Photo by Micah Walter, Getty Images.

BY: TIANA WOODARD

This early into the 87th legislative session, many uncertainties remain as local Black lawmakers try to address public education demands underscored by COVID-19 and ongoing fights against racial injustice. 

The Defender spoke with Rep. Alma Allen and Rep. Harold Dutton during the session’s quiet times about what the two Black legislative incumbents are doing this session to tackle challenges in local public education. 

Rep. Alma Allen 

Texas lawmakers made history during the 86th legislative session with House Bill 3, which boosted public education funding and dropped property taxes statewide. 

Rep. Alma Allen

The House’s base budget this session released Thursday [RTB1] made funding HB 3 a priority, but Allen said she wants to ensure the money remains. She said she plans on filing a bill that would raise HB 3’s funding to cover early childhood education for parents that don’t qualify. 

“I know there’s going to be a lot of pressure for parents to look out for the technology that’s going to be coming down (because of COVID-19),” Allen said. “We’re really trying to hold the line with HB 3.”

Because of COVID-19, Allen said she also plans on introducing legislation to raise teacher pay and widen technology access for under-served students. 

“Whatever (parents) need so their children can survive this pandemic that we’re in is what we are focused on,” Allen said. 

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Other legislation in the works from Allen’s office includes requiring the teaching of Black and Hispanic history in schools statewide. 

Rep. Harold Dutton

While pushing to maintain HB 3’s historic gains, Dutton said he wants to use this session to finally address educational disparities that existed well before the pandemic.

Rep. Harold Dutton

“One of the things we’ve done to improve public education has always been to raise the ceiling,” Dutton said. “We’ve never really tried to raise the floor.”

“Raising the ceiling” has only kept equitable education further from underserved children’s reach, he said.

Despite the extra demands brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dutton — like many lawmakers — anticipates less policy filed and making its way to the governor’s desk this year. Typically, between 6,000 and 7,000 bills are filed during each legislative session. Dutton said he expects a fraction of that in 2021.

“Anything that involves a group of people coming together simply acts as a super spreader for this pandemic we’re in,” Dutton said. “We’re going to be looking at having a lot less achievement in terms of the kind of effect we generally have on the state of Texas.”

Here’s a look at some of the public education legislation already filed by Black Houston lawmakers this session:

  • Sen. Borris Miles
    • SB[RTB1]  78 – requires schools to alert parents when nurses, librarians or counselors are absent
    • SB 174 – requires curriculums to include certain civil rights and social injustice concepts
  • Rep. Alma Allen 
    • HB 785 – mandates annual check-ins on students under a “behavior improvement” or “behavioral intervention” plan. Under the bill, school districts must also specify if a student has a “behavioral improvement” plan in place when notifying their parent or guardian about disciplinary actions like suspension. 
    • HB 1068 – allows school employees to use extra personal leave for pay on school holidays. 
  • Rep. Harold Dutton Jr.
    • HB 353 – requires state agencies to consider schools’ efforts to address educational disparities by sex during yearly evaluation. 
    • HB 572 – creation of a competency-based education pilot program.
    • HB 617 – provides extra funding for schools with students whose parents are incarcerated. 
    • HB 618 – allows open-charter schools to join Jobs and Education for Texas (JET) Grant Program
    • HB 998 – allows school enrollment drops to age 16 to qualify as dropout recovery schools
    • HCR 10 – creation of Legislators in School Day, where lawmakers teach students in their respective districts.
  • Rep. Ron Reynolds
    • HB 1088 – gives $400 pay raises to certain school employees.
  • Rep. Shawn Thierry
    • HB 204 – mandates a landline phone or panic button in classrooms
    • HB 1032 – provides funding for nonprofits to reimburse employers for paid internship programs offered to students in career and technology programs
    • HB 1113 – requires public school employees to undergo cultural competency, implicit bias training. Also bans discrimination based on hair texture. 
    • HB 1114 – mandates mental health resources and education to public school students.

This list will be updated as the 87th legislative session continues. 


 [RTB1]All of these should be bold