The Senate Education Committee also met April 20 and heard testimony on nine bills:
Sen. Charles Perry laid out a committee substitute for SB 1716 on behalf of Chair Larry Taylor. The bill would require TEA to create a supplemental special education services and instructional materials program that would provide qualifying students with a credit of up to $1,500 to purchase supplemental education services and supplemental special education instructional materials. Mandatory eligibility criteria would require that a student be currently enrolled at a school district or open-enrollment charter school and in a the district or school’s special education program. Other eligibility criteria must prioritize students that would entitle a school to compensatory educational allotment; who have severe cognitive disabilities; and who are eligible to be administered an alternative assessment instrument. TEA would be required to establish agency-approved providers and vendors for supplemental education services, and recipients of the credit are required to use the funds on services provided by agency approved vendors. Sen. Perry stated that the funds could not be used for private school tuition. A resource witness from TEA stated that this bill would simply codify the $1,500 supplement that was provided during the pandemic. A representative of Families Empowered testified in support of the bill. Charles Luke testified against the bill for the Texas Coalition for Public Schools, stating that while its intent is good, there is a voucher in the bill (a diversion of taxpayer funds directly to a citizen). He said it would be better if the $1,500 went through the school system. Steven Aleman with Disabilities Rights Texas also testified against the bill because it wouldn’t send the funds into the classroom but rather to private entities. Committee members expressed concern that advocates for children would turn down funding because it wouldn’t be channeled through schools. The bill was left pending.
Sen. Beverly Powell laid out a committee substitute for SB 980, which would require TEA to establish a suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention program for optional implementation at an elementary school that has experienced suicide loss among elementary students enrolled in the district or has a reasonable concern related to the risk of suicide among elementary students enrolled in the district, with priority given to campuses that have experienced suicide loss. Testimony was generally supportive of the bill, including that by representatives of Tomball ISD and Texans Care for Children. Testimony against the bill centered around the issue of parental consent. The bill was left pending.
Sen. Royce West laid out SB 1351 on behalf of Sen. Borris Miles. The bill would permit a school district or open-enrollment charter school to donate food to a nonprofit organization through a person who is directly and officially affiliated with the campus, including through a parent of a student enrolled. The bill amends the types of food that can be donated specifying that only packaged unserved food that is packaged on campus and has not been removed from the cafeteria may be donated. A representative of Harris County Public Health and others testified in support of the bill, which was left pending.
Sen. Royce West laid out SB 1277, which would require school districts that enter into MOUs with institutions of higher education to provide dual credit programs to designate at least one employee of the school district or institution of higher ed as responsible for providing academic advising to students who enroll in dual credit courses prior to the beginning of the course. A representative of Texas 2036 and others testified in support of the bill. The bill was left pending.
Sen. Eddie Lucio laid out SB 879, which would amend the qualifications for designation as a dropout recovery school by changing the requirement from 50% of students enrolled being 17 years old or older to 60% of students enrolled are 16 years of age or older. Lucio said that 45% of actual dropout recovery participants are age 16 or older, causing programs to lose funding. The bill would require the commissioner to designate a school, open-enrollment charter school or an individual campus as a dropout recovery school if they meet the 60% of students ages 16 years of age or older requirement, OR if the school applies for and receives designation as a dropout recovery school in accordance with commissioner rule. In either case, schools would still have to meet eligibility requirements and register under alternative education accountability procedures. A representative of Premier High Schools (ResponsiveEd) testified in support of the bill, which was left pending.
Taylor laid out a subsititute for SB 1955, which would create The Learning Pod Protection Act to prevent local municipalities from regulating learning pods that families form. The bill would exempt learning pods from staff ratios, certifications, background checks, physical accommodations, regulations related to daycares (including background checks), local requirements related to building or fire codes applicable to educational or childcare facilities. The bill prohibits the school district and local government employees from conducting site inspections that would not have been initiated but for the presence of a learning pod. School districts are prohibited from discriminating or distinguishing students and/or parents on the basis of participation in a learning pod. Learning pods cannot be required to register or report its existence or anything related to its operation. The substitute bill is a legislative council draft (no substantive changes). A representative of the Institute for Justice and others testified in support of the bill, as did a representative of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, who said that the number of students being homeschooled has increased due to the pandemic. He said that about 700,000 students in Texas are now being homeschooled. The bill was left pending.
