The House Committee on Public Education held its first interim hearing on April 26, 2022.
State of the Public Education System
The meeting started with lengthy testimony on the state of the public education system by Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath (see his slide presentation). Several committee members expressed their concerns with the state’s teacher shortage crisis, stating that teachers are facing obstacles including a lack of time to implement the plethora of state requirements while also addressing COVID learning loss.
Rep. Gary VanDeaver said that most concerns he hears from his constituents are about the stringent TEA requirements in place to complete the reading academies, and that those requirements also appear to be a disincentive to teacher retention. He noted that one of his teacher constituents was reprimanded for completing the training “too fast.” Rep. Alma Allen echoed these concerns, mentioning conversations she has had with doctoral students who assert that the TEA-designed training was too prescriptive and mandated an unreasonable time commitment, especially for those who were already versed in the science of teaching reading.
Commissioner Morath said that the fault lay with school district leaders who have not scheduled time for teachers to complete the 60-hour trainings within the school day. Note: After hearing teachers’ concerns that the 60-hour training was taking 120 hours in reality, the agency has indicated that year 3 of the academy training will include parameters that lessen the excessive time requirements, including agency reduction of academy content in some areas.
Interim Charge No. 2
The committee then moved on to discuss interim charge No. 2: “Examine the impact, including any financial impact, to the Texas public school system of an increase in the number of children crossing the Texas-Mexico border. Review the history, any applicable precedents, and the legal landscape regarding the education of migrant children in Texas’s public schools.”
TEA legal and financial representatives testified, followed by three superintendents who were invited to provide testimony: Dr. Veronica Vijil, superintendent, Fabens ISD and TASA Executive Committee member; Dr. Ricardo Lopez, superintendent, Garland ISD; and Dr. J.A. Gonzalez, superintendent, McAllen ISD.
The superintendents provided the committee with information about their districts’ student demographics, and all expressed a need for increasing the weights for calculating funding for bilingual students as that student population increases. Additional funding would allow for teacher stipends and rigorous materials and help with recruitment and retention of bilingual teachers, who are in short supply. Allowing these funds to be used to pay the entire salary of a teacher rather than just supplementing it was also mentioned.
Increasing funding for pre-K was a common theme, especially as school districts have seen a drop in attendance in early grades because of the pandemic. Increasing funding for teacher pay, especially as more teachers are leaving the profession in record numbers, further exacerbating the current teacher shortage, was also discussed. The superintendents pointed out that increased funding for salaries can’t be seen as a local issue only, just as funding local schools is not just a local responsibility.
There was discussion about the state moving to funding school districts based on enrollment and not ADA but keeping the weights that acknowledge differing needs of students served in Texas public schools. Texas is one of only a few states that does not base school funding on enrollment.
Gonzalez noted that McAllen ISD has not seen an influx of immigrants and believes they are bypassing border cities for other parts of the state and country. His school district has been experiencing a decrease in enrollment.
Vijil testified that she would like to see additional spending on CCMR and noted the importance of providing students with multiple learning opportunities at the high school level. Lopez echoed this position and added that more investment in technology is needed for access to early college programs and industry certifications that make a difference in students’ immigration status and in becoming citizens.
Interim Charge No. 11
The remainder of the hearing focused on interim charge No. 11: “Review the impact of investments of the Permanent School Fund by the State Board of Education in businesses and funds owned or controlled by the Russian government or Russian nationals and determine the need for investment restrictions. Consider the impact of any proposed investment restrictions on fund performance.”
Representatives from TEA and the General Land Office, as well as SBOE member Tom Maynard, were on the panel providing invited testimony on this charge.