March 29, 2021: The Hotline: Big week at the Legislature, including a charter-school expansion bill, push-back on STAAR EOCs and more

 

Legislative Update

Oppose HB 1348 bannerCharter school expansion
Last week the Senate Education Committee heard another harmful charter-school bill, SB 28 (Paul Bettencourt, D-Houston), which would eliminate the authority of our elected State Board of Education to veto bad charter applications—thus leaving approval up to the sole discretion of the education commissioner. The bill also would take away public input on adding new charter campuses—meaning they could end up across the street from your public school without any public say. Finally, the bill would exempt charter schools from any municipal zoning laws in many towns and cities. SB 28 was left pending in the committee.

A similar bill—HB 1348 (Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur), which would strictly limit the powers of cities and counties to apply land use and development rules to charter-schools—passed out of the House Public Education Committee on March 16. Act now to send an online letter opposing HB 1348.

piggy bank with charter corp namesThese bills intend to open the floodgates to charter-school expansion, allow charters to locate wherever they want, and incentivize taking public school students out of districts. The end goal is to privatize schools and cash in on kids. Texas AFT President Zeph Capo wrote an open letter to members and public education advocates to read the latest Network for Public Education Report: “Chartered for Profit: The Hidden World of Charter Schools Operated for Financial Gain.”

Capo writes: “Friends, this, quite frankly, is an assault on democracy and an insult to taxpayers who want transparency and accountability for their hard-earned dollars. It’s time to stop charters from cashing in on our kids. If the public is taken completely out of the charter approval process, are charters really public schools after all?”

State takeovers of school districts
On Thursday the Senate Education Committee heard SB 1365 (Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston), which would give the commissioner of education more power in removing local school boards—due to accountability sanctions or questions over financial management—and replacing them with state-appointed boards of managers. This bill, intended to clear the way for the state’s legal arguments in the attempted takeover of Houston ISD, would have significant consequences for districts across the state. The bill was left pending in committee. The House Public Education Committee will hear the House’s version of the bill, HB 3270 (Harold Dutton, D-Houston) this week.

Discriminating against trans kids
On Friday, the Senate State Affairs Committee passed SB 29 (Charles Perry, R-Lubbock), which would discriminate against transgender students by forcing them to “compete in sports associated with their biological sex as determined at or near birth.”

Texas AFT President Zeph Capo summarized our opposition to the bill: “As if the bathroom bill wasn’t cruel enough, some of our state senators feel they need to launch an unneeded crusade against a select group of kids, putting schools in the unthinkable spot of implementing state-sanctioned discrimination. I say let them play, and keep out of it.”

Good bills moving forward
HB 699 (Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston), which would require school districts to excuse absences and all promotion of students with serious illnesses, passed the House Public Education Committee last Tuesday. The bill is known as “Riley’s Rule,” after the student whose experiences inspired the legislation.

HB 1603 (Dan Huberty, R-Houston), which would make individual graduation committees permanent, also passed in the committee meeting.

HB 999 (Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio) adds additional flexibility to the Individual Graduation Committees (IGC) law to help certain students who might be affected by the pandemic. The bill would enable students who were in 12th grade during the 2020-21, 2021-22, or 2022-23 school years to graduate without considering their performance on required end-of-course exams.

Suppressing the vote
Two bills attempting to limit voting—SB 7 (Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola) and HB 6 (Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park)—were heard in committee last week, with SB 7 passing the committee on Friday. Proposals in the bills include enhanced felony charges for distribution of absentee ballots in some situations, making disabled voters prove their disability before receiving a mail-in ballot, limits on voting locations, banning drive-through voting locations, and an assortment of other requirements that make it harder to vote. Cain, who chairs the House Elections Committee scheduled to hear the bill, took some invited testimony before being forced to cancel the hearing due to a procedural error on his part. More than 100 people made the trip to Austin for the hearing, only to be turned away with a promise from Cain to hold another hearing.

