The Senate Education Committee met yesterday, April 20, to hear a number of bills pertaining to charter schools, educator training and certification, and more. ATPE weighed in on several measures.
Review, approval, and expansion of open-enrollment charter schools
The committee heard a handful of bills pertaining to charter schools on a number of issues. First up was Sen. Donna Campbell’s (R-New Braunfels) SB 1883, pertaining to the approval process for charter applicants and the review of charter operators. ATPE testified against the bill. Our opposition was based on two primary themes: (1) removal of elected officials from the charter school process is irresponsible and (2) adding unnecessary new appeal and review opportunities for charters only creates administrative bloat.
Charter schools are not governed by an elected board of trustees, as is the case for traditional public school districts, so State Board of Education (SBOE) involvement in the charter applicant approval process is among the few opportunities for elected officials beholden to the Texas taxpayers to offer charter oversight. As was pointed out during the hearing, a recent out-of-state charter applicant that received approval three separate times from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner, was then vetoed by SBOE each time based on reasonable concerns about the charter’s inappropriate profiteering in other states. Clearly, SBOE’s involvement plays a valuable role on multiple levels.
SB 1883 also creates new appeal and review processes for charters. The current process for charter approval offers sufficient opportunity for charter applicants to showcase the worth of their application. Further, charter schools and school districts have sufficient time to correct or address data or calculation errors prior to it affecting the entities’ academic or financial accountability ratings. ATPE believes that the additional appeal and review processes provided under Sen. Campbell’s bill are unnecessary and would only result in government waste at TEA, an agency that is already taxed for resources.
ATPE supported a charter bill by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), SB 2130, which would establish a process for first determining regional need before approving a new charter applicant or charter expansion effort. The bill would require the TEA commissioner to first consider a number of factors aimed at determining whether a current traditional school is sufficiently serving the educational needs of students who live in the district. If it is determined that the existing schools are sufficient to meet those needs, a charter applicant would not be granted approval to establish or expand in the area, a measure that is intended to address over-saturation of charter schools in specific geographic areas.
Early childhood certification, reciprocity for out-of-state certificate holders
SB 1839 by Sen. Brian Hughes (R-Mineola) was originally filed as a measure aimed at improving educator preparation program practices in Texas. It also addressed reciprocity for educators trained and certified in other states or countries seeking to teach upon moving to Texas. Current law requires those our-of-state teachers to pass the relevant Texas certification exam(s) before teaching, unless their out-of-state certification is deemed “at least as rigorous” as a comparable Texas certification. Sen. Hughes’s bill, under the committee substitute presented yesterday, would omit the “at least as rigorous” exception, allowing any teacher certified in another state or country to teach in a Texas classroom upon arrival. ATPE expressed concerns, saying that some standard, be it passing the Texas certification exam or another form of showcasing qualifications, must be in place to ensure teachers entering Texas classrooms meet our state’s standards.
The committee substitute language also adds the creation of an Early Childhood through Grade 3 Certificate, which is among one of several avenues the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is currently reviewing in order to ensure early childhood teachers receive the specific instruction needed to best teach early childhood students. ATPE told the committee the thorough review process by SBEC is the best route to address this issue, because many factors play into this certification and SBEC is considering them all, including potential impacts on the supply of certified teachers at other grade levels.
Assessment flexibility, sex trafficking instruction
ATPE offered its support to two additional bills heard during yesterday’s hearing. Sen. Campbell’s SB 1005 would give certain students, those who must still pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) to graduate, the opportunity to meet graduation requirements by instead passing the SAT or ACT. ATPE also supported Sen. Judith Zaffirini’s (D-Laredo) SB 2039, which would create a sexual abuse and sex trafficking prevention program that districts could add to their curriculum if they choose.
The full Senate Education Committee agenda from yesterday can be found here. A list of the bills voted out of the committee during the hearing can be found here. Among the bills advanced by the committee was Sen. Van Taylor’s (R-Plano) SB 653, which he changed to only address pension revocation for certain individuals formerly employed as educators. Some of his original bill was rolled into the Senate’s priority bill pertaining to educator misconduct, SB 7, which is already moving through the process. ATPE supported both bills when they were previously heard in the Senate Education Committee.