August 15, 2011 Update — Texas PTA Final Session Report
Texas PTA was successful in addressing several priorities:
- Passing legislation to address bullying, including cyberbullying, in schools
- Passing legislation to ban possession of K-2 or Spice, a powerful synthetic cannabis sold as incense
- Maintaining class size limits in grades K-4 and maintaining the parental notification requirement when a waiver of class size limits is obtained
- Maintaining School Health Advisory Councils
- Maintaining Fitnessgram, although it was reduced
- Maintaining the Back to School Sales Tax Free Days
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May 13, 2011 Update — Call to Action!
Ten legislators (5 from the Senate and 5 from the House of Representatives) have been selected to negotiate a compromise from the two versions of the budget that have been previously passed by the Senate and House. This compromise bill will then be voted on by all the members of the Texas Legislature.
As the media has reported, the budgets being considered dramatically reduce the funding for public education, as well as health and human services and other state spending. Unless Texans take action now to let the conferees know we want more money spent on education, we may get a LOT LESS for our public schools.
AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen mentioned Thursday, and again on Friday, that while the district has been diligently planning for a large cut in state funding, which we local schools know we will feel next year with the loss of staff and smaller budgets for daily operations, what is currently being proposed would be even greater than anticipated! It’s rather hard to conceptualize that AISD would have to cut even more from its already shrinking budget, making the discussion of school closures, boundary changes, and stricter transfer policies a real possibility.
If you support more funding for public education, then please contact the following conference committee members and share that message. If you have an idea from where that additional funding might come, feel free to say so. Don’t expect others to do this on your behalf. These elected officials need to hear from families who appreciate a high-quality public education. A simple email or phone call is all it takes.
· Senator Steve Ogden 512.463.0105 email@example.com
· Senator Juan Hinojosa 512.463.0120 firstname.lastname@example.org
· Senator Robert Duncan 512.463.0128 email@example.com
· Senator Jane Nelson 512.463.0112 firstname.lastname@example.org
· Senator Tommy Williams 512.463.0104 email@example.com
· Representative Jim Pitts 512.463.0516 firstname.lastname@example.org
· Representative Sylvester Turner 512.463.0554 email@example.com
· Representative Myra Crownover 512.463.0582 firstname.lastname@example.org
· Representative John Zerwas 512.463.0657 email@example.com
· Representative John Otto 512.463.0570 firstname.lastname@example.org
May 13, 2011 Update
Conferees for House Bill 1, the state budget, have been named in both the House and Senate. Conferees are as follows:
Senate: Ogden (R-Bryan), Duncan (R-Lubbock), Hinojosa (D-McAllen) Nelson (R-Flower Mound), Williams (R-The Woodlands)
House: Pitts (R-Waxahachie), Crownover (R-Lake Dallas), Otto (R-Dayton), Turner (D-Houston), Zerwas (R-Simonton)
The House and Senate conferees have met this week to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget, and are reportedly nearing the completion of their work, except for decisions regarding public education funding. They will bring back a recommendation for the full Legislature to adopt that will determine whether the budget cuts public education by $4 billion (as proposed by the Senate), $8 billion (as proposed by the House), or somewhere in-between. They will also make decisions on grants such as the Student Success Initiative, and DATE teacher incentives, which could help Austin ISD secure the dollars necessary to secure millions in federal funding.
Today, Senate Finance Chair Steve Ogden predicted that the differences that remain on the budget could make a special session likely.
Neither of the two school finance bills have been considered by the House or Senate, and at this point, they are not expected to pass. Due to the fact that the bills are not moving, much attention has turned to the topic of “proration,” which is the mechanism that would be used if school finance legislation fails to pass.
