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87th Legislative Session Summary: Access

Published Jun 29, 2021 by Steven Will

Classroom

At the conclusion of the 87th Texas Legislative Session, the Partnership produced a summary report on its legislative priorities. To highlight priority policy issues featured in that summary, this posts focuses on access.

Executive priority: Access 

Throughout the 87th Legislative Session the Partnership actively supported policies related to equitable access to the institutions that power a strong, diverse economy and create true opportunity for all including education, digital connectivity and health care.

Several bills that advance the funding and quality of as well as access to these institutions were sent to Governor Greg Abbott to be signed into law and will enhance opportunity and quality of life for millions of students and residents across Texas. 

School Finance

Senate Bill 1 - PASSED INTO LAW
Senate Author: Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound)
House Sponsor: Representative Greg Bonnen (R-League City)

Highlights: 

  • $3.1 billion increase in state funding for public schools, fully covering the cost of enrollment growth over the next two years
  • Ensures funding continuation of all public education reform measures created in HB 3, the landmark public education legislation passed during the 86th Legislative Session
  • $60 million for supplemental special education services.
  • $664 million for targeted programs to help students and schools affected by the pandemic
  • Increases to the state’s contribution rates for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS)
  • $900 million to maintain current health insurance premiums and benefits for retired teachers

The state Legislature demonstrated their continued dedication to the prioritization of our students and teachers across the state throughout the 87th Texas Legislative Session. In the final week of session the House and Senate approved the conference committee's agreed upon changes to SB 1, the state’s biennial spending plan for 2022-2023. Included in the state's overall $248 billion budget is an increase of $3.1 billion in state funding for public schools, fully covering the cost of enrollment growth over the next two years. The state budget also provides sufficient funding to ensure that all public education reform measures created by HB 3, passed during the 86th Legislative Session, remain in place and are fully funded. 

SB 1 also provides $60 million for supplemental special education services, $664 million for targeted programs to help students and schools affected by the pandemic, and nearly $900 million (an increase of $39.5 million) to maintain current health insurance premiums and benefits for retired teachers.

House Bill 1525 - PASSED INTO LAW
House Author: Representative Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood)
Senate Sponsor: Senator Larry Taylor (R-Galveston)

Highlights: 

  • $2 billion to address student learning loss during COVID-19 and Winter Storm Uri
  • $464 million in increased grant funding for students with dyslexia, autism, and students experiencing homelessness
  • Funding for the Teacher Incentive Allotment, created in HB 3, which incentivizes higher-performing teachers to teach in low-performing schools through salary increases

In addition to the state budget, several critical public education funding measures were included in HB 1525 by Representative Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood). HB 1525 was originally intended to include minor statutory updates following the implementation of HB 3 from the 86th Legislative Session. This is a typical process following the passage of sweeping reform legislation, such as what was passed in 2019. 

As the legislature began to learn more about the dramatic negative impact the pandemic had on student learning and various other critical classroom needs, Representative Huberty and his colleagues amended the legislation to include over $2 billion for the purposes of addressing student learning loss during COVID-19 and Winter Storm Uri. HB 1525 also includes an additional $464 million for increases to several formula funding elements and student allotments, including increases to grant funding for students with dyslexia, autism, and students experiencing homelessness. Finally, HB 1525 provides funding for the Teacher Incentive Allotment, created in HB 3, which provides salary increases for the highest performing teachers and incentivizes them to teach in the lowest performing schools.

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Broadband Access and the Digital Divide 

House Bill 5 - PASSED INTO LAW
House Author: Representative Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin)
Senate Sponsor: Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville)

Highlights: 

  • Establishes the Broadband Development Office charged with closing the digital divide in Texas

Following the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the greater Houston region in March 2020, our public schools were forced to close their doors for the final two months of the Spring semester. From a standing start, school district leaders rushed to establish online distance learning platforms so that students could continue their education from home. It quickly became evident that student and teacher access to reliable broadband internet is severely limited across our region. Statewide, well over 2 million Texas students lack a device, internet connectivity, or both, meaning that two out of five Texas students did not have the ability to access their online learning platform. 

