We report every week on the committee hearings that TCTA attends, monitors and testifies at, but there is much more behind-the-scenes work involved in representing our members in Austin.

When committee meetings are posted, your TCTA lobby team members write bill analyses on each bill scheduled for a hearing that week. We then sit down in TCTA's conference room to hash out each proposal and decide whether TCTA will take a stance on the bill.

In the short time between the hearing announcement and the meeting, we contact bill authors to find out if they plan to make any changes to the bills, and to let them know if we will be opposing their legislation. It's considered bad legislative etiquette to oppose a bill without informing the bill sponsor first. This conversation also gives the legislator a chance to agree to changes that will address our concerns, and sometimes results in better legislation that we can support or at least remain neutral on. TCTA will often write the specific language for an amendment that might be proposed at the committee level, or later in the process on the House or Senate floor.

We prepare written and oral testimony as needed, and then at least one TCTA lobbyist — sometimes two or three — will attend the committee meeting to take notes, register our positions on bills, testify, and gather information (and gossip!) from legislators, staffers and other lobbyists.

This process is repeated for anywhere from three to five or more hearings each week, meetings that often overlap and sometimes last for many hours and into the night.

Outside of the committee hearings, your lobbyists are constantly fielding calls, texts and emails from legislative offices to provide feedback on new proposals, and meeting with legislators and/or staff at the Capitol to discuss upcoming issues. This week, for example, TCTA has been meeting individually with members of the House Public Education Committee to express our concerns about potential teacher merit pay proposals and discuss any other issues that come up; and we were called in to meet with a key committee chair, staff, and other stakeholders on possible changes to a major TRS bill.

Conventional wisdom is that the teacher groups don’t work together, but in fact we talk regularly to our counterparts in the other statewide teacher and administrator associations. We also work closely with advocates for specific populations such as special education students, meet with business and tourism industry lobbyists, check in with parent groups, and talk to anyone else whose issues have a connection with public education. Many times these conversations result in agreements on changes to make bills acceptable to all interested parties, and we strategize with other stakeholders on how best to support or oppose major issues where we share common positions.

At the same time, we are “shopping” TCTA bill ideas throughout the building to find legislators who will file TCTA proposals. Even getting the proposals drafted into bill form through the attorneys who work for the House and Senate can be a chore - it can take months between submitting the proposal and receiving a first draft. The bill filing deadline is in mid-March, and since bills are already being heard in committees, it is crucial to get legislation filed as quickly as possible. Once a TCTA bill is filed, we're in constant contact with that legislative office to ensure that the lawmaker understands the issue and is prepared to shepherd the bill through the process, preferably without amendments that could either change the bill radically or jeopardize its passage.

In the meantime, the education-related state agencies (State Board of Education, State Board for Educator Certification, Teacher Retirement System) continue to meet, and TCTA lobbyists attend those meetings, provide our input on any proposed rule and policy changes, and cultivate our relationships with board members and agency staff.

We ask our members to develop and maintain good relationships with their elected officials because legislators are most concerned with the constituents back home who can actually vote for them. But we hope you know that we are working as hard as we can to ensure that your efforts are supported by professional advocates in Austin. Our mission is to elevate the teaching profession through better pay and benefits, improved working conditions and other supports in the belief that ultimately, your students will benefit from our combined efforts.