Friday, March 8, is the deadline for filing bills in the Texas legislature. After tomorrow, any lawmaker who still wants to file a bill this session must obtain specific permission from fellow legislators by way of a vote to suspend the rules. So the steady flow of bill filings has turned into a flood this week, and at this writing on Thursday evening the latest House bill dropped in the hopper bears the number HB 3240, while the latest Senate bill is SB 1504. These numbers don’t even take into account proposed constitutional amendments, which are designated as joint resolutions. By close of business Friday, we could see more than 1,000 additional bills filed.
Texas AFT’s legislative team will be busy all weekend poring over these bills to sort out the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. If lawmakers follow the pattern of previous sessions, more than 20 percent of all the bills filed will relate to public education in one way or another.Here are a few of the noteworthy bills that have surfaced in the flood so far this week:
HB 2367 is one of the good ones, filed by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) to give bus drivers more disciplinary tools to maintain safety for the students they transport. Another in this category is HB 1952 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), which would require better training for principals on teachers’ right to remove disruptive students from the classroom.
Skipping for now past the merely “bad” bills, a leading entry in the “downright ugly” category is HB 300, introduced March 6 by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) but actually originating as the brainchild of a Houston construction-industry tycoon named Leo Linbeck III. HB 300 combines in one bill many of the worst education-policy ideas of the last two decades, including a private-school voucher component (dubbed “last resort” schools) as well as other forms of school privatization, along with the demolition of teacher certification, class-size limits, educator contract rights and benefits, and other safeguards of educational quality. With big bucks behind it, this bill will bear watching.
Big-money interests also are pushing a spate of other bills emerging this week, including “recovery district” legislation such as SB 1407 by Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), which would require state takeover of many local campuses based on low test scores, followed by contracting out. SB 1407, like HB 300, would authorize waiver of teacher-certification standards, class-size limits, educator contract rights and benefits, and more. (Are you beginning to see the pattern here?)
Sen. Patrick and others offering “recovery district” legislation would have you ignore the fact that the only full-blown example of their idea, the Recovery School District in New Orleans, has compiled the worst academic record of any Louisiana school district. More than two-thirds of its charter schools have earned “D” or “F” ratings under that state’s accountability system.
Despite this dismal track record, the “recovery district” concept has one big advantage—a team of well-connected, well-paid lobbyists that includes 14 employed by just one recently formed entity called Texans for Education Reform. One of them is recently retired state Sen. Florence Shapiro, who was Sen. Patrick’s predecessor as chair of the Senate Education Committee.
The best answer to the onslaught of the big-money interests out to privatize public education is grass-roots mobilization. The united voices of parents, educators, and concerned citizens can still prevail over ideology and big money. But none of us can afford to be a passive onlooker. We have to get involved and make sure our lawmakers hear from us, their own grass-roots constituents. In this light, Texas AFT’s lobby day next Monday, bringing thousands of activist members to rally on the capitol steps and visit with their legislators, could scarcely come at a better time.