Tag Archives: senate education

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.

Senate Education committee discusses dual credit

Senate Education Committee meeting, April 2, 2019

The Senate Education Committee met Tuesday, April 2, 2019, to consider a handful of bills largely focused on dual credit programs. The committee also voted to advance the following pending bills to the full Senate:

  • SB 1306, which would strengthen the requirement that a school district post the contact information of the campus behavior coordinator.
  • SB 424, which would clarify the criteria for determining the appropriate disciplinary action to be taken against a public school student who is in foster care or is homeless.
  • SB 926, which relates to the operation of a public school transportation system. Sens. Lucio and West opposed the bill, which passed by a 7-2 vote.
  • SB 1001, which relates to the suspension of a student who is homeless from public school.
  • SB 1679, which would ensure that a three-year old who is eligible for pre-K remains eligible when they turn four.
  • SB 1707, which would clarify that a school board is allowed to enter into a memorandum of understanding with a local law enforcement agency for the provision of school resource officers.
  • SB 1451, which would protect teachers from adverse employment consequences for simply reporting student behavior. ATPE supports this bill.
  • SB 2432, which would add harassment to the list of offenses for which a student may be removed from class. ATPE supports this bill.

The committee heard testimony and considered the following items:

SB 591 by Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) would permanently renew an adult education charter school program that provides adults with the ability to earn their high school diploma. This program has already been running as a pilot, and Sen. Watson’s bill would remove the pilot status. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 676 by Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway) would clarify residency qualifications for the purposes of public school enrollment as they pertain to the children of military personnel.

SB 1276 by Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) would provide for better alignment of dual credit courses between the local school district and partnering institution of higher education. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1323 by Sen. Taylor would require certain students who are awarded dual credit to complete and submit a free application for federal student aid (FAFSA).

SB 1731 by Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney) would expand the degree requirements for teacher certification to include education majors. This bill was developed jointly by the deans of several state colleges of education.

SB 2073 by Sen. Taylor would clarify that for districts that provide fewer than 180 days of instruction, the number of work days required of teachers can be reduced proportionately without a reduction in pay. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 251 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) would expand the provisions for a public school to enter into an agreement to provide courses jointly with a junior college.

The Senate Education Committee will meet again Thursday, April 4, to consider a number of bill pertaining to virtual schools. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

Senate Education committee considers discipline bills

The Senate Education Committee considered a number of bills Tuesday, March 26, many of which focused on various disciplinary issues. The committee also favorably voted out several bills heard previously. Members approved the following bills:

  • CSSB 243 (by a vote of 6-3 with Sen. Lucio, Powell, and Watson opposing), which would enable school marshals to carry guns on them at all times.
  • CSSB 316 (by a vote of 7-3 with Sens. Lucio, Powell, and Watson opposing), which calls for the attorney general to represent teachers in certain lawsuits. ATPE raised concerns when the bill was originally heard that the subjective determinations made by the attorney general could result in teachers effectively losing or delaying their effective representation.
  • SB 406 (by a vote of 9-1 with Sen. Watson opposing), which would clarify that school marshals could carry concealed handguns.
  • CSSB 213, which would make individual graduation committees (IGC) a permanent option for students who struggle to pass end-of-course STAAR exams. This bill and the rest of the pending bills below passed with the committee’s unanimous approval.
  • SB 372 would allow charter schools to hire and commission peace officers.
  • SB 435 would add opioid addiction to the list of topics addressed by school health advisory committees (SHAC).
  • SB 522 deals with individualized education programs (IEP) for students with visual impairments.
  • CSSB 1230 would create a reporting system for private school educator misconduct.
  • SB 1231 would clarify administrative reporting requirements for child abuse and neglect.
  • SB 1476 would clarify reporting requirements when an investigation reveals an accused teacher was not engaged in misconduct.
  • CSSB 364 would require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to develop model policies on recess.

