Senator blocks SB 1811, special session threatened

Only a few hours before a midnight deadline, the House on Sunday night approved the conference committee report on Senate Bill 1811, distributing the $4 billion in public education cuts in the new state budget among the state’s 1,000-plus school districts. The vote was 84-63. Thirteen Republicans and one Democrat who had voted for the budget bill voted against the specific school district cuts.

But the bill was blocked in the Senate by a mini-filibuster by Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, who talked long enough to prevent Senate action on the bill by the midnight deadline. The Senate’s failure to pass the bill posed the possibility of a special session because the bill includes provisions necessary to balance the new state budget, House Bill 1, which was approved by lawmakers Saturday night.

Gov. Rick Perry vowed to call a special session on the budget, beginning on Tuesday, if Senate Bill 1811 failed. He also said he would add sanctuary cities legislation to the special session call. A sanctuary cities bill, which Perry designated an emergency, died in the Senate in the face of Democratic opposition.

The 140-day regular session must adjourn by midnight tonight, and the last day is supposed to be reserved for only technical corrections to bills. It would require a four-fifths vote for the Senate to pass SB1811 today, the session’s last day.

Senate Bill 1811 cuts funding by 6 percent across-the-board for all school districts in 2012 and imposes a more-complicated system of cuts for 2013, which will hit harder at wealthier districts.

In addition to the school finance cuts, Senate Bill 1811 includes other provisions to increase the amount of revenue available for the new state budget and to allow it to be certified by the comptroller. Among other things, SB1811 defers state payments to school districts from one fiscal year to another and speeds up collection of some state taxes.

SB1811, as drafted by House-Senate conferees, did not include larger class sizes or any of the other anti-teacher provisions from House Bill 400, which died in the House earlier this month.

In other action on Sunday, the Senate approved the conference committee report on House Bill 6, the instructional allotments bill. But the House failed to approve the bill before the midnight deadline. The rules could be suspended to take up the bill today. Conferees had removed a provision, added in the Senate, that would have removed the cap on charter schools and allowed the State Board of Education to increase the number of charter schools by as many as 10 a year.

In its final form, House Bill 6 would substitute the term, “instructional materials,” for “textbooks.” It also would add to the required curriculum for social studies the subject of economics with emphasis on the free enterprise system and removed it as a stand alone subject. And, it would allow open enrollment charter schools to receive the instructional materials allotment as if they were independent school districts. .

The House and the Senate adopted conference committee reports on the following bills:

House Bill 2380 by Rep. Shelton, providing that a person who is employed in a new professional capacity that requires a different class of certificate from SBEC may be employed under a probationary contract.

Senate Bill 89 by Sen. Lucio, requiring a school district in which 50 percent or more of the students are eligible to participate in the national free or reduced-priced lunch program to provide a summer nutrition program. Districts can seek waivers from the state education commissioner.

Senate Bill 1788 by Sen. Patrick, requiring TEA to develop a model form for use in developing an individualized education program. The bill also requires transition planning to begin at age 14.

House Bill 3468 by Rep. Patrick, requiring TEA, in consultation with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, to conduct a study of best practices for and existing programs offering early assessments of high school students in order to determine college readiness, identify any deficiencies in college readiness, and provide intervention to address any deficiencies before high school graduation.

The House approved the following conference committee reports:

House Bill 1335 by Rep Allen, requiring that each school district develops a process, to be used by teachers who instruct students with disabilities in a regular classroom setting, to request a review of a student’s individualized education program, provides for a timely district response to a teacher’s request, and provides notification to the student’s parent of that response.

House Bill 1286 by Rep. Donna Howard, prohibiting the University Interscholastic League from taking action on a new or amended rule that would result in additional costs for a member school without preparing a fiscal impact statement.

The Senate approved a conference committee report on Senate Bill 1543 by Sen. Wentworth, allowing an independent school district to purchase, sell, and invest its funds and funds under its control in certain corporate bonds.