House State Affairs Committee Hears Lobbying Bill
By Texas Association of School Boards
AUSTIN, Texas – March 26, 2021 – The House State Affairs Committee on Thursday morning heard the two following bills, which were left pending:
- HB 749 (Middleton) would prohibit political subdivisions, such as school districts, cities, and counties, from hiring individuals who lobby or paying associations that employ lobbyists. Residents within a political subdivision that did lobby would be entitled to injunctive relief and related attorney’s fees and costs. Grapevine-Colleyville ISD Trustee Becky St. John testified on behalf of TASB in opposition to the bill, stating that trustees are unpaid volunteers who often do not have the time or expertise to effectively negotiate the legislative process. Elgin Superintendent Jodi Duron, testifying on behalf of the Texas Association of School Administrators, testified against the bill, noting that the bill would censor local communities and cost taxpayers more money. Elected officials from Collin County testified in support of the bill, saying that it is their job to communicate with legislators on their constituents’ behalf. Several other witnesses testified both for and against the bill.
- HB 3687 (Capriglione) would require political subdivisions, including school districts, to prominently display on their websites information regarding contracts for lobbying services and the entities’ legislative agendas. Grapevine-Colleyville ISD Trustee Becky St. John testified on behalf of TASB in support of the bill, along with several other local governmental representatives, noting that this helps increase transparency and confidence in local government spending and that many entities are already doing this.
Senate Education Recap
The Senate Education Committee met Thursday to consider the following bills, which were left pending:
- SB 226 (Paxton) defines virtual instruction and virtual learning in the Education Code and adds instruction on virtual learning and instruction to teacher certification requirements. The bill includes best practices and developing curriculum for synchronous and asynchronous instruction.
- SB 289 (Seliger) allows a school district to provide an excused absence for a student who is 15 years of age or older to obtain a driver’s license or learner’s permit.
- SB 1365 (Bettencourt) makes commissioner decisions, orders, or determinations final and unappealable and prohibits local funds from being used to initiate or maintain any action or proceeding against the state arising from such a decision. The bill also makes several changes to special investigations TEA may conduct of districts. The bill allows the commissioner to grant a district or campus an accountability rating of “not rated” if the school is subject to a declaration of a state disaster. SB 1365 also allows the commissioner to appoint a board of managers to a district if a campus has had a conservator assigned to it for two consecutive years. Members and TEA staff discussed whether TEA followed the correct administrative steps before ordering the removal of Houston ISD’s board of trustees, as stated in an appellate court’s decision allowing the elected trustees to remain on the board. They also considered the extent to which the bill goes to providing too much power to TEA
- SB 481 (Kolkhorst) allows a student enrolled in a school district that offers only virtual instruction for any part of a school year to transfer for that school year to another school district that offers in-person instruction during that school year. The receiving district may not charge tuition, and the student is included in the average daily attendance of the receiving district. CS specifies that this bill would apply to schools that are going to not offer in-person instruction for more than one grading period and that a school would not be required to accept a student if it did not have room for that student. A mother testified in support of the bill, noting her personal experience with her local school starting virtually only after closing due to the pandemic.
- SB 203 (Schwertner) would require UIL to issue statewide requests for proposals from institutions of higher education and other appropriate entities seeking to host statewide competitions. There was no testimony on the bill.
- SB 1171 (Taylor) allows the commissioner to establish a matching grant program to ensure that all school districts and open-enrollment charter schools have the necessary infrastructure to administer assessment instruments electronically. The bill also allows districts to use the Instructional Materials Allotment to pay for services, equipment, and technology infrastructure necessary to ensure adequate Internet connectivity and to pay for training personnel to administer electronic assessments. Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) noted that there will probably be another committee substitute to address the $30 million fiscal note. Extend grant program by two years and commissioner could not fund bandwidth or personnel costs. Taylor noted there would be another committee substitute.
- SB 28 (Bettencourt) prohibits a local governmental entity from enacting or enforcing an ordinance, order, regulation, resolution, rule, or policy or taking action that prohibits an open-enrollment charter school from operating a public school campus, educational support facility, or administrative office in its jurisdiction. The bill also grants the commissioner exclusive jurisdiction over the establishment and location of an open-enrollment charter school campus. The bill requires a municipality, county, special purpose district, or political subdivision to consider an open-enrollment charter school a school district for purposes of zoning, permitting, plat approvals, fees or other assessments, construction or site development work, code compliance, or development. Additionally, the bill strips from the State Board of Education the authority to veto new charter applications recommended by the commissioner and instead creates an appeals process overseen by the SBOE for charter applicants that are not approved by the commissioner. Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) said that he would work on language to maintain the SBOE’s authority to veto the commissioner’s charter award decisions – possibly requiring a two-third’s majority to veto a decision. Advocates of independent school districts testified against the bill noting that the bill removes public accountability from the charter expansion process in both applications for new charters and building requirements. Advocates of charter schools testified in favor of the bill saying that it leveled the playing field for charter schools when building new facilities.