State Board Approves Evidence-Based Science Standards; Legislative News on Charters, the Budget and More

State Board Approves Evidence-Based Science Standards:  For the first time in years, state standards for science instruction will be free of loaded language inserted to promote a creationist critique of the science behind the theory of evolution. That’s the upshot of a debate and vote at the State Board of Education this week, in which a bipartisan majority (prominently including new SBOE member Keven Ellis, R-Lufkin) prevailed with neutral language that simply calls for students to examine the evidence.

Notable Bills Okayed in Committee, for Good or Ill:  SB 1854 by Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio), a bill to give classroom teachers on site-based committees a stronger role in steering paperwork-reduction efforts required of school districts, was passed by the Senate  Education Committee this week by a nine-to-one vote. The only no vote was cast by Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano). The same committee also passed SB 196 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), a bill to provide notice to parents when their child’s school lacks full-time staffing by school nurses, counselors, and librarians. The vote on SB 196 was seven to three, with Sens. Bob Hall (R-Canton), Don Huffines (R-Dallas), and Van Taylor voting no.

All was not sweetness and light on the Senate Education Committee, however. For instance, the committee also approved a bad bill that would put charter schools first in line for any new funding for facilities (more than $400 million for the coming biennium, and more thereafter), even though state facilities aid to traditional school districts has shrunk dramatically and the Senate in this year’s budget bill refuses so far to increase school aid for operating funds as well. The vote on this bill, SB 457 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), was seven to three, with Sens. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville), Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio), and Royce West (D-Dallas) voting against the preferential treatment of charter schools.

One more good piece of legislation okayed in committee this week is HCR 101 by Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi), calling on Congress to repeal two unfair Social Security offsets that hurt Texas school employees and many other public employees when they retire. The vote in the House committee overseeing state-federal relations was unanimous in support of this resolution.

Budget Conferees Open Negotiations April 24:  House and Senate conferees assigned to negotiate the final version of the 2018-19 budget bill, SB 1, will hold their first meeting on Monday, April 24, at 4 pm. The Senate negotiators are:  Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), Chuy Hinojosa (D-McAllen), Joan Huffman (R-Houston), Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), and Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown). The House team is:  John Zerwas (R-Richmond), Oscar Longoria (D-Mission), Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), Sarah Davis (R-Houston), and Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock). So far the House appears to be standing firm for the increase in school funding built into the House version of the bill and overwhelmingly approved on the House floor in HB 21.