Legislative Session Begins

   January 7, 2019

Legislature convenes tomorrow;
education will get a lot of attention

The Legislature will convene its five-month regular session tomorrow (Tuesday, Jan. 8), and a number of issues impacting public schools, students and educators will be on the agenda, including education funding. The first few days, however, will be largely ceremonial and organizational. The main order of business on opening day will be the election of a new House speaker to succeed the retiring Joe Straus, and that job is expected to go to veteran state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

Bonnen already has said school finance will be the House’s Number 1 priority. But, as always, the devil will be in the details of what kind of school funding is enacted. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick will still preside over a Senate majority that in recent sessions has been more eager to pass voucher bills than adequately fund public schools.

Comptroller Glenn Hegar released his revenue estimate today, which determines how much the Legislature can spend on the new state budget without having to raise additional revenue. Hegar projected $119 billion in general revenue from existing sources, which is about $6 billion more than lawmakers had to spend in the 2017 session. Hegar also projected a $15.4 billion balance in the Rainy Day Fund at the end of the current budget period. TSTA believes that is enough money for legislators to increase state funding for public education and provide relief from school property taxes.

Thanks to the efforts of TSTA members and other educators in last year’s elections, there will be more than a dozen new pro-public education members in the House, both Democrats and Republicans. Several unseated incumbents who voted consistently against the best interests of students and educators. We believe the House will remain a strong defense against voucher legislation, which Patrick is likely to try to force through the Senate again.

Two new senators supported by TSTA unseated two of Patrick’s pro-voucher allies in November. Beverly Powell defeated Konni Burton in District 10 in Fort Worth, and Nathan Johnson beat Don Huffines in District 16 in Dallas.

In addition to school funding and vouchers, other familiar and critical education issues on the agenda will include health care for active educators and retirees, standardized testing, charter schools and educators’ pensions, to name a few. Legislators began filing bills shortly after the Nov. 6 election, and many more will be filed. 

You can track education-related bills by going to this TELICON link, which will be continuously updated throughout the session as new bills are filed and bills move through the legislative process.

TSTA advocates will be working with legislators in Austin throughout the session, but it is vital that your own state representative and senator hear from you at the local level. We will be updating you on how you can do that after the session gets underway. Also, watch for legislative alerts when votes on key bills are coming up.

Lt. Gov. Patrick is likely to name Senate committees fairly quickly, and committee hearings on legislation may begin in the Senate within the next couple of weeks. Bonnen, the new speaker, may take a little longer to finish House committee assignments.

The next major event on the legislative calendar will be Inauguration Day, Jan. 15, when Gov. Greg Abbott and Patrick are formally sworn into second terms.

TRS study cautions against defined-contribution pensions

A new pension benefit design study prepared by TRS concludes that most TRS members would end up more financially at-risk if the Legislature were to convert their existing defined-benefit pension into a pension plan with a defined-contribution component, such as a 401(k). Such proposals to undermine the TRS pension have died in recent legislative sessions, and TSTA will continue to fight similar proposals that may be introduced this year.

The TRS study points out that 96 percent of public school employees in Texas do not participate in Social Security. So their TRS benefit is the only source of income for many retired educators. A lifetime, defined benefit helps mitigate the risk of a retiree — due to longevity, market volatility or poor investments — outliving his or her savings.

The study also notes that alternate plans would be 30 to 124 percent more expensive than the current defined-benefit plan to provide the same benefit level upon an employee’s retirement.

In response to changing global economic conditions, TRS trustees last summer lowered the expected rate of return on investments in the pension fund from 8 percent to 7.25 percent. No reductions in existing benefits are anticipated, but the Legislature will have to approve an additional $786 million, at least, in annual funding to enable retiree monthly pensions to be increased. The additional funding is necessary for the pension fund to be considered fully funded for the next 30 years, a requirement before pension payments can be raised.

At present, active members pay 7.7 percent of their salaries into the fund, the state pays 6.8 percent of total teacher payroll and school districts pay 1.5 percent. TSTA will urge the Legislature to make a significant increase in the state’s share, which is the lowest contribution rate in the country.

State Board of Education lists legislative priorities, including
“competitive” teacher salaries

Nine legislative recommendations adopted by the board include a proposed initiative under which the Legislature and school districts would “establish and sustain competitive salaries and career paths for educators through innovative compensation plans, induction programs, professional development, mentoring and administration.” The fate of this proposal likely will be determined by how the Legislature addresses the overall school funding issue.

The board also is seeking continued funding for the Regional Education Service Centers and for Literacy and Mathematics Academies for first, second and third graders. And it wants a requirement that submitted instructional materials must align with 100 percent of the TEKS for the designated standards, instead of the current required level of 50 percent.

The wish list, which can be viewed here, also includes a proposal for a new governance structure for the Permanent School Fund. Among other things, the board wants the SBOE chair to have the authority to appoint a member of the School Land Board.

The latter proposal apparently stems from the SBOE’s recent dispute with the Land Board, chaired by state Land Commissioner George P. Bush, over how best to distribute royalties from state mineral interests.

Check out these NEA resources for educator development

NEA has developed some resources to support teacher and ESP development as educators grow into their work and their profession. This link will take you to a Google folder with brief presentations you can share at AR, region and campus meetings.

The folder includes presentations in both PowerPoint and Keynote formats, along with pdfs for handouts. The presentations are divided into four groups: Affiliate and Leadership Development, Teachers, ESPs and Master (which includes content from the other three groups). The ESP folder also contains information about NEA’s ESP Professional Growth Continuum, which identifies professional growth needs and opportunities for ESPs across 10 career categories.

Here are two other relevant links:

NEA Certification Bank 

ESP Professional Growth Continuum 

School safety report recommends beefing up mental health services

The House Public Education Committee has recommended more state funding to increase the number of mental health professionals, including counselors, licensed specialists in school psychology and social workers on school campuses. The committee, which was charged with studying school safety following the shootings last May at Santa Fe High School, noted that Texas schools, as a whole, are woefully under-staffed with mental health professionals.

The panel did not recommend arming teachers, but it did recommend more safety training for all school personnel and beefed-up law enforcement resources, including giving small school districts the option to create joint police departments with other districts.

You can find the entire report here

Still time to apply for athletic grants for your middle or
high school; deadline is Jan. 15

These Thomas R. Brown Athletic Grants from California Casualty are worth $1,000 to $3,000. They can be used by athletic programs in need to purchase uniforms and sporting equipment. TSTA members who are athletic coaches, PE teachers or involved in ADAPTS programming at public middle and high schools are eligible to apply

TSTA accepting entries for young artist contest through Jan. 30

This contest is open to all students in kindergarten through 12th grade attending Texas public schools. Its purpose is to showcase student talent; recognize students, parents and teachers; and display prize-winning creations at TSTA headquarters. Winners will be selected by delegates to the TSTA House of Delegates convention in Frisco April 26-27.

The top five winners will receive gift cards ranging in value from $50 to $200 and a certificate from TSTA and will have their work displayed at TSTA headquarters in Austin for one year. Here is more information on contest rules and how to enter. This year’s theme is “The Heroes Around Me in My Public School.”



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