Public education is a core function of state government, and the authority to fund and implement a complete system to ensure an equitable education for all children is given to the Texas legislature by the Texas Constitution.
A legislative session is like a 140-day open house at the Capitol. It is the time when many of our constituents get an opportunity to visit their capitol and discuss their concerns with policy issues and potential new legislation. Since my appointment this session to the Senate Education Committee, we have had the privilege of hosting a variety of teachers, retired teachers, superintendents, and board members to discuss topics of interest. My staff and I always appreciate the personal opinions, stories and experiences of our constituents, because it provides insight into the potential (or actual) unintended consequences of legislation.
One major issue of concern to educators is the future of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) and their health care benefits. Unfortunately, there are organizations and individuals who would like our teachers to believe that legislation might be passed, which would cause their retirement benefits to be taken away. Please know that I do not support any measure which would affect the benefits of any individual currently retired or currently employed. As far as I am concerned, promises made must be promises kept. TRS is a contractual agreement that the state has committed to fulfilling. Legislation is under consideration to attempt to address some of the issues with TRS-Care so that it can best continue to serve all TRS members.
Meanwhile, the Senate Education Committee is now meeting twice a week. As an internal part of our bill analysis we continue to seek advice from SD 2 superintendents, teachers, and other educators through email notifications of specific education bills. As happens with any large group, opinions vary. Please know that we do read all responses and give each comment serious consideration. We will not agree on every issue every time, however, iron sharpens iron and all inputs are important as we craft policies focused on the quality of education in the classroom.
We have heard your concerns about the A-F grading system and bills are working their way through the process to hopefully improve the system. I doubt we will have a perfect system, or one on which everyone agrees, but it does look like we may have a better one. However, in the end the best accountability system is the engaged parent.
Many educators have suggested eliminating some of the unfunded mandates place on our schools by the state. In response to those requests that, I have filed the following bills:
- HB 98 – relating to a local option for bilingual and special language programs for certain students of limited English proficiency;
- HB 1068 – relating to physical fitness of public school students;
- HB 1141 – relating to instruction of certain students in CPR;
- HB 1309 – relating to state requirements for teacher training and student instruction; regarding certain subjects in public schools; and
- HB 2092 – relating to the process for review after a decision to terminate teacher’s contract or suspend a teacher.
In each of these bills, the mandate requiring a specific action has been changed to make it a permissive rather than a required activity. A local school district may continue to do any of the things addressed in the bills, or they may choose to do something else. The point is, it is the local district that should be making the decision.
The mandates did not all get here in a single legislative session and they will not all go away in a single session. However, we can at least begin to chip away at the things that inhibit the schools from doing what they should be doing – educating students.
Another interesting piece of legislation in the House side of the legislature is HB 1333 by State Representative Jason Isaac. It would fundamentally change the way we test our students and allow local districts options on how to do so. I look forward to working this bill when it passes out of the House and is sent to the Senate.
We will also be supporting several other local control and pro public school bills like flexibility in start/stop dates and expansion of PTECH. Also, the budget we passed in the Senate fully funds public education (with money for an expected 86,000 student growth) and TRS.
We have an open door and 100% meeting policy with constituents. Your views and suggestions are always welcome. If you would like to be included on our public education email list to receive notification of upcoming bills or our Capitol Hall Report please call 512-463-0102 or email [email protected].