Capitol Update 3/1: An Insider’s Guide to Key Legislative Issues in Texas Public Education Policy

March 4, 2013 |

Tell Senator Lucio You Oppose School Vouchers!

According to a February 27 article in the Rio Grande Guardian, Senate Education Committee Vice Chair Senator Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) plans to file tax credit voucher legislation in the Texas Senate.

Senator Lucio went to great lengths to state several times in the article that the legislation is not a school voucher bill, but that’s sure what it sounds like. The proposed legislation is described in the article as follows:

Lucio said his transfer of students [to private schools] plan would likely involve setting up a non-profit, funded by state dollars and the private sector. Private investors would get a tax credit. He believes the state should commit somewhere between $50 million to $100 million per biennium for the project. He said he expects to help anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 students. The proposal could be viewed as a pilot project, Lucio said, which could be scaled up in future years if it proves successful.

This proposal sounds remarkably similar to the tax credit voucher program that was being advocated by Senate Education Committee Chair Senator Dan Patrick (R-Houston).

Contact Senator Lucio today to let him know that you oppose using taxpayer dollars to provide government subsidies to private schools, particularly when public schools are laboring under $5.3 billion in funding cuts. Ask Senator Lucio to strongly reconsider his decision to file this ill-conceived legislation.

Senator Lucio can be contacted at: (512) 463-0127, [email protected].

Charter School Debate Rages On

As reported in our most recent Capitol Update, the Senate Education Committee heard Chairman Patrick’s omnibus charter school bill, Senate Bill 2, on February 21. Raise Your Hand Texas CEO Dr. David Anthony submitted testimony in opposition to the bill.

While Dr. Anthony noted some improvements in authority to close failing charter schools, these improvements were offset by other provisions in the bill that significantly weaken controls on charter quality, including elimination of the charter cap and weakening of the standard for a charter operator to open additional campuses which is now reserved to high-performing charter schools.

Dr. Anthony’s testimony emphasized, “We’re advocating for a patient approach to charters that puts effective oversight in place and issues charters to only the most qualified applicants.”

Apparently, we’re not alone in this view. An editorial in the February 26 Austin American-Statesman entitled, “Not so fast on charter schools,” voiced similar concerns, stating, “We don’t object to eventually raising the cap on charters, but legislators should first establish stronger state oversight of charter operators.”

We’ve since written a blog post on the topic of why the charter cap and strong authorizing practices work together to create better charter schools, instead of just more of them. Check it out!

Raise Your Hand Texas Participates in Texas Tribune Symposium on Public Education at Rice University

Raise Your Hand Texas was pleased to be a sponsor of The Texas Tribune’s symposium, “On the Road: A Symposium on Public Education” conducted in partnership with Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy on Monday, February 25. The full day of panels featured local and national experts on education policy and attracted hundreds of participants. The panelists covered issues confronting public education in Texas, including school choice, teacher quality, accountability and standardized testing.

Dr. David Anthony, CEO of Raise Your Hand Texas, spoke on a panel addressing the topic of school choice. Take a few minutes to watch the video of the panel below.

Dr. Anthony emphasized that while high-performing charters are great options, all children deserve to have a great neighborhood public school. He also spoke on the importance of career and technical education and flexible graduation plans to allow choices for students. Dr. Anthony summed up Raise Your Hand Texas’ views on choice saying, “every decision we make needs to be [about] quality for five million students.” Learn more about Raise Your Hand Texas’ positions on these issues in our Advocacy Center.

Senate Finance Committee Adopts Key Funding Measures; Others Remain Pending

The Senate Finance Committee met on Thursday, February 28, to consider the recommendations made by the committee’s Article III workgroup, the subcommittee charged with studying the public and higher education portions of the budget. Some key recommendations that were adopted into the budget bill:

  • Proposed $35.1 billion for public education funding, which would include funding expected student growth (something the legislature failed to do last biennium).
  • Includes $1.4 billion restored to public education formula funding (of the $5.4 billion that was cut).
  • $40 million restored to fund pre-kindergarten (of the $200 million cut previously). Chairman Williams called this a “down payment” on the cost full-day pre-kindergarten, which would be roughly $800 million. The $40 million would be distributed to districts through the funding formulas, not via a grant program like previous years.
  • Includes $20 million to increase funding for the Virtual School Network.
  • Teach for America would receive an additional $4 million
  • The Student Success Initiative (SSI) would receive $14 million, bringing it to a total of $50 million.
  • $34 million was budgeted for Career & Technology Education (CTE) funding contingent on the passage of a bill raising the formula funding weight for CTE programs.
  • $45.8 million was budgeted for facilities for charter schools contingent on passage of Sen. Patrick’s SB 2.A separate request of $2 million to create the new Charter School Authorizing Authority board, also included in Sen. Patrick’s SB 2, was left pending by the committee.

Senate Finance Committee Passes Supplemental Bill and Moves August FSP Payment Back to Current Biennium

The Senate Finance Committee met on Tuesday, February 26 and passed HB 10 by Pitts and SB 758 by Williams. HB 10 is the $4.8 billion supplemental bill to close out the current biennial (2012-13) budget. The bill includes $630 million for the Foundation School Program (FSP), which pays for the day-to-day operations of school districts, i.e. the funding “formulas.” The $630 million is how much districts need to close out current school year budgets. Chairman Tommy Williams introduced a committee substitute that would appropriate an additional $1.75 billion to move the final FSP payment back into this biennium, contingent upon passage of SB 758, the bill containing the statutory changes needed to do this. (SB 758 also passed the committee on Tuesday.)

During the last legislative session, the legislature delayed the final August FSP payment to school districts so it wouldn’t be considered as part of last biennium’s budget (a maneuver that essentially lowers the amount of funding needed to cover the public education budget, often done when there is a budget shortfall). Moving it back to the current biennium is simply a return to the way the budget is normally handled.

Governor Jeb Bush Addresses Senate Education Committee

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush addressed the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, February 27, in the Senate Chamber. He emphasized the importance of vouchers and tax credits, as well as accountability and charter schools. He told the committee that due to online classes, vouchers and charter schools, 45% of all Florida students are learning in ways other than traditional schools. He encouraged legislators to “go big or go home” with education reforms, saying that while many changes are not popular, these “tough love” policies should be enacted and funded. Read this article by Kate Alexander of the Austin American-Statesman to learn more about the hearing.

Bill Filing Deadline March 8th

Friday, March 8th, is the 60th day of the legislative session and the last day members may file legislation to be considered this session. It is common for “shell bills” to be filed at this time. Shell bills are related to a general subject, but lack specifics, so members may use them as vehicles for substitutes and amendments down the road. It is important to keep an eye on shell bills as the legislative details are often revealed last minute and behind the scenes.

Stay Informed!

One of the keys to being an effective advocate for public education is staying informed. We hope you find our Capitol Update to be helpful. If so, forward it to a friend!

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