Across the Lawn – March 24, 2023

March 24, 2023  

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Raise Your Hand Texas has a front-row seat to the Capitol. 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.

ONE Thing to Do:

Listen to the Y’all-itics Podcast: Will “Educational Freedom” Handcuff Public Schools in Texas?

Listen to the recent episode of the Y’all-itics podcast episode focused on vouchers and SB 8, which features Raise Your Hand Texas’ executive director, Dr. Michelle Smith. Texas Senator Brandon Creighton, the bill author, and chair of the Senate Committee on Education, is also interviewed. 

FIVE Things to Know:

1. Senate Voucher Proposal to Cost Texans at Least $1 Billion per Year 

The Senate Committee on Education met late into the night this past Wednesday to discuss numerous voucher proposals, including SB 8 by Sen. Creighton, SB 176 by Sen. Middleton, SB 2354 by Sen. Bettencourt, and SB 2483 by Sen. Paxton.  

Prior to the hearing, the fiscal analysis for provisions included in voucher bills up for discussion was released. The estimated cost to the state for the voucher provisions in SB 8 is projected to escalate from $500 million per year to over $1 billion per year within a four-year period.  SB 8 provides certain eligible students with an $8,000 annual voucher and certain school districts (20,000 students or less) with a $10,000 “hold harmless” for each student using a voucher. There is also a need to add more than 20 staff to the state Comptroller’s office to help administer the program, including six attorneys to manage any litigation process, develop program eligibility, oversee the approval/denial of tuition, and support the anti­fraud provisions. 

Raise Your Hand Texas testimony on SB 8 included the following points:  

  • Raise Your Hand Texas opposes any form of school voucher, including the provision of Article 2 in SB 8 that creates an Education Savings Account (voucher)
  • Raise Your Hand Texas does support the continued conversation on parental rights and responsibilities within our public schools, but this policy conversation does not need to be linked to the creation of a private school or vendor voucher program 
  • SB 8 clearly acknowledges vouchers divert public education funds to private schools and vendors with its provision providing $10,000 to certain schools districts that lose students to the voucher program
  • SB 8 clearly acknowledges that private schools and vendors will not be required to comply with federal and state protections for students with disabilities, protections public schools are required to offer

2. New Committee Substitute for SB 9 (Teacher Rights and Pay) to Provide More Detail on Teacher Pay 

SB 9 by Sen. Creighton intends to provide a salary increase for every teacher in the state for the 2023-24 school year. While the current language for SB 9 does not detail what the amount of the increase is, at Wednesday’s Senate Committee on Education hearing, Sen. Creighton discussed the potential amount of an additional $4,000 for teachers in school districts with fewer than 20,000 students and an additional $2,000 for teachers in school districts with more than 20,000 students.

SB 9 also increases allotments of the Teacher Incentive Allotment program, allows TEA to provide technical assistance for the TIA program, provides grants to retire/rehire teachers to offset certain TRS costs, adds children of teachers to those eligible for full-day pre-Kindergarten, expands the teacher mentor allotment, strengthens teacher residency programs, and sets up protections for teacher contracts and student disciplinary plans.  

Raise Your Hand Texas testimony on SB 9 included the following points: 

  • Raise Your Hand Texas supports increased compensation and benefits packages for teachers, reported by Texas educators as the most important factor to keep them in the profession
  • Raise Your Hand Texas supports increased investment in teacher mentoring programs, proven effective to help keep teachers in the profession
  • Raise Your Hand Texas supports investments in scholarships for aspiring teachers, a proven, effective strategy for teacher recruitment (currently not in any provision of the bill) 

3. Statewide Curriculum Discussed in House Committee on Public Education 

The House Committee on Public Education met this past Tuesday to discuss 10 bills, including HB 1605 by Rep. Buckley.

One of the major provisions in HB 1605 is to establish a $40 per-student allotment for districts that opt into the purchase of state-approved materials and an additional $20 per-student allotment for costs associated with printing and shipping open education resources. The cost of these provisions will be an estimated $290 million per year.  HB 1605 also requires school boards to establish a process for parents to request a review of instructional materials and post curriculum to an instructional materials parent portal.  

4. Senate Passes $16.5 Billion Property Tax Reduction Package

On Wednesday, the Senate passed a series of bills that would provide $16.5 billion in property tax reductions. These bills increase the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $70,000 for all homeowners, provide an additional homestead exemption increase for homeowners 65 and older, reduce school district tax rates by 7 cents, and exempt certain business personal property from taxation. This is the largest new budget item in the Senate version of the 2024-25 state budget. 

5. Upcoming Hearing

The House Committee on Public Education is scheduled to meet at 8:00 am on Tuesday, March 28 to hear numerous bills, including HB 681 by Rep. Bell which would remove the September 2023 expiration date on the ability for a school district to provide and be funded for a local remote learning program. 

Tags: Teacher Workforce vouchers

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