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The Senate Committee on Education met March 18. The hearing began with a discussion with Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, who shared a slide presentation with similar information to that he shared at the House Public Education Committee’s first hearing. (Download the PPT)

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., introduced SB 178 relating to the employment of certified school counselors by school districts according to district student enrollment numbers. The fiscal note can be accessed here. Representatives for the Texas Counseling Association and the Texas School Counselor Association testified in support of the bill.

Sen. Lucio introduced SB 179 relating to the use of public school counselors’ work time. Lucio called on TEA staff as a resource witness to discuss the fiscal note that states an estimate for a negative impact of ($452,860) from General Revenue funds through the biennium ending August 31, 2023. The fiscal note also states: The bill would require districts to adopt a policy that allocates specific portions of a school counselor’s time to duties that are part of a counseling program. The bill would specify district policy requirements to include limitations on certain activities as well as exceptions. The bill would mandate that district employment contracts adhere to the policy. The bill would require TEA to conduct monitoring reviews of district compliance with the counselor policy, including interviewing a percentage of the districts’ counselors to be determined by the commissioner.

A TEA representative explained that the fiscal note relates to the two additional FTEs that the agency would need to hire to complete monitoring reviews. Representatives for the Texas Counseling Association and the Texas School Counselor Association testified in support of the bill.

Sen. Jose Menendez introduced a committee substitute for SB 89, explaining that the substitute bill language was supported by several organizations, including TASA and TASB. A provision was removed that would have required duplicative paperwork. Three people testified in support of the bill and its intent to provide a uniform manner to assess the needs of students receiving special education services during the two school years affected by the pandemic (2019-2020 and 2020-2021).

Sen. Beverly Powell introduced SB 338, which would allow a school district to adopt uniform general conditions that would be included in all the district’s building construction contracts. It would also add a representative of TASB and a representative of TASA (appointed by the Facilities Commission) to the committee that periodically reviews the uniform general conditions of state building construction contracts. The new appointees must be appointed by December 1, 2021. She explained that this would benefit smaller districts and would not mandate that any district adopt these standards. A witness for the Associated General Contractors of Texas testified in support of the bill, noting that this would help districts that do not have staff capacity when working on construction contracts.

Sen. Charles Schwertner introduced SB 204, which would allow a school board and a board of county school trustees to establish and operate a public school transportation system and would remove the requirement that the county or school district enter into an interlocal contract before offering the transportation to students living outside the county or school district. TEA resource witness Jeff Cottrill was asked if the issue around the interlocal contract was solved by the commissioner’s waiver process for such an agreement. Cottrill explained that initially a waiver was provided without conditions and all districts that applied received it. He said that the waiver process became controversial after feedback was received from districts that were losing students to neighboring districts, so a new process was established that required a good faith effort to enter into an interlocal contract, and that the receiving district must have a higher rating. Two superintendents and one parent testified in support of the bill.

Sen. Bryan Hughes introduced a committee substitute for SB 442 relating to local school health advisory councils and health education provided by school districts, including requirements regarding human sexuality instruction. The committee substitute, as discussed during the hearing, would not make the School Health Advisory Councils (SHACs) subject to the Open Meetings Act, which the original bill would have done. The substitute would also require school trustees to review materials for factual errors and perform similar tasks that the SBOE oversees as part of the state adoption process. The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, Texas Values Action, and some parents testified in support of the bill, stating that they believe current human sexuality materials used by some schools are inappropriate.