March 12 Legislative Update: bad charter-school bills filed

Private-school vouchers
A top priority bill for House Republicans, HB 3 would address changes to manage future state emergencies like the pandemic, and it includes several provisions that could limit the governor’s powers. We’ll be watching the bill’s progress closely for anything that could impact school operations. The bill’s author, Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), agreed last week to remove controversial language forcing school districts that don’t offer full-time in-person instruction to pay for “off-campus instructional programs”—which could translate into private-school vouchers.

Charter schools
Last month, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released a list of his 31 priority issues, which included a so-called “Charter School Equity Act.” Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) filed the bill for this act, SB 28, Friday, and Rep. Harold Dutton filed the companion, HB 3279, in the House. The bills would include a series of bad moves aimed at removing what little authority elected officials have over scandal-prone, privately appointed charters that receive $3.6 billion state dollars per year. These bad ideas include expanding the authority of the pro-charter commissioner of education; removing the current authority of the elected State Board of Education to veto bad charter applicants; and removing the authority of locally elected officials to gather input and make decisions based on what is best for their local community. 

Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) filed a related bill, HB 1348, which would strictly limit the powers of cities and counties to apply land use and development rules to charter-schools, giving charters free rein to locate where they want without following local zoning regulations. It’s a dangerous attempt at a power grab from local governments trying to ensure local school districts are not harmed by charter-school expansion. This same bill died in the House Public Education Committee last session thanks to Texas AFT and notably has been moved to the Land and Resource Management Committee for a hearing on Tuesday. Texas AFT, along with the 21-member charter school coalition, will be opposing these bad bills again.

Bill attacking union dues deductions
Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) is readying another assault on our union and other teacher groups this session with SB 1660, which attempts to silence the voices of educators by outlawing dues deductions from your district payroll (and for employees of all other city, state, and county governments). Trying to divide and conquer, Bettencourt carved out law enforcement officers, firefighters, and EMTs from those affected. Texas AFT has beaten back these dues-deduction bills the past four legislative sessions. We will keep a close eye on this latest attempt to stifle your power and your voice.

Aiming at Houston ISD
Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) has introduced a bill that could pave a clear path to complete a state takeover of Houston ISD. Last year, Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced that the Texas Education Agency would remove Houston’s democratically elected school board and replace it with a board of managers from TEA. The TEA takeover primarily was based on one Houston school (out of more than 200 campuses) that didn’t meet accountability standards. A Houston ISD lawsuit halted the takeover with an injunction, and the case is still in court. Dutton’s bill would clarify state statute on Morath’s powers, which were a foundation of the Houston ISD lawsuit against TEA.

House Public Education Committee
The House Public Education Committee will hold bill hearings on Tuesday. Notable bills include:  

  • HB 1603 by Dan Huberty (R-Houston) would remove the expiration on the individual graduation committees. Kyle Seliger (R-Amarillo) has the companion in the Senate, SB 177.
  • HB 1114 by Shawn Thierry (D-Houston) would make it easier for schools to access resources for providing mental health services and mental health education to public school students at school-based health centers. Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) has the companion in the Senate, SB 325.
  • HB 725 by Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) would allow kids who previously have been in foster care in other states to be eligible for pre-K enrollment in Texas.

Broadband access
The Senate Transportation Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on SB 5 to address increasing broadband internet access across the state. The pandemic has shown how important access is for students trying to work remotely.

Bill filing deadline
Friday marked the deadline for legislators to file bills. The Legislature will now concentrate on the next phases of the session, committee action on bills, and eventually, House and Senate floor debates.