Category Archives: 86th Legislature

In late night hearing, House Public Education Committee talks about bullying, leftover food, and more

On Wednesday, April 17, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard bills on a variety of topics including the donation of excess food at school, virtual schools, workplace bullying of teachers, and even the Ten Commandments.

ATPE supported several bills by registering in favor of the following:

  • House Bill (HB) 414 (Flynn, R-Van) would create the Teacher’s Protection Act, which includes a defense against prosecutions for actions taken in an educator’s self-defense.
  • HB 1394 (Bohac, R-Houston) aims to protect teachers from being sanctioned by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) for their reasonable use of force against a student.
  • HB 3220 (Allison, R-San Antonio) would add licensed specialists in school psychology (LSSPs) to the definition of mental health professional and allow them to be eligible for loan repayment assistance in certain circumstances.
  • HB 3403 (Cortez, D-San Antonio) would require school district employment policies to include anti-bullying measures for educators, including provisions to address parents who bully teachers.
  • HB 3638 (Patterson, R-Frisco) would lift certain mandates on schools as identified by the Lieutenant Governor’s mandate relief working group in which ATPE participated last year.
  • HB 3696 (Bell, K., R-Forney) would add the number (rather than percentage) of students who complete a practicum or internship approved by the State Board of Education (SBOE) and students who complete a coherent sequence of career and technical education (CTE) courses as measures within the student achievement domain of the state’s accountability system.
  • HB 3882 (Wilson, R-Marble Falls) would transfer rulemaking authority from the Commissioner of Education to the University Interscholastic League (UIL) for extracurricular activity safety training programs. This is also one portion of the main mandate relief bill referenced above.
  • HB 3906 (Huberty, R-Kingwood) would change references to “reading” to say “language arts” in multiple sections of the law and eliminate the grade 4 and 7 writing test, but add writing to the annual language arts tests. This bill also includes provisions of Rep. Gary VanDeaver’s (R-New Boston) writing portfolio assessment pilot legislation and allows assessments to be administered in multiple parts over more than one day.
  • HB 3963 (Allen, D-Houston) would allow schools to elect to donate extra food to a nonprofit and includes related food safety precautions.
  • HB 4095 (Beckley, D-Carrollton) would require school boards to adopt a policy on custodian workloads.
  • HB 4096 (Beckley, D-Carrollton) would require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to study recommended standards for school district facility maintenance and custodial services.
  • House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 134 (Dutton, D-Houston) would designate the second Tuesday in October as Legislators in Schools Day, an opportunity for lawmakers to visit  a classroom in their districts.

ATPE submitted written testimony against HB 1921 by Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco). This bill would remove the cap on funding for full-time virtual schools by eliminating a provision that states funding is limited to programs that were operating on January 1, 2013. This provision was a key addition to the virtual school program law because it ensured that full-time virtual school programs, would neither be completely shut down nor be allowed to replicate until more data was collected on their efficacy. Since that legislation was passed, a growing body of evidence has shown that virtual schools are a poor substitute for traditional, brick-and-mortar classrooms. Therefore, ATPE opposes further expansion of virtual schools as contemplated by this bill. Read our written testimony against HB 1921 here.

The following bills were also heard by the committee on Wednesday:

  • HB 307 (Flynn, R-Van): States that school boards cannot prohibit the posting of the Ten Commandments in classrooms.
  • HB 875 (Allen, D-Houston): Would require that superintendents annually report on student restraints, complaints filed against students, citations issued to students, and student arrests. The data would be made available to the public by TEA.
  • HB 1017 (Martinez, D-Weslaco): Would require schools with 50% or more of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch to donate food to a nonprofit to be distributed to students at the campus.
  • HB 1416 (Lucio III, D-Brownsville): Would require TEA to adopt uniform general conditions for school building construction contracts.
  • HB 2002 (Leach, R-Plano): Would require that districts report their total expenses related to administering required assessments.
  • HB 2183 (Allen, D-Houston): Would require schools to report to TEA and in the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) on students who are released to their parents before the end of the instructional day. Parents would have access to the report.
  • HB 2609 (King, K., R-Canadian): Would allow school districts to assign ESL teachers to bilingual education programs if they have a shortage of bilingual education teachers. The committee substitute for the bill allows the bilingual education allotment to be used for teacher salaries and for certifying bilingual teachers in the district.
  • HB 2691 (VanDeaver, R-New Boston): Would require providers of online services used for a school purpose to use unique identifiers that masks student information.
  • HB 2797 (Hinojosa, D-Austin): Enables specialized support campuses or those that only serve students in special education to be considered separately for accountability purposes.
  • HB 3000 (Talarico, D-Round Rock): Would require schools to notify TEA and give written notice to parents if there is a data breach in the district involving students’ information. TEA would maintain a public database of such breaches.
  • HB 3132 (Allen, D-Houston): Would require that staff development for teachers who provide reading instruction in grades K-3 include training in effective instructional practices and the use of validated instructional methods.
  • HB 3146 (Meza, D-Irving): Would require schools to offer students a vegan breakfast and lunch option.
  • HB 3204 (Sanford, R-McKinney): Would prohibit the governing board or commissioners court from including more than one project in any proposition submitted to authorize the issuance of bonds.
  • HB 3467 (King, K., R-Canadian): Would change how School Land Board (SLB) cash is handled to try to increase the ability of the SLB and SBOE to make returns to public education. There have been recent concerns with money that the SLB and SBOE manage and invest, which ultimately makes its way into public schools.
  • HB 3630 (Meyer, R-Dallas): Would prohibit school district employees from engaging in  dangerous techniques for student discipline, which disproportionately impact students with disabilities.
  • HB 3820 (Sherman, D-DeSoto): Would require (at state cost) school districts to administer one of the ACT or SAT to certain students who have taken the Algebra I or English I or II end-of-course exam (EOC).
  • HB 3846 (Capriglione, R-Southlake): Would require the SBOE to develop “mini-courses” on topics such as personal financial literacy, computer coding, and cybersecurity, which districts could use after assessments are administered.
  • HB 3884 (Wilson, R-Marble Falls): Transfers duties for providing bacterial meningitis information from TEA to the Department of State Health Services.
  • HB 3141 (Swanson, R-Spring): Would prohibit a school district from having certain business interests in real estate; arts, entertainment, and recreation; or accommodation and food services.
  • HB 4454 (Rodriguez, D-Austin): Would require the SBOE to adopt developmentally appropriate standards for social and emotional learning and require school districts to use the standards in  appropriate educational programs.
  • HB 4626 (Swanson, R-Spring): Would make the Harris County Department of Education subject to sunset review.

The House Public Education Committee will meet next Tuesday, April 23, at 8 am. See the agenda here, which includes a bill to make children of educators eligible for prekindergarten and a bill to ensure that public school counselors’ time is spent on core counseling duties. The committee is also expected to meet briefly on Thursday, April 18, merely for voting on pending bills.

