House approves SB1, Rainy Day contingency for schools

2 a.m. report: After hours of debate, the House early today gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 1 on a 81-62 vote, a fiscal matters bill necessary to balance the new state budget. Dozens of amendments were debated, with much of the controversy centering on how to distribute $4 billion in public education cuts among the state’s school districts.

Republican legislators who voted for the deep cuts during the regular session scrambled, mostly in vain, to minimize the damage to their local school districts – and perhaps their own political careers. Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, was successful in attaching an amendment to sunset in two years the school finance factor used to reduce school funding for 2012-2013.

Before debating Senate Bill 1, the House gave preliminary approval to another fiscal bill, Senate Bill 2.

Rep. Pete Gallego, a Democrat from Alpine, tried to amend Senate Bill 2 to add $4 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to cover the $4 billion shortfall in public education in the new state budget, which was passed during the regular session. The Republican majority – the same legislators who a few hours later were trying to spare their own school districts from deep cuts — defeated Gallego’s amendment. But the House accepted a Rainy Day contingency appropriation for education proposed by Democratic Rep. Donna Howard of Austin.

The Howard amendment to SB2, if it stays in the final version of the bill, won’t touch the $6.5 billion Rainy Day Fund balance projected for the next budget period. But if the fund exceeds that amount, then the additional money will be spent on school enrollment growth, which, so far, is unfunded in the new budget.

Legislators pulled down three anti-teacher, anti-public school amendments that had been pre-filed to SB1. These were amendments that would have repealed the teacher salary schedule, allowed for an expansion of charter schools and created virtual charter schools.

The House accepted an amendment to allow charter schools to use the Permanent School Fund to guarantee bonds to construct facilities. And, it approved an amendment, which may largely be symbolic, to make standardized testing optional for school districts for the next two years.

The House also approved an amendment to SB1 to give the Teacher Retirement System of Texas the authority to issue retirees a 13th check during years that the fund is strong enough to support the extra benefit.

Since the debate on SB1 took so long, the House delayed debate on House Bill 18 – a bill attacking the 22-1 class size cap for K-4 – and House Bills 19, 20 and 21 – bills attacking teacher employment rights — until today (Friday).

Keep calling your state representatives, demanding votes AGAINST HBs 18, 19, 20 and 21.