In November 2020, the Partnership was a founding member of a statewide coalition called Digital Texas. The 35-member coalition, consisting of organizations from across the state, supported the omnibus statewide broadband bill, HB 5 by State Representative Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) by highlighting the critical components of a successful statewide broadband plan: robust infrastructure, access to devices, affordability of service and digital literacy.

The bill establishes a statewide broadband office, called the Broadband Development Office, within the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. This office is charged with the creation of a broadband development program, distribution of grants to local entities charged with expanding access to high-speed internet services, building a broadband development map to be updated yearly, and the establishment of a statewide broadband plan within one year of the bill becoming law. The Partnership will continue to advocate for closing the digital divide by working directly with the Broadband Development Office. 

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School Accountability Reform

Senate Bill 1365 - PASSED INTO LAW
Senate Author: Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston)
House Sponsors: Representative Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Representative Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood)

Highlights: 

  • Ensures the continuation of the state's accountability system and enhances intervention and sanction measures for perennially failing campuses and public school districts

One of the primary concerns of the Partnership and the Texas business community is ensuring all students have access to a high-quality public education. A robust statewide accountability system is a critical tool used to measure student progress and identify school districts, charter schools, and campuses where student outcomes are not sufficient. 

The validity of the state’s accountability system came into question following a ruling by a state appellate court in 2020. Because of this ruling, Senator Paul Bettencourt authored legislation to clarify existing state statute and the authority of the Commissioner of Education to intervene in instances of multi-year failures.

SB 1365, which was signed by the House and Senate on the final day of the legislative session, ensures the continuation of the state's accountability system and enhances intervention and sanction measures for perennially failing campuses and public school districts.

Key provisions of the legislation include the clarification of the investigative authority of the Commissioner of Education and the Commissioner's ability to issue sanctions, appoint a board of managers, and  provide support services. The bill clarifies the definition of a D-rated campus as it relates to potential sanctions or intervention measures. A rating of D is now considered unacceptable performance under the accountability system.

Finally, the legislation allows for all public school districts and charter schools not to be held accountable for campus and district ratings during the 2021-22 school year due to the extreme impact of the pandemic on students' learning loss. Campuses and school districts will still be rated on the A-F accountability scale, but sanctions and interventions required under this law for multiple years of failure will not go into effect until the 2022-23 school year. 

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Federal Funding for Texas Public Schools

Highlights: 

  • Releases $11.2 billion in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER III) funding to Texas public schools
  • $2.4 billion in ESSER III funding estimated for the 20 largest school districts in the Houston region with economically disadvantaged students receiving significantly more funding per student

During the final weeks of session, Governor Greg Abbott and Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced the release of $11.2 billion in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER III) funding to Texas public schools. This one-time federal relief funding is in addition to the public education funding provided by the state in the 2022-23 budget.

School district leaders have until fall 2024 to fully expend the relief funds, and the U.S. Department of Education requires that each district that receives funding must utilize a minimum of 20 percent of the funds to address student learning loss through evidence-based interventions. It is estimated that the 20 largest school districts in the Houston region stand to receive approximately $2.4 billion of Texas' ESSER III funding. School districts with significantly higher percentages of economically disadvantaged students will receive more relief funding per student. Houston ISD is expected to receive the most funding in our region, with an allotment of approximately $804 million.

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Workforce Development

House Bill 3767 - PASSED INTO LAW
House Author: Representative Jim Murphy (R-Houston)
Senate Sponsor: Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston)

Highlights:

  • Establishes the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative strengthening the current work of the Texas Education Agency, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and Texas Workforce Commission

Texas' workforce has endured prolonged shocks and stressors as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We must make sure state agencies overseeing workers' success are collaborating, by providing transparent data and optimizing workforce and educational funding. HB 3767 supports workforce development in the state by making permanent the temporary, collaborative work of the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative, a collaboration between the Texas Education Agency (TEA), Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) and Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). Key provisions of HB 3767 that strengthen and enhance the current work of these three agencies include:

