Bad bills of the week: Dan Patrick’s Politicized Public Education Priorities

This Monday Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released his list of priority bills for the legislative session. While the announcement did not include the actual language for the bills, it did include a few words describing what each bill would do. 

The five bills pertaining to public education and the five pertaining to higher education are:

  • Senate Bill 8: Empowering Parental Rights – Including School Choice
  • Senate Bill 9: Empowering Teacher Rights ­­– Teacher Pay Raise
  • Senate Bill 10: Adding 13th Checks for Retired Teachers
  • Senate Bill 11: Keeping Our Schools Safe and Secure
  • Senate Bill 13: Protecting Children from Obscene Books in Libraries
  • Senate Bill 15: Protecting Women’s College Sports
  • Senate Bill 16: Banning Critical Race Theory (CRT) in Higher Education
  • Senate Bill 17: Banning Discriminatory “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” (DEI) Policies in Higher Education
  • Senate Bill 18: Eliminating Tenure at General Academic Institutions
  • Senate Bill 19: Creating A New Higher Education Endowment Fund

SB 8 presents a fundamental threat to Texas’ public education system. Privatizing Texas’ schools would reduce funding to already underfunded schools. You don’t have to take our word for it, a deputy commissioner in Gov. Greg Abbott’s own Texas Education Agency admitted that private school vouchers would defund Texas public schools.

SB 10 would provide yet another 13th check to Texas’ retired educators, despite the fact that education groups are united in calling for a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to TRS annuity payments, not another stopgap measure. A COLA presents a guaranteed permanent increase in a retiree’s pension, whereas a 13th check presents a one-time payment. Back in November, when discussing the idea of passing either a 13th check or a COLA this legislative session, Patrick said, “I’ll support a COLA or a 13th check … I don’t have an opinion on that. Let them (retired educators) decide what they want to do, but we need to take care of our retired teachers.” All of the state’s retired educator groups, including Texas AFT Retiree Plus, have said unequivocally that retired educators prefer a COLA to another 13th check.

SB 11 is a false promise. Everyone wants Texas’ schools to be safe, yet the state’s leadership has refused time and again to address the root cause of school shootings: the availability of firearms. Even after tragic mass shootings, Texas has continued to make the purchase and sale of firearms easier and easier.

SB 13, SB 15, SB 16, SB 17, and SB 18 present a continued culture-war campaign the lieutenant governor has become so fond of fueling. Last session, Patrick censored teachers, limiting their ability to teach history, and targeted transgender student athletes, limiting their ability to compete in sports. This session, Patrick continues his volley of attacks by proposing bills that would ban books, target transgender athletes at the college level, censor university professors, make public universities less diverse, and threaten the employment of university professors for simply teaching the truth.  

While SB 9 and SB 19 might seem positive, it is unclear what strings will be attached to these proposals. Texas teachers more than deserve a pay raise. Inflation has eaten into educators’ salaries and they are now making less than they were 10 years ago. However this pay raise should be provided to all teachers, across the board, as well as all other certified and classified staff. In the initial version of the state budget, the only item pertaining to teacher raises was in conjunction with the “Teacher Incentive Allotment” (TIA). TIA is an inequitable pay-for-performance scheme based primarily on standardized test scores. It is significantly more difficult for rural teachers and teachers in untested subjects to receive the allotment.

As for SB 19, $2.5 billion is included in both senate and house budgets for the new higher education endowment fund, which would benefit many public university systems like the University of Houston and Texas Tech that do not benefit from the permanent university fund. Until we see the details of SB 19, it is still unclear how the funding would be disbursed and how it would interact with the existing permanent university fund that serves Texas A&M and University of Texas system schools.

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