Texas education laws taking effect September 1, 2021
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Date Posted: 9/01/2021
Nearly 50 new state laws affecting public education go into effect September 1, 2021. Some are big, controversial bills that dominated debate during the regular session of the Texas Legislature, while others touched on less combustible topics. Let’s take a look at some of the headliners first.
Senate Bill (SB) 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) is the state’s two-year budget that takes effect with the new fiscal year beginning September 1. Notably, Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed the portion of this bill that was meant to fund the legislative branch of state government, including salaries and benefits for thousands of employees of the Legislature and related entities. Lawmakers have not yet succeeded in passing an additional budget bill during this summer’s special sessions that will restore the funding.
House Bill (HB) 3979 by Rep. Steve Toth (R-Conroe) is the civics bill that requires the State Board of Education (SBOE) to incorporate a long set of specific curriculum standards into the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for social studies, such as the founding documents of the United States, the history of white supremacy, the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, and more. The TEKS component of HB 3979 won’t be affected until the SBOE formally takes up the social studies curriculum standards for review and revision, which won’t begin until 2022. The Legislature is debating bills during the current special session that would narrow the list of statutorily required TEKS by removing references to white supremacy and the civil rights movement, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.
HB 3979 also states that a teacher may not be compelled to discuss “a particular current event or widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs,” and if they choose to do so, “shall, to the best of the teacher’s ability, strive to explore the topic from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.” Teachers may not award course credit or extra credit for participating in social or political advocacy or efforts to persuade elected officials to take specific action through direct communication. Furthermore, it prohibits making part of a course a list of concepts including that “an individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.”
ATPE opposed HB 3979 and related special session legislation because it inappropriately inserts the Legislature into the curriculum writing process. The SBOE has a well-developed TEKS review process that includes input from Texas educators, parents, and other stakeholders across multiple public meetings. Furthermore, the TEKS do not govern pedagogy, which HB 3979 attempts to do. Educators should be entrusted to follow their Code of Ethics and utilize their extensive training to present content in a responsible way that results in student learning.
HB 2519 by Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) provides additional notice to educators who are facing disciplinary investigation, requires the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to consider mitigating factors, and allows the board to consider alternatives other than sanctions. The ATPE-supported bill prohibits SBEC from sanctioning a teacher who gives proper notice of resignation 30 days prior to the start of the school year, which gives teachers 15 additional days beyond prior law. Finally, HB 2519 ensures at least two SBEC members are appointed from small or midsized school districts.
HB 547 by Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls) allows homeschooled students to participate in University Interscholastic League (UIL) activities. ATPE opposed this bill in part because schools will not receive additional funding to cover the cost of admitting homeschooled students and because those students will not be held to the same “no pass, no play” academic requirements as public school students. The parents of homeschooled students will be responsible for providing evidence of academic eligibility. During the first six weeks of the school year, the student must demonstrate grade-level academic proficiency on a nationally recognized test, such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), which may be administered and reported by a third party. Homeschooled students will be required to satisfy the same immunization requirements as public school students.
SB 288 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) provides a measure of leniency on the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) retire/rehire penalty without eliminating the penalty. TRS must first issue a written warning that an employee does not qualify for an exception to the retire/rehire rules before assessing a penalty. The bill also creates an exception for retirees employed to mitigate student learning loss attributable to the pandemic, so long as the position supplements normal staffing levels and is paid for entirely out of federal COVID-19 relief funds. The exemption expires December 31, 2024.
Here are the other education-related bills passed during the 2021 regular session that take effect September 1:
Educator Preparation and Certification
- HB 139 by Rep. Brad Buckley (R-Salado) allows an expedited process for educator certification of military service members, military spouses, and veterans moving to Texas from out of state.
- HB 159 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D–Clint) adds requirements regarding high-quality instruction for educator preparation programs (EPPs) with a specific emphasis on teaching students with disabilities, in addition to considerations for inclusive practices in the professional development provided by school districts to educators.
- HB 2256 by Rep. Bobby Guerra (D-Mission) creates a bilingual special education certification to help students with disabilities who are also English language learners.
- SB 226 by Sen. Angela Paxton (R–McKinney) requires educator certification candidates to receive preparation on virtual learning and providing virtual instruction.
- HB 246 by Rep Andrew Murr (R-Kerrville) amends laws regarding improper relationships between educators and students. The bill further defines the conduct that is subject to felony prosecution and provides limited confidentiality to a person accused but not indicted of the offense.
- HB 624 by Rep. Hugh Shine (R-Temple) increases criminal penalties for damage to property if the offense was done in retaliation for or on account of a person’s work as a public servant. For example, the bill presumably will increase the criminal penalty if a student vandalizes a teacher’s car in retaliation for a bad grade.
- HB 750 by Rep. DeWayne Burns (R-Cleburne), a bill supported by ATPE, requires a school district to post its employment policy on the district's website and post any associated forms on the district’s intranet site if it has one.
- SB 179 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) requires a school counselor to spend at least 80 percent of their work time on actual counseling—not other duties such as administering tests.
- HB 3898 by Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) adds requirements placed on the independent firm contracted by each public retirement system to evaluate institutional practices and performance.
- SB 483 by Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) requires a biennial report on the investment returns of TRS and the Employees Retirement System (ERS) of Texas.
