The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to hear a number of bills, including those dealing with special education, and to advance a key piece of legislation relating to accountability.
During a break in testimony Tuesday afternoon, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) introduced a committee substitute to HB 22, which would modify the “A through F” accountability system. As filed, the bill would collapse the five domains down to three and eliminate the overall, or “summative,” rating for districts and schools.
Chairman Huberty explained the committee substitute would clarify that indicators must be based on disaggregated information and include indicators reflecting access to resources, size and socioeconomics. The substitute would also incorporate policies advocated by ATPE, including a requirement that stakeholders, including teachers, should be involved in the process. ATPE has also advocated for restricting the use of standardized test results and other value-added measures (VAM) for the purposes of evaluating educator performance. The substitute would cap VAM at 25 percent of the educator performance score.
The committee unanimously approved HB 22, along with the following bills:
- HB 481, which would prohibit TEA from collecting over-allocated state funds after seven years if they resulted from statutory changes.
- HB 852, which would remove the cap on the number of individuals who can enroll in the adult high school and industry certification charter school pilot program.
- HB 972, which would make it more difficult for districts to assign students to an uncertified teacher.
- HB 1560, which would remove an obsolete reference regarding open-enrollment charter schools from the statute outlining the powers of the State Board of Education (SBOE).
- HB 2611, which would allow districts to list property with a realtor using a multiple-listing service for 30 days.
- HB 2649, which would require the governing bodies of charter schools to hold open meetings in the county in which the school is located and subject to the same requirements as regular government bodies.
- HB 3722, which would modify the funding formula for districts to which an academically unacceptable school district is annexed.
- HB 1669, which would allow the Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner to charge legal fees to parents who the commissioner deems have filed a “frivolous” lawsuit.
Also of note, the committee considered HB 713 by state Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston), which would end the de facto “cap” on special education enrollment unveiled by the Houston Chronicle. Specifically, it would prohibit any performance indicator based on the total number or percentage of students enrolled in special education. As the Chronicle reported, an arbitrary 8.5 percent target monitored by TEA resulted in schools inappropriately denying special education services to thousands of children. Although TEA indicated that it will no longer use this information as a performance indicator, Rep. Wu explained HB 713 would prevent the agency from resuming the practice in the future. ATPE supports this bill.
The hearing began Tuesday morning with HB 1886 by state Rep. Rick Miller (R-Sugar Land), which would specify that appropriate dyslexia screening or testing should be done upon enrollment in kindergarten and at the end of first grade. It would require the TEA designate a dyslexia specialist to provide districts with support and resources, and identify both in-person and online training opportunities. According to the fiscal note, the bill would likely require TEA hire an additional full-time equivalent at a cost of roughly $107,000 per year.
HB 2205 by state Rep. John Kuempel (R-Seguin) would require school employees to report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect to local law enforcement, as well as the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). Kuempel argued that too much time may pass between the time a report is filed and DFPS notifies law enforcement of a potentially dangerous situation. In some cases, DFPS has waited up to 72 hours before notifying police.
ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified neutrally on the bill. Highlighting the paramount importance of child safety both to educators and police, Wiggins pointed out that the current law orders DFPS to immediately inform local law enforcement. It’s hard to justify calling 72 hours “immediate,” as required by law. Before duplicating efforts, ATPE suggested that addressing the issue within DFPS may be the correct starting point for ensuring that current law is followed and no children are left in potentially dangerous situations.
HB 743 by state Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) would allow a social worker to provide services to students and families in a school district, collaborating with school administrators in order to enhance students’ learning environments. ATPE supports this bill.
HB 1720 by state Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman) would require schools to provide parental notice if a child is found with lice. Furthermore, school officials would be required to notify the parents of every child in the same classroom as a student found with lice. The bill specifies that the child’s identity would be held confidential and not revealed to other parents.
ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified neutrally on HB 1720, noting that some teachers have expressed frustration that some school districts prohibit teachers from notifying other parents when a child is found with lice, resulting in recurring outbreaks. ATPE suggested the bill could be improved by granting individual teachers the right to notify other parents if they determine such action is appropriate.
HB 1556 by state Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) would require training for foster parents of a child with disabilities before making educational decisions on the child’s behalf. The bill would separate the legal definitions of foster parents and surrogate parents for the purposes of educational decision making. Social workers testified that oftentimes, the law is unclear as to who makes the educational decisions for foster children in certain situations. According to the fiscal note, local districts could find it necessary to invest roughly $230,000 to develop training and $25,000 in subsequent years to maintain and update the training.
HB 1076 by state Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress) would revisit the timing of mandatory spinal screenings. While current law requires screenings in grades 6 and 9, HB 1076 would instead order the executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to designate the appropriate ages for screening based on the latest scientific research.
