This Week in the Legislature: What Didn’t Happen?

Apart from all of the attention directed at private school vouchers at the Legislature this week, several other bills that would significantly affect Texas public school educators and higher education employees are still making their way through the legislative process.

Public Education: In Committee

This week, the House Public Education Committee and Senate Education committee held several hours-long hearings.

On Tuesday, the House Public Education Committee considered several bills; among them, the most wide-reaching and consequential was SB 9, the so-called “Teachers’ Bill of Rights.” SB 9 by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) was sent over from the Senate last month, but the bill has substantially changed since then and will likely continue to change as it moves through the legislative process.

No version of SB 9 would provide educators with the compensation and working conditions that they deserve, but there are several provisions that would benefit educators. The version of SB 9 that was considered in committee on Tuesday would:

  • establish a duty calendar for teachers in advance of the school year
  • prevent SBEC from imposing sanctions for contract abandonment in certain circumstances
  • allow the child of a classroom teacher to access pre-K if the child is 3 or older
  • reimburse certification exam fees for bilingual and special education teacher candidates 

Eight Texas AFT members from across the state traveled to Austin to make their voice heard on such an important bill for educators.

Despite the hearing being scheduled for 8 a.m. Tuesday, SB 9 was not considered by the committee until after 2 a.m. Wednesday. The committee convened for only an hour on Tuesday morning before breaking to conduct business on the House floor. Due to upcoming deadlines, representatives stayed on the House floor until 2 a.m.

After the committee recessed, the eight educators who traveled hundreds of miles to Austin did not let that time go to waste. These members stopped by each of their legislators’ offices with a clear and simple message: reject private school vouchers and respect public school educators.

 Due to the delayed consideration of SB 9, many of the educators who traveled to Austin had to head home before they could give their testimony on SB 9. But one stayed through the night, waiting more than 18 hours to give her testimony. Jessica Morgan, a school bus driver from Huffman ISD, testified that her school district’s funding is insufficient, as is her own compensation. 

Jessica Morgan, a Huffman ISD bus drivers, provides testimony in support of increased school funding.

The Senate Education Committee met both Wednesday and Thursday. Among the bills they considered was HB 11 by Harold Dutton (D-Houston), which is intended to address the teacher retention crisis. 

With roughly 10% of teachers leaving the profession each year since 2011-2012, the bill certainly does not go far enough to address retention issues, but it does include several positive provisions.  

The new residency programs outlined in HB 11 would allow an aspiring educator to train under a mentor teacher for about a year before the new educator is certified and hired. Currently, if school districts want to provide residency programs for new educators, districts have to fund those programs themselves. Under HB 11, districts would receive over $22,000 to pay for each resident educator. 

Among other good provisions, HB 11 also: 

  • allows teachers to access pre-K programs for their own kids
  • provides for waiving the costs of the first administration of educator certification exams for educator candidates
  • curtails the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) from imposing sanctions for contract abandonment in certain circumstances
  • increases the amount of compensation for each level of recognition within the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA)

Though we do not support dedicating any more resources to pay-for-performance schemes like TIA in lieu of across-the-board compensation increases, on balance, we think this bill takes several positive steps forward for teachers.

On Thursday, a new committee substitute for HB 3 by Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) was considered by the committee. This new version of HB 3 was laid out by Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) and includes components of his school safety bill, SB 11, as well as components from HB 13, another school safety bill by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian).  

Several negative aspects of HB 3 were removed from this new version of the bill. The provision that required armed security guards on all school campuses — regardless of campus size, community need, or cost to school districts — was removed in the new version of the bill. The new version of HB 3 also does not include the stipend incentivizing campuses to arm teachers.

That said, the Senate committee substitute of HB 3 significantly reduces the per-student school security allotment, down from $100 per student to $10 per student, though it would add a $15,000 per-campus school safety allotment.

