The Texas legislature is almost 40 days into its 140-day regular session for 2013, but about 98 percent of the legislature’s work lies ahead. Next week choices to be made about several major issues will come into sharper focus, as the House and Senate hold hearings on education spending, funding and policy for the Teacher Retirement System, and fixing the state’s fixation on standardized testing.
On Monday, February 18, the seven-member House panel in charge of funding for education and the Teacher Retirement System will spend President’s Day taking public testimony on these and other topics. Texas AFT and allied groups will urge this House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education to restore education funding levels, starting with programs like pre-kindergarten expansion, extra help for students struggling to pass state exams, state formula aid to school districts, and increased state contributions to TRS for both pensions and retiree health care.
Also on February 18, the House Pensions Committee will hear from assorted state officials on studies that came out during the interim between legislative sessions regarding state and local pensions. One of these studies, by the Teacher Retirement System, found little merit in the idea of replacing the current defined-benefit pension with a defined-contribution alternative, which would leave your benefit level uncertain and would not guarantee benefits that last a lifetime.
February 19 will offer a big opportunity for critics of the state’s standardized-testing craze to have their say. The Senate Education Committee will hear testimony in what’s billed as an “informational hearing on assessments,” which will not consider any specific bills. On the same day, the House Public Education Committee will take a different approach, hearing testimony on eight specific bills addressing the ills of standardized testing. Texas AFT will look forward to laying out an argument for comprehensive reform to curb the excessive use and misuse of state testing. In Hotline messages next week we’ll have more to report on the specific bills under consideration.
Also on Tuesday, February 19, that House Appropriations subcommittee mentioned above will take up further education topics, including higher-education financial aid. Texas AFT will take a particular interest in efforts to restore funding for the Educational Aide Tuition Exemption program, which has been highly successful in helping educational aides become teachers but fell victim to the 2011 budget cuts.
These hearings are just the highlights of a busy week ahead at the capitol. February 18 at 5 p.m. we also will learn what amendments may be offered to the first House bill of the session to reach the floor, HB 10, the supplemental spending bill to pay Medicaid obligations and other unpaid bills set for floor action on February 21. The Senate Nominations Committee also could take a vote Monday on Gov. Rick Perry’s appointment of Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) to serve as chair of the State Board of Education. And all week the Senate’s budget writers will be busy in so-called “workgroups” of the Senate Finance Committee. For instance, on Monday the Senate budget workgroups on higher education and public education will be meeting in capitol conference rooms. These are not hearings where public testimony can be offered, but Texas AFT’s legislative team will be there to monitor and report.