More than 700 pieces of legislation already have been pre-filed for the 2015 legislative session starting on January 13 in Austin. Pre-filing by no means guarantees early action or indeed any action on these bills and resolutions. But it does attract attention, and here are some of the bills that have attracted ours since pre-filing began on November 10:
–School finance: Sen. Kirk Watson, Democrat of Austin, has filed a set of bills to reform and enhance school funding, updating funding formulas to reflect the increasing challenges of educating all our students to their fullest potential (SB 240 through SB 247).
–TRS pensions: Rep. Mando Martinez, Democrat of Weslaco, has filed a bill to provide cost-of-living increases to retired school employees from the Texas Teacher Retirement System whenever the actuarial condition of the pension fund allows it (HB 45).
–Teacher pay raise: Rep. Richard Raymond, Democrat of Laredo, has filed legislation to draw $1 billion from the Rainy Day Fund for a one-time teacher pay raise, which we estimate would amount to roughly $3,000 per classroom teacher (HB 387).
–Sunset review of unjustified tax breaks: Sen. Rodney Ellis, Democrat of Houston, has filed a bill to require periodic evaluation of tax breaks to see if they are still justified (if they ever were) and encourage repeal if they are not (SB 80). A host of business tax breaks cost the state treasury billions of dollars that could help pay for public education.
–School start date: Rep. Jeff Leach, Republican of Plano, has a bill that would allow school districts to start the school year two weeks earlier in August (HB 204).
–Full-day pre-kindergarten: Sen. Judith Zaffirini, Democrat of Laredo, has filed a bill to expand from half-day to full-day, state-funded pre-K for all eligible students (SB 23).
–Reducing misuse of state tests: Sen. Kel Seliger, Republican of Amarillo, has filed legislation to allow students to graduate without passing state-mandated end-of-course exams if they can meet other requirements (SB 149). Rep. Joe Moody, Democrat of El Paso, has filed a bill to ban the use of scores on state achievement tests in determining teacher pay (HB 513).
–Pupil-teacher ratios (class-size limits): Rep. Mary Gonzalez, Democrat of El Paso, has filed a bill to establish a 28-to-1 class-size cap for grades five through eight (HB 51). Rep. Carol Alvarado, Democrat of Houston, has filed legislation to extend the 22-to-1 class-size cap to fifth grade (HB 171). Sen. Ellis has filed a bill to impose a class-size limit of 18-to-1 in pre-K (SB 73).
–Due process for support personnel: Rep. Mary Gonzalez has filed a bill to provide some basic due process for support personnel faced with possible termination of employment—including written notification of the grounds and an opportunity to be heard in response (HB 54).
–Fair hearings on teacher terminations: Rep. Mary Gonzalez also has filed a bill to restore greater fairness to teachers’ termination hearings by making the issue of good cause for termination once again a finding of fact to be determined by an independent hearing examiner (HB 57).
–Duty-free lunch: Rep. Oscar Longoria, Democrat of Mission, has filed legislation to provide a 45-minute duty-free lunch for classroom teachers and full-time school librarians in middle school and high school (HB 244). He also has filed an alternative version of the bill that would give the 45-minute lunch period to all teachers and full-time librarians (HB 245).
–Notification of school-nurse staffing: Sen. Ellis has filed a bill to require parental notification when their child’s school does not have a school nurse present on a full-time basis (SB 69).
–Time off for parents to attend school meetings: Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, Democrat of San Antonio, has filed a bill to require employers to provide time off from work for hourly employees to attend school meetings concerning their child (HB 532).
–Assault leave for junior-college or university employees: Sen. Zaffirini has filed legislation to provide assault leave for junior-college or university employees, paralleling the existing law providing such leave for employees of school districts (SB 40).
–Sales-tax holiday for college textbooks: Sen. Zaffirini also has filed a bill providing seasonal sales-tax exemptions for certain students’ purchases of college textbooks (SB 157).