Legislative session in final month
Dr. Howell Wright

Since the 82nd Legislative Session is in its final month, this will be a good time to update our readers with bills that are pending that will affect public education in the future if they are passed into law. It seems like conversation regarding the state’s education budget has been quiet over the last month except for a few revisions in some of the projected finance runs from the House and the Senate. Otherwise the once a decade redistricting process has taken the front seat of the decision making process.

There are several bills of interest from the House of Representatives that were heard in committees last week. House Bill 2322 would allow private and parochial schools into the University Scholastic League (UIL). There are two problems with this idea: 1) Recruiting students is one of the main features of private schools and 2) students that attend private schools come from many different communities. Recruiting for a UIL activity is against the rules and would create an unfair advantage to private schools.

Also, one of the UIL goals is to bring together community schools and private schools which do not make up a community because many times their students are from several communities. Private and parochial schools currently participate in an organization similar to the UIL.

Another bill of interest, especially for retired employees is HB 2506. This bill would require a defined contribution pension to replace the current Teacher Retirement System (TRS). The TRS is a strong and well managed retirement system that helps attract new employees and has created thousands of new jobs in the private sector. HB 2506 would potentially limit the ability of retirees to cost of living increases and would require current educators to contribute more dollars into a privatized system to reduce the state’s responsibility for retirees. There is not any evidence that this bill would reduce the state’s cost for a retirement system.

HB 400 was left pending on the House floor last week. This bill provides school districts with many options to reduce costs, mostly in the personnel department. While the bill offers districts flexibility for operations and allows more employees to keep their jobs it also presents educators with fewer benefits. The bill does not require school districts to do anything, but it relaxes some of the rules and gives districts the ability to choose any or all of the relaxed mandates if it becomes financially necessary. It is a bill that is a Catch 22 bill–in order to help many educators keep their jobs; it hurts their ability to earn a living.

And finally both the House and the Senate have education spending bills based on their proposed budgets. HB 2485 is the House version and is based on the loss of $7.8 billion to education over the next two years. This bill eliminates Target Revenue and puts all schools into the formula system. HB 2485 is the most equitable bill to come from the legislature in decades. This bill in its current form is actually favorable to most Milam County schools. Rockdale ISD is projected to lose a small percentage of funding from the current formula system. I am not very excited about it yet because it uses last year’s numbers and I understand there will be several amendments to the bill that will cause greater inequity and less dollars for our district.

In the Senate is SB 22 that is based on the loss of $4 Billion to education. This bill in its current form would project a loss of $800,000 to RISD over the next two years. It also uses last year’s numbers and is not based on current tax values or attendance rates. It will be an interesting month and we will see what happens when all of the proposed bills are compromised between the House and Senate in conference committee later this month; my bet is that we are headed for a special session in July. Please keep contacting Senator Ogden (he has been a friend to education this session) and Representative Schwertner and ask them to provide adequate funding to our school system and to use part of an ever growing Rainy Day Fund.

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2011-05-05 digital edition

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