SBOE Recap: Buckle Up for a Long Haul

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met for its regular meeting Aug. 29-Sept. 1 with an unusually dense agenda. 

Proclamation 2024 & Science Textbooks Adoption

Tuesday began with a public hearing on Proclamation 2024, which includes instructional materials for many career and technical education courses (CTE). But all eyes were on K-12 science materials. Most testifiers were in support of the proposed updated materials, and the majority of the TEKS were covered by the submitted materials. The standards still leave room to more accurately and rigorously cover topics like climate change and evolution, but this is a good step in the right direction. 

There was much speculation leading up to this meeting as to whether science materials would have to overcome this adoption hurdle at the SBOE only to be put through the (as yet undefined) HB 1605 quality review. You could hear a collective sigh of relief from the publishers in the room when it was announced that the entirety