A budget, bullying and threat to education funding

  • We anticipated seeing the Senate budget introduced in the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday. The budget will be a first glance at how the state will address public education funding. However, we don’t expect information about how the state will spend the massive infusion of federal funding until later in the Session.
  • Also scheduled for Tuesday in the House Public Education Committee is a hearing on HB 256 (Philip Cortez, D-San Antonio), a bill we support that would require districts to include a policy for “anti-bullying measures to address bullying in the workplace, including provisions to address the bullying of a teacher by a parent.”
  • Bills also will be heard this week that would extend the expiration date for a provision of the state tax code that allows school districts to give incentives (property tax breaks) to companies moving to Texas. These breaks to large corporations will cost our state $1.9 billion in the next budget cycle alone. Texas AFT and our allies oppose these giveaways to corporations.
  • The House Administration Committee will consider rescinding the requirement to wear masks on the House floor.

Read more updates from the Texas Legislature.


Good bills of the week:

 

Ana Maria Ramos HB 4382 by Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos (D- Dallas) would allow school district employees leave for COVID-19 quarantines without having to use their personal days or days granted under the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993. The provision would alleviate a huge source of stress for many employees who have worried about lost pay and not having the leave time to cover quarantines.

Ramos also filed HB 2234, which is often affectionately referred to as the “Grow Your Own Teacher Bill.” It calls for students enrolled in high-school dual credit courses and educational aides serving at schools to receive tuition and fee exemptions at colleges and universities to pursue a teaching degree. This bill would help lessen the financial burden on those seeking a teaching degree and incentivize to more people entering the profession.

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Let’s get your project funded!

Our benefits partner, Horace Mann, is giving away at least $10,000 in DonorsChoose funding to kickstart your school projects.Here’s the scoop.

  • Enter your DonorsChoose project March 8 – April 9 for your chance to win.
  • During the week of April 5 – 9, Horace Mann will draw winners and fund at least $2,000 in DonorsChoose projects each day.

Enter here today! (To learn more about DonorsChoose or need help setting up a DonorsChoose project, click here or contact your local Horace Mann representative.)

 

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‘Texas Kids Count’ project tracks food insecurity, health insurance, and economic opportunity

Woman with child in lap reading in doctor's officeThe nonprofit Every Texan this week launched a comprehensive look at issues surrounding the health of Texan children to better inform policymakers (like Texas legislators) on the needs of our kids. The “Kids Count” project include data and issue briefs on food insecurity, health insurance, and economic opportunity—with a focus on racial disparities.

As Every Texan notes: “All children deserve the opportunity for a healthy life. In Texas, not all children have the health insurance, food security, and economic security needed for a healthy childhood….Policymakers should make practical changes this Legislative Session to ensure all Texas children have the opportunity to thrive.”


All Texas Adults eligible for vaccinations on March 29

The Texas Department of State Health Services announced Tuesday that all adults will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations beginning today (March 29). The agency said public health departments should still prioritize appointments for those 80 and over and allow for them to be vaccinated at the head of any lines even without an appointment. For more information on finding appointments, see the DHSH site or VaccineFinder.org.


 

Events

Three teens on cell phones
Social Secrets: What Parents and Educators Should Know
Online conflict via social media is impacting the way young people communicate and relate to one another. Additionally, many are unaware of the dangers they face as a result of their digital exploration. “Social Secrets,” a free webinar on Apr 14 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., gives an overview of how tweens and teens are using social media and how parents/educators can help them avoid social media pitfalls and ultimately: be safe, be smart, and be kind online. Register for free here.

Bridges Institute webinars on trauma-informed practices

The Bridges Institute for Professional Development invites you to attend our five-part webinar series on trauma-informed practices. Each session will begin at 6 p.m., and CPE credit will be issued for each session attended. The next session in the series will be Wednesday, March 24 (focus on support for grieving students), and the subsequent sessions will occur on Wednesdays throughout the rest of this month. Register for the free event here.


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