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The House Public Education Committee held its first meeting of the 87th legislative session Tuesday, March 2.

Chair Harold Dutton began the meeting by thanking the previous chair, Rep. Dan Huberty, for guiding the Legislature through the adoption of HB 3, historic school finance legislation he said would be used as a launching pad this session. Dutton recognized Rep. J.M. Lozano as the vice-chair for the committee. He also introduced Tamoria Jones as the new committee clerk, noting that she has worked with him for eight years and most recently was legal counsel for the Texas Charter School Association.

Commissioner of Education Mike Morath shared highlights from a 150-slide presentation, including:

Optional Beginning of Year (BOY) Assessment (slide 8) — Morath said that TEA used the results of a new state-developed tool, the optional BOY assessment, to extrapolate data. He noted that while the extrapolated data from the agency study indicated students were 3.2 months behind in reading and math, it was not feasible to make comparisons in data since this optional assessment did not exist in previous years.

COVID Adjustments to Assessment and Accountability (slide 9) — While discussing adjustments he has the authority to waive, such as SSI requirements, Morath stressed that he does not have the authority to waive graduation requirements. Rep. Diego Bernal said that the Legislature is the only entity that could grant relief to high school students. Bernal said that he had filed HB 999 to make it easier for students seeking eligibility for an Individual Graduation Committee (IGC). Rep. Dan Huberty said that he has filed HB 1603 (identical to Sen. Kel Seliger’s SB 177) that would remove the expiration date for IGCs.

COVID Enrollment Declines (slide 10) Morath shared data showing the highest enrollment declines were in pre-K and kindergarten and an actual increase in grades 9-12 enrollment.

Hold Harmless Status (slide 11) — Rep. Steve Allison said that the extension of the funding hold harmless provision for this school year was a huge concern to legislators, reminding Morath of the letter he wrote (and many other legislators co-signed) that urged funding be assured as soon as possible. Morath responded that he believed a majority of districts were making great efforts and that the delay in extending the provision was due to contemplating how to “align incentives.”

Fund Balance (no slide) — Rep. Dan Huberty asked Morath to share information on school district fund balances. Morath said that in 2019-2020 there was $14.7 billion in fund balances, and in 2020-2021 (post HB 3) there is $15.3 billion. He said that, as part of FIRST ratings, districts are advised to keep a 90-day cash flow, and out of the $15.3 billion balance, $8.3 billion would be needed to cover that time period. Huberty pointed out the resulting $7 billion in excess funds.

Learning Loss (slides 12-14) — Morath said the state is bridging the digital divide with Operation Connectivity (slides 18- 22), and deciding the future of hybrid/remote instruction. He stressed that the emergency rules for remote instruction are in effect only for 2020-2021 (slides 23-25).

Morath shared HB 3 updates and unintended consequences (slides 26-31) including: the interplay with small districts and CTE funding; structure of the Fast Growth Allotment; CCMR bonus (students who graduate with an associate degree don’t qualify for the bonus); that the school safety allotment passed independently of HB 3, which allocated money to a chapter that no longer exists; significant increase in compensatory ed funding that forces districts to spend in one year or lose.

Morath also gave an HB 3906 update (slides 32-36) stressing that legislative action would need to be taken if the state is to move to an electronic administration of all assessments by 2022-2023 and that training and resources for such a transition would need to be made available this upcoming school year. He said that findings for the HB 3906 feasibility study suggest expanded use of the TIMA be used to cover internet connectivity and online testing training, and/or establish matching grant funds as infrastructure investment for small and rural districts. Morath also said that legislative action was needed regarding the retesting of students in grades 5 and 8 in reading and math (Student Success Initiative grade advancement requirements) as retesting won’t align with new item types required by HB 3906.

Future House Public Education hearings are expected to be scheduled for 8 a.m. on Tuesday mornings during the 87th legislative session.