84th Session Opens

84th Legislature opens in biennial session

The 84th Texas Legislature is now in session.

Over the next 140 days, lawmakers will entertain thousands of bills, with only a portion making their way into law. Legislators will look at big ticket issues such as health care, transportation, water, higher education – and public education.

And while neither legislators nor observers expect much movement on public school finance (a district judge has ruled the system unconstitutional; the state has appealed to the Texas Supreme Court), public education still figures to get plenty of attention as the session proceeds towards it Memorial Day close.

Spring Branch ISD trustees and senior administrators made several visits to the Capitol this fall, engaging legislative staffs, and building and maintaining relationships.

“We've have good visits with key lawmakers,” said David Sablatura, assistant to the superintendent and board of trustees.

Trustee Karen Peck, the board’s legislative liaison, said that she and others from Spring Branch were welcomed during their visits. “It’s helpful for representatives to know about Spring Branch,” she said.

Superintendent Duncan Klussmann said Spring Branch wants to be the “last call” legislators make when studying bills – unless help is needed in crafting legislation, then the district should be one of the first calls.

Klussmann told trustees Monday, Jan. 12, at the January workshop meeting that much is happening behind the legislative scenes right now, including the state’s new leadership – Gov. Greg Abbot and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick – building their staffs.

Klussmann said both Abbot and Patrick are building staff with respected education policy wonks, indicating that each is serious about public education. As a senator, Patrick chaired that body’s education committee during the 2013 session.

Patrick, who as lieutenant governor presides over the Texas Senate, presented his own agenda last week, including a “conservative” budget with significant tax relief. For public education he advocated school choice “for every child in Texas”, expanding accountability rankings (A, B, C, D, F) to individual campuses, and the creation of achievement districts for persistently failing schools.

Spring Branch ISD’s own legislative agenda includes adequate state funding for public education, returning control to local school boards, allow time for implementation of HB5 (the sweeping legislation that creates new pathways to high school graduation), ensuring “meaningful” assessments, and providing full-day state funding for preK.

The presumed chair of the House’s Education Committee, Rep. Jimmie Dean Aycock (R-Killeen), has filed HB 654, a bill aimed at reforming public school finance. Aycock said he has no expectation that the bill will pass, or even be considered (“I’m not even confident I like this concept,” he said in a letter to colleagues) but wants to at least start a conversation in advance of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the school finance lawsuit.

Aycock’s proposal would create 30 School Financial Districts (SFD) to equalize student wealth, which would remove the need for special formulas at the state level for funding. The SFDs would be for taxing purposes only, he said.

Expect little if any movement on bills over the next couple of weeks. Abbot and Patrick will be sworn in on Tuesday, Jan. 20, and the House still has the matter of electing a Speaker. Several members mounted a challenge to House Speaker Joe Straus but he was easily re-elected to a third term.

House committees and chairs will be named over the next few weeks.


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