Your weekly briefing: Big bill up for retired educators, community schools bill moves ahead and notes on the budget

Big news this week from the Capitol —the House passed HB 92, a long-time Texas AFT priority that would allow a campus turnaround plan to permit a campus to operate as a community school. Community Schools reduce barriers to learning through intensive engagement and planning with the community, partnerships and service coordination. While the bill still needs to get Senate approval, it could be a game-changer in public education.

And next week will be even bigger—as the House on Wednesday considers its biennial budget (HB 1), which was voted unanimously out of the Appropriations Committee. The bill contains about $6 billion more in public education spending. We expect a long day of budget amendments as members try to sneak in their priorities at the last chance.

And those marquee items were just the start of a slew of actions at the Pink Dome that could have long-lasting implications for education in Texas.

Last Week At the Capitol

  • Tuesday saw the unveiling of the Committee Substitute for HB 3 in the Public Education Committee which made some changes, such as changing the Teacher Effectiveness allotment to provide a critical incentive to recruit effective educators to hard-to-staff campuses without tying pay to standardized tests. Allowing a locally-designed plan with critical feedback from the community will make a big difference for 5.4 million public school students.
  • Later in the Public Education Committee hearing, Texas AFT-supported HB 2424, by Rep. Trent Ashby, a bill that would allow educators who pursue certain professional development courses to attach a micro-certification to their teaching certificate denoting a specialization.
  • On Thursday morning, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath came before the Senate Committee on Nominations where he was grilled by several senators on the misalignment of STAAR and what he is or is not doing to fix this persistent problem. Throughout the hearing, the questions were consistently centered around charter funding mismanagement, which Commissioner Morath said was “shady, but legal under current statute,” and STAAR, which the Commissioner vehemently defended against the skepticism of those in the room.
  • In the House Pensions Committee, Rep. Ken King’s HB 953, which would require charter schools to contribute to TRS in the same manner as school districts, was voted out and we hope it will head to the House floor soon.

Next Week At the Capitol

  • On Tuesday morning at 8 a.m., the House Pensions Committee will be taking up HB 9, which is the House’s bill to make TRS actuarially sound. Texas AFT members will be at this hearing supporting this bill, which increases the state contribution to the pension fund without increasing member or district contributions.
  • Tuesday morning will also be an important day for the House Public Education Committee as several “school safety” measures will be on the agenda.
  • The Senate plans to take up its budget in the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday and Friday. We will see more of the Senate’s education funding priorities when they take up Article III in Thursday’s hearing.

Great Bill of the Week: “Grow Your Own Educators (GYO)”— HB 3893 and SB 2425

House Bill 3893, by State Representatives Ana-María Ramos (D-Dallas) and Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), and Senate Bill 2425, by Senator José Menéndez (D-San Antonio), would improve a popular program, the Educational Aide Tuition Exemption, which provides qualified candidates an exemption from their college tuition while earning a teaching degree.

The bill would extend the same opportunity offered to education aides to high school students. Successful applicants must maintain an acceptable grade point average and take courses in one or more subject areas where critical teacher shortages exist, including Bilingual Education, English as a Second Language; Mathematics, Elementary and Secondary Level Special Education, and other such areas identified by the Texas Education Agency. We thank the authors for working to not only address teacher shortage areas, but also to improve teacher diversity and retention.