House Public Education Committee hears bills on civics, bullying, virtual schools, and more

On Tuesday, April 16, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard bills on topics including civics education, the virtual school network, mandate relief, and accountability.

ATPE supported several bills by registering in favor of the following:

  • House Bill (HB) 2642 (Allison, R-San Antonio) would require the Commissioner of Education to adopt rules requiring school districts and charters to annually report Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) data on bullying and cyberbullying incidents.
  • HB 3008 (Talarico, D-Round Rock) would create a civic education project fund consisting of grants, gifts, donations, or money that is appropriated, credited, or transferred at the discretion of the legislature. The fund would be used for professional development and for providing public school students in grades four and above who are economically disadvantaged a chance to complete a civic education project.
  • HB 3133 (Allen, D-Houston) would allow school district employees to use their personal leave for compensation on school holidays. Rep. Allen expressed that this bill is intended to help hourly employees stretch their paychecks over unpaid holidays.
  • HB 3521 (VanDeaver, R-New Boston): Part of a mandate relief package to eliminate outdated or redundant statutes, this bill would improve teacher retention data by using PEIMS rather than TRS data, makes technical changes to federal references regarding students who are homeless, and creates a uniform definition of homeless children and youth. The bill also removes a reporting requirement on the administration of epi-pens; includes language on notice of charter campus establishment; and strikes a June 1 deadline for instructional materials. The bill repeals TEA’s online clearinghouse of best practices, recognition of high school completion and success and college readiness programs, and energy-efficient light bulbs in instructional facilities requirements. Rep. VanDeaver stated that he may amend the bill to make its charter notification language stronger.
  • HB 3712 (Bucy, D-Austin) would require the State Board of Education (SBOE) to adopt rules requiring a high school student to be provided at least once with practical information about the process of voting in public elections.

ATPE provided written neutral testimony on HB 496 by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio). ATPE supports provisions in HB 496 that would help ensure student safety through a bleeding kit program in public schools. However, we are concerned with language in the bill affecting an employee’s civil liability immunity. Read ATPE’s written testimony here.

ATPE also provided written testimony against HB 429 by Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano). The bill includes provisions that would expand virtual school programs. The bill would increase the cost and inefficiency of the public education system by allowing for expanded and duplicative virtual instruction. Furthermore, data show that students enrolled in full-time virtual schools regularly under-perform their peers enrolled in traditional classroom settings. Read ATPE’s written testimony here.

The following bills were also heard by the committee on Tuesday:

  • HB 580 (Thierry, D-Houston) outlines the ability of school districts to contract with and reimburse private employers providing career and technical education (CTE) paid internships to students using CTE funds.
  • HB 662 (King, K., R-Canadian) would prohibit the state from recovering money that was incorrectly delivered to schools in certain circumstances.
  • HB 997 (Collier, D-Fort Worth) would require most school districts and charters to conduct and publicly report on lead contamination testing every five years.
  • HB 2013 (Gervin-Hawkins, D-San Antonio) would allow implementation of a Commissioner or agency rule on accountability to be delayed until the second school year after its adoption.
  • HB 2019 (Geren, R-Fort Worth) would require school districts to send written notice to parents with a link to the sex offender database.
  • HB 2572 (Patterson, R-Frisco) would create a pilot program for Districts of Innovation (DOIs) to use portfolio assessment for students in 8th grade social studies and high-school U.S. History.
  • HB 2818 (Lucio III, D-Brownsville) would remove certain statutory requirements for online dropout recovery program.  Rep. Lucio said that his bill would improve HB 3706 from the 85th Legislative Session and restore legislative intent.
  • HB 2879 (Raney, R-Bryan) would create a competitive grant program largely for medical providers to promote early literacy.
  • HB 2881 (Bernal, D-San Antonio) would add another option under last session’s SB 1882 for campuses labelled as “improvement required” by infusing new resources into the campus so that it may be designated a “resource campus.” Components of the program would include re-application of teachers to work at the campus; a 300:1 student-to-counselor ratio; assignment of an effective principal; social-emotional learning; restorative discipline; class-size limits; and an accountability pause.
  • HB 3009 (Talarico, D-Round Rock) would require TEA to advise school districts on civics training materials and resources for educators and add civics to the social studies description in the foundation curriculum. The bill would also require TEKS for civics instruction once in grades 4-8 and as part of at least one high school course. The bill would direct the SBOE as to what must be included as part of civics education and require school districts and charters who implement this curriculum to develop a project-based civics education course.
  • HB 3053 (Gervin-Hawkins, D-San Antonio) would require school districts to adopt a “healthy and safe school water plan” that includes periodic lead testing and reducing exposure to lead in school water.
  • HB 3141 (Guillen, D-Rio Grande City) would require that the Commissioner administer the state (Virtual School Network) VSN in coordination with its administering authority and shift all costs for evaluation and approval to the administering authority. A committee substitute for the bill moves the authority from TEA to the University of Texas at Austin High School.
  • HB 3387 (Anchia, D-Dallas): This bill for Dallas County would abolish the dissolution committee established to abolish county boards of education or boards of county school trustees and transfer all duties and obligations of the committee to the commissioners court of the county.
  • HB 3628 (Goodwin, D-Austin) would require the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to establish a special education certification.
  • HB 3818 (Lozano, D-Kingsville) would create a work-based learning task force to develop strategies for expanding and delivering youth or adult apprenticeships or internships that provide paid work experience and corresponding classroom instruction.
  • HB 3836 (Bell, K., R-Forney) would require rather than allow school districts to consider using open educational resources.
  • HB 4270 (Wu, D-Houston) would allow a municipal management district to provide public education facilities as part of the long list of improvement projects or services they can provide.
  • HB 4342 (Clardy, R-Nacogdoches) would change the composition of the board of directors of the Texas School Safety Center to include a professional architect and three rather than two members of the public.
  • HB 4480 (Meza, D-Irving) would require the commissioner to establish a task force to study the utility, efficacy, and feasibility of art therapy to improve the mental health of students in public and higher education.
  • HJR 112 (King, T., R-Uvalde) would allow Webb County to enter into an agreement with the school districts for which the county holds lands in trust.

On Wednesday, April 17, the House Public Education Committee will meet again to hear bills after the House chamber meets. The committee will also vote out several bills, so stay tuned!

Senate committee advances campus turnaround proposal, hears variety of bills

Senate Education Committee meeting, April 16, 2019.

The Senate Education Committee met Tuesday, April 16, 2019. The committee postponed until April 23 a hearing scheduled for Tuesday on House Bill (HB) 3, the major school finance reform bill that the House passed last month. For more on HB 3 and the Senate committee’s anticipated hearing of the bill next week, please see this related post on our blog. Instead of hearing HB 3 today, the committee took testimony on a number of unrelated items and approved several pending bills.

The committee heard testimony Tuesday on SB 784 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), which would add Texas Education Agency (TEA) oversight of human sexuality instruction and require that parents receive notification in advance of when instruction is to be provided, along with a detailed description of the content.

