Update on House Bill 21

We have been communicating with you about the progress of the HB 21, a school finance bill, during this Legislative Session. Let me explain a little about how the process works and where the state stands as far as school finance is concerned.

As you may remember, the Board and I were very pleased with the components of HB 21 and firmly believed it was a good bill. It provided an additional $1.8 billion for public education and cleaned up and simplified some of the complex, outdated formulas while doing a good job of addressing the needs of special education students and other student populations. I will not go into details on all the specific changes it made to school finance, but suffice it to say we were pleased. Based on our revenue forecasts under HB 21, Alief ISD would have received and additional $14 million over the next two school years. This bill passed out of the House unanimously. Things then unraveled after the bill reached the Senate.

The Senate stripped away $1.3 billion of the funding and also removed the clean-up of the outdated funding formulas such as high school allotment/transportation allotment and more. The Senate then decided to add provisions for vouchers or education savings accounts (ESA’s) for special education students to HB 21. I believe I speak for most educators when I say that ESA’s or vouchers is a “poison pill” and 100% unacceptable in any education bill in Texas. So, to recap, we went from a really good bill coming out of the House with meaningful and logical changes to public education funding to a complex bill with much less funding and vouchers. The bill then went back to the House, which did not accept all of the changes to HB 21 and requested a conference committee with the Senate. A conference committee is comprised of five members of the Senate and five members of the House in an effort to negotiate the differences in the bill between the two chambers. The Senate refused to negotiate and walked away from the conference committee. The Senate literally refused to even talk about a compromise. As an aside, everyone should know the Texas House of Representatives has stood strong on not allowing vouchers to become a part of our education system. Personally, I applaud them for that.

So, this means that House Bill 21 is “dead” and there will be no additional money for public education in Texas for the next two years. While this is going to cause harm to many districts across Texas, let me explain why the Board of Trustees and I were against the Senate version of HB 21.

  1. This bill took taxpayer money out of public education to help subsidize private schools and for-profit companies who may create private and charter schools.
  2. The Senate version was basically the “camel’s nose under the tent.” Once you allow a voucher program to begin you will never be able to take that money back. Let me also point out that the $8,000 per student is nowhere near the $15,000-$20,000 or as high as $70,000 that it would cost parents to enroll special education students in a private school on an annual basis.
  3. As you may remember from my communication regarding student mobility, privatizing a certain set of the student population creates even more mobility among students. You would have more students leaving public schools for private schools and create another cycle of student mobility which is not in anyone’s best interest.

In closing, let me assure you that we are working very hard on the 2017-18 budget. We will do our very best to keep our salaries at the top of all Houston area school districts while also maintaining the most affordable health care premiums of any school district in Texas. School finance is a very challenging issue and it has been made even more challenging now that there is no school finance bill or additional money for the next two years, thanks to the Senate’s changes to HB 21 and refusal to participate in the conference committee. If you feel inclined, you should contact your Senator’s office and the Lt. Governor’s office and tell them how disappointed you are in their unwillingness to “sit down in a conference committee with the House on HB 21.”

Thank you for serving as Key Communicator. Enjoy your weekend and please remember why we celebrate Memorial Day, to honor those who have given their lives for our freedom.

Update on House Bill 22

I wanted to share one more piece of information with you today regarding important legislation that affects all of us in public education. My previous letter discussed the school finance situation in Texas. I now want to update you now on HB 22 – the school accountability bill that we designed to help with the A-F ratings system.

As was with HB 21, HB 22 was a very good piece of legislation coming out of the House of Representatives. If you remember, this bill accomplished several things.

  1. HB 22 reduced the number of domains from five to three. These domains were: student achievement, student progress and school climate.
  2. It included non-test, non STAAR based indicators.
  3. Included alternate assessments in lieu of STAAR exams (these assessments are quality assessments being used by districts across Texas).
  4. HB 22 created a weighted system where districts are held more accountable for students that are continuously enrolled in our schools.
  5. It delayed full implementation of the system until the 2019-20 school year. This gives TEA time to do this right. As many of you know, all too often major parts of policy changes at the statewide level are rushed and implemented in a haphazard manner and local school systems are left trying to figure out what is expected of them.

The process is the same as HB 21. The House approved HB 22 146-0 and sent it to the Senate for consideration. This bill was sent to the Senate almost seven weeks ago and at 2:30 am yesterday morning, the Senate passed a stripped-down version of the original HB 22. The Senate literally took a good bill and sent back a much weaker and less meaningful accountability bill. Basically, it was good policy coming out of the House and now it’s mediocre – at best – policy. The Senate version took away almost all of the proposed changes with the exception for the continuous enrollment provision and also added a fourth domain – closing the achievement gaps between racial and socioeconomic groups.

Now that the Senate version has passed, it is back to the House. The House may decide to pass the bill as is, or negotiate with the Senate through the conference committee process I explained in my previous letter. The Board and I prefer the House version, as it included provisions to measure a student, a campus and a school district as a whole. The Senate version takes us back to where we are all graded by a single test. I will update you with more as soon I as I know anything.

Thank you for serving as Key Communicator. Again, enjoy your weekend and please remember why we celebrate Memorial Day, to honor those who have given their lives for our freedom.

HD Chambers