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The Senate Education Committee met May 4 to hear testimony on the following mix of Senate bills and House bills already passed by that chamber:

As the bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Judith Zaffirini laid out HB 725 by Rep. Jared Patterson. The bill 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. The adoptive parent of a child who would have benefited from legislation such as this testified. The bill was left pending.

Zaffirini also laid out HB 699 by Rep. Jon Rosenthal. The bill would require school districts to excuse the absence of a student that results from a serious or life-threatening illness or related treatment. The student’s parent or guardian must provide certification from a physician specifying the student’s illness and the anticipated period the student will be absent related to the illness or treatment. HB 699 would also require a school district to offer additional counseling and prohibit them from referring a student to truancy court if their absence is a result of severe or life-threatening illness or related treatment. HB 699 prohibits a school from denying promotion to a student if it is determined that failure to meet the requirements for advancement or to perform satisfactorily on an assessment was primarily due to circumstances resulting from serious or life threatening illness or related treatment. The father of Riley Schaudel, the boy for which this bill was filed, testified in support of the bill, reading Riley’s written testimony. The bill was left pending.

Zaffirini also laid out HB 785 by Rep. Alma Allen. The bill, as filed, would address behavior improvement and intervention plans for certain public school sudents, as well as notification and documentation requirements for certain behavior management techniques. It would require that a behavior improvement or intervention plan that is included in a student’s IEP must be reviewed at least once per year and at times more frequently to address changes in the child’s circumstances or the safety of the student or others. For student codes of conduct, the bill would require that they include information related to notification of a parent or guardian of a violation in the student code of conduct if the student has a behavior improvement or intervention plan and whether the school district recommends any revision to the plan; or for students who do not have behavior improvement or intervention plans, whether the school district recommends a functional behavior assessment of the student. For instances where school district employees, volunteers, or contractors use restraint and time-out for a student with disabilities, a school district would be required to notify the student’s parent or guardian for each use of restraint and would prescribe information that must be included in such notification. The school district must also include a copy of the written notification provided to the student’s parent/guardian in the student’s special education eligibility school records. In cases where the student has a behavior improvement or intervention plan, the school must document each use of time-out prompted by behavior of the student. Finally, in the case of a student with a disability who receives special education services, if a school district takes disciplinary action that constitutes a change in placement under federal law, the district is required to: conduct a behavioral assessment of the student and they must review any previously conducted assessment or plan developed for the student as a result of the assessment. Then they must develop a behavior improvement plan if the student does not have one, or revise a plan if the student has a behavior improvement or intervention plan. A representative of the Coalition for Texans with Disabilities testified in support of the bill, which was left pending.

As the Senate sponsor, Sen. Kel Seliger laid out HB 1603 by Rep. Dan Huberty. As filed, it would extend requirements for the use of individual graduation committees and other alternative methods to satisfy certain public high school graduation requirements. These laws are set to expire on September 1, 2023. HB 1603 would extend these requirements indefinitely. This includes: requiring an open-enrollment charter to establish an individual graduation committee; charters being subject to graduation qualification procedures established by the commissioner; allowing a student who performs satisfactorily on the Texas Success Initiative diagnostic test, but who does not perform satisfactorily on an end of course assessment for Algebra I or English I to have satisfied the requirement concerning end of course assessments. Seliger testified that 20 percent of students with IGCs are not allowed to graduate, so IGCs are not serving as a passthrough. He said that IGCs do help students who deserve to graduate but face obstacles due to STAAR. The bill was left pending.

Sen. Bryan Hughes laid out a committee substitute for SB 487. As filed, SB 487 requires a municipality to consider an open-enrollment charter school a school district for purposes of zoning, permitting, code compliance, and development. School district land development standards would apply to open-enrollment charter schools as well. SB 487 also prohibits a municipality, county, or political subdivision from enacting or enforcing an order, ordinance, regulation, resolution, rule, or policy that prohibits an open-enrollment charter school from operating at any location within the municipality, county, or political subdivision. Charter schools are not required to pay impact fees unless payment of the fees is part of a contractual agreement. Houston bond attorney Tom Sage testified in support of the bill, stating that cities are placing more requirements on charter schools than on traditional districts related to zoning, etc. Sen. Royce West raised questions about placement of charter schools near traditional public schools that are meeting the standards of the state accountability system. Sen. Beverly Powell asked questions about what happens to the properties of charter schools that lose their charters and stressed that it’s important for schools and cities/municipalities to work together to stay within the city’s rules/ordinances. Sen. Angela Paxton said the bill would make charter schools meet the same requirements as traditional districts regarding zoning and development. Several students of the same charter school and a parent testified in support of the bill, which was left pending.

Chair Larry Taylor laid out a substitute for HB 1147 by Rep. Dan Huberty. The bill would include enlisting in the Texas National Guard as an indicator of military readiness by which schools receive bonuses under the Foundation School Program. The substitute adds this as an indicator in the accountability system. A representative of the Texas Public Policy Foundation testified in support of the bill, which was left pending.