AUSTIN (KXAN) – Days before the bill filing deadline, Texas lawmakers announced a flurry of new bills aimed at solving some of the largest problems facing the state’s public schools: safety and its dwindling workforce.
Here’s what you need to know.
House Bill 11: Teacher pay and workload
This bill, filed by Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, will attempt to codify many of the recommendations made by the Teacher Vacancy Task Force.
The group of more than 40 public school teachers and administrators spent more than a year coming up with potential solutions to an overwhelming number of teachers quitting and retiring.
One of the recommendations found in the bill is an increase in the state’s per-pupil funding – or basic allotment – from $6,160 to $6,210.
The state would also adopt a new tiered structure, under this bill, to set the minimum salary for teachers. Right now, school districts can’t pay a first-year teacher less than $33,660 salary.
Dutton’s bill would differentiate the minimum salary based on a teacher’s years of experience and based on the type of certification a teacher has or lack thereof. The lowest amount an uncertified teacher could make in the state would be $35,000 if the bill passed as is.
The bill also establishes a program where districts pair experienced mentor teachers with aspiring teachers seeking a certificate – the Texas Teacher Partnership program.
The lowest a school district could pay a first-year teacher who matriculates through the mentorship program is $43,000.
It also would appropriate money for $2,000 stipends to go to teachers who act as mentors in the program.
The bill attempts to tackle workload – which several studies cite as the number one reason for teachers leaving the profession. If it became law, HB 11 would prohibit school districts from requiring employees to complete training outside on their own time.
But it’s unclear how the state would oversee this rule.
The task force said in its Feb. 26 report that state lawmakers created a challenge for local school districts to hire back retired teachers when it passed a law requiring school systems to bear the costs of pensions and healthcare surcharges.
Dutton’s bill would require the Texas Education Agency to create a grant program to reimburse school districts or open-enrollment charter schools that hire back a teacher who retired before September 2022.
The bill requires state funds toward studying how the everyday schedules of Texas teachers, including how much planning time and professional development they receive, and if it’s sufficient.
House Bill 600: Changes for retired teachers
HB 600, filed by Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-League City, would provide a one-time cost of living adjustment to education retirees. The adjustment could range from a 2% increase to a 6% increase depending on the date of retirement.
Bonnen also proposed a constitutional amendment that would give the legislature power to one-time or ongoing benefit enhancements to eligible retirees using the Texas Retirement System.
Retired teachers using the Texas Retirement System do not have cost-of-living adjustments built into their retirement benefits, according to Texas Retired Teachers Association Director Tim Lee, making recent inflation taxing for those on a fixed income.
“By and large, retired teachers have not had a raise for 20 years. Most of our retirees have not had a raise for a long time,” Lee said. “If you’ve been retired for 10, or 15 years, maybe even as many as 20 years, your annuity is the same amount today as it was in 2005.”
House Bill 3: Safety changes after the Uvalde shooting
House Bill 3 proposes new safety requirements for school districts across Texas. Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, filed the bill after leading the House committee investigating the school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde where 19 children and two teachers were shot and killed.
The bill would require at least one armed security officer to be present at every Texas school campus. Under the measure, the officer could also be selected employees with a concealed handgun license who are appointed by the school board to become school marshals.
It would also require the TEA to complete at least one audit a year on every school campus, evaluating whether an intruder could gain unsecured, unauthorized access to a district campus. Every five years the Texas School Safety Center would be required to review building standards for school buildings.
The bill gives the education commissioner the ability to assign the district a conservator or temporarily replace the school board if a district fails to submit to the required safety monitoring or comply with the safety and security requirements set out in the law.
It would also require local sheriffs working in counties with a population under 350,000 people to coordinate two meetings every year between school officials and all law enforcement that could respond to a school violence incident, including the constable, police department and Texas Department of Public Safety personnel assigned to the county.
The sheriff would be required to submit a report to the school safety center listing the people who attended the meeting and all the issues discussed.
House Bill 13
Legislation by Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, creates a number of new requirements and funding sources for campuses to address mental health and physical security.
All school district employees who regularly interact with students would be required to complete “mental health first aid training” to learn how to identify mental health or substance abuse issues.
The bill also authorizes “school guardians” to carry a weapon on school grounds. These “guardians” would not be full-time security guards, but rather employees designated by the district. Guardians would be required to complete a new training course created by the TEA, and they would be entitled to a stipend of up to $25,000 per school year.
HB 13 also requires districts to adopt an active shooter preparedness plan every year. These plans must provide TEA and local law enforcement up-to-date maps of every campus and allow local police to walk through each facility. This section also directs TEA to create a grant program that would help school districts with the costs of enhancing infrastructure to meet safety standards.
House Bill 400
State Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-North Richland Hills, filed legislation that aims to get more mental and behavioral health workers in Texas. Her bill creates a grant program to award “incentive payments” to training programs for physicians who specialize in pediatric or adult psychiatric care.
The funding for the grant program would come from the legislature. But the program would also seek federal funds as well as public and private donations. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board would oversee the grant program.
The legislation calls for 60% of the grants to be awarded to medical schools that train physicians who specialize in psychiatric care for children. Individual grants could be as large as $1 million.
House Bill 100
Right now, in Texas, the state calculates how much of its funds go to individual school districts based on average daily attendance numbers.
Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, filed a bill Wednesday that would amend the law to create a funding calculation based on average enrollment within a school district.