Across the Lawn

January 29, 2021 |

87th Legislative Session Weekly Update  |  Friday, January 29, 2021

The FOUR Things to Know and ONE Thing to Do

Welcome to Across the Lawn, Issue 4.

The third 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

Read about the lengths our school leaders are
going to find their students during the pandemic.

From setting up call centers to knocking on doors, our latest blog shows the lengths districts are going to find students who are not showing up to school either in-person or virtually.

Meanwhile, districts are still waiting on the state to provide funding based on historical attendance data. Without this funding, superintendents across the state have said they’ll have to start cutting programs, letting go of our hard-working teachers, and increasing class sizes.

To be clear, this is not a request for additional money. This is funding that has already been approved and that districts are counting on to get them through the school year. Furthermore, the decline in enrollment is not the fault of districts, who have worked tirelessly to find and enroll students under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Rather, what we’re often seeing is parents who are fearful of the virus holding their youngest children back from pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. These are programs we simply cannot cut, and in fact, we will need to support more than ever to fight the huge learning losses we will undoubtedly face as a result of this crisis.

More than 80 members of the Texas House have already signed a letter asking the state to extend this funding waiver through the end of the 2020-21 school year. It’s imperative the state act now so that districts can continue their heroic efforts to combat learning loss from the pandemic.

Things to Know

1. Chairman of the Senate Education Committee Discusses Public Education with the Texas Tribune

Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) sat down this week and discussed state education topics with Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune. The first question Smith asked was whether Texas would be able to fully fund public education this session. Without hesitation, Chairman Taylor said, “Yes.” The revenue is there to meet all of the commitments made last session with House Bill 3, he said.

The conversation hit on many of the pressing issues for public schools including the extension of a waiver that would fund schools based on historical enrollment data, the future of remote and virtual learning, accountability and assessment, and impacts of COVID-19.

For the full 45-minute podcast visit Point of Order with Evan Smith.

2. Texas Education Commissioner Does Not Plan to Waive State Tests This School Year

During Wednesday’s State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting, Education Commissioner Mike Morath told members that he would not waive the administration of the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) this school year, even if the US Department of Education allows it.

In December, Morath announced he would not issue A-F accountability ratings for the 2020-21 school year. At the time, Morath stated “the pandemic has disrupted school operations in fundamental ways that have often been outside the control of our school leaders, making it far more difficult to use these ratings as a tool to support student academic growth.”

3. Senate Finance Committee to Begin Budget Hearings

Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Grapevine) is planning to hold 16 budget hearings from February 8 to March 2. Testimony on Article III of the state budget, which is the education portion, is slated for February 22.

The Senate’s current recommendation for the next biennium would fully fund the education programs passed in last session’s historic House Bill 3. What the recommendation does not include, as of now, is how the Senate is going to use the $5.5 billion in federal stimulus for public schools passed late last year.

As a reminder, the first round of stimulus funding for public education under the CARES Act provided $1.3 billion to Texas schools based on Title I students. Schools did not see any additional increase in funding with these dollars because the state decided to use it to supplant state spending on education. For more information on all of the various support under the Texas’ CARES Act for public education read: TEA’s CARES Act Funding Support for LEAs.

4. Raise Your Hand Texas Policy Spotlight: School Funding

As you likely know by now, in 2019 the Texas public education system received a much-needed funding boost. House Bill 3 made investments in teacher pay raises, full-day pre-kindergarten, funding for an optional extended-year program, and additional dollars for low-income students. On average, schools received a $530 per student funding increase.

For more information on Raise Your Hand’s policy positions on education funding read Where We Stand On School Funding.

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