Top 5 Takeaways from the 87th Texas Legislative Session
During our first legislative session “on the ground” in Texas, The Education Trust actively partnered within and across multiple statewide coalitions to advocate for education equity across a wide range of priority areas. The governor still has until June 20 to sign or veto bills passed during session, but here is a high-level recap of what the 87th Texas legislature did (and did not do) to advance education equity:
- Fully funded House Bill 3 and released federal relief funds: The regular session ended with a much brighter fiscal outlook than many feared during the height of the pandemic. Bolstered by improved state revenue projections, lawmakers passed a budget that maintains the historic commitment to fund public education represented by House Bill 3 (2019). Legislators then went further by ultimately agreeing to make available more than $16 billion in supplementary federal relief funds allocated to Texas school districts based on their share of the state’s students from low-income backgrounds. Ed Trust helped lawmakers, their staff, partners and the media understand the implications of the federal funds and how they would be allocated. We created a video explainer, built a dashboard to break down data by district and met with numerous partners to support related advocacy efforts.
- Directed the Texas Education Agency and districts to accelerate learning: Lawmakers passed HB 1525 to guide and oversee the Texas Education Agency’s use of nearly $2 billion in discretionary federal funds to support the long, hard work of helping students and teachers bounce back from the disruption of the pandemic. The legislation focuses on strategies to accelerate learning, including high-quality tutoring, extended learning time, innovation in curriculum, teacher supports and broadband expansion. Under HB 4545, school districts will also be required to create an individualized plan to accelerate the learning of students not meeting grade-level standards. Ed Trust focused on promoting evidence-based strategies like high-quality tutoring to solve unfinished learning to inform state and local decision-makers.
- Clarified accountability during and following the pandemic: You have to measure things in order to improve them, and that goes for school performance, too. In Texas, schools that underperform for multiple consecutive years require certain local and state interventions to turn them around. Following two school years in which the state’s A-F ratings for schools were understandably paused, a December 2020 court ruling threatened to “reset the clock” for more than 400 underperforming campuses serving 195,000 students, disproportionately Black, Latino, and from low-income backgrounds. Lawmakers passed SB 1365, clarifying that a “Not Rated” year for a particular school should neither be included nor be considered a break in consecutive years for the purposes of state accountability. The law also extended the assignment of “Not Rated” for the upcoming 2021-22 school year. Alongside our civil rights partners, UnidosUS and the National Urban League, Ed Trust alerted legislative offices of the role accountability systems can play as powerful tools to help close opportunity gaps and achieve equity.
- Built on previous investments in high-quality early education and postsecondary access: Lawmakers took important steps to build on these areas of focus from House Bill 3 in 2019, introducing a Strong Foundations Grant program (HB 4545), setting a maximum Pre-K class size at 22 (SB 2081), and initiating the development of a statewide strategic plan to improve and expand bilingual education (SB 560). On the higher education side, SB 1277 (signed by the governor) ensures students receive dual credit advising support. Unfortunately, HB 2030, which would establish a $45 million outcomes-based grant program to support regional collaboratives focused on the enrollment and success of students from low-income backgrounds, did not make it across the finish line. Ed Trust worked across multiple coalitions, including the Texas Early Childhood English Learner Initiative, InvestEdTX, and Texas Postsecondary Advocates Coalition for Equity (TX PACE), to advocate in support of these bills.
- Failed to create more supportive, inclusive learning environments and instead passed the politically-motivated, harmful HB 3979. Bills seeking to prevent discrimination based on hairstyles associated with race (HB 392), prevent the use of restraints on students under age 10 (HB 2975), and require reporting of school discipline data broken down by race and ethnicity (HB 3485) failed to get movement in the Senate. Yet, despite the opposition of thousands of Texans and nearly 100 student, teacher, faith, business and professional groups from across the state, the legislature moved HB 3979 to the governor’s desk, making it harder for schools to address harmful discrimination experienced by students of color. The new rules would also discourage students from pursuing civic engagement opportunities in their communities. As a member of the Texas Legislative Education Equity Coalition (TLEEC), Ed Trust helped organize business and education groups against the proposal, raise attention with the media and analyze different versions of this fast-moving and harmful bill.
We are grateful and proud to partner alongside so many Texans and organizations committed to achieving education equity and justice with and for the students of Texas. Even as this legislative session comes to a close, the work continues.