Senate Education Committee acts on controversial bills

The Senate Education Committee is meeting today to hear several new bills and take votes on a number of pending bills that were heard at prior meetings.

This morning the committee voted to send SB 1408 to the full Senate. The controversial bill by Chairman Dan Patrick calls for assigning “A through F” ratings to schools under a new accountability system. ATPE and several other education groups oppose the bill. Committee members who voted for SB 1408 today were senators Patrick, Eddie Lucio, Donna Campbell, Robert Duncan, Ken Paxton, Kel Seliger and Larry Taylor. Senators Leticia Van de Putte and Royce West voted against the bill, expressing their concerns that labeling schools with letter grades will be detrimental to those schools’ students and communities. West called the bill “a rush to judgment.” Van de Putte emphasized the need to provide parents with more background information to explain the basis for any grades that are assigned. She urged her colleagues to consider implementing a summary report similar to what ATPE has recently proposed. Without giving parents more information, Van de Putte complained that the A through F proposal will be condescending to parents and will treat them as though they are not smart enough to understand the school performance data.

The committee also approved SB 17 by Chairman Patrick, which creates a training program for school employees authorized by their districts to carry a concealed handgun on school premises. The latest version of the bill allows for the collection of private donations to fund the training but provides for up to $1 million of state funding to be used for the program if there aren’t sufficient private funds. Although some committee members object to the use of state funds for the firearm training program, the bill was unanimously approved.

Other bills getting the nod this morning were SB 1406 and SB 1474, both of which call for reviews of CSCOPE instructional lessons. SB 1406 by Chairman Patrick creates an SBOE review process similar to the current process for review of textbooks. SB 1474 by Duncan is a bill supported by ATPE that requires districts to solicit input from local teachers and parents before adopting curriculum management systems such as CSCOPE.

Earlier this week, the Senate Education Committee heard testimony on several bills, including SB 1403 by Chairman Patrick, which ATPE opposes. The bill was inspired by recommendations of the Texas Teaching Commission. It calls for changing teacher appraisals and eliminating the state’s minimum salary schedule. SB 1403 would replace the salary schedule with a single starting salary for all teachers of $34,000. Teachers and other professionals currently covered by the salary schedule would lose the benefit of annual step increases, and districts would have the ability to decrease veteran teachers’ salaries, even as low as the proposed minimum of $34,000. This bill was left pending Tuesday but might be brought up again today.

The committee will reconvene later today upon adjournment of the full Senate to hear the remainder of the bills on its agenda. Stay tuned for updates.

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