Across the Lawn July 16, 2021

July 16, 2021  

87th Legislative Session Weekly Update  |  Friday, July 16, 2021

The FIVE Things to Know and ONE Thing to Do

Welcome to Across the Lawn, Issue 23. The first called special session of the 87th Legislative Session convened last week. Check out our one thing to do and five things to know.

Raise Your Hand Texas has a front-row seat to the 87th Legislature (we can see the Capitol across the south lawn). From our vantage point, public education policy issues have never been more important, and this is why we must make every session a public education session.

The One Thing to Do:

At Raise Your Hand, our true north continues to be a focus on equity and opportunity, and our public schools are our state’s best hope for continued innovation and prosperity. And while there is still room to grow, public schools should always be a place to bring people together rather than tear them apart.

This is why we have decided to spend some time reflecting on the role of public education in our lives and revisit some of our previous storytelling. Every day throughout the current special legislative session, we will share the stories of our teachers and students that are steeped in hope, determination, perseverance, and humility. We hope you’ll take the time to revisit these stories with us and to ask one essential question: who is responsible for developing the character of 5.5 million Texas students?

The answer: All of us.

Let us know what Texas public schools mean to you with a photo or statement using #AllOfUs on Twitter.

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Five Things to Know:

Raise Your Hand Texas’ Across the Lawn is back for the 87th Legislative (first called) special session. There are 21 days remaining in the 30-day special session called by Governor Greg Abbott that began on July 8th.

As you know, a lot has happened in just over a week. Abbott announced the agenda on July 7th followed by a revised revenue estimate by the Comptroller. As the special session began on July 8th, both House and Senate committees quickly started the legislative process on various pieces of legislation including property tax relief, one-time payments to retired teachers, election reform, bail reform, and the restoration of state agency budget items vetoed by Abbott during the regular session. By Tuesday, July 13th, the House Democrats officially broke quorum in protest of the election reform bill. The House remains at ease and unable to complete any official business until a quorum is established. The Senate maintains its quorum and is able to continue with the legislative process. Here are some highlights of the last nine days:

1. Abbott Outlines Items for Special Session

Abbott announced his agenda for the special session on July 7th, identifying 11 items—four specific to public education:

  1. Disallowing students of one birth-sex from competing in district-sponsored sports designated for the opposite birth-sex
  2. Providing a one-time supplemental payment of benefits under the Teacher Retirement System of Texas 
  3. Legislation concerning critical race theory
  4. Appropriating funds for property tax relief
2. Comptroller Updates Revenue Estimate, $7.85 Billion Available to State Lawmakers

Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced there will be an ending balance of $7.85 billion available for the 2022-23 state budget. Hegar said the estimate is based on surging revenue collections, savings from state agency budget reductions during the recent regular session of the 87th Legislature, and the replacement of certain state funds with federal relief funds.

This additional $7.85 billion available for the next two-year state budget that begins in September allows state legislators to provide additional appropriations during the special session, including property tax relief and one-time payments to retired teachers. This does not include the $16.7 billion federal stimulus funds the state still has available from the American Rescue Plan.

3. New Legislation Filed on Civics Instruction in Public Schools

Governor Abbott signed HB 3979 relating to civics instruction by Rep. Toth into law shortly after the 87th legislative regular session. The Governor noted in his signing of the bill that more must be done to abolish critical race theory during a special session. This item was added as an issue to consider during the current special session. These are some of the potential legislative vehicles:

HB 178 by Rep. Toth (87th first called special session) relating to curriculum, materials, and activities in public schools.

One provision included in HB 178 requires schools to post a list of all teaching materials and activities disaggregated by subject and grade level that were used the preceding month. The bill also removes the TEKS requirements added by the House Democrats under HB 3979 and further restricts race-related training for public education employees.

SB 3 by Sen. Hughes (87th first called special session) relating to the social studies curriculum in public schools was heard in the Senate State Affairs Committee on Thursday.

In addition to removing some of the TEKS requirements added by the House Democrats under HB 3979, the bill would require all public schools that teach civics to have at least one educator and principal (or instructional leader) complete an SBOE-approved civics training program. Details regarding the components of the training program can be found in the first section of SB 3. 

SB 19 by Sen. Hall (87th first called special session) relating to requiring the disclosure of certain information regarding public school teaching materials and activities.

This bill requires schools to post a disaggregated list of teaching materials and activities on a monthly basis.

4. Property Tax Relief Bills Voted from Committee

At least 20 bills regarding property tax relief have been filed since the start of the special session. Senator Bettencourt is leading the tax relief front with SB 8 and SB 12, which both passed the Senate this week.

SB 8 provides a property tax exemption for first-year homeowners, and SB 12 extends the property tax compression passed in HB 3 (86R) to elderly (65+ years of age) and disabled homeowners. Both of these bills have multiple companions in both chambers.

There may be more discussions on additional substantial tax relief for school districts using some of the remaining balance available for the next state budget.

5. Retired Teacher 13th Check Passes Senate

On July 13th, SB 7 by Sen. Huffman passed unanimously out of the Senate. This bill allocates approximately $700 million dollars to provide a one-time supplemental payment under the Teacher Retirement System. TRS beneficiaries may receive up to $2,400 from this “thirteenth check.” There were multiple bills filed that failed to pass during the 87th regular session, including HB 3507 by Rep. Goodwin, related to one-time supplemental payments or cost of living adjustments for retired teachers.

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Categories: Across the Lawn

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