Other bills heard included the following:

SB 722 by Sen. Campbell states that “the board of trustees may not make a severance payment to a superintendent in an amount greater than one year’s salary under the superintendent’s terminated contract.” Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) suggested including charter schools in the bill, and Sen. Campbell indicated she would be willing to work together on such an amendment.

SB 725 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) would remove the Brownsville ISD bracket on an existing low-income pre-K pilot program and expand it to any students who are “educationally disadvantaged” in a district operating an early high school graduation program. Sen. Lucio explained the bill would allow a district to take money saved by a student who graduates in three years instead of four and use it to fund two additional full-day pre-K students.

SB 740 by Sen. Hughes would create a “Texas Public Finance Authority” empowered to loan money to districts no larger than 1,600 students in average daily attendance (ADA).

SB 968 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) would require municipalities to regard charters as school districts for purposes of zoning, permitting, code compliance, and development. The bill would also apply land development standards to charters and would prohibit municipalities, counties, or political subdivisions from enacting or enforcing an ordinance that prohibits a charter school from operation.

SB 1133 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) states that a school district may not have a business interest in an entity or own real property associated with real estate and rental and leasing; arts, entertainment, and recreation; or accommodation and food services — in other words, a water park.

SB 1182 by Sen. Campbell, would add charter language to the approval section of the Texas Public Finance Authority’s bond issuance authority. Sen. Campbell explained this would transfer authority to approve charter bonds from local governments to the state attorney general. Sen. Watson raised questions over how this would cut locally-elected officials out of the loop and whether it would remove discretion.

SB 1454 by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) would create a mechanism through which TEA could elect to transfer the remaining funds of a defunct charter to another charter holder.

SB 2117 by Sen. Bettencourt, would allow districts that have been granted program charters by their board and have contracted with a charter to jointly operate a campus and receive district-charter funding under last session’s SB 1882.

SB 2285 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) would require the TEA committee responsible for reviewing accountability appeals to review challenges by school districts or charters. It would require that the commissioner not limit the challenge if the school district or charter created the inaccuracy and requires that the commissioner correct the rating if the rating assigned was too low.

SB 2293 by Sen. Fallon would make charters subject to the provision of Chapter 617, Government Code, prohibiting collective bargaining and strikes. ATPE supports this bill to create parity between the laws pertaining to charter schools and those that already apply to traditional public schools.

SB 2266 by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) would give the TEA commissioner authority to consider local charter school saturation in deciding whether to reject an application for a new charter or a charter expansion. ATPE supports this bill.

The Senate Education Committee also voted to approve the following pending bills during Tuesday evening’s hearing:

  • SB 1412 would allow a school at risk of closure to execute an accelerated campus excellence turnaround plan, which includes paying high performing teachers a premium to work at the struggling campus. The bill includes ongoing support and a three-year commitment from participating teachers, 80 percent of which would be required to come from the top quartile in terms of demonstrating student growth. ATPE submitted neutral testimony that focused on eliminating a vendor contracting requirement from the bill and clarifying that districts may not be required to base their hiring decisions upon test performance of students taught by the educators.
  • SB 351 would include completion of a coherent sequence of career and technology courses to the indicators of achievement under the public school accountability system.
  • SB 426 would ensure that school counselors spend no less than 80 percent of their time on actual counseling, as opposed to unrelated work, such as monitoring tests. ATPE supports this bill. Sens. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) and Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) voted against the bill.
  • SB 686 would require a personal financial literacy course for high school graduation.
  • SB 712 lists types of behavioral interventions that are prohibited for use with students who receive special education services. This includes such actions as electric shock, suffocation, etc.
  • SB 723 would require a school district to post the superintendent’s annual compensation on its Internet website. Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) voted against the bill.
  • SB 1297 would require uniform general conditions for school district building construction contracts.
  • SB 1390 would add physical health, mental health, and suicide prevention to the foundation curriculum. The bill includes corresponding guidance to the State Board of Education (SBOE) and school health advisory committees (SHAC) to include risk factors such as alcohol.
  • SB 1746 would add previous incarceration of a student or the student’s parent or guardian to the list of factors qualifying a student as being at risk of dropping out.
  • SB 2075 would move some rulemaking authority from SBOE to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) related to dyslexia screenings, specifically to monitor and develop remedial strategies.
  • SB 2135 would require information shared by law enforcement with a superintendent on student offenses to include whether it is necessary to conduct a threat assessment or prepare a safety plan related to the student.
  • SB 2282 would add mental health to the menu of services that may be provided by a school-based health center. ATPE supports this bill.

Senate Education committee hears miscellaneous bills

The Senate Education Committee met Thursday, April 11, 2019, and considered a number of mostly unrelated bills.

Members listened to testimony on Senate Bill (SB) 426 by  Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), which would ensure a school counselor spends no less than 80 percent of their time on actual counseling, as opposed to monitoring tests and other unrelated duties. ATPE supports this bill.

Members also heard testimony on SB 686 by Sen. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston), which would require high school students to take financial literacy courses.

SB 723 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) would require a district to post a superintendent’s annual compensation on its Internet website.

SB 1102 by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) is specific to school transfer agreements, and would change “guardian” to person “standing in parental relation to” a child. It would also allow the receiving school district or parent to terminate the agreement at any time during the school year.

SB 1297 by Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) would require uniform general conditions for school district building construction contracts.

SB 1390 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) would add physical health, mental health, and suicide prevention to the foundation curriculum. It includes corresponding guidance to the State Board of Education (SBOE) and school health advisory committees (SHAC) to include risk factors such as alcohol.

SB 1517 by Sen. Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas) would state that “[t]he commissioner may not refuse to designate a high school campus as an early college high school or revoke or refuse to renew a campus’s designation as an early college high school on the basis of the percentage of educationally disadvantaged students enrolled at the high school campus.”

SB 1746 by Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston) would add previous incarceration of the student or student’s parent or guardian to the list of factors qualifying a student as being at risk of dropping out.

SB 2075 by Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney) would move some rulemaking authority relating to dyslexia screening from the SBOE to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), specifically in order to monitor and develop remedial strategies.

SB 2135 by Sen. Powell would require information about student offenses that is shared by law enforcement with a superintendent to include whether it is necessary to conduct a threat assessment or prepare a safety plan related to the student.

SB 2282 by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) would add mental health to the menu of services that may be provided by a school-based health center. ATPE supports this bill.

The committee also voted to advance the following pending bills:

  • SB 608 is the sunset bill for the School Land Board (SLB), which oversees real estate investments within the General Land Office (GLO) that fund education.
  • SB 1776 would require every high school to offer an elective course on “the founding principles of the United States.”
  • SB 2042 would require a study of career and technology education (CTE) programs. This would include a look at what industries are in demand in each region of the state, and whether the CTE courses being offered by local schools adequately address those demands. The study would recommend the elimination of some courses that do not appear to benefit the workforce. ATPE supports this bill.
  • SB 11 is a major school safety bill heard back in March, which ATPE supported. Members adopted a committee substitute that contained a number of changes, including removing the school safety allotment. Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) voted against the bill.
  • SB 1323 would require certain students who are awarded dual credit to complete and submit a free application for federal student aid (FAFSA).
  • SB 1453 would allow students to use calculator functions on their cellphones in lieu of traditional graphing calculators, which would no longer be required.

