K-12 Issues to Watch in Texas Lawmakers’ Special Session

By Daarel Burnette II — July 21, 2017 2 min read
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School funding, teacher pay, school choice, and the rights of transgender education all are on the agenda in the 30-day special legislative session now underway in Texas.

Educators, along with advocates of all stripes, have all bombarded the state capital since the session began July 18. The legislature, which meets every other year, left many items on the table at the end of this year’s regular session, prompting Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to call the special session, which is estimated to last an entire month.

Here’s a rundown of the issues that will be considered during the session. During a special session, any sort of bill can be added to the legislature’s agenda.

Transgender students’ rights: Lawmakers will consider Senate Bill 3 and Senate Bill 91, both of which would require people to use the public restrooms in public schools and government buildings that conform with the sex listed on their birth certificates. Texas is one of a handful of Republican states that went to battle with the federal government over Obama-era guidance on the rights of transgender students, which has since been rescinded by the Trump administration.

School funding formula: A state supreme court ruling last year declared the legislature as having the ultimate control over school spending, sparking a statewide debate over how to overhaul the state’s K-12 funding formula. Legislators killed a proposal earlier this year that would’ve provided poor districts with more money and allowed mineral-rich districts to keep locally generated revenue—the proposals died after opponents attached a voucher component to it. The legislature could surprise everyone and come up with and pass a new funding formula. Much more likely, though, is that the legislature will create a commission like several other states have done to come up with a new funding formula to be voted on in 2019.

Teacher Pay: Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has proposed a bill that would use state lottery money to provide rural and financially struggling districts with $150 million extra this year, give some retired and new-to-the-job teachers bonuses, and add a $200 million contribution to the Teacher Retirement System. But the proposal got fierce pushback from teacher groups that said more fundamental changes need to be made to the school funding formula so that all the state’s teachers receive pay raises. “Every teacher and education retiree has earned and deserves a real pay raise, paid for with real state dollars, not a mythical, pie-in-the-sky promise,” said Noel Candelaria, the president of the Texas State Teachers Association said in a statement.

School Choice: Abbot has tasked the legislature with coming up with a way to provide tax-credit scholarships to special education students to attend private schools. But tax-credit scholarships and vouchers in the state have had a politically difficult time getting to the governor’s desk.

Photo: Protesters gather in the Texas Capitol Rotunda in Austin as State lawmakers begin a special legislative session called by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on July 18. Immigrant rights groups plan to increase protests of a new law that allows police to inquire about peoples’ immigration status, while LGBT activists bitterly oppose “bathroom bill” proposals.

--Eric Gay/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.