Two education bills have left committee and will be debated Thursday, Oct. 12, on the Senate floor: SB 1, a voucher bill, and SB 2, an education finance bill.
SB 1 is similar to SB 8 from the regular session, with a few technical edits. Many of the same opponents and proponents of the bill testified to the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday and voiced the same concerns as they did during the regular session. The bill would allow for approximately 62,500 students to receive $8,000 to spend on private school tuition, tutoring, homeschool materials, or any other educational service the family desires. Vouchers are the Gov. Greg Abbott's main education priority; despite assurances from Sen. Brandon Creighton that vouchers will not be tied to school finance, the governor could pressure legislators to tie the two together to ensure he gets the voucher program he desires.
SB 2 is a broad education finance bill that combines elements of a few bills from the regular session. Most notably, it would provide a $3,000 raise for classroom teachers, increasing to $10,000 for teachers in districts with enrollment under 5,000 students. A few senators asked what happens if a district begins under 5,000 and grows past that mark or vice versa; there wasn’t a clear answer, but hopefully, that technical issue will be addressed soon. Using data currently available, TCTA estimates that around 287,000 teachers would benefit from the $3,000 raise with around 83,000 receiving the $10,000 raise. (For more on TCTA's testimony on this bill, click here.)
The bill also includes a $75 increase to the basic allotment, which would increase it from $6,160 to $6,235. This increase falls far short of what districts have said is needed to keep up with inflationary cost increases. Committee members expressed their desire to remove any restrictions on what the basic allotment can be spent on and handle teacher pay raises more directly like they plan to with the $3,000/$10,000 increases. Currently, 22.5% of any increase in the basic allotment must be spent on teacher compensation, but SB 2 would make any further increases not subject to that requirement.
Other highlights of the bill include adjustments to the Student Safety Allotment, which was previously $15,000 per campus and $10 per student. Both figures are doubled in the bill. SB 2 would create a grant program to help districts not participating in the Teacher Incentive Allotment program begin their own designation systems. It would also create a fourth designation: acknowledged. Most of the existing designations would be paid at a higher rate.
So far, the Senate is the only chamber to take action on any legislation during the third special session. The House is expected to gavel in Thursday morning, so we may see some education bills get scheduled for committee hearings soon. Senate bills passing this week could begin moving in the House as early as next week.