Here’s a quick recap of what happened over the last week:

Democrats Calling for Special Session

39 Texas House Democrats signed a letter this week asking Gov. Abbott to call a special session to address public school funding.  Many districts throughout the state are experiencing shortfalls due to inflation that has driven up the costs of services, adjustments to property tax revenue the school districts receive, and a claim of inadequate funding from the state.  One prime example is Cy-Fair ISD in northern Harris County.  This is the state’s third largest school district with nearly 120,000 students.  District officials have estimated the district will have a shortfall of $138 million for the 2024-25 school year.  Without help from the state, the district is planning to cut nearly 300 staff positions including librarians and teachers.  This is a common theme for many districts including the Austin ISD – with nearly 73,000 students — that is planning significant cuts to deal with their $89 million deficit for the next school year.  Houston ISD has already announced hundreds of layoffs as well to deal with their $450 million deficit.

In the letter, the House members point out that after the last legislative session that ended in December, the legislature left $5 billion in unspent funds that were intended to boost public school funding.  However, that money was not authorized since it was part of legislation to establish a private school voucher program that ultimately failed to pass.  The legislature currently has a budget surplus of nearly $18 billion and some estimates say the surplus will grow to over $20 billion when the legislature convenes in January to begin writing the state budget for the next two years.

The Democrats are not alone in their request for additional funds.  Rep. Tom Oliverson, a Republican from the Spring area who represents a large portion of the Cy-Fair ISD, has pleaded with the Texas Education Agency to use surplus agency funds to assist Cy-Fair with their budget deficit.  Oliverson is also a declared candidate for Speaker of the Texas House for the 2025 session.

Any special session can only be called by the Governor.  Gov. Abbott responded – in writing – to the request by saying that the legislation to authorize private school vouchers that the House voted down during the last special session contained a funding increase for public schools.  But since the House voted down that proposal, Abbott said he did not see a reason to call another special session unless the Democrats were willing to support private school vouchers.

Calls for Houston ISD Superintendent to Resign

A report by Spectrum News this week accused Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles of illegally diverting taxpayer dollars to an out of state charter school having financial difficulties.  Miles was appointed by the state to oversee HISD after the state placed the district in conservancy in June of 2023.  Miles founded the Third Future Schools charter network in 2015 and led the organization until 2020.  He still maintains a paid consulting role with the organization.  The report by Spectrum highlights two checks in excess of $1 million that were sent to Third Future Schools from Texas.  Third Future Schools does operate schools in Texas but has its administrative offices in Colorado.  The report questions how the system was fully operational while claiming to be millions of dollars in debt.  Miles said it is not unusual for the state to send money out of state to other charter schools with administrative offices in other states.

Miles’ tenure has been marred with controversy.  Many Houston area lawmakers were opposed to the state taking over the school district.  And, when faced with a $450 million deficit for the upcoming school year, Miles recently announced hundreds of layoffs of district employees including teachers and principals.

And now, many Houston area legislators are calling for Miles to resign.  Members such as Rep. Jarvis Johnson – also a Senate District 15 candidate – have said the firings were without logic due to “surprise firings of high-performing educators.”  Johnson’s opponent in the Senate District 15 race – Sen. Molly Cook – also called on Miles to resign and is calling on the state to remove their conservatorship of the district.  State Reps. Penny Morales Shaw and Christina Morales have voiced concerns over how the reduced number of teachers will impact bilingual and special education.

Miles has vehemently denied allegations of any misappropriation of state funds and said he welcomes an investigation in the matter.  Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath has said he has received the complaint and referred the matter to the complaints office at the Texas Education Agency, which is the first necessary step to begin an investigation.

Border News

The US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on Wednesday in the ongoing dispute between the state of Texas and the Biden administration over the legality of the buoys the state placed in the Rio Grande River to deter illegal border crossings.  The issue in this particular case is to determine who has jurisdiction over the particular area of the river where the buoys were placed, the federal government or the state of Texas.  The feds argue that the area of the river is navigable for commercial purposes and therefore falls under the federal River and Harbors Act.  The state counters that the river is as little as 18 inches deep in many places and there is no history of commercial use of the river where the buoys are placed – near Eagle Pass.  Lawyers for the federal government argued that ferries use that area of the river, thus establishing an area for commerce.  But many justices seemed skeptical of that argument.

