Abbott outlines emergency issues for session
Gov. Greg Abbott gave his State of the State address to Texans Monday in a televised speech, outlining his priorities for the legislative session. Among his emergency issues, which have an accelerated timeline for legislative action, is a plan to expand broadband internet access across Texas. While not an emergency issue, Abbott emphasized the importance of maintaining HB 3's funding commitment for education.

House Speaker Dade Phelan released committee assignments today, clearing the way for work on bills to begin. The new chair of the House Public Education Committee is Harold Dutton, D-Houston, who has served on the committee since 1997. TCTA looks forward to working with him and his staff. Other key appointments include Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, as chair of the House Pensions, Investments and Financial Services Committee, and Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, as chair of the House Appropriations Committee. Click here to see the full memberships of these committees.

The House and Senate are adjourned until Feb. 9, but we've put together a look at some of the education bills filed so far:
  • These bills would affect TRS operations, school employee retirement benefits, or school employee health insurance.
  • These bills have been filed to address COVID-19's impact on education.
Throughout the session, you can find daily Updates from the Capitol and track key legislation related to education in our Bill Summaries.
Biden's pick for education secretary shares views on reopening schools, testing

During his confirmation hearing, U.S. Department of Education Secretary nominee Miguel Cardona discussed plans to reopen schools across the country amid the pandemic, pledging to counter the "frustration, mistrust and fear" with clear federal guidelines, more virus testing in schools and a call to prioritize educators for COVID-19 vaccines. Cardona fielded questions from senators on a variety of education topics Wednesday, including standardized testing, saying he favors flexibility for states this spring.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said she plans to quickly call for a committee vote on Cardona's nomination to send it to the full Senate for final confirmation. Click here to read more or watch the confirmation hearing.

Despite Cardona's call for flexibility at the federal level, Texas still plans to give in-person STAAR tests this spring, though TEA will seek a waiver from accountability requirements. Promotion requirements also have been waived for fifth and eighth graders. TCTA's Holly Eaton spoke with KRGV this week about why we still think STAAR testing is a bad idea during the pandemic.
COVID cases declining, but UK variant found in Texas

According to the state dashboard, 7,916 Texas students and 3,290 educators tested positive for COVID-19 for the week ending Jan. 24. (The data is updated on Friday afternoons, and numbers for early January were revised upward this week after more districts resumed reporting.) While cases are declining across Texas, health officials urge people to stay vigilant as vaccination efforts continue in the months ahead. Wearing masks, maintaining social distance and frequent hand washing remains essential, officials said, now that the more transmissible UK variant of COVID-19 has been detected in parts of the state.

Districts around El Paso welcomed students back to campus this week for the first time in months, but school districts in other areas, such as Fort Bend, continue to shift in-person students back to remote learning temporarily as they deal with staff shortages due to illness or required isolation. Finding substitute teachers is an ongoing challenge for districts amid the pandemic.

We have all the latest state and federal guidance in our COVID-19 FAQs on 2020-21 Education Issues. While this information is not legal advice, we hope it helps answer questions you may have about COVID-19's impact on schools. Members who have specific concerns or questions should call the Legal Department at 888-879-8282 to speak with a staff attorney.
Families can apply online for supplemental special education services funding

TEA has launched an online application for the Supplemental Special Education Services program, which allows eligible families of children with significant cognitive disabilities and complex educational needs to apply for a $1,500 online account to be used in the SSES marketplace to access additional services.

"The SSES program provides crucial academic resources to students with cognitive disabilities and will help close the educational gap caused by the COVID-19 pandemic," Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. Established in the fall, the program aims to connect at least 18,000 special education students with services beyond what schools provide. Click here to learn more.
Register now for TCTA's Virtual Convention
Get updates on TCTA initiatives and earn up to 9 hours of CPE credit by attending TCTA's Virtual Convention on Friday, Feb. 26, and Saturday, Feb. 27, with additional CPE opportunities on Saturday, March 6. Voting during the Representative Assembly meeting is restricted to official delegates designated by local affiliate presidents, so contact your CTA president if you would like to participate. Every delegate must also complete the online registration form. Delegates should register by Feb. 14 to ensure they receive mailed materials before the meeting. Click here to learn more and register now.
  • Feb. 14 is Valentine's Day.
  • Feb. 15 is Presidents Day.
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