Senate Bill 1 - The State Budget - Passed
The legislature adopted a budget of $248.5 billion for the 2022-2023 biennium. Approximately $46.5 billion was allocated for public education and $16.2 billion for higher education. House Bill 3 – the school finance bill from the previous session – was fully funded in this budget. There was no increase to the basic allotment.
HB 1525 – HB 3 Clean Up (Part 1) Funding - Passed
HB 1525 was known as the cleanup bill for HB 3 - the major school finance bill of the 86th legislative session. Many items were placed in HB 1525 during the last few days of the session, including outcomes-based funding and a provision requiring school districts to retain 40% of their ESSER III funds for five years. Both initiatives were removed from the bill before passage. Highlights of the bill are that it allows compensatory education funds to cover social-emotional learning expenses, instructional coaches, and attendance officers/drop-out recovery programs; adds Restorative Justice discipline costs to the school safety allotment; ensures every LEA can cover their COVID costs with Federal Funds; restores the Gifted and Talented Allotment; and adjusts dyslexia grants and training.
The bill also prohibits the reduction of teacher salaries from 2019-2020 levels and allows PTA donations to schools to fund specific staff positions.
Finally, the bill modifies the Career and Technology allotment for small and mid-sized districts; changes the fast growth allotment to a tiered system; and caps Formula Transition Grants at $400 million.
SB 1716 – Special Education Supplemental Education Services - Passed
While listed in this update as a finance bill (since it has a fiscal note of $30 million), SB 1716 initially contained a voucher – paying money directly from the state to the parent(s) of a special needs child. Through an outcry from PTC and the rest of the advocacy community, the bill was amended to include the Admissions, Review, Dismissal (ARD) committee of the local school district in the service selection process.
SB 1716 gives certain special education students enrolled in a public school $1,500 to purchase supplemental educational services. Funding will be managed through educational service centers.
SB 1365 – Accountability - Passed
SB 1365 started out granting almost unlimited authority to the Commissioner of Education to investigate school districts for any reason he deemed proper. Public education administrative groups had already made the bill much better from an accountability standpoint when PTC stepped in with several teacher groups to address the authority issue. As a direct result of this work the bill was amended. The bill resumes sanctions for years of Improvement Required for schools in August 2023 and allows campuses that would receive a D/F in 2021-2022 to be “Not Rated”. At that time, a campus receiving a D for three years is rated and F. The bill creates due process for school to respond to accountability ratings and special investigation results.
HB 4545 – Accelerated Learning - Passed
The bill creates “Accelerate Learning Committees” for 3rd and 5th graders who are not approaching standards in Math or Reading and ends 5th and 8th grade retesting/retention and Grade Placement Committees. If a student does not pass assessment in Grades 3-8, they are entitled to a designated teacher of choice the next year or a minimum of 30 hours of accelerated learning. The bill repeals all use of English III and Algebra II End of Course exams.
The bill also enables funding from Federal relief to be spent on accelerated instruction. This covers High Quality Instructional Materials, Aligned Diagnostic and Formative Assessments, Parent Engagement, and other resources.
HB 3261 – Online Testing - Passed
HB 3261 allows funds to be used to upgrade broadband/electronic infrastructure to make electronic testing possible (Commissioner Matching Funds) and limits calls for new materials to a maximum of 75% of the Technology and Instructional Materials Allotment. The bill also allows testing on the first day of the week. TEA is implementing its transition plan to all electronic testing in Sept 2021.
CURRICULUM AND OPERATIONS
HB 1525 – HB 3 Clean Up (Part 2) - Curriculum/Operations - Passed
HB 1525 was a far-reaching bill that also included curriculum and operations policies for schools. Among other things the bill adjusts the deadline for Reading Academies to June 2023; Reading Academies deadline is moved back to June 2023; creates “resources campuses,” (must have received at least 4 Fs in the last 10 years) that implement campus resources to gain access to certain partnership benefits without a change in governance; and provides requirements to involve the public and parents in sexual education adoptions.
The bill also includes a provision that allows non-certified teachers to be eligible for the Teacher Incentive Allotment. A controversial piece of the bill is the provision to subject School Health Advisory Council (SHAC) meetings to open meetings law. School officials and others argue that this requirement is an overreach of state authority and will make the work of the SHAC more difficult and volunteers harder to find.
