Your Weekly Briefing: Big win on class sizes, status on school finance, and all the bills on the move


Rep. Jonathan Stickland’s attack on class sizes went down in flames.

First the celebration: House protects class size limits

Your calls and emails worked! By a vote of 44-97, the House rejected a bill by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) that would have gutted class-size requirements by allowing districts to only have to maintain an average class size. The House rejected the bill even after it was amended in an attempt to have it apply only to Arlington ISD, sending a clear message about the importance of the voice of educators. And just a reminder to everyone that there are 543 days until the 2020 election.

School Finance conferees meet after Senate passes their version of school finance

Today, the conferees had their organizational meeting, which means it’s been a busy week in the school finance world. On Monday, Senators approved a bill that would pump more funding into the school finance system while also containing problematic provisions tying teacher pay and district funds to test scores. Texas AFT is extremely disappointed that amendments by Senators Beverly Powell and Jose Menendez that attempted to strip these provisions failed.

As passed, the bill also funds full-day pre-K for low-income students and contains a $5,000 raise only for teachers and librarians. The Senate did not end up including a proposal to use an increased sales tax to lower school district taxes. Amendments to expand the $5,000 teacher-and-librarian-only raise to counselors (Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville) or everyone on the minimum salary schedule (Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo) also failed. The bill also includes an automatic buy-down on local district property value growth, creating an ongoing cost to the state and a tax system that is not uniform. Senators passed the bill  26-2, with three voting present not voting.

The HB 3 Conference Committee met for the first time today to begin reconciling the House and Senate plans. The committee includes Chairman Dan Huberty and Sen. Larry Taylor, as well as Representatives Trent Ashby, Diego Bernal, Ken King, and Mary Gonzalez and Senators Donna Campbell, Jane Nelson, Kirk Watson, and Royce West.  Texas AFT supports the House plan, which includes raises for all employees and doesn’t tie teacher or district pay to test scores.

Sales tax increase not likely, property taxes forge ahead

A plan to raise sales taxes proposed last week by Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick and Speaker Dennis Bonnen appeared to end when the House postponed its version of the bill, and the Senate failed to include sales tax in its school finance plan. Had the plan been successful, Texans earning less than $150,000/year would have seen their total annual taxes go up, according to analysis from Center for Public Policy Priorities, so Texas AFT is happy to hear it’s gone.

Meanwhile, the House made a disturbing move this week to eliminate school district maintenance and operation property taxes beginning in 2002, blowing an annual hole in the budget of more than $28.4 billion. House Democrats added language to ensure the schools would continue to be entitled to their full funding. Texas AFT is deeply concerned that eliminating the property tax would lead to a regressive, increased sales tax.

Both chambers also announced conference committees this week on SB 2, which would restrict the ability of local governments to raise tax revenue above 3.5% without an expensive local election. Conferees from the House are Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg), Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City), Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston), and Rep. Candy Noble (R-Murphy); the Senate sends Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills), Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Beaumont), Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D- McAllen), and Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock).

Also this week

  • HB 388 by Rep. Jim Murphy passed during action Thursday, a deadline for most bills in the House. This bill would allow those who lease to charters to forgo paying local property taxes. Charters have already learned to game the system by first purchasing buildings and them leasing back to themselves at above-market rates. By leasing instead of purchasing, the charter retains the property and pockets the lease income. This is not only a loss in local revenue for cities, but it would mean even bigger profits for charter profiteers.
  • HB 4258 by Rep. Murphy passed its second reading late Thursday by a voice vote. The bill moves the responsibility for issuing charter school bonds to the Attorney General’s Office and compels them to be issued, with no process for review beyond whether documents are completed and filed properly.
  • SB 947 by Sen. Donna Campbell passed out of the Senate Education Committee unanimously. This bill allows homeschoolers to enroll in online charter schools and increases again the pool of students these online charter “schools” can profit from.
  • SB 1663 by Sen. Brandon Creighton passed the Senate this week, 19-12. The bill would

prevent any monument, memorial, building name, or other historical marker owned by the state from being altered without a vote of the Legislature and would prevent any locality from altering the same without a public vote. In sum, Texas AFT is disappointed in a bill that is beneath the dignity of the people of Texas who understand the history of the state.

Texas AFT bills on the Move

  • HB 4242 by Rep. Diego Bernal passed the House Wednesday and would require an audit of the STAAR test, ensuring the tests are on grade level. Additionally, it would codify that STAAR could not be used to determine campus closures after the 2018-2019 school year.
  • HB 2987 by Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos passed the House Thursday night. It would require that charters post information regarding the governing board members on their school’s website.
  • HB 737 by Rep. Philip Cortez makes specialty license plates available to current and retired teachers who have taught for a certain number of years.
  • SB 1454 by Sen. Larry Taylor will also be heard Tuesday. This is a comprehensive charter bill that adds much-needed transparency regarding the ownership, sale, lease, and disposition of property owned by charter schools, and it’s a priority of Texas AFT.

Upcoming

SB 1412 by Sen. Charles Perry will be heard in the House Public Education Committee on Tuesday. We oppose this bill, as it implements the Dallas ACE program, giving incentives to “high performing teachers.” Once again, Texas AFT will be telling lawmakers that we oppose pay tied to standardized tests.

SB 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman, which deals with TRS benefits, is going to conference committee. Senate conferees are Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Grapevine), Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Pearland), Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas). We are awaiting the House conferees.

Great Bill of the Week

This week’s Great Bill of the Week comes from freshman Rep. Terry Meza who has shown herself to be a champion of working people. HB 3242 would guarantee a livable wage for school bus drivers in Texas and is part of the effort this session to make sure that all members of a school community who contribute to a child’s safe, happy, and healthy development are able to live and work. We appreciate Rep. Meza’s efforts and are confident that she will continue to advocate for fairness and equity for working people and school employees.

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