The court is trying to rule on an order handed down last year by a federal district judge that ordered the state to move the buoys to the shoreline.  A panel of the 5th Circuit Court upheld the ruling in December but allowed the buoys to remain in place pending the decision by the full court. No timetable has been given on a decision on this matter from the court.

The decision on this case could be a preview of how this court will rule on another high-profile immigration matter before the 5th Circuit that also pits the state of Texas against the federal government.  The federal government is also challenging a new law passed last fall by the legislature that allows state law enforcement to arrest migrants on state trespassing charges.  The federal government argues that all immigration enforcement is under the sole responsibility of the federal government.  Another panel of the court has put a hold on the Texas law until it has been fully litigated.

Abbott Grants Pardon

Yesterday, Gov. Abbott granted a full pardon to Daniel Perry, who was convicted of murdering a Black Lives Matter protestor in Austin in 2020.  The pardon was announced shortly after the state Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended the full pardon for Perry, who had been sentenced to 25 years in prison by a court in Austin.  Perry was driving for Uber in July of 2020 when he reached an intersection in downtown Austin and was confronted by a protestor named Garrett Foster who was carrying an AK-47 rifle.  Perry pulled out his revolver and shot and killed Foster.  Both men were legally carrying weapons.  Perry’s case ignited conservatives across the country.  When Perry was convicted last year, Abbott immediately asked the board to review the case.  Under Texas law, Abbott cannot grant a pardon without a recommendation from the board.

Senate Committee Reviews DEI Policies at Universities

The Senate Higher Education Subcommittee held a hearing this week to grill university administrators regarding their compliance with Senate Bill 17 passed last session.  The bill target programs related to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and now prohibits public colleges and universities from having any programs on campus that are designed to help a particular demographic of students. At the hearing, the University of Texas System disclosed they had closed nearly two dozen academic offices, eliminated 311 jobs, and canceled 681 contracts that were all previously related to DEI programs.  The system claims the closures and elimination of staff will save $25 million.  Texas A&M made a similar presentation citing their efforts to comply with the new law with layoffs and closures but pointed out that A&M had fewer resources dedicated to DEI related programs to start with so their numbers were significantly lower.  Both systems said they would use the surplus funds to invest in new programs to continue to try and diversify their student body.

The hearing then went on to focus of the recent protests at UT, and the committee chairman criticized the protestors by calling them “pro-Hamas groups trying to intimidate Jewish students and faculty.”  The chancellor of the UT System answered the criticisms by agreeing that elements of the protests were antisemitic.  The protests occurred during the week of April 24th, with participants calling for the system to divest from Israel and from any companies involved in the manufacture of weapons being sold to Israel.

During the protests, university President Jay Hartzell requested assistance from the state to help with stopping the demonstrators after they had established encampments.  He also ordered many of the protestors to be arrested for trespassing charges.  Faculty groups called for Hartzell’s resignation, but he drew praise from state leaders for his leadership in asking the state for assistance and for preventing the protests from growing further and out of control.  At the hearing, the chairman praised Hartzell for his commitment to “preserve the right to free speech while maintaining a functioning campus.”

Democrats Quorum Break Issue in Speaker’s Race

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan – facing an opponent in the May 28th Republican runoff who is endorsed by former President Trump and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick – has long been criticized by more conservative members of his party for being too cozy with the Democrats.  Part of the reason for this is because Phelan appointed several Democrats to chair committees in the House.

Turn back the clock to the 2021 regular session when Democrats broke quorum two days before the end of the session to kill a bill related to election measures.  When Gov. Abbott called a special session to address the issues, Democrats fled to Washington, DC for the duration of the month-long special session. Eventually, Democrats returned, and the bill related to election procedures was passed.

