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Activity in Austin Accelerates on Key Legislation

Published Apr 09, 2021 by Sophia Guevara

state capitol

Week in Review
Legislative activity in Austin accelerated this week, with the Senate approving the state biennial budget, the House passing broadband legislation, and the House Public Education Committee advancing school accountability measures.

Senate Passes State Budget
The Senate unanimously approved the state budget for 2022-2023, also known as Senate Bill 1. The $250 billion biennial budget is mostly unchanged from the version filed in January. The bill assumes growth in the economy and state revenues in the coming two years as Texas recovers from the pandemic. 

Much of the current budget negotiations concern the $38.6 billion in total federal funding coming to Texas. Although nearly a quarter of those funds are designated for cities and counties, much of the rest will flow to schools and healthcare programs. Precise guidelines on how that money may be spent have not been issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. 

A few notes on specific programs:

  • SB 1 proposes $117.9 billion in two-year general revenue state spending. This is greater than the $112.5 billion Comptroller Glenn Hegar estimated would be available in early January. Senate leaders are confident Comptroller Hegar will increase that number when he updates his revenue estimate in the coming weeks.
  • The budget protects public education investments made in House Bill 3 in 2019, although some provisions are delayed. Public education is budgeted at $48.6 billion in general revenue, a $4 billion increase over current funding levels.
  • Higher education is budgeted at $16 billion for the upcoming biennium, a $191 million increase.
  • Transportation is funded at current levels.
  • The Texas Enterprise Fund economic development program will receive $100 million in unspent carryover funds from the current biennium.
  • Medicaid funding is reduced by nearly $2.7 billion. This is partly due to lower projected program needs with remaining reductions offset by the incoming federal stimulus dollars passed as part of the federal COVID relief bills.
  • The Economic Stabilization Fund, or Rainy Day Fund, is still expected to reach $11.5 billion by the end of the 2022-2023 biennium. 

SB 1 is now in the House Appropriations Committee, where the House will put its stamp on the document. The bill will reach the House floor for debate weeks later than is historically the norm, a sign of the impact COVID and the February winter storm have had on the pace of the legislative session. This puts additional pressure on the eventual Conference Committee members to negotiate differences between the House and Senate versions before the end of the legislative session on May 31.

House Advances Key Broadband Legislation
The Texas House passed the statewide broadband legislation unanimously. Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R - Beaumont) indicated his full support of House Bill 5 by casting a rare vote as Speaker. Broadband access and digital connectivity are essential to participating in modern-day society and the economy. Unfortunately, best estimates indicate nearly 1 million Texans lack sufficient broadband infrastructure, 8 million Texans do not subscribe to the service, and many lack the digital literacy and skills to utilize this technology effectively. HB 5 seeks to improve access by:

  • Increasing broadband and connectivity coordination by creating a broadband development office housed within the Comptroller of Public Accounts. 
  • Collecting necessary data to identify connectivity gaps by working with the federal government, broadband providers, and local communities to develop an accurate broadband access map using granular data. 
  • Establishing a long-term broadband plan to close the digital divide and embracing digital transformation. Texas is 1 of 6 states without a plan, putting our state at a disadvantage when applying for federal funding. 
  • Structuring a broadband development program for Texas to capitalize on available private, state and federal funding to expand broadband services in much-needed regions of our state.  

This bill, and the Senate version - Senate Bill 5 - that passed out of the Senate on March 31, will ultimately be sent to a conference committee for final legislative negotiations between the House and Senate versions. 
School Accountability Measures on Track 
House Bill 3270 authored by House Public Education Committee Chairman Harold Dutton (D - Houston) passed out of committee with a vote of 7-6. House Bill 3270 is a school accountability bill that clarifies a state statute put into place by the passage of House Bill 1842, which created a turnaround model for low-performing schools in 2015, but importantly, created a five-year timeline with increasing interventions for low-performing campuses.

The Partnership's primary concern is the multi-year failure of a significant number of campuses throughout the City of Houston and other major metros. This continued failure has left tens of thousands of students behind, and they will continue to fall behind without significant, targeted academic and governance interventions. Right now, it's estimated that 27,000 Houston students are attending a failing school.

Executive Partners