AUSTIN, Texas — Educators are eyeing the happenings of the 88th Texas legislative session cautiously and optimistically, as bills surrounding public education have been filed and have the potential to lift some burden off their career field.
Among those is the Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA), the biggest teachers union in Texas, and the state affiliate of the National Education Association. TSTA President Ovidia Molina said she wants to see the state put some of its multibillion-dollar budget surplus toward funding public education.
The state has an $32.7 billion bonus surplus going into this regular legislative session.
“We have to ensure that our students have different programs to help them with the arts, to help them see themselves in the world,” Molina said. “But we can’t do that when we’re worried about how we’re going to pay for our teachers, how we’re going to pay for our busses, how we’re going to make sure the lights are on.”
Public education is the focus of several prospective bills already. State Rep. Gina Hinojosa has filed House Joint Resolution 69, which calls to up teacher salary. The state rep also filed House Bill 31, which would require schools to be funded based on the average number of students enrolled during the academic year. Right now, schools are funded based on average daily attendance rates. HB 31 would protect districts from losing money when students miss school.
An identical bill, Senate Bill 263, was filed by State Sen. Nathan Johnson of Dallas.
Molina told KVUE that funding received based on the average daily attendance rate of students makes a domino effect of trouble within districts.
“Just because a handful or more students don’t show up, we lose that money,” Molina said. “But we still have to pay the bills for that school district.”
This isn’t the first attempt to clinch enrollment-based funding for Texas schools. Two bills filed during the 87th Texas legislative session in 2021, HB 1246 and SB 728, received bipartisan support from lawmakers and educators across the state, but neither bill received a hearing or reached the chamber floors.
Currently, schools in Texas earn $6,160 per student who meets the average daily attendance rate. According to research conducted by Education Week, that is over $4,000 behind the national average of per-student funding.
Johnson also filed SB 88, which would increase the allotment to $7,075.
Molina said aside from the issue of funding public education, conversations are ongoing about schools and curriculum, especially in the wake of controversies over library books and classroom discussions covering race and sexuality.
Houston-area State Rep. Steve Toth introduced a bill, HB 631, seeking to ban sexual orientation and gender identity discussions in public schools up to fifth grade. It mirrors Florida's controversial "Don't Say Gay" law, which states that "classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade three or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards."
Molina said she expects to see bipartisan support of education. Still, she said she hopes to have conversations with lawmakers so they see and feel the concerns of Texas educators.
“What we’re really hopeful during this session is that, because of the surplus that we have, that they actually do support our students and our educators,” Molina said.