The 83rd regular legislative session ended Monday, May 27, but many legislators didn’t even have the chance to leave the Capitol building, much less Austin. Within minutes of the Senate’s final adjournment at around 5:20 p.m., Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced that Gov. Perry had called a special session to begin at 6 p.m.

For now, the special session is limited to the issue of redistricting, but there are rumors that other subjects — including education — will be added. The rumors include speculation that Gov. Perry may veto HB 5, the major testing bill described below. If that happens, the bill will almost certainly be refiled, but presumably steps would be taken to address any concerns the governor might identify. If the session is not opened up to other issues, any legislation that is not included in the call would be subject to a point of order.

In the upcoming days as we are able to review final language and do comprehensive analyses, TCTA will provide more details on the education-related bills that have been sent to the governor. Below is an overview of some of the key bills that made it all the way to the governor’s desk. (Gov. Perry has until June 16 to veto bills that passed in the last several days of the session.)

Budget

This session’s budget included several related bills that all had to pass in order to balance the projected costs and revenues. On Sunday, those bills came together, and the full package passed both chambers. The budget includes an additional $3.4 billion — on top of full funding for the upcoming biennium’s enrollment growth — funneled through the school finance formulas that benefit all districts, with a few hundred million more for programs (including added funding for pre-K and the Student Success Initiative) and for the reimbursement of districts being asked to pay a new 1.5 percent TRS contribution.

Check this feature from the Texas Tribune to see how your district will fare over the next two years.

Testing

Lawmakers passed three testing bills. The major testing bill, HB 5, includes the following provisions:

  • testing relief in the high school grades, decreasing the required end-of-course tests from the current 15 to five: English Language Arts I and ELA II with combined reading/writing exams, Algebra I, biology and US history
  • a new foundation graduation program that requires four credits in ELA, and three each in math, science and social studies
  • additional foundation program requirements of five elective credits, two foreign language credits, one in fine arts and one in PE
  • endorsements a student can earn in areas such as STEM, business/industry, public services or arts and humanities; most of which will require a fourth credit in math and science (along with other criteria)
  • a distinguished level of performance, which specifically requires four credits of math and four of science, in addition to an endorsement, which would be necessary to qualify for Top 10 Percent admission to Texas higher education institutions

Two bills that initially would have eliminated the fourth- and seventh-grade writing tests both passed, but neither included that provision in the final version, so writing will continue to be tested in those grades. HB 2836 now requires a review of the TEKS, limits benchmark testing to no more than two per assessment instrument, and includes a provision TCTA worked on with special education supervisors that ensures teachers administering the STAAR-Alt will not be required to prepare additional tasks or materials.

HB 866 allows for less-than-annual testing in reading and math in grades 3-8, but that change will require federal approval, which may not be easily obtained. The bill provides that — if Texas receives an exemption from federally required 3-8 annual testing — students performing well on the third- and fifth-grade assessments would not be required to take the fourth-, sixth- and seventh-grade tests.

All of these bills include more testing- and accountability-related provisions, so as noted above, we will provide more details soon.

Reform/deregulation

One of the worst bills of the session also, unfortunately, passed late Sunday evening. See how your lawmakers voted on SB 2. None of the other major “reform” bills (vouchers, parent trigger or achievement district legislation) had made it to the final weekend of session.

SB 2 allows districts to designate existing campuses as district charters, which would be subject generally to the laws currently applicable to open-enrollment charters — meaning many crucial teacher, student and parent protections would no longer apply to these schools. Now that the law has passed, the action will move to the local level, where teachers will need to be alert to any attempts by school boards to create district charter campuses.

Retirement benefits

A House/Senate agreement on the TRS bill (SB 1458) was reached the week of May 20, and the Senate and House passed the bill, both unanimously.

The basic provisions of SB 1458 in its final form include:

  • an increased state contribution of 6.8 percent, beginning in 2013-14
  • an increased active member contribution starting at a rate of 6.7 percent in 2014-15, 7.2 percent in 2015-16, and 7.7 percent in 2016-17
  • a new contribution from school districts for employees not participating in Social Security of 1.5 percent of payroll, up to the amount of the state minimum salary schedule
  • a new requirement that employees must be at least age 62 at retirement to receive full benefits; an employee retiring before age 62 would be subject to a 5 percent penalty for each year under 62.
    • Grandfather provision: Employees who, as of Aug. 31, 2014, have at least five years of TRS service credit are exempt from this change.
  • a new requirement that employees must be at least age 62 to access all levels of TRS-Care retiree health insurance; retirees under age 62 can only enroll in Level 1, which is catastrophic coverage
    • Grandfather provision: Employees who, as of Aug. 31, 2014, have at least 25 years of service credit, or meet a Rule of 70, or are at least age 50, are exempt from this change.
  • a 3 percent cost-of-living increase in benefits, capped at $100 per month, for retirees who retired prior to Sept. 1, 2004

TCTA is working on analyzing the scores of education-related bills that passed this session, and will begin putting out detailed descriptions as soon as possible. If the special session opens up to education issues, we will of course update the TCTA website daily and will continue our weekly eUpdates to keep you informed.