Second special session to begin Saturday
Good to his word, Governor Greg Abbott has called a second special session to begin at noon on Saturday after lawmakers failed to pass any legislation in the first called session due to a lack of quorum and inability to conduct business in the Texas House.

Will state leaders have better luck next time? Or will the second special session prove to be nothing but a repeat of the first?

The list of items the Governor added to the call has grown to include 17 topic areas, compared to 11 for the first session. The topics among the 17 that could pertain to public education in some way include:

  • Election integrity - passed the Senate in the first special as SB 1

  • Ensuing that public schools during the COVID-19 pandemic: A) provide high-quality education with progress in learning for students; B) offer in-person learning for any student whose parents wants it; C) do not mandate masks or vaccinations

  • Requiring schools provide middle and high school students with education about dating violence, domestic violence, and child abuse (that allows parents to opt students out if they choose) - similar to SB 1109 from the 87th regular, which was vetoed; passed by Senate in first special as SB 72

  • Student participation in UIL athletic competitions relating to the student's sex at birth - similar to SB 29 from the 87th regular session, which failed to pass; passed by Senate in the first special as SB 2 and SB 32

  • Critical Race Theory - similar to HB 3979 as passed by the Senate during the 87th regular, which passed and became law as the House version without Senate amendments; passed the Senate in the first special as SB 3

  • Appropriations for the purpose of property tax relief - passed by the Texas Senate during the first special as SB 8 and SB 12/SJR 4

  • 13th check for TRS retirees - similar to HB 3507 from the 87th regular, which failed to pass either chamber then, but was passed by the Senate in the first special as SB 7

Also on the call are all the same items that were included on the call for the first special session, plus a few new items such as appropriations for COVID-19-related health care, the filing period for the 2022 primary election, radioactive waste, shields for private employers and employees, and legislative quorum requirements.

The call includes appropriations for Article X (legislative funding) as well, and as you are aware, that must be addressed before September 1 or that branch of state government will not be funded. That funding was vetoed by Governor Abbott in June, and neither chamber passed a bill to restore that funding during the first special session.

Other funding measures addressed on the call (in addition to property tax relief and Article X) include foster care and cybersecurity.
New info from today's Commissioner call
Education Commissioner Mike Morath provided schools with an update today on the following topics:

  • New Public Health Guidance became available from TEA today. Guidance pertains to topics such as masks, students who have COVID-19, and students who have had close contact with someone with the virus.

  • TEA is proposing changes to the Student Attendance Accounting Handbook to add flexibility to the rules regarding Remote Conferencing. Remote Conferencing is a mechanism by which remote instruction can be provided, but was previously available only upon issuance of a waiver requested for each individual student. The proposed rule change (which if/when adopted would apply to the entirety of the 2021-22 school year) would allow for schools to provide remote instruction in a manner that qualifies for FSP funding through remote conferencing if the student has a temporary medical condition (such as COVID, close contact, or other documented illness) AND the student does not receive remote conferencing instruction for more than 20 days out of the entire instructional year. This instruction would also have to be synchronous.

  • The Commissioner also discussed other means of remote instruction, which qualify for very limited state funding at this time. TEA has updated the Remote Instruction (VSN and non-VSN) with additional info for schools, including (on page 3) details for the limited funding amounts remote students would qualify for, not related to in-person attendance (such as CCMR, Comp Ed, Dyslexia Allotment, Fast Growth Allotment, GT Allotment, and the Teacher Incentive Allotment). Commissioner Morath also noted the call for the special session issued by Governor Abbott today, which could open the door for legislation to be adopted that would allow for some changes to the laws regarding funding for remote instruction.

  • The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document for HB 4545 (Accelerated Instruction) was updated again to address questions regarding the implementation timeline, parent requests for teachers, that comp ed funds can be used to pay for accelerated instruction, and many other details regarding these new requirements.

  • Finally a TAA letter was posted regarding Tiered Career & Technical Education (CTE) Weighted Funding. This change to school funding was adopted in HB 1525 during the 87th Regular Session. The communication from TEA provides details and links to the specific courses and which weights for which each course qualifies. This change does take effect for the 2021-22 school year, so please ensure folks at your district are familiar with these changes.
Texas COVID Learning Acceleration Supports (TCLAS)
Texas COVID Learning Acceleration Supports (TCLAS) is $1.4 billion in funding and targeted supports available through 15 TEA initiatives intended to accelerate student learning in the wake of COVID-19. The good news is that there is a streamlined application process for all of that, and districts need only apply once.

The application is now open (through August 20), and all districts are encouraged to apply.

You can find all the available information, including recorded webinars to help you learn more and on the TEA website for TCLAS. Additionally, TEA released some updated guidance on TCLAS this week.
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