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The Senate Education Committee met April 27 and heard testimony on the following 10 bills:

Sen. Judith Zaffirini laid out SB 971, which would allow a local workforce development board to permit a child care provider to identify and refer children to the board who might be eligible for subsidized child care services. A representative of the Dallas Early Education Alliance testified in support of the bill, which was left pending.

Sen. Eddie Lucio laid out SB 180, which would strengthen the training for educators and principals to better serve and better educate students with disabilities. The bill requires that any training requirements for a certificate must require the individual demonstrate: 1. basic knowledge of disability categories under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and conditions that can be considered a disability under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and how these conditions and disabilities can affect student learning and development; 2. competence in the use of proactive instructional techniques; and 3. competence in the use of evidence-based inclusive instructional practices. The bill adds two additional criteria for educator preparation programs to be eligible for approval or renewal of approval: 1. incorporate proactive instructional techniques throughout coursework and across content area; 2. integrate inclusive practices for all students, including students with disabilities. The bill adds to language on principal certification to require that qualifications must emphasize the ability to create an inclusive school environment and foster parent involvement, as well as requiring knowledge of developing curriculum and instructional management for students with disabilities. It requires the board to include options that involve interaction with a diverse student population, including students with disabilities when they are proposing rules to provide options for field-based experience or internships required for certification. It requires that school districts, when designing staff development, use procedures that ensure training for for staff that incorporates proactive instructional planning techniques, integrates inclusive and evidence-based instructional practices for all students, including students with disabilities. Testimony by disability rights advocates was supportive of the bill, which was left pending.

Sen. Borris Miles laid out a substitute for SB 393, explaining that school districts and campuses are currently evaluated on three “domains” of indicators of achievement: student achievement, school progress, and closing the gaps. SB 393, as filed, would specify that for evaluation purposes in the “closing the gap” domain, disaggregated data should be used from African-American and Hispanic students as a whole as well as disaggregated by sex. The bill further requires that information reported may only be used for accountability purposes after the accountability ratings have been assigned for the 2024-2025 school year. There was no testimony on the bill, which was left pending.

Sen. Beverly Powell laid out a substitute for SB 2023, which would develop and support a statewide network of tutors as well as provide grants to certain qualifying school districts and open-enrollment charter schools. The program will be established only if the Legislature appropriates money specifically for this purpose. The bill establishes minimum standards for the program, including matching tutors with students based on the tutor’s expertise, providing high-quality pre-service training and professional support for tutors; provide compensation for tutors, etc. It also establishes which types of individuals are permitted to serve as tutors. These include: certified and retired educators; paraprofessionals and teacher’s aides; recent graduates of educator preparation programs, among others. The bill provides what grant money may be used for. The bill also creates a COVID-19 learning loss and student acceleration pilot program. The pilot program would be for the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years and would require that participating school districts and open-enrollment charter schools provide tutoring intervention to students to address learning loss due to the disruption in public education caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Powell stressed that the pilot program would be created only if ESSER funding is appropriated by the Legislature for that purpose.
A lengthy discussion on the bill by committee members was supportive of the bill, which was left pending.

Sen. Nathan Johnson laid out a substitute for SB 123, which would require the State Board of Education to integrate social and emotional skills into the TEKS for K-12, beginning with the 2021-2022 school year. Johnson said that there were originally five components to the bill, but the substitute is pared down. Sen. Bob Hall asked about the cost for school districts required to adopt character education programs. Johnson said the bill was not designed to create or require something new, but rather to hone how students are taught in these areas. Sen. Angela Paxton said that the character education program was already in law. Sen. Charles Perry expressed concern about asking schools and teachers to cover ground that was once parent responsibility. A witness testifying in support of the bill said the content would be integrated in such a way that it would help teachers get their students where they need to be academically. The bill was left pending.

Sen. Royce West laid out SB 1109, which he said was brought to him by the family of a young woman from Grand Prairie who was murdered by her boyfriend when she was 16, a little more than 20 years ago. The bill would require that the SBOE adopt rules that would require students to receive instruction on the prevention of child abuse, family violence, and dating violence during middle school and high school as part of the TEKS health curriculum. The bill would also require that a school district’s dating violence policy must include: a clear statement that dating violence is not tolerated at school; reporting procedures and guidelines for victims of dating violence; and information regarding TEKS related to dating violence. Schools must also make age-appropriate educational materials including information on dating violence and resources for students seeking help available to students. The mother and sister of the young woman who was the impetus for the bill testified in support of the bill, as did the Grand Prairie chief of police, who said that many children from homes in which violence is commonplace do not even realize it is not normal. He said the bill would provide students with information that could save lives. Following additional supportive testimony, the committee voted on this bill, sending it to the full Senate for consideration.

Sen. Royce West laid out SB 325, which would allow a district to expand a school-based health center to include delivery of mental health services, including mental health education. The bill also expands the membership of a local health education and health care advisory council to include at least one person who is a mental health care professional licensed to practice in Texas. Includes improved mental health as a measure that must be reported on by DSHS biennially in regard to the relative efficacy of services delivered by school-based health centers. A representative of Disability Rights Texas testified in support of the bill. A representative with the Citizens Commission on Human Rights testified against the bill because of sections 3 and 4, which he said sets goals for physical and mental stability of students and the concern is how that would be measured. The bill was left pending.

Sen. Jose Menendez laid out SB 2081, which would require that prekindergarten classrooms maintain a ratio of no less than one certified teacher or teacher’s aide for each 11 students. The bill would permit the commissioner to exempt a district from this requirement, provided that the school district apply for the exemption no later than October 1 or the 30th day after the first school day that the district exceeds the required ratio. A school district that repeatedly fails to comply with the mandatory ratio of 1:11 may be held accountable by the commissioner via the provisions of Chapter 39A. The bill applies beginning with the 2021-2022 school year. A representative of Texans Care for Children testified in support of the bill, which was left pending.

Sen. Royce West laid out SB 1792, which would require school districts to establish a leave pool that has at least one day of personal leave per district employee in it. Employees must be allowed to voluntarily contribute to the leave pool. Policies adopted by school boards for administering the leave pool must ensure that the number of personal leave days an employee is permitted to use from the pool is related to the number of personal leave days the employee has contributed to the pool. Mark Wiggins with ATPE testified in support of the bill. Will Holleman testified “on” the bill on behalf of TASB, TASA, and the Texas Association for Community Schools. He explained the differences between a leave bank and a leave pool and shared information about districts that already have similar pools/banks in place. He said he would continue to work with Sen. West on the bill, which was left pending.

Sen. Beverly Powell laid out a substitute for SB 998 on behalf of Sen. Bryan Hughes. The bill affects Rusk County and would allow its county voters to order an election on revoking the county equalization tax under the procedures that governed such elections when the equalization tax was initially adopted. The substitute draws a tighter bracket for Rusk County. The bill was left pending.