Both Fort Bend ISD and the city of Sugar Land unanimously approved their legislative priorities for the upcoming 87th session of the Texas Legislature during their respective meetings Oct. 19 and Oct. 20.
State legislators are expected to meet in Austin from January through May for what many officials are calling an unprecedented session as the state faces revenue shortages and shifting priorities due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Funding public schools and student choice
Fort Bend ISD put forward two legislative priorities, both focused on how the school district is funded, said Kristin Tassin, the legislative liason for the board of trustees.
Tassin said the first resolution urges the Legislature to provide funding that supports students choosing to participate in online learning, in internships or other off-campus environments. The second resolution asks for districts to have more flexibility in spending debt funds for items such as cloud-based technology.
“These priorities center around conversation that the board had during the formative evaluation and how we are going to be doing to school in the future to ensure that we are allowing our students choice while being able to provide funding for those choices,” Tassin said.
Rosenthal said the district’s asks boil down to issues of local control.
“The model that we have right now—and I’m not talking about COVID[-19] times, but during regular times—we don’t get paid unless students are in their seats,” trustee Dave Rosenthal said.
Although not listed as a formal priority, board members also expressed they would support efforts to not assign districts and campuses A-F accountability grades based on the upcoming 2021 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.
Maintaining local control
Sugar Land City Council approved a robust, six-page legislative agenda, which was developed through community input and a task force and also focused on maintaining local control.
Rick Ramirez, Sugar Land’s intergovernmental relations manager, said the city’s legislative priorities ensure the city is able to provide the services that most directly affect resident’s lives.
According to a copy of the legislative agenda available online, the city will support legislation that advances local control and reduces the overall tax burden on local residents and businesses, among others. Meanwhile, the city will oppose legislation that takes away power from the city government and negatively affects its finances.
“All of those city services that you run into every day, the Texas Legislature has the ability to impact how the city provides those services,” Ramirez said.
Snapper Carr, a partner and general counsel at Focused Advocacy, said after the Legislature tackles the budget, a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and redistricting, there will likely be little time to address other priorities, such as public safety, land use, utilities and transportation.
Carr said the city should be mindful of potential changes to property taxes that could occur as the Legislature addresses school finance.
"Any time you're dealing with the property tax system, it's going to affect local governments and cities, especially," Carr said.
The city’s new positions for the 2021 session include supporting a fair and transparent appraisal process, overturning a building materials law passed in 2019 and supporting continued use of technology for virtual public meetings. Sugar Land is not recommending any positions related to police reform, Ramirez said.