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Senate Education Committee considers discipline bill, special education voucher

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

School Finance Educator Rights TEA | Commissioner | SBOE Privatization | Vouchers Deregulation | Charter Schools School Safety Testing | Accountability

Date Posted: 4/14/2023 | Author: Mark Wiggins

The Senate Education Committee met Wednesday, April 12, 2023, to consider bills related to classroom discipline and special education vouchers, among other topics. The committee also took votes on pending legislation it had previously heard, including a major school safety bill.

Senate Bill (SB) 245 by Sen. Charles Perry (R–Lubbock) would allow a teacher to remove a student from class based on a single incident in which a student interferes with the teacher's ability to communicate effectively with students in the class or with the ability of the student's classmates to learn.

The bill would prohibit a principal from returning the student to the teacher's class until the teacher has been provided an opportunity to participate in a conference regarding the situation. It would expand the types of conduct for which a student may not be returned to class without the teacher's consent.

SB 245 would also require a district to offer telehealth services if those are made available by the Texas Child Mental Health Consortium. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1474 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston) makes several positive changes to special education funding tied to recommendations from the Texas Commission of Special Education Funding, including funding special education based on seven tiers of "intensity of service as opposed the current placement model. However, SB 1474 also contains a special education voucher, so ATPE opposes this bill.

The bill would create a retired special education teacher grant program to reimburse school districts and charter schools for the retire-rehire contributions required for the employment of teachers who retired before Sept. 1, 2022. SB 1474 would provide grants for recruiting special education personnel and assisting them in becoming certified.

Also, the bill would require the board of trustees of a district or charter school to hold an annual meeting on the performance of special education students. It would require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to adopt a set of performance indicators, including college, career, or military readiness outcomes, tied to students receiving special education services.

SB 1474 would rename the supplemental special education services (SSES) program to "parent-directed services for special education students." It would limit grant provision per student to once before sixth grade and once while enrolled in sixth grade or above, while allowing an additional grant if additional money is appropriated.

Unfortunately, SB 1474 contains an education savings account (ESA) voucher that would divert public funds intended to serve special education students in public schools to unaccountable private schools where students receiving special education services would be forced to surrender their federal rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Public school students receiving special education services are entitled under IDEA to receive those services for free, even if that means providing services in an alternative setting outside of the local public school district. Students who leave the public school system are no longer entitled to those services and are limited to whatever, if anything, a private school is willing to provide for a fee.

ATPE supported SB 789 by Sen. Nathan Johnson (D–Dallas), which would add an accountability indicator for students who successfully complete a Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) program.

ATPE supported SB 1261 by Sen. Angela Paxton (R–McKinney), which is the “cleanup” bill intended to address issues stemming from the implementation of House Bill (HB) 4545 in 2021. This is the Senate companion to HB 1416 by Rep. Keith Bell (R–Forney). SB 1261 would lower the amount of accelerated instruction, or tutoring, required for students who perform unsatisfactorily on the STAAR test from 30 hours to 15 hours, increase the student-to-tutor ratio from 3:1 to 4:1, require the creation of a virtual or hybrid alternative to direct in-person tutoring, and offer parents an opt-out provision.

ATPE opposed SB 472 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R–Mineola), which is a perennially filed bill that would require cities and counties to treat charter schools the same as independent school districts for zoning and other regulatory purposes. Taking away the ability of local communities to determine how to regulate charter schools violates the concept of local control, which is a core ATPE tenet.

ATPE pointed out that charter schools, while part of the public school system, differ in several important ways from independent school districts. Charter schools are not directly accountable to voters through an elected school board, are not subject to the same oversight and transparency laws that apply to districts, and do not fund their building projects through voter approved bonds. For these reasons, it is inappropriate to treat them as identical.

The committee also heard SB 1664 by Sen. Royce West (D–Dallas), which would create a school safety accountability system with which TEA would assign and publish campus safety ratings. ATPE provided neutral testimony pointing out that while ATPE supports robust tools to ensure campuses comply with school safety standards, publicizing which campuses have failed to do so may have the unintentional consequence of alerting bad actors to schools that may be an easy target.

The committee voted SB 11 by Sen. Robert Nichols (R–Jacksonville) favorably out of committee on a 10-0 vote. Nichols presented a committee substitute that changed language from the bill’s original draft that would have allowed TEA to take over a district that fails to comply with any school safety standards. ATPE had voiced concern over this section as it would have granted the agency broad authority to override local control over matters that may be unrelated to school safety. The committee substitute would instead allow the agency to appoint a conservator whose authority would be narrowly confined to addressing the school safety failures that triggered the appointment of a conservatorship. ATPE appreciates the change to the bill and Sen. Nichols’ receptiveness to our concerns.

See the rest of the day’s committee agenda here.


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