House Public Education Committee hears 38 bills on charters, assessment, and discipline

On Tuesday, April 9, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard 38 bills, which were overwhelmingly related to charter schools. A few bills regarding accountability, assessment, and student discipline were also heard. The vast majority of charter schools bills focused on raising the transparency and accountability of charters and on creating parity between traditional districts and charters.

ATPE registered support for the following bills:

  • House Bill (HB) 43 (Hinojosa, et al., D-Austin): Would add “discipline history” to the list of prohibited factors a charter can take into account when accepting students and removes the ability of charters to exclude students with documented history of criminal offense, juvenile court adjudication, or discipline problems. Does allow charters with at least 75% students who are 18 years or older to provide for these exclusions.
  • HB 139 (González, M., D-Clint): Would require charters to provide notice of an expansion amendment to open a new campus just as is required for entirely new charters. The notice must be provided no later than 18 months before the campus opens and include geographic specificity.
  • HB 228 (Krause, R-Fort Worth): Would create new eligibility standards for districts to become a District of Innovation (DOI), including academic performance eligibility and financial eligibility, as determined by the commissioner. Requires that the DOI plan establish performance objectives for the district.
  • HB 570 (Capriglione, R-Southlake): Would require the governing bodies of charter holders and charter schools to hold each open meeting in the geographic area in which the charter served and to be broadcast over the Internet (these changes were made in a committee substitute).
  • HB 636 (White, R-Hillister): Applies to the disclosure of interested parties involved in contracts that require a vote by the governing body of the governmental entities or have a value of at least $1 million. Would include open-enrollment charters as governmental entities, just as public school districts are.
  • HB 1730 (Davis, Y., D-Dallas): Would require that new and expanded charter campuses be more than one mile from another open-enrollment charter campus, unless the other campus has been operating at maximum student enrollment described by their charter for at least the two preceding school years.
  • HB 1853 (Pacheco, D-San Antonio): Would require charters to hire certified educators and protect educator rights, including for principals.
  • HB 1981 (Cole, D-Austin): Would expand notification requirements to apply to charter expansion amendments and would require the notice to identify the closest public school campus to the charter.
  • HB 2487 (Dutton, D-Houston): Would make charters subject to the provision of Government Code chapter 617 regarding collective bargaining and strikes.
  • HB 2510 (Hinojosa, et al., D-Austin): Would require that charters post their code of conduct on their website and require it to include suspension policies. Requires that charter policies and procedures for suspension and expulsion comply with Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code and that suspensions not exceed three days.
  • HB 2621 (Bailes, R-Shepherd): Would create a common admission application form for charters and requires the commissioner to manage a waiting list. Each charter would be required to report to the commissioner information on enrollment and waiting list numbers. Would also require the commissioner to identify which charters are corporate affiliates or substantially related charters holders and aggregate this information, to be posted online with the aggregated enrollment and waiting list numbers reported from the charters.
  • HB 2760 (Allison, R-San Antonio): States that districts can submit a statement to the commissioner regarding the impact a new charter school or charter expansion will have on the district. The commissioner would be required to issue an impact report on the charter application that includes information related to how the charter will affect the community, educational availability and duplication, financial burden on district, cost to state, and the written statement aforementioned. The impact report will be made public on the TEA website and provided to the charter or applicant and the others who are to receive the currently required notice.
  • HB 2776 (Allison, R-San Antonio): Would require charters to prepare and submit to TEA an “informed choice report” that includes academic information, demographic information, their calendar, information on transportation and meals, information on extracurriculars and academic course offerings, parental requirements, rights, and responsibilities, teacher statistics including salary, number on the waiting list, admission criteria, discipline policies, rates of disciplinary action, if the school uses an online program, number of school counselors and nurses, and if students have access to a library.
  • HB 2824 (VanDeaver, R-New Boston): Would extend Rep. VanDeaver’s writing pilot from the 84th session (HB 1164) through 2022-2023. This writing portfolio assessment tests the feasibility of replacing the current 26-line essay requirement. Would require the agency to develop methods to determine the validity of the scoring process. Rep. VanDeaver said that there were 30,000 students participating in Spring of 2018, and only 5-6 staff members in charge of the pilot at TEA.
  • HB 2964 (Davis, Y., D-Dallas): Would prohibit the employment of those who have engaged in misconduct that presents a risk to students, as documented by either a school district or the State Board for Educator Certification.
  • HB 2983 (Huberty, R-Humble): Would reduce the number of state-administered assessments for students who have already demonstrated mastery in certain subjects, potentially reducing tests from 17 to 10.
  • HB 2987 (Ramos, D-Richardson): Would require charters to post for each governing board member their biographical information, business interests, if they are elected or appointed, and the length of their service.
  • HB 3013 (Talarico, et al., D-Round Rock): States that charters are subject to the law regarding the suspension of students and restricts the reasons charters can expel students only to Section 37.007 of the Texas Education Code.
  • HB 3069 (González, M., et al., D-Clint): Would require the commissioner to establish a professional development grant program to encourage teachers to obtain computer science certification and continue professional development in coding, computational thinking, and computer science education.
  • HB 3263 (Allen, D-Houston): Would protect charter school employees under the Whistleblower Act, just as school district employees are.
  • HB 3877 (Ramos, D-Richardson): Would require charter schools to post their financial statements through a clearly identifiable link that appears in a prominent place on their home page.
  • HB 4242 (Bernal, et al., D-San Antonio): Would require that state assessments be evaluated by an independent group of qualified educators with Texas teaching experience for readability. Requires the commissioner to hold a public hearing before determining the readability of the assessments and requires that the readability be released for each questions and passage along with the questions and answer keys (at the appropriate time). Requires the State Board of Education to review assessment instruments and places a one-year pause on accountability and testing until unless the readability standards are met. Requires the commissioner to request a federal waiver if standards are not met.

ATPE submitted  written, neutral testimony on Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Humble) HB 3904. HB 3904, in general, is a “clean-up” bill for last session’s HB 22, and aims to clarify and specify the law to match the original intent of the policy. The bill clarifies the treatment of dual credit as an accountability measure and adds in complete coherent industry certification course sequences, students who participate in extracurriculars, and ninth graders who are on track to graduate with their cohort. For K-8, the bill adds indicators accounting for students who participate in full-day pre-K, students who participate in math and literacy academies, and students who participate in extracurriculars. Importantly, the bill limits the domain performance ratings to be no more than 50% reliant on test scores. For the student achievement domain, 40% would be attributed assessments, 20% from high school graduation, and 40% from CCMR. The bill also makes changes to accountability for dropout recovery schools. Individual graduation committees are also continued in this bill.

