House Public Education reviews grab bag of school bills

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to consider a score of bills touching a variety of subjects. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) began the hearing by referring the following bills to the Subcommittee on Educator Quality, chaired by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian): HB 49, HB 218, HB 331, HB 333, HB 460, HB 816, HB 972, HB 1255, HB 1403, HB 1469 and HB 1485.

The day’s testimony began with HB 1291 by state Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), which would add “American principles” to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The TEKS would include the study of the Founding Fathers of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 639 by state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson (R-Waco) would authorize districts to obtain health benefit plan, liability or auto insurance for partner businesses and students participating in CTE programs. Anderson suggested insurance is important in the event of accidents related to CTE instruction.

HB 1645 by state Rep. J.M. Lozano (R-Kingsville) would require school districts that offer varsity letters to adopt a policy that allows students to earn a letter for participating in a Special Olympics event. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 69 by state Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) would require each school district and open-enrollment charter school to include in the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) report the number of children with disabilities residing in a residential facility who are required to be tracked by the Residential Facility Monitoring (RFM) System and are receiving educational services from the district or school.

HB 264 by state Rep. Ana Hernandez (D-Houston) would require TEA to continue until 2020 providing outreach materials to districts required under Section 28.015, Education Code, regarding public school curriculum changes under House Bill 5, which passed in 2013. The section includes explanations of the basic career and college readiness components of each endorsement, requirements to gain automatic college admission, and financial aid requirements for the TEXAS grant and the Texas Educational Opportunity Grant Program. The section is currently set to expire September 1, 2018.

HB 452 by state Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) would require report cards to include the number of students in each class. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 728 by state Rep. Bobby Guerra (D-Mission) would create an advanced computer science program that would satisfy the curriculum requirements for a third math or science credit.

HB 1270 by state Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo) would allow schools to excuse student absences for the purpose of visiting a military recruitment center. A similar provision currently allows for excused absences to visit a college or university campus.

HB 136 by state Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) would include a CTE objective under the public education objectives enumerated in Section 4.001(b), Education Code. The text would read, “Objective 11: The State Board of Education, the agency, and the commissioner shall assist school districts and charter schools in providing career and technology education and effective workforce training opportunities to students.”

HB 1389 by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-Dallas) would include prekindergarten in the 22-student class size limit currently in effect for kindergarten through grade four. The bill would result in smaller class sizes for schools that are currently over the limit, but would not carry a significant fiscal impact to the state budget. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 710 by state Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) would extend free half-day prekindergarten to full-day for the same set of eligible students. Research has shown early childhood education improves student learning through the elementary grades, leading to improved educational outcomes overall. According to the fiscal note, the change would cost $1.6 billion over the 2018-2019 biennium. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 620 by state Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) would allow districts the option of moving the school start date to the second Monday in August, up from the fourth, and require instruction time measured in minutes, as opposed to days. This would allow districts more flexibility in scheduling, provide additional time to prepare for first semester assessments, and allow for earlier summer release. No fiscal impact to the state is anticipated. ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of the bill, pointing out that current restrictions can be burdensome when it comes to predictably and adequately allocating instruction time.

HB 729 by state Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) would integrate character traits instruction into the TEKS, and require a center for education research to study the effects of character traits instruction on student attendance and disciplinary problems. Bohac suggested emphasizing positive character traits would improve school performance overall. ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in favor of the bill, noting that statewide standards would eliminate the patchwork implementation of character traits instruction.

HB 404 by state Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) would create higher education curriculum review teams charged with reviewing changes to the TEKS. Currently, the State Board of Education (SBOE) appoints TEKS review committees composed largely of K-12 teachers, as well as up to seven “experts” as defined by board rules. This bill would define a process and expert panel with at least five years of higher education teaching experience in the relevant subject or a doctorate in education. The panel would be selected the Higher Education Coordinating Board and higher education commissioner, which would insulate the experts from the appearance of political influence. The bill would also protect the panel’s recommendations by setting a two-thirds vote threshold for SBOE.

Rep. Anchia described the bill as “a work in progress.” ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified in favor of the bill, and advocated for ensuring that K-12 educators have a meaningful impact on the process as well. Recently, SBOE has taken steps to improve its TEKS review process, and ATPE supports a collaborative effort to codify improvements in statute in order to ensure the success of future reviews.

HB 539 by state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) would allow the children of military service members to enroll full-time in the state virtual school network. According to TEA, roughly 12,000 students, about 0.3 percent of the state’s total enrollment, are currently enrolled in the virtual school network. Approximately 63,500 military dependents are enrolled in grades three through twelve. The Legislative Budget Board assumes 0.5 percent, or 318 students, would enroll in the virtual school network. Based on that, the fiscal note assumes the change would cost an additional $5.3 million – which Chairman Huberty and Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Highland Park) disputed, suggesting the expense was overstated.

HB 367 by Vice-Chairman Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would expressly allow schools to donate surplus unserved cafeteria food to hungry children on campus through a third-party non-profit. Some schools already do this, but this bill would guarantee that right in statute and give rulemaking authority to the commissioner of education. No significant fiscal implication to the state is anticipated.

HB 357 by Chairman Huberty would extend free prekindergarten eligibility to the children of anyone eligible for the Star of Texas Award for police, firefighters and emergency medical first responders killed or seriously injured in the line of duty. According to the fiscal note, no significant impact on the budget is expected. ATPE supports this bill.

All those bills were left pending.

The board unanimously approved HB 223 by state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), which would provide districts the option of providing childcare services or assistance with childcare expenses to students at risk of dropping out through the existing compensatory education allotment. Since the allotment provides a set amount of funding, the change would not fiscally impact the state. The bill will head to the House floor next.

The committee also resumed consideration of HB 21, House leadership’s priority school finance bill that would add $1.6 billion to public education. Huberty warned that without HB 21, the budget would effectively fund $140 less per pupil and there would be no plan for dealing with the expiration of ASATR.

Noting he has had numerous meetings with stakeholders, Huberty suggested hardship grants for districts losing ASATR could be stair-stepped. Additional transportation funding could be capped at five percent of the total spend, Chapter 41 districts at 15 percent and ASATR at 80 percent, or $100 million in 2018 and $60 million in 2019. Discussing whether lawmakers should offer more or less flexibility regarding grant fund allocation, TEA recommended erring on the side of being more prescriptive in order to provide clear direction.

For the 327 school districts whose property taxes are maxed out at $1.17, the committee entertained testimony suggesting raising the yield on “copper pennies.” It’s important to note that the more the state spends on public education in general, the less school districts will be forced to rely on local homeowners for funding. In other words, real property tax relief – not the bumper sticker kind, but meaningful relief – begins with putting more state money into public education.

Concluding the hearing, Chairman Huberty signaled his intent to vote on a committee substitute at next Tuesday’s hearing. That meeting will focus on bills dealing with public school accountability, including “A though F.”

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