This article appeared in the Fall 2019 edition of The Classroom Teacher

As alluded to in our article on the political process, teachers had very few “pure” supporters or enemies this session. Many of those whom we fought during the session had honorable goals aligned with our own, but supported different ways of getting there (such as merit pay as a means of increasing teacher salaries). Others may have completely opposed certain goals or ours, but supported us in other areas. So instead of our typical “Star Legislators” feature, here is our thank-you to the lawmakers and staff who stood out for helping us in one way or another this session.

House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty/House Speaker Dennis Bonnen — Leading the way on school finance, teacher salaries and other major education issues in the House, Huberty and Bonnen, with help from Appropriations Chair John Zerwas, are largely responsible for the infusion of around $6 billion in funds for salaries and programs. While some of the salary provisions in HB 3 could have been much stronger with regard to driving funding to education pay, the bill did significantly increase the state minimum salary schedule, which resulted in a direct increase for teachers paid close to the minimum. This and other provisions should drive salaries higher over time in other districts due to market pressures.

Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson/Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — Nelson and Patrick started the conversation about teacher salaries before anyone else was talking about it, and to our surprise they advocated for a significant across-the-board increase that we wholeheartedly supported. Nelson was happy to amend her proposal to include TCTA language that would remedy some technical problems. Ultimately the approach that was taken did not provide equal raises to all teachers, but their insistence on higher teacher pay unquestionably paved the way for teacher salaries to become a focus of the school finance reform bill.

Senate Education Chair Larry Taylor — Though we sometimes disagree with Taylor on education issues, he has embraced his role as committee chair with a true desire to improve the system. He is invariably good-natured and he and his excellent committee staff have been receptive to hearing our thoughts throughout the session. He has been a major help to us in filing and passing TCTA-initiated legislation (see below).

Rep. Donna Howard should be on every “good legislator” list, and in fact she did make Texas Monthly’s list of 10 best legislators. She is smart, hard-working and uses her position on the powerful Appropriations Committee to advocate harder than anyone else for increased funding for public education, making a point of finding revenue sources to back up her positions. 

Rep. Richard Raymond deserves our thanks for his ongoing efforts to improve education funding and teacher salaries. He also made key arguments in support of teachers during the SB 2432 House floor debate.

Rep. Chris Turner successfully worked to defeat a bill by Rep. Jonathan Stickland that would have made K-4 class-size caps meaningless by allowing districts to use class-size averages (without having to go through the District of Innovation process to waive current law). He is a consistent supporter of public schools and teachers and often leads efforts in the House to oppose harmful education proposals.

Bill sponsors — one of the hardest parts of the session is finding sponsors for the legislative ideas we have. We truly appreciate every one of the legislators who agreed to file bills for us, whether or not the legislation was ultimately successful.

  • Chairman Larry Taylor filed three bills for TCTA this session and passed all three. SB 1451 ensures that teachers cannot be marked down on their appraisal solely for initiating a disciplinary referral or documenting student conduct. Taylor also accepted yet another TCTA bill as an amendment to this one, so that a student sent to a campus behavior coordinator or similar administrator via a teacher removal is not counted for the purposes of reporting disciplinary data through PEIMS or similar state or federal reports. He authored SB 2432. And his SB 2073 ensures that if a district reduces instructional days, it can reduce required teacher contract days accordingly without a reduction in pay.
  • Rep. Scott Sanford is noted in the SB 2432 article (on page 12) as the House sponsor for SB 2432, and was a real champion for teachers on the day the conference committee report came to the House floor.
  • Sen. Lois Kolkhorst filed another successful TCTA bill (SB 1306), which came about when her office approached us after hearing concerns from parents at a town hall meeting with her constituents prior to the session. The bill requires districts to post contact information for the administrator primarily responsible for discipline at a campus. We appreciate that she reached out to us, took our ideas, and ensured this bill passed through the process.
  • Rep. DeWayne Burns was the House sponsor for SB 1306 (he also had filed it separately in the House) and made its passage through the House look easy. He also filed HB 3323 on our behalf, which would have required districts to post their employment policies online. Burns and his staff were very accessible and helpful to the TCTA lobby team throughout the session. 
  • Rep. Trent Ashby was new to the House Public Education Committee this session, but not new to education issues or to TCTA. He was a great asset to the committee, and served as the House sponsor for TCTA’s SB 1451.
  • Rep. Ken King picked up TCTA’s SB 2073 and shepherded it smoothly through the House.
  • Rep. Gina Hinojosa re-filed a TCTA-initiated bill from last session that would have ensured that charter schools could not discriminate in their admission decisions based on a student’s disciplinary history.
  • Rep. Roland Gutierrez filed a TCTA bill that would have ensured higher quality health insurance for school employees with much greater funding from the state.
  • Rep. Dwayne Bohac filed our bill to require removal of a student to a DAEP for assaulting a school employee. He also filed HB 1394 to clear up concerns we had about SBEC policies regarding certain disciplinary proceedings.
  • Rep. Mary Gonzalez helped TCTA by filing a bill that would have required TEA to compile and post information about districts of innovation that exempt themselves from teacher certification requirements.
  • Rep. John Frullo filed the TCTA-initiated bill regarding reporting of disciplinary removals from the classroom that was eventually added to Sen. Taylor’s SB 1451 (see above). His office staff (including former TCTA President Donna Corbin) is also excellent!
  • Sen. Jose Rodriguez filed SB 141 regarding charter school admissions that is similar to Rep. Hinojosa’s bill (described above). He is a stalwart supporter of public education in the Senate.
  • Sen. Beverly Powell was new to the Senate and to the Senate Education Committee, but got to work like a pro. She and her excellent staff were always accessible to TCTA, and she worked hard to get the TCTA-initiated SB 1016, requiring TEA to audit professional development training requirements for teachers, through the Senate. 
  • Rep. Diego Bernal picked the Powell bill up in the House after its passage through the Senate, though it was ultimately not successful. Bernal was a supportive voice for public education as a member of the School Finance Commission, and has made a point of traveling to each of the 55 school districts in his legislative district to listen to teachers’ concerns.

Special thanks to staff — In addition to staffers already mentioned, we give special thanks to the staffs of the Senate Education and State Affairs Committees, the House Public Education and Pensions/Investments/Financial Services Committees, Reps. Huberty and Bernal, and Sen. Kolkhorst. Legislative staff are the unsung heroes who work hard behind the scenes to keep things moving, and while most staffers we work with do a great job, these were standouts.