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Texas Legislature begins 87th session
Members of the Texas Legislature were sworn in on Tuesday in a dramatically different environment. Due to COVID-19 and the surge of new cases across the state, few friends and family were allowed in the capitol for the ceremonies, and the ceremonies themselves were fairly short. On Wednesday, the Senate will vote on the rules by which it will operate during the 140-day session. They are expected to again reduce the threshold by which a bill may be approved for floor debate, acknowledging the loss of one Republican in the Senate as a result of the November elections. It is anticipated that members will vote to reduce the threshold to 18 votes, the exact number of Republican senators there are in the Texas Senate. Members will also debate COVID-19 safety protocols.
 
On Wednesday and Thursday, the Texas House will debate the rules by which it will operate. The House of Representatives is expected to have a great deal of debate, particularly on rules related to COVID-19 safety. After approving the rules, both chambers will adjourn until January 26.
TX Comptroller’s office estimates fewer dollars for next state budget
On January 11, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar released his estimate of the amount of revenue that will be available to Texas lawmakers as they write the state’s budget. Texas, unlike the federal government, must adopt a balanced budget. The comptroller estimates that $112.53 billion will be available for the state’s next two-year budget. This is a slight decrease of about $950 million from the current two-year budget. Pre-COVID, Texas was anticipating a surplus of roughly $4.8 billion.

The outlook for the next two years is better than what was originally predicted over the summer. This reversal can be credited to a new law requiring tax from online sales; plus the extension given for state and local governments to spend remaining CARES Act dollars, which should help Texas address the shortfall. The Economic Stabilization Fund (aka Rainy Day Fund) has a balance of $10.5 billion. In recent days, Gov. Abbott has indicated that the state should use some of this money to balance the budget given the circumstances.

Responding to a question, Comptroller Hegar indicated that virtually every conversation between himself and policymakers has included our state’s ability to remain committed to public education funding. There is a strong desire to maintain the increase in public education funding authorized by House Bill 3 in 2019, and Comptroller Hegar believes the state should be able to do this.
Texas PTA urges Gov. Abbott to safeguard school funding
Last month, Texas PTA joined 22 other organizations asking Gov. Abbott to assure 100% ADA funding for the remainder of this school year.
ⓘ The state's funding for schools is based on Average Daily Attendance (ADA) for a school district. It differs from enrollment and has been greatly impacted by COVID-19.
The state gave funding assurance for the first 18 weeks of school based on last year's attendance numbers. If funding for the remainder of this school year is calculated by current attendance, school districts may face teacher layoffs and other cuts to valuable resources.

Later in the month, on December 27, 82 Texas lawmakers wrote to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath asking that the state ensure full funding to all school districts for the remainder of the year.
*As of the time of this publication, Gov. Abbott has not announced an extension of funding.
Schools could see rapid antigen testing
The Texas Medical Association School Reopening Workgroup recommends that schools use rapid antigen testing to help prevent campus outbreaks of coronavirus. The group believes this comprehensive in-school screening program will help isolate infected or symptomatic individuals and transition them into a physician’s care for further diagnostic testing.
Texas PTA Legislative Priorities – Legislation Filed
Cyberbullying. Rep. Steve Allison has filed legislation to require instruction on cyberbullying in the required curriculum.

Digital Connectivity for All. Sen. Robert Nichols and Rep. Trent Ashby announced their intent to file legislation aimed at expanding access to critical broadband services throughout the state. In recent weeks, Gov. Abbott called broadband internet expansion a “top-shelf issue” that is virtually guaranteed to pass.

Juvenile Justice Reform. A bill has been filed to require Windham School District, the school system within the Department of Criminal Justice, to provide instruction that includes the required curriculum for a high school diploma.

Advocacy Work as PTA. Legislation has again been filed to censor the voices of school boards, certain professional associations, cities, and counties by prohibiting them from contracting with lobbyists (or paying dues to associations that lobby) to represent the interests of their constituents in Austin. Sen. Bob Hall has filed SB 234, and Rep. Mayes Middleton has filed HB 749.

Language in HB 281 filed during the 86th legislative session would have inadvertently impacted Texas PTA’s ability to advocate for Texas children, necessitating an effort to amend the bill to correct the language. The bill did not pass in 2019. 
Bills have also been filed related to the following priorities:
Child and Youth Trafficking
Juvenile Justice Reform (raising the age for adult accountability from 17 to 18)
Special Education Funding
State Assessment
Vaping (and Tobacco) Flavor Ban, Regulation, and Taxation
R E L A T E D
Before the holiday break, Texas PTA published expanded resources on our five lead priorities: Public School Funding System Reform; Digital Connectivity for All; School Safety; Vaping (and Tobacco) Flavor Ban, Regulation, and Taxation; and Student Mental Health.
Fact sheets for the remaining priorities are now available. Visit Texas PTA online to access these resources.
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