Proration is a mechanism in law that pre-dates Robin Hood, which attempts to reduce the state aid for school districts in proportion to the size of each district’s tax base. It is important to note that proration is intended to effectuate only a delay in funding, not a cut. The Legislature then is expected to return the next session (2013) and make up the loss through a supplemental appropriation. Due to the size of the cut proposed in the state budget and therefore the presumed timing for the delayed payments that would not be made to school districts, it can be assumed that the burden of proration would fall on districts with property wealth per pupil below the statewide average. Districts with property wealth per pupil above the state average (like Austin ISD) would not miss these payments, and thus would see minimum impact in comparison. The monetary loss under proration for Austin ISD would be far less than what has been proposed previously in the House school finance bill.
If a school finance bill is not passed during the regular session, proration could be used in the manner described above, or a special session could be called to deal with the issue of school finance. A special session could be called as early as this summer or any time through 2012.
Proration only comes into play if no school finance bill passes this session. Just because the two bills that had previously been working their way through the process seem to be stuck, that does not mean a school finance bill will not pass. There are several bills moving through the process to which school finance provisions could be added, such SB 1811 and SB 1581, relating to state fiscal matters concerning public and higher education. The question is whether the provisions to be added will resemble what we have previously seen in the Senate, which has been more favorable to Austin ISD, or the House, which would be detrimental over the next two years and into the future.
SB 1811 and SB 1581 were voted out of the House Appropriations Committee today. They are expected to be considered by the full House, and amended, on Wednesday, May 18.
School District Flexibility
House Bill 400, which would give districts flexibility and relief from mandates, resulting in at least $14 million in savings for Austin ISD, failed to pass the House of Representative before the deadline for passage of House bills. This bill would provide districts with management tools such as the ability to determine the level of staff salaries and pay structures, the ability to utilize furlough days, and a less costly termination process if a district is forced to use a Reduction in Force (RIF) due to financial exigency.
Similar to the possible scenario for the school finance bill described above, it is believed that bills already moving through the process could still serve as vehicles for this measure as well.
17 days remain of the 140-day Legislative session. The last day of the session is May 30.
May 2, 2011 Update
The consensus bill on bullying will be debated today on the House floor. If you were able to call your legislator over the weekend or this morning, your participation in the process is greatly appreciated.
The budget appears to be stuck in the Senate. There are several senators who will not vote to bring up the budget bill for debate, either because they feel it spends too much money or because they believe it spends too little money. Each day that passes increases the possibility that we will need a Special Session later this summer to pass a budget.
Today on the House floor HB 3790 will be debated. This bill generates some revenue by collecting fees and tax revenues earlier, and by making various payments later. This bill would suspend the August sales tax holiday in years when the Comptroller certifies that there is not enough revenue to meet the state’s obligations in the current budget, or if the Comptroller estimates that the revenue for an upcoming biennial budget will not be sufficient. Texas PTA understands the need to consider a temporary suspension of the sales tax during these challenging financial circumstances, but urges the Texas Legislature to address the structural deficit in the business tax so that the state has the necessary revenue to adequately fund public education, health and human services and other aspects of state government.
The House bill that relaxes mandates on ISDs, including shifting to a district class size average in grades K-4, has been brought down twice on procedural motions. It will likely be back before the Texas House this week.
Legislation to authorize creation of Virtual School High Schools in Texas will likely be debated this week in the Senate. SB 1483 by Shapiro also adds a requirement that ISDs adopt policies that allow students to take electronic classes through the state’s Virtual School Network.
April 29, 2011 Update
The House Public Education Committee met on Tuesday, April 26, for a work session on school finance. Chairman Rob Eissler (R-The Woodlands) laid out his ideas, and the committee discussed his proposed approach. Chairman Eissler suggested a “cost containment” mechanism that would phase out the Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR, or target revenue) over a three year period. Under this proposal, Austin ISD would lose $40.5 million in FY2012, another $40.5 million in FY2013, and another $30 million in FY2014 to ultimately reach a total loss of $111 million. This amount is the same loss experienced under the proposal in HB 2485 by Rep. Scott Hochberg (D-Houston), which represents complete loss of ASATR, but it would be phased out over three years, rather than two. The committee took no action on the proposals, and it unclear whether Rep. Eissler will pursue a floor amendment with his proposal.
