With primary elections and runoffs now over and a new session of the Texas legislature just five months away, a spate of hearings has shown up on the calendar at the state capitol in Austin. A glance at the topics to be covered will give you a preview of many of the major debates we can expect in 2013:
Senate Education Committee, August 24: Sen. Dan Patrick, Republican of Houston, will chair this interim hearing on performance, accountability, and expansion of charter schools; also on the agenda: private-school vouchers and other variations on the theme of "school choice," with special attention to possible funding of vouchers via tax credits and "taxpayer savings grants."
Senate Finance Committee, August 29: This hearing, chaired by Republican Steve Ogden of Bryan, will focus largely on current spending limits in state law and possible new measures to "continue restraint of spending growth below the rate of inflation plus population growth." Also on the agenda: equity of taxation among industries.
Legislative Budget Board, August 30: The staff of the Legislative Budget Board will hear agency and public testimony on the 2014-2015 budget request of the Teacher Retirement System, including pension and health-care funding for school retirees.
House Pensions, Investments & Financial Services Committee, September 12: This hearing, chaired by Rep. Vicki Truitt, Republican of Southlake, will consider measures "aimed at curbing rising pension costs to local governments" and also will look at studies due by September 1 from the state Employees Retirement System and Teacher Retirement System of Texas concerning "the viability of the current defined benefit plans as well as the implications and feasibility of creating a defined contribution or hybrid plan."
Senate Higher Education Committee, September 12: This panel, chaired by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, Democrat of Laredo, will address "more cost-effective" college financial aid and "the efficacy of current exemptions and waivers offered to students," including in-state tuition for undocumented students. Also covered will be the implementation of existing law on "success-based funding" for colleges and universities.
Senate Education Committee, September 13: Democrat Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio will chair the first part of this hearing, on virtual schools in Texas-"the growing demand for virtual schools in Texas," plus "the benefits of virtual schools, related successes in other states, and needed changes to remove barriers to virtual schools." The second part of the hearing, with Democrat Royce West of Dallas presiding, will study the impact of extended learning time on school success, including "the effect of after-school programs on academic performance, school attendance, behavior, and promotion to the next grade level, and the relationship between the availability of after-school programs in an area and the high school dropout rate."
Legislative Budget Board, September 24: The staff of the Legislative Budget Board will hear testimony from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board regarding its budget request for 2014-2015, as well as from public witnesses concerned with THECB programs. The LBB staff also will take testimony on the budgets for public community and junior colleges.
Source: Texas AFT