The Senate Education Committee met Thursday, April 22, to hear testimony on the following bills:
Sen. Donna Campbell laid out SB 1082, which would permit parents to review any curriculum materials used in human sexuality instruction provided to students and would also allow a parent to request that any instructional materials used in teaching human sexuality be sent home with the student upon parent request. Additionally, parents must be notified of their right to review curriculum materials. Finally, the bill would repeal the requirement that schools make all curriculum materials used for human sexuality instruction available for reasonable public inspection. Representatives of Texas Catholic Bishops, Texas Values Action, Concerned Parents of Texas, and Texas Values Action, as well as other individuals, testified in support of the bill, which was left pending.
Sen. Cesar Blanco laid out a substitute for SB 168, which would establish active shooter drill requirements for school districts that choose to implement such drills. Per SB 168, policies adopted by school districts must: prohibit active shooter drills from simulating actual shootings; provide adequate notice to parents including the date and the content of the drill; require an announcement to faculty and students that a drill is about to start; establish age-appropriate standards for content that are developed by a team including teachers, mental health professional, law enforcement officers, and others and that also incorporate trauma-informed practices to address the well being of students participating in the drill; and provide for tracking data regarding efficacy and impact of active shooter drills conducted by the district (including any symptoms of indicators of trauma among student participants). SB 168 also requires open-enrollment charter schools that conduct active shooter drills to adhere to the same requirements. During a lengthy discussion by committee members on the bill, Sen. Bob Hall questioned whether a drill meeting the requirements of this bill (particularly the notice) would do anything to prepare students/teachers for a real event. A representative of the Texas School Safety Center answered questions as a resource witness. She explained the difference between a drill, which is practicing protocols and should not be stressful for students, and an exercise, which is more realistic, takes more planning (and therefore a planned date/time), and involves multiple response agencies. The bill was left pending.
Sen. Beverly Powell laid out SB 194, which would require TEA to include students who successfully completed a program of study in CTE as a performance indicator when evaluating the performance of high school campuses and districts that include high school campuses, beginning with the 2021-2022 school year. Powell said the bill’s House companion has been passed by the full House. Dr. Kevin Barlow, an assistant superintendent with Arlington ISD and member of ATAC, and Sherry Bonds, CTE director for Round Rock ISD, testified. The bill was left pending.
Sen. Charles Perry laid out a substitute bill for SB 1526, which would require any entity that operates a website, online service, online application, or mobile application used primarily for school purposes to use the unique identifier established by the Texas Student Data System. Allows school districts, charter schools, regional ESCs or another local educational agency to require operators to adhere to a state-approved student data sharing agreement that requires the use of unique identifiers. National assessment providers are exempted from the requirements of using a unique identifier if the provider receives covered information solely to provide access to such things as employment, educational scholarships, financial aid, or educational resources for middle school through high school students. The committee substitute extends the effective date to 2023. Jason Miller, CTO for Leander ISD, testified in support of the bill, stating that the bill helps districts protect student data. Other testimony in support of the bill included a vendor representative and Jennifer Berglund with TCEA. The bill was left pending.
Perry also laid out SB 1527, which would establish the Rural Schools and Communities Technical Assistance Center. The goal of the center is to assist small and rural school districts with implementation of the Collegiate Edu-Nation System Model in cooperation with TEA and to expand broadband internet development in rural communities. The center’s role is to facilitate alignment between TEA, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Workforce Commission. The commissioner of TEA is to select a nonprofit organization to serve as the center and to support school districts that are awarded a planning or implementation grant. Planning and implementation grants will be awarded annual to rural or small school districts. The bill also establishes expected/required outcomes for grant recipients. Districts that do not achieve expected outcomes will be assisted in developing and implementing an intervention plan to support the district in achieving the outcomes. Each school district that receives a planning and implementation grant is required to work closely with state agencies to assist in expanding access, adoption and use of broadband in rural areas to benefit educational opportunities and economic development. Perry explained that this bill is essentially taking the Roscoe Collegiate ISD model to the next level. Two students from the Roscoe P-TECH program testified in support of the bill, as did Dr. Kim Alexander, CEO of Collegiate Edu-Nation, and an academic coach with the Roscoe district.
