By Mark Terry
The mood was contentious throughout the 87th Texas Legislative Session. The session began with uncertainty about how our state government would function with COVID-19 restrictions and ended with House Democrats walking out to prevent the passage of voter laws approved by the Texas Senate. The new Speaker of the House, Dade Phelan, upended House Committees by replacing many longstanding Chairs. The House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty was replaced with Representative Harold Dutton.
Despite the unforgiving and fractious atmosphere, TEPSA was at the Capitol from the first days of the session until sine die (the last day of the session). You and your TEPSA team had some important wins by preventing legislation harmful to schools. However, there were bills that passed that never would have gotten out of committee in a normal session.
Two notable bills which have immediate impact on you as a building or district leader include:
SB 179 (Lucio)
- Orders a board policy to require that counselors spend at least 80% of their time on “duties that are components of a counseling program.”
- Time spent on administering assessment instruments does not count toward the 80%.
- Time spent interpreting data from the assessment does count.
- If the board determines that staffing needs require a counselor to spend less than 80% the board policy must include the reasons for this, the non-counseling duties that need to be done, and must set the percentage of work time the counselor will counsel.
So, if you are in a small school district that might have only a principal and a counselor, you will be greatly impacted. Duties that other certified personnel perform as a regular course of the day will add up towards the 20% very quickly. What will this bill do to your schedule and to the climate of your school?
SB 1697 (Paxton)
- Parents of students in traditional or charter schools may choose to have their child 1) repeat PreK; 2) enroll in PreK if the student would have been eligible in the previous year as a three-year-old; 3) repeat kindergarten; 4) enroll in kindergarten if the student could have enrolled in kindergarten in the previous year, and has not enrolled in first grade; or 5) Repeat any grade from 1-8.
- This is COVID-related. For grades 4 and up, it all expires on September 1, 2022.
- Parents make their election in writing.
- If the parent disagrees with the school’s decision, a retention committee convenes. If the parent disagrees with retention committee decision, the school must “abide by the decision of the parent.”
Finally, the 87th Legislative Session demonstrated the importance of TEPSA members advocating for their schools, their kids and the communities they serve. More than 1,500 people signed up for our TEPSA Legislative Network and over 300 signed up for our new text-based bill notification system, Phone2Action. On one bill alone, 803 TEPSA members made 1,318 contacts with their members of the legislature! Some of the bills YOU afffected included:
- Preventing outcomes-based funding
- Stopping a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying (that would have impacted TEPSA)
- Removing voucher components from numerous bills
- Helping pass bills that gave increased funding for students in need of acceleration
Watch for the upcoming TEPSA Legislative Summary for a more complete review of important bills.
TEPSA has exciting ways for you to be involved during the interim! Contact Mark Terry to ask questions, and to learn how you can become an advocate for public education!
Mark Terry is TEPSA’s Deputy Executive Director.