This Week in the Legislature: Texas House Takes Up School Finance, School Security, & Charter School Expansion

Texas AFT President Zeph Capo and special education teachers Konrad Wert and Andrea Bell meet with staff in Rep. Ken King’s office about House Bill 100 on Tuesday.

The Texas House voted on several of the most consequential public education bills of this session this past week. These bills addressed key issues facing Texas public schools, like school security, school finance, and charter school expansion. The problem: Bills relating to all three topics either didn’t go far enough or would exacerbate existing problems, not alleviate them.

School Finance and Educator Retention: House Bills 100 and 11

On Tuesday, Texas AFT delivered 1,800 letters from educators, school staff, and parents on the need for raises for all school employees.

On Wednesday, the Texas House of Representatives considered HB 100 by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), which would change how schools are funded and how educators are compensated. 

One of the most important provisions of this bill is that the basic allotment — the state’s foundational contribution to per-student funding — would increase from $6,160 (the amount in place since 2019) to $6,250 next year and to at least $6,300 in 2025. 

The bill requires that 50% of the basic allotment increase goes to school employee compensation, an increase to the current statutory amount of 30%. The originally filed version of the bill did not include support staff and paraprofessionals, but Texas AFT and members across the state — who wrote more than 1,800 letters on the topic — successfully pushed King to amend the bill to include those employees.

If the current basic allotment of $6,160 per student, in place since 2019, were adjusted for inflation, the amount would be over $7,000 per student today. An amendment to HB 100 proposed by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) would have provided a more substantial increase to the basic allotment than HB 100 by raising it to $6,500, but that amendment failed on a vote of 68-79

Rep. John Bryant (D-Dallas) speaks in favor of an amendment to HB 100 raising the basic allotment.

HB 100 would also make significant changes to school funding, which is currently based on average daily attendance (ADA). By using ADA, Texas left nearly 300,000 students uncounted during the 2021-2022 school year. Instead, HB 100 would provide funding based on average enrollment, a much more accurate way to account for the number of students actually served. 

The special education allotment and the bilingual education allotment would see an increase due to the use of enrollment-based intensity of services model for special education funding, which would more accurately account for the cost of services. The federal government has never fully funded the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and we now know that the state of Texas underfunds special education services, to the tune of $2 billion per year, a cost borne by local school districts. We are hopeful that this move toward enrollment-based funding will help alleviate budget deficits school districts often experience when providing necessary services to all students despite chronic underfunding by the state.

On Wednesday, the House also considered a related bill, HB 11 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), which is intended to address the teacher retention crisis. Over the past decade, about 10% of Texas teachers have left the profession each year. Attrition is even higher for beginning teachers. 

The new residency programs outlined in HB 11 would allow an aspiring educator to train under a mentor teacher for about a year before the new educator is certified and hired. Currently, if school districts want to provide residency programs for new educators, districts have to fund those programs themselves. Under HB 11, districts would receive over $22,000 to pay for each resident educator. 

Among other good provisions, HB 11 also: 

  • allows teachers to access pre-K programs for their own kids
  • provides for waiving the costs of the first administration of educator certification exams for educator candidates
  • curtails the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) from imposing sanctions for contract abandonment in certain circumstances
  • increases the amount of compensation for each level of recognition within theTeacher Incentive Allotment (TIA)

Though we do not support bolstering strategic compensation models like the TIA as a substitute for across-the-board compensation increases, on balance we think this bill takes several positive steps forward for teachers.

School Safety: House Bills 3 and 13, Senate Bill 838

On Monday, the Texas House considered HB 3 by Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) and HB 13 by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), a pair of bills designed to address school safety. These two bills, two of House Speaker Dade Phelan’s priority bills this legislative session, include several provisions, like an increased school safety allotment and a requirement for an armed security officer to be stationed on every public school campus. 

According to HB 3, any school employee, including a classroom teacher, who is handgun-certified and carries a handgun on campus can fulfill the armed security officer requirement. A provision in HB 13 would incentivize school employees to carry a weapon by providing them a $25,000 stipend if they choose to act as an armed “school sentinel” for their campus.

During Monday’s floor debate, Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos (D-Richardson) proposed an amendment to HB 3 that would prevent school districts from arming teachers to fulfill the security officer requirement, but the amendment failed when put to a vote.

In her argument, Ramos cited a Texas AFT poll from June 2022, just a month after the tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde that killed 19 students and two teachers. That poll showed an overwhelming number of school employees — 77% — did not want to be armed or expected to intercept a gunman. Instead, they supported commonsense solutions to gun violence, like comprehensive background checks and raising the minimum age for legal gun purchases to 21.

This pair of bills address school shootings, but either bill addresses the availability of firearms, the root cause of gun violence in schools. Last week HB 2744, a bill that would prohibit the sale of semiautomatic rifles to individuals under the age of 21, was laid out in the House Select Committee on Community Safety, and many Uvalde survivor families stayed until 2 a.m. waiting to testify in favor. The bill has not been voted out of committee and faces stiff opposition from Republicans.

HB 3 passed 119 to 25. HB 13 passed 125 to 21.
This Tuesday, the House also provided unanimous support to SB 838 by Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), which would require school districts to place silent alert buttons in each classroom.

Charter School Expansion: House Bill 1707

Unofficial vote totals for HB 1707.

HB 1707 would exempt charter schools from local zoning ordinances, effectively preempting any local control of where and when a new charter campus opens in a community. Texas AFT is vehemently opposed to this bill because predatory charter chains will take advantage of lax laws like this to rapidly expand, draining financial resources from our true public schools and disrupting communities. 

Tensions were high on the House floor as several points of order were raised and several amendments were offered. One amendment by Rep. Glenn Rogers (R-Graford) would have required a new charter campus to be approved by the voters of a district before being approved by the agency. This was an exceptionally close vote (70-72) and demonstrates that there is an appetite to provide some local elected oversight over charter expansion, despite all the “school choice” rhetoric this session.

We are thankful to all the members who voted for the floor amendments advancing greater transparency and accountability for charters, including:

  •  An amendment by Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg) which would require private, for-profit charter management organizations to abide by open records laws.
  • An amendment by Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) which would require a charter to give notice to an occupied school district within 20 days when they close on a building or sign a lease.
  • An amendment by Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) which would require charter schools to comply with the same requirements imposed by a political subdivision on a campus of a school district.

Even with those amendments, HB 1707 remains an effort by the charter industry to diminish the few remaining opportunities for public input on and local control over predatory charter school expansion. Texas AFT still opposes this bill due to the negative impact that would have on neighborhoods and public school communities. HB 1707 received final approval from the House with a vote of 101 to 45.

SB 472, the senate companion to HB 1707, will likely be considered by that body next week.