Legislative updates: Week of March 1

House Public Education Committee holds organization hearing 

The Texas House Public Education Committee heard invited testimony from Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. Commissioner Morath’s presentation consisted mostly of updates on COVID-19 and the implementation of last session’s school finance bill, House Bill 3. Several committee members questioned the state’s usage of the STAAR test this year and expressed concern over what it will measure, fearing that the state will be collecting data that is greatly skewed by learning conditions and not a fair representation of what students have actually learned. Morath insisted that the test will help the state and school districts better understand learning loss and give parents valuable information on where their student is academically. 

The House Public Education Committee will meet again next Tuesday to begin hearing bills. One to watch this week is AFT ally Rep. Jon Rosenthal’s bill, HB699, which would allow students receiving treatment for a life-threatening illness to be excused from being absent at school.  

House Appropriations Subcommittee talks higher ed 

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III met several days this week to focus on higher education. They took testimony from most major Texas university and college systems and the Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). The discussion and questions centered on how higher education was navigating the 5 percent in cuts required by the state last year and how they were working to keep enrollment up in the time of COVID  (there has been a 3.7 percent decline in enrollment from 2019 to 2020). According to Higher Education Commissioner Harrison Keller, the largest drop-off is being seen at community colleges.