Capitol Report: February 3, 2023

We know this has been a difficult week for many Texans, with severe winter weather causing power outages, significant property damage, and widespread school closures and travel delays in some parts of the state. We hope that all our TCA members and your families are safe, and of course we are all grateful for the work and the bravery of those working in difficult conditions to keep the roads clear and restore damaged power lines.
Due to the severe weather here in Austin, it has been a quiet week at the Texas Capitol, with the Legislature largely shutting down for much of the week. This has delayed some of the early committee hearings in the Texas Senate, but there will be plenty of time to reschedule those. Over in the House, we expect that Speaker Dade Phelan will appoint committees within the next week or so. At that point, the work of the session will kick into gear as committees start to meet and hear legislation in the House and Senate. Right now, members of the House and Senate are still filing bills, and we expect legislative leaders to unveil some of their highest-priority bills soon.
We are looking forward to National School Counselors Week next week and our Texas School Counselors Association Conference in Round Rock starting Feb. 12. Thank you to all our school counselors for the meaningful, difference-making work you do with students and their families across Texas!
Senate Testimony on Loan Repayment Program
The Senate Finance committee is meeting on Tuesday, February 7th to hear testimony on the budget for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which is in Article III of the state budget. That is the agency which administers the Loan Repayment Program for Mental Health Professionals. 
Both the Senate and House budgets have appropriated $28 million per biennium, or $14 million per year, for the loan repayment program, which is an increase of $13 million per year over the current amount! 
Please contact your Senator on the Senate Finance Committee to thank them for this generous increase which will provide an incentive for prospective LPCs to seek the necessary master's degree and reward those who choose to enter the counseling profession and work in a Mental Health Professional Shortage Area (MHPSA), providing services to Medicaid and/or CHIP recipients.
News Highlights
The Texas School Counselor Association announced the 2022-2023 Counselors Reinforcing Excellence for Students in Texas (CREST) award winners. We are kicking off School Counseling Week (Feb. 6-10) by recognizing these outstanding individuals and the proclamation signed by the Gov. Greg Abbott. Get ready to like, share, and retweet! 
First, Governor Abbott talked more about his plan for “school choice,” saying at an event in Corpus Christi that he supports a widespread Education Savings Account plan that would provide taxpayer revenue for families to use for private schools or tutoring. From the Texas Tribune: “During the event, Abbott leaned on parental frustration as the reason that education savings accounts are needed. He said some parents were angry over masks being required, some over their kids having to learn virtually and some were upset over the kind of ‘sex content’ being taught in schools. ‘We must reform curriculum, get kids back to the basics of learning and we must empower parents to be more involved in the education of their children,’ Abbott said.”
Also, this week marked the first meeting of the State Board of Education with new members elected in November. SBOE observers broadly note that the new membership will bring a more socially conservative approach to the Board, and one of its first actions this week was to withdraw a legislative priority (set by the previous Board last fall) to oppose vouchers. Rather than opposing vouchers, the Board is now taking a neutral stance. Texas Tribune: “The 15-member board had already voted on its legislative priorities in late November, which included rejecting school vouchers. But some board members like Keven Ellis and Tom Maynard believed it was wise for the board not to get involved in the voucher fight this spring. Members voted 8-5 to preliminarily strike the language from its priorities. A final vote will take place Friday.”
The Dallas Morning News reported that some legislators and advocates are pushing for new limits on restraint practices used in schools: “Advocates called for state action to define what instances justify the use of restraints in schools and what is considered abuse. Meanwhile, some legislators outlined their plans to prohibit some methods of restraining, including by pinning students on the ground or in handcuffs. . . More than 8,000 students in grades K-12 were physically restrained during the 2017-18 school year — the most recent year data is available — according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Many worry those numbers are low after concerns about underreporting of instances of restraint.”
TCA Advocacy
Please remember to check the TCA Advocacy Hub frequently as we post resources and updates to help legislators and the public understand the status and importance of our legislative priorities.
Also, remember to sign up to join your colleagues in Austin for one of our three Advocacy Days, starting in March. You can learn much more and sign up here.