HB 3979 – The Anti Critical Race Theory - Passed
One of the most controversial bills this session, HB 3979 failed in the House on a point of order brought by Rep. James Talarico and was sent back to the Senate for further action. The bill was revived in the Senate without a House conference and sent to the Governor for signature by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick under an arcane procedure that was last used in 1940. Many people are already questioning the constitutionality of this procedure so if signed by the Governor, this bill is likely to be subjected to several legal challenges.
Among other things, the bill requires the following details in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS):
• Foundations of American Self Government
• Native American, Chicano, Civil Rights, and Labor History
• Diverse Array of Founding Documents
• Teachers are not compelled to discuss current events and if they do, they should present multiple points of views “without giving deference to any one perspective”
• Schools cannot award grades/credit for political activities
• Employees can opt out of trainings that are connected to racial, sexual superiority (which is NOT Critical Race Theory)
• Schools cannot accept private funding for Social Studies Curriculum
• No student punishment for speaking out on these topics
SB 1356 – Tutoring - Passed
SB 1356 creates a tutoring registry for active/retired teachers (volunteer or paid) with a reporting requirement for each participating LEA. The bill allows retired teachers to tutor students without a deduction of their Teacher Retirement System benefits.
SB 1697 – Parent Retention - Passed According to SB 1697, parents can retain their students for the following school year due to COVID.
The bill allows for parental retention moving forward for Pre-K – 3 and calls for a study by commissioner to determine if parentally retained students should be considered at-risk.
HB 547 – UIL for Homeschool Students - Passed
This controversial issue has been discussed for years in the Texas Legislature and failed multiple times in the past. The bill permits school districts to allow homeschool students to participate in UIL activities. Students must follow school policies on age eligibility, fees, insurance, transportation, physical condition, qualifications, “responsibilities,” event schedules, standards of behaviors, and performance. Students are only eligible in the campus in which they are zoned. Opponents of the bill point to problems with no-pass, no-play requirements since parents are responsible for reporting the grades of their students. Other issues include improper recruitment of athletes and students with failing grades moving to a homeschool education to compete in extracurricular performances.
HB 2519 – SBEC membership and teacher resignation notification - Passed
The bill requires that before SBEC suspends a teacher’s certification they must consider mitigating factors. Additionally, the 45-day notification requirement for teacher resignation remains, but SBEC cannot suspend or revoke a certification if the teacher notifies the district between 45 – 30 days before the 1st day of school.
DIGITAL DIVIDE AND REMOTE INSTRUCTION
HB 5 – Broadband Office and Map - Passed
HB 5 creates the Broadband Development Office in the Comptroller’s office. The office will serve as a resource for information regarding broadband service and digital connectivity in this state; engage in outreach to communities regarding the expansion, adoption, affordability, and use of broadband service and the programs administered by the office; and serve as an information clearinghouse in relation for certain federal programs. The office will also create robust broadband maps of Texas to ensure equitable investment in broadband expansion.
HB 3643 - Establishes an Interim Commission for Virtual Schools - Passed
The bill establishes the Texas Commission on Virtual Education. The purpose of the Commission is to develop and make recommendations regarding the delivery of virtual education in the public school system and state funding for virtual education under the Foundation School Program. The Commission expires on January 1, 2023.
SB 27 – State Virtual School Network – Did Not Pass
This bill provided for an expansion of the Texas Virtual School Network (TXVSN) and the use of the network by independent school districts and charter schools. This bill was considered a voucher because it removed the requirement that a student must attended a public school the previous year to enrolling in the TSVSN. Additionally, this bill allowed students the ability to enroll in schools outside of their attendance zone, setting up schools to poach students from one district to another and making it harder to ensure quality control. This bill did not get out of the Senate.
HB 1468 – Local Remote Learning Program – Did Not Pass
HB 1468 proposed to allow a school district or open-enrollment charter school to establish a local remote learning program to offer synchronous virtual courses outside the state virtual school network to eligible students. While the bill made it all the way through both chambers of the legislature and through conference committee, it died because of the last-minute walkout by Democrats over SB 7 – the elections bill. Remote courses as of next fall will not be permitted unless the Commissioner is able to grant a waiver, or it is addressed in the upcoming special session.
Several vouchers were introduced into the legislature this session but very few got any traction. While more were sponsored, only a few voucher bills moved forward and vouchers were stripped from the bill or the bill was killed through a variety of mechanisms.
