The 87th Texas legislative session is still around the corner, but education bills are already plentiful.
Since early filing started in November, more than 200 education bills have been filed in Texas. Some of those have been shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges public schools faced because of it.
During the spring and fall semesters, a majority of Texas schools closed their doors in March and moved to remote education. Victoria’s school district and other Crossroads schools followed suit.
A need for devices appeared as schools moved to remote learning.
Sen. Jose Menendez’s bill, Senate Bill 258, calls for funds to be allocated to improve access to remote education and distance learning. Its funding would come from the state appropriated funds that districts earn for daily attendance.
Senate Bill 238, which was authored by Sen. Beverly Powell, relates to the use of the school safety allotment for a school district’s pandemic preparation and response.
Many of the proposed education bills, if passed, will affect local school districts like the Victoria school district.
“It is very important for our Victoria community to be aware of the overall conversation,” Superintendent Quintin Shepherd said.
Even some of the smaller seeming bills can have lasting impacts on local school districts, Shepherd said.
For example, House Bill 303, authored by Rep. Nicole Collier, calls for testing of lead contamination in public school drinking fountains.
The bill calls for districts to test potable water outlets every five years at the start of the school year and make all information public.
“The bill, on its face, looks like a wonderful idea and one we would all prioritize as important, but that’s not enough to actually make it happen in our district,” Shepherd said. “Our capacity, as a school district, to manage and implement these bills is a three-legged stool that simply cannot stand without all three legs. The first leg is priority, the second is resources, and the third is processes.”
The bill does not mention how the bill, if implemented, would be funded. That means funding for it will come down to the district and local taxpayers, Shepherd said.
“Most of the pre-filed bills are easy to believe should become a priority for the school district, however, nearly all come without supporting resources and processes,” Shepherd said. “This burden ultimately falls to the local taxpayer.”
Shepherd believes that all unfunded or underfunded proposed education legislation should be optional for local districts, he said.
“If the legislature does not deem it a high enough priority to fully fund, they should not be requiring local taxpayers to pick up the financial burden as it undermines local authority,” Shepherd said. “Unfunded and underfunded mandates are an increasing burden to the local taxpayer.”