Across the Lawn Weekly Update

January 15, 2021 |

87th Legislative Session Weekly Update  |  Friday, January 15, 2021

The FIVE Things to Know and ONE Thing to Do

Welcome to Across the Lawn, Issue 2.

The first week of the 87th Legislative Session has come to a close. Check out our one thing to do and five things to know.

The One Thing to Do

Listen to Our Latest Podcast on Pre-K

Don’t miss the first IntersectEd podcast episode of the 87th Legislative Session. In this episode, we’ll explore why pre-K is more powerful than ever — for all the research-based reasons we’ve touted for a decade combined with the urgency of closing pandemic learning gaps and supporting the state’s economic recovery.

Things to Know

1. The Texas House Elects Rep. Dade Phelan as Speaker

The Texas House on Tuesday elected Rep. Dade Phelan as Speaker.  He will lead the House through what’s expected to be an incredibly difficult session for our state.  COVID-19 has impacted our health care system, our economy, and the over 5.5 million students and 600,000+ teachers and staff that make up our public school system.

In a Dallas Morning News article, Speaker Phelan was optimistic Texas would recover faster than other states.  But, he also cautioned that while education is a top priority, no issue is exempt from cuts in the next budget.

For the current school year, however, Speaker Phelan said the House was committed to fully funding schools regardless of enrollment drops. He stated, “We’re not going to cut back on them because average daily attendance is down.” This is good news for school districts who have asked that the state continue holding them harmless, and fund them based on historical attendance data.

2. Early Childhood Students Make Up Bulk of Those No Longer Attending School

Pre-Kindergarten enrollment is down 55,089 students, or 22%, from October 2019 to October 2020, according to a Texas Education Agency enrollment snapshot. The total enrollment decline for all grades is 156,596 students. Over half, or 54% of the enrollment decline is from students not attending early education, pre-Kindergarten or Kindergarten classes.

As schools begin to close out the current school year and plan for the upcoming one, it is crucial that our state continue its support for early childhood programs, including full-day pre-Kindergarten.

Our new op-ed urges the 87th Texas Legislature to preserve House Bill 3’s 2019 pre-K investment based on the program’s ability to strengthen our public schools in the areas of foundational learning, equity, and now … as an essential pandemic response.

3. Tough Budget Questions Remain for Lawmakers

This week Comptroller Glenn Hegar released his biennial revenue estimate detailing the available revenue the state will have over the next 30 months.  He said the estimated revenue is higher than anticipated, but the state will still have to make some difficult choices to reach a balanced budget this session.

Senator Nelson, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said, “Tough decisions remain, but I am confident we can pass a budget that meets our essential needs, maintains our commitment to education and follows the principles of fiscal responsibility that put us in a stronger position than other states to withstand this unprecedented pandemic.”

Raise Your Hand Texas believes there is enough money to fully fund public education this session. Our back-of-the-envelope math shows that there’s nearly $20 billion in additional state and federal funding available to support our schools and even emerge stronger though this pandemic.

4. Raise Your Hand Texas Policy Spotlight: Virtual Schools and Remote Learning

Raise Your Hand Texas supports programs that enhance the capacity of public schools to use technology to personalize learning for all students.  Our Raising Blended Learners program is an important example of this approach.

As the members of the 87th Legislature begin to discuss issues such as full-time virtual learning, remote learning, and blended learning, we ask they do so thoughtfully. There are vast differences among all of these approaches and any new policy needs to ensure the delivery of a high-quality educational experience and sound funding formulas. For more analysis on this issue, please read Where We Stand on Full-Time Virtual Education.

5. Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation to Release New Poll Results

Next week, the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation will release their second annual  statewide poll on attitudes toward public education. Check it out to see how the pandemic impacted Texan’s support of public education, what they thought of remote learning, and what they think about other issues affecting public education in our state.

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