As the 70th day — the midpoint of the 140-day legislative session — approaches on Monday, March 21, it is a good time to provide an update on some of the major issues TCTA is following and working on this session.
We strongly encourage our members to stay in touch with their legislators on any of these topics to ensure that lawmakers are aware of both your support and your concerns.
Some of the issues are not described in great detail below, but we have included links to previous TCTA articles that we encourage you to check out if you want additional information.
Both the House and Senate have been working to finalize their respective versions of a state budget. The latest (unofficial) word is that the House hopes to have HB 1 on the floor for a vote by the end of March. The Senate appears to be moving at a similar pace in the committee, beginning to finalize recommendations during this week’s meetings, but there are not yet any projections on when SB 1 might reach the Senate floor.
There are some key differences between the House and Senate with regard to funding for schools and for TRS-Care:
- The House budget funds enrollment growth ($2.6 billion), includes additional money to comply with current funding formulas ($1 billion), and includes an additional $1.5 billion, contingent on passage of school finance reform legislation. The Senate funds enrollment growth and the additional $1 billion in required funding, but does not add the $1.5 billion proposed in the House bill.
- Both the House and Senate have eliminated Gov. Greg Abbott’s high quality prekindergarten grant program, which was passed by the Legislature last session. Instead, the House proposes to distribute the funding as “supplemental” pre-K funding which would go to all districts that offer pre-K. The Senate would eliminate supplemental pre-K funding (while still funding half-day pre-K based on current law) and create a $40 million “Public-Private Partnerships Program.”
- The House is proposing to include an additional $500 million to help address the TRS-Care shortfall in a separate but related budget bill (HB 2). The Senate budget adds $290 million for TRS-Care, more than half of which is from an increase in the state’s required TRS-Care contribution rate from 1% to 1.25%. Both the House and Senate will likely consider legislation designed to bring down the costs of retiree health insurance by limiting the benefits available to retirees under age 65.
Little progress has been made in the area of school finance reform, although the House remains committed to the issue and the Senate continues to at least discuss it. HB 21 has been filed in the House and testimony on that bill has been taken in the House Public Education Committee, but there is much work to be done before the bill author (House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty) and others are prepared to move forward. Among the major issues is how to handle “ASATR” (Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction) funding – aid that largely benefits poorer districts – which is scheduled to be eliminated this year. Some districts have said they would be forced to close if the ASATR funding goes away.
Though probably not a pressing issue for most teachers, SB 6, the so-called bathroom bill, has been a major part of the legislative session so far, taking up many hours of committee and Senate floor time in testimony and debate. As passed by the Senate on March 15, the bill would prohibit school districts from providing accommodations that allow a person to use a multiple-occupancy bathroom or changing room for students that is designated for the sex opposite to the person’s biological sex. (It applies to other public facilities as well.) It will now move to the House where it is expected to get a chilly reception. House Speaker Joe Straus has commented that he does not consider the issue a priority, and many pro-business Republicans are concerned about the possible business losses that could result from the bill’s passage.
After moving quickly through the Senate State Affairs Committee, SB 13 appears to have stalled for now — it has not yet been scheduled for Senate floor consideration. Last session, the bill did not even receive a committee hearing until April 9, and it was another month before the votes to pass the bill out of the full Senate were mustered. With a quicker start this session, and the weight of the Lieutenant Governor’s strong support, SB 13 could make it over to the House earlier in the session this year. We suggest that our members contact both their senator and representative on this issue.
SB 3, which includes components of both education savings accounts and tax credit scholarships, is scheduled for a committee hearing on Tuesday, March 21. It is expected to pass out of the Senate Education Committee fairly quickly. If it passes the full Senate, it will definitely face an uphill climb in the House — Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty has said the bill is “dead, dead, dead” in the House citing the lack of accountability for private schools receiving public funds as his chief concern.
The main action regarding health insurance is in the budget bills (see the third bullet in the “Budget” section above). Unfortunately, neither the House nor the Senate is proposing additional funding to help active teachers with their health insurance costs. A bill has been filed that is designed to bring down plan costs in ActiveCare, but it has not been scheduled for a hearing. Rep. Lance Gooden and Sen. Jose Menendez have filed legislation (HB 3291/SB 1795) that would phase in increased state contributions toward health insurance by doubling the current $75/month to $150/month next year, and then essentially requiring that the state contribute enough that, when combined with the required district contribution, at least 70 percent of the cost of the employee-only premium is covered. It also requires that TRS offer a plan at least as comprehensive as the current ActiveCare 2 plan. Neither bill has been scheduled for a hearing, and the legislation will not pass unless budget writers agree to funding and include it in the appropriations bill.
SB 7 passed the Senate on March 8. It has not yet been referred to the Public Education Committee in the House, but is likely to get a hearing soon; similar bills will be heard in the Educator Quality subcommittee hearing on Monday, March. 21.
TCTA is not expecting major changes in teacher retirement benefits this session, but many educators are concerned about legislation that has been filed to consider revamping TRS and eliminating the current defined benefit structure. No such bills have been scheduled for a committee hearing at this time.