School District Flexibility
On Tuesday, the House was scheduled to take up HB 400, which relates to school district flexibility and the preservation of jobs for district employees through use of employee furloughs, ability to reduce salaries, and flexibility on class size requirements. Rep. Borris Miles (D-Houston) raised a point of order, regarding the bill analysis, which delayed consideration of the legislation. HB 400 was sent back to committee to be corrected and was voted out again, so that it can be back on the House calendar next week. Rep. Miles has said he intends to raise additional points of order when the bill is brought back to the House floor.
On the Senate side, all eyes have been on the state budget, which has not yet been brought to the full Senate for consideration. As reported last week, the Senate Finance Committee recommended a bill that relies on an additional $3 billion from the Rainy Day Fund. This version of the budget provides $4 billion more for public education compared to the version passed by the House. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst distributed a letter this week urging Senators to pass the Senate budget bill, without use of the Rainy Day Fund, but rather contingent on an increase in state revenue to balance the budget.
At the time this update was written, the Senate did not have the 21 votes necessary to suspend the Senate rules and consider the state budget. There are members of both parties who do not want to vote for the budget bill at this time—some who think the bill spends too much, and some who thing it spends too little. Without 21 votes, the bill cannot be brought up for consideration, and without passage of the bill in the 30 days that remain in the regular session, the Governor will have to call a special session to pass a budget bill.
Senate Bills on the Move
Two other bills of note that passed the Senate Thursday include:
- SB 4 (Shapiro), relating to certification, performance, continuing education, and appraisal of public school teachers. This bill would change the teacher appraisal system in Texas, and base evaluations on effectiveness and annual improvement of the teacher’s students. The system would be developed over the next two years and then implemented in the 2013-2014 school year.
- SJR 5 (Ogden), which proposes a constitutional amendment relating to increasing the market value of the permanent school fund (PSF) for the purpose of allowing increased distributions from the available school fund. This bill would allow voters to approve whether an additional $92.4 million each year from the PSF would be available for schools for the 2012-13 biennium.
April 21, 2011 Update
The Senate Finance Committee took action today on House Bill 1. The bill was favorably recommended as amended to the full Senate by a vote of 11-4. The Senate’s version of the budget bill reduces the Foundation School Program by $4 billion for the biennium (compared to a reduction of $8.6 billion in the House version).
The recommendations also included $400 million for discretionary grant programs, including $125 million for the teacher incentive program. If that grant remains in the budget, it would help Austin ISD secure the necessary funding to qualify for $62 million in federal grant dollars over the next five years for the expansion of the Reach program in schools on the east side of Austin.
Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) stated that the State will need to tap into $3 billion more from the Rainy Day Fund in order to balance the budget proposed by the Senate, with significantly less cuts to public education.
On Monday, the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Public Education Funding considered Senate Bill 22 by Senator Florence Shapiro (R-Plano). AISD Board President Mark Williams testified in favor of the hybrid model of distribution proposed in the bill, due to the fair way funding cuts would be applied to all districts, which would not disproportionately punish some “property wealthy” districts (like Austin) as opposed to others.
Senator Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) announced at the hearing that he intended to propose an amendment on Wednesday that would place the lion’s share of the cuts on those districts that are property wealthy, which would have resulted in a reduction of 18% for AISD. On Wednesday morning, Senator Seliger stated that he had decided not to offer his amendment.
The Senate Finance Committee gave a favorable recommendation to Senate Bill 22 and has sent the bill to the full Senate. This bill would result in cuts to Austin ISD of $50.5 million (7.5%) in 2011-2012 and $58 million (8.5%) in 2012-2013, compared to an average cut statewide of 4.9% the first year and 5.4% the second year.
