 9 is a 13th check — and a 13th check for classroom teachers alone. No other school employees would benefit from this bill.  

Take Action: You can register your position on SB 9 through the end of the meeting Tuesday via the House’s online comments portal. Not sure how to use the portal? Texas AFT has a how-to guide you can download.

SB 10: Negotiations on a COLA

Last week, the Texas House passed SB 10, which would provide a cost-of-living adjustment to retired Texas educators. Depending on a retiree’s retirement date, they could receive between a 2% and 6% COLA. Also the bill would provide a one-time check of at least $5,000 to older TRS retirees. 

However, the House and the Senate both passed significantly different versions of SB 10. The differences between these two versions of the bill will be sorted out by a conference committee, so this week we are watching those negotiations closely. 

A conference committee includes members of both chambers chosen to reconcile two different versions of the same bill. 

Significant changes can be made to a bill in the conference committee. After a bill is sent out of conference committee, the bill will then be sent to the House and Senate for a final vote before the bill is sent to the governor. 

The conferees for SB 10:

  • Senate Conferees
    • Chair: Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston)
    • Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels)
    • Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D-McAllen)
    • Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham)
    • Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Nacogdoches)
  • House Conferees
    • Chair: Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood)
    • Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake)
    • Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio)
    • Rep. Oscar Longoria (D-Mission)
    • Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston)

While we appreciate the Legislature taking action (finally) on a TRS COLA, retirees deserve more than what is currently offered in each proposal. Neither proposal adequately addresses the increase in cost-of-living that retirees have experienced. 

As the bills reach their final stages, we have these key demands of Legislators that have been chosen for the conference committees:

  • COLA percentages should be higher in both versions of the bill. Both versions of the COLA do not adequately adjust for inflation. COLA percentages would have to be more than four times higher to account for the increase in consumer prices that retirees from each group have experienced.
  • The Senate version of the bill should have a structure for providing retirees with automatic COLA increases. The House version of the bill creates a system of providing TRS retirees with automatic ongoing increases of up to 2% per year depending on the TRS pension fund’s investment performance. TRS retirees should not have to beg for a COLA legislative session after legislative session. 
  • The House version of the bill should include 2021 retirees. While educators who retired in 2021 would be provided with a 2% COLA under the Senate version of the plan, the retirees would receive nothing under the House version of the plan. Consumer prices have increased by more than 8% since December 2021. These retirees need immediate relief.
  • The House version of the bill should be less burdensome on active educators. The House version of the bill would be partly funded by increasing TRS active educator contributions by .75% up to a total of 9% of an employee’s base pay. There has been no sign that active educators will be receiving the significant raises they deserve this legislative session. In light of that, the last thing the legislature should be proposing is an increase to an employee’s payroll tax. The increase in employee contributions should be reduced or at least phased in slowly.

These 10 legislators will make the final decisions on what is included in SB 10 and what is not. 

SB 17 & 18: Stripping Tenure & DEI from Higher Ed

On Monday, the House Committee on Higher Education will hear two harmful bills from the Senate: Senate Bill 17 and 18, both by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe). 

SB 17 would abolish diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs on college campuses and would remove provisions that currently give professors a voice in the governance of their colleges and universities. 

SB 18, meanwhile, would end the practice of awarding tenure to qualified professors. While the bill would not cancel tenure for professors who have it, it would cut off young professors currently on the tenure track. The bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2024.

We stand with our colleagues in our higher education local unions and in the American Association of University Professors in condemning these attacks on academic freedom. Please write your representative and urge them to reject SB 17 and 18. 

Other Bills to Watch

Next week, the House Public Education Committee will consider several other bills, besides SB 9, including: 

  • HB 45 by Rep. Christina Morales (D-Houston) would add Ethnic Studies, including Mexican-American and African-American Studies, to the foundation curriculum. Supported by Texas AFT. 
  • SB 163 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) would require parents to opt their children into sexual education courses instead of opting them out. Opposed by Texas AFT. 
  • SB 1630 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) would require districts to notify parents when their child misses school, among other measures to address chronic truancy. Supported by Texas AFT

Take Action: You can register your position on any of these bills through the end of the meeting Tuesday via the House’s online comments portal. Not sure how to use the portal? Texas AFT has a how-to guide you can download.

Other bills of note will be making their way to the House floor for a full vote:

  • HB 1572 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) would remove the funding limit set by law for new charter school facilities. Currently, state funding for new charter facilities is set at $60 million per school year. This bill removes that cap, which would, by our math, cost the state an additional $240 million per year. That’s $240 million not going to our neighborhood public schools. Opposed by Texas AFT. 
  • HB 4402 by Rep. Keith Bell (R-Forney) would remove certain testing requirements, but would mandate “through-year testing,” which would require educators to administer assessments multiple times throughout the school year. While educators already administer diagnostic exams throughout the year, this provision would increase high-stakes testing, not decrease it. Texas AFT is neutral on the bill with a recommendation that floor amendments be added to reduce the amount of testing. 

Take Action: Find your representative and their contact information here and urge them to vote NO on HB 1572 and support amendments to reduce testing in HB 4402.

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