What You Need to Know about Public Education and the 2021 Legislative Session

What You Need to Know about Public Education and the 2021 Legislative Session

The Texas Legislature has adjourned. Through the ups and downs, COVID restrictions and meetings that lasted into the early morning hours, here’s how public education fared.

Public school funding

During the 2019 legislative session, lawmakers passed a historic school finance bill [House Bill (HB) 3] that added $6.5 billion to public education funding. When the economy took a hit during the pandemic, lawmakers and public school advocates were concerned that the downturn would mean that the state wouldn’t be able to uphold the promises it made in HB 3. However, stronger-than-expected revenue estimates led to a state budget that includes full funding for schools.

HB 3 cleanup

Going into this session, lawmakers knew there were some adjustments that needed to be made to school finance formulas to better serve Texas students.

HB 1525, known as the “HB 3 cleanup bill,” passed the Legislature and is on Gov. Abbott’s desk. The bill corrected some of the unintended consequences of implementing the significant changes in HB 3:

  • Updated the career and technical education allotment.
  • Changed the fast growth allotment to a tiered system.
  • Allowed the Texas Education Agency to enforce corrective action against districts that performed tax swaps barred under HB 3. 

HB 1525 does not contain any outcomes-based funding programs after public education advocates spoke out against it.

Virtual learning

The final night of session, Texas Democrats walked out of the House and broke quorum to protest an elections bill that they said was too restrictive. Unfortunately, a casualty of this walkout was HB 1468, which would have allowed schools to provide full-time virtual instruction and receive full funding for students in their attendance zones.

The bill had passed the House and Senate, and then went to conference committee. The Senate had already adopted the committee report. But the House had not yet done so when the lawmakers walked out.

However, there is speculation that the education commissioner can implement some of the bill’s provisions on his own by providing waivers to districts allowed under executive actions of the governor.

More bills of note

HB 999 allows districts to establish individual graduation committees (IGC) for 2020-21 seniors regardless of the number of end-of-course (EOC) exams they failed. IGCs will not be required to consider performance on EOCs when evaluating a student. The bill applies to this school year only and is effective immediately.

HB 547 would let districts allow homeschool children to participate in UIL activities. This is optional for districts. Some details of the bill:

  • Homeschool parents would report on student performance.
  • Students would have to take a nationally recognized assessment to verify that they’re on grade level.
  • Homeschool students would have to live in the district’s attendance zone.

Special session

A special session will be called, likely this fall, to address redistricting. Some officials have asked for an additional special session to address conservative priorities that didn’t lead to legislation during the regular session. The governor has already said that election integrity and bail bond reform are two priorities he wants to see addressed in a special session.

So, how many special sessions will there be? At least one.

When? Stay tuned.

How will a special session affect public education? The governor will call a special session and will name the issues that can be addressed. Although the focus is on redistricting and elections legislation, issues affecting public schools could easily be added to the list.

Learn more

Listen to TASB Talks: Recap of the 87th Legislature to learn more about this session. You can find TASB Talks on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Recap of the 87th Texas Legislature

SLI legislative deep dive

Dive deep into recent legislation changes during TASB’s Post-Legislative Conference. The event will take place during Summer Leadership Institute (SLI) on June 19 and June 26. The virtual session will be streamed live from Fort Worth June 26.


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