ATPE did not support the provision in the original bill that allowed the commissioner to order reconstitution of a below-standard campus and implement “strategic staffing”, which was largely based on test performance-based measures of teachers. The Chairman has changed the bill in a committee substitute to eliminate this provision, which is great!

The following bills were also heard in committee:

  • HB 769 (Davis, S., et al., R-West University Place): Would require the board of trustees to receive approval from the commissioner for any severance payment to a superintendent who has been terminated based on malfeasance. Further requires that Foundation School Program funds may not be used to pay the severance and that no severance may be paid to a superintendent who has completed less than 51% of their contract. The committee substitute for the bill clarifies the definition of malfeasance and removes retroactive reporting.
  • HB 1003 (Collier, D-Fort Worth): Would create an admission preference for students who reside in the attendance zone of the school district within which the charter is located. Allows for a separate lottery for these students.
  • HB 1301 (Davis, S., R-West University Place): Would require school districts with enrollment of 10,000 or more to publish monthly web reports on board minutes, plans, and objectives, and quarterly reports on academic achievement and district finances. This bill is aimed at only affecting Houston ISD.
  • HB 2190 (Hunter, R-Corpus Christi): This bill only applies to a charter with an enrollment greater than 200 located in a county with less than 400,000 that contains a municipality of least 300,000 (aimed specifically at a Corpus Christi area school). Allows the charter to admit a child of a school employee. Testimony on the bill was positive and Hunter said that he would entertain the bill being statewide. Chairman Huberty said they could change the bill to impact the entire state as an amendment on the House floor.
  • HB 2406 (Geren, R-Fort Worth): States that a charter may not spend public funds for political advertising or for communications describing measures that are false or could influence voters. Brings parity to charters, as school districts are already subject to this law.
  • HB 2488 (Dutton, D-Houston): States that if a charter school has 5,000 or more students in average daily attendance, it is considered to be a state agency for purposes of Chapter 2161 of the Government Code regarding Historically Underutilized Business (HUB). Just as school districts do, charters would have to comply with provisions regarding HUBs, which would include a commitment to increasing contracting opportunities with these businesses.
  • HB 2991 (Talarico, D-Round Rock): Would require, rather than allow, districts and charters to develop and implement a positive behavior and restorative justice program. Through the program, the district or school can provide an alternative to suspension. Creates, in Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code, a restorative justice coordinating council to assist the agency and school districts in developing restorative justice programs and training.
  • HB 3012 (Talarico, et al., D-Round Rock): Would require that school districts provide students an alternative means of instruction for the classes the student misses while in in-school suspension (ISS) or out-of-school suspension (OSS), and that at least one option should not require the use of the internet. The committee substitute for this bill reduces this requirement to only apply to core courses and states that the instruction doesn’t have to be in-person.
  • HB 3155 (Deshotel, D-Beaumont): Would require municipalities to regard charters as school districts for purposes of zoning, permitting, code compliance, and development. Also applies land development standards to charters. Would prohibit municipalities, counties, or political subdivisions from enacting or enforcing an ordinance that prohibits a charter school from operation.
  • HB 3219 (Allison, R-San Antonio): Would allow campus behavior coordinators to create behavior contracts for students who violate the code of conduct and require their parent to sign the contract as a condition of not taking immediate action against the student.
  • HB 3322 (Burns, R-Cleburne): Would require school districts to post who is responsible for discipline on their website. According to testimony, the bill arose out of a town hall by Senator Kolkhorst.
  • HB 3398 (Johnson, Jarvis, D-Houston): Would require the TEA committee responsible for reviewing accountability appeals to review the challenges by school districts or charters. Requires that the commissioner not limit the challenge if the school district or charter created the inaccuracy and requires that the commissioner correct the rating if the rating assigned was too low.
  • HB 3861 (Bohac, R-Houston): Would allow districts who have been granted program charters by their board and who have contracted with a charter to jointly operate the campus and receive district-charter funding under last session’s SB 1882. Rep. Bohac said that this would only affect Spring Branch ISD and Aldine ISD in the Houston area, as these districts already have such program charters.
  • HB 3941 (Deshotel, D-Beaumont): Would require TEA to develop a process for providers to apply for the authority to operate an online adult high school diploma from for eligible students. Student must reside in Texas, be 19 or older, have been unable to satisfy high school graduation requirements at the normal time, have been unable to meet the graduation requirements of any other program, and meet any other requirements as set out by the commissioner.
  • HB 4209 (Davis, Y., D-Dallas): Would require that charter governing board members are elected and that their terms do not exceed four years. Parents of students enrolled would be able to vote. Rep. Davis said that the bill will be revised.

The Committee will meet again this Thursday for a formal meeting just to vote out bills that have been heard by the Committee so far. Chairman Huberty stated at the end of the hearing that most of the controversial bills have been heard now, but that nearly 600 bills have been referred to them. There are still several weeks of session to go and many more important bill topics to cover! Stay tuned.

Senate committee advances bills expanding virtual schools

The Senate Education Committee approved two bills Tuesday afternoon that expand full-time virtual schools in Texas. The committee voted unanimously to advance Senate Bill (SB) 2244, which would remove certain barriers to enrolling in full-time virtual schools and repeal the ability of school districts to charge fees for virtual classes. Members also unanimously advanced SB 1455, which would dramatically expand full-time virtual schools in a number of ways.

ATPE opposed both bills when they were heard the previous week and submitted testimony pointing out the research indicating full-time virtual schools offer a poor quality of education compared to brick-and-mortar classrooms, as well as years of performance data indicating chronic failure among virtual schools already operating in Texas.

The committee also approved the following bills by a unanimous vote:

  • SB 668, which contains recommendations from a working group on school district mandate relief.
  • SB 820, which would require districts to develop cybersecurity networks.
  • SB 1256, which contains cleanup language for the educator misconduct legislation passed as SB 7 in 2017 by the 85th Texas Legislature. ATPE supports this bill.
  • SB 1376, which contains recommendations from a working group on district mandate relief. ATPE supports this bill.
  • SB 2018, which would eliminate the committee formed to dissolve Dallas County Schools, now that its task has been completed.
  • SB 2180, which would establish a computer science strategic advisory committee to develop Texas essential knowledge and skills (TEKS) related to cybersecurity.
  • SB 2431, which would create a commission on digital learning that is structured similar to the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. The commission would meet during the interim to recommend a framework to incorporate digital teaching and learning in public schools.

Senate Education Committee meeting April 9, 2019.

Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) began the day by laying out SB 1895, which provides educators with professional development for blended learning. ATPE supports this bill.

