Back to school

As students and teachers head back to school, I wanted to highlight some of the new laws going into effect following the recent legislative session that will impact students, teachers, parents and taxpayers.

HB 3 is the omnibus bill aimed at addressing our state’s broken school finance system and adding more state funding for our schools. As passed, $4.5 billion was allotted for education reforms and full-day Pre-K. Another $2 billion is earmarked for increased compensation for public school teachers, counselors and librarians. I am proud to have co-authored this legislation and to have written the amendment that helped lead to substantial pay increases for most employees. 

In addition to adding more money to our schools, the bill “buys down” $5 billion in property taxes. However, homeowners will not see much of an impact on their tax bills and what relief you do see will likely be short-lived. A better solution, one supported by House Democrats, would have been to increase the homestead exemption. Doubling the homestead exemption from $25,000 to $50,000 would have saved the average homeowner $325 each year.

Retired teachers also deserve a raise, which is why the Legislature dedicated $589 million for a 13th check averaging $2,000 per retiree. In addition to this extra payment, $524 million was appropriated to make the Teachers’ Retirement System of Texas actuarially sound and another $230.8 million will be spent to keep retired teachers’ healthcare premiums from increasing.

Last week, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released district and school level A-F ratings. Arlington ISD received a B (86%) and Mansfield ISD an A (90%). I congratulate both districts on a great score and the hard work that went into them. That said, these scores simply cannot tell the whole story.

I have had serious concerns since the inception of the A-F system. Like many teachers, parents and school administrators, I believe that the rating system oversimplifies the way schools are evaluated and doesn’t give the full picture of the strides and successes made in our classrooms.

As we’ve seen in at least one case, districts are at risk of being penalized for issues out of their control. At the beginning of the legislative session, I met with AISD about their 2018 grade and how some meaningful data was not counted toward their score, which likely suffered as a result. In response, I filed two measures to fix the issue. Both passed and both go into effect on September 1st. Now, going forward, districts will have access to all data collected in order to confirm that it is correct and complete before a grade is issued by the state.

The tragic shooting at Texas’ Santa Fe High School last year served as a devastating reminder that we must do more to ensure that our school campuses and communities are safe. To provide additional support from the state, the Legislature passed SB 11, which will help add on-campus security personnel, provide avenues for districts to upgrade security and technology, and increase access to school mental health counseling and trauma-informed care.

Hopefully, these reforms will make a real difference for Texas public schools. Our students and teachers deserve nothing less.

To all teachers, students and their family members — best wishes for a successful school year.