On the House side, the Public Education Committee gave approval on Tuesday evening to Representative Scott Hochberg’s (D-Houston) House Bill 2485. This bill would result in cuts to Austin ISD of $80.7 million (12%) in 2011-2012 and $111 million (16.3%) in 2012-2013, compared to an average cut statewide of 7.6% the first year and 9.1% the second year.
HB 2485 will now advance to the full House, where it is believed that amendments will be proposed that could greatly alter the bill.
School District Flexibility
House Bill 400 by Representative Rob Eissler (R-Conroe) is scheduled to be considered by the House of Representatives on Tuesday, April 26. HB 400 is consistent with the guiding principle adopted by the AISD Board of Trustees to “provide flexibility to allow local school districts to prioritize spending” as it would allow school districts flexibility and relief from mandates that could result in savings for districts. This bill provides districts with management tools such as the ability to determine the level of staff salaries and pay structures, the ability to utilize furlough days, and a less costly termination process if a district is forced to use a Reduction in Force (RIF) due to financial exigency. The bill as passed by committee converts the class size limit of 22:1 for grades K-4 to that of an average across the district, however the bill’s author will amend the bill on the floor to maintain the current class size limits, with a more efficient process for requesting any necessary waivers.
The Senate Education Committee passed Senate Bill 12 out of committee last week, and the full Senate is expected to take up SB 12 next week. SB 12 would provide some flexibility that could reduce in school district efficiency and savings, such as posting notices on-line rather that mailing them or publishing them in a newspaper. Additionally, the bill would allow school districts to utilize a furlough as a means to reduce staff salaries and prevent further lay-offs.
Less than 40 days remain of the 140-day Legislative session.
March 4, 2011 Update
Pitts Files Bill to Access Rainy Day Fund
Representative Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, filed a bill that would access about $4.3 billion from Texas’ Rainy Day Fund to cover a deficit in the state’s current two-year budget.
The passage of HB 275 is necessary if legislators want to tap the Rainy Day Fund to cover the budget shortfall in the current biennium, and give some relief in the next budget cycle. Three-fifths of legislators in both the House (90 representatives) and Senate (19 senators) will need to approve tapping the fund to apply to deficits in a current budget.
School Finance Discussions Continue
The Senate Finance Subcommittee on Public Education Funding reviewed the impact on school districts of eliminating Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR). Such action would reduce funding for Austin ISD at a rate equivalent to about 20 percent. Eliminating target revenue would not have a negative impact on all districts though, and the proposal would only cover half of the shortfall for public education in the proposed budget.
Models for other proposals that would reduce funding for public education by $2 billion per year were also run in a variety of forms. While the $4 billion cut doesn’t bridge the gap budget writers face, the models illustrate the impact of the various forms of cuts. The first scenario caps the amount of ASATR a district could receive. Under this scenario, 693 districts fare better, while the others, including Austin, do not. This scenario would mean that reductions for Austin would total $113 million per year. The second model proposes proportional cuts for every district, which is more favorable to large urban districts like Austin, and would cost AISD $38 million per year. The third scenario is a hybrid of the two above; with a limit on the loss any one district would face of 10%. This final scenario would cost Austin ISD $62 million.
Additionally, Comptroller Susan Combs announced that future property value growth is expected to be a little higher than previously thought for the upcoming biennium. The comptroller attributed the revised estimates to improved forecasts for commercial real estate.
While the Texas Education Agency has not yet calculated the financial impact the new estimates would have, Joe Wisnoski of Moak, Casey & Associates said initial figures show an increase of $400 million to $500 million in net revenue for the Foundation School Program. TEA and the Legislative Budget Board will be revising their models to include the new estimates.
The subcommittee has been posting all handouts and presentations online within one day of each hearing. If you wish to review those documents, you may click here.
Senate Education Committee Begins Voting Out Bills
The Senate Education Committee met Tuesday to discuss a number of bills. Several bills were voted out of the committee and sent to the full Senate.