  • Improve the Texas longitudinal data systems to identify and analyze key trends in education and workforce through the Unified Workforce Data Repository
  • Assist the state in managing and driving accountability by measuring the performance of the collective work of the three agencies through the State Workforce Development Goals and Strategies
  • Coordinate and identify valuable careers and skills to assist individuals as they navigate the changing nature of work and identify high-value reskilling and upskilling opportunities
  • Under this initiative, the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative is required to:
  • Identify statewide workforce goals, including goals for the attainment of living wage jobs. This will hold the state accountable and keep all agencies focused in the same direction
  • Designate career pathways for occupations aligned with current workforce needs and for forecasted high-growth careers and skills
  • Evaluate career education and training programs across Texas based on the workforce outcomes of program participants to ensure transparency and accountability in how the state spends its workforce dollars

Senate Bill 1102 - PASSED INTO LAW
Senate Author: Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe)
House Sponsor: Representative Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound)

Highlights: 

  • Establishes the Texas Reskilling and Upskilling through Education (TRUE) Program.
  • Grant program designed to put Texans back to work in high-demand occupations.
  • Accelerates ability for collaboration between higher education and business partners to provide training programs and credentials for displaced and underemployed workers

SB 1102 establishes the Texas Reskilling and Upskilling through Education (TRUE) Program. 
 
The TRUE grant program will help put Texans back to work in high-demand occupations following the COVID-19 pandemic by improving workforce development and coordination between the state's employers and community and technical colleges. This grant program will help higher education and business partners across the state collaborate to provide well-designed, accelerated programs that teach high-demand skills and lead to valuable industry certification and credentials for displaced and underemployed workers. TRUE will invest funds to allow eligible higher education institutions to build capacity by expanding, accelerating and redesigning workforce programs vital to attaining the state’s higher education goals and growing the Texas economy. Increased capacity is critical to attaining the state's higher education goals and boosting the economy.

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Higher Education

Economic Impact Study for Top 50 Public University

Senate Bill 1 - PASSED INTO LAW
Senate Author: Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound)
House Sponsor: Representative Greg Bonnen (R-League City)

SB 1 includes a budget rider, authored by Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston), that directs the Trusted Programs Office within the Office of the Governor to conduct an economic impact study to measure the future value of having an additional top 50 public university in Texas. The budget rider, which is similar to an amendment to a traditional piece of legislation, provides funding sufficient to conduct this study with the aim of evaluating the elevation of an existing ethnically diverse public university through formula funding mechanisms.

The Partnership will continue to support the efforts of our regional higher education leadership to ensure the study provides sufficient recommendations for legislative action that fully take into account each institution located in our region. This study is a critical component to the evaluation and eventual enhancement of state formula funding elements that will provide the necessary investments in programs needed to meet the demand of a twenty-first-century workforce in a consistently changing global economy.

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Telemedicine and Telehealth

House Bill 4 - PASSED INTO LAW
House Author: Representative Four Price (R-Amarillo)
Senate Sponsor: Senator Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway)

Highlights: 

  • Codifies waivers used for telemedicine and telehealth 
  • Creates better access to health care for underserved and rural communities 

While telemedicine and telehealth have been options for some time, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted their value for both providers and patients, especially in rural and underserved areas. To enable expanded use during the pandemic, temporary waivers helped ensure providers were paid for the health care provided through telemedicine. HB 4 codifies the waivers' used for telemedicine and telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic and will provide greater access to health care for many underserved communities by allowing the state to reimburse providers for telemedicine and telehealth services. HB 4 was a priority of both the House and Senate, passing both chambers unanimously.

House Bill 1616 - PASSED INTO LAW
House Author: Representative Greg Bonnen (R-Angleton)
Senate Sponsor: Joan Huffman (R-Houston)

Highlights: 

  • Adds Texas to the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact 
  • Allows Texas physicians, and those outside of Texas, to better serve patients via telemedicine 

HB 1616 adds Texas to the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact allowing physicians to become licensed in multiple states to help meet the demands of telemedicine growth. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the use of telemedicine as a viable health care delivery service for both patients and providers, which has created the opportunity for more flexibility in providing care, even providing health care services across state lines. Texas also has a growing need for more physicians and as part of the compact, physicians can more easily apply for licensure in Texas to help meet the demands of Texas' growing population.  

