Senate Education Committee on March 22
The Senate Education Committee will discuss plans to send public taxpayer dollars to fund private school tuition next Wednesday, March 22 at 9 a.m. The committee hearing agenda for Wednesday includes five different pieces of voucher legislation, all of which would harm public schools.
Texas AFT encourages members of the public, especially educators and parents, to testify against these proposals at the State Capitol. The hearing will take place in room E1.028.
In addition to the five voucher bills, the Senate Education Committee will also consider Senate Bill 9, the omnibus teacher bill.
The six pieces of legislation that will be considered by the committee are as follows:
SB 9 by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) is the so-called “Teacher Bill of Rights” and claims to be based on the recommendations of the Teacher Vacancy Task Force. The bill would provide universal Pre-K to children of classroom teachers and provide an allotment for an educator mentorship program. There is currently no specific language for an across-the-board teacher raise. Currently, there is only a blank space in the bill (where presumably a specific raise amount would be included) and upward adjustments for the Teacher Incentive Allotment.
While the support for teachers to address classroom discipline is modestly increased, there is nothing in the bill to address the crushing weight of paperwork and non-instructional duties and requirements. The bill would also remove the State Board of Education’s (SBOE) authority over State Board of Educator Certification (SBEC). This would mean that a board appointed by the Governor, not democratically elected, would have total direct authority over rules related to teacher preparation, teacher certification, teacher assignment rules, and sanctions.
SB 8 by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) is the so-called “Parent Bill of Rights.” SB 8 would provide parents with $8,000 per-student education savings accounts (ESAs). These ESAs would be funded by state revenue that could otherwise go toward funding public education. Parents could spend this money on private school tuition, school materials, fees for private tutors, and school transportation, though the bill offers very little detail on government oversight of the program. This voucher system would be administered by a third-party vendor, not the TEA or another state agency. The introduced version of the bill would not make the ESA available to students who currently attend private schools or are currently home-schooled. Notably, the bill anticipates fraud by private profiteers and includes language to prohibit vendors from price-gouging parents.
Additionally, the bill broadly prohibits the “infringement of parental rights,” which would limit what can be discussed in public school classrooms and establish a system of filing grievances with the TEA for alleged violations. The bill would put language in statute stating that in public schools, parents have the right to direct “the moral and religious training of the parent’s child,” but these parental rights are not extended to private schools.
SJR 29 by Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney) would amend the Texas Constitution to give parents the right to “choose an alternative to public education including a private school, parochial school, or home school.” The resolution would also require school board meetings to be open to parents (despite the fact that the meetings already are public) and give parents access to all student teaching materials assessment instruments. Amendments to the Constitution require voter approval. This resolution would be put on the ballot this November if it passes the Legislature.
SB 176 by Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) would create a private school voucher fund administered by the comptroller and carved out of the general revenue fund. The state would contract with nonprofits to award these vouchers to applicants. The state would partially fund this program by awarding significant tax credits to corporations who donate to the program. These tax credits would reduce overall state revenue.
SB 960 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) would provide a reimbursement from the state for private school tuition. The amount of the reimbursement would be limited to 60% of the state’s per-student allotment to charter schools, around $7,000. The introduced version of the bill would not make the reimbursement available for students who currently attend private schools or are currently home-schooled. The bill specifically states that any private school that receives a voucher may not be required to comply with any new state law or rule.
SB 2354 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) would provide parents with an ESA in an amount equal to 90% of the state average maintenance and operations revenue per student, currently about $9,000. These ESAs would be funded by state revenue that could otherwise go toward funding public education and tax-deductible donations to the fund. The introduced version of the bill would not make the ESA available to most students who currently attend private schools or are currently home-schooled. Parents could spend this money on private school tuition, school materials, fees for private tutors, and school transportation, though the bill offers very little details on government oversight of the program.
House Public Education Committee on March 21
In addition to these school voucher bills that will be heard in the Senate Education Committee, the House Public Education Committee will hear a couple of bad bills of its own on Tuesday, March 21 at 8 a.m. That hearing will take place in room E2.036.
The two bad bills that will be discussed in that committee are:
HB 900 by Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) would require private book vendors to unilaterally set ratings for school books in order to censor certain materials in public school libraries. A state commission would adopt standards for rating “sexually explicit material,” but third-party book vendors would actually rate the individual library materials.
HB 1605 by Rep. Brad Buckley (R-Killeen) is the omnibus curriculum bill that would incentivize TEA-developed curriculum materials for foundation area teachers. It would also amend laws concerning a parent’s access to curriculum materials and the ability to request a review of materials by a board of trustees. If enacted, TEA could directly purchase instructional materials for use by the state (presumably this means more open resource options) and would incentivize districts to adopt and use these materials. It would also radically alter the instructional materials review process and transfer much of that authority to the commissioner rather than the elected State Board of Education. As is often the case with large bills, there are some aspects of the bill worth supporting, but overall the bill places undue burdens on districts and too much power onto the TEA and commissioner.
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House and Senate Pension Committees to Hear TRS COLA Bills on March 22
Fortunately, not all the bills that are being considered in committees next week are bad. Next Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services (PIFS) Committees will hear the respective chambers’ priority legislation for a Teacher Retirement Service of Texas (TRS) cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). Educators who have retired since 2004 have never seen an increase to their pensions, despite the dramatic cut inflation has taken to the buying power of their pensions.
While a COLA is desperately needed, both the Senate and House plans could be improved. When adjusted for inflation, the average TRS monthly annuity today is about 13.4% less than it was 10 years ago. Yet under both plans the maximum percentage COLA a retiree could receive is 6%.
Texas AFT encourages members of the public, especially educators and parents, to testify in support of a significant COLA at the State Capitol. The House PIFS hearing for HB 600 will take place in room E2.014 at 8 a.m. The Senate Finance hearing for SB 10 will take place in room E1.036 at 9 a.m.
HB 600 by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood) would provide retired educators with a TRS cost-of-living adjustment. The TRS COLA would be tiered, with retirees receiving between a 2% and 6% COLA, so longer-retired individuals, who have had inflation reduce the buying power of their pension more, would benefit from a larger adjustment. The bill would also increase employee contributions to TRS. TRS retirees older than 70 would receive a one-time supplemental check of $5,000. TRS would also create a system for providing ongoing automatic COLAs, depending on whether the pension fund meets investment goals.
SB 10 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) would provide retired educators with a TRS cost-of-living adjustment. The TRS COLA would be tiered, with retirees receiving between a 2% and 6% COLA, so longer-retired individuals, who have had inflation reduce the buying power of their pension more, would benefit from a larger adjustment. TRS retirees older than 75 would receive a one-time supplemental check of $7,500. Unlike HB 600, this bill would not increase employee contributions to TRS and would not create a system for providing ongoing automatic COLAs.
Additionally the House PIFS Committee will consider:
HB 1758 by Alma Allen (D-Houston) would compel TRS to waive all surcharges for TRS retirees who were rehired by a school district for a year or more. Currently, the TRS surcharge makes it more costly for school districts to hire TRS retirees, which makes it more difficult for retirees to gain employment.