Members next heard testimony regarding SB 608 by state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin). This is the sunset bill for the School Land Board (SLB), which oversees real estate investments within the General Land Office (GLO) that fund education. Typically, the SLB has sent disbursements to the State Board of Education (SBOE), which oversees the broader permanent school fund (PSF) portfolio. This oversight power is the board’s sole constitutional duty. Among other things, the sunset bill would expand the SLB to five members from three and allow the SBOE to have a voice in selection of some of the SLB members. SB 1659 by Watson would require the SLB to transfer revenue from real estate to the SBOE for PSF investment and divest and transfer most non-real estate investment assets to the SBOE.

SB 712 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., enumerates prohibited disciplinary actions against a student. This includes interventions intended to cause pain, peppery spray, food and water denial, verbal abuse, the immobilization of all four extremities, and similar actions.

SB 1412 by Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) would allow a school at risk of closure to execute an accelerated campus excellence turnaround plan, which includes paying high performing teachers a premium to work at the struggling campus. The bill includes ongoing support and a three-year commitment from participating teachers, 80 percent of which would be required to come from the top quartile in terms of demonstrating student growth. ATPE submitted neutral testimony that focused on eliminating a vendor contracting requirement and clarifying that districts may not be required to base their hiring decisions upon student test performance of the educators.

SB 1453 by Sen. Taylor would allow students to use calculator functions on their cellphones in lieu of traditional graphing calculators, which would no longer be required.

SB 1776 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) would require every high school to offer an elective course on “the founding principles of the United States.” SB 1777 by Sen. Campbell would require the U.S. History end-of-course (EOC) exam include ten questions from the U.S. citizenship and naturalization test.

SB 2042 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) would require a study of career and technology education (CTE) programs. This would include a look at what industries are in demand in each region of the state, and whether the CTE courses being offered by local schools adequately address those demands. The study would recommend the elimination of some courses that do not appear to benefit the workforce. ATPE supports this bill.

The committee also heard SB 2440 and SJR 78 by Sen. Taylor, both of which would move the administration of the PSF from the elected SBOE to a non-elected, appointed board of managers. The bill would additionally create a “bicentennial education fund” for the purpose of providing compensation for highly effective educators. ATPE submitted testimony against both bills, raising the concern that in virtually every case in which educator effectiveness is tied to pay, effectiveness has been determined by student test scores. Research shows that student test scores are neither valid nor reliable indicators of educator effectiveness. ATPE supports differentiated pay for educators who voluntarily take on more challenging tasks or pursue advanced training and certification, but we believe tying test scores to pay serves only to increase concerns about “teaching to the test.”

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 5, 2019

It was another groundbreaking week in the Texas legislature, and here’s a look at the headlines from ATPE Governmental Relations:


On Wednesday, the Texas House of Representatives passed landmark school finance reform legislation. By a vote of 148-1, Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) House Bill 3 passed the lower chamber, clearing the way for its consideration next by the Texas Senate.

The ATPE-supported school finance bill as finally passed by the House allocates billions in new money for public schools, reduces recapture, and provides homeowners with property tax relief. The House added bipartisan compromise language to HB 3 during Wednesday’s floor debate to ensure that all full-time public school district employees in non-administrator roles will also receive pay raises.

Read more about the bill and Wednesday’s major vote in this blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as attention turns to the Senate to find out how the upper chamber will respond to the school finance bill.


The Senate Education Committee and House Public Education Committee both held multiple meetings this week to hear a variety of education bills.

The Senate Education Committee’s meeting on Tuesday, April 2, 2019, largely focused on hearing bills pertaining to dual credit. The agenda for Thursday, April 4, included a host of bills relating to virtual schools, including some bills that ATPE opposes. Other pending bills previously heard by the committee were also voted out with favorable recommendations for the full Senate. Read more about the Senate committee’s activities this week in blog posts here and here from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins who covered the hearings.

On the other side of the Capitol, the House Public Education Committee’s Tuesday hearing covered topics ranging from pre-K to technology and educator preparation. The agenda for the committee’s Thursday hearing also featured a wide variety of issues, including one bill that ATPE opposes to require school districts to let home-schooled students participate in UIL activities. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier covered the House Public Education Committee hearings, and you can read her reports on the two meetings from this week in blog posts here and here.


ATPE is urging educators to oppose two Senate bills that would endanger free speech rights and limit the ability to teach students about content that relates to “a political philosophy” or “a matter of public interest.” The bills are Senate Bill 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) and Senate Bill 904 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), and both of them got a favorable nod from the Senate State Affairs committee this week.

SB 1569 and SB 905 would expand current laws that restrict the use of public resources for “political advertising.” The bills are unnecessary, since state law already prohibits using school resources for electioneering which is enforced by the Attorney General, and these two bills will have harmful unintended consequences.

SB 1569 would broaden the definition of political advertising, impose harsh restrictions on political speech by public school employees, and make it nearly impossible to teach students about elections or civic responsibility or anything deemed to fall under the vague category of “a matter of public interest.” SB 904 also tries to limit political speech by restricting access to government communication systems like a school district’s Wi-Fi network. It also calls for fining any third party that sends political advertising to a government email address. SB 904 will unreasonably penalize innocent third parties and have a chilling effect on free speech and political involvement by educators, even making it hard to teach students about anything related to politics.

Both SB 1569 and SB 904 appear to be reactions to the surge in educator participation in elections last year, and both bills are likely to spark constitutional challenges if passed. Based on their obvious targeting of the education community, both bills are reminiscent of unsuccessful efforts last legislative session to dissuade educators from joining professional associations that advocate for public education. With yesterday’s committee vote, these two bills have the potential to reach the full Senate for a floor debate very soon. ATPE is urging educators to contact their senators and ask them to reject SB 1569 and SB 904. Read more about the bills in this blog post. ATPE members can click here to visit Advocacy Central and send a quick message to their senator.


As we have been reporting here on Teach the Vote, the legislature is considering ATPE-supported bills to increase contributions into the TRS pension fund. This week the House Committee on Pensions, Investments and Financial Services considered one of the bills, Senate Bill (SB) 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which the full Senate has already passed unanimously.

SB 12 is being sponsored on the Senate side by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R- League City), who chairs the Article III (education) subcommittee in House Appropriations and is the author of another bill to increase funding for TRS via House Bill (HB) 9. (That bill, which ATPE also supports, was already heard by the House Pensions committee last week.) ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that during this week’s hearing on SB 12, Chairman Bonnen offered a committee substitute version of Senate Bill 12 that would replace its language with the language from his HB 9. After a brief hearing on the bill, the committee took the somewhat unusual step of immediately voting the committee substitute version of SB 12 favorably out of committee and recommending that it go to the full House for further consideration. The bill, which appears to be on an expedited track, will next go to the House Calendars Committee which has the authority to set the bill on a House calendar for a scheduled for debate. Once the bill has been approved by the full House, which it is expected to easily do, it will return to the Senate where Sen. Huffman will likely send SB 12 to a conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate language.

While both versions of the bill would increase the overall contribution rate into the TRS pension system and provide current retirees with a 13th check, the House language does so by focusing the entire increase on the state’s contribution rate without raising the rates of educators or school districts. Additionally, the House version provides for a substantially larger 13th check, up to $2400 per retiree vs $500 dollars per retiree in the Senate version of the bill.


