House Public Education Committee Hears Testimony on 10 Bills
The House Public Education Committee met March 16. The committee heard testimony on the following bills:
Rep. Mary Gonzalez introduced HB 159, which would change the training and staff development requirements of educators and principals in order to better serve and better educate students with disabilities. She noted that the bill was supported by the House Public Education Committee last session and was voted out of the committee unanimously. Special education advocates testified in favor of the bill, including Kristin McGuire with TCASE.
Rep. Gonzalez introduced a committee substitute for HB 129 that would call for integration of digital citizenship into the sixth grade social studies TEKS. She said that the bill, as filed, would have added a high school graduation credit requirement for a course in digital citizenship. However, superintendents she consulted in her district recommended that these TEKS be introduced at an earlier grade level. Gonzalez explained that the impetus of the bill came from the task force convened by Gov. Greg Abbott after the August 3, 2019, El Paso shooting at a Walmart store. Beaman Floyd, representing faith-based organization Texas Impact, testified in favor of the bill, stating that values in digital space shouldn’t be different than other value systems.
Rep. Shawn Thierry introduced HB 1114, which adds mental health services and mental health education to the services that school-based health centers may offer public school students. Several educators and mental health professionals testified in support of the bill and for the need for more mental health supports for students.
Rep. Dan Huberty introduced HB 1603, which would remove the 2023 expiration date of the Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs) and make them a permanent feature in school systems. Making IGCs a permanent part of statute is a long-standing TASA priority.
Rep. Alma Allen, introduced a committee substitute for HB 785 on behavorial intervention plans. She explained that the substitute language deletes Section 2 of the bill as filed that required an inordinate amount of paperwork for teachers. Steve Alamen with Disability Rights Texas and other disability rights representatives testified in support of the bill.
Rep. Jared Patterson introduced HB 725, which would allow a child who has been in foster care in another state or territory to qualify for free public school prekindergarten programs, so long as the child currently lives in Texas, beginning with the 2021-2022 school year. He said that the bill was brought to him by a Texas constituent who was fostering a child who was in the Louisiana foster care system. The bill’s fiscal note indicated no significant impact on the Foundation School Program funds.
Rep. Patterson introduced HB 1080, which would ensure the eligibility for participation in University Interscholastic League activities of certain public school students who receive outpatient mental health services. He said that the bill came to him from constituents whose children were told by school district staff that there was a UIL rule preventing them from participating in UIL activities while they were receiving outpatient services. While serving as a resource witness, UIL’s Jamey Harrison said that there has never been a UIL policy that would exclude these students from participation. Rep. Huberty questioned whether a bill was needed as there was no policy excluding students receiving these services. Rep. Gary VanDeaver expressed concern with wording in the bill that would create a special class of students who wouldn’t be restricted from UIL participation for any reason, including violation of a UIL rule, and suggested that the language be tightened up. Rep. Patterson agreed. A mental health service provider testified in favor of the bill.
Rep. Steve Allison introduced a committee substitute for HB 445 that would add “the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion” to the list of positive character traits that are part of the required instruction for the TEKS for grades K-12. The committee substitute aligns the language in SB 123 by Sen. Nathan Johnson that adds social and emotional skills to positive character traits instruction.
Rep. Sam Harless introduced HB 759, which would create an electronic record housed at TEA of students deemed high-risk by threat assessment teams established with the passage of SB 11 by the 86th Legislature. Several committee members expressed common concerns and questions including:
- The label would remain in the TEA database until the student was 21 years old, an age by which most have graduated, joined the military, enrolled in higher education, etc.
- There is no appeal process to have the student’s name removed from the database.
- The database could lead to labeling and tracking students without a holistic context.
- How does the database and determining serious risk align with the fusion center? Is it duplicative? What is the threshold for identifying a student as a severe threat by threat assessment team vs. fusion center?
- We don’t have data to show if students of color who are receiving special education services or in the foster care system are being over identified by threat assessment teams.
Numerous organizations who advocate for students with disabilities, represent psychologists, and others testified in opposition to the bill and submitted joint written testimony opposing the bill. Law enforcement officials and one school district representative testified in favor of the bill.
Chairman Harold Dutton introduced a committee substitute for HB 353 that would include disaggregated data on student performance by sex for all ethnic groups in determination of state accountability ratings. TEA’s Jeff Cottrill served as a resource witness and testified that reviewing the data of subgroups of subgroups becomes problematic because the data must be masked when there are low numbers of students. Cottrill also said that TEA would need to seek approval from the USDE before making any changes to the state accountability system. He told the committee that TEA doesn’t report data now in terms of gender, but does collect it. Cottrill told Chairman Duttton that there was no fiscal note on the bill since the agency already collects the data.
All bills heard at the committee hearing were left pending.
The committee voted the following bills, on which they heard testimony on March 9, out of the committee unanimously:
- HB 690 by Rep. Metcalf regarding a school board trustee safety training requirement
- HB 1147 by Rep. Huberty adding the Texas National Guard as entity that qualifies for CCMR military readiness
- HB 773 by Rep. VanDeaver that would add completion of a program of CTE courses as an academic indicator
House Land and Resource Management Committee Hears HB 1348
The House Land and Resource Management Committee also met March 16 and heard HB 1348 by Chair Joe Deshotel. Of particular interest to independent school districts is the portion of the bill that eliminates the participation of elected officials in the approval of new charter school campuses. It would also deny members of a community the opportunity to provide input on the location of a proposed charter campus in their neighborhood. A letter signed by 16 education organizations, including TASA, was submitted to each committee member expressing opposition to the bill. Despite the opposition, the bill was voted out of the committee.