This Week at the Legislature: 2 School Staffing Bills, 33 Office Visits, & Ten Commandments

This Tuesday, May 2, was national Teacher Appreciation Day. This week, the Texas Legislature continued to offer educators little in terms of meaningful respect, but much in terms of meaningless platitudes and token displays. 

Teacher Appreciation Day: House Committees Receive Testimony, Texas AFT Members Demand Respect

The House Public Education Committee kicked off Teacher Appreciation Day by considering HCR 110, which would designate Oct. 5 as “Texas Teacher Day.” While Texas teachers certainly value the token of appreciation, true appreciation would require legislators to listen to teachers and to provide them with the resources and working conditions that they deserve. 

Thus far, there has been little movement on bills that would substantially improve teachers working conditions and increase their salaries. 

Bills like HB 1548 by Rep. James Talarico (D-Austin), HB 4586 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin), and SB 693 by Sen. Morgan LaMantia (D-South Padre Island), which would provide educators with automatic, across-the-board raises, have failed to receive a committee hearing. Meanwhile, the bills that have moved, HB 100 and SB 9, would provide only small compensation increases, either by raising the per-student basic allotment by just $90 or by providing most teachers with a one-time $2,000 stipend. In the face of rampant inflation, which has increased consumer prices by almost 14% in the past two years, these small increases amount to crumbs for educators.

For retired educators seeking a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), SB 10, which has passed both the House and the Senate, would provide only a small percentage increase to a retiree’s pensions, a percentage that fails to reflect the inflation those retirees have experienced. While important decisions on this bill have yet to be made (more on that later), the current iteration of the proposal is not sufficient.

Depending on the retiree’s effective retirement date, the retiree could be provided with a 2% to 6% COLA. Those percentage increases amount to a monthly increase of less than $100 for the average retiree, not nearly enough to address rising prices. Texas educators who have retired since 2004 have never received a COLA.

That’s something Texas AFT Retiree Plus member Sharon Snowton, a former Cedar Hill ISD educator, used her testimony on HCR 110 to point out. In order to fully appreciate educators, Snowton reminded the committee, that appreciation must extend to their retirement.

Sharon Snowton, a former Cedar Hill ISD bilingual educator, provides testimony in support of a TRS COLA.

Many bills that would improve educators’ working conditions also have not received a hearing, like HB 2938 and HB 2939 by Rep. Alma Allen, which would address class sizes. In positive news, though, this Tuesday, two bills that would address staffing ratios did receive a hearing:

  • HB 1281 by Rep. Jolanda Jones (D-Houston), which would require schools to notify parents if a school nurse is not present during instructional hours
  • HB 2694 by Rep. Venton Jones (D-Dallas), which would require schools to notify parents if a campus lacks a full-time nurse, librarian, or school counselor.

After the bills were laid out, Houston Federation of Teachers Member Cheryl Laws, who is a school nurse, visited the representatives’ offices to thank them and their staff for their advocacy on this important issue.

HFT Nurse Cheryl Laws with Rep. Jolanda Jones (D-Houston)
HFT Nurse Cheryl Laws with staff members for Rep. Venton Jones (D-Dallas)

Unfortunately, teacher appreciation and fully staffing public schools were not the only issues discussed by the committee. The committee also heard SB 1515, which was passed out of the Senate two weeks ago. SB 1515 would mandate all public school classrooms display a copy of the Ten Commandments.

In a passionate exchange with Rep. Candy Noble (R-Lucas), Rep. James Talarico opposed the bill, emphasizing the importance of religious tolerance. At one point, Talarico, who is attending seminary himself, said, “a religion that has to force people to put up a poster to prove its legitimacy is a dead religion.” 

Texas AFT opposes SB 1515 and any legislation that would infringe upon religious freedoms. We also oppose the Legislature wasting time on bills that distract from real problems and the solutions Texans need. 

Throughout the day on both Tuesday and Wednesday, Texas AFT members and leaders from across the state met with key legislative offices to reiterate their key demands: educators deserve raises, not crumbs. What is “teacher appreciation” without respect?

Texas AFT members met with 33 legislative offices and provided those offices with their perspective as constituents and career educators who have devoted their lives to serving their community.

On The Floor: Texas House Consider Instructional Materials, Property Tax Abatement, Attacks on Trans Texans

This Tuesday, HB 1605 by Chairman Brad Buckley, which would create and provide TEA-developed curriculum materials for foundation area teachers across the state, made its way to the House floor. 

If enacted, the bill would allow the Texas Education Agency to directly purchase instructional materials (likely through sole-vendor contracts) and would incentivize districts to adopt and use these instructional materials. It would also radically alter the instructional materials review process and transfer much of that authority to the governor-appointed commissioner rather than the elected State Board of Education. 

Overall, the bill places undue burdens on districts and gives too much power to TEA and the appointed commissioner of education.  

The bill has undergone significant changes since its first hearing, evolving all the way up to the floor vote Tuesday. Thanks to the activism of our members, who sent more than 1,000 letters to their representatives in just two days, Texas AFT and allies were able to negotiate several amendments to address the most problematic aspects of HB 1605, including the provisions that would have allowed TEA to buy this curriculum with no-bid contracts and punish teachers who failed to teach the curriculum “with fidelity.” 

While we appreciate the improvements made, we maintain our position that the state’s resources would be better used to increase the basic allotment than on an incredibly expensive library of materials that no one asked for and will likely not use.

The Senate has also passed a companion bill with significant differences from HB 1605. One or both versions of the bill can still move through the process, so we will remain vigilant for opportunities to address our continued concerns.

This Thursday, the House also considered HB 5, the successor to the former Chapter 313 agreements, which provide property tax incentives to corporations in Texas at the expense of public school funding. School districts that engage in such agreements would require approval from the comptroller. 

HB 5 would reduce the taxable value of a property, which could save corporations millions in school district property taxes. The program is intended to attract businesses that would not otherwise come to Texas, but there is not an adequate system for ensuring that those businesses would not otherwise come to the state. 

Despite key concerns raised by members of both parties, the bill passed the Texas House overwhelmingly and now will head to the Senate.

Over the week, state leadership scheduled SB 14, which would prohibit doctors from administering life-saving gender-affirming care to be considered on the House floor twice, but twice the bill was taken off the calendar due to points of order (P.O.O.’s) that were filed against the bill. P.O.O.’s are procedural objections to a bill that are called due to some administrative error at some point in the process. P.O.O.’s are often filed strategically in order to delay the passage of a bill. If a P.O.O. is called on a bill, the bill must be recommitted to committee in order to resolve that error and replaced on the legislative calendar for a later date.

This Wednesday Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) filed a successful point of order on the bill, sending it back to committee. This Friday, the bill was put back on the calendar, but another point of order sent the bill back to committee a second time.

On Wednesday, as debate on the bill was getting ready to start, activists who came to oppose the bill and show support for young Trans Texans were forcibly removed from the house gallery with some activists even being arrested by DPS officers, despite the fact that protestors were shown to be peaceful and nonviolent.

The following day, Texas AFT President Zeph Capo joined LGBTQ equality groups at a rally to oppose SB 14 and to support Trans Texans.