We did it!
Gov. Greg Abbott’s controversial special session has ended with a win for educators. ATPE is proud of our members who engaged their legislators and spoke out against the anti-public education rhetoric and bullying! ATPE staff invested literally thousands of hours fighting for you, and it was time well spent.
The session included multiple attacks on public schools, including vouchers, bills to take away educators’ right to use payroll deductions for their voluntary association dues, and threats against local control. All three ideas were favored by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick but staunchly opposed by ATPE.
Here’s how ATPE worked for YOU:
School Funding—The legislature granted Gov. Abbott’s request for a commission to study school finance over the next two years, and ATPE looks forward to sharing our recommendations with that new entity. As in the regular session, ATPE supported the House effort led by Chairman Dan Huberty to pass a comprehensive school finance reform bill that would inject $1.8 billion in new funds for public education and use the state’s rainy day funds to address immediate hardships. The Senate would only support a stripped-down version, borrowing Medicaid money for a short-term addition of $563 million that includes $212 million for TRS-Care. As the special session came to a close on Tuesday evening, the Texas House of Representatives reluctantly voted to accept the Senate’s version of the bill.
“House Bill 21 is an imperfect bill, but we appreciate that it will provide some needed short-term relief for schools, students, and educators facing hardships,” said ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday. “The bill will help a number of districts avoid a severe and imminent loss of resources under expiring funding mechanisms, and it will inject a modest amount of additional money into programs to help students with special needs such as autism and dyslexia.”
Educator Pay and Benefits—In June, Gov. Abbott announced his call for a special session with an instruction for lawmakers to pass a teacher pay raise, but he explained his expectation that school districts should find money in their own existing budgets to pay for it. Lt. Gov. Patrick similarly proposed a pay raise plan that would merely re-allocate a portion of state lottery money already being sent to public schools with no new state funds. Although teachers need and deserve a raise, the education community united in voicing objections to an unfunded mandate that would benefit few educators and place additional financial burdens on school districts and local taxpayers.
The special session agenda did not initially include healthcare, but Gov. Abbott amended the call at the request of lawmakers who wanted to help educators in their district struggling with rising costs. Retired educators in particular have been bracing for dramatic hikes in their out-of-pocket premiums and deductibles after lawmakers failed to fill a shortfall in TRS-Care funding during the regular session. ATPE fought successfully for additional funding that will provide much-needed short-term relief for retirees.
Payroll Deduction—ATPE staff and members met with lawmakers and testified at committee hearings about the unfairness of restricting educators’ right to payroll deduction while allowing other public servants to continue to take advantage of this convenience, using deductions for dues to fire and police unions, donations to charities, and even transactions with for-profit businesses. The bill was passed by the Senate but blocked in the House.
Vouchers—Lawmakers have repeatedly attempted to implement vouchers under a number of guises; however, these have been recognized for what they are— attempts to privatize Texas public schools. Although the Senate once again passed a voucher bill, we’re thankful to the House for listening to the voices of Texas voters who oppose them.
The Bathroom Bill—A top priority for the governor and lieutenant governor was regulating school district policies on the usage of bathrooms, which the education community viewed as an unnecessary restriction on local control that diverted attention from the real issues facing Texas public schools. Another bill debated and passed by the Senate, this legislation took a backseat in the House to more pressing issues like school finance.
“We appreciate those in the legislature who fought for additional funding and structural improvements to our school finance system,” said ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey. “ATPE looks forward to working with lawmakers during the interim to recommend longer-term solutions that will help all Texas students excel and enable us to recruit, reward, and retain the best educators in our public schools.”
For more details, read our full coverage of the special session on our advocacy blog at TeachTheVote.org.
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