Texas House Public Education Committee Chair Harold Dutton opened the committee’s first hearing of the second called special session on August 24 by explaining that one agenda item, SB 3 by Sen. Bryan Hughes, was being withdrawn and would not be heard by the committee. Dutton noted a similar bill on the agenda, HB 28 by Rep. Steve Toth, would be heard.
Rep. Keith Bell then introduced SB 15 related to virtual and off-campus electronic instruction at a public school, and the satisfaction of teacher certification requirements through an internship teaching certain virtual courses. Bell noted that he did not have a committee substitute, but that he expected clarifying amendments to be offered later when the bill is discussed on the House floor. Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath spoke as a resource witness. Rep. Dan Huberty, while expressing concern for the students and teachers who are getting sick as the new school year begins, said that he didn’t want to add to the restraints already in place that limit options for school district leadership during the pandemic.
Dallas ISD Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa testified in support of SB 15, but requested that the sunset date provision be removed so that more data could be gathered, and that the contract language provision also be removed as districts need flexibility. Hinojosa noted that the TXVSN was fully funded and allowed to operate without guardrails or enrollment caps, yet the same trust in operating virtual instruction was not being given to independent school districts. Representatives from Del Valle ISD, Austin ISD, Great Hearts Academy, and other individuals testified in support. A representative for the Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE) testified in opposition to the bill. Immediately after the testimony concluded, the committee advanced SB 15, expanding statewide virtual education beyond the pandemic, on a vote of 9-1.
SB 9, related to requiring public schools to provide instruction and materials and adopt policies related to the prevention of child abuse, family violence, and dating violence by Sen. Joan Huffman was heard next. Individuals testified for and against the bill. Consistent points of the testimony involved whether a parent opt-out or parent opt-in provision was preferred, and that the legislation should be in the health section of statute. The bill was left pending.
Rep. Steve Toth then laid out a committee substitute for HB 28, relating to civics instruction and requiring a school district to post all curriculum materials online. Toth said that the substitute contained the same provisions for civics academies as contained in SB 3, which had been pulled from the committee’s agenda. Toth noted other changes he plans to make to the substitute language, which was received by committee members right before the hearing, leading to confusion during discussion and testimony of Toth’s intention for the bill’s content moving forward.
Committee members discussed the provisions of the bill for nearly four hours before public testimony began. Huberty said that the most problematic provision of the bill was the requirement that all curriculum/lesson plans be posted online. He stated this would be a time-consuming and burdensome requirement for teachers who are already overworked; that it was unnecessary because of statute in place that allows parents access to the curriculum; and that there was no enforcement or monitoring mechanism in place. Note: TASA, TASB, TACS, and TEPSA provided joint testimony against the provision of HB 28 that requires the posting of all curriculum materials online.
Rep. Mary Gonzalez, who is also a member of the House Appropriations Committee, noted the expense of the legislation, including the over $14 million for Toth’s HB 3979, passed during the regular 87th legislative session, as well as the ongoing state costs anticipated to be over $14 million for HB 28 implementation. Gonzales said that federal COVID relief funds can’t be used for the civics academies as originally intended, leaving districts with the expense of teacher travel to civics academies, substitute teachers for those who attend the academies, etc. When asked by Huberty who would determine the amount of, and funding source of, the bill’s teacher stipend provision, Toth said that Commissioner Morath volunteered to determine the amount and source of funding.
There was heated discussion and testimony by more than 50 individuals for, on, and against HB 28. Many committee members offered to work with Toth to improve and clarify the provisions of the bill, which was left pending after numerous hours of discussion and testimony.
The last bill heard on the agenda was SB 2 by Sen. Charles Perry, relating to requiring public school students to compete in interscholastic athletic competitions based on biological sex. After a lengthy layout of the bill and discussion by committee members, testimony began around midnight. The bill was left pending after numerous hours of discussion and testimony.