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The Senate Education Committee met May 6 to hear testimony on five bills:

Chair Larry Taylor laid out a substitute for SB 2094. As substituted, it would: remove grade promotion requirements tied to STAAR tests for grades 5 and 8; establish accelerated learning committees and instruction for students who do not perform satisfactorily on standardized tests in grades 3, 5, and 8 or on end-of-course exams; create accelerated learning and outcomes bonus; repeal the requirement that schools administer state exams to students after failing an exam; prohibit a school from pulling a student from recess for accelerated instruction; provide that students in grades 4, 6, and 9 who do not perform satisfactorily must be placed in a classroom with a certified teacher the following year. The substitute removes provisions granting the commissioner additional authority over assessments that was included in the original bill. Charles Luke, representing Pastors for Texas Children, testified against the bill because he said it included outcomes-based funding and that teachers should not be paid based on the performance of their students. He said similar plans in the past caused a lot of turmoil among teachers and administrators. The bill was left pending after a contentious discussion in which Taylor stated that the status quo is not working.

As the Senate sponsor, Sen. Eddie Lucio laid outt a substitute for HB 1496 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver. He explained that the 80th Legislature passed HB 273, which intended to provide transparency to public money spent on fees to purchasing cooperatives. The law mainly applies to school districts, and requires the reporting of fees on any contract with a purchasing cooperative in excess of $25,000. However, the law was not clear on exactly which fees should be reported, leading to widespread confusion over the extent of the requirement. HB 1496 clarifies the intent of the law by specifying that the reporting requirement applies only to fees paid by school districts. HB 1496 amends current law relating to requiring school districts to report management fees under certain cooperative purchasing contracts. Lucio said the substitute does not make substantive changes but incorporates a technical suggestion to make clear the purpose of the bill. There was no testimony on the bill, which was left pending.

Sen. Angela Paxton laid out a substitute for SB 491, which would authorize equal opportunity for access by home-schooled students to University Interscholastic League sponsored activities. The bill also authorizes a fee. The substitute, she said, is simply a Legislative Council draft. Paxton said that 35 states allow home-schooled students to participate in school district activities. She also said the bill requires that parents provide written proof of passing grades and requires students to pass “standardized tests.” Discussion ensued among committee members about the bill but was mostly supportive, with Sen. Royce West raising a few questions. Jamey Harrison with the UIL testified on the bill, stating that home-schooled students, who are often more affluent, do not have to meet the same requirements or have the same stressors that district students, particularly low-income students, have and they’ll be competing for spots on teams. Lucio asked if there has ever been discussion of creating a new division within UIL for home-schooled students. Harrison said there had been these discussions related to home-schooled and private school students. He said they’ve encountered more parents of these students who are against this idea rather than for it, because they prefer to have their own organizations. Paxton asked for data on the prevalence of home-schooled students having personal coaches or other advantages. Harrison said he had none; his testimony was simply describing prior discussions the UIL has had in the past. A representative of the Texas High School Coaches Association testified against the bill, presenting the committee with a list of concerns that the group thinks need to be addressed with the bill’s language. Paxton asked if home-schooled students have the same access to sports scholarships as district students. The THSCA representative said that they do, through the club sport system. He was asked if part of his concern with allowing home-schooled students to participate was due to the potential for the level of play to be diminished. He replied no, but he is concerned that it could diminish the equity and “level playing field” that Texas has established in school sports with current UIL policy on who is allowed to participate. Several home school parents and students testified in support of the bill, which was left pending.

Sen. Beverly Powell laid out HB 690 on behalf of Rep. Will Metcalf. As filed, HB 690 requires a school board member to complete training on school safety. The State Board of Education will establish the requirement and will coordinate with the Texas School Safety Center to develop the curriculum and materials for the training. TASB’s Grover Campbell testified on the bill, informing committee members about the many training requirements already in place and safety-related training opportunities available to school board members. He provided statistics on how many trustees have taken this type of training in the recent past. Powell asked Campbell how often TASB training on safety is updated. He said it’s an ongoing process. A representative of Texans Care for Children testified in support of the bill, which was left pending.

SB 1968 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt was laid out. The bill would establish the Family Educational Relief Program and an insurance premium tax credit for contributions made for purposes of that program. The bill was left pending.

The committee voted the following House bills out of committee, sending them to the full Senate for consideration. They have already been passed by the full House.

  • HB 725 by Rep. Jared Patterson 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 2021-22 school year.
  • HB 785 by Rep. Alma Allen, as substituted, would require annual review of student behavioral intervention plans and reviews to measure progress of BIPs. The bill would also set up a process to inform parents of the use of restraints on students.
  • HB 1603 by Rep. Dan Huberty would remove the statutory expiration date from individual graduation committee law. Their use would otherwise expire on September 1, 2023.
  • HB 363 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver would require a third party (not a school district) to adhere to protecting student identifying information by requiring any operator or product that possesses any covered information about students to utilize a unique Texas Student Data System ID for each student. These parties must adhere to state-required student data sharing agreements.
  • HB 1147 by Huberty would add enlistment in the Texas National Guard to requirements relating to military readiness for purposes of the College, Career, or Military Readiness Outcomes Bonus under the Foundation School Program. The committee passed the bill 11-0 for consideration on the local and consent House calendar.