Welcome! The Capitol Update provides you with expert insight and analysis on legislative issues impacting Texas public school students and educators. In this month’s Capitol Update, the Raise Your Hand Texas policy team members reflect on their legislative checklist, discuss school finance expectations, and announce their plan for expanding pro-public education advocacy in Texas.
Capitol Connections with Michelle
Michelle Smith, Ph.D.
Vice President of Policy and Advocacy
In 2018, Raise Your Hand Texas put together a list of legislative priorities we set out to accomplish during the 86th legislative session. After months of attending hearings, analyzing amendments, and advocating for public education, Raise Your Hand is happy to report that it was a good session for the issues our organization believes in.
Through House Bill 3, the major school finance bill, Texas pumped $6.5 billion new dollars into education for the biennium. With that money, Texas secured:
- Statewide funding for full-day pre-K, a proven practice for improving kindergarten readiness, third grade literacy, and long-term success.
- For the first time since 2011, school districts will be funded above inflation and enrollment growth. Much of this funding is flexible, allowing school districts to prioritize spending based on their particular needs. Additionally, funding weights have been added to ensure the school finance formulas funnel resources to students who need it the most.
- Students receiving special education and dyslexia services, and students most affected by poverty, will directly benefit from this targeted support.
In collaboration with other education advocacy groups, Raise Your Hand helped defeat proposals tying school funding to 3rd grade outcomes on high-stakes tests. Not only is there a lack of research supporting outcomes-based funding, but an overwhelming majority of Texans have expressed their opposition to it as well. The legislature was wise to remove this language from HB 3. Similarly, lawmakers chose not to consider private school voucher proposals. Instead, they focused on proven programs like blended learning, creating a $12 million grant that school districts can use over the biennium to adopt this data-driven, personalized learning model. For more information on blended learning programs visit raiseyourhandtexas.org/foundation/blended/.
During the session, Raise Your Hand advocated for bringing the state share of education spending back in line with historic levels. While the state share increased from 38 to 45 percent, some of this change was due to the state paying for property tax relief, rather than making a greater investment in our schools. The plan, which included an ongoing commitment to a 2.5 percent cap on school property tax collections, may not be sustainable within existing state revenue sources. This is an issue Texas still needs to work on and why moving forward, we plan to do even more to ensure public education gets the support it needs.
Legislators took an important first step this session toward additional investment in our public schools, but we must not allow their progress to end here. Education is and must always be a priority for the state.
Bob’s Two Cents
Director of Policy
A new school year is nearly upon us and, thanks to the Texas Legislature, it will bring with it several new changes for public schools across the state. As schools begin to implement these new changes from HB 3 and finalize budgets for the upcoming 2019-20 school year, the Texas Education Agency is releasing a series of videos over the coming months to help.
The most pressing issue is how to properly determine the funding increases from the changes made to the school finance system. There were a lot of changes in the school finance formulas. Some are complex and will take months, if not longer, to figure out. Each school’s funding level will be different due to these changes and this will impact how schools deal with some of the various requirements, including salary increases for teachers and expansion to full-day pre-Kindergarten. The takeaway from this is that all schools are different so don’t be surprised if many of these programs and requirements look somewhat different to fit the needs of each local school.
Raise Your Hand Texas is excited about the impact full-day pre-Kindergarten will have our students. Rolling out full-day pre-Kindergarten across the state will take more than a single school year, however. While many schools have announced the move to full-day pre-Kindergarten, there are some schools that need additional time to hire qualified teachers and build the additional space required. While some schools gear up to provide full-day pre-K for the first time, all K-3 teachers and principals will be required to attend a literacy achievement academy over the next two years. This will be a massive undertaking, but will hopefully prove to be beneficial for our teachers and students. In addition, school boards will be required to develop and post an online five-year early childhood literacy plan, a mathematics proficiency plan, and a college, career and military readiness plan. Most of the policies in HB 3 will take years to unfold and adequately evaluate, but Raise Your Hand Texas is pleased with the direction our state is taking on early childhood education.
On the Move with Libby
Libby Cohen, Ph.D.
Director of Advocacy and Outreach
The Texas Legislature deserves a round of applause for the additional support it provided to public education this session, especially for the decision to fund full-day pre-K for all eligible students. I also want to recognize all the education advocates who worked tirelessly to educate, inform, and raise their voice on behalf of Texas students and teachers. Thousands upon thousands of you made phone calls, wrote letters, sent emails, and visited legislative offices to advocate for our public schools. Thanks to your efforts, additional funding will go toward the students who need it most, teachers will get the recognition they deserve for their hard work, and more students will enter school kindergarten-ready. It was amazing to see Texans come together in such a positive, coordinated way to support our future this session.
The best part, though, is that this is only the beginning. Through our collective efforts, we made significant strides for public education (all while avoiding a special session!). It is imperative that we continue to strengthen this pro-public education wave—that we continue to make public education a priority in every session to come. To accomplish this, Raise Your Hand is expanding our advocacy efforts. We are hiring a dozen Regional Advocacy Directors in the coming months to help cultivate a pro-public education climate across Texas. We are also developing a new set of priorities and research projects to further advance public education in our state. These interim efforts, along with the continued work by our programs and marketing teams to invest directly in educators and share the power and promise of our public schools, are what will guide us toward a legislative session with even more opportunities to invest in Texas education.
If you envision a future where every child enters kindergarten ready to learn, where our schools are robustly funded, and where teachers are empowered to meet the needs of all 21st-century learners, we hope you’ll join us. Moving forward, let’s make every legislative session a public education session.