- SB 1444 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) allows school districts a one-time option to leave the TRS-ActiveCare system.
- HB 690 by Rep. Will Metcalf (R-Conroe) requires school board member training on school safety.
- HB 1788 by Rep. Cole Hefner (R-Lindale) grants immunity for reasonable actions taken by school personnel involving the use of a firearm to maintain school safety.
- HB 2287 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) sets up a task force to collate and share student mental health services information with the Legislature.
- HB 3379 by Rep. Ben Leman (R-Brenham) applies a reasonableness standard to the legal duty to report instances of abuse, neglect, or indecency with a child within 48 hours.
- SB 239 by Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) calls for the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to distribute information on disease prevention and vaccination during a declared disaster.
- SB 445 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) allows a school bus to use a flashing warning signal light and certain other equipment while distributing food or educational technology.
- SB 741 by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) allows a school marshal to carry a concealed handgun.
- SB 785 by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) standardizes the expiration date of a school marshal license.
- SB 1191 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) specifies that a peace officer hired to provide law enforcement only for extracurricular activities is not considered a school resource officer.
- SB 1696 by Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney) orders the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to coordinate the anonymous sharing of information concerning cyber-attacks or other cybersecurity incidents between public and private schools.
- SB 1831 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) increases penalties for those who engage in the crime of solicitation or trafficking on school premises.
- SB 2158 by Sen Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) authorizes TEA to provide at-home DNA and fingerprint identification kits upon the request of a parent or guardian. These kits may be submitted to law enforcement to help locate and return a missing or trafficked child.
- HB 1147 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) allows school districts to receive outcomes-based funding for students who enlist in the Texas National Guard as part of the College, Career, and Military Readiness Bonus.
- SB 462 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) allows districts and charters that use their busses to provide meals and instructional materials to remote students during a declared disaster to receive funding through the transportation allotment, which is otherwise limited to funding only the transportation of students.
- SB 1232 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) enables the SBOE to create and delegate authority to a Texas Permanent School Fund Corporation, which would oversee the investment of the Permanent School Fund (PSF) and Texas Bond Guarantee Reserve Fund.
- HB 1252 by Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) ensures parents of students seeking or receiving special education services will have the maximum time permitted under federal law to request an impartial due process hearing.
- HB 4124 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) allows special purpose school districts to prioritize military-connected students in enrollment.
- SB 776 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) requires the UIL to create an adaptive sports program for students with disabilities.
- SB 2066 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) changes the phrase “students of limited English proficiency” to “emergent bilingual students” in Texas statutes.
- HB 30 by Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock) requires the Windham School District (WSD) for incarcerated students to offer a course of instruction leading to a high school diploma to each student who is under age 18 (or age 22 for a WSD student in special education).
- HB 2497 by Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) establishes the “Texas 1836 Project” aimed at promoting awareness of certain aspects of Texas history. The project will require, among other things, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to distribute a pamphlet with new driver’s licenses that promotes Texas as a business-friendly state.
- HB 3489 by Rep. Tan Parker requires TEA and the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to develop and distribute health and safety guidelines for the use of digital devices in schools. School districts can decide whether to adopt these guidelines.
- SB 123 by Sen. Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas) began as a bill to add social and emotional skills to the requirement that the SBOE integrate character traits into the TEKS. The description was changed to "personal skills,” but the content remained largely the same.
- SB 801 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) requires TEA to develop an agriculture education program for elementary school students.
- SB 2081 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) extends the 22-1 class-size limit for K-4 classrooms down to pre-K classrooms, too.
- HB 1247 by Rep. J.M. Lozano (R-Portland) creates a strategic framework developed by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), TEA, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to encourage work-based learning. The three agencies will submit a joint report to the Legislature by December 31, 2022.
- HB 3610 by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio) creates a tax exemption for the portion of property leased to a school district or charter school. The property owner is expected to pass the savings onto the school.
- HB 3767 by Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston) establish the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative to coordinate and improve information between the TEA, TWC, and THECB to promote workforce development.
- HB 3932 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) creates a state advisory council on educational opportunities for military children and provides for coordination among state agencies, school districts, and military installations concerning the state's participation with the interstate compact.
- SB 788 by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) requires TEA, TWC, and THECB to develop a model data-sharing agreement for student information between public schools and public and private postsecondary educational institutions.
- SB 1116 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) requires each county, city, and school district to post election results on its Internet website.
- SB 1351 by Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston) allows a school district or charter school to donate certain unused food items.
- SB 1677 by Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway) eliminates some data reporting requirements for schools and universities that were found to be redundant or unnecessary. For school districts, the bill repeals a statute that required a report on plans to increase higher education enrollment.
September 1 is the standard effective date for most new laws enacted by the Legislature during a regular session, but some bills take effect immediately upon being signed into law. In 2021, some of the education bills that went into effect earlier this summer included the school finance “clean up” bill HB 1525 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), Rep. Huberty’s HB 1603 making permanent the Individual Graduation Committees law, SB 879 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) changing the qualifications for designation as a dropout recovery school, SB 348 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) ensuring parents can access the instructional materials used in their children’s virtual classes, SB 1267 by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) that streamlines educator training requirements in state law, SB 1590 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) allowing some virtual field observations in EPPs, and the non-binding Senate Concurrent Resolution 17 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) urging the U.S. Congress to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision in Social Security laws.
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