Sen. Paul Bettencourt laid out SB 215, which would create the office of inspector general at TEA to be responsible for investigation, prevention, and detection of wrongdoing of fraud, waste, and abuse in the administration of public education by school districts, open-enrollment charter schools, regional ESCs, and other local education agencies. The inspector general would be appointed by the commissioner and serve until removal by the commissioner. The office would be given far reaching powers to conduct civil and administrative investigations, initiate reviews of education entities, conduct special accreditation investigations, make findings of face that an act of wrongdoing, fraud, waste, or abuse in the administration of public equation has been committed by a district, school, service center, other agency or any employee or agent. Bettencourt said that TEA is one of only a few Texas agencies that doesn’t have an inspector general. He also said that the revised fiscal note for the bill is $0. The bill was left pending.
Lucio laid out SB 2044 on behalf of Sen. Jose Menéndez. The bill would require the Commissioner of the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, in coordination with TEA, to establish the State Advisory Council on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. The goal of the council would be to provide coordination among state agencies, school district and military installations related to the state’s participation in and compliance with the compact and its activities. The bill establishes the members of the council; allows their meetings to be conducted in person or via telephone or other electronic communication; and requires that the council meet at least quarterly. Testimony was supportive of the bill, which was left pending.
Menéndez laid out SB 2050, which, as filed, would require that a student be removed from a class and be placed in DAEP if they engage in bullying that encourages a student to attempt or commit suicide, incites violence, releases or threatens to release intimate visual material. Additionally, the bill requires principals at public primary and secondary campuses to report any assault or harassment to local law enforcement. Finally, the bill requires a school district to establish a district-wide policy to assist in the prevention and mediation of bullying incidents. Menéndez said that the substitute bill he filed: strikes sections 1 and 2 of the original bill; requires TEA to create a cyberbullying and bullying policy as a minimum standard that districts could adopt or create their own; adds language to require PEIMS to include bully and cyberbullying incidents in district/charter annual reports. Maurine Molak, co-founder of David’s Legacy Foundation, testified in support of the bill. Chair Taylor called for a vote on the bill because Mrs. Molak (David Molak’s mother) was in attendance. The bill passed out of committee (10-0) and will be sent to the full Senate for consideration.
The committee then voted out the following bills:
SB 741 by Sen. Brian Birdwell (6-4 vote) would permit public school and junior college marshals appointed by the governing board to carry a concealed handgun on their person or place the handgun in a locked and secured location. Current law does not permit the marshal to carry a concealed handgun.
CSSB 776 by Lucio (10-0 vote) would direct the University Interscholastic League to create an adaptive sports program to provide students with disabilities access to team sports.
SB 2066 by Menéndez (10-0 vote) would strike the term “limited English proficiency” in statute and replaces it with the term “emergent bilingual.”
CSSB 2158 by Angela Paxton (10-0 vote) would require TEA to provide identification kits to any parent or guardian of a kindergarten or elementary student who requests one. The implementation of this bill would be contingent upon an appropriation of funds specifically for this purpose.
CSSB 27 by Taylor. The bill would expand access to virtual courses and remove barriers to participation in those courses. Additionally, it would create a regulatory framework for the authorization, operation and accountability of full-time virtual schools. Taylor explained that the substitute bill says unenrolled students could pay to take up to three courses. It clarifies that if district or charter operated a full-time virtual school in 2020-21 that they can continue to do that. It says that districts may prioritize students in their own district before they take additional students, and it allows for hybrid programming. Taylor said funding will not be based on completion but by ADA. West and Powell said that they would like to continue to work with Taylor on the bill as it progresses in the full Senate. Menéndez said he would respectfully have to vote in opposition but he would also like to work with Taylor on it. The vote was 7-2-1 with West present not voting.