(The Center Square) – Over the last few weeks, House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, has announced in piecemeal fashion bills he says the state House must prioritize. Several he recently announced focus on improving school safety, strengthening teacher recruitment and retention, increasing cost of living adjustments for retired teachers and expanding parental controls related to sexually explicit books in school libraries.
“Ensuring that Texas children are safe in classrooms is a priority that the Texas House will take meaningful action on this year, along with passing measures that better support our teachers – beginning with recruitment and ending with retirement,” he said.
Addressing school safety, state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, filed HB 3 to streamline and define the roles and responsibilities of the Texas School Safety Center and Texas Education Agency. The bill would require at least one armed security officer to be located at every school and provide an annual $15,000 in base funding per school for school safety mitigation measures.
HB 13 filed by Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, would increase more state funding for school safety to $100 per student, require school districts to develop an Active Shooter Preparedness Plan and increase state funding for programs like Mental Health First Aid training.
Another prioritized bill is HB 100, also filed by King, that would allow school districts to calculate their budgets by shifting to an enrollment-based system for most allotments in the state’s school finance system. It also would expand special education funding statewide and increases the transportation allotment for diesel fuel purchases to offset inflationary costs.
Another bill prioritized by Phelan is HB 11 filed by Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, to improve teacher recruitment and retention. It would restructure minimum salary requirements, make teachers’ children eligible for free pre-kindergarten public school and provide teachers with flexibility for their children to receive childcare. It also would create a new grant to help teachers offset costs for receiving special education and bilingual credentials and increase a mentor program allotment to enable more first- or second-year teachers to participate.
HB 400 is also prioritized, filed by Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-North Richland Hills, to improve and expand mental and behavioral health jobs at higher education institutions. It also addresses needs in rural areas highlighted by some failures exposed by the Uvalde shooting. The bill would establish a new behavioral health grant program that would be administered by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board with the hope of expanding behavioral health jobs in rural areas. The grant also prioritizes psychiatry graduate medical education specialties with an emphasis on pediatric psychiatry care.
To address teacher retirement pay issues, Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-League City, filed HB 600. It includes giving eligible retirees a one-time up front cost-of-living increase beginning in 2024 based on the number of years in retirement, with a $5,000 cash payment given to the oldest retirees. Beginning in 2028, retired teachers could also receive an annual cost-of-living adjustment of at least 1%.
Bonnen also filed a joint resolution, which if passed by the legislature, would add HB 600 to the ballot for voters to decide on the issue.
Phelan also announced he was prioritizing HB 900 filed by Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, which addresses “the rising concern among Texas parents of sexually explicit books and other inappropriate materials in public school libraries,” he said.
HB 900, the READER (Rising Explicit and Adult Designated Education Resources) Act would establish mandatory review standards and additional parental controls to create greater oversight of the current book collection process. It would require book vendors to rate and identify books that contain sexually relevant or explicit material before selling them to public schools.
It also would require them to submit a yearly report to the Texas Education Agency about books sent to districts for the TEA to post the ratings online. The bill also would allow parents to provide written consent before their child is given access to materials with sexually relevant ratings.