Best and worst bills we're watching | TCTA
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Best and worst bills we're watching

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As the House reached a critical deadline this week and the last day of the session (May 31) is just over two weeks away, our list of more than 800 education-related bills has been narrowed considerably. This is not a comprehensive list of good and bad bills, but here are some of the proposals we're keeping an eye on. Note that bills can still change significantly in the final days of the session.

Bills we like

HB 41 by Rep. James Talarico and SB 2081 by Rep. Jose Menendez would both extend 22:1 class-size limits to pre-kindergarten.

HB 424 by Rep. Ken King would require the SBOE to review and revise, as necessary, the foundation TEKS to narrow the number and scope of student expectations for each subject and grade level.

HB 750 by Rep. DeWayne Burns is a TCTA-initiated bill to require districts to post online their employment policy and related regulations and forms for easier access by employees.

HB 764 by Rep. Matt Krause reduces required STAAR tests to only those required by federal law. It would eliminate the assessment of writing in 4th and 7th grade as well as the 8th grade social studies STAAR exam. It would also eliminate current end-of-course exams and would allow districts to select one or more nationally recognized assessments such as the SAT or ACT by which to assess secondary students in English language arts, math, and science.

HB 999 by Rep. Diego Bernal would loosen the criteria regarding end-of-course exams for individual graduation committees determining that a student is eligible for graduation; it applies to this year’s and next year’s seniors and is designed to address disruptions from COVID-19.

HB 1068 by Rep. Alma Allen would help non-salaried employees such as paraprofessionals by allowing them to use a paid day of leave toward a school holiday for which they would otherwise not be paid.

HB 1585 by Rep. Stan Lambert includes several provisions related to TRS, including requiring the agency to hire an ombudsman to assist members with complaints. It creates a new “three strikes” procedure for situations where retirees violate the limitations on returning to work; for example, by working more than half time. This bill has passed both the House and Senate and been sent to the governor.

HB 1603 eliminates the expiration date of the law that provides for individual graduation committees to review a student’s eligibility for graduation. The law was due to expire in 2023.

HB 1613 by Rep. Ray Lopez extends the deadline for K-4 teachers and principals to attend a teacher literacy achievement academy from 2021-22 to 2023-24.

HB 2022 by Rep. Drew Darby will allow retirees who left TRS-Care when the plan changed significantly in 2017 to re-enroll in TRS-Care. It applies to those who are Medicare-eligible; left TRS-Care between Jan. 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2019; and opt to re-enroll no later than Dec. 31, 2023.

HB 2519 by Rep. Darby would move the resignation deadline for teachers from the 45th day before the first day of instruction to the 30th day before. It provides SBEC with options for sanctioning teachers who resign after the deadline, requiring the board to consider mitigating factors and consider alternatives to sanctions such as additional continuing education or training.

SB 179 by Sen. Eddie Lucio requires districts to adopt a policy requiring counselors to spend at least 80% of their time on counseling duties (time spent administering STAAR/end-of-course exams would not count as counseling time).

SB 1267 by Sen. Royce West is a bill that TCTA has worked on extensively to streamline the training and continuing education requirements for teachers, to reduce redundancy and allow teachers more leeway to self-select more valuable professional development.

Bills we have concerns about

HB 622 by Barbara Gervin-Hawkins would create abbreviated educator preparation programs for certification in marketing education and health science technology education. TCTA is concerned about continued efforts to make certification easier to obtain, rather than making the profession more attractive to those willing to expend the effort to get certified.

HB 1525 by Rep. Dan Huberty makes technical corrections to the school funding system. Earlier versions of the bill included favorable provisions that TCTA supports, including a TCTA-initiated requirement that districts at least maintain teacher salary increases from the 2019-20 school year. However, there are also some areas of concern; for example, the bill removes the requirement that teachers be certified in order to be eligible for designations under the Teacher Incentive Allotment program. The Senate version would require that districts “bank” state funds in an amount to be determined by the commissioner in order to spend new federal COVID-19 relief funds first, which could penalize districts in the funding process in future years.

HB 3261 by Rep. Dan Huberty / SB 1171 by Sen. Larry Taylor continues the process of moving toward the electronic administration of most statewide assessments by 2023-24. Given the regular problems the state has experienced with electronic assessments in recent years, focusing on electronic testing and using money designated for instructional materials and technology for training educators in electronic test administration may not be the best use of these funds.

HB 3979 by Rep. Steve Toth includes prescriptive provisions regarding civics instruction, including prohibiting teachers from requiring or making part of a course a long list of topics that are related to the issue of critical race theory, according to the author of the bill. While TCTA does not have a formal position on this topic, we are concerned that the prohibitions are vague and could form the basis of parent complaints or ethics charges against teachers for simply teaching issues related to the TEKS of a course.

HB 4545 by Rep. Harold Dutton addresses accelerated learning programs for struggling students. While it includes some positive requirements, such as limiting supplemental instruction to groups of no more than 3 students, it also allows parents to choose their student’s teacher in the area in which the student struggled; without further guidelines and limitations, this could create scheduling and class-size problems for districts and teachers. The bill originally included funding bonuses to districts based on student test performance, which TCTA opposes due to the imposition of even higher stakes on students and teachers related to STAAR testing. This section was removed but there are concerns it could be revived in the Senate.

SB 27 by Sen. Larry Taylor revamps the state’s virtual school network, renaming it the “online learning system statewide course catalog”. There are concerns that aspects of the bill effectively create a virtual voucher program. Though it currently appears to be stalled, TCTA is working on provisions to protect teachers from some of the problems of remote learning, such as prohibiting teachers being required to teach both in-person and virtual students in the same class, in the event that the bill continues moving.

SB 28 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt would limit the ability of the SBOE to reject new charter schools proposed by the commissioner (the SBOE currently has veto authority over new charters). It also limits the ability of municipalities to address concerns about zoning and permitting issues related to charter school locations.

SB 321 by Sen. Joan Huffman relates to the state employee retirement system, not to TRS, but it could impact some school employees, and it has general policy ramifications as well. The bill restructures the state employee pension system to be a “cash balance” plan (a hybrid of the current defined benefit program and a defined contribution program similar to a 401k) for new hires. This is a huge change in the benefit structure for state employees and one that teachers should monitor closely. Also, school employees who have credit in ERS will need to be aware of any possible impact of the change on their ability to use that credit at retirement.