Legislative update: Action in the House and Senate

In the House

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to hear bills that primarily focused on curriculum requirements, educator preparation, accountability, pre-K, and school safety. Bills supported by Texas AFT include:

  • House Bill (HB) 129 by Mary González (D-Clint) would include civics education in the 6th-grade social studies curriculum. As originally filed, the bill called for adding digital citizenship to the high school graduation requirements. González presented a committee substitute version of the bill that moves that curriculum down to lower grades instead. 
  • HB 725 by Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) would add children who were in foster care in another state or territory to be eligible for prekindergarten in Texas.
  • HB 1603 by Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) would remove the expiration date from the law providing for individual graduation committees so that they can continue to be an option for students in perpetuity.

 The committee also passed three bills heard during previous hearings, including:

  • HB 690 by Will Metcalf (R-Conroe) would require school board members to take a course on school safety created by the Texas School Safety Center and the State Board of Education.
  • HB 773 by Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) would add an indicator into the school accountability system for students who successfully complete a program of study in career and technical education (CTE).
  • HB 1147 by Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) would add students who enlist in the Texas National Guard to the definition of military readiness, which is part of the College, Career, and Military Readiness Outcomes Bonus authorized last session. 

Texas AFT supported HB 1552 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) heard in the Pensions, Investments & Financial Services Committee on Wednesday. The bill would waive the TRS contribution fee that school districts must cover when rehiring a retired school district employee if that employee comes back to work as a full-time bus driver. 

The House State Affairs Committee heard a variety of bills last week to address expanding broadband in the state. There was widespread agreement that this issue impacts every district in the state, and something needs to be done to ensure communities who lack high-speed internet—either because of the cost or lack of infrastructure—can access broadband. These bills were all left pending in committee.  

On Tuesday, the House Public Education Committee is scheduled to hear several good bills by friendly lawmakers that cover protections for teacher certifications, individual graduation committees, and mental health services.

• View the archived broadcast of the hearing (March 16, House Public Education Committee, two parts).

In the Senate

The Senate Education Committee met Thursday for the first time this session and heard from Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who discussed more than $17 billion in federal funds that TEA has that are supposed to become available to our schools. Alarmingly, during a discussion with Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), Morath indicated he would like to use some of these federal funds to further expand the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA), the merit pay provision created last session. Texas AFT continues to have grave concerns about how the program effectively ties pay to standardized test scores.

Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) pressed the commissioner about why the STAAR test is needed now, when the millions spent on it could be better used elsewhere and when teachers already have tools that inform them on their students’ performance. Notably, Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) raised the point that although many children have to rely on virtual education right now, there is no substitution for face-to-face instruction with a qualified educator, who Schwertner thinks should be paid more.  

Texas AFT supported the following bills:

  • SB 89 by Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) would require a written supplement to a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) detailing whether a full evaluation was completed in the 2019-2020 school year or the 2020-2021 school year, whether or not the services available to the student were interrupted, reduced, delayed, suspended, or discontinued. The bill expires in 2023.
  • SB 178 by Sen Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) would gradually create a student-to-counselor ratio of 300:1 in all schools within districts with a student enrollment of 300 or more students. Current law requires a ratio of 500:1 students to counselors, and only in elementary grades.
  • SB 179 by Sen Eddie Lucio, Jr. would require districts to adopt a policy requiring counselors to spend at least 80% of total work time on duties that are components of the statutorily mandated counseling program. This would exclude time spent administering assessment instruments.

We opposed SB 442 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) because it would take sexuality education curriculum out of the hands of subject matter experts and would politicize the process. The bill would require school boards to appoint all School Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) members. The SHAC would then be required to adopt a policy establishing the process for adopting curriculum or curriculum materials for the district’s human sexuality instruction, including a provision allowing for public comment. 

• View the archived broadcast of the hearing. The next Senate Education Committee meeting will likely be next Thursday, March 25. All video broadcasts can be viewed at the Texas Legislature Online.