Dear Key Communicators:
The 2017 Legislative Session is well underway and, as usual, there are quite a few bills that deal with public education. The purpose of this letter is to provide you with information on several education related bills that will receive consideration by the Texas Legislature over the next few months. I have mentioned previously about how the State’s A-F Accountability Ratings are woefully flawed and there needs to be major changes to the data being used. It appears that the Texas Senate leadership is committed to the A-F ratings so we will attempt to have a positive impact on how the ratings are determined. This issue, along with school vouchers will be the biggest topics of discussion in education during this session.
While we are working on some possible improvements to the accountability system, it is obvious that the current A-F system does not inform parents on how their child’s school and district performs. Here are a few topics that warrant our interest at the present time.
- School Finance Bills: The current state of school finance is that both the House and Senate budgets introduced thus far have little to no meaningful increases included for public education. There are many bills filed to provide tax relief in one way or another without a real funding source being part of the bills. The House budget seems to understand the need to increase public education funding and the Senate budget appears to be the opposite. Oddly, the Senate has a sub-committee on school finance particularly to tackle the broken school funding system. It will be a long battle of how best to allocate the State’s dollars but the revenue estimates from the Comptroller don’t give a rosy picture for the 2018-19 biennium.
- SB 3 – (Larry Taylor): This is the “voucher” bill or “ESA – Educational Savings Accounts” bill. This will largely be the most discussed and debated topic nationally and in Texas as it is dubbed “school choice.” In its core essence, the bill provides a mechanism to receive public funds (diverted through donations in lieu of taxes paid) and use those funds to pay educational costs (e.g. supplies, transportation, tuition etc.). The other funding source for the ESA can be directly from the state to the account if the parent decides the student will be enrolling in a private school. These funds are set out as a percentage of the average cost of educating a child in the state per year. There is no stipulation for accountability by the private schools in exchange for taking these public dollars.
- SB 615 – (Kel Seliger): This bill makes permanent the ability to use Individual Graduation Committees to determine if a high school student should be allowed to graduate. The determination is set out in statute for situations where a high school student hasn’t passed the required tests but shows proficiency in the required courses. Students who struggled on one or two of their STAAR End of Course Exams are provided an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and mastery of the TEKS and skills through other forms of assessments and portfolios.
- SB 653 – (Van Taylor): This bill creates a registry of people barred from employment as certified school personnel based on prior determination of improper relationship between staff member and student or criminal record. The bill sets out penalties that failure to report such relationships or attempts to cover up such relationships could be grounds for loss of teaching credentials, and loss of entitlements to TRS benefits.
- SB 640 – (Van Taylor): This bill allows students being home schooled to participate in UIL activities provided the student is in good standing academically and has not been enrolled in a public school district earlier that year.
- SB 542 – (Paul Bettencourt ) & HB 1184 – (Dwayne Bohac): These bills set up the ability for businesses to donate to Educational Assistance/Savings Organizations (ESO’s). The donation would be tax deductible for the business, but the stipulation is that the ESO has to put 90% or more of the donations toward direct scholarships to students based on criteria regarding income levels of families. The rules stipulate a $100 million cap for first year with 10% increase per year allowed.
- SB 6 – (Lois Kolkhorst): This is the “bathroom bill.” For schools, this means that if bathrooms are designated as single-sex only, these bathrooms would be restricted to the sex designated on the student’s birth certificate. There has been so much talk on this issue in other states and in the national news, but schools do not have the problem that this bill purports to fix.
Please know that Alief ISD is very involved in working through these issues at the local and state level and will continue to be at “the table.” Our School Board has approved a legislative agenda that includes these issues as well. Several of our principals recently took time out of their busy schedules to share their concerns face-to-face with legislators in Austin. I have shared my concerns with the Governor, Lt. Governor, as well as many members of the House of Representatives and Senate. We will continue to meet with elected officials as the Legislative Session continues to ensure that our voices are heard at the state level.
Thank you for serving as a Key Communicator.