Across the Lawn

April 23, 2021 |

87th Legislative Session Weekly Update  |  Friday, April 23, 2021

The FOUR Things to Know and ONE Thing to Do

Welcome to Across the Lawn, Issue 16.

The fifteenth week of the 87th Legislative Session has come to a close. Check out our one thing to do and four 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

Let Lawmakers Know You Support Their Efforts to Send $17.9 Billion in Stimulus Dollars to Our Schools

Federal stimulus dollars intended for our schools should go to our schools. Let your elected Texas House and Senate members know you support providing our public schools the stimulus dollars they are due.

Four Things to Know:

1. Texas House Passes Its Version of the State Budget

The members of the House approved a $246.7 billion two-year state budget late Thursday night. The bill fully funds pre-K-12 public education, including all of the programs passed during the last legislative session in House Bill 3.

The budget bill also included several amendments to ensure $17.9 billion federal stimulus dollars intended for public schools stay in public schools.

Rep. Geanie Morrison offered an amendment, accepted 147-0, that requires an official action of the Legislature to allocate or spend any federal stimulus dollars. Depending on the timing, this means the Legislature may need to meet in a special session to decide how to use some of these federal funds. Rep. Donna Howard’s amendment would require the Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees to hold public hearings to provide prior approval before federal funds are appropriated.

Rep. Morrison was also the author of existing language stating the Texas Education Agency must allocate the maximum award possible under the federal law while not reducing any state funding for schools. Additional language was added by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez underscoring the need to flow these funds in a timely manner in accordance with federal law.  Rep. Justin Holland also had an amendment that would prohibit the Texas Education Agency from conditioning federal funding on the purchase of specific programs or services.

Raise Your Hand fully supports the House’s efforts to make sure public schools receive federal stimulus funds in a timely manner so they can provide students with any academic and social-emotional needs due to COVID-19.

2. The Texas House Rejects State Funding for School Voucher Programs

During the House budget debate, an amendment offered by Rep. Abel Herrero prohibiting any state funding from being used on school voucher programs was approved 115-29. The prohibition includes using funding on tax credit scholarships, education savings accounts, or any similar program in which a student may use state money for nonpublic primary or secondary education.

Raise Your Hand strongly believes only public schools can deliver on the promise of quality school choice with transparency, accountability, and equity.

3. Federal Guidance on Stimulus Funds Released

The Department of Education on Monday released its guidance on Maintenance of Effort waivers. Federal rules require that states flow at least 90 percent of their stimulus dollars directly to school districts. However, states can request a waiver allowing them to spend the money on other budget priorities.

Because Texas may fall $1.2 billion short of meeting higher education spending requirements, it could decide to apply for a waiver. The rules state Texas can apply for a waiver based on certain criteria, but if the Department of Education does not grant a waiver, our state’s budget writers may need to find a way to increase higher education funding or face potential penalties from the federal government, including a reduction in K-12 federal stimulus funding. Texas could also opt to find other ways to meet the spending requirements that do not impact the dollars that are intended for our public schools. Raise Your Hand is urging our state leaders to move quickly to flow these dollars so our schools can begin using them to give our students what they need to get back on track as soon as possible.

4. Texas House to Hear Remote Learning Bill on Tuesday

The COVID pandemic has challenged our schools to adopt online instruction, in some cases, overnight. While our educators have responded heroically during the pandemic, we still have a great deal to learn about how to best utilize  online services for students’ benefit.

Raise Your Hand strongly supports HB 1468 by Rep. Keith Bell, which is being heard on the House floor on Tuesday. The bill includes a stable funding stream for remote instruction and limits virtual and remote services to students in a school district’s attendance area. It also ensures school districts remain accountable for quality and does not expand virtual instruction below third grade or to more private vendors. Our previous testimony supporting the bill can be found here.

Upcoming Hearings: The House Public Education Committee has posted its agenda for Tuesday, April 27 at 8:00 a.m.

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