A weekly column from Sen. Robert Nichols
On July 4, 1845 the Convention of 1845 was called to meet in Austin to consider the joint resolution of the US Congress proposing to annex the Republic of Texas. By a vote of 55 to 1, the delegates formally accepted the annexation offer from the US Congress. Texas was formally admitted to the United States later that year on December 29.
Here are five things happening around your state:
- Agenda for special session called by Governor Abbott released
This week, Governor Abbott released eleven agenda items for the Legislature to cover when we reconvene for our first called special session. Those topics include: bail reform, election integrity, border security, social media censorship, Article X funding, family violence prevention, protecting youth sports, regulating abortion-inducing drugs, delivering a thirteenth check to our retired teachers, curbing critical race theory in public schools, and appropriating additional available general revenue for property tax relief, improving the foster care system, and shoring up cybersecurity efforts for the state. We have a lot to do in the coming weeks, but we are prepared to finish this important work. I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues and our House counterparts to pass this important legislation.
- Limitations of special session
Now that the Governor has called us back to the Capitol for a special session, it's important to outline what the rules are for a special session. Importantly, a special session is not like a regular session. The Governor may call a special session at any time and for any reason, but he must state his reasons in a proclamation. There is no limit on the number of topics the Governor can include to be covered in a special, but the Legislature can only consider legislation on subjects included in the proclamation. So, we can only consider legislation on those eleven agenda items mentioned earlier in this article. Special sessions only last a maximum of 30 days, but there is no minimum for how long they last. For example, the first called session of the 38th Legislature met for only an hour before they adjourned. The Governor can call as many specials as he would like and can call them at any time, even back-to-back if he wishes.
- Comptroller releases revised revenue estimate
Comptroller Glenn Hager released his revenue estimate for the first called session this week. In his estimate, he projected that the state has an ending balance of approximately $7.85 billion for the 2022-2023 fiscal year. He said this estimate is based on increased revenue collections, savings from state agency budget reductions, and replacing eligible general revenue funds with federal relief funds. This update indicates the state is doing remarkably well recovering from the economic downturn from the pandemic. During special session, the Legislature may appropriate some of those funds, but just because we have it doesn’t mean we have to spend it. I look forward to working on how this money is allocated with the Senate Finance Committee and our Chair Senator Jane Nelson.
- Texas' plan for American Rescue Plan funds approved
The US Department of Education announced this week that Texas is one of seven states that will receive the last round of federal stimulus money after the state's plan for spending those funds was approved. The funding includes another $4.1 billion to address post-pandemic needs of public school students. The Texas Education Agency's plan put an emphasis on mitigating learning loss experienced during the pandemic. Other priorities include meeting student and staff mental health needs, expanding tutoring opportunities, enhancing high-quality instructional materials, and job-embedded learning. School districts and charter schools now have until July 27 to submit their own individual plans to TEA.
- STAAR test results reveal weaknesses of virtual learning
Last month, the Texas Education Agency released the results of the STAAR test conducted in spring of 2021. The results indicated a significant increase from the 2019 test in students not meeting grade level across all subject areas and grade levels. STAAR testing was not conducted in 2020 due to the pandemic. The largest decreases in proficiency were in math across all grades. Statewide, students not meeting grade level in reading increased 4 percent and students not meeting grade level in math increased 16 percent. TEA said that districts with a higher percentage of students learning virtually experienced larger learning declines in all grades and subjects. Its apparent from these statistics that virtual learning is not the best option for most of our students and getting children back in the classroom is the best option for recovering from the pandemic.