Now fast forward to last Saturday when Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett (D, Dallas) – a member of the Texas House in 2021 – was campaigning for Lauren Simmons, who is challenging Rep. Shawn Thierry of Houston in the Democratic primary.  The two face off in the May 28th primary.  In a campaign rally, Crockett criticized Thierry for a statement she made to Phelan when the Democrats were meeting with Phelan to let him know of their plans to leave the state.  Crockett called out Thierry for only being concerned with whether or not the Democrats that fled would be allowed to retain their committee assignments upon their return, and not with the larger issue of the election related bill, which all Democrats opposed.

Phelan’s critics on the right immediately seized on the comments accusing Phelan of not only working too closely with the Democrats, but also cutting a deal to allow them to leave the state, delay passage of the bill, and still retain their committee assignments moving forward.  For his part, Phelan said the meeting was to try and convince the Democrats to stay.  From either perspective, the timing of the revelation will certainly become fodder for his opponents to use in the closing weeks of the campaign.

More on Speaker Phelan’s Race

Continuing the theme of Phelan being too cozy with the Democrats, a new ad aired this week that pointed out Speaker Phelan appointed a Democrat to chair the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee that oversees criminal justice matters in the House.  The committee is chaired by Democrat Joe Moody of El Paso, and the ad labels Moody as a “defund Democrat”.   The ad featured a local Orange County Constable accusing Phelan of wanting to put someone in charge of the committee who wanted to “give welfare benefits to convicted felons” and went on to say that the appointment is a “slap in the face to all law enforcement in Southeast Texas.”

The drama surrounding the ad grew when it was revealed that the Constable – Matt Ortego – was accused of pulling a gun on his wife and daughter, threatening to shoot the daughter.  Ortego also threatened suicide to police officers responding to the call.  Phelan released a statement saying that Ortego was not a good representative of law enforcement personnel.  Phelan said, “my opponent could only scrounge up someone to support him who drunkenly pulled a gun and threatened to shoot his own daughter.”

The ugliness in this race will likely continue through the May 28th runoff date.

Political Notes

Former President Trump will be in Texas this weekend to deliver the keynote address at the National Rifle Association convention in Dallas on Saturday.  He is also scheduled to attend fundraisers in Dallas and Houston next week.


The lone Texas Senate runoff continues with a war of endorsements and high-profile appearances.  This week, former President Trump endorsed Brent Hagenbuch, while his opponent Jace Yarbrough held a rally with former Florida Congressman and former Texas Republican Party chair Allen West.  Hagenbuch and Yarbrough face off in the May 28th runoff for the Republican nomination for the solidly Republican Senate District 30 in north Texas.

A third person has pleaded guilty in the case involving the federal indictment of Congressman Henry Cuellar – accused of accepting over $600,000 in bribes from foreign influences. A Houston woman admitted to her involvement in accepting invoices from the Cuellars to facilitate payments in exchange for helping an oil and gas company based in Azerbaijan with federal regulators.

Democrat Colin Allred has begun running commercials for his general election challenge to incumbent Republican US Senator Ted Cruz.  The ads are titled “mom” and features Allred’s mother and her story of raising him as a single mother. The ads will air in Houston, San Antonio, Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley.

Early voting for the May 28th runoff begins this Monday.  Former Governor Rick Perry will be in Beaumont with Speaker Phelan for a get out the vote rally on Monday evening.

What’s Next??

The runoff election is May 28th, 11 days from today.  Early voting for the runoffs starts this Monday, May 20th and continues through Friday, May 24th.  Fundraising, commercials, and all other relative activities will now begin to ramp up even more.

With the release of House interim studies, look for several committees to schedule hearings in the coming weeks.  Of course, the speed and intensity of the hearings on the House side will depend on the outcome of the runoff elections.  Senate hearings are in full swing, with most Senate committees having scheduled several hearings over the next few weeks and months.

No committee hearings are scheduled for next week leading up to the Memorial Day weekend.  Several committees are scheduled for the following week.