The Week Ahead at the Capitol: Budget, Charter Schools, and More

The state budget takes center stage at the Capitol in Austin during the week ahead. The Senate is expected to vote March 28 on its budget bill, SB 1. This bill leaves much to be desired. It will cut higher education significantly–as much as 10 percent at some institutions of higher learning. For public schools it does cover the cost of enrollment growth, but it will leave pre-K/12 per-pupil funding stuck at the 2016 level, which translates into a de-facto cut when you consider how inflation erodes buying power.

The House on Wednesday or Thursday will take a different approach in two budget bills ready to move out of committee. HB 1, the 2018-19 budget bill, would increase school formula funding by an average of $210 per pupil. HB 2, the supplemental spending bill for 2017, would use a small portion of the Economic Stabilization Fund (also known as the Rainy Day Fund) for purposes such as TRS retiree health care. Tapping that reserve as proposed to get through the current revenue slump would still leave the fund with nearly $10 billion for any other needs.

On Monday, meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee will consider a bill to make it even harder to fund public education. SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) would arbitrarily and severely limit spending growth, regardless of needs and regardless of rising state requirements for student achievement. Texas AFT and allies concerned about taking care of unmet needs in education and other public services will oppose this bill.

Also on Monday, the House Public Education subcommittee on educator quality  will hear SB 7 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and related bills to crack down on improper relationships between educators and students. Texas AFT will continue to work for changes to make sure the bills actually hit the intended target–individuals engaged in improper behavior–instead of the falsely accused and innocent bystanders.

On Tuesday, the full House Public Education Committee takes up bills that reflect sharply contrasting visions of the role of charter schools. On one side are numerous bills to tilt the playing field in favor of charters in their efforts to recruit students out of traditional public schools. Examples include:  HB 171 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), which would dictate to school districts that they must sell or lease to charters any buildings the state deems underused; HB 2337 by Dutton, which would effectively entitle charters to facilities funding of $700 per pupil, without addressing the underfunding of facilities for traditional public schools; and HB 1269 by Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas), which would give school districts both financial and accountability incentives to contract out school operations to charters.

Exemplifying a very different view of charters is HB 1039 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint), which would take away an unfair formula-funding advantage charters now enjoy over many school districts. Under current law, charters are entitled to the statewide average of all school districts’ per-pupil funding for their operations, while the school districts they compete with for enrollment in many instances actually receive funding per pupil that falls well below that state average.

One further note concerns bills that are not on the agenda so far for the coming week. SB 13, the bill by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) to take away your right to control how you use your hard-earned money by prohibiting your voluntary payroll deduction of organizational dues, has not yet been scheduled for Senate floor action. The same goes for SB 3, the voucher bill by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) that would drain taxpayer dollars from the public schools for the benefit of private schools with no accountability. You can help keep these bad bill at bay by sending emails opposing them to your state lawmakers now.