The Senate Education Committee met April 8 to hear testimony on the following bills:
Sen. Royce West laid out SB 1267, which he said was born out of an effort to streamline educator training requirements by a workgroup of educators and administrators. It would amend various laws governing continuing ed and training requirements for educators and school personnel, including professional development for mathematics, cybersecurity, and student counseling. The bill is the Senate companion to HB 3804 heard by the House Public Education Committee April 6. Tim Miller, superintendent in residence with Raise Your Hand Texas, and Holly Eaton with TCTA, who both served on the workgroup, testified as resource witnesses. A representative of Disability Rights Texas testified against the bill because he said the requirements for special education training are weakened by it and asked that deleted special education references be added back in. A representative of the Texas Suicide Prevention Council also testified against the bill because she said the requirements for suicide prevention training were weakened. Eaton was asked to respond to concerns and said that the special ed requirements are covered by SBEC rules that require specialized special ed training for each type of certificate issued. She said the change in language around suicide prevention training was intended to give local communities more say, rather than requiring “one size fits all” training. The bill was left pending.
Sen. Angela Paxton laid out SB 1696 relating to establishing a system for the sharing of information regarding cyber attacks or other cybersecurity incidents occurring in districts. She said the bill would give TEA tools to help districts mitigate and prevent cyber attacks by allowing them to share information about threats across districts. A cybersecurity company representative testified, saying that cybercriminals share information but district IT officials cannot and this bill would help them better protect their district systems/data. West asked if charter schools should be also required to participate. Chair Larry Taylor and Paxton agreed they should. The bill was left pending.
Sen. Angela Paxton laid out SB 1697 relating to allowing parents and guardians to elect for a student to repeat or retake a course or grade. A parent would be allowed to make the decision on retaining their child in the grade they just completed after meeting with a committee of educators at the child’s school. The district would have to abide by the parent’s decision. For grades 4-12, this bill would apply only to students who repeat courses from the 2020-21 school year during the 2021-22 school year and for students who otherwise enroll during the 2021-22 school year. A fast food franchisee testified for the bill, stating that she has hired students who couldn’t do inventory because they “couldn’t even count.” She said they should not have been promoted to the next grade and their parents should have the right to retain them. The bill was left pending.
Chair Larry Taylor laid out SB 1522, which would make adjustments to the calculation of average daily attendance by limiting hold harmless funding to one school year beyond the time of the start of the calamity. If an event such as a pandemic began in the fall, the hold harmless would extend into the spring and the next fall semester. West asked if the governor could override this if it becomes law and Taylor said he believed the governor’s emergency powers allow him to override just about everything. No witnesses testified on this bill, which was left pending.
Taylor laid out SB 2026, which requires public school students to receive an education rooted in informed patriotism or the study of America’s and Texas’ founding documents. The bill requires the adoption of instructional materials to include these documents for K-12. In addition, the bill outlines specific social studies curriculum, for purposes of adopting essential knowledge and skills, to develop students’ civic knowledge in fundamental areas of American government. The bill would go into effect for the 2021-2022 school year. Taylor said this bill was filed out of concern that students cannot pass U.S. citizenship tests. West asked how this differs from what schools have been doing. Taylor said it puts access and exposure to the nation’s founding documents and related principles in the TEKS, which then requires an adjustment to the STAAR to test students’ knowledge of those. A representative of the Texas Public Policy Foundation and others testified for the bill. Other witnesses asked for amendments. Taylor said the bill is a work in progress and he’ll be working with stakeholders to polish it. The bill was left pending.
Sen. Carol Alvarado laid out SB 1063, which would create an optional one-half credit course entitled “Personal Financial Literacy and Economics.” This new course would consist of one-third instruction time in economics and two-thirds instruction time in personal financial literacy. Students would be able to take the personal financial literacy course and fulfill the existing one-half credit requirement in economics. Several witnesses testified for the bill, which was left pending.
Sen. Donna Campbell laid out SB 1776, which would require districts to offer an elective course on the founding principles of the United States in the curriculum for public high school students and the posting of the founding documents. The bill encourages the posting of some founding documents on high school campuses. Several witnesses testified on or for the bill, which was left pending.
Sen. Eddie Lucio laid out SB 462, which would provide funding under the transportation allotment for transporting meals and instructional materials to a student’s residence. The reimbursement would be the same as for the transportation system’s normal routes, allowing districts to maintain funding when their transportation system may not otherwise be in use. A representative of the Texas Association for Pupil Transportation testified for the bill, which was left pending.
Sen. Paul Bettencourt laid out a substitute for SB 1615, which would create a subchapter in the Education Code for public adult high school education that is designed to meet the needs of adult learners. Several witnesses testified in support of the bill, which was left pending.
Sen. Lois Kolkhorst laid out a substitute for SB 369 relating to the notice required regarding the requirement to submit a FAFSA as a condition of high school graduation for public school students. The bill would require that the opt-out form adopted by school districts or open-enrollment charter schools provide the student or the student’s parent or other person standing in parental relation the opportunity to decline to complete and submit a financial aid application. It also prohibits a school counselor from indicating that a student has not complied with the requirement if the school district or open-enrollment charter school fails to provide the form to the student or the student’s parent or other person standing in parental relation to the student. There was no testimony on the bill, which was left pending.
Sen. Brandon Creighton laid out SB 785, which would make all school marshal licenses expire on August 31 occurring after the second anniversary of licensure to create a unified expiration date. Currently the licenses expire on marshals’ birthdays, making it harder for the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to conduct necessary trainings. There was no testimony on the bill, which was left pending.
Chair Larry Taylor laid out SB 1536, the Senate version of HB 1525, which is the HB 3 (2019 session) clean-up bill. SB 1536 makes changes to various aspects of the school finance system, such as adjusting how CTE weights are applied, how the state compensatory education allotment is applied to homeless students, tax rate modifications, and the ability for districts to appeal appraised tax values, special education funding reporting modification, funding for ESC staff salary increases, etc. See a list of issues addressed in SB 1536. Mike Lee, executive director of TARS, testified on the bill, citing concerns about the bill’s CTE allotment adjustment and its negative impact on small/midsize districts. TASA’s Amy Beneski also testified on the bill, citing similar concerns about the CTE adjustment as well as on language relating to M&O tax swaps. She also asked that the timeline for teachers to complete the reading academies be extended by two years due to the pandemic. Other witnesses included Ray Freeman with The Equity Center, Amanda Brownson with TASBO, Jesus Chavez representing South Texas Association of School, and Christy Rome with the Texas School Coalition. The bill was left pending.
Sen. Paul Bettencourt laid out a substitute for SB 1356 on behalf of Sen. Bryan Hughes. It relates to a program to facilitate public school tutoring by certain teachers. Under the bill, the commissioner of education would receive applications from nonprofit teacher organizations, which would facilitate tutoring of K-12 students by their members. Each association would inform their members of this tutoring program on a quarterly basis and provide contact information for their members to inquire with TEA and the school district within which the member lives and adjacent school districts. Interested teachers may tutor on a for-hire or voluntary basis, in person or online. Rehire penalties would not count against tutors who are retired teachers. Tutors could be paid from any available state or federal funds. Each district would establish a point of contact to oversee the district’s participation in the program. If active or retired certified teachers contact the district to offer tutoring services, the district shall utilize these teachers on campus or online and facilitate scheduling of tutoring sessions. Public schools would work with participating teacher associations to schedule tutoring sessions in subject matters or on topics for which there is not adequate tutoring within the district. Tim Lee with TRTA and Jonathon Feinstein with the Education Trust testified on the bill, which was left pending.