Sen. Bryan Hughes laid out SB 534, which would extend immunity from liability to school districts, open-enrollment charter schools, and private schools for certain actions of their “security personnel.” For the purposes of the bill, “security personnel” include: school district peace officers; school marshals; school resource officers; and certain retired peace officers who have been hired by the school district or who volunteer to provide security to the district. A representative of the Texas Criminal Justice Organization testified in opposition to the bill.
Chair Larry Taylor laid out a substitute for SB 1444, which would authorize the TRS to establish a regional rating method for determining premiums charged in different regions of the state for the benefits provided under a plan of group coverage established under the program. The bill would permit risk pools established under Chapter 172, Local Government Code with school district members to participate in the Texas School Employees Uniform Group Health Coverage. School districts and risk pools may elect not to participate in the program, notwithstanding any previous election or requirement to participate. Taylor offered a committee substitute that would allow districts participating in TRS-ActiveCare to opt out of the program, but they must stay out for a five-year period. Districts that choose to stay in TRS-ActiveCare must stay in the system for a five-year period. The TRS executive director served as a resource witness. An ATPE representative and Beaman Floyd, representing TASA, testified in support of the committee substitute.
Sen. Angela Paxton laid out a committee substitute on behalf of Sen. Lois Kolkhorst’s SB 348. There was no testimony on the bill, which would grant parents authority under law to observe virtual instruction and review any teaching or instructional materials, or other teaching aids provided to the parent’s child while the child is participating in virtual or remote learning.
The committee also voted out the following 12 bills, which will go to the full Senate for consideration:
- SB 1527 by Perry (10-0 vote). See above for testimony on this bill; the committee went ahead and voted it out while Roscoe ISD representatives were in the audience rather than leaving it pending for another day.
- SB 215 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (9-0 vote) would create the office of inspector general at TEA to be responsible for investigation, prevention, and detection of wrongdoing an 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 in the state.
- SB 879 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (9-0 vote) 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. It also requires 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.
- SB 1277 by Sen. Royce West (9-0 vote) 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.
- SB 1351 by Sen. Borris Miles (9-0 vote) 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.
- SB 2044 by Sen. Jose Menendez (9-0 vote) 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.
- SB 1590 by Bettencourt (9-0 vote) would require the SBEC to propose rules for candidate observations to occur virtually in the same rigorous manner as in-person options.
- SB 1776 by Campbell (9-0 vote) would require each school board to “permit and encourage” the posting of a copy of the founding documents of the United States. The bill would also require each local education agency to offer a high school elective course on the founding principles of the United States.
- CSSB 1365 by Bettencourt was voted out with two present/not voting and one no vote. (A lengthy substitute was presented that the committee had just received, so Sens. West, Lucio, and Menendez wanted to wait to vote.) The bill, relating to public school organization, accountability, and fiscal management, would shift some power from school trustees and grant it to the commissioner/executive branch.
- CSSB 1716 by Taylor (9-0 vote) 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.
- CSSB 1955 Taylor (9-0 vote) would create The Learning Pod Protection Act, exempting Learning Pods from staff ratios, certifications, background checks, physical accommodations, regulations related to day-cares (including background checks), local requirements related to building or fire codes applicable to educational or child-care facilities.
- CSSB 2026 Taylor (9-0 vote) would require the SBOE to adopt TEKS that develop students’ civic knowledge, including an understanding of the foundations of the American experiment in self-government, as well as the history and traditions of civics in the U.S.; the structure, function and process of government institutions at the federal, state, and local levels; and an understanding of the Founding documents of the U.S.