TCTA | Session ends with 13th check approval, CRT changes and more
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Session ends with 13th check approval, CRT changes and more

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The House and Senate adjourned "sine die" Thursday evening, putting an end to the second special session. The legislature passed bills addressing most of the governor’s stated priorities, including a handful of proposals affecting students, teachers and school districts.

These bills all passed the House and Senate, but have not yet been considered by Gov. Abbott. The governor has until Sept. 22 to sign or veto a bill; if he does not take action by that date, the bill will become law.

Virtual instruction

SB 15 will allow districts and charter schools to receive state funding for limited virtual instruction. If signed or allowed to become law, the bill will go into effect immediately. (References to “districts” below also include charter schools.)

  • Districts can establish a “local remote learning program” if they have a C or higher rating for the previous school year.
  • Virtual instruction can be short-term, for example, a district may implement a virtual learning program if a class has to be shut down due to a rising number of COVID-19 cases.
  • Districts must continue to offer in-person instruction.
  • Virtual courses can be synchronous, asynchronous, or a combination.
  • Teachers can only teach under a full-time remote learning program if they have completed a professional development course on virtual instruction.
  • Districts cannot coerce a teacher to agree to a full-time virtual teaching assignment.
  • Concurrent “roomies and zoomies” are prohibited, although the commissioner can waive the prohibition for enrichment curriculum courses.
  • A student with 10 or more unexcused absences in a six-month period cannot be counted toward average daily attendance (they may still participate in virtual learning, but the district will not receive state funding for them).
  • A district can remove a student from virtual learning if the student is not performing satisfactorily.
  • To be eligible for state funding, a student who received virtual or remote instruction for more than half of the days in the previous school year must have earned at least a C in foundation classes that year; must not have been absent for more than 10% of instructional days; and must have performed satisfactorily on either STAAR assessments or, if a STAAR test was not administered, on an assessment instrument designed to show grade-level proficiency in the TEKS.
  • Districts can contract with another district or charter for virtual services.
  • Enrollment in the virtual program is limited to 10% of total district enrollment.

Critical race theory revisions

SB 3 revises a bill from the regular session: HB 3979, relating to civics instruction (commonly known as the “critical race theory” or CRT bill). The changes expand the scope of the earlier bill to include all grades and courses, prohibiting instruction in certain concepts related to race and sex. Other highlights include:

  • The SBOE is required to include provisions in K-12 social studies TEKS to develop students’ civic knowledge, so that students have an understanding of the importance of issues such as civic engagement, the US founding documents, the foundations of the American experiment in self-government, and the structure and function of government institutions.
  • The TEKS must ensure that students can determine the reliability of information sources, articulate reasoned positions, understand how governments work through the use of models and simulations, engage in civil discourse, and participate by voting.
  • After a last-minute amendment, the original provision regarding discussion of current events was revised to say that “a teacher may not be compelled to discuss a widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs” (removing the “current events” language). Rather than requiring teachers to “strive to explore that topic from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective,” the final bill says the teacher should “explore that topic objectively and in a manner free from political bias.”
  • Other amendments ease the prohibitions regarding awarding credit for student civic engagement to clarify that the bill would not affect student participation in activities such as Boys’ State/Girls’ State, and to allow teachers to direct a classroom activity involving students communicating with an elected official as long as the district/school/teacher does not influence the content of the communication.
  • The bill includes prohibitions on inclusion of certain concepts, such as that one race or sex is superior to another; an individual by virtue of their race or sex is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive; meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created to oppress members of another race; the advent of slavery constituted the true founding of the US; or slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from the authentic founding principles of the US.
  • Training or instruction in such concepts or that requires an understanding of the 1619 Project is prohibited.
  • Districts/charter schools cannot implement, interpret or enforce rules in a manner that would punish students for discussing the concepts in the bill or have a chilling effect on student discussions involving these concepts.
  • Civics training will be required for at least one teacher and one administrator on each campus.
  • Provisions regarding access to instructional materials that would have greatly increased paperwork requirements for teachers were not included in the final version of the bill.

Thirteenth check for retirees

SB 7 authorizes a 13th check for TRS retirees:

  • The payment will be in the amount of a retiree’s normal monthly check, capped at $2,400.
  • The payment must be made no later than January 2022.
  • The TRS Board will make the payment as long as the legislature provides full funding; the amount appropriated in HB 5 (see below) is expected to be sufficient.

Supplemental appropriations

HB 5 appropriates $701 million to pay for the 13th check for TRS retirees.

The bill also restores funding for the legislative branch, ensuring that legislators’ offices and related agencies (such as the Legislative Budget Board and Legislative Council) can continue operations. This was a crucial factor in legislative negotiations during the special session, especially as work is underway on a possible third special session to be held this fall for legislative, congressional and SBOE redistricting.

HB 5 includes $14.6 million to implement SB 3, and $100 million to pay for earlier implementation of homestead property tax exemptions for homeowners who purchase a home after Jan. 1 of a given year (effective January 2022).

Instruction regarding child abuse, family violence, dating violence and sex trafficking

SB 9 replaces a bill passed during the regular session but vetoed by Gov. Abbott. The bill involves the local school health advisory councils in determining appropriate grade levels, curriculum, and instructional materials for instruction regarding child abuse, family violence, dating violence, and sex trafficking. Abbott had vetoed the regular session bill because it did not allow parents to opt out; SB 9 requires districts to provide written notice to parents regarding whether the district will provide such instruction and not only must parents be allowed to opt their child out, but parents must provide written consent for their child to receive the instruction.

Property tax relief

SB 12/SJR 2 will give Texas voters the opportunity to vote on a provision that will extend the school district property tax relief authorized in 2019’s HB 3 to homeowners with an Over 65/Disabled exemption. Districts will be entitled to additional funding from the state for lost property tax revenue. If approved by voters, the extended exemption will go into effect January 2023.

Notable bills that did not pass

HB 233, a bill that would have provided some relief to districts and teachers implementing the provisions of the regular session legislation requiring supplemental instruction, did not pass. It would have allowed for larger group sizes, and would have narrowed the assessments triggering the accelerated learning requirements to math and reading.

SB 2 was one of Gov. Abbott's priority issues. It would have required students participating in UIL athletic activities to do so based on their biological sex as recorded on their birth certificate. The bill passed the Senate but did not make it out of the House Public Education Committee.