The Senate Education Committee met Wednesday, April 19, 2023. In addition to a number of bills from the Subcommittee on Higher Education, the committee voted out the following K-12 bills, which will go to the full Senate for consideration:
- SB 410 (Paxton), heard in committee April 12, requires the SBOE to adopt rules requiring students in grades 7 and 8 to receive fetal development instruction.
- CSSB 472 (Hughes), heard in committee April 12, and as filed, requires political subdivisions to consider charter schools the same as school districts for purposes of zoning and permitting.
- CSSB 588 (Hughes), heard in committee April 12, and as filed, allows schools to provide temporary teaching certificates to honorably discharged service members or first responders who meet all other eligibility requirements except that the person may substitute their service for the requirement to hold an associate or bachelor’s degree.
- CSSB 789 (Johnson), heard in committee April 12, and as filed, adds students who successfully complete a P-TECH program to the indicators of achievement for high schools under the state accountability system.
- CSSB 1072 (Hughes), heard in committee April 12, and as filed, allows a school board to add to the duties of its school health advisory council the policies, procedures, and circumstances in which a district employee may discuss human sexuality with students and a campus may host extracurricular events related to human sexuality. The bill prohibits district employees from discussing human sexuality with students and campuses from hosting extracurricular events related to human sexuality unless the board has adopted a policy stating otherwise. SB 1072 also allows the state attorney general or appropriate district or county attorney to bring a cause of action on behalf of the state if they believe a school is violating this law.
- SB 1087 (Schwertner), heard in committee April 12, allows students to earn more than one subsidy for completing an industry certification exam as part of a school career and technology program and allows a teacher to receive a subsidy for any CTE industry certification instead of just a cybersecurity certification.
- SB 1144 (Hughes), heard in committee March 15, requires a district or charter school to consider enrolling a student in a full-time virtual school as an alternative to expulsion for certain reasons.
- CSSB 1261 (Paxton), heard in committee April 12, and as filed, makes changes to the laws governing accelerated instruction and supplemental instruction for students who do not perform satisfactorily on certain assessments. The bill strikes the requirement that school districts establish accelerated learning committees for each student who does not perform satisfactorily on reading or mathematics assessments in grades 3, 5, and 8. SB 1261 lowers the minimum number of hours of supplemental instruction that must be provided from 30 to 15 hours and requires that the average hours of instruction per student for all students receiving supplemental instruction must be no less than 30 hours per student. It also increases the allowable size of a small group for supplemental instruction from 3 to 4, while maintaining that students may receive instruction individually. Parents or guardians are given the option to opt out of or to reduce the requirement for instruction by submitting a written request to the school district, although school districts are strictly forbidden from encouraging or directing a parent to do so. TEA is required to approve an automated or augmented method for providing supplemental instruction that may be used in lieu of all or part of the individual or group instruction required. School districts are required to develop an accelerated education plan for any student who does not perform satisfactorily on an assessment instrument for two or more consecutive school years. The plan must provide a minimum of 30 hours or more of instruction for each consecutive school year the student does not perform satisfactorily. The plan may require that the student be given instruction individually or in a group of fewer than 4 students and that the student be assigned to a specific teacher who is able to provide accelerated instruction. If an ARD committee determines that the tutoring model for supplemental instruction is not appropriate for a student, the committee is required to review the student’s IEP and adjust the plan to address those areas where the student did not perform satisfactorily. The bill was passed but there was discussion of floor amendments to come.
- CSSB 1474 (Bettencourt), heard in committee April 12, and as filed, seeks to implement many of the recommendations of the Texas Commission on Special Education Funding. The bill creates a retired special education teacher grant program to reimburse schools for certain retire/rehire surcharges; requires boards to hold an annual meeting to consider performance of students receiving special education services; and creates supports to assist schools in recruiting special education staff. The bill also creates an education savings account program for students leaving the public school system for approved educational expenses such as private school tuition.
- CSSB 1647 (Parker), heard in committee April 5, and as filed, adds charters to state law allowing school districts to use private or public community-based dropout recovery education programs to provide alternative education programs for students at risk of dropping out. The bill also adds education management organizations to the kinds of programs districts and charters may use to provide these services, which the bill also allows to be hybrid in addition to in-person and remotely.
- SB 2069 (Bettencourt), heard in committee April 12, removes the requirement for private schools to post signs regarding human trafficking penalties. Public schools would still be required to post the signs.
- SB 2124 (Creighton), heard in committee April 12, requires districts to establish an opt-out policy to enroll students into accelerated math in 6th grade to improve their chances of accessing Algebra I in 8th grade and advanced math in high school.
- CSSB 2368 (Campbell), heard in committee April 5 (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), and as filed, reinstates a minimum number of days a school must provide instruction in addition to the current number of minutes a school must operate and sets the number at 175.
