Legislative Update: Week of April 12

The House Public Education Committee​

House Public Education Committee meeting.

Good bills passed out of committee include:

  • HB 81 (Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin) allows campuses to operate as a community school as part of a turn-around program, recognizing that community schools use proven school-improvement strategies. This bill would create a standard for community school elements and processes, based on best practices both locally and nationally, while delaying accountability sanctions. Texas AFT has been a pioneer in implementing the model in Texas, and currently we have community schools’ initiatives in Austin, El Paso, Houston, Corpus Christi, and Dallas, with many other districts exploring the model.
  • HB 2802(Jay Dean, R-Longview) allows schools to apply for a testing waiver from the U.S. Department of Education if a natural disaster significantly disrupts education. If the waiver isn’t granted, the results of the assessments cannot be used to evaluate school performance, assign ratings, and impose interventions.

Bad bills passed out of committee include:

  • HB 3731(Harold Dutton, D-Houston) would accelerate the number of public school districts and their elected boards that would be susceptible to state takeover by the appointed commissioner of education. This bill seeks to punish schools based on an accountability system that relies heavily on flawed standardized STAAR test scores. Texas AFT has long opposed A-F ratings and opposes this detrimental change to the system.
  • HB 4545 (Harold Dutton, D-Houston) would create an outcomes-based funding scheme to fund districts based on their students’ performance on standardized tests. Texas AFT opposes outcomes-based funding, especially when it relies on standardized tests.

From the Senate

​Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) speaks on SB 28 on the Senate Floor Thursday.​​
  • On Wednesday, the Senate passed SB 29 (Charles Perry, R-Lubbock), which would discriminate against transgender students by forcing them to “compete in sports associated with their biological sex as determined at or near birth.” Texas AFT President Zeph Capo has summarized our opposition to the bill: “As if the bathroom bill wasn’t cruel enough, some of our state senators feel they need to launch an unneeded crusade against a select group of kids, putting schools in the unthinkable spot of implementing state-sanctioned discrimination. I say let them play, and keep out of it.”  The House Public Education Committee will hear the House companion, HB 4042 (Cole Hefner, R-Mt. Pleasant), requiring public school students to participate in interscholastic athletic activities based on their biological sex assigned at birth.
  • SB 1529 (Joan Huffman, R-Houston) passed the Senate last week. This bad bill would create a new Texas Court of Appeals (in addition to the 14 existing court of appeals divided into districts) with judges elected statewide instead of regionally. The court would automatically hear all cases “brought by or against the state or a state agency, board, or commission, or by or against an officer of the state or a state agency, board, or commission.” If it becomes law, SB 1529 would create a highly partisan court made up of Republicans, because of the party’s dominance in statewide elections.
     
  • On Thursday, the Senate Education Committee met to hear SB 27, which significantly expands virtual education and creates a new virtual voucher. The committee heard  testimony in opposition to the bill over the voucher issue and concerns over how students with special needs would be served. The bill was left pending.

Important updates

  • Individual graduation committees support students who have failed to perform​ satisfactorily on end-of-course tests and provide them with an alternative path toward graduation. These committees allow students facing language barriers, severe testing anxiety, or learning disabilities to stay on the path to graduation and are an effective way to evaluate students. However, these committees have been implemented on a temporary basis as state law authorizing their implementation is usually subject to expiration. HB 1603 (Dan Huberty, R-Houston) seeks to make individual graduation committees a permanent fixture of Texas’ public school system. The bill passed the House last week and now heads to the Senate. Senator Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), a longtime champion of  individual graduation committees, filed the senate companion, SB 177
  • The House Ways and Means Committee heard HB 59. That bill would eliminate school district M&O taxes and have the committee study potentially replacing them with a regressive sales tax. Texas AFT is concerned the bill could cost the state $58 billion in critical revenue to fund schools over a biennium. The bill was left pending in committee.
  • The Teacher Retirement System of Texas went through a Sunset Commission review process, which evaluates the effectiveness of state agencies and suggests possible legislative changes, during the interim. The bill, HB 1585, authorizing the continuation of TRS passed the House last week and heads to the Senate, where it’s companion bill, SB 706, has passed the Senate Finance Committee.

Good Bills of the Week:

Rep. Jay Dean

HB 2800 by Rep. Jay Dean (R-Longview) removes writing and social studies assessments, as well as the U.S. History end-of-course assessment. Texas AFT has heard from stakeholders across the state that students are being overtested and the toll on their mental health outweighs anything the state gains by measuring students in this way. These particular exams are not required under federal law. The bill was left pending in the House Public Education Committee.

Rep. Gary VanDeaver

​Similar to Rep. Dean’s bill, HB 3668 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) reduces the amount of standardized testing to only what is required in ESSA. The bill also requires SBOE to reduce the frequency of testing and for the commissioner to apply for a federal testing waiver during a disaster declaration. Overtesting has been an issue in the state for years and has been particularly challenging while dealing with the pandemic. Both of these bills would help to alleviate some of the stress our students and staff have endured this past year and when the state faces another disaster. The bill passed the House Public Education Committee Thursday.