 

House Public Education Committee hears bills on home-schooler UIL participation, health and safety, and more

On Thursday, April 4, 2019, the House Public Education Committee met to hear bills on several topics, including home-schooled students’ participation in UIL, student health, protected speech, and the available school fund.

ATPE supported several of the bills on yesterday’s committee agenda:

  • House Bill (HB) 348 (Nevárez, et al., D-Eagle Pass): Would allow school districts to provide increased compensation to a teacher who completes an autism training provided by a regional education service center. This bill was not actually heard by the committee yesterday due to a last-minute change.
  • HB 1602 (Hernandez, D-Houston): States that a school district may not begin instruction before 8 am and calls for appropriating over $755 million to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for the purpose of offsetting the additional transportation costs associated with the bill. Rep. Hernandez said that 34% of Texas schools start in the 7 am hour, and some students wait in the dark for the bus as early as 5:45 am. A student testified for the bill, saying it would help her get more sleep and receive less disciplinary action. ATPE member Yen Rabe also testified in support as one of several witnesses who cited increased safety and student well-being if the school day were to start later.
  • HB 2738 (Meyer, R-Dallas): Would expand educator misconduct provisions adopted through SB 7 from the 2017 legislative session to also include non-certified employees, such as those who may work in charter schools and Districts of Innovation. The bill would require TEA to create a “do-not-hire” registry of these non-certified persons.

ATPE registered in opposition to HB 1324 by Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls), which would require public schools participating in UIL activities to provide home-schooled students who meet certain eligibility requirements with the opportunity to participate in the activity. Districts would likely incur costs from this mandate, and HB 1324 does not ensure that home-schooled students would be subject to the same requirements and thus on a level playing field with their public school peers. Testimony on this bill was split between those who had concerns about implementation, costs to public schools, and increased government oversight, and those who wanted to be able to participate in UIL activities, especially sports. Read ATPE’s written testimony against the bill here.

The following bills were also heard by the committee yesterday:

  • HB 873 (Allen, D-Houston): Would require the admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) committee to review students’ behavior intervention plans (BIPs) at least annually for those who have a BIP as part of their individualized education plan (IEP). This bill also requires changes to the student code of conduct, including parent notification about the student’s BIP or if the student needs a BIP when violations of the code occur, and it changes law around the use of restraints and time-outs, requiring detailed notification to parents. Lastly, the bill requires that if a school district takes disciplinary action against a student with disabilities that results in a change in placement, the district must conduct a behavioral assessment and develop or revise the student’s BIP.
  • HB 1131 (Cole, et al., D-Austin): Would create the “Texas Public Finance Authority” to act as a “paying agent” under current law for the guarantee and payment of bonds. School districts could also borrow money from the new authority.
  • HB 1906 (Burns, R-Cleburne): Would allow a parent of a student with severe cognitive disabilities to request that the child be exempted from required assessments. The ARD committee would make further determinations on whether the student should be exempted and what the best assessment instrument for the child would be. Special education advocates testified about concerns with making sure someone is still held accountable for growth and progress of these students, and argued that assessments should be fixed rather than removing students from taking assessments altogether.
  • HB 2097 (Krause, et al., R-Fort Worth): This bill would allow only Arlington ISD to withdraw from TRS-ActiveCare under a pilot project. Representatives of the school district testified that healthcare costs for its employees under TRS are too high, but members of the committee were cautious and indicated there should be more study on statewide impact before allowing one district to have special treatment.
  • HB 2244 (González, M., D-Clint): Would define what is protected speech and require school districts to adopt a policy establishing rules regarding students’ right to exercise freedom of the press at school. Testimony supporting the bill included remarks from students, teachers, a professor, and a lawyer.
  • HB 2393 (Burrows, R-Lubbock): Would require the State Board of Education (SBOE) and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to develop a hunter education course for students in grades 7-12 that a school district can use as a part of its physical education curriculum. Rep. Burrows stated that there are barriers to children being able to take hunter education and that many violations have been committed by hunters, presumably as a result of lack of education.
  • HB 2555 (Parker, R-Flower Mound): Would update the guidelines on food allergies and require school boards and governing bodies of charters to update their policies on caring for students with food allergies who are at risk of anaphylaxis.
  • HB 2689 (Dean, et al., R-Longview): Would require each school superintendent to designate a cybersecurity coordinator to serve as a liaison between the district and TEA. Rep. Dean stated that student data, such as social security numbers, are particularly valuable and in need of protection.
  • HB 2739 (Meyer, et al., R-Dallas): Would require private school administrators to report misconduct by educators they employ to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) and allow them to obtain information from SBEC any reports the board has about prior misconduct or criminal histories of such individuals.
  • HB 2740 (Meyer, et al., R-Dallas): Would require the Department of Family and Protective Services to release information regarding child abuse and neglect investigations and allegations to private schools, as it does for public schools.
  • HB 3683 (Dutton, D-Houston): Would allow the commissioner to authorize a charter or campus program to provide a dropout recovery program for grades 9-12, at which 50% of the enrollment must be students who are age 17 or older. Eligible students would include those who have dropped out or been in a disciplinary alternative education setting, as well as homeless students, working students, asylees and refugees, or at parent request. Charter school advocates testified that the bill would improve student retention and completion.
  • HB 4205 (Craddick, R-Midland): Would allow repurposed campuses to be operated in partnership with certain nonprofits that have a successful record of operating a campus or charter. Former Speaker Craddick stated that a school slated for closure has only two options (close the campus or appoint a board of managers), and his bill offers a third option by allowing non-profit charters to partner with the school district to reopen the school. TEA General Counsel Von Byer said the campus would still have to be closed and repurposed, and that the repurposed campus would have to serve a majority of new students and offer a distinctly different academic program.
  • HB 4613 (Shaheen, R-Plano): Would allow parents to request an exemption from state and federal testing requirements for special education students, potentially through a federal waiver. Special education advocates testified with concerns on meeting federal reporting requirements and having accountability for all students, including those with disabilities.
  • HB 4611 (Huberty, R-Humble) and its related House Joint Resolution (HJR) 151 (Huberty, R-Humble): Would propose a constitutional amendment to allow the General Land Office’s (GLO) School Land Board to transfer up to $600 million to the available school fund. The current allowable contribution is only $300 million. Testimony from both the GLO and from Dr. Keven Ellis of the SBOE was neutral, focused on finding avenues to increase funds to the available school fund.

The following pending bills heard during prior meetings were voted favorably from committee on Thursday: HB 851, HB 1026, HB 1517, HB 1639, HB 1640, HB 1823, HB 2511, HB 2984, HB 3007, HB 3217, HB 3323, HB 3435, HB 3966, HCR 59, HB 843, HB 1160, HB 1276, HB 1632, HB 2030, HB 2184, HB 4310, and HB 2210.

