The year 2020 will go down in history as a chaotic time for our nation, states, local governments and public schools. The current COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the landscape for schools and communities. Principals and teachers have been forced to maximize the learning our children receive by way of virtual learning. Parents have missed work in order to stay home with their children. Many students are “missing” as they are not tuning in online or they are simply absent from school. Districts are seeing reduced ADA which can significantly decrease the amount of funding they receive from the State.
This, and a mountain of uncertainty in the economic health of Texas await the upcoming 87th Texas Legislature.
Even more, there are questions as to the process in which the legislature will operate. There is no certainty ‘The People’s House’ will be open to the public. How will this affect the ability of citizens and associations to impact legislation? Will TEPSA and our members be able to address the legislative committees to share how proposed bills could help or hurt our schools and communities?
Many legislators feel the Capitol must be open and should welcome Texans who follow prescribed protocol. But not everyone in state government feels this will work. Several key leaders have suggested the 87th Legislative Session be gaveled in, the legislators take their oaths, vote on the rules of the session, then gavel out giving the budget writers time to work on the biennial budget for Texas. After a time, they would gavel back into session and pass those…and, a limited number of important pieces of legislation.
Each of our legislators—your representatives and senators—see their bills as crucial to our citizens. A more likely framework for the legislature will be a great deal of work on the budget and a somewhat limited number of bills. With more than 600 House Bills and more than 200 Senate Bills already filed, a ‘limited’ number could be quite large.
Critical issues TEPSA will be following include:
- Fully funding the work of the 86th Legislature, mainly HB 3, the school finance bill. This was a landmark piece of legislation that is key in improving funding of Texas public schools.
- Adjusting and reforming the entire school accountability system.
- Reworking the A–F Rating System to reflect the damage caused by the current pandemic.
- Preventing funds for community public schools from being diverted to more charter schools, especially online/virtual charter school platforms. If nothing else, this pandemic has shown that virtual learning has not worked for the majority of children.
- Protecting the ability of TEPSA, and other associations, to freely advocate for our members, schools and students by preventing so-called ‘lobby bills.’
- Increasing the health and actuarial soundness of TRS and TRS-Active Care Medical Benefits. This includes keeping a defined benefits program for retirees, which all TEPSANs will be someday.
- Expanding and improving internet access for all Texas students.
- And, many more as bills are generated by legislators.
This year will be one in which you will be called upon to advocate for your students, schools, communities, and for your profession. Start now:
- Sign up for our text-based advocacy updates. We’ll text you when an important bill is coming up. Messages include talking points and contact info for your legislators.
- Send a congratulatory note to your Representative and Senator—whether you voted for them or not. This could be the beginning of an important relationship!
We’re here to support your work and advocacy efforts.
- Email Mark Terry with questions.
- Visit the Advocacy section for more tools including tips for working with lawmakers.
- Share your school’s successes and challenges on social media, tag your legislators, @TEPSAtalk and #WeLeadTX.
Mark Terry is Deputy Executive Director at TEPSA.