Although we are (finally) in the last days of this legislative session, which ends Monday, May 27, several major bills are in play. Some are good, others are very damaging to public education and teachers. Here's where we stand with two weeks left to go:

State budget – SB 1

Public education appears to be the lingering not-completely-resolved issue in the state budget, as nearly all of the other areas of the budget have been agreed on by the House/Senate conference committee. The budget is the only "must do" bill of the session, and failure to pass it would result in a special session.

Both House and Senate versions would put several billion of additional funds into public education, though neither would fully restore the 2011 budget cuts. The two chambers were more than $1 billion apart on public education coming into the negotiations. (UPDATE: The conference reached an agreement Friday, May 17, regarding public education funding, adding $3.9 billion in restored funding for public schools.)

Good bill – HB 5

TCTA supported House Bill 5 as it came out of the House. There are some provisions we’d prefer not to see in the final bill (the Senate version assigns A-F accountability ratings for districts, for example), but overall the significant reduction in testing and new flexibility in graduation paths are very positive changes.

Unfortunately, HB 5 may be a victim of political maneuvering. The bill has passed both chambers and should be entering conference committee negotiations, but while the House has named conferees, the Senate has not.

Every day lost at this point in the session is another step toward the legislative graveyard. It is rumored that HB 5 will not be allowed to move forward unless the House passes some or all of the “reform” bills noted below (such as SB 2, SB 1718, and SB 1263).

Mixed reviews – SB 1458

SB 1458 is the TRS bill that will likely be scheduled for consideration on the House floor in the next few days. On the positive side, the bill is expected to make the TRS pension fund actuarially sound almost immediately, making it less of a target for those who would like to restructure the fund. It would also provide for a benefit increase for some retirees, increases employer contributions to the system, and is currently a much-improved version over what was originally proposed.

On the negative side, it would change retirement and retiree health insurance eligibility for many current employees by imposing a minimum age of 62 for full retirement eligibility and full TRS-Care access. (Get the details on SB 1458's provisions.)

TCTA is working with two other teacher groups on amendments that would grandfather ALL current employees from the age 62 changes, both for retirement and for TRS-Care access. We are also advocating the inclusion of a 13th check amendment that would provide the opportunity for all retirees to receive a benefit increase.

(UPDATE: The TRS bill passed the House on an initial vote Friday, including the above-mentioned TCTA-supported amendment grandfathering current employees.)

OK for now but possibly very bad – SB 2 and SB 1403

TCTA was instrumental in getting some very damaging provisions removed from SB 2 and SB 1403.

SB 2 is potentially the worst bill of this session for teachers, parents and students. As it passed the Senate, it included a section creating "district charters" that would allow school boards to convert existing campuses to charter schools – eliminating nearly all legal protections for teachers (no requirement to even offer contracts!), benefits such as minimum salaries, class-size caps, discipline laws (such as the ability to remove a disruptive student from your classroom), and much, much more.

After considerable advocacy efforts by TCTA, the House Public Education Committee agreed to remove the section from the bill, leaving intact some acceptable provisions dealing with open-enrollment charter schools.

We believe that some legislators may insist on restoring district charters to the bill, either as a House floor amendment or in the conference committee process. This would be a "nuclear" hit to public schools, far worse than the bills we fought throughout the 2011 session. We will be working with House education leaders to try to keep the harmful section out of SB 2. (UPDATE: The bill has now passed the House without the damaging language.)

SB 1403 is the result of a Teaching Commission report issued prior to the session that addresses teacher quality issues. Although some provisions are positive, the original bill included elimination of the state minimum salary schedule (replaced with a single minimum salary), mandatory annual teacher appraisals (undoing a TCTA bill from years ago that allows teachers and districts to agree to less frequent appraisals), and provisions that could increase the emphasis on student test performance in teacher appraisals.

After strong advocacy from TCTA, all of these provisions were removed before the bill passed the Senate, and the current version of SB 1403 is acceptable. However, it is possible that some of these concepts could be restored, or other equally bad provisions added. SB 1403 is expected to be voted out of the House Public Education Committee on Tuesday, May 14. (UPDATE: The bill was approved by House Public Education on May 14.)

Just plain bad – SB 1718, SB 1263

Both of these bills would allow for takeovers of low-performing schools by alternative managers.

SB 1718 creates a parallel statewide "achievement district" for low-performing schools that would allow takeovers or conversions of campuses to charter schools. Not only does this remove them from the oversight of local school boards, it removes the protections of state law from campus employees (no requirements for contracts, minimum salaries, discipline support, etc.).

SB 1263 is a "parent trigger" bill that provides some initial empowerment to parents by allowing them to petition the commissioner of education to close, repurpose or order alternative management of a campus that is rated unacceptable for three years. However, parents would have no further say in the future of the campus, and there is no role for teacher input at all in these options that would endanger teachers' jobs.

SB 1718 and SB 1263 are both waiting for approval by the House Public Education Committee (possibly on Tuesday, May 14). (UPDATE: A revised version of SB 1718, limiting it to larger districts, passed House Public Education. SB 1263 has been left pending.) 

Some of these bills, if they keep moving, will be very damaging to public schools and teachers, and we will need your help in fighting them. Please look for upcoming "ACTION ALERT" emails from TCTA in the coming days, and be prepared to call and email your legislators.