The Senate Education Committee met Wednesday, April 5, to hear testimony on a number of bills. Following is a summary:
SB 1515 (Phil King) would require public schools to display the 10 Commandments in their classrooms. Testimony was favorable on bill, except for an organization called the Texas Baptists, which testified against it due to concerns with freedom of religious conscience and infringement of parents’ rights to introduce the commandments’ concepts at their own pace. The bill was left pending.
SB 2368 (Campbell) would require school districts to operate for a minimum of 175 instructional days and for at least 75,600 minutes of operation, including time allocated for instruction, intermissions, and recesses for students. The bill would essentially prohibit four-day school weeks, per Vice Chair Campbell, who laid out a committee substitute. She said she filed the bill because the hardships that four-day weeks have on working families and concerns that the change doesn’t improve student outcomes, and sometimes negatively affects children, based on studies she’s read. The substitute bill requires a five-day week and seven hours of instruction per day. Jeannie Stone, superintendent in residence for Commit Partnership, testified in support of the bill.
Dr. Darol Hail, TASA Executive Committee member and New Waverly ISD superintendent, testified against the bill on behalf of TASA, the Texas Association of Community Schools, and his district. In his testimony, Hail said that 930 districts are now Districts of Innovation (DOI), and this bill would prohibit them from making the creative decisions that DOIs have been encouraged to do. He said that his district’s decision to move to a four-day week was made only after eight months of careful review of the research and ample community input that yielded 78% of the community, 84% of students, and 91% of staff supporting it. Hail said that in the past New Waverly ISD has had to go without teachers or hire the only candidate who applied for the job due to lack of interest/other districts offering much higher salaries. However, this year, he’s received 10-15 applications for positions he hasn’t even posted yet. He explained that teachers spend a great deal of time outside the classroom on tasks such as planning and grading that reduces their family time and cuts into their weekends. “Our teachers not going to spend less time on those tasks, they’re just going to have more flexibility to spend their time how they want to.” In response to how New Waverly ISD would handle extracurricular activities once on the four-day schedule, Hail said that the district settled on Fridays off for that reason. With about 70% of district students participating in one or more activities, students were missing instructional time on Fridays often to participate in events. Students will continue to have extracurricular events on Fridays, but not school.
Crosby ISD Superintendent Paula Patterson also testified against the bill. She said that four days of school per week with an effective teacher is much better than five days with a less effective teacher. Patterson said that her district’s hybrid calendar includes more than 78,000 minutes — several thousand more than minimum. She noted that the district has received more than 600 job applications in the last six weeks since announcing the four-day week.
SB 2372 (Campbell) relates to recommendations by local school health advisory councils regarding opioid addiction and abuse education in public schools. There was no public testimony on this bill, which was left pending.
SB 1475 (Creighton) relates to licensure and training requirements for school marshals. There was no public testimony on this bill, which was left pending.
SB 2407 (Hancock) also relates to licensure and training requirements for school marshals. There was no public testimony on this bill, which was left pending.
SB 1721 (Paxton) relates to the display of the national motto and historically significant documents to the founding of the United States in public schools and institutions of higher education. Sen. Paxton laid out a committee substitute for the bill, but changes were limited to fixing punctuation. Testimony was favorable. The bill was left pending.
SB 1720 (Kolkhorst) relates to the confidentiality of the identity of a public school employee who reports a potential threat to the school’s threat assessment and safe and supportive school team. A representative of the Association of Texas Professional Educators testified in support of the bill, which was left pending.
SB 11 (Nichols, et al.) would require the ESCs to act as school safety resources for school districts and open-enrollment charter schools in the region served by the center. It would require charter schools to comply with requirements of law regarding agency monitoring of school district and security requirements and regional school safety review teams. It would require that a copy of the child’s disciplinary record and any threat assessment involving the child’s behavior conducted as part of a school’s safe supportive school program be included in documentation provided to a school where a child is enrolling. It would require that multihazard emergency operations plans for school districts include measures that incorporate and address results of a safety and security audit and an on-site vulnerability assessment. It also includes a number of other provisions. See a full summary of the bill by searching for SB 11 on TASA’s Bill Tracker. Sen. Nichols said that a committee subsitute is being prepared for this bill. Josh Sanderson with The Equity Center testified in support of the bill but asked that the funding be increased. The bill was left pending.
SB 999 (West) relates to the requirement that providers of active shooter training at public schools and institutions of higher education obtain a certificate issued by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. Sen. West laid out a committee substitute. There was no public testimony on the bill, which was left pending.
