Capitol Update: April 30, 2019

April 30, 2019  

Welcome to the 86th Legislative Session! The Capitol Update will provide you with expert insight and analysis on legislative issues impacting Texas public school students and educators. This month’s Capitol Update covers important dates as we approach the final month of the regular session, a review of the new substituted language in House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 4, and the work our Principal Advocacy Fellows are doing to champion public education.

Capitol Connections with Michelle

There are 27 short days left in the 2019 legislative session and things are finally heating up. Major school finance and property tax reform bills are working their way through the process and we are cautiously optimistic that legislators will get their work done by May 27th, avoiding the dreaded special session process.

In case you’re a true policy nerd, here are a few important dates for you:

  • May 6th: last day for House Committees to report out House bills.
  • May 9th: last day for the full House to consider House bills (besides local bills).
  • May 21st: last day for the full House to consider Senate bills (besides local bills).

After that, conference committees will hold a series of closed-door discussions to hammer out various comprises.

Now is a great time for you to reach out to your representatives and senators to remind them that school finance should be their number one priority for the next 27 days. You can use our 2019 Public Perceptions Poll to explain that 71.7 percent of likely voters think there is not enough money being spent on education in Texas. More than 82 percent believe that high-quality pre-K for at-risk students can help level the playing field for school readiness. And 78.4 percent oppose increases in public school funding tied to student performance on high-stakes tests.

Bob’s Two Cents

As we head into the final month of the legislative session, the conversation on school finance has narrowed in on three big issues: the need for investment in proven programs, the impact of various tax reform proposals, and the availability of flexible funding for school districts.

We at Raise Your Hand Texas are pleased the Senate substitute to HB 3 and SB 4 released last week maintains the requirement for high-quality, full-day pre-K. Decades of research shows full-day pre-K helps give all students a fair shot at success in school and life, and we are encouraged by the legislature’s continued progress on this issue. The substitute also includes updates to the compensatory allotment and new funding weights for students with dyslexia and dual-language learners, ensuring adequate resources are available for the students who need them most.

While there are several aspects of the substitute Raise Your Hand fully supports, some policy initiatives give us pause. First, there is no research backing the test-based funding programs proposed in the bill, especially in the third grade. There is already an overemphasis on high-stakes testing in Texas. Test-based funding would make this overemphasis worse.

No two school districts share identical needs and concerns. This is why it is critical to provide school districts with flexible funding to effectively address their priorities. Unfortunately, the substitute bill reduces the amount of flexible funding to school districts by lowering the proposed basic allotment from $6,030 to 5,880 and moving to current year property values. These changes — coupled with a potentially unsustainable $5,000 across-the-board teacher pay raise, lack of any inflation drivers, required tax rate compression, and five-year cliff in transition funding — set our public schools up to face drastic cuts in the future. In addition, the tax-rate compression proposal, as now written, will undoubtedly require school districts to set substantially different rates to achieve the same funding levels. While we appreciate the need for a reduction in property taxes, we strongly believe it should be equal and uniform both to maintain Texas an attractive business destination and benefit all taxpayers fairly.

As the session winds down, we will continue to work with lawmakers to focus on investing in proven programs, supporting an increase in flexible funding, and crafting a tax relief plan the state can afford.

Was this summary not nerdy enough for you? Check out our updated side-by-side comparison of HB 3 and SB 4 to really get in the weeds.

On the Move with Libby

On April 16th and 17th, Raise Your Hand Texas’ first cohort of Principal Advocacy Fellows gathered in Austin for the third time this legislative session. Since January, this group of 18 public school principals from across the state have been learning the ins and outs of state education policy, politics, and advocacy. They have built relationships with their legislators; met with staff from leadership offices; and informed and mobilized educators, parents, and community members in their respective districts. Recently, the Fellows collected thousands of Love Letter postcards designed by a group called Just Fund It TX. These letters give students and adults the chance to share what they love about their public schools, say how they feel about being 43rd in the country in per-pupil spending, and express their desire for a long-term plan to address school finance issues in Texas. The Love Letters will be delivered to lawmakers in May.

Staying Informed

Raise Your Hand offers several resources to keep you in the loop throughout the session:

  • Bills are subject to change as they go through the legislative process. Keep up with the updated school finance bills by clicking on our latest side-by-side comparison of House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 4.
  • Want to know how fellow Texans feel about our education system? Check out the results of our new Texas Public Education Perception Poll.
  • Check out the new Raise Your Hand Texas Pre-K Map, located at the bottom of our 2019 Session Toolkit. The toolkit is updated daily with our latest policy materials, including graphics that you are encouraged to use and share.
  • Join us in standing up for public schools! Sign up to get involved by texting RAISEMYHAND to 40649 or by filling out our form on our advocacy page.

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