The Texas Legislature today began a special 30-day session called by Gov. Greg Abbott to consider first a must-pass “sunset” bill to continue the existence of several professional licensing boards—and then to take up 20 more items on the governor’s wish list, including many affecting public schools. The governor wants, among other things, to pass the state’s first-ever private-school voucher scheme, and he has proposed a “sort of” pay raise for teachers—but one that he wants school districts to pay for out of their existing funds instead of providing any new state money for it. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (the Texas Senate’s presiding officer) say school districts’ budgets, already stretched thin by years of shrinking state aid, can simply be “reprioritized.” Abbott also is asking for no more action on school finance than yet another study.
Speaker Joe Straus and the Texas House signaled today they will stick to their guns and fight for a more serious approach to improving school finance. House Public Education Committee chair Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) filed a new version of HB 21, the school-finance bill passed overwhelmingly by the House this spring, which would boost per-pupil aid from the state and add new funding streams for bilingual education and students with dyslexia. The new version of HB 21 contains an apparent concession to the Senate in the form of $25 million for facilities for charter schools. But the bill also adds $75 million for facilities for school districts, and it otherwise closely tracks the language of the earlier version, which the Senate killed by inserting a “poison pill” voucher program.
Meanwhile, a host of groups in support of public education, including Texas AFT, have put down a marker of our own, submitting a letter to state leaders and all legislators outlining our stance on the urgent need to increase state support for the public schools—and to do it right. You can reinforce this message by sending a letter of your own from the Texas AFT legislative-action page to your state senator and state representative. Here is the joint letter submitted by 25 groups as the session got under way:
Dear Governor Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Patrick, Speaker Straus and State Legislators:
The undersigned submit this letter to voice our position on the supplemental topics identified by Governor Greg Abbott for the special session related to public education and school funding. The undersigned is a diverse collective of education groups and organizations with hundreds of thousands of members located across Texas. Each is committed to building the common ground needed to enact positive school finance reform that ensures each and every child in every neighborhood public school has access to the resources and opportunities they need to succeed both inside and outside of the classroom.
In response to Governor Abbott’s proposed special session topics for the summer of 2017, the collective asserts their position as follows:
- The State must meaningfully invest more state resources through school finance reform that ensures a high quality education for every child at every neighborhood public school; efforts to further shift the burden onto local property taxpayers must be avoided.
- The State must not use taxpayer funds to subsidize private schools, and it must not withhold fair funding for public schools contingent upon the passage of private school funding.
- The State must avoid taking action that would intrude upon local communities’ taxing authority.
- Texas’ hard-working teachers deserve a pay raise, but any state-mandated teacher pay raise must be accompanied with additional state monies flowing through the formulas; districts should not be forced to reallocate existing, limited funds to pay for state-mandated pay raises.
- Any school finance study must be research-based, sufficiently funded by an appropriation, and tied to specific short-term and long-term educational goals and outcomes.
- The State must respect local decision-making and due process measures for hiring and firing teachers under current statutes; it must not force local school districts to adopt new termination policies that would further erode the teacher pipeline.
- The State must not encroach upon public school employees’ desire to join a professional organization/association and to have their dues deducted from their wages.
- The State must not approve policies that could cause bullying and harm to Texas students by continuing to push forward the “bathroom bill;” Texas schools have managed this issue without incident and will continue to do so.
Association of Texas Professional Educators
Center for Public Policy Priorities
Coalition for Education Funding
Fast Growth School Coalition
Intercultural Development Research Association
La Fe Policy Research & Education Center
Mexican American School Board Members Association
The McNeil Foundation
Pastors for Texas Children
San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
South Texas Association of Schools
Texas American Federation of Teachers
Texas Association of Community Schools
Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce
Texas Association of Midsize Schools
Texas Classroom Teachers Association
Texas Elementary Principals & Supervisors Association
Texas Kids Can’t Wait
Texas Latino Education Coalition
Texas State Teachers Association