HB 1583 by state Rep. Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio) would extend epinephrine auto-injector regulations, privileges, grant eligibility and immunity from liability to private schools. The bill would also add private school nurses to the list of positions eligible to serve on the epinephrine auto-injector advisory council.
HB 2395 by state Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth) would order each district and charter to test their water for lead using a third-party testing service. If too much lead is found, the bill would require schools to provide safe water until lead levels are returned to acceptable parameters. According to the fiscal note, the Texas Association of School Business Officials (TASBO) estimated the cost of lead testing to be between $2,000 and $3,000 per building. TEA estimated the statewide cost at approximately $22 million per year, not including remediation.
HB 2130 by state Rep. Kevin Roberts (R-Houston) would order a study on the impact of the statewide assessment program on students in special education. The study would be required to address whether the administration of alternate assessments complies with ESSA and whether state-required assessments provide accurate and helpful information. Many disability advocates argued that current assessments aren’t necessarily appropriate for children with some disabilities. According to the fiscal note, the study would cost the state approximately $230,000. TEA staff testified the study could be paid for out of federal funds. ATPE supports this bill.
HB 1342 by state Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) would require elementary and high school students to receive mandatory annual sex abuse training “to promote self-protection, prevent sexual abuse of children, and reduce child pregnancy.” Rep. Parker cited alarming statistics concerning sexual abuse of children, arguing children should be trained how to identify and handle assault.
HB 1033 by state Rep. DeWayne Burns (R-Cleburne) would require the TEA to petition for a waiver of the annual alternative assessment of students with significant cognitive disabilities required under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Rep. Burns suggested that individual admission, review and dismissal (ARD) committees should be empowered to determine which tests, if any, are appropriate. ATPE supports this bill.
HB 23 by Chairman Huberty would create a five-year grant program to provide money for districts and charters that provide innovative services to students with autism. The total number of eligible school programs would be capped at ten, giving priority to collaborations between multiple districts and charters. Funds would be capped at $20 million total, and $1 million for each individual program. According to the fiscal note, HB would cost the state $258,000 through 2019 and $10.1 million each following year. Chairman Huberty argued the pilot program would help drive innovation in a much-needed area of education. ATPE supports this bill.
HB 2623 by state Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) would require schools to create a personalized transition program for students returning after missing 30 instructional days or more because of placement in a juvenile center or hospital care. According to the fiscal note, districts may find it necessary to hire an additional counselor at an average annual salary of $63,000. Rep. Allen explained this is needed to help ensure that students who have been away from a public education setting for an extended period are able to be successfully reintegrated. ATPE supports this bill.
HB 194 by Vice-Chairman Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would require the State Board of Education (SBOE) to create a special education endorsement. Vice-Chairman Bernal suggested the bill would rectify an oversight that has resulted in some special education students being unable to earn the endorsements needed to graduate.
HB 3439 by state Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas) would allow school districts to contract with a charter to operate a district campus and share teachers, facilities or resources. Such schools would be entitled to the greater of the funding per weighted average daily attendance (WADA) entitled to the district or the charter. Although the fiscal note projects no state expense through 2019, the program would cost the state $33.3 million in 2020, $44.4 million in 2021 and $55.5 million in 2022.
ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified against HB 3439, pointing out concerns regarding students and educators. Even though students in each attendance zone would be given preference, the new charter campus would still be allowed to cap enrollment and potentially exclude students who would otherwise be entitled to go to that school. Furthermore, the legislation is unclear as to whether district teachers could be transferred to the charter and lose the rights and protections of district employees.
The bill would also allow low-performing charters to take over campus management. Currently, charters rated “C” or “D” on the “A through F” accountability system could participate, and as a result, would benefit from a one-year pause in their accountability ratings. This provides an incentive for poorly-performing charters to partner with poorly-performing districts in order to enjoy an accountability holiday. ATPE suggests confining participation to charters with “A” or “B” ratings.
HB 2442 by state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) would change “minutes of instruction” to “minutes of operation” for the purposes of determining the length of each school day. The TEA commissioner would determine how many minutes of operation are equivalent to a day of instruction. Instruction time would include recess and meals. The bill would also repeal the minimum length of the school day.
ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 2442, pointing out that the bill helps clarify the length of half-day pre-kindergarten for funding purposes.
HB 3157 by state Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) would modify eye exam rules to allow students to be screened using photoscreening. Advocates argued photoscreening is a more accurate and efficient method for detecting eye problems than eye charts, but school policies don’t always allow them.
Before concluding, Chairman Huberty suggested there could be a formal meeting later this week in order to advance additional bills pending in the committee.