Across the Lawn

May 31, 2022 |

Raise Your Hand Texas Update | Tuesday, May 31, 2022

The FOUR Things to Know and ONE Thing to Do

Raise Your Hand Texas has a front-row seat to the Capitol. From our vantage point, public education policy issues have never been more important, and this is why we must make every session a public education session.

The One Thing to Do:

Support the community of Uvalde.

Raise Your Hand Texas would normally ask you to participate in one of our advocacy or legislative programs as your “One Thing to Do.” Out of respect for the community of Uvalde, Texas, we will instead ask you to consider extending your support to the people of Uvalde going through this difficult time. Here’s how to help Uvalde shooting victims, survivors, and their families.

Four Things to Know:

1. Senate Finance Discusses School Property Taxes

The Senate Finance Committee met on Monday of last week to discuss ways to further reduce Texans’ property tax burden. Since 2006, there has been a continued legislative focus on how to reduce school district property taxes. The approach has been to either create policies to reduce the property tax rate, also known as compression, or increase certain property tax exemptions, like the homestead exemption.

Continued reduction of school district taxes will be expensive because the state funding system must fill in, or hold school districts harmless, for any revenue loss due to these reductions. With over $12 billion available in general revenue, another $12 billion in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, and $3 billion held over from the American Rescue Plan Act from last session, the discussions on how much will be used to provide additional reductions will continue into the 2023 legislative session.

2. Texas Commission on Special Education Meets to Discuss Funding Issues

The Texas Commission on Special Education Funding met on Monday of last week to discuss supplemental services provided by the state for special education students, and to look into what other states do to fund their special education populations. At the top of the meeting, Chairwoman Stacey Neal Combest announced that a three-person internal work group comprised of herself, Rep. Jacey Jetton (R-HD 26) and Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-SD 7). The work group will make recommendations for full consideration and be the primary authors of the final report.

Justin Porter, executive director, special education programs for the Texas Education Agency,  provided an update on the number of families taking advantage of funding from SB 1716, supplemental funding for special education services outside of the classroom. The grant of up to $1,500 in one-time funds for each participating student has already met its funding quota for the year, but demand has not been met as students still remain on the waitlist to receive supplemental funding through their Education Service Center.

Invited testimony included analysts from WestEd who compared the various special education funding programs across the 50 states, outlining unique models based on services and talking to the merits of formula funding versus grant funding. Following this broad perspective of special education funding structures came three sets of presenters highlighting various school voucher models for funding special education services ranging from educational savings accounts to direct state sponsored voucher programs for students receiving special education services in a private school.

3. Senate Education Committee Focuses on Teacher Workforce Issues

The Senate Education Committee met on Tuesday of last week to discuss numerous issues related to our public schools. The focus of the meeting was on teacher workforce issues, but the committee also discussed the impacts on school funding from HB 3 and HB 1525, and accelerated instruction related to HB 4545.

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Morath talked about the current teacher shortage, attracting, retaining, and training our nearly 400,000 teacher workforce. There were many questions related to the high demands placed on teachers in their work schedule and how those demands contribute to challenges with recruitment and retention in the profession. Commissioner Morath also emphasized the importance of teacher training and the different support systems teachers need based on the type of training they receive.

Raise Your Hand Texas submitted written testimony encouraging committee members to consider policies like teacher loan forgiveness and scholarships, better transparency for teacher prep programs, and more time for teachers to focus on classroom instruction.

4. House Public Education Committee Discusses School Funding, Accountability, and More

The House Public Education Committee met on Tuesday of last week to discuss the state of school funding, the accountability system, and the impact of COVID-19 on learning, mental health, and absenteeism. The hearing began with a conversation on mental health which included four panels of experts and centered around the impact of poor mental health on learning and current programs supporting students, teachers, and schools. The TEA shared their statewide plan for student mental health required by SB 11 (86-R). The five-year plan is split into three goals: 1) objectively measure mental health progress; 2) increase in-school access to effective mental health resources; and 3) increase out-of-school access to specialized mental health services. According to a March 2022 analysis by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 37% of U.S. high school students surveyed reported experiencing poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic – 44% of them felt persistently sad or hopeless during the last year.

The second half of the invited testimony was led by TEA Commissioner Mike Morath who provided an overview of previously passed legislation, including the accelerated instruction bill HB 4545 (87-R) and the accountability and assessment bill SB 1365 (87-R). The commissioner’s recommendation for improving accelerated instructions included: eliminating the Accelerated Learning Committees, limiting accelerated instruction to reading and math, and increasing the amount of non-ESSER funds dedicated to accelerated instruction. SB 1365 paused the accountability system during the 2020-21 school year. Commissioner Morath reminded the committee that the A-F system would be in full swing by August of 2023 (using test scores from the 2022-23 school year).

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