While the private school voucher threat has temporarily been abated, another bill that would allow for the rapid expansion of charter schools, which also divert public dollars to private institutions, was resurrected. HB 1707, the priority bill of the charter industry, would exempt charter schools from local zoning ordinances, effectively preempting any local control and public input regarding where and when a new charter campus opens in a community. The entire pro-public education community opposed the bill, as did the Texas AFL-CIO, local property owners concerned about how charters could negatively affect property values, and city officials from Denton, Dallas, and Austin.
The bill failed to be voted out of the Senate Education committee on May 11 and was essentially dead. HB 1707 received only six yes votes, one short of the required majority. After the vote failed, Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), who supported the bill, moved to “reconsider” the vote on the bill, but this motion can only be called by someone on the prevailing side of a vote, in this case, someone who voted against the bill.
Then, on May 16, an unexpected Senate Education Committee meeting was announced on the Senate floor with little notice. In a small press room filled with charter school industry lobbyists, Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), who voted against the bill on May 11 and was on the prevailing side, employed a rarely used procedural maneuver to pull the bill back up for reconsideration. West moved for the committee to reconsider the once-dead HB 1707, and this time, enough Republican members of the committee were there to provide the required majority vote. The bill is now headed to the Senate floor, where it will likely be considered next week. We are still unsure why this was done over the objections of every school employee union and association, as well as the entire public education coalition.
In addition to HB 1707, the Senate Education Committee also voted out HB 900, the book-banning bill authored by Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco). 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.
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.
This week, the Texas House voted to concur with Senate amendments to HB 1605, the curriculum bill that would incentivize TEA-developed curriculum materials for foundation-area teachers. If this bill is enacted, TEA could directly purchase instructional materials for use by the state (presumably this means more open-resource options) and would incentivize districts to adopt and use these materials.
There are some measures in this bill worth supporting, such as limitations on documenting lesson plans, but Texas AFT opposes HB 1605 because it would take critical curriculum decisions out of the hands of educators and place increased authority in the hands of TEA.
While this bill is fundamentally flawed, advocates were able to push the Texas House to adopt amendments that softened the negative effects of the bill. However, when the Senate passed the bill, it stripped those hard-fought amendments from the bill.
While Chairman Brad Buckley (R-Killeen), who authored the bill, moved for the House to accept the version passed by the Senate that did not include the amendments adopted in the House, Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) fought for their inclusion. Ultimately, her motion failed, and the House concurred with the Senate version of HB 1605 by a 105-39 vote.
SB 18, which was scheduled for consideration Thursday, would severely weaken tenure protections for professors at institutes of higher education, but the version of SB 18 passed by the Texas Senate would outright ban 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.
However, when SB 18 was called up for consideration, a point of order (P.O.O.), was called on the bill by Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Fort Bend). Reynolds’ P.O.O. stated that the bill analysis was materially misleading. It was sustained and successfully sent the bill back to committee so that the bill analysis could be corrected. The bill was again sent to the Calendars Committee, where it will likely be heard Monday.
SB 17 was considered Friday. 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. The 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 so-called “ban on critical race theory” in higher education.
After a couple of points of order were called on SB 17 by Rep. Venton Jones (D-Dallas) and Rep. Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston), debate on the bill began. However, shortly after debate on the bill began, Chairman John Kuempel (R-Seguin) moved to postpone debate on the bill until later in the day.
One bright spot in the world of higher education came this week when the Senate passed HB 8, by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston). HB 8 is the comprehensive community college finance bill based on the recommendations of the Texas Commission on Community College Finance (CCCF). This proposal would increase community college funding by $650 million. Of that additional funding, $428 million would go directly to the state’s community colleges via formula funding, and the rest would go to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to distribute to community colleges via competitive grants.
This week, the Senate Finance Committee revealed a bit more of what the final version of a TRS COLA will look like.
Senate Bill 10, the TRS COLA bill, was passed with unanimous support from both the House and Senate, but the House and Senate passed radically different versions. A conference committee was created to resolve those significant differences, with the following members of each chamber appointed to the committee:
- Chair: Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston)
- Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels)
- Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D-McAllen)
- Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham)
- Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Nacogdoches)
- Chair: Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood)
- Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake)
- Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio)
- Rep. Oscar Longoria (D-Mission)
- Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston)
These legislators will ultimately decide how the TRS COLA will be structured.
We saw an inkling of what that COLA might look like on Thursday when the Senate Finance Committee considered HJR 2 by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), which would provide funding for a TRS COLA. Instead of opting to fund the TRS COLA through the budget, the House version of the plan included HJR 2, which would constitutionally dedicate spending outside of the confines of the state budget to fund the TRS COLA. This would require voters to approve the funding in a November special election.
It seems as though the plan will be funded, at least in part, by HJR 2, but the version of HJR 2 that was considered in the Senate is very different from the version passed by the House. When the House passed HJR 2, the funding in the bill was reduced, allowing more funding to instead be drawn from the state budget. By reducing the amount included in HJR 2, certain retirees would be guaranteed a supplemental check, regardless of whether voters approved the constitutional amendment.
The new version of HJR 2, which was considered in the Senate Finance Committee hearing, would increase the funding in HJR 2. It is unclear how this funding change will affect the final version of SB 10, but Texas AFT will continue to monitor the situation.
One of the most critical differences between the House and Senate version of the bill is that the Senate would provide those who retired in 2021 with a 2% COLA whereas the House version provides a COLA only to those who retired in 2020 or before. However, the House version would provide for an ongoing gain-sharing COLA structure, allowing TRS retirees to receive an automatic COLA in years in which TRS outperforms its investment goals.
This week, two Texas AFT members who retired in 2021, Rosario Zamudio from Alliance/AFT and Pamela Davis-Duck from Cy-Fair AFT, went to the Capitol to demand that SB 10 include them in whatever COLA is finally passed by the Legislature. Zamudio and Davis-Duck also emphasized that retirees deserve an ongoing COLA structure, like the one included in the House version of the bill.
Even if you are unable to make it to the Capitol, you can still make your voice heard to lawmakers on the conference committee for SB 10. Click here to automatically send your letter to conferees.