Special session to convene Tuesday

The 140-day regular session whimpered to a close Monday afternoon, with action incomplete on a major piece of legislation necessary to balance the new state budget. Legislative leaders said Gov. Rick Perry told them he would call lawmakers back into special session immediately, beginning on Tuesday, to finish work on Senate Bill 1811, which includes a number of budget-balancing provisions and school finance payments that distribute $4 billion in budget cuts among the state’s 1,000-plus school districts.

Attempts to convince several Democratic senators to join with their Republican colleagues and vote to suspend the rules to allow action on SB1811 on Monday failed. Such a motion would have required a four-fifths vote. The Senate adjourned sine die a few minutes before 5 p.m. and the House about a half hour later.

The special session could last as long as 30 days, but the governor and legislative leaders seemed determined to wrap this one up quickly, perhaps by the end of the week.

The governor sets the agenda for special sessions, and it was unknown if he would add other subjects to the call. The session will include SB1811 (it will have a different number during the special session), the fiscal matters bill that missed a deadline for passage and died after Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth launched a mini-filibuster against it Sunday night.

Davis objected to the budget cuts, especially to public education, in the new budget, but the budget bill, House Bill 1, already has been passed by both houses and sent to the governor. If the leadership has its way, that bill won’t be changed. The $4 billion in formula funding cuts to school districts over the next two years will remain in place. The special session, instead, will focus on completing work on the fiscal matters bill, which includes non-tax revenue and accounting maneuvers necessary to allow the comptroller to certify the budget. Despite the budget cuts, state leaders still plan to leave $6 billion of the taxpayers’ money unspent in the Rainy Day Fund.

The fiscal matters bill could become a vehicle during the special session for anti-teacher legislation that you helped TSTA kill during the regular session, including proposals to increase class sizes and allow districts to furlough teachers and reduce their pay. With your help, TSTA defeated those bad ideas once, and we can do so again, if necessary.

Here is a recap of the major anti-teacher, anti-public school legislation that our members and other public education supporters helped TSTA kill during the regular session:

  • House Bill 400. It would have made the following, permanent changes:
    • Raised the 22-1 class size cap for K-4 to 25-1, making it easier for districts to fire more teachers from the primary grades.
    • Repealed the minimum salary schedule.
    • Allowed districts to furlough teachers and cut their pay.
    • Allowed a district to declare a financial emergency at any time to do a reduction in form and deleted seniority as one of the factors used in determining who is terminated in a RIF.
    • Changed the notification date for non-renewal from the 45th day before the end of instruction to the last day of instruction.
    • Eliminated the use of a neutral hearing officer for mid-year terminations and replaced that with a hearing before the school board.
  • Senate Bill 4, which would have created a new teacher appraisal system heavily dependent on student test scores.
  • Senate Bill 127, which would have raised the cap on charter schools and allowed the State Board of Education to approve as many as 10 new charters each year. The same proposal was added in the Senate as an amendment to House Bill 6, the instructional allotments bill, but stripped out in conference committee.
  • A proposal for a private school voucher program, which supporters were unable to attach as a late-session amendment to Senate Bill 1811, the school finance bill.

Any or all of the above ideas, unfortunately, could find new life during the special session, when actions can occur very quickly. So, keep looking out for TSTA alerts and be prepared to start calling your legislators again, if necessary.