Today, committee members heard testimony on SB 1451 by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), which would prohibit a school district from assigning a a teacher an area of deficiency in an appraisal solely on the basis of the teacher’s disciplinary referrals or documentation of student conduct. The bill would also prohibit a district from disciplining a teacher for documenting bad student behavior. Sen. Taylor introduced a committee substitute that would clarify that a deficiency may still be assigned separately, provided that a third party documents an issue. ATPE supports this bill.

Another bill by Sen. Taylor, SB 2432, would add harassment to the list of conduct that will result in the mandatory removal of a public school student from the classroom. ATPE supports this bill. The following bills were also considered Tuesday:

  • SB 424 by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), relating to determining the appropriate disciplinary action to be taken against a public school student who is in foster care or who is homeless.
  • SB 1001 by Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), relating to the suspension of a student who is homeless from public school.
  • SB 1306 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), which would require a school district to post on the district’s website the name and contact information of each school administrator primarily responsible for student discipline at a district campus.
  • SB 1707 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), relating to the duties of school district peace officers, school resource officers, and security personnel.

A handful of bills heard today were not directly related to discipline. These included SB 926 by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), relating to the operation of a public school transportation system, and SB 1679 by Sen. West, which would ensure that any children who are available for pre-K at the age of three remain eligible for enrollment at the age of four. ATPE supports SB 1679.

 

Senate Education passes first bills out of committee

Senate Education Committee meeting March 19, 2019.

The Senate Education Committee met Tuesday to consider several bills and pass its first bills of the legislative session. Members voted the following bills out of committee:

  • SB 244 by Creighton (6-2, with Sens. ‬Powell and West opposing), which would expand the number of school marshals allowed to one per district or charter campus and would remove the cap altogether for private schools.
  • ‪SB 477 by Creighton (8-0, placed on the local and uncontested calendar), which would create a standard renewal date for all school marshal licenses.
  • SB 811 by Hughes (6-2, with Sens. Powell and West opposing), which would create an immunity from liability for school districts that employ armed security personnel, including retired police officers and school marshals, from any damages that arise from any “reasonable action” taken by those personnel.

Members heard testimony on a number of bills, including several that revisited educator misconduct issues addressed during the 2017 legislative session.

Senate Bill (SB) 1256 by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) builds upon the original work done by SB 7 from the 85th Texas Legislature. The bill would expand the ability to track teachers who have been involved in illicit relationships with students to non-certified teachers and school employees by creating a separate registry managed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The bill would also allow TEA to close charter schools and revoke district of innovation (DOI) status for districts that fail to comply with the new law. ATPE supported this bill for thoughtfully filling in the gaps left by SB 7, which ATPE supported in 2017.

SB 1230 and SB 1231 by Bettencourt also build upon SB 7 by pulling in private schools and by expanding child abuse and neglect reporting requirements to private schools and charters, respectively. SB 1476 addresses reporting requirements to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) when an educator has been found to be wrongfully accused of misconduct. ATPE supported this bill.

A related bill, SB 933 by Bettencourt, would create an office of inspector general (OIG) within TEA with the ability to investigate districts and charter schools for potential fraud, waste, and abuse. The committee approved an amendment that expanded the inspector general’s purview to include the agency itself, which is in line with other agency offices of inspector general. Sen Kirk Watson (D-Austin) questioned the cost of creating and staffing an entirely new investigatory division and the veracity of the accompanying fiscal note that stated it would cost the state nothing.

SB 458 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) would add sexual abuse, human trafficking, and other maltreatment of children to the list of training topics required of public school board members.