SB 1647 (Parker) relates to dropout recovery education programs. provide districts and charters with options to help a student who is struggling. He said he has received and included input into a committee substitute that has a neutral fiscal impact and preserve local control. Testimony was supportive of the bill, which was left pending.
SB 1630 (Bettencourt) relates to an attendance policy adopted by public schools to prevent truancy. It would require districts to create policy that informs parents of importance of attending school, the ramifications if they do not, etc. It requires a meeting be held with the parent when a student becomes at-risk of being truant. The committee substitute laid out by Sen. Bettencourt clarifies language about when the meeting is required. A representative of the Association of Texas Professional Educators testified in support of the bill, which was left pending.
SB 2158 (Phil King) relates to the establishment of an adult education pilot program for certain inmates of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The program would be a partnership between the Goodwill Excel Center and the Windham School District. Testimony on the bill was favorable. It was left pending.
SB 763 (Middleton, et al.) would allow school districts to employ chaplains to perform the duties of school counselors. There was a lot of favorable testimony on the bill. A representative of the counseling association testified that the provisions of the bill should be added to a different chapter (Chapter 21 rather than Chapter 33) of the Texas Education Code because chaplains do not have educational counseling experience. A couple of others expressed concerns about chaplains’ qualifications to perform educational counseling tasks. The bill was left pending.
SB 2088 (Creighton) relates to a credit for prepayment of the amount required to be paid by a school district for the purchase of attendance credit under the public school finance system. Chairman Creighton said it would encourage districts to remit their recapture payment to the state earlier than expected so the state can reduce its tax revenue note. He said the state would be looking at $5 billion coming back to the state earlier than expected. The bill would offer participating districts 10% off their recapture amount. Johnny Hill, deputy superintendent for Business & Employee Services for Plano ISD, testified in support of the bill. TASA Executive Committee member and Port Aransas ISD Superintendent Sharon McKinney was the final witness of the hearing — 9:10 p.m. (12 hours after it started) — and she testified in support of the bill on behalf of her district, which she says pays 80% of its property tax collection back to the state for recapture. TASA registered support for the bill, which was left pending.
During the meeting the committee also voted out a number of bills on which testimony was previously heard in committee or a subcommittee. These bills will now go to the full Senate:
- CSSB 13 (Hall, et al.), which relates to a school district’s library materials and catalog, the creation of local school library advisory councils, and parental rights regarding public school library catalogs and access by the parent’s child to library materials and to affirmative defenses to prosecution for certain offenses involving material or conduct that is obscene or otherwise harmful to children. This bill was heard in committee March 29.
- SB 68 (Zaffirini) relates to excused absences from public school for certain students to visit a professional’s workplace for a career investigation day.
- SB 163 (Campbell) relates to parental approval for a student’s participation in human sexuality instruction in public schools. This bill was heard in committee March 29.
- SB 164 (Campbell) relates to the display of the national motto and the founding documents of the United States in public schools and the inclusion of an elective course on the founding principles of the United States in the curriculum for public high school students. This bill was heard in committee March 29.
- CSSB 357 (Hall) would expand the definition of who can serve as a school district peace officer to include honorably retired peace officers. This bill was heard in committee March 8.
- SB 544 (Blanco) allows SBEC to substitute two semesters of experience as a full-time instructor for the Community College of the Air Force for certification from another state when issuing a teaching certificate. This bill was heard in committee March 29.
- CSSB 562 (Sparks) relates to parental rights regarding a threat assessment of a student conducted by a public school’s threat assessment and safe and supportive school team. This bill was heard in committee March 15.
- SB 1068 (Middleton) relates to the removal of restrictions on funding and payment of costs for certain full-time online educational programs; authorizing a fee. This bill was heard in committee March 15.
- SB 1396 (Middleton) allows school boards to adopt a policy requiring every campus to provide students and employees with an opportunity to participate in a period of prayer and Bible reading on each school day if individuals involved provide signed consent. This bill was heard in committee March 29.
- SB 1861 (Bettencourt, et al.) relates to the provision of virtual education in public schools and to certain waivers and modifications by the commissioner of education to the method of calculating average daily attendance in an emergency or crisis for purposes of preserving school district funding entitlements under the Foundation School Program during that emergency or crisis; authorizing a fee. This bill was heard in committee March 29.
- CSSB 2482 (Menendez) would initiate an optional survey of schools to understand how Holocaust Week is being observed, etc. This bill was heard in committee March 29.
- CSSJR 29 (Paxton) proposes a constitutional amendment establishing a parent’s right to direct a child’s education.