The committee heard testimony on the following bills:
SB 1954 (Zaffirini) would require the SBOE to adopt essential knowledge and skills for the social studies curriculum, specifically focusing on the structure and role of the judiciary and the selection of judicial officeholders at the federal and state levels. Sen. Zaffirini explained that the bill is intended to improve students’ knowledge of the judiciary system, better preparing them to to make informed decisions on important issues, such as voting for judicial candidates or understanding court rulings. Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht testified in support of the bill, which was left pending.
SB 595 (Kolkhorst) would require parental consent for psychological or psychiatric examination, testing, or treatment conducted by a school district employee. It is similar to HB 1149 (Swanson), heard by the House Public Education Committee April 18. In fact, many of the same witnesses provided the same or similar testimony on SB 595 as they did on HB 1149 (see that testimony). Sen. Kolkhorst laid out a substitute bill that she said specifies that a school employee may continue to verbally inquire about a student’s well-being (one of the concerns voiced about HB 1149) without parental consent. She also said the bill requires parents to opt in, rather than opt out, of the psychiatric/psychological exams/testing/treatment the bill addresses. Witnesses for the bill noted concerns that districts were collecting data on their children. Witnesses opposed to the bill said it could hinder teachers’ and counselors’ efforts to provide support to students and even their ability to fulfill their mandatory abuse reporting responsibilities or conduct screenings to prevent suicide. Sen. Menendez asked Kolkhorst if the “guardrails” put into place by this bill should be set a little wider at the middle and high school levels, with students at that age possibly not able to talk to parents at home, etc. She said that she believes the Family Code covers that and the bill offers enough flexibility as written. She said “sometimes mental health can be used as a weapon against you,” referring to mental health records or dashboard data being collected and following students into adulthood. Several witnesses and the senator expressed concern that kindergartners are being asked to share their feelings and reasons for their feelings in “circle time” at school, potentially sharing family tragedies that make other children feel sadness or other negative feelings. A representative of the Region 3 ESC explained that a lot of the focus on mental health that parents are seeing in schools right now is the result of the trauma caused by COVID. “It’s to provide intervention, not therapy,” she said. “Restorative practices are supposed to be identifying social skill gaps so we can teach to fill those gaps. .. If the system is broken, it doesn’t mean the design of the system is broken. It means people implementing it need more training.” She explained that there is only one person at TEA dedicated to restorative practices in schools. The bill was left pending.
SB 418 (Paxton) relates to the transfer of public school students between certain school districts, removing the condition that districts/counties be adjoining and more. Sen. Paxton introduced a committee substitute. Only invited testimony was given. Menendez said that the bill seems to lay out “a common sense form of school choice” and that “we should have heard this bill earlier because it might be the only choice that makes it.” Vice Chair Campbell responded, “Let’s hope not.” Sen Phil King said he has some fast-growing districts that aren’t maxed out on enrollment now but that know they will be next year, and he wouldn’t want to put them in a bad position by requiring them to take transfer students this year. One of the invited witnesses in support of the bill said the bill’s language gives districts latitude in setting their capacity so they can accommodate projected student enrollment over the coming year to be sure they’ll have seats for resident students. Paxton pointed to the language in the bill that specifies under what conditions a district may deny approval of a transfer. Sen. Springer brought up the issue of districts having to change classifications from 3A to 4A, for example, mid-year, affecting sports, etc. He also asked if the bill required transportation of students. The answer was that it does not and that current statute does not require districts to transport students. Time was running out in the committee’s morning session, and Paxton told Springer she has specific answers for him and would follow up. The bill was left pending.
SB 2403 (Springer) requires districts to report certain information about their programs for gifted and talented students. Springer explained that the bill was filed because some parents have raised concerns about the lack of transparency concerning their school district’s gifted and talented programs. Currently PEIMS does not house information on whether school districts are looking at a complete view of each grade level eligible for the gifted and talented program. This bill mandates that districts list this information along with other comparative statistics on their PEIMS websites. The executive director of the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT) testified in support of bill, as did a representative of Texas 2036. The bill was left pending.
SB 1557 (Parker) would allow the parent of a student who was victimized by a public school employee to transfer the student to another public school campus (within or outside district, charter school) or receive funding for the student to attend private school. Parker laid out a subsitute bill, which includes sexual grooming as grounds for student transfer. One witness suggested that the bill be expanded to include a parent’s report of student victimization, not just a conviction or report by the district superintendent, as grounds for transfer. The bill was left pending.
