The House and Senate appear to have begun a standoff, with key bills in one chamber being held until particular legislation passes in the other. Despite entering the final days of the session (which ends May 31), the House adjourned on Thursday until Sunday, losing two days of work at a point in the session when time is precious.
One issue causing a delay is concern over the proposed final version of the state budget. The draft conference committee report — the agreed-upon version in which the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill were negotiated — removes all language that would require legislative direction regarding the spending of billions of dollars of federal funds from COVID-19 relief packages. The House version of the budget had included a unanimously adopted provision that would have specifically prohibited spending any federal relief funds without legislative approval. Gov. Abbott released a statement Thursday assuring lawmakers that he would add the issue of federal funding to the anticipated fall special session on redistricting. It remains to be seen whether his promise - "so the entire legislature can participate in the allocation process in a way that best serves all Texans" - would be adequate to make legislators comfortable enough to vote for the proposed version of SB 1.
Among the bills affected by the delay are several that TCTA is watching:
- SB 1365 by Paul Bettencourt, which gives the commissioner of education more authority to intervene with low-performing schools, was scheduled for consideration on the House floor Thursday, but was postponed and is now on the Sunday calendar. There have been rumors that the Senate is waiting for the House to take action on this bill before it will take up HB 1525, a bill designed to address some unintended school finance consequences stemming from last session’s HB 3.
- HB 1525 by Rep. Dan Huberty has its own set of problems and may not currently have enough votes to be brought up on the Senate floor for consideration. Many education groups are opposing specific sections of the bill, including one requiring that districts put a specified amount of their state education funding in reserve and opening the door for supplanting, rather than supplementing, state and local funding with federal COVID-relief funds.
- HB 1468 by Rep. Cecil Bell addresses how districts may be able to move forward with virtual learning in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is scheduled for consideration by the Senate Education Committee Friday afternoon, and a possible substitute addresses some of the concerns that TCTA has had about this bill. We are hoping to further refine the bill to ensure that teacher assignment to a full-time virtual program requires the teacher’s consent.
- SB 2094 by Sen. Larry Taylor was voted out of the House Public Education Committee this week but has not yet been scheduled for floor consideration. This bill is designed to address how districts provide accelerated learning for students who do not pass STAAR exams currently required for promotion. Similar language is in HB 4545 by Rep. Harold Dutton, which originally failed to pass the House but later was reconsidered and passed. That bill is now on the Friday agenda for the Senate Education Committee. Various versions of these bills include problematic provisions, including outcomes-based bonuses that would pay districts extra for satisfactory STAAR exam performance of students after receiving accelerated learning. There is also a “strong foundations grant program” that appears to give the commissioner wide-ranging authority over curriculum, instructional materials and more.
- SB 1716 by Sen. Taylor was originally interpreted as a voucher program for special education services, but changes made in the House Public Education Committee removed the voucher aspects. The bill has not yet been scheduled for the House floor, and it is not yet known whether the Senate would accept the non-voucher version approved by the committee.