Hot and Heavy Action on Education Issues at State Capitol All Weekend

Day-long debates Friday on vouchers and discrimination against transgender schoolchildren kicked off what promises to be a hot and heavy weekend of hearings on controversial Senate bills at the Texas Capitol. Also on tap for the weekend is a march for public education featuring a speech by Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro.  And we are providing you with a couple of ways to speak out yourself (see below).

Texas AFT legislative counsel Patty Quinzi testified Friday against SB 2, the voucher bill by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) that would cut funding to school districts in order to subsidize unaccountable private schooling for students with disabilities. The bill also separately contains some valuable school-finance provisions, but these are in effect held hostage under SB 2 to passage of private-school vouchers.

Louis Malfaro, president of Texas AFT, delivered testimony against the discriminatory legislation affecting transgender children (SB 3 and SB 93, both by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham). Said Malfaro:  “These bills would remove a school’s ability to accommodate its students in a way that respect and protects all students. These bills invite bullying of an already vulnerable student population and would put transgender children at risk for increased bullying and segregation from school activities.”

You can get a word in edgewise this weekend by taking part in two email campaigns addressed to legislators. One addresses the overarching issue of real funding needed for schools, employee pay and benefits, and relief for local property-tax payers . The other addresses the assault on your freedom to use payroll deduction to pay your union dues and amplify your voice in public policy debates.

marchforpubliceducationThe March for Public Education on Saturday gives all who can make it to Austin another opportunity to speak out. You can join in the March starting at the Capitol (Texas Archives on east side) at 11 a.m. and going around the Capitol area, finishing with a rally on the south steps. Join the march and rally and put the pressure on at this crucial time. More information, including how to sign up can be found on the Facebook event page.

Hearings on Saturday include one at 9 a.m. on bills to dictate policy overriding local decisions on everything from tree-saving ordinances to texting while driving. Another at 11 a.m., in the Select Committee on Government Reform, would set tight limits on local taxes and spending, regardless of growing needs for services.

At 1 p.m. Saturday the Senate Finance Committee takes up two other problematic bills. SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) would impose arbitrary and onerous new caps on spending at the state level, again regardless of rising public needs and requirements. SB 19 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) has as its centerpiece an unfunded promise of a future $1,000 average teacher pay raise that evidently would come, if it ever comes at all, from “reprioritizing” existing school-district funds received from the state lottery. The bill packages this unfunded raise with some one-time bonuses for teachers timed to arrive before the 2018 election but without ongoing funding. Also part of the package is some additional funding for health insurance for TRS-Care, to soften the blow of cost increases the Legislature imposed on school retirees. This is one-time funding, not the long-term relief really needed for retirees.

Sunday’s first key hearing at 2 p.m. is the one mentioned above, in the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, with SB 7 and SB 94 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) proposing to take away your freedom to use your paycheck as you choose to make voluntary payroll deductions to pay your union or association dues.

The weekend’s last major hearing, in the Senate Education Committee, deals with the proposal to redirect lottery funding already flowing to school districts, requiring the money to be used to pay for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s proposal of a teacher raise–without providing any new state money for school districts’ already thinly stretched budgets. The bills involved are SJR 1 by Sen. Konni Burton (R-Fort Worth) and SB 97 by Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock).