WEEK IN REVIEW
SENATE PASSES MAJOR PRIORITY LEGISLATION
(AUSTIN) — This week the Senate approved several major pieces of legislation, including bills to improve electric reliability and capacity, raise teacher pay, and allow for the diversion of state funds for private education. All of these issues are major priorities of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.
On Wednesday, the Senate advanced a package of bills aimed at making the state’s electric grid more robust, building on last session’s reforms in the wake of winter storm Uri. Likely the most important of these is SB 6, by Georgetown Senator Charles Schwertner, which would add 10,000 megawatts of generation capacity – enough to power about 2 million Texas homes – as a last resort insurance policy to avoid rolling blackouts or worse. These private plants would be sited strategically around the state and all would be fired by natural gas. They would stand idle until ordered into service to stave off power outages. When the emergency passes, these insurance plants would be the first to go offline. “This would be a true-back up, an insurance policy that Texans can count on in times of the most critical need,” said Schwertner. The bill would also create a zero-interest loan program for the state’s existing power plants for maintenance and retrofitting.
Another bill, SB 7, also by Schwertner, seeks to use market incentives to improve the state’s capacity for switch-ready, dispatchable generation, including new ancillary services to maintain grid stability and firming requirements that the author says will consider how reliable a generator is and assess costs or require guarantees for capacity on that basis.
Thursday, the Senate passed two major education bills, measures author and Conroe Senator Brandon Creighton said will empower both teachers and parents. Senate Bill 8 would implement a statewide school choice system, allowing parents to move their children into any open-enrollment school district in the state, provided the capacity exists for new students. It would also allow the parents of public school students to apply for up to $8,000 in public funds, paid out of general revenue rather than dedicated public education funds, for use in private education including private school tuition or tutoring services. Smaller districts with less than 20,000 students would be held harmless under the plan through a $10,000 grant for five years for each student that leaves the district under the new program. The bill also gives parents more authority to examine school curriculum, streamlines the grievance process, and bans curriculum related to sexuality and gender identity. The bill will fund up to 62,500 slots, with priority given to students currently attending poorer-performing schools.
Senate Bill 9 would give every teacher in Texas a $2,000 pay raise. Teachers in rural districts, where Creighton says salaries lag urban rates, would get another $4,000 on top of that. The bill also expands the state’s teacher merit pay program, which allows exceptional teachers to earn thousands above their base salaries. The bill also seeks to ease the non-teaching burden of educators through new scheduling rules and would put both new and student teachers into the classroom to be mentored by veteran educators. Teachers would have more authority to control the classroom, able to remove disruptive or abusive students after a single incident and requiring them to sign off on that student’s return. "It is specifically designed for the hearts and minds of our Texas teachers and how we can make sure that they not only feel lifted up and valued, but they feel inspired and renewed again to stay in the profession,” said Creighton.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, April 11 at 11 a.m.