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EduLege Tracker 6-10-19

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EduLege Update Volume VII, Number 40
June 10, 2019
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association

It’s about to become law…

Governor Greg Abbott is scheduled on Tuesday to sign House Bill 3—the comprehensive school finance and property tax limitation bill that was passed last month by the 86th session of the Texas Legislature.

Among the bill’s major provisions:

  • Spending on basic education programs and student services will increase by $4.5 billion, and an additional $2 billion has been appropriated to increase salaries for teacher and other school personnel.  

  • More than $5 billion will be applied for tax relief for both residential and business property owners.

  • The state’s share of education funding would increase from the current 38 percent to 45 percent.

  • So-called property rich school districts that are required to pay “recapture” payments to the state, and higher-poverty districts, rank among the biggest winners from HB 3. Projections show that these districts will receive state funding increases of between eight and 13 percent for their day-to-day operations.

  • More affluent suburban districts will receive smaller increases, with their new state revenues rising by between three and six percent.

  • Per-student funding will increase from an average $5,140 to $6,160.

  • The average compensation package for full-time teachers, librarians, counselors, and school nurses with more than five years of experience will increase by about $4,000-a-year.

  • The property tax rates levied by school districts are projected to drop by an average of eight cents per $100 property valuation in 2020, and by 13 cents per $100 valuation in 2021.

  • Also beginning in 2021, school districts’ property tax collections can increase by no more than 2.5 percent, without voter approval.

  • Funding will increase for low-income students; students with dyslexia and Dual Language programs for students who didn’t grow up with English as their primary language.

  • Funding for pre-kindergarten will increase, and will now be offered to eligible students for the full day and not just a half day.

There’s one major source of contention for many school districts: current property values—not prior year values—will be used to calculate school districts’ state funding. That allows the state to escape paying hundreds of millions more towards the total cost of funding Texas schools.

The Texas Association of School Boards has produced guidelines to help school districts comply with the salary provisions of HB 3. 

The TASB policy paper is designed to help districts understand how to comply with the new state requirement that 30 percent of the basic student allotment increase be spent on non-administrative staff compensation. View the guidelines here.

The new State Budget awaits…

State Comptroller Glenn Hegar has certified the 2020-2021 State Budget, to which legislators agreed last month. 

Governor Abbott may now sign the massive spending plan—known as House Bill 1—which appropriates a total of $250.7 billion for state programs and services for the biennial budget period that begins on Sept. 1.

The comptroller is required to certify that sufficient funding is available for a State Budget before the governor can act. Mr. Abbott now has until Sunday, June 16, to sign the new budget, and to veto individual “line item” spending on programs on which he disagrees.

The Texas House initially passed a $251 billion budget, while the State Senate agreed on a $248 billion spending plan. The final version—negotiated by 10 legislative conferees—ended up closer to the House’s larger price tag.

In the end, the Legislature opted not to touch the state’s so-called Rainy Day Fund to help pay for funding in Fiscal Years 2020-2021. Several billion dollars from the state’s savings account was appropriated by legislators to pay for Hurricane Harvey recovery expenses that have accrued in the current State Budget that runs through August 31.

Showing others how it’s done…

Governor Abbott has signed Senate Bill 21 into law, making it illegal to sell cigarettes, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products to Texans who are younger than 21.

With the governor’s signature, Texas becomes the 16th state to raise the minimum legal tobacco age. It’s also the most-populous state to do so.

The bill was sponsored by State Senator Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and State Representative John Zerwas, R- Richmond, and faced little opposition from legislators. 

According to the Texas 21 Coalition—which lobbied for passage of SB 21—7.4 percent of Texas high school students smoke, and over 10 percent of them use e-cigarettes.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reported back in February that there had been a 78 percent increase nationwide in the number of school students using e-cigarettes. Nearly five million American students now use tobacco products—reserving the trend of declining tobacco use.

The new restriction does not apply to those under the age of 21 who are serving in the military.

Sound check…

A Dallas high school valedictorian says that her principal shut down the sound system during her graduation address over the weekend when she attempted to make a statement about shooting victims.

Emmett J. Conrad High School’s top student, Rooha Haghar, posted a video which confirms that her microphone went silent after she said, “To Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and all the other children who became victims of injustice…”

The video also shows Principal Temesghen Asmerom giving a thumbs up just before the sound cuts out.

Ms. Haghar, who moved to the United States from Iran with her family because of religious persecution, says it was important to recognize those whose education has been cut-short by gun violence.

“I never expected them to not allow me to finish, because at the end of the day, schools want to raise socially conscious students; students who are able to think for themselves. That's what I was doing,” Ms. Haghar said.

The Dallas school district said in a statement that it strives to educate the “leaders of tomorrow and encourage[s] student voices, and we are looking into this matter.”

Ms. Haghar plans on attending the University of Texas in the fall.

A macabre tourist attraction…

In the 20 years since the shooting massacre at Columbine High School in suburban Denver, Colorado, the building has become a macabre tourist attraction for the curious and the obsessed.  

They travel from as far as Brazil or Japan, hoping to walk the halls and spot the two teenage gunmen’s lockers. They come every day—and more come with each passing year.

Now, in an effort to stop the escalating threats against the school—and lessen Columbine’s perverse appeal to copycats and so-called Columbiners—school officials are proposing a radical idea: Tear it down.

“The morbid fascination with Columbine has been increasing over the years,” Jefferson County Superintendent Jason Glass wrote recently in an open letter titled “A New Columbine?” “We believe it is time for our community to consider this option.”

Some survivors doubt that school officials could actually succeed in erasing Columbine’s dark allure if they simply rebuilt the school on the same grounds and kept its name.

“My heart says, ‘No way,’” said Josh Lapp, 36, who was in the Columbine library that day when the two teenage gunmen entered and started shooting. “It’s not changing anything.”

Others have already done what Superintendent Glass is suggesting.

In Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 students and six staff members were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, the district demolished the building and built a new campus on a different part of the same property.

In Parkland, Florida, crews are expected to break ground this summer on a project to replace Building 12 of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were killed in 2018.

Last month, the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, located in rural Wilson County, southeast of San Antonio, opened a new sanctuary next to its original worship site. The congregation converted the old church, where a gunman killed 26 worshipers in 2017, into a memorial to the victims.

“We don’t want it to look like a fortress, but we also wanted to make sure everybody could feel safe on the inside,” Pastor Frank Pomeroy said at the dedication of the new sanctuary.

EduLege is provided by the Texas School Public Relations Association as a service to its members.

Long-time TSPRA member Andy Welch, the retired Communication Director for the Austin School District, compiles and writes EduLege.  Questions or comments may be directed to him at andywelch1@gmail.com.

For more updates on education news from throughout the state, visit the TSPRA website.