The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday, May 18.
Testimony was heard on SB 1716 by Senate Education Committee Larry Taylor. The bill would make permanent the Supplemental Special Education Services (SSES) program created in January 2021 by state leadership with federal funds to provide Texas public school students with $1,500 stipends to obtain services, curriculum, or other supplies. Rep. Greg Bonnen, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, laid out and answered members’ questions about the bill.
Charles Luke with Pastors for Texas Children testified “on” the bill on behalf of the Coalition for Texas Public Schools, stating that his position was changed from against to neutral as a result of changes to be made to the bill.
Kristin McGuire with the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education testified against SB 1716. She expressed concerns if students’ ARD committees wouldn’t be selecting the services purchased with these grants and asked for clarification on whether the grants are supplemental or a mechanism to provide a free, appropriate public education (FAPE). Rep. Gary VanDeaver said he was adding an amendment to the bill that would involve ARDs, and nothing in the bill or amendment will relieve the school district from their federal obligation to provide FAPE. He said the ARD committee will be able to give the parent advice on what would be best to use the grant for, but it does not give the ARD veto power on the decision.
Steven Aleman with Disability Rights Texas testified against the bill. He said parents have faced challenges in accessing the current program, so an appeals process for parents needs to be added. VanDeaver said concerns that parents were being turned away from the current program validate the need for his amendment, which adds ARD committee involvement, as the ARD committee can support parents through the application process.
David Anderson with Raise Your Hand Texas testified, stating that he was testifying “on” or neutrally on the bill as opposed to against, with the amendments that are planned. A representative of San Benito CISD testified in support of the bill, stating that the current program has helped students in the district, which took the lead in understanding the program, training personnel on it, and encouraging/assisting parents to apply.
After testimony concluded, VanDeaver laid out an amendment, which brings the ARD committee into the process and sets the expiration/sunset date for the program as September 2024. The committee approved the amendment with an 11-0 vote.
Rep. Cecil Bell laid out another amendment that changes the word “credit” to “grant” as clarification. The committee approved the amendment with an 11-0 vote.
Rep. Brad Buckley laid out another amendment that states that TEA must designate one or more regional ESCs to facilitate the program. The committee approved the amendment with an 11-0 vote.
The committee then voted the amended SB 1716 out of committee with a 10-1 vote. It will now go to the full House for consideration.