Across the Lawn

March 26, 2021 |

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

The FOUR Things to Know and ONE Thing to Do

Welcome to Across the Lawn, Issue 12.

The eleventh week of the 87th Legislative Session has come to a close.

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

Last week, education advocates from across the state raised their voices with a clear message for lawmakers: Federal education dollars intended for our schools must go to our school districts. Many House members spoke up and helped to insert language that made sure the federal stimulus education dollars stayed where they belonged. Now, the full Appropriations committee will decide whether that language stays.

$17.9 billion is at stake. Texas schools missed out on over $1 billion of federal funds last spring when state leaders used those dollars to fill other budget holes. School districts have stepped up for students and families again and again over the last year, and now state lawmakers must step up for school districts.

It’s time to let members of the House Appropriations Committee know they need to  ensure that dollars intended for education stay in education–at every step of the budget process.

If your state representative is on the House Appropriations Committee we ask that you call or email to tell them money intended for public education should stay in public education.

The full list of House Appropriations Committee members can be found here.

If you need to check whether or not one of these members represents you, you can look up your Texas House member here.

Thank you for taking action on behalf of Texas public schools.

Four Things to Know:

1. U.S. Department of Education Makes Another $8.2 Billion of K-12 Funding Available to Texas

As of Wednesday, two-thirds of K-12 federal public education stimulus funding from round three was made available to all states. That is $81 billion of the $122 billion nationwide, or $8.2 billion of the $12.4 billion allocated to Texas. This is in addition to the $5.5 billion already available from the second round of public education stimulus that has yet to flow to our Texas public schools.

The Department of Education is “encouraging states to develop and implement plans to immediately utilize that funding to get more schools opened safely this spring and work to close the gaps in education equity that the pandemic has exacerbated.”

Raise Your Hand recently asked more than 1,000 Texans whether public schools should receive more, less, or the same amount of funding to pay for certain pandemic costs. This video shows that between 73 and 60 percent supported more financial support for costs associated with PPE, sanitation, teacher training, academic interventions, technology, and teacher mental health supports.

US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona also announced a Summer Learning & Enrichment Collaborative.  A Department of Education press release said the collaborative will “build and deepen partnerships across states, districts, and among educators, parents, philanthropy, and non-profit partners to scale up and sustain successful summer programs.”

2. Senate Education Committee Discusses the Approval Process for New Charter Schools

On Thursday, the members of the Senate Education Committee discussed SB 28 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt.  One of the provisions in this bill removes the authority of the State Board of Education (SBOE) to disapprove, or deny, a State Education Commissioner’s proposal to grant a new charter application in Texas.

The SBOE is currently the only elected body overseeing the approval of new charter applications and Raise Your Hand Texas believes elected officials must maintain oversight not only on new charter applications, but all charter expansions. Read our full written testimony here.

3. It’s Time for a Commission on School Accountability

Through the pandemic, our public schools have been asked to do more than ever.  Schools are providing academic and health services as well as numerous programs and assistance to meet our students’ and social and emotional needs.  Parents and communities want to have a true evaluation of how our schools are doing. The problem is our state’s A-F accountability rating system is primarily based on one test given on one day.

Raise Your Hand Texas supports HB 1867 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez. This legislation will create the Texas Commission on Assessment and Accountability to review our state’s A-F rating system and STAAR test.

In 2018, this exact approach was taken with our state’s school funding formulas and because of it the Texas School Finance Commission was able to help reshape our school finance system for generations to come. It is time for Texas to do the same for our state’s assessment and accountability systems.

4. Who Vouchers Hurt — and Where School Choice Really Works

The pandemic has presented major budget challenges for public schools. This session, vouchers could put public schools at risk of losing funding gained from House Bill 3 last session.

In our latest Intersect Ed podcast episode, part of our legislative agenda series, we debunk the myth that school choice does not exist in Texas public schools and highlight how schools are stepping up to offer more school choice options for their students.

Upcoming Hearings: The House Public Education Committee will hear several bills of interest on Tuesday, March 30. These bills include:  HB 1468 by Rep. Keith Bell on remote learning and funding.  You can watch the 8 am hearing here.

The House Appropriations Committee will meet to consider budget recommendations on Wednesday, March 31 at 7:30 am.  This includes potential public education budget riders that will determine if federal stimulus funding intended for public education will stay in education.  RYHT proudly supports Rep. Geanie Morrison’s rider that makes sure that happens.

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