Week of May 10: Legislative Update

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The House

  • Legislation is moving to extend the deadlines for the reading academies rules passed with HB 3 in 2019. The deadlines for teachers required to complete the academies may be changed from the 2021-2022 school year to 2022-2023. Texas AFT has heard from many of our members that the requirements for the 60-hour academies can be onerous, and there are concerns about teachers not being paid for the time spent on the work. We will keep you updated on any changes.
  • HB 4545 (Harold Dutton, D-Houston): The committee substitute and amendments for HB 4545 address many concerns that Texas AFT had with the filed version of the bill—including funding based on outcomes from the STAAR exams. It would remove statutory requirements that students in grades 5 and 8 pass their required reading and math standardized tests for promotion to the next grade. Texas AFT does continue to have concerns about how the bill’s accelerated learning and grant programs would work. This bill finally passed the House after being reconsidered and is now headed to the Senate.
  • HB 547 (James Frank, R-Wichita Falls) authorizes—but does not require—a public school to provide an eligible home-schooled student with the opportunity to participate in University Interscholastic League (UIL) events. It passed the House 78-65 and heads to the Senate.
  • HB 2802 (Jay Dean, R-Longview) would require the commissioner of education to apply for a U.S. Department of Education waiver to suspend standardized testing during any disaster declared in a school year—such as a pandemic—by the governor or president. Texas AFT supported this bill, which passed the House 141-0, and now heads to the Senate.
  • HB 2344 (Erin Zwiener, D-Dripping Springs) allows districts to use a writing portfolio assessment in place of STAAR reading tests in grades 3-8, and English end-of-course exams in high school. Texas AFT supported this bill, which passed the House 107-35, and now heads to the Senate.
  • HB 3889 (Penny Morales Shaw, D-Houston) would change law to allow the Texas Education Agency to provide no-cost broadband access, with a goal implementing that access with more than 1 million students. Texas AFT supported this bill, which passed the House, 104-39, and now heads to the Senate.
  • HB1585 (Stan Lambert, R-Abilene/SB 706, Eddie Lucio, III, D-Brownsville) would implement recommendations from the Sunset Advisory Commission review of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) and set the date for the next TRS Sunset review for 2033. The bill would require TRS to:
    —develop a communication and outreach plan on retirement;
    —adjust financial penalties for TRS retirees who return to work in public education;
    —require the appointment of an ombudsman to monitor the agency’s interactions with members and investigate complaints; and
    —require TRS to make improved efforts to return contributions to inactive members before funds were forfeited.
  •  HB 1744 (Bobby Guerra, D-Mission) would have the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board establish a program to provide financial incentives such as tuition assistance or student loan repayment to incentivize bilingual teachers. The bill passed the House and is headed to the Senate.
  • HB 396 (Joe Moody, D-El Paso) would make nurses eligible for workers’ compensation benefits for COVID-19. The bill passed the House and is headed to the Senate.
  • SB 1776 (Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway) would require the inclusion of a high school elective course on the founding principles of the United States and the posting of the founding documents of the United States in public school buildings. The bill was amended to include Native Americans influence on the founding principles and documents of the United States and passed the House.

The Senate

  • SB 1968 (Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston) is a private-school voucher bill that would provide taxpayer funds for parents to pay private groups for academic services. Texas AFT is opposing this bill, which passed the Senate Education Committee Friday.
  • HB 1525 (Dan Huberty, R-Kingwood) was supposed to be a simple HB 3 “cleanup” bill to clarify what HB 3 was intended to do, but when it came over to the Senate Education Committee, two new sections were added to the bill that would allow the unelected commissioner of education unprecedented authority to decide how much funding schools should receive. The commissioner could unilaterally “adjust” public schools’ entitlement to the Foundation School Program, which is an apparent attempt to supplant the federal funds our schools are expecting. The bill passed out of the Senate Education Committee and is now headed to the Senate floor, where we will strongly oppose it.
      
  • SB 2081 (Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio), which would limit Pre-K class sizes to 22 students passed the Senate this past week and is the companion bill to HB 41 (James Talarico- Austin), which also passed the House this week.