Your Weekly Briefing: Take action on TRS pension bill; and session winding down to final bills

Sen. Kel Seliger’s continuation of graduation committees gets The Great Bill of the Week.

With 10 days to go, conference committees are working to hash out the final versions of school finance and TRS reform, property tax revenue caps, and the state budget. Make sure key lawmakers know where you stand—click here to tell the SB 12 conferees to stick with the House version of the TRS bill, which would make the fund actuarially sound solely through additional state contributions, while also providing a higher 13th check to retirees.

SB 9 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) was reported favorably out of committee this morning, in light of the heated debate regarding the bill’s voter suppression efforts. SB 9 would make voting while ineligible and providing false information on a voter registration application, even if doing so unknowingly, a felony offense. Additionally, it makes it harder for disabled voters to get the help they need to access the polls.

Finally, end-of-session deadlines are popping up, meaning committees are wrapping up and floor deadlines are getting close. But conference committee reports can be acted on in both the House and the Senate up until May 26.

Things that happened this week

  • While the House elections committee heard the anti-educator SB 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon this week, it has not yet received a vote.  With the end of session deadlines approaching, this will make it harder to pass the bill that would prohibit the use of school district resources for political purposes and could put teachers and school employees in jeopardy for simply forwarding an email from their district email address.
  • SB 1412 by Sen. Charles Perry was heard and voted out of the House Public Education Committee on Thursday. The bill attempts to replicate the ACE program from Dallas ISD for some Improvement Required schools. Texas AFT testified against the bill because it creates a forced ranking of teachers, likely using standardized test results. Meanwhile, Senate committee members forwarded HB 4205, which has similar language. (You can read more about the negative impacts of the Dallas program here.)
  • HB 18 by Rep. Four Price passed the Senate on Wednesday. A priority of both chambers and the governor, this bill intends to provide funding and training to schools across the state to bolster mental health offerings.
  • SB 968 by Sen. Kelly Hancock was defeated in the House Public Education Committee yesterday. While purporting to level the playing field between charters and public schools in land use, the bill specifically maintains an exemption for charters located in cities with a population 20,000 or less from municipal zoning ordinances that govern public schools. In addition, it would have removed all opportunities for local input.  While the ideas in the bill could pop up as amendments elsewhere, a bill being defeated in committee is a rare enough feat that we wish to take note.
  • HB 1143 by Rep. Cole Hefner was left pending in Senate State Affairs this morning. This bill prevents school districts from prohibiting firearms in parking lots of their schools, a clarification from the existing statute that became law in 2011. The bill takes away local control from school districts who may decide to prevent all faculty, staff, and visitors from leaving firearms in their vehicles.
  • HJR 38 by Rep. Jeff Leach, which would create a constitutional amendment preventing an income tax, was passed out of Senate Finance this morning. Texas AFT opposed this measure, which some worry is being used as a Trojan horse to upend the school finance system.

Texas AFT Bills on the Move

SB 1454 by Sen. Larry Taylor provides significant clarification on the disposition of charter school property. This bill clarifies that the state would take over ownership of property in the event of a charter closing.

SB 668 by Sen. Bryan Hughes and Rep. Gary VanDeaver deals with notice requirements by educational entities. While the bill was on the House floor, Rep. VanDeaver added an amendment requiring charter schools to provide at least 18-months notice to school districts that would be affected by a new charter campus. This has been a priority of Texas AFT.

SB 1016 by Sen. Beverly Powell, which would audit TEA training requirements, passed out of House Public Education Thursday. This bill will help eliminate duplicative or unnecessary training required of educators.

SB 232 by Sen. Jose Menendez also passed out of committee on Thursday. It requires an annual notice for parents of students in grades 9 and above that Algebra II is not required for the foundation school program and the consequences of not taking Algebra II, such as not qualifying for automatic admission to Texas universities for students in the top 10 percent of their class.

Great Bill of the Week

SB 213 by Sen. Kel Seliger was signed into law by Gov. Abbott today. SB 213 re-authorizes the use of individual graduation committees by postponing the expiration from September 1, 2019, to September 1, 2023. Schools are allowed to create an individual graduation committee to determine whether a student qualifies to graduate if the student has not performed satisfactorily on state assessments otherwise required for graduation. We thank Sen. Seliger for being the leader in ensuring that standardized assessments do not hinder a student from graduating when the graduation committee finds the student has successfully met all other curriculum requirements and is prepared to advance.