Testimony on the bill highlighted the need for any private security company that contracts with a school district to be properly vetted, especially if the private security personnel are armed. Advocates for students requiring special education services pointed out that armed security guards who are not properly trained could misinterpret certain uncontrollable actions by students with cognitive disabilities as acts of aggression.

HB 900, the book-banning bill authored by Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco), was also considered by the Senate Education Committee. Under HB 900, private book vendors, not school librarians or elected officials, would assign ratings to these materials. Depending on the book’s rating, it would either be removed from school library shelves or would require parental permission to be accessed.

The private vendor rating system outlined in HB 900 is distinct from the book-banning bill previously passed by the Senate, SB 13 by Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney). While HB 900 is directed at vendors, SB 13 would direct school districts to appoint parents to “school library advisory councils.” These councils would be tasked with censoring school library materials. 

Paxton laid out HB 900 in committee and suggested that she intends for both HB 900 and SB 13 to pass, which would create two new levels of censorship. 

Books highlighting LGBTQIA+ experiences and perspectives are already frequent targets of book bans in local school districts statewide. Librarians worry that this proposal would further limit their ability to educate. The vague terminology about what is considered “harmful” materials in the bill would likely have a chilling effect on teachers. Texas AFT opposes both SB 13 and HB 900.

The Senate Education Committee also considered HB 1707 on Wednesday. HB 1707 would exempt charter schools from local zoning ordinances, effectively preempting any local control of where and when a new charter campus opens in a community. Texas AFT is vehemently opposed to this bill because predatory charter chains will take advantage of lax laws like this to expand rapidly, draining financial resources from our true public schools and disrupting communities. 

On Thursday, the committee moved to vote out HB 1707. But the bill failed to pass, receiving only six yes votes, one short of the required majority. Minutes after the bill failed to be reported favorably, Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), who had supported the bill, attempted to change her vote from “yes” to “no.” Minutes later she attempted to place a motion to reconsider the vote on HB 1707, trying to revive the bill. 

Motions to reconsider committee votes can only be filed by the prevailing party, meaning that if a motion fails, only those voting “no” can motion to reconsider. Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), who opposed the bill, pointed this out and suggested that Campbell simply changed her vote in order to be nominally on the “prevailing” side of the motion, giving her grounds to reconsider the motion. West suggested that this is a violation of committee rules, and Campbell retracted the motion.  

Texas AFT will continue to closely monitor HB 1707, which could hitch a ride as an amendment on another bill. 

Public Education: On the Floor

This Friday, the Texas Senate took up HB 1605 by Chairman Brad Buckley (R-Killeen). HB 1605 is the bill that would allow the commissioner of education to award no-bid contracts to develop open education resource materials and provide these to districts, along with a healthy allotment designed to incentivize districts to use these materials.

Pitched as a way to help teachers who are spending excessive amounts of time on lesson design, this costly bill (more than $800 million) would upend the elected State Board of Education (SBOE) processes for the review and adoption of instructional materials in this state. Materials procured or developed by TEA would be forced through the review process and TEA, not the elected SBOE, would have the sole authority to determine the quality of instructional materials as well as TEKS coverage. There is also a fair amount of “parental rights” provisions in the bill, allowing for challenges to classroom materials and requiring publishers to maintain a portal for parent review.

A coalition of public school advocates were successful in adding several amendments to the House’s passed version last week — amendments that were summarily stripped from the substitute bill voted out of the Senate committee earlier this week.

When HB 1605 was taken up on the Senate floor, it received a few amendments that did not properly address the many fundamental issues with the bill. One amendment by Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) would have provided educators with more flexibility, but it was rejected. HB 1605 was passed by the Senate on a 22-8 vote.

This Friday, the Texas House took up SB 14 by Sen. Campbell, which would bar children from receiving life-saving, gender-affirming care. This is the third time that SB 14 has been called for a debate. The previous two times that SB 14 was placed on the calendar and considered, the bill had to be taken off the calendar in order to resolve points of order (P.O.O.s) filed against the bill. 

