Senate Education Committee approves virtual school expansion and numerous other bills during Saturday night meeting
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Date Posted: 5/23/2021 | Author: Mark Wiggins
The Texas Senate Education Committee met Saturday evening, May 22, after a rare Saturday floor session and approved a committee substitute to House Bill (HB) 1468 by Rep. Keith Bell (R-Forney). The bill would allow school districts to continue to offer expanded virtual instruction to students as they did under temporary exemptions during the pandemic.
HB 1468 would allow school districts to partner together in offering virtual instruction and allow districts to determine which students could access the virtual option, as well as the standards for the student to remain in the virtual option. ATPE opposes this bill because it could worsen the already catastrophic academic consequences of statewide virtual education over the past year. HB 1468 lacks a suitable mechanism for ensuring proper student fit, lacks minimum academic standards for participating students, and fails to ensure proper student-teacher ratios. ATPE joined with the three other statewide teacher groups in submitting our shared concerns about the bill in writing to the bill’s Senate sponsor, Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood).
The committee passed HB 1468 on a vote of 8-1, with Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) voting against the bill. Schwertner had raised concerns in previous discussions of virtual schools over whether they are appropriate for elementary-aged students.
The committee also approved HB 4545 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), which was heard earlier in the evening and would decouple grade promotion requirements from state assessment results and make several changes related to accelerated instruction. ATPE supports the bill's decoupling of grade promotion from state assessments, but we suggested the bill could be improved by funding accelerated learning committees through the school finance formula and removing a provision that would allow parents to select their students’ teachers. ATPE is also urging the Senate to maintain the favorable changes made to the bill on the House floor. The House removed problematic components of the bill that included broad commissioner authority and an outcomes-based funding program. Read ATPE’s written testimony on the bill here. Sens. Menendez and Powell voted against the bill, which the committee passed by a vote of 7-2.
The Senate Education Committee also advanced the following bills, which were passed unanimously unless otherwise specified:
- HB 129 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) would include civics education in the 6th grade social studies curriculum. As originally filed, the bill called for adding digital citizenship to the high school graduation requirements, but a substitute version of the bill moved that curriculum down to lower grades instead. ATPE supports the bill, which passed by a vote of 6-3. Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), and Schwertner voted against the bill.
- HB 572 by Rep. Dutton would create a dropout recovery competency-based program. The committee substitute adopted Saturday would convert the program to a study.
- HB 999 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) adds additional flexibility to the Individual Graduation Committees (IGC) law to help students affected by the pandemic. The bill would enable students who were in 12th grade during the 2020-21, 2021-22, or 2022-23 school years to graduate without considering their performance on required end-of-course exams. ATPE supports the bill. HB 999’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio), announced he would amend the bill on the floor to limit it to a single year.
- HB 1068 by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) would allow school district employees to use their personal leave for compensation on days designated as school holidays. The committee substitute specifies it only applies to non-exempt, non-salaried employees. ATPE supports this bill.
- HB 1504 by Rep. Christina Morales (D-Houston) would include ethnic studies within social studies as one credit, allowing students to substitute ethnic studies for world geography or world history. Sens. Bettencourt, Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), and Schwertner voted against the bill.
- HB 1754 by Rep. Ana Hernandez (D-Houston) is another ATPE-supported bill that would require student identification cards in grades six and up to include contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
- HB 2022 by Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) would allow a Medicare-eligible TRS retiree who dropped their TRS-Care health insurance coverage between 2017 and 2019 a one-time opportunity to reenroll in TRS-Care prior to January 1, 2024. ATPE supports the bill.
- HB 2256 by Rep. Bobby Guerra (D-Mission) would require SBEC to establish a bilingual special education teacher certification. ATPE supports the bill.
- HB 2287 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) would build upon the Collaborative Task Force on Public School Mental Health Services created last session by creating a protocol for data sharing and collection between the task force, TEA, and school districts.
- HB 2497 by Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) would create a committee to promote Texas history. The bill would require the committee to design a pamphlet for the Texas Department of Public Safety to distribute along with newly issued driver’s licenses. Sens. Menendez and Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) voted against the bill, which passed by a vote of 7-2.
- HB 2391 by Rep. Alex Dominguez (D-Brownsville) would allow open-enrollment charter schools to use a weighted lottery system for admission, with weights for student populations such as those who are at-risk of dropping out. The bill would also require the schools to post on their website how they admit students, including whether they use a lottery or weighted lottery.
- HB 2554 by Rep. Gary Gates (R-Richmond) would create a vocational high school diploma. ATPE opposes this bill as it would track certain students into a program that does not require certified teachers and for which there is little data on postsecondary opportunities. Sens. Menendez and Powell voted against the bill, which passed on a vote of 7-2.
- HB 2681 by Rep. Terry Wilson (R-Marble Falls) would offer an elective middle school class on the Bible. The committee added what is often colloquially referred to as the “Nelson amendment on fiscal responsibility,” which means the bill would not take effect unless the Legislature specifically appropriates money in the budget for the bill.
- HB 2756 by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) would increase flexibility in the ability of school districts to donate food to a nonprofit organization. ATPE supports the bill.
- HB 2954 by Rep. S. Thompson (D-Houston) is another ATPE-supported bill calling for a suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention program for optional implementation in elementary schools.
- HB 3400 by Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), which was heard earlier in the evening, would allow the child of a peace officer who believes their child is unsafe to transfer to another campus or district.
- HB 3597 by Rep. Will Metcalf (R-Conroe) would make various changes regarding school safety, relating to the work of the Legislature in the 2019 session.
- HB 3819 by Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth) would protect school nurses by allowing them, with parental authorization, to administer asthma medication to students exhibiting asthma symptoms, such as constricted breathing, even if they do not have an asthma diagnosis. ATPE supports the bill.
- HB 3864 by Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Junction) would allow school districts to excuse students from attending school for a career investigation day.
- HB 4124 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin), which was heard earlier in the evening, would allow special purpose school districts to prioritize military-connected students in enrollment.
- HB 3880 by Rep. Dutton would include students with dyslexia within the procedures and processes for special education, such as initial evaluation. Sens. Bettencourt, Perry, and Schwertner voted against the bill, which passed on a vote of 6-3.
- HB 4525 by Rep. Gates would order the State Board of Education (SBOE) to consider relevant economic and market conditions affecting the workforce when reviewing career and technical education course offerings. Sens. Bettencourt and Perry voted against the bill, which passed on a vote of 7-2.
- HB 1252 by Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) would prohibit the Texas Education Agency (TEA) from enforcing a shorter timeline for filing a due process complaint regarding special education than what is allowed by federal law. Sens. Bettencourt, Perry, and Schwertner voted against the bill, which passed on a vote of 6-3.
- HB 4465 by Rep. Dutton, which was heard earlier in the evening, would create a grant program for districts affected by disasters. ATPE opposes the bill because it gives the appointed Commissioner of Education a large amount of power in determining how the grant money would be spent, the ability to take the grant money back, and the ability to make unappealable and final decisions. The commissioner would also have authority to adjust school district funding based on grant funds, which would allow the state to use federal funding to supplant state funds. Chairman Taylor indicated this bill will look similar to HB 1525, which is another vehicle for the same legislation. Sen. Hall voted against HB 4465, which the committee passed by a vote of 8-1.
- HB 4509 by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood) would change the objectives of public education and required curriculum to incorporate concepts of informed patriotism.
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