Thursday, September 16, 2021

Parker: Keeping education strong in the Lone Star State

Working for the people of Denton County, I cherish community engagement that strengthens opportunities for education. Knowledge holds the key to brighter futures; so, it is paramount we nurture young minds while keeping our educational systems vibrant.

During the recently concluded 87th Legislative Session, many measures focused on improving education were passed into law.

Texas appropriated $46.5 billion for our schools, including funding to help students and schools impacted by COVID-19, supplemental services for special education, and allocating the federal CARES Act money that was delivered directly to schools statewide. Overall, Texas’ investment in public education reflects a 5.6% increase from the previous fiscal year and a 20.9% jump from 2018-2019.

Many new policies focus on how we best position the next generation to lead. House Bill 1525 by Rep. Huberty is Phase 2 to the historic legislation passed in the previous session to transform our school finance system while at the same time offering property tax relief.  A few highlights included in this most recent legislation are adjustments to the basic student allotment, establishing a commission on special education funding, extending grants to school districts for autism and dyslexia to 2023, opening an additional revenue option for costs associated with distance learning, and maintaining salary increases.

Legislation was also passed to further reform STAAR testing as students and teachers grapple with enormous burdens due to COVID-19. HB 4545 by Rep. Dutton removes the requirement that 5th and 8th graders pass the reading and math exams to be promoted to the next grade. It also provides requirements for school districts to include accelerated learning for students who fail an exam. STAAR testing already creates unnecessary stress for students and teachers, but the magnitude of the shutdowns and subsequent disruptions continue to reveal troubling consequences. Senate Bill 1697 by Sen. Paxton allows parents to request their child repeat pre-K, kindergarten, or first through third grade. It also allows for parents to opt for their child to repeat grades four through eight if their child was enrolled in that grade during the 2020-2021 school year. Furthermore, high school students can repeat a course if graduation requirements were not met during the 2020-2021 school year.

Education is not one size fits all, and our legislative work must reflect this reality. SB 1888 by Sen. Creighton formalizes the Texas First Scholarship Program by establishing the Texas First Early High School Completion Program, allowing early graduation for public high school students who demonstrate early readiness.

From my own bill package, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with a Denton County mother of three who was concerned about increased exposure to technology and the impact on students. Together, we passed HB 3489 requiring the Texas Education Agency, in consultation with Texas Health and Human Services, develop best practices for health and safety for digital devices in public and charter schools using evidence-based studies. School districts can adopt policies for integrated technology in a manner that honors the needs of all students, including considerations for youths with physical or intellectual disabilities as well as age-appropriate usage guidelines. Keeping the safety of our children at the forefront, HB 3489 also includes recommended practices for software to block access to inappropriate content so parents can feel more confident that their children are being protected.

Lawmakers also worked to increase the state’s contribution to the Teacher Retirement System to maintain current health insurance premiums and benefits for our cherished retired teachers. I am ready to vote for our retirees to receive a much-deserved 13th check and am eager to get this, and more, accomplished during the Special Session.

Soon our mornings and afternoons will include the flashing yellow lights from School Zones, crossing guards, and the familiar sights of buses carrying our most precious young Texans. In preparation, the Texas’ Sales Tax Holiday is on Friday, August 6 through Sunday, August 8 for qualifying tax-free purchases. In 2013, I was successful in passing a bill to move this holiday up earlier in the month, allowing families more time before the start of the school year. This is a great opportunity to save money while also supporting our wonderful local businesses. Visit comptroller.texas.gov for more information.

Instilling a quest for knowledge is one of the greatest gifts we can give. Thank you for supporting our schools and most importantly, inspiring future generations to learn every day. Discover what your Texas Legislature is doing to advance education legislation and other policies at www.capitol.texas.gov. Please never hesitate to reach out if I can be of service to you at 512.463.0688, [email protected] or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

CTG Staff
The Cross Timbers Gazette News Department

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