The 86th Texas Legislative Session came to a close on Memorial Day. Over 7,300 bills were filed at the beginning of session, with over 1,250 ultimately becoming law. The 140-day session focused on major policy issues versus the partisan issues of previous legislative years. The governor, lieutenant governor and speaker followed through on their promises made at the beginning of session to pass historic legislation relating to property tax and education finance reform. The legislature passed a $250.7 billion budget, which is a 16 percent spending increase from last session. $94.5 billion of the total is earmarked for public schools and universities. $84 billion is dedicated to health and human services programs. The legislature authorized a $6.1 billion withdrawal for the Economic Stabilization Fund in the supplemental budget to cover unexpected costs from the last biennium.
School Finance Reform
House Bill 3, the School Finance and Property Tax Rate Compression bill was transformational in terms of school finance reform. The $11.6 billion school finance and property tax reform bill, passed out of the House 139-0 and out of the Senate 30-0. The state share of education funding will increase from 38 percent to 45 percent, with school districts unable to increase property taxes by more than 2.5 percent in 2021. HB 3 includes funding for full-day pre-K for eligible 4-year-olds and incentives to school districts to offer dual language programs and improve dyslexia programs, and provides money for districts to develop their own merit pay programs for teachers. The bill allows administrators to have flexibility for how to structure salary increases for teachers, librarians, nurses, and counselors. HB 3 also includes provisions to help lower school district tax rates, although there are concerns the plan to lower tax rates in future years is unsustainable. Highlights in House Bill 3 include:
- $4.5 billion for education reforms
- $2 billion for teacher pay raises
- Reduces recapture by $3.6 billion
Additional Notable Education Bills
- House Bill 3906 reduces testing stress on teachers and students by allowing STAAR and end-of-course assessments to be administered in multiple parts over more than one day. Additionally, this bill limits the number of multiple choice questions that can be included on STAAR tests, eliminates the stand-alone writing tests in grades 4 and 7, requires the state to develop a plan to transition to electronic assessments, and establishes a pilot program to explore the possibility of replacing the STAAR with a different test.
- House Bill 1 dedicates $219 million for various special education programs to comply with federal maintenance of financial support.
- House Bill 111 requires training for teachers in signs of child abuse.
- House Bill 403 requires administrators to be trained in recognizing human trafficking.
- Senate Bill 11 will "harden" schools to make them safer, adding security personnel, making building security upgrades, providing technology and more.
- Senate Bill 1230 and Senate Bill 1231 protect students in private schools from educators with a history of inappropriate misconduct.
- Senate Bill 1451 allows a teacher to remove a student from a classroom or take disciplinary action without repercussions.
- Senate Bill 2432 protects teachers from harassment by students.
- Senate Bill 500 dedicates $89 million to TRS to provide retired teachers with a $2,000 13th check on average. It also dedicates $524 million to make TRS actuarially sound, and $230.8 million to cover shortfalls at TRS and to ensure healthcare premiums to do not increase.