Across the Lawn

February 12, 2021 |

87th Legislative Session Weekly Update  |  Friday, February 12, 2021

The FOUR Things to Know and ONE Thing to Do

Welcome to Across the Lawn, Issue 6.

The fifth 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 state senator is on the Senate Finance Committee

As the public education budget hearings draw near, it is important that lawmakers hear from their constituents on the importance of preserving House Bill 3 funding and on spending federal stimulus for education the way it is intended.

Last week, we asked you to find out if your state representative sits on the House Appropriations Committee. They will begin hearings next week, with public education on the agenda Wednesday, February 17.

This week, we want you to see if your senator sits on the Senate Finance Committee, which has public education funding on its agenda Monday, February 22.

Members of the Senate Finance Committee are Chairwoman Jane Nelson, Vice Chairman Eddie Lucio, Paul Bettencourt, Dawn Buckingham, Donna Campbell, Brandon Creighton, Kelly Hancock, Joan Huffman, Lois Kolkhorst, Robert Nichols, Charles Perry, Charles Schwertner, Larry Taylor, Royce West, John Whitmire

Find out if these members represent you!

Things to Know

1. Education Commissioner Morath Talks with the Texas Tribune

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath sat down with Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune on Thursday to discuss virtual and remote learning, student learning loss, state standardized testing, and his decision to not yet extend funding for districts experiencing pandemic-related enrollment decline.

During the interview, Morath said the pandemic has exacerbated the learning gaps among low-income, Black and Hispanic students and recovery is going to take a “multi-year investment in changing our practices.” He believes in-person instruction is the best learning environment for most students. Morath did not say whether he would extend the hold harmless waiver for enrollment decline.

Morath said students attending school remotely would not have to take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) since schools do not have the capability to provide the test to students at home. Morath also explained his reasoning for going ahead with the STAAR this spring, saying it’s needed to check whether students are meeting grade-level expectations. “Our expectations can’t change because life’s expectations have not changed,” he said.

For the full interview visit: Texas Tribune Events

2. Rep. Mary González Files Bill to Create a Texas Commission on Assessment and Accountability

Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) filed House Bill 1867 relating to the creation of the Texas Commission on Assessment and Accountability. Rep. González believes this legislation will “provide policymakers and the public an opportunity to examine, revise, and direct action on our current system of testing and accountability.” She said she “kept in mind the significant work of the School Finance Commission that led to widely-supported major improvements in funding for our schools.” She said she hopes the new commission will enable “us to take similarly large steps to refine and enhance assessment and accountability.”

3. Raise Your Hand Texas Policy Spotlight: Accountability and Assessment

As Texas’ public education system adjusts to new instructional approaches and deals with technology issues due to COVID-19, state policymakers must take this time to reevaluate whether our accountability system appropriately measures all the factors of an effective education.

Our public schools are being asked to do more than ever, but our A-F rating system is primarily based on one test given on one day. In grades 3-8, STAAR is the only measure used in determining district and campus grades. These ratings ignore other essential indicators of a quality education such as extracurricular activities, health and safety issues, and community, family, and student engagement.

According to our Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation Poll, only 12 percent of Texans think public schools should be graded entirely on state standardized tests.

For more information on Raise Your Hand’s policy positions on accountability and assessment read Where We Stand On Accountability and Assessment.

4. Federal Legislation Could Mean Billions More for K-12 Education

Another round of federal stimulus funding for education is under consideration in Washington, D.C. This would be the third round of such funding for our nation’s K-12 schools with a potential price tag of $128.6 billion. The first and second rounds totaled $13 billion and $54 billion, respectively.

The current proposal provides funding, once again, to high-poverty Title I students. Texas received $1.3 billion in the spring of 2020, and the state’s second payment totaling $5.5 billion is expected soon.

Texas decided to swap or supplant the first round of stimulus, holding back $1.3 billion in state funding. The approach the state uses for the second and potentially third rounds of federal funding will have significant consequences for our schools.

The federal dollars dedicated to K-12 education are meant to help with COVID-19 related issues, including funds for reopening schools, helping students with learning loss, and safety protocols.

Raise Your Hand strongly supports using these federal dollars as intended and believes these federal stimulus funds must flow on top of any state and local dollars in the Foundation School Program.

How are other states using federal stimulus funds for public education? View the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund Tracker.

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