Attack on Class-Size Caps, Teacher Pay, and Contract Rights Blocked Again, For Now

Keep those calls, e-mails and letters coming in opposition to HB 400. In response to a temporary revenue crisis, this bill would permanently gut class-size caps, permanently eliminate state salary standards, and permanently remove key contract safeguards for Texas educators. The bill came to the House floor for nearly four hours of debate Friday evening, and House members had to stand up and be counted on a “protect the classroom” amendment offered in defense of schoolchildren and school employees by Rep. Larry Phillips, Republican of Sherman (more on this vote will appear in a future Hotline). Ultimately, though, the bill was knocked off the agenda without final action, because of errors in the handling of the bill by the House Public Education Committee. The bill has been rescheduled for Monday.

Before the key Phillips amendment came up, Rep. Sylvester Turner, Democrat of Houston, defined the issue precisely. “We are dealing with HB 400 because we are unwilling to pay the tab for public education for children to get a higher-quality education,” he said. HB 400 “is a…bill that shows we’re willing to compromise and dumb down education in Texas,” Turner said.

Rep. Rob Eissler, the Republican from The Woodlands who is the author of HB 400, was challenged by Rep. Phillips with a “protect the classroom” amendment authorizing only temporary, strictly limited measures like emergency class-size waivers based on undue financial hardship and temporary salary adjustments instead of, not in addition, to terminations based on financial exigency.  It’s not necessary, Phillips said, to alter permanently the class-size caps that have served the state well since 1984. “I don’t think it’s fair,” Phillips added, to require teachers to bear the brunt of state budget cuts. The Phillips amendment went down to defeat, by a vote of 74 to 51 on Rep. Eissler’s motion to table. Soon thereafter, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, Democrat of San Antonio, raised a point of order that knocked the bill of the agenda.