P.O.O.s are procedural objections to a bill that are called due to an administrative error at some point in the process. P.O.O.s are often filed strategically in order to delay the passage of a bill. If a P.O.O. is called on a bill, the bill must be sent back to committee in order to resolve that error and be placed on the legislative calendar for a later date.

When SB 14 was brought up for debate on the House floor a third time, it was again met with a P.O.O.

Texas AFT opposes SB 14 and all bills targeting gender-affirming care for children or adults. Texas AFT will continue to monitor SB 14 as it moves through the legislative process.

In positive news, this Friday, the Senate passed a new anti-discrimination law, HB 567 by Rep. Rhetta Bowers (D-Garland). HB 567, commonly known as the “CROWN Act” (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair), would prohibit racial discrimination based on hair texture. 

The bill would prohibit grooming policies in public schools and institutions of higher education that ban dreadlocks and other hairstyles. The bill also would prohibit employers from enforcing discriminatory grooming policies and protect renters and homebuyers from being discriminated against based on hair texture.

Now that the bill has passed both chambers, it will be sent to the governor for his signature.

Higher Education: House Committee Votes Out DEI Ban, Tenure Restrictions

This Monday, the House Higher Education Committee held a marathon committee hearing to consider SB 17 and SB 18, which target tenure and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) programs, respectively. 

The committee received over 10 hours of testimony on these bills. The committee convened at 8 a.m. Monday, and the last testimony was received after 3 a.m. Tuesday. Students, faculty, and other higher education stakeholders testified against these bills. More than 150 people registered against both SB 17 and SB 18. No one testified in support of SB 18, and very few individuals testified in support of SB 17. 

Both of these bills had committee substitutes that would weaken them, but both bills are still fundamentally flawed and threaten the status of tenure in Texas colleges universities.

The version of SB 18 passed by the Texas Senate would have outright banned tenure for new professors. Tenure protects professors who want to embark on new paths of study or speak out on issues of public concern. Tenure confers immunity from retaliation, specifically, the threat of unemployment for politically motivated reasons – from the right or the left.

The committee substitute considered in the House Higher Education Committee did not ban tenure outright, however it did put undue restrictions on tenure into state law. Currently, tenure policies are mostly determined at the university level, which allows universities to adopt policies that fit their institutions needs. The new version of SB 18 would place tenure restrictions into state law.

Placing tenure policy into state law would not only leave the state vulnerable to legal liability, but it would also be burdensome to institutions of higher education.

Prof. Brian Evans, the vice president of the Texas American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which is affiliated with AFT, provided a detailed insight into the issues with this new version of SB 18. 

Texas AAUP Vice President Brian Evans testifies against Sb 18.

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 colleges and universities.

DEI offices are intended to create more inclusive campuses by recruiting more diverse students and faculty. These offices seek to promote racial and ethnic diversity, diversity in sexual orientation, diversity in gender identity, and diversity in life experience — including targeted recruitment of combat veterans, for example. This bill would prohibit diversity as a consideration while making hiring decisions.

This new committee substitute of SB 17 differs from the Senate version in a few key ways. The new version allows for exceptions to be made in instances in which strict adherence to the law would negatively impact an institutions’ ability to receive grant funding. The new version of the bill also borrows a couple of paragraphs from SB 16, a “ban on CRT” in higher education.

While several representatives from universities across the state were invited to testify as resource witnesses on the bill, there was no invited testimony from representatives of community colleges. Community colleges generally educate students with more diverse backgrounds than universities. The DEI ban outlined in SB 17 would also apply to community colleges.

Dr. David Albert, the President of Austin Community College (ACC) AFT testified against SB 17 and pointed out the failure to invite community college representatives. Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) had pointed out this oversight earlier in the hearing.

ACC AFT President David Albert testifies against SB 17.

Despite widespread opposition to both bills, both were voted out of the House Higher Education Committee on Friday on a party-line vote, with all the Democrats voting against the bills and all Republicans voting for them.

The bills will now be sent to the House Calendars Committee, where they could be scheduled for debate as soon as next week.