Across the Lawn

February 5, 2021 |

87th Legislative Session Weekly Update  |  Friday, February 5, 2021

The FOUR Things to Know and ONE Thing to Do

Welcome to Across the Lawn, Issue 5.

The fourth 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

Find out whether your elected representative sits on the House Public Education or House Appropriations Committees

Speaker Dade Phelan named the chairs and members of the Texas House Committees on Thursday. The House Public Education Committee and House Appropriations Committee both have new chairs and will be the committees to watch when it comes to public education issues. There will likely be limited hearings this session due to COVID-19. So, it will be important to make your voices heard. 

Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) was named the chair of the House Public Education Committee. He will be heading the 14 member committee, including: J.M. Lozano, Vice-Chair (R-Kingsville),  Alma Allen (D-Houston), Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood)  Ken King (R-Canadian), Steve Allison (R-San Antonio), Keith Bell (R-Forney), Brad Buckley (R-Salado),  Mary González (D-Clint), Terry Meza (D-Irving), James Talarico (D-Round Rock), and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston).

Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood) was named the chair of the House Appropriations Committee. The members of the subcommittees overseeing specific state agencies will be named at a later date, including the members that will oversee public education funding.

Things to Know

1. Governor Abbott Delivers State-of-the-State Address

During his State-of-the-State address Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott reflected on the hard work and progress made last legislative session with the passage of House Bill 3. He stated, “This session we must continue to fund education as we promised.” Abbott also focused on the need to close the digital divide and the advancements made with Operation Connectivity over this past year.     

For the full text: Governor Abbott’s State-of-the-State Address

2. Raise Your Hand Texas Opinion: The Future of Virtual and Remote Learning

Gov. Greg Abbott showed great leadership this week when he designated the expansion of broadband internet access as one of five emergency items, which means the Legislature can vote on the issue within the first 60 days of the legislative session. Action on broadband is needed not only to help expand our Texas workforce and economy, but to enhance educational equity and the quality of remote instruction for all 5.5 million Texas students. 

But broadband access is just one piece of the remote and virtual learning puzzle. Our state already has the Texas Virtual School Network, which offers students a full-time option as well as individual courses. Unfortunately, the vast majority of full-time programs haven’t proven successful. Remote learning will never fully replace being in the classroom. However, using the lessons from the pandemic, the 87th Legislature has the opportunity to empower our school districts to add quality remote and virtual instruction as a tool to meet the individual needs of students.  Our teachers and students are counting on us to do it the right way.

New policies on remote learning should include:

  1. Continued funding for public schools providing remote instruction
    • The Commissioner of Education is currently granting a waiver to provide funding for remote learning. Districts need a stable funding stream that allows them to plan and budget for all of the students enrolled, including services best delivered remotely.
  2. Limit funding for remote services to students in a school district’s attendance area
    • This is not the time to open up the system to more private vendors or statewide schools. Schools need to offer the full menu of services to their students, including special education, career and technology, extracurricular activities, and other services that require physical attendance.
  3. Transparent information and accountability for virtual and remote instruction
    • Parents and students need information about the quality of full-time virtual programs and continued access to quality in-person learning that they can physically reach.  Existing statewide full-time programs that have not succeeded should be closed.
  4. Funding for professional development of teachers and staff
    • Teachers must be supported in their effort to master this new instructional approach so students receive the best possible instruction.
3. Spring Testing Debate Heats up in Texas and Nationwide

The Texas House Democratic Caucus this week called for cancelling the in-person STAAR test this school year.  Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) commented “We’re in the middle of a life-threatening pandemic. We also cannot ask our teachers or our school personnel, students, and families to put themselves at risk for an unnecessary test.”

U.S. Department of Education Secretary nominee, Miguel Cardona, during his Senate confirmation hearing was asked about federal testing waivers.  Cardona said, “I don’t think I’m in favor of a ‘one size fits all’ if the conditions under Covid-19 prevent a student from being in school in person. I don’t think we need students to come in to test them on a standardized test. I don’t think that makes sense. With that said, if we don’t assess where our students are and their level of performance, it will be difficult for us to provide some targeted support in our resource allocation that can best support the closing of gaps that have been exacerbated.”

4. Texas Education Agency Releases Annual Report

The Texas Education Agency released its 2020 Annual Report highlighting how it plans to prepare every child for college, career, or the military.

Commissioner Morath outlines four strategic priorities for overcoming the learning challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic: 

  • Recruit, support, and retain teachers and principals
  • Build a foundation of reading and math
  • Connect high school to career and college
  • Improve low-performing schools

The agency also released its handy 2020 pocket edition which provides a variety of state-level statistics on students, school ratings, graduation rates, and finances.

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