Upcoming state hearings on school funding, teacher pay, pensions, and more

This month marks the start of a busy season of spring hearings at the state capitol on school funding and a wide range of educational-policy issues. Texas AFT will be participating as this process sets the stage for bills to be considered in the 2019 session of the Texas Legislature. Here’s a sampling of the hearings and meetings scheduled for the next month or so.

Special education:  An advisory committee of the Texas Education Agency meets Monday, March 19, to discuss the latest draft of the state’s federally required “corrective action” plan to address failures to provide services to students with disabilities caused by the state’s now-abandoned policy of capping special-education enrollment arbitrarily at 8.5 percent.

School finance:  Also on March 19, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance will take public testimony on ideas for improvement in the state system of school funding. Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro will testify as an invited witness. The 9 a.m. hearing will be webcast at this link: http://www.adminmonitor.com/tx/tea/​.  Written comments or testimony can be submitted via email to schoolfinancecommission@tea.texas.gov​. Keep an eye out for a Texas AFT alert with suggested points you can include in your comments.

School finance again: The Commission on Public School Finance has formed three working groups to delve more deeply into three topics—revenue, expenditures, and outcomes. The working group on expenditures will convene at 10 a.m. on March 20 in public session to receive invited testimony only.

Rainy Day Fund:  Also on March 20, the Texas Senate Finance Committee will meet to take invited and public testimony on the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund—concerning how to increase the reserve fund’s investment earnings, how to calculate the constitutional limit on the size of the fund (which currently holds more than $10 billion, with more on the way before the Legislature meets again), and how to use funds above the cap.

Higher education:  On March 21 the Senate Higher Education Committee will meet to consider the state role in overseeing the approval of new higher-education locations in geographical areas already served by existing institutions.

Teacher compensation, classroom conduct, and special education:  On March 26 the Senate Education Committee will look at compensation strategies and measures to elevate the teaching profession and attract, retain, and reward teachers. Also due to be discussed:  current student-discipline mandates, best practices to reduce discipline issues and provide support to classroom teachers. Third topic of the day will be a review of efforts to eliminate the effects of the former state performance indicator arbitrarily capping enrollment in special education. Public testimony will be taken.

Options for students, virtual schooling:  On April 4, the Senate Education Committee will meet again to take public testimony on two topics. The first, multifaceted topic is listed as follows:  “Expand High Quality Education Opportunities: Examine high-quality campus/programs in Texas and other states and make recommendations on incentives to expand high-performing campuses and programs. Review should include but not be limited to: program and course variety, unique public school models, transfer or open-enrollment policies within a district, collaboration between districts or public charters, online learning, and whether children with special educational needs, children of military families, and student populations in chronically high poverty areas should have additional options to meet their unique educational needs.” Topic number two for the day is described this way:  “Virtual Education in the 21st Century Classroom: Review the Texas Virtual School Network (TVSN) and recommend methods of updating and improving the system to boost online virtual education.”

Pensions, retiree health plans: Also on April 4, the Senate State Affairs Committee will meet to “examine and assess public pension systems in Texas,” addressing different types of retirement plans, the actuarial assumptions used by retirement systems and the consequences of changing those assumptions, the systems’ investment practices and performance, and adequacy of financial disclosures including asset returns and fees. The implementation of last year’s legislative changes in the health plan for retired school employees is another major topic to be addressed. Public testimony will be taken.

School finance again:  The full Texas Commission on Public School Finance will meet again on April 5, with an agenda yet to be determined. No public testimony will be taken.

Pension policy:  On April 19-20, the trustees of the Teacher Retirement System will meet to consider (among other things) a proposal to reduce the assumed rate of investment return on assets in your pension fund. The lower the assumed rate of return, the higher the level of contributions required to meet the pension fund’s future obligations. See the February 14 Hotline​ for previous coverage of this issue, and stay tuned for more as we get closer to this meeting date.