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    Flexibility/Mandate relief bill passes Senate

    The Senate passed SB 8 on third reading Monday afternoon. The bill by Sen. Florence Shapiro provides management and operational flexibilities to school districts.

    The bill would:

    • Allow districts to enact salary reductions and furloughs across all employee groups
    • Remove the "last in-first out" requirement for terminating continuing contracts
    • Change the 45-day deadline to notify contract staff of nonrenewal to 10 days
    • Void the employment contract of an employee with a voided certification
    • Limit the FitnessGram to those students in a physical education course
    One amendment, offered by Shapiro, was adopted. It relates to the process a district must go through prior to furlough or salary reductions. It does not prescribe in which order districts can furlough or reduce salaries, which was a main objection by TASA to SB 12 – Shapiro’s flexibility bill filed in the regular session.

    The amendment requires the board to hold a public meeting to discuss the options considered for managing the district’s resources and other details about the implementation of a furlough program or salary reductions. School district employees must have an opportunity to comment at the public meeting. Many districts that have been considering the current budget crisis have already had similar conversations in board meetings.
    Read the amendment here. The bill passed on a party-line vote of 18 to 12.

    The Senate is adjourned until Thursday.

    House Government Efficiency Committee hears voucher bill, staff furlough bill

    The House Government Efficiency and Reform Committee met for six-and-a-half hours Monday, spending much of its time on two education bills.

    House Bill 33 by Rep. Sid Miller would create the Taxpayer Savings Grant Program, a voucher scheme that would require the state to pay 60 percent of the statewide average operating expenditure per student to parents who apply for a taxpayer savings grant – or voucher – to attend a private school. However there are zero requirements in the bill for accountability standards for the private school accepting the taxpayer money.

    While supporters of the bill claim it could save the state money, the Legislative Budget Board’s fiscal note says the plan would actually cost the state more than $195 million over the next two years.

    After about three hours of vehement testimony from both sides of the issue, the bill was left pending in committee. The committee members asked Miller to bring back more information on the fiscal impact of the bill.

    Those testifying for the bill included private school operators, home-school parents and representatives from groups like the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Americans for Prosperity.

    Peggy Venable, the Texas director of Americans for Prosperity, told the committee that school leaders’ attitude toward vouchers should be “bring it on” and that “education bureaucrats have their own interests at heart.”

    Attorney David Thompson spoke against the bill on behalf of TASA, the Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas School Alliance, laying out a clear argument explaining how the voucher plan would hurt Texas public schools by draining funds already in short supply. The bill, Thompson explained, says the voucher would be 60 percent of the average state and local M&O per-student expenditure in a year. Problem is, the state on average doesn’t pay 60 percent of that cost – local districts carry a bigger share.

    “What this bill proposes to do is create a voucher with no accountability that is hundreds of dollars more on average than what the state has just proposed to spend on public school students,” Thompson said.

    He also emphasized that in a time of every-increasing standards for public schools, this program would hand public money to private schools with absolutely no oversight.

    “A person can be for accountability or for vouchers, but not for both,” Thompson said.

    If you haven’t already, call or email the members of the committee and urge them to vote no on HB 33. You can find talking points and contact information for the committee members in this past
    Capitol Watch post.  The committee also heard HB 17 by Rep. Bill Callegari, which would make changes to the minimum salary for school district staff and allow furloughs for those employees. The bill was voted favorably from committee.

    Members also voted HB 30 by Callegari favorably out of committee. HB 30 would allow furloughs for state employees.

    Fiscal Matters bills to be heard on the House floor

    SB 1 and SB 2, the two must-pass fiscal matters bills, are scheduled to be heard on the House floor Thursday.

    All amendments that will be offered on SB 1 and SB 2 must be pre-filed by 5 p.m. today. However "amendments to amendments" are not required to be pre-filed and can be introduced on Thursday.  

    Thursday’s House floor agenda also includes several flexibility bills.  The debate on SB1 and SB 2 will likely be lengthy. Since the school finance compromise in SB 1 was agreed upon in conference committee during the regular session, there has been no real debate on it. Expect many members to pre-file amendments and take the opportunity to speak on the matter.

    Senate Education kicks out two bills

    The Senate Education Committee met Monday to consider two bills – SB 30 and SB 31, both by Sen. Florence Shapiro.

    SB 30 would require the state to only fund providers of electronic courses for students who successfully complete the course. The bill would also establish a review system where students can rate classes and provide feedback for other students thinking about taking the course and clarify that funding for courses will be handled through the virtual school network and not between districts.
    SB 31 would allow charter holders to apply for bonds guaranteed by the Permanent School Fund (PSF). Open-enrollment charter schools would have to have an investment grade credit rating by a nationally recognized investment rating firm to qualify. The bill would limit the total amount of charter bonds that could be guaranteed by the PSF to the proportional percentage of students enrolled in charter schools throughout the state compared to students enrolled in all public schools in the state.
    Two charter school groups testified for the bill, saying that the acquisition of adequate facilities is one of the biggest obstacles charter schools face. They argue that the amount that charter schools pay for bonds is a cost to the charter operator, which could be put to better use in the classroom.
    The bills were left pending during the committee hearing, but passed later in a committee meeting called on the Senate floor.

Last Modified on June 8, 2011