Your Weekly Briefing: Tax talk dominated discussion this week, but next week will get busy with public education

After spending last week winding up for a fight over the property tax revenue cap bill, the House ultimately decided to see if the Senate could get their version out of chamber first, and the House postponed their vote on the bill until Monday. HB 2 is one of the marquee bills of the session with the potential to cripple the ability of local governments to provide service.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the House speaker, lieutenant governor, and governor released a joint statement proposing raising the sales tax to lower property taxes. The landscape at the Legislature continues to shift daily, but the conversation still is dominated by tax cuts.

While we wish more time was spent on funding our schools and less time on shifting taxes, Tuesday’s House Public Education Committee spent about 11 hours focusing on 25 bills from members of both political parties seeking to increase the transparency and efficiency of charter schools.

The committee heard from administrators, educators, and parents about the lack of parity between public schools with elected school boards and charter schools, which receive more per-pupil funding and have appointed boards that are not accountable to local voters.

The charter industry opposed numerous common-sense bills, even those affecting the health and safety of students entrusted to their care. From opposing the application of the Texas Whistleblower Act to charter employees to opposing bills to stop charters’ ability to discriminate against students with any kind of discipline history (even the most minor of infractions), the charter industry stunned many elected officials with their opposition to even the slightest bit of transparency or oversight. When charter opponents opposed a bill to stop the building of charter schools within one mile of existing schools, it became clear that the goal of the charter school industry is rapid expansion and profit, not providing a quality public education for all children.

Week in Review

The Senate on Tuesday passed its version of the state budget that includes $9 billion in new funding for education and property tax relief. The majority of the educational funding is dedicated to raises for classroom teachers and librarians. Texas AFT continues to fight for raises for all public school employees.

Regrettably, SB 1455 by Sen Taylor was moved out of committee unanimously on Tuesday. SB 1455 would continue to encourage the use of so-called virtual schools. We are hopeful the bill could fall short of the necessary votes to come up before the full Senate.  

Thursday evening, the Senate advanced two anti-worker bills that would ban cities from passing paid sick leave and any other worker protections. SB 2485 and SB 2487 are only the latest attacks on local control from the state, overturning ordinances passed by voters and city councils across the state.

Texas AFT bills moving:

HB 102 passed the house 99 to 44 on Tuesday. This bill would create a statewide program of mentorship for teachers, helping to grow the skills and effectiveness of new teachers coming into the profession. We look forward to working with the Senate to pass the bill.

SB 37 by Sen Zaffirini was placed on the Senate’s Intent Calendar to likely be heard this week. The measure would prevent student loan repayment issues from preventing a person from receiving or renewing an occupational license.

The Week Ahead
On Tuesday, the House Public Education Committee will convene for another long (or is it average at this point?) meeting covering dozens of bills spanning many issues. Of note, Texas AFT will be fighting HB 429, by Rep. Matt Shaheen, which is an effort to expand the reach of virtual schools through use of vouchers.

There are rumblings that the Senate Education Committee could take up their version of the school finance bill, but their agenda had not been released at press time.

Great Bill of the Week

This week’s great bill of the week is House Bill 1853 by new Rep. Leo Pacheco, who represents the southside of San Antonio. House Bill 1853 would require all charter school teachers to be fully certified, as required of all public school district educators. He explained that Texas is only one of eight states that allows publicly-funded charter schools to employ uncertified people as teachers, much to the surprise of many parents of charter students. Texas AFT appreciates that Rep. Pacheco is ready to fight for the right of all Texas schoolchildren to have a quality teacher and education.