HB 3 – Pandemic Response Bill – Did Not Pass
Early in the session a voucher was placed in HB 3, a pandemic response bill sponsored by Rep. Dustin Burrows. PTC staff worked the bill with the public education advocacy community and Rep. Burrows constituents in Lubbock. Within days, we were invited into a conference with Rep. Burrows and informed by the representative that the voucher was removed from the bill. This bill made it through the House and Senate but died in conference committee.
SB 1968 – Family Educational Relief Program – Did Not Pass
The bill would have created the Family Educational Relief Program which would allow parents of eligible private or home-schooled children to receive reimbursements for educational expenses from the state. The money would be distributed by Certified Educational Assistance Organizations which would be required to be non-profit (501(C)3) organizations. The program is funded by allowing entities a credit against the premium tax liability to the state. The total amount of tax credits for the program is capped at $200 million. This was considered a tax credit voucher bill since there is an overt transference of taxpayer funds to private entities. Although Sen. Paul Bettencourt, the author of the bill said that opponents of the bill did not show up to testify because they had a “morally bankrupt argument” and made assurances that the bill would pass, the legislation did not get out of the Senate. The companion bill - HB 4537 did not receive a hearing.
SB 1698 – Scholarship Tuition Tax Credit – Did Not Pass
This bill allowed for the creation of up to 25 educational assistance organizations (EAO’s) that would provide scholarships for students and their parents to go to private schools. Businesses and other entities would receive a tax credit for donations to the EAO. Students would not receive more than 75% of the state average per pupil expenditure or 50% if the student’s parents are above 175% of the income level to determine free and reduced lunch status. This bill was considered a “tax credit tuition” voucher because it resulted in taxpayer funds going directly to a non-profit, private entity. The bill did not receive a hearing.
Charter school advocates made a strong push this legislative session to grant charter schools a great amount of development latitude by supporting legislation that would erode the local control of public municipalities. Many of these bills had the support of the Chairman of the House Public Education Committee but still failed due to strong opposition from PTC and the public-school advocacy community. Unlike last session, few of the major bills to increase the transparency and accountability of charter schools even received a hearing in House Public Education. However, the major charter school priority bills failed to pass.
HB 108 – Suspension and Expulsion of Charter School Students – Did Not Pass
This bill would eliminate the ability of charter schools to exclude students for any discipline problem, even a visit to the principal’s office. It passed overwhelmingly in committee, but the Chair delayed referral to Calendars and it did not make it to the House floor for vote.
HB 189 – Charter School Severance Payments - Passed
This bill which treats charter schools like school districts regarding limits to the severance pay for Superintendents passed both the House and Senate and was signed by the Governor. It came in the wake of a $900,000 severance payment that was made to the departing CEO of IDEA Public Schools after it was revealed that IDEA intended to purchase a private jet for the travel of top administrators and Board members and had a private box at the SPURS sports arena.
These bills would have eliminated the role of the elected State Board of Education in the approval of new charter schools and given charter schools the ability to locate in any neighborhood regardless of local zoning laws. The bills faced stiff opposition from PTC and other public-school advocates.
These bills would have limited local control of where charter schools could locate and would have given charter schools the power of eminent domain. Both bills were controversial for the provision that was interpreted to allow eminent domain. HB 1348 died in the House, but SB 487 passed the Senate and narrowly avoided passage in the House although the eminent domain provision was stripped from the bill.
HB 3610 – Tax Exemption for Leased Property - Passed
Although HB 3610 giving charter schools a tax exemption for property they lease was finally approved, despite being initially defeated in the House, the bill was heavily amended to give the exemption to school districts as well and to provide guardrails that create a process to ensure the exemption benefited schools. (Note: On June 11, 2021, the Texas Supreme Court in Odyssey 2020 Academy Inc. v. Galveston County Appraisal District ruled that a charter school could not claim a tax exemption for its leased property. Ruling that “The Constitution does not authorize an exemption for leased property that is privately owned but deemed public by statute,” and “A public entity must actually own the property,” the Court stated that, if the Legislature wants to exempt a property owner who leases to a charter school, it can amend the Texas Constitution. With the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling declaring that these private-property charter leases need a constitutional amendment to effectuate an exemption from property taxes, it is clear that HB 3610 is expressly unconstitutional and cannot take effect.)