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Legislative Update: Senate sacks debate rule, Congress contemplates testing, Dallas ditches home-rule

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

Date Posted: 1/21/2015 | Author: Jennifer Mitchell, CAE

On its first day of debate following yesterday's inauguration festivities, the Texas Senate took historic action today, changing its rules for debating bills. New lieutenant governor Dan Patrick (R) presided over the action today as the Senate voted to adopt its rules for conducting business this legislative session. In a move that was predicted by many after the 2014 election cycle, senators voted today to replace a long-standing tradition that had been unique to the state's upper chamber – requiring a vote of two-thirds of the senators (21 of the 31 members) before any bill could be considered on the Senate floor. The two-thirds rule, which had been in effect since 1947, often forced senators to reach a compromise on controversial bills before bringing them up for contentious debates in a public forum. Now, it will take a vote of only three-fifths of the senators (19 of the 31 members) to bring up a bill for discussion, which benefits the Republican majority in the Senate. All Democratic senators with the exception of Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) voted against the rule change; all Republican senators voted for the change with the exception of Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls), who abstained from the vote.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held a hearing this morning in Washington, D.C., entitled "Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability." As we have reported on Teach the Vote, the committee's chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), recently released a discussion draft of a bill to reauthorize the  Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which contains the federal government's requirements for student testing and school accountability. Many have called for an end to the federal testing mandates in ESEA/NCLB. Today's hearing (video available here) featured presentations by teachers and other education stakeholders. On Jan. 27, the committee will conduct another related hearing, entitled "Fixing No Child Left Behind: Supporting Teachers and School Leaders." Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for continuing coverage of the efforts to reauthorize the federal law and ATPE's involvement.
A commission tasked with drafting a plan to convert the Dallas Independent School District to the state's first home-rule charter district has decided not to propose such a charter. The 15-member commission voted yesterday on a 10-5 margin to proceed with some non-binding reform recommendations for Dallas ISD, but commissioners stopped short of an agreement to write a charter proposal based on concerns that it would not be the right move for the struggling district. The home-rule conversion effort in Dallas was spearheaded by a group calling itself "Support Our Public Schools," which was funded by a wealthy former executive of Enron and supported by the mayor of Dallas. That group oversaw a successful petition drive that resulted in the creation of the charter commission, but members of the commission observed this week that the general public never rallied behind the idea of converting Dallas ISD to a charter district. For many years, Texas has had a state law on its books that would permit school districts to convert themselves to district-wide charter schools and thereby avoid many of the regulations in the Texas Education Code, including laws pertaining to teacher contracts and student discipline. The move requires local voter approval of a charter drafted by a charter commission, and Dallas ISD was the first school district in Texas to attempt those steps.  At yesterday's hearing, the chairman of the Dallas home-rule charter commission characterized the state's home-rule charter enabling law as "a very bad piece of legislation."


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