The culling of bills has begun, as House committees wind down their activity on House bills and will begin to focus on legislation coming over from the Senate. Among the bills of interest that saw action this week:

SB 1, the state budget bill, by Sen. Jane Nelson, has now passed the House and Senate and has been sent to a conference committee. The committee appointees are Sens. Nelson, Joan Huffman, Lois Kolkhorst, Robert Nichols, and Larry Taylor; and Reps. Greg Bonnen, Giovanni Capriglione, Mary Gonzalez, Armando Walle, and Terry Wilson. The conference committee held a brief public meeting today to hear an overview of the major differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget. The two chambers generally took similar approaches to funding public education and TRS.

SB 28 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt would restrict the ability of the State Board of Education to veto the commissioner’s charter approvals. It also includes provisions strengthening charters’ role as governmental entities similar to traditional public schools, such as making charter schools not subject to zoning restrictions in smaller cities. Has passed the Senate; heard in the House Public Education Committee 4/28.

SB 569 by Sen. Eddie Lucio requires TEA to develop a plan to increase the number of teachers certified in bilingual education, increase the number of dual language/one-way and two-way programs, and otherwise improve and expand high-quality bilingual education. Passed the Senate 4/29.

SB 1171 by Taylor continues efforts to implement fully online statewide testing. Voted out of the Senate Education Committee 4/28.

SB 1204 by Sen. Charles Schwertner addresses information included in TRS actuarial reports. The original version, to which TCTA objected, would have prohibited the actuary from making recommendations for actuarial soundness that relied solely on increased state contributions. A recommendation for an increased state rate would have to be accompanied by increases from members and/or districts, or retiree benefit changes. The bill was amended to say that at least one of the actuary’s recommendations had to be based on something other than a state contribution increase. Passed the Senate 4/29.

SB 1444 by Taylor seeks to allow districts who want to provide a local health insurance plan to opt out of TRS-ActiveCare. After TCTA and others objected to the original language, an acceptable substitute was adopted. The new version would close the District of Innovation loophole that could destabilize ActiveCare, but would allow districts to opt out of ActiveCare as long as they stayed out for at least five years. A district opting in, or re-entering, would also have to stay in the program for at least five years. Voted out of the Senate Education Committee 4/28.

SB 1697 by Sen. Angela Paxton would allow a parent to have their student repeat a grade (in grades preK-8) or a course (in high school). Passed the Senate 4/23; similar House bill HB 3557 by Rep. Ken King was scheduled for an initial vote on the House floor 4/29.

SB 2023 by Sen. Beverly Powell would ensure high-quality tutoring programs; TCTA has worked with the author to refine details of the bill. Voted out of the Senate Education Committee 4/28.

SCR 17 by Sen. Bryan Hughes is a resolution urging the US Congress to pass legislation that would repeal the two federal laws that penalize Social Security benefits for most Texas school employees – the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset. Has passed the Senate; heard in the House Pensions, Investments and Financial Services Committee 4/28.

HB 332 by Rep. James Talarico would authorize the use of compensatory education funds for programs that build skills related to managing emotions, establishing and maintaining positive relationships, and making responsible decisions. Passed the House 4/29.

HB 1468 by Rep. Keith Bell would authorize districts to establish a local remote learning program and offer virtual courses, to be funded the same as in-person courses. TCTA and other groups had concerns about moving to expand a model that has not proved to be as successful as in-person learning (while acknowledging the role of virtual instruction in specific situations). The author has made some favorable revisions to the bill, including a provision advocated by TCTA to ensure that districts cannot require teachers to provide both in-person and remote instruction in the same class period. Passed the House 4/28.

HB 1585 by Rep. Stan Lambert is the TRS Sunset bill, with a focus on improving TRS’s relationships with its members. The current version includes TCTA-supported clarifications of new laws that revise the penalties imposed on retirees who violate the return-to-work limitations. Has passed the House, passed the Senate 4/28.