On Wednesday, March 13, 2019, the House Public Education Committee held its fourth hearing on bills. With 15 bills on the agenda, the topics covered included school start and end dates in Districts of Innovation (DOI), seizure training requirements, the assignment of students to uncertified teachers, concussion oversight teams, special education due process, suspension of students who are homeless, and adult education programs.
ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of House Bill (HB) 1051 by Representative Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), which would improve and make permanent the Goodwill Excel Center, a public charter school that is currently a pilot program. Exter testified that while no program is perfect, this one is “as close as you can get” and has married Goodwill’s 501(c)(3) dollars with state dollars to do more for students. Exter stated that the program gives more money back to its students than the system takes in state funding. Goodwill covers about 41 percent of the cost of operating the school. Furthermore, the leaders of the program have taken the time to create exceedingly high standards. Under HB 1051, these standards would be locked into law should the program be expanded. In closing, Exter testified that this program serves a unique set a students who are current not served by the public education system, adult dropouts, many of whom are over the maximum age which an ISD can enroll students. The Goodwill program found a gap that sorely needed to be filled.
ATPE also supported, but did not testify on, the following bills heard on Wednesday:
- HB 340 (Cortez, D-San Antonio): Would require students in full-day preK and K-3 to have at least 30 minutes of recess. Many registered in support of this bill, testifying on the importance of recess and play in child development.
- HB 1276 (Rosenthal, D-Houston): Would prohibit a teacher who has less than one year of teaching experience and does not hold the appropriate certificate from being assigned to teach students in grades 1-6 for two consecutive years. This provision would exempt small districts by applying the restriction to districts with 5,000 or more students.
ATPE registered against HB 1133 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), which would change the calculation of K-4 class size limits to use a campus-wide average for each grade level rather than a hard cap applied to individual class rooms. ATPE supports state mandated class size and caseload limitations for all grade levels and instructional settings. This allows for optimal learning environments. ATPE also recommends that the state limit class size waivers and require full public disclosure of requests for class size waivers. Using the average calculation proposed by HB 1133 would mask the size of individual classes and allow for increases in some classes while maintaining a limited average. This opens the door to compromised educational quality and less individual attention for students in classes above the average. Rep. Stickland expressed that the bill was for Arlington ISD and said that he would be willing to bracket the bill to Arlington ISD. However, ATPE recommends maintaining current law on class size limits.
The committee also considered the following bills, on which ATPE took no position:
- HB 233 (Krause, R-Fort Worth): Would prohibit DOIs from exempting themselves from school year start and end date requirements. Tourism and recreation industry representatives supported the bill, and expressed that the ability of districts to change their start and end dates negatively impacts their business, as well as the physical health of students. Those against the bill, mainly school districts, expressed that it is important for districts to retain local control over their calendar and that a shorter summer helps lessen the “summer slide” in student learning retention.
- HB 684 (Clardy et al., R-Nacogdoches): Would require seizure recognition and related first aid online training for nurses and school district employees who have regular contact with students. Rep. Clardy calls this bill “Sam’s Law,” and said that nearly 50,000 public students have epilepsy.
- HB 692 (White, D-Hillister): Would prohibit students who are homeless from being placed in out-of-school suspension (OSS). Rep. White suggested that the campus behavior coordinator, if available, may work with district’s homeless liaison to find an alternative. All testimony was in support of the bill and spoke to the importance of the school for students who are homeless in providing stability and quality of life.
- HB 808 (Dutton, D-Houston): Would require that, in districts with 1,000 or more African American males, only the performance of African American male students may be considered for purposes of accountability ratings. The purpose is to track the educational progress of this specific demographic group. Chairman Dutton made changes to the bill and stated that the bill would now just require disaggregation of accountability measures by race/ethnicity and gender, to unmask certain sub-populations such as African American males.
- HB 811 (White, D-Hillister): Would require that, in making disciplinary decisions (suspension, expulsion, Discipline Alternative Education Programs (DEAP), and Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs (JJAEP)), the school district board of trustees must also include in the student code of conduct that consideration will be given regarding a student’s status in the conservatorship of DFPS or as a student who is homeless. The testimony on HB 811 mirrored that of HB 692.
- HB 880 (Calanni et al., D-Katy): This bill states that the board of trustees of a school district may not make a severance payment to a superintendent that is greater than one year’s salary under their terminated contract and eliminates text requiring that the commissioner of education reduce a district’s Foundation School Program (FSP) funding by the amount of the severance payment. This bill led to discussion about how some superintendent’s receive “big payouts” to leave districts, and that this takes away funds from students.
- HB 960 (Howard, D-Austin): Would allow a school nurse to remove a student from certain activities if they suspect the student had a concussion. Rep. Howard and testifiers expressed that a nurse is highly qualified to make these determinations and that the bill does not change who can make the ultimate decision for a student to return to play.
- HB 961 (Howard, D-Austin): Would require that school districts and charters that employ a school nurse include the nurse on the concussion oversight team, if requested by the nurse. Would also require that nurses on these teams take a concussion training course every two years to remain on the team. The testimony on this bill mirrored that for HB 960.
- HB 1093 (Moody, D-El Paso): Would prohibit the Commissioner or TEA from adopting or enforcing a rule that establishes a shorter period than the maximum federal timeline for filing a due process complaint regarding special education and requesting an impartial due process hearing. Testimony was mixed on this bill, with parents and advocates supporting testifying that HB 1093 aligns state law with federal law and creates equity. Those against the bill felt that the current legal system works well enough.
- HB 1132 (Ortega, D-El Paso): Would allow a school district that currently holds its trustee election on a date other than the November uniform date to change the date to the November date before December 31, 2024. Rep. Ortega specifically expressed that El Paso ISD faced this issue.
- HB 2074 (Wu, D-Houston): Would prohibit districts from requiring a school counselor to assume a disciplinary role or have duties relating to student discipline that are inconsistent with their primary responsibilities. Testimony on this bill was positive, focusing on the idea that the counselor’s role is not to discipline students but rather to advocate for students.
At the end of the hearing, Chairman Huberty stated that the committee would meet again at 8:00 a.m. next Tuesday. The next hearing will likely begin with the committee substitute to House Bill 3, the school finance bill.