In the weeks that follow, I’d like to use the column to provide you with a bi-monthly synopsis on developments from the 85th Legislative Session. If you’ve been keeping up with my weekly columns, you’re well aware of my involvement in the education arena. From the very onset of the session, I have made it a priority to better our public education system in Texas. Although this has been challenging in some respects, I believe we have made some positive steps forward. While this week will cover education, subsequent columns will cover other policy areas and give you a briefing on what was accomplished over the last several months in Austin…
Public Education Funding
Even in a session with limited resources, our state budget was able to keep up with the growing number of people moving to Texas and participating in our public education system by fully funding enrollment growth over the next biennium. Furthermore, we added $75 million for those districts falling victim to rapid property value decline, thus losing revenue at the local level. The budget also provided $25 million for the E-Rate Program, which will combine with a substantial federal grant to bring high-speed broadband services to public schools statewide, especially in rural areas.
The Legislature also allocated $1.6 billion for Pre-K funding through the formulas distributed to all districts statewide, and added an additional $236 million for districts who implement high quality Pre-K. As you know, this was a priority for Governor Greg Abbott, and a program that I have supported since my time as a school board member. Finally, through a bill I authored, which was unanimously approved by both the Texas House and Senate, retired teacher health care was saved and given solvency for two more years.
Notable Education Legislation
This session, the Legislature passed HB 22, a bill that makes changes to the A-F accountability system which was passed last session, and has been going through a pilot period over the last two years. The new system includes three domains, instead of five, for campuses and districts to take into account when submitting data to the Texas Education Agency. The new system also eliminates attendance as a metric for grading, and states that high stakes testing scores will account for less than 50% of accountability metrics for high schools – a critical step towards decreasing the importance on the many end of course exams that exist in Texas public schools.
However, perhaps the most important step that the Texas House made in the education arena was a policy program that did not pass. On multiple occasions, the House voted with overwhelming bipartisan support against spending public tax dollars for private school vouchers, or education savings accounts. It is my opinion, and one which is shared by a significant majority of my House colleagues, that the Legislature should focus our limited resources on improving existing public and charter schools, rather than diverting hard earned taxpayer dollars for a program that research has proven to produce mixed results at best. In many cases, local school districts are the lifeblood of rural communities like the ones I represent, and I’m proud to stand with the schoolchildren, parents, teachers, and taxpayers who make these communities a special place to call home.
The mobile office is back on the road in June and looks forward to seeing you around the district! Here’s this month’s schedule: June 7th from 9am-11am at the Leon County Courthouse in Centerville or from 1:30pm-3:30pm at the Madison County Courthouse Annex in Madisonville. You can also come see us on June 21st from 9am-11am at the Houston County Courthouse Annex in Crockett or from 1:30pm-3:30pm at the Trinity County Courthouse in Groveton. Finally, we will be at the San Augustine County Courthouse in San Augustine on June 28th from 9am-11am.
As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office if we can help you in any way. My district office can be reached at (936) 634-2762, or you can call my Capitol office at (512) 463-0508.