Governor Formally Calls Special Session, Says Vouchers, Pay, School Funding Are Among Potential Topics

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a formal proclamation today calling the Texas Legislature back into session for up to 30 days starting July 18. The formal proclamation addressed the only must-pass bill on the governor’s wish list for the special session—a “sunset” bill to extend the expiration date for the Texas Medical Board and several other licensing boards that otherwise would go out of business on September 1, 2018. However, Abbott also issued a tentative draft of a “supplemental call” identifying 19 issues he wants lawmakers to deal with after the Texas Senate passes the sunset bill.

Abbott invited legislators to begin filing bills and start considering all these topics in anticipation of his eventual expansion of the formal call of the special session, and scores of bills were already filed by 5 p.m. today, including several on teacher pay, school funding, and private-school vouchers.  Many if not most topics on the expanded call would have significant potential impact on education employees and the students they serve in our schools and institutions of higher education.

Here are topics, as defined by Abbott, that Texas AFT will be working on and reporting on to ensure that your voice is heard at the state Capitol during the special session:

Legislation to increase the average salary and benefits of Texas teachers; and legislation to provide a more flexible and rewarding salary and benefit system for Texas teachers.

Legislation establishing a statewide commission to study and recommend improvements to the current public school finance system.

Legislation to empower parents of children with special needs or educational disadvantages to choose an educational provider that is best for their child.

Legislation reforming the laws governing ad valorem property taxes.

Legislation using population growth and inflation to establish a spending limit for state government.

Legislation using population growth and inflation to establish a spending limit for political subdivisions.

Legislation regarding the use of multi-occupancy showers, locker rooms, restrooms, and changing rooms.

Legislation prohibiting state or local government entities from deducting labor union or employee organization membership fees or dues from the wages of public employees.

Legislation adjusting the scheduling of Sunset Commission review of state agencies.

Abbott’s wish list has prompted some harsh criticism, especially relating to his apparent agenda of preempting local decision-making authority and concentrating power at the state level. Here’s a representative example from the editors of the Houston Chronicle:

Approve the must-pass sunset bill and adjourn….Everything else on the governor’s agenda is little more than the wish list of campaign consultants desperate for the political equivalent of a sugar rush after a biennial session that failed to pass any truly appealing meat-and-potatoes bills. The most likely outcome will be an abridged version of the regular six-month version: The Senate passes bad bills and the House blocks them.

The pity of it is that Abbott’s divisive agenda threatens to distract and divert attention from the real priorities that ought to occupy the Legislature’s time—real improvements in school funding, school employees’ and retirees’ health-care funding, increased state aid to school districts to relieve pressure on local taxpayers, and real, long-term fixes for the state’s ill-designed revenue structure. Texas AFT and friends of public education will be working in the upcoming special session to put this real agenda front and center.