- Senate Bill 79 by Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) addresses a district’s grading policy. This bill was filed to clarify confusion stemming from 2009 grading policy legislation and prohibits districts from requiring a teacher to assign a minimum grade on assignments or report cards. This bill was voted out of committee and sent to the local calendar.
- SB 140 by Senator Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) will clarify mandatory attendance policy, applying it to kindergarten through 12th grade, and prohibiting students from being pulled out of one class for tutorials regarding an unrelated subject. This bill was voted out of committee and sent to the local calendar.
- SB 912 by Senators West, Shapiro, Davis, and Duncan gives teachers two additional weeks after receiving notice of proposed contract nonrenewal to request a hearing before the school board to protest that decision. The bill would become effective immediately if it is passed by two-thirds of legislators in both the House and Senate and would be applicable only for the 2010-11 school year. This bill was voted out of committee and now goes to the full Senate for debate.
- SB 391 by Senator Dan Patrick (R-Houston) requires publishers to provide electronic sample review copies of State Board of Education adopted instructional materials, which would reduce state cost. The bill was voted out of committee and will go to the local calendar.
The Committee also debated SB 296, by Senator Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio), which forces developers to register with nearby school districts if their proposed development exceeds 1,000 units. AISD Trustee Robert Schneider testified in favor of this legislation, but due to concerns raised by developers, the committee left the bill pending. Mr. Schneider’s testimony can be found here.
Other legislation left pending due to the state costs proposed by the bills were SB 596 by Senator Shapiro, which proposes starting transition programs for special education students at age 14, rather than 16, and SB 570, also by Senator Shapiro, which would expand a new teacher mentoring program.
House Public Education
The House Public Education Committee also met on Tuesday and heard five bills, but none of them were voted on by the committee.
- HB 734 by Rep. Diane Patrick (R-Arlington), about the ability of magistrates in certain counties to hear truancy cases;
- HB 135 by Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) concerning clock hours of classroom practice for placement of alternative certification candidates;
- HB 336 by Rep. Vanessa Marquez (D-El Paso) about requiring schools districts, located in municipalities with a population of more than 500,000, to post to the district website campaign finance reports for candidates seeking a seat on the school district’s board of trustees.
- HB 224 by Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) about bullying and cyberbullying in public schools; and
- HB 233 by Rep. Scott Hochberg (D-Houston), which would eliminate mandatory 4th, 6th, and 7th grade math and reading tests except for certain students. Students in grades 4, 6, and 7 whose performance in reading or mathematics in the prior year is less than a certain amount above the passing standard must be assessed in the relevant subject area or areas. Writing assessments are moved to grades 5 and 8.
Texas PTA Rally Day – February 3, 2011
Learn about the Texas PTA Day at the Capitol (Rally Day), how to conduct a meeting with your legislator and what to expect on Rally Day. Take part in an interactive and informative webinar January 11-14. For more information, check this link.
Texas PTA Legislative Priorities for 2011 Legislative Session
Funding and Accountability for Public Schools
1. Pursue an adequate and equitable solution for school funding while maintaining accountability and responsibility for educating the whole child.
2. Pass statewide Smoke-Free Workplaces Law –- Pursue protections from second-hand smoke for youth and young adults working in service industry.
3. Fight Obesity — Support programs that promote movement, activities, healthier food choices and menus, and promote school, family and community participation
• Reinstate Physical Education and Health Ed. requirements at secondary levels
4. Support Farm to School Programs –- Pursue healthier food choices for children, promote awareness, community involvement, and economic development.
5. Ban possession and distribution of any herbal incense mixtures that contain synthetic cannabinoids such as K2 or Spice.
6. Fund Clean School Bus Program, the grant program for school districts that assists in retrofitting diesel bus engines so they emit fewer toxins.
7. Pass Cyber-Bullying Criminalization statute that defines cyber-bullying and strengthens penalties. Identify student, staff and parent education requirements
Links for More Information
For more information contact Doss Elementary’s Legislative Liaison, Erin Jones at email@example.com.