Members also discussed SB 316 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), which would allow the state office of attorney general (OAG) to defend a teacher in a civil suit “as a result of an act that the teacher in good faith believed was incident to or within the scope of the teacher’s duties if the attorney general determines that the teacher acted in good faith.” Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) asked whether a teacher has the ability to waive the attorney general’s offer and use their own representation. Sen. Watson raised important questions about the subjective interpretation of “scope of duties” and “good faith.” ATPE submitted neutral written testimony that raised similar concerns, along with important considerations regarding legal timelines that could leave teachers in the lurch.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) offered SB 54, which addressed students participating in regional day school programs for the deaf; SB 522, relating to the development of a individual education programs (IEP) for a student with a visual impairment; and SB 895, relating to the language acquisition of children eight years of age or younger who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) offered SB 213, which would repeal the sunset on individual graduation committees (IGC). Currently, a student who fails one or more STAAR tests required for graduation may ask for an IGC to weigh their overall student career and potentially allow them to graduate. This ensures children who are otherwise strong students but may have performed poorly on STAAR for a variety of reasons are not handicapped by the refusal of a high school diploma. Under current law, students will lose this option after the 2018-2019 school year. ATPE supported this bill as an important safety measure, in particular when recent investigations have thrown the validity of the STAAR test itself into question.

SB 364 by Sen. Watson would require TEA develop model policies on the recess period during the school day that encourage constructive, age-appropriate outdoor playtime. The model policies must include guidelines for outdoor equipment and facilities on public school campuses that maximize the effectiveness of outdoor physical activity. ATPE supported this bill.

SB 372 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) would allow charter schools to employ security personnel and commission peace officers.

SB 435 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) would add opioid addiction to the list of topics covered by local school health advisory councils (SHAC).

 

 

Senate Education committee holds first meeting

Senate Education Committee meeting Feb. 7, 2019.

The Senate Committee on Education held its first meeting of the 86th Legislative Session on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, at the Texas Capitol. The committee’s chairman, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) kicked off the meeting by welcoming members to “Season Three, Episode One” of his tenure as the committee chair, and introduced new and returning committee members.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath provided high-level testimony on the “State of the State of Public Education” report produced by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). This report focuses on demographics, challenges, and progress toward the state’s “60×30” goal of ensuring 60 percent of students graduate high school with an industry certification or post-secondary credential by the year 2030. Commissioner Morath again stressed the importance of recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers in order to achieve this goal.

The commissioner also walked members through the current “A through F” accountability system, which is largely based upon different calculations of STAAR test results. Related to that, the commissioner explained efforts to develop STAAR test questions aligned to student expectations. Morath discussed the negative impact of poverty on student learning, which prompted comments by the vice chairman, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), on related factors such as hunger. Both have a direct impact on the cost to educate a child.

In acknowledging criticisms of the STAAR test, including the high stakes attached to it, Commissioner Morath suggested the test could be broken into multiple, shorter sessions, or move away from multiple-choice answers. The commissioner noted that either could pose problems with regard to legal requirements and the time and money necessary for development.

TEA’s State Director for Special Education Justin Porter followed up with a briefing on special education, beginning with enrollment numbers. The agency documented a sharp decline in special education enrollment around 2004. Enrollment has increased in recent years, which coincides with corrective action the agency was forced to take after an investigation revealed the agency had been illegally implementing a de facto cap on enrollment. Despite the current upward trajectory, special education enrollment remains significantly below the national average.

Under the current accountability system, special education students are performing “significantly behind” their non-special education peers. Porter suggested this potentially could be ameliorated by changes to the current college, career, and military readiness (CCM-R) indicators.

The majority of Porter’s testimony focused on the strategic plan put in place as a result of the corrective action order. Under federal pressure, the agency has increased monitoring activities and identifying areas of noncompliance and improvement. Under federal law, all students have a right to a “free and appropriate public education” (FAPE), and TEA has made efforts to inform local education agencies (LEAs) of their responsibilities. The agency is also hiring a contractor to launch a statewide media campaign to provide information about special education and parents’ rights. Sens. Royce West (D-Dallas) and Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) asked questions regarding the marketing program, including the total cost and whether districts and stakeholder groups had been recruited into the process.

Porter indicated there is also a shortage in evaluation personnel, which has resulted in many LEAs paying for contract personnel. The agency has responded with a $10 million grant to Education Service Center (ESC) 20 in San Antonio to provide services and reimbursements to LEAs without access to evaluators.

In addition, the agency has focused on professional development geared toward administrators and general education teachers, as well as training for school board members. The agency has also set up a call center to answer questions related to special education.