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Health Care Access

House Bill 133 - PASSED INTO LAW
House Author: Representative Toni Rose (D-Dallas)
Senate Sponsor: Senator Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham)

A strong economy depends on a healthy workforce. Yet, Texas has one of the highest uninsured rates and number of uninsured in the nation. Even though most Texans without health insurance are employed, they are unable to access employer-based coverage, Medicare, Medicaid, or other subsidized individual insurance available to families with incomes over the poverty level. These individuals are uninsured because they earn too much money to access government safety-net programs but too little to purchase their own coverage, and thus fall into a coverage gap leaving them without a viable option to access health insurance. With limited options for accessing health care without insurance, a large population of Texans often go without health care services.

While the Texas Legislature did not make headway in addressing the coverage gap, steps were taken to help ensure those who need health care the most can access health insurance more seamlessly and without unnecessary roadblocks. The Partnership was encouraged to see the passage of legislation addressing consistent and extended coverage for new mothers on Medicaid and children accessing coverage through Children's Medicaid. 

HB 133 took the important step to allow new mothers to keep Medicaid insurance for up to six months after delivery. Prior to this bill, Texas mothers with low incomes were only eligible for Medicaid coverage while they were pregnant, and for only 60 days after delivery. However, one-third of maternal deaths in Texas occur between 43 days and one year after delivery. HB 133 follows the top recommendation of the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee by providing uninterrupted coverage to new mothers.
Extends Medicaid coverage for new mothers in Texas from 2 months to 6 months to prevent maternal morbidity and other postnatal issues 

House Bill 2658 - PASSED INTO LAW
House Author: Representative James Frank (R-Wichita Falls)
Senate Sponsor: Senator Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham)

Highlights: 

  • Replaces multiple mid-year reviews of Children's Medicaid coverage with a single mid-year review to reduce mistakes leading to eligible children losing coverage 

HB 2658 prevents children who receive health care coverage through Children's Medicaid from experiencing a lapse in coverage due to bureaucratic hurdles. Texas already has an effective and accurate system for determining a child's eligibility at the time of application and during an annual renewal process. However, the current system adds four mid-year eligibility reviews which often creates confusion and mistakes leading to otherwise eligible kids inaccurately losing their eligibility. HB 2658 replaces the four reviews with a single mid-year review. 

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Health Research

House Bill 15 - FAILED TO PASS
House Author: Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston)
Senate Sponsor: Senator Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham)

Houston has long boasted one of the most robust health care centers in the world and  is an epicenter for health care research and development. Leveraging Texas' strong history in health research, HB 15 by Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) would have established the Brain Institute of Texas, a program specifically focused on attracting the greatest brain researchers in the world to Texas. Just as Texas has invested in cancer research to great success through the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute, the Brain Institute of Texas would have taken a similar model and would have worked to leverage seed money attracting the best and brightest researchers to Texas, while also leveraging the expertise and resources of the public and private institutes of higher education in Texas and others to create a brain research collaborative. 

There are few effective treatments or cures for hundreds of brain diseases and disorders affecting many Americans, such as Alzheimer's disease, dementia, multiple sclerosis, autism, stroke, depression, and substance abuse and PTSD. Further, these diseases and disorders have a significant economic impact, with nine of the most common costing the nation close to $800 billion each year. 

The Partnership supported HB 15 in both the House and Senate. The bill passed out of the House with a vote of 107 to 36 and while it passed out of committee in the Senate and was placed on the intent calendar, it never received a vote on the Senate floor. 

House Bill 88 – FAILED TO PASS 
House Author: Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston)
Senate Sponsor: None
 
HB 88, more commonly referred to as the George Floyd Act, was the House omnibus bill that included reforms to law enforcement interactions with individuals in a community. More specifically, the bill would have addressed individuals detained or arrested on suspicion of the commission of criminal offenses, witnesses to the commission of those offenses, and other members of the public, peace officer liability for those interactions, and the confinement, conviction, or release of detained or arrested individuals.
 
The Partnership supported HB 88 as it was heard in the House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee. Ultimately this bill, as well as separate bills filed for each of the major sections of HB 88, did not pass through the legislative process. 

To read the full 87th Legislative Session summary report, click here

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