On Tuesday, Aug. 15, the first called Special Session of the 85th Texas Legislature came to a end. The Special Session brought about significant legislation to benefit public schools in Texas, according to
"The House and Senate came together to provide relief and necessary funding for our school districts and retired teachers," said Nichols. "Right before the Special, I met with superintendents, retired teachers and educators from across Senate District 3 to discuss what they wanted me to focus on during this session. The passing of House Bill 21, which I was proud to support, addresses many of their issues."
After the Texas Legislature cut school property taxes by a third in 2005, the Additional State Aide for Tax Reduction (ASATR) was created to ensure school districts would not be harmed by the cuts. However, the Legislature later decided this program should end in September 2017. House Bill 21 provides a hardship grant to those schools whose budget will be most affected by the loss of ASATR for the 2018-2019 school year.
Currently, schools districts with 1,600 students or less, covering under 300 square miles, receive fewer state funds than districts with an equal number of students, spanning more than 300 square miles. This arbitrary size designation puts hundreds of school districts at a financial disadvantage.
House Bill 21 begins a phase out of the penalty to ensure all small schools receive the same funding formula. Nichols has filed legislation for the past two session to do away with this punitive small schools formula. Approximately 65 of the 101 school districts within Senate District 3 will be positively affected by this formula change.
"Creating an equal multiplier in the formula across the board will provide many small schools with additional funding, which will go a long way in helping to improve the education of our students," said Nichols. "Education is and always will be the most important issue the Legislature considers, and we must ensure we are helping students achieve their future goals."
Funding for TRS-Care to help lower the deductibles by half for retired teachers under 65 years of age, and reduce the premiums for retirees 65 years and older was also included into House Bill 21. $40 million was also allocated to create grants for Dyslexia and Autism education.
Other legislative highlights include:
• Senate Bill 17 - continuing the Maternal Morbidity Task Force
• Senate Bill 5 - helping to prevent voter fraud by widening the definition of mail-in ballot and creates a state jail felony for certain voter fraud offenses
• Senate Bill 6 - requiring an election or petition process by the residents who could be annexed in a county of 500,000 people or more and similar pathway for small counties
"Serving the people of Senate District 3 has been one of the greatest honors of my life, and I look forward to continuing to work for them as we begin to travel around the district and continue our work in the interim," said Nichols.
Nichols, first elected to the Senate in 2007, represents constituents in Anderson, Angelina, Cherokee, Hardin, Henderson, Jasper, Nacogdoches, Newton, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby and Tyler counties, and portions of Montgomery and Smith counties. Nichols also served as the President Pro-Tempore for the 85th Texas Legislature.