School Funding

Lawmakers pre-table dozens of K-12 bills

Texas lawmakers unveiled dozens of bills this weekaimed at tackling school safety, teacher quality and expanding school choice.

An increased focus on school safety after the Uvalde massacre and its controversial aftermath is already the focus of the next session. So is a new impetus for new school choice initiatives following requests from parents for more involvement in their child’s education in recent years.

Monday was the first day lawmakers could “pre-table” bills, foreshadowing some of their priorities. The deluge of hundreds of bills was just a fraction of the bills that will be introduced in the 88th session of the Legislative Assembly which begins on January 10.

With more than 900 bills and proposed constitutional amendments tabled as of noon Tuesday, dozens address a range of education issues.

school safety

Several bills address how school leaders can respond to students who have a history of violent behavior or mental health issues, including HB 34 filed by Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands. The bill would codify the requirement for every elementary and secondary school to create an annual “safe classroom review committee” that could oversee school safety initiatives and even refer students with a history of violence towards law enforcement or alternative schools.

Texas lawmakers unveil bills they plan to introduce in 2023 legislative session

Other bills would shift funding to schools to expand mental health services and hire more school psychologists and/or social workers, as well as fund the new requirement for all schools to have silent panic buttons offered by the Texas Education Agency earlier this month.

After the 2018 Santa Fe school shooting, Governor Greg Abbott drafted a 40-point school safety planand although some of these recommendations have become policy, many school leaders say they still don’t get enough funding to ensure the safety and well-being of students on campus.

Uvalde’s shooting response

In response to the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, some parents and educators argue that schools can’t do much without lawmakers addressing gun laws.

Several lawmakers, including State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, who represents Uvalde, have introduced bills that raise the purchase age for assault type long guns to 21. An 18-year-old man allegedly used such a weapon to kill 19 students and two teachers and injure 17 others.

Gutierrez has also tabled legislation that would create a $300 million fund for shooting victims and their families.

A memorial for the 19 children and two teachers killed in the May shooting at Robb Elementary School stands outside the school Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas.(Acacia Coronado/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

School choice

Several bills also seek to renew previously failed efforts to launch school vouchers in Texas. Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville, on Monday filed SB 176, which would establish the “Texas Parental Empowerment Program,” or college savings account program to be administered by the state comptroller.

Education savings accounts are a controversial type of school choice program that allows parents to use taxpayers’ money to send their children to private rather than public schools.

At least one other bill already tabled discusses tax credit opportunities for individuals who donate to private schools and sets out requirements for private organizations hoping to serve students who are part of a voucher program.

Many have planned efforts to advance voucher legislation this session. More bills, potentially from top Republican leaders, are expected, as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Abbott have both raised the issue on the campaign trail in recent months.

Opponents – including most heads of public establishments – have already begun to ask lawmakers not to divert much-needed funds from public schools.

Texas lawmakers set to battle for school vouchers as bill filing begins

Ethnic, Social Studies, and Other Curriculum Debates

Democrats also reintroduced a bill that would require public schools to offer ethnic studies — a contentious topic amid the ongoing culture wars.

Lawmakers cite the need for students to understand their own history and culture, and the proposal comes as state education officials put an overhaul of state social studies standards on hold.

HB 45, filed by Houston Democrat Christina Morales, would add ethnic studies, specifically Mexican-American and African-American history, to the social studies curriculum required in high school.

The bill could face opposition from Republican lawmakers who have banned critical race theory teaching in recent years and fought to restrict the books available in school libraries.

A handful of other bills pre-introduced Monday would require the high school social studies curriculum to provide students with information about voting, that students take a course on the constitutions of the United States and Texas, that schools offer courses in fine arts and would approach design and human life. taught in health class.

Parents fill the room at the Fort Worth Independent School District meeting on December 14, 2021....
Parents fill the room at the Fort Worth Independent School District meeting on Dec. 14, 2021. Parents gathered with signs protesting the teaching of Critical Race Theory and calling on Superintendent Kent Scribner to step down. (Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

Test

Although some Democrats, including failed gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, have dominated debates over state assessments in recent months, Plano Republican Matt Shaheen has tabled a bill, HB 680, this would limit how test results are used evaluate teachers and ask students to take tests designed to measure growth.

O’Rourke said he would have canceled the state’s best-known standardized test, STAAR, if elected. The national education agency has already unveiled changes to the test for 2023.

Democratic Republic of El Paso Mary González introduced a bill which would establish a commission “to develop and make recommendations to improve current public school evaluation and accountability systems.”

Teachers’ pensions

Rising taxes, medical costs and inflation are severely affecting retired teachers in Texas, who have not seen a cost of living increase since 2004.

Nearly a dozen bills, introduced by Democrats and Republicans, seek changes to Texas’ teachers’ retirement system, including a 10% cost-of-living increase proposed by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D -Laredo, and a proposal by Rep. John Bucy III, D-Austin, that would require the state to conduct a biennial study of the impact of inflation on retiree benefits and the need for further adjustments based on cost of life.

Some education advocates are also anticipating possible changes to the retirement system, such as loosening rules around the benefits retirees can receive if they return to work to temporarily fill classroom vacancies during the current shortage of teachers.

School Funding Calculation

Representative Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, is also back with an earlier effort to change the way schools are funded.

Schools are largely funded based on people who show up to class, rather than total enrollment in a school. Education funding experts say using such an attendance-based funding model exacerbates inequity — and that continuing to do so as districts struggle to recover from the coronavirus pandemic could be particularly harmful.

HB 31 would replace attendance with state code registration, potentially increasing school funding for districts that serve larger percentages of low-income families or students with disabilities.

Writers Talia Richman, Robert Garrett, Allie Morris, Lauren McGaughy and Philip Jankowski contributed to this story.

The DMN Education Lab deepens coverage and conversation about pressing education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

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