The House Public Education Committee will meet again on Tuesday, April 9, 2019, to hear a variety of bills, mostly pertaining to charter schools.

Senate Education committee discusses virtual schools

The Senate Education Committee met Thursday, April 4, to discuss more than a dozen bills, most of which were related to expanding full-time virtual schools in Texas. The committee also approved the following pending bills:

  • SB 863, which would order a study of the costs associated with dual enrollment courses.
  • SB 895, which relates to the language acquisition of children eight years of age or younger who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • SB 933, which would create an office of inspector general (OIG) to investigate the administration of public education. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) introduced a committee substitute that would allow the OIG to investigate the Texas Education Agency (TEA), as well.
  • SB 1276, which relates to an agreement between a school district and a public institution of higher education to provide a dual credit program to high school students enrolled in the district.
  • SB 1731, which would expand the degree requirements for teacher candidates to include those majoring in education.
  • SB 2073, which would allow a school district that provides fewer than 180 days of instruction to reduce the number of days of service required of educators accordingly, without a reduction in pay.

Senate Education Committee meeting April 4, 2019.

Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) led off Thursday’s discussions with two bills related to cybersecurity. Senate Bill (SB) 820 would require school districts to develop cybersecurity networks, and SB 2180 would establish a computer science strategic advisory committee to develop Texas essential knowledge and skills (TEKS) related to cybersecurity.

Other bills heard Thursday included SB 2018 by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), which would eliminate the  committee created last session to dissolve Dallas County Schools, now that the committee’s task has been completed.

SB 713 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) would establish a mentor teacher allotment and additional support programs for mentor teacher programs. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 2431 by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) would create a commission on digital learning that is structured similar to the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. The commission under SB 2431 would meet during the interim to recommend a framework to incorporate digital teaching and learning in public schools.

SB 2433 by Sen. Taylor would move the remaining technology applications courses under the umbrella of career and technical education, which would make additional funding available.

SB 2386 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) would add the completion of a coherent sequence of courses that leads to an industry certification to the indicators of post-secondary readiness under the public school accountability system.

SB 668 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and SB 1376 by Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney) contain provisions of a working group of education stakeholders that met during the interim to agree upon ways to reduce mandates imposed upon school districts. As one of the participating organizations, ATPE registered in support of SB 1376, which includes the majority of recommendations made by the working group.

SB 1252 by Sen. Lois Kolhkorst (R-Brenham) is part of a larger push to reform or eliminate local Chapter 313 agreements, which offer businesses tax incentives to locate in a particular community. SB 1252 would require the education commissioner to reduce state funding to districts that receive supplemental funding as a result of a Chapter 313 agreement. Sen. Kolkhorst suggested that districts would be made whole for that lost revenue.

The bills on virtual schools include SB 380 by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), SB 947 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), SB 2244 by Sen. Paxton, and SB 1455 by Sen. Taylor. Each of these bills would have the effect of substantially expanding full-time virtual schools in Texas. Chairman Taylor offered up a committee substitute for SB 1455 that included some positive provisions regarding vendors, but did not address the large-scale expansion of full-time virtual schools proposed elsewhere in the bill.

ATPE submitted written testimony in opposition to all four bills, pointing to a growing body of evidence that indicates full-time virtual school programs are a poor substitute for brick-and-mortar classrooms. Full-time virtual school programs in Texas have been consistently plagued by performance issues. About 88 percent of the state’s total full-time virtual enrollment, roughly 8,400 students, are served by two providers: Texas Connections Academy, which has been labeled “improvement required” (IR) for three of the last six years, and Texas Virtual Academy, whose campuses have been either not rated or listed as meeting “alternative” standards. The failure rate for virtual schools is far higher than their traditional counterparts. By comparison, just 5.1 percent of campuses statewide were rated improvement required in 2016.

Texas House approves landmark school finance bill

Chairman Huberty addresses the Texas House before its final vote approving House Bill 3, April 3, 2019.

A major effort to improve the state’s school finance system took a giant step forward today after the Texas House of Representatives passed House Bill (HB) 3 this afternoon.

The bill, authored by House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), adds billions in new funding for Texas public schools, as well as tax relief for local property owners who have dealt with the increasing burden of funding public education while the state’s share of funding responsibility has decreased over the years. Efforts to reform the school funding system last session, also spearheaded by Chairman Huberty, failed after the House and Senate could not reach an agreement in 2017, despite debating the issue extensively in both a regular and special session. Instead, the legislature convened a commission to study the issue over the last two years. HB 3 approved by the lower chamber today reflects a massive amount of work and compromise.

In a press release issued today, ATPE expressed thanks to House members and, in particular, Chairman Huberty and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) for their leadership in moving the bill forward. “ATPE provided input on HB 3, and we are grateful that the concerns of Texas educators were given meaningful consideration,” said ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes. “HB 3 as adopted by the full House today represents a major step forward in replacing our outdated school funding system with one that will prioritize funding for students who need it the most, place greater emphasis on early learning, alleviate some of the burden on local taxpayers, and help Texas recruit and retain the best teachers,” added Dr. Holmes.

During today’s floor debate, the House added language to ensure that as school districts receive additional funding, their employees will be guaranteed pay raises. The floor amendment was authored by Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) and received bipartisan support plus the approval of the bill’s author. As amended, HB 3 now requires districts to spend at least 25 percent of any increase in the basic allotment on salary increases for their full-time employees, except for administrators. One-quarter of those salary increases may be doled out at the district’s discretion, while 75 percent of the increases must be funded in an across-the-board manner giving an equal amount to each eligible employee. Other pay raise amendments that had been pre-filed were withdrawn once it became clear that the House leadership would accept the Turner amendment.

ATPE also appreciates that the House kept other language out of HB 3 that might have derailed its chances for passing today. For example, there was no appetite for an amendment filed by Rep. Matt Schaefer attempting to add merit pay back into the bill. Citing the work of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, Rep. Schaefer argued that the state’s current compensation system for teachers “values tenure” rather than quality. A merit pay proposal was originally included in HB 3 as filed but was removed after ATPE and other educator groups expressed concerns about it and the emphasis it would inevitably place on standardized test scores. Rep. Schaefer withdrew the amendment today in the face of obvious opposition to it.

The House’s final vote on HB 3 today was 148-1. Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) was the lone “no” vote on the bill. Speaker Bonnen exercised his right to cast a supporting vote from the chair, which typically occurs only for bills that are a very high priority of the House leadership or when there is a need for a tie-breaking vote.

Today’s vote helped fulfill Speaker Bonnen’s pledge to make passing a school finance reform bill a top priority; Bonnen announced right after becoming speaker on opening day of this legislative session that he was stocking the House members’ lounge with disposable cups reading, “School Finance Reform – The Time is Now.”

HB 3 heads next to the Texas Senate, where Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) has filed his own school finance bill, Senate Bill 4, but has largely waited for the House to act on its more comprehensive bill.