Across the Lawn Feb. 26, 2021

February 26, 2021  

87th Legislative Session Weekly Update  |  Friday, February 26, 2021

The FIVE Things to Know and ONE Thing to Do

Welcome to Across the Lawn, Issue 8.

The seventh week of the 87th Legislative Session has come to a close. 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. This weekly session update will keep you informed and engaged.

The One Thing to Do

Things to Know

1. Commissioner Morath Testifies Before Senate and House Committees

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath met with both the Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees on Monday. He discussed and answered questions on numerous issues, including hold harmless funding for enrollment decline, federal stimulus dollars, State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) testing, and student learning loss.

Morath did not confirm if he would hold school districts harmless for declines in funding due to lower-than-anticipated student attendance. He said guidance on the matter would be released soon. (Note: House Public Education Committee Chairman Harold Dutton said Thursday this issue would be taken up by the members of the legislature).

Morath didn’t provide details on how the Texas Education Agency (TEA) intends to use the $5.5 billion provided to Texas in the second round of federal stimulus funding earmarked for public education. He did discuss the importance of administering the STAAR test, stressing the importance of knowing the extent of student learning loss. Morath said addressing instructional loss requires three approaches: technology, professional development for teachers, and time to make up for learning loss.

On Thursday, Commissioner Morath received similar questions from members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III, the subcommittee responsible for helping to shape the public education budget before it reaches the full Appropriations Committee later this session.

2. New Chair of the House Public Education Committee Answers Questions

The new chair of the House Public Education Committee, Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) was interviewed by Aliyya Swaby of the Texas Tribune on Thursday. Rep. Dutton, who joined the Texas Legislature in 1985, is one the longest serving members of the Texas Legislature. He has been on the House Public Education Committee 17 of his 19 years. Chairman Dutton discussed many of the policy issues at the heart of this legislative session, including STAAR, funding, and charter schools.

Chairman Dutton raised questions about the STAAR exam, commenting that he is not sure what it is actually measuring at this point. He also questioned the validity of this school year’s results because students have been heavily impacted by the pandemic.

Dutton said the legislature will provide hold harmless funding to school districts and there will most likely be incentives built to encourage districts to find missing students.

3. U.S. Department of Education Will Not Grant Testing Waivers to States

The U.S. Department of Education released guidance this week on state assessments, including the STAAR, announcing that the federal government will not grant test waivers to any states for the current school year.

“The Department of Education is committed to supporting all states in assessing student learning during the pandemic to help target resources and support to the students with the greatest needs,” said Ian Rosenblum, acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education.

The guidance says states should make the following considerations when administering the test:

  • Extend the testing window and move assessments to the summer or fall
  • Give the assessment remotely where feasible
  • Shorten the state assessment, to make testing more feasible to implement and prioritize in-person learning time

There was no indication this week of whether TEA will allow for any of these modifications in the administration of the STAAR assessment.

4. Lt. Governor Patrick Details 31 Top Priorities for the Legislative Session

Lt. Governor Patrick provided 31 priorities for the 2021 Legislative Session Tuesday. The priorities are detailed by bill number order. The bills of interest for public education include:

  • SB 1, filed (state budget)
  • SB 5, not filed  (statewide broadband access) 
  • SB 27, not filed  (expanding virtual learning options)
  • SB 28, not filed (charter school equity)
5. New Bill to Watch, HB 3 (87th-R) by Rep. Burrows

Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) filed House Bill 3 (87th-R) this week. The bill contains several provisions related to state and local government responses during a pandemic.

One of the provisions allows students, during a pandemic disaster, not receiving full-time in-person instruction to attend an instructional program not run by a public school.  This off-campus entity can then bill the public school for the funding it would have received for average daily attendance.

  • Raise Your Hand Texas continues to oppose any form of education voucher, including the one proposed in this bill. This is not the time to divert scarce public education dollars away from our public schools.

Upcoming Hearings: The House Public Education Committee will hold an organizational meeting to hear invited testimony on Tuesday, March 2 at 8:00 a.m.

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