Across the Lawn Weekly Update Jan. 8, 2021

January 08, 2021  

87th Legislative Session Weekly Update  |  Friday, January 8, 2021

The FOUR Things to Know and ONE Thing to Do

Welcome to the first edition of Across the Lawn, a weekly update to keep you in the know on education policy from Raise Your Hand Texas.

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

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Things to Know

1. The Comptroller’s Revenue Estimate Will Set the Tone of the Next Legislative Session

This Tuesday will be the first day of the 87th Texas Legislative Session. There are still a lot of unknowns and questions about the process and the rhythm of the next 140 days due to COVID-19. But what we do know is most of the legislative hand-wringing and worry will involve the crafting of the next two-year state budget.

The state’s current budget is already facing a $4.6 billion shortfall due to the recession caused by the pandemic and downturn in oil prices. Legislators will likely use a mix of the Rainy Day Fund, which has $8.8 billion on hand, and federal stimulus dollars to fill that hole (more on that later). The bigger question is what will the revenue estimate for the next two-year state budget look like. If the most recent sales tax revenue figures are an indicator, down 5 percent for the three months ending in December 2020 compared to the same period a year ago, Texas still has a long recovery ahead.

We will know more Monday when Comptroller Glenn Hegar releases his initial revenue estimates. What worries most budget writers, legislative members, and advocates is the estimate may be similar to 2011, when the state faced a $27 billion shortfall and cut $5.4 billion from public education. Our legislative agenda outlines our priorities for the budget and other issues this session.

2. New Federal Stimulus Funding for Education Means $5 billion or More for Texas

Prior to the new year, Congress passed a $900 billion pandemic relief package. A substantial amount of the new funding, over $82 billion nationwide, is slated for education-related programs including higher education, K-12 public education, and private schools.

Similar to the CARES Act in March, a bulk of the funding for K-12 under this new stimulus package is based on the proportion of Title I students.  The funding is set to be awarded to the states within 30 days of the passage of the bill.  This means Texas should receive an estimated $5.2 billion by the end of the month, over four times the amount of the original CARES Act funding.

The question that needs to be answered, however, is how will the state use these funds.  If the state uses the same approach it did in March, schools will not see any additional funding on top of what they already receive through the state’s funding formulas.  Remember, the state decided to supplant the $1.3 billion CARES Act funding, swapping state dollars for federal dollars.  That $4.6 billion current budget shortfall mentioned above would have been much higher without plugging the hole with federal money for public education.

3. Continued Hold Harmless Funding Still in Question

The Texas Education Agency has still not acted on extending the hold harmless funding for the remainder of the school year.  This crucial issue gained statewide attention and support in December.  Raise Your Hand Texas, along with 22 other organizations, signed a letter to the Governor detailing the importance of continuing funding based on historic enrollment projections This prompted 82 members of the Texas House to sign a letter to urge Commissioner Morath to do the same. Schools need and rely on sustainable funding.  Now, more than ever, schools need to plan for interventions and programs to help with student learning loss due to the pandemic.  Once again, please urge your legislators this issue still needs to be addressed before the legislative session. Our schools can’t wait.

4. Legislation of Interest

Members have filed more than 1,300 bills since November. This number will most likely increase well beyond 6,000 by the filing deadline 60 days into the legislative session.  SB 1, the appropriations bill, will get most of the attention, but there will be many other bills of interest that Raise Your Hand Texas will be following. As of now there is no bill on file that cleans-up some of the fixes needed to last session’s HB 3. There will also be numerous bills dealing with remote and virtual learning. Multiple bills on pausing STAAR or eliminating certain End-of-Course exams will also receive a great deal of debate. Many members will also have interest in rethinking the way charter school applications and expansions are approved.  This will be a busy session for public education once again.  We look forward to keeping you informed as these issues make their way through the legislative process.

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