Texas House passes major education bills

(The Center Square) – The Texas House passed two major education bills on Wednesday that address teacher recruitment and retention and revises funding mechanisms. A third education bill that passed…

(The Center Square) – The Texas House passed two major education bills on Wednesday that address teacher recruitment and retention and revises funding mechanisms. A third education bill that passed out of committee has yet to be scheduled for a floor vote.

The bills were listed as legislative priorities of Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and expected to pass.

House Bill 11, filed by Harold Dutton, D-Houston, passed nearly unanimously by a vote of 139 to 4. It allocates over $500 million for public school teacher recruitment and retention strategies, includes a pay increase for certain educators, and allocates nearly $100 million per year to pay stipends for teachers participating in a year-long residency. It also includes a provision to allow free pre-K public school education for children of teachers if the district in which they teach offers it.

The bill amends the Texas Education Code to create a Retiree Teacher Reimbursement Grant Program to reimburse school districts or open-enrollment charter schools that hire teachers who retired before September 1, 2022, for increased contributions made to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas associated with hiring the retired teacher.

The bill does more than allocate funding. It also includes a range of requirements and prohibitions related to several programs. One includes prohibiting public school districts or open-enrollment charter schools from including any instruction that incorporates “three-cueing” in the foundational skills reading curriculum for kindergarten through third grade. Three-cueing is defined “as any model, including the model referred to as meaning, structure, and visual cues (MSV), of teaching a student to read based on meaning, structure and syntax, and visual cues or memory.”  

According to a 2019 EdWeek Research Center survey, 75% of K-2 and elementary special education teachers use the method to teach students how to read; 65% of college of education professors teach it.

It also raises the base amount of caps for teacher incentive allotment, among other measures, according to the bill analysis.

HB 100, filed by Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, also passed on Wednesday with several amendments. The final vote hadn’t been recorded at the time of publication.

The bill changes how state funding is allocated to public schools. Currently, the per-student funding allotment is based on an average daily attendance (ADA). School administrators have long argued that they set their budgets based on enrollment, not attendance. The former more accurately reflects costs, not the latter.

School districts “have raised concerns” over the funding mechanism based on ADA, not enrollment, King said in the bill analysis. They’ve also said school districts should receive increased funding and teachers should receive increases in minimum salaries to account for inflation. The bill “seeks to address these concerns by increasing public education funding, including through enrollment-based funding under the foundation school program and increasing and restructuring the minimum salary schedule for specified employees,” the analysis states. The bill increases the basic allotment, creates a rural pathway excellence partnership program, creates a fine arts allotment, among other provisions.

The bill shifts the funding mechanism to enrollment-based funding for most allotments and also increases special education funding statewide. It invests $4.5 billion into the public school finance system and requires districts to allocate 50% of new money to educator and staff salaries. It also includes a new inflationary adjustment to ensure base allotment increases with inflation. 

The base ADA allotment of $6,160 per student hasn’t been increased since 2019 despite skyrocketing inflation.

It also increases the minimum salaries of public school district employees who are classroom teachers, full-time librarians, school counselors or nurses based on years of experience and applicable certification. Base salaries range between $35,000 and $63,000.

The bill also creates an Advanced Course Allotment to aid smaller and rural schools with course access, creates the Rural Pathways Education Program to incentivize collaboration among rural school districts, and increases the transportation allotment to $1.54 a mile (an increase of 54 cents to offset high fuel costs), according to the bill analysis.

HB 1605, filed by Brad Buckley, R-Salado, has yet to be scheduled for a floor vote after passing out of committee. It seeks to improve student curricula and increase teacher professional development tools, referring to recommendations made in Gov. Greg Abbott’s 2024-2025 budget. The bill seeks to “increase access to high-quality instructional material for students, relieve teachers of certain duties relating to material development, and provide transparency for parents by providing for a Texas Education Agency process of instructional material review and subsequent approval by the State Board of Education,” according to the bill analysis. 

It also establishes allotments under the foundation school program for certain instructional materials, provides for an instructional materials parent portal, the availability of open education resource instructional materials, and revises the duties of instructional material publishers and manufacturers, among other provisions.