Legislative Update: Improved graduation committee bill closer to final passage, more voucher news, advisors blast pre-K

A popular bill to help high school upperclassmen who’ve been unable to pass a STAAR test required for graduation is one step closer to becoming law after undergoing a few upgrades today on the House floor. SB 149 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) calls for the creation of individual graduation committees to help decide if certain students may be allowed to graduate despite failing a mandatory state standardized test. ATPE supports the bill.

On second reading today, the full House voted by a voice vote to give preliminary approval to SB 149 after adding four floor amendments. The first two amendments came from Rep. Dan Huberty (R), who is sponsoring the bill on the Senate side. His first amendment, reportedly added at the request of the Texas Counseling Association, removes the requirement that a school counselor serve on the graduation committee and replaces that person with “the department chair or lead teacher supervising the teacher” serving on the committee. Huberty’s second amendment contained simple clean-up language referring to graduation requirements.

A third floor amendment by Rep. Armando Walle (D) expanded SB 149 to cover students who fail not just one mandatory STAAR test, but two STAAR tests required for graduation. Walle’s amendment was approved by a record vote of 131-0.

Finally, Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) offered a floor amendment that was requested by ATPE based upon a suggestion from an ATPE member. The amendment, which was accepted by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Huberty, requires the commissioner of education to adopt rules permitting the bill to apply to a former high school student who completed all coursework for graduation but failed an end-of-course exam in one course that was required for graduation. As ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter explained to the committee two weeks ago, the amendment would help students who just missed graduating in recent years because of standardized tests they were unable to pass.

SB 149 must be approved one more time on the House floor before heading back to the Senate to decide if senators will accept the changes made to the bill by the House. The measure has been fast-tracked in an attempt to make it applicable this school year.

The full Senate gave final approval to a divisive private school voucher bill today. By a vote of 18-12, the Senate passed SB 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor on third reading. The bill will head now to the House, where it is expected to encounter significantly more opposition than in the Senate. Read more about the bill and the Senate floor votes on SB 4 here and find downloadable talking points against SB 4 that you can share with your representatives here.

Shortly after today’s vote, Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D) took to Facebook to offer additional details on why he chose to vote against SB 4. Citing statistics from Louisiana, Rodriguez said, “There is no clear evidence showing that voucher students perform better than do public school students. In fact, evidence suggests precisely the opposite.” Rodriguez further stated, “Voucher schools are not held to the same standards as public schools, and without state accountability standards fly-by-night private schools could start popping up simply to get access to public dollars. Without clear accountability that tracks public school standards, parents might not know the school isn’t meeting their expectations. My amendment would have allowed vouchers with more transparency, but unfortunately it was not accepted, and for that reason I voted against SB 4.”

ATPE appreciates all those senators who voted against SB 4 and encourages members to thank them for their efforts to keep the voucher bill from moving forward.

An advisory board appointed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) at the start of the legislative session is making waves with a written statement blasting two high-profile pre-kindergarten bills that are moving through the legislative process. In their letter to the Texas Senate delegation today, 18 signatories from “Lt. Governor’s Grassroots Advisory Board,” are asking senators to oppose HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) and its companion bill, SB 801 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D).

HB 4, a bill that ATPE supported, was finally passed by the House earlier this month by a vote of 128-17. The bill has been one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s top priorities for the 84th Legislature. Patrick’s close advisors are now calling the bill “a threat to parental rights,” despite its overwhelming support in the House and Governor’s office. The letter from the advisory board, made up of local Tea Party leaders, further states, “In other words, we are experimenting at great cost to taxpayers with a program that removes our young children from homes and half-day religious preschools and mothers’ day out programs to a Godless environment with only evidence showing absolutely NO LONG-TERM BENEFITS beyond the 1st grade.”

Yesterday, the House Public Education Committee held an impromptu desk meeting to vote out several pending bills that had already been heard during prior meetings. They included the following:

  • HB 338 (committee substitute) by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D) relating to the evaluation of an internal auditor employed by a school district.
  • HB 1170 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) relating to the applicability to open-enrollment charter schools of certain laws regarding local governments and political subdivisions.
  • HB 1171 also by Rep. Farney relating to the applicability of certain immunity and liability laws to open-enrollment charter schools.
  • HB 1474 (committee substitute) by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) relating to the placement of money in the state instructional materials fund for public schools to use to purchase instructional materials.
  • HB 1486 (committee substitute) by Rep. Rick Galindo (R) relating to a prohibition on vendor contact with a member of the board of trustees of an independent school district during the procurement process.
  • HB 1706 by Rep. VanDeaver relating to reducing paperwork and duplicate reports required of a school district.
  • HB 2293 (committee substitute) by Rep. Drew Darby (R) relating to the certification by the comptroller to the commissioner of education of the taxable value of property in each school district.
  • HB 2812 by Rep. Drew Springer (R) relating to the limit on junior college courses that a high school student may enroll in for dual credit.
  • HB 2847 (committee substitute) by Rep. Myra Crownover (R) relating to policies and training regarding the use of epinephrine auto-injectors by school districts and open-enrollment charter schools; providing immunity.
  • HB 3106 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) relating to the period of time allowed for appointment of a board of managers for a school district.
  • HB 3562 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D) relating to the adoption of a policy allowing a grace period after the exhaustion of the balance of a meal card or account used by students to purchase meals in public schools.

This morning, the House Public Education Committee began its regularly scheduled meeting with more than two dozen bills on the agenda for public hearing. The deadline for House committees to report out bills is May 11, less than three weeks away, meaning that this is a critical time for legislators to get their bills heard. Before beginning today’s public testimony, the House Public Education Committee voted 7-0 to approve a committee substitute version of Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock’s (R) school finance bill, HB 1759.

Aycock announced that the committee would vote out no other pending bills today, meaning that Rep. Farney’s controversial HB 2543 to eliminate the state minimum salary schedule is among the bills still pending and not yet on its way to the House floor. Also being held pending by the committee for now are these bills recalled from the committee’s Educator Quality Subcommittee, where they were heard last week:

  • HB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R) relating to the required qualifications of persons admitted to educator preparation programs.
  • HB 2014 by Rep. Kenneth Sheets (R) relating to the authority of military personnel to obtain certification to teach career and technology education classes in public schools.
  • HB 2205 by Rep. Crownover relating to educator preparation programs, including the appointment of a member of the State Board for Educator Certification with experience and knowledge of alternative educator preparation programs.
  • HB 2566 by Rep. VanDeaver relating to educator preparation programs.
  • HB 3494 by Rep. Huberty relating to educator preparation programs and teacher certification examinations.

The Senate Education Committee is also meeting today, with a much shorter agenda. It includes UIL sunset legislation (SB 213) filed by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R), a bill by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D) to assess the quality of school districts’ programs for English Language Learners (SB 1868), and another controversial voucher bill (SB 1513) by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R) that ATPE opposes. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

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