SB 1064 (Middleton) would increase the allowable margin of error for determining validity of local property valuations surveyed in the PVS, doubling it from 5 percent to 10 percent. Sen. Middleton said it would give an additional tool to CADs. He said there is a fiscal note on bill; the estimated cost for the FSP is $1.7 billion in additional state funds. Wayne Guidry, assistant superintendent of Longview ISD, testified in support of bill, calling it “one of the most important property tax bills that hasn’t been discussed yet.” He said there has been a 150% increase in the number of districts getting state values assigned over the past few years due to unprecedented property value increases. The bill was left pending.
SB 1471 (Bettencourt) would permit TEA to obtain criminal history record information for an employee on behalf of private schools that are accredited by an accrediting agency that is a member of the Texas Private School Accreditation Commission, and to provide that information to a requesting private school. Bettencourt laid out a substitute bill will expand scope of bill to national level. The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops and Texas Private Schools Association testified in support of the bill. Sen. West asked if this bill resulted in any cost to the state. A TEA representative said it would be about $100,000 for enhancements to TEA’s systems. The bill was left pending.
SB 2304 (LaMantia) requires districts and charter schools to provide information regarding the Texas Driving with Disability Program to certain public school students and parents and in the curriculum of driver education courses and driving safety courses. Sen. LaMantia laid out a committee sub, which requires in-class instruction on the program in driver courses. A representative of a group for people with disabilities testified in support of the bill, which was left pending.
SB 2141 (Parker) requires the SBOE, in adopting the essential knowledge and skills for the technology applications curriculum for K-8, to adopt essential knowledge and skills that include internet safety and keyboard use. It would prohibit the SBOE from adopting essential knowledge and skills for the technology applications curriculum for K-5 that include coding, computer programming, computational thinking, or cybersecurity, or that would require the use of electronic devices, digital instruction, or the internet, for any purpose other than as necessary for internet safety curriculum or keyboard use curriculum. Parents who said computers and other tech are harmful to students testified in support of the bill. One provided committee members with a QR code that takes them to an online list of resources on topics including screen time addiction. An elementary reading teacher also testified in support of the bill, which was left pending.
SB 668 (West) requires school districts to make available certain school safety training courses to employees of child-care facilities and certain organizations providing out-of-school-time care. Sen. West laid out a substitute bill, which adds the option of allowing private schools to receive the same traiing as out-of-school-time providers. He said this should not result in extra costs to districts; they are required to include these other groups in the training only if they’re already offering it, space allows, and there is funding for it from TEA. Testimony was supportive of the bill, which was left pending.
SB 1567 (Campbell) requires districts and charter schools to maintain physical copies of certain instructional materials (one textbook per class, one teacher version if one exists, and for the library to hold 5% of books related to the subject for students to check out). Sen. Campbell laid out a sub, which clarifies that instructional materials referenced in the bill refers to physical books. Sen. West asked if there was a fiscal note; Campbell said there was not. The bill was left pending.
SB 1506 (Hughes) directs TEA to create a standardized form for the management of treatment of students with epilepsy or medical conditions like it that result in seizures. Sen. Hughes said this bill builds on “Sam’s Law” to specify what should be in seizure action plans submitted by parents. A representative of the Texas Neurological Society testified in support of the bill, which was left pending.
SB 2117 (Creighton) and SB 2205 (Parker) were laid out together. SB 2117 would require that a school district bond election proposition include the following statement: “THIS AUTHORIZES THE DISTRICT TO TAKE ON ADDITIONAL DEBT” (and omits the words “IS A PROPERTY TAX INCREASE”). SB 2205 would require the district to increase the district’s interest and sinking fund tax rate for the tax year immediately following the tax year in which the bonds are issued in order to pay the principal of and interest on the bonds for that tax year, and the ballot proposition would have to include the following statement: “THIS IS A PROPERTY TAX RATE INCREASE.” Sen. Bettencourt told the other committee members that changes made in 2019 related to this topic took 38 years to pass and cautioned them from trying to make another change so soon. He said existing ballot language is working well. Discussion ensued. Two witnesses testified against the bills. Dr. Michelle Cavazos, superintendent of Gregory-Portland ISD, testified in support of both bills on behalf of her district and the Texas School Coalition. She said the current ballot language lacks clarity and is causing some distrust between communities and districts. She said the current language is inaccurate for voters over 65 who receive the over-65 exemption and have a tax ceiling (23% of voters in her community). Sen. Middleton stated that he doesn’t think the current language is confusing at all. The bills were left pending after more discussion.
SB 2428 (Creighton) relates to the removal of a public school student from the classroom for the possession or use of an e-cigarette. Creighton introduced a committee substitute bill, which ensures that priority for DAEP placement is given to students who commit violent offenses over students caught possessing e-cigarettes. It would let districts move students in DAEP for e-cigarette possession to in-school suspension to make room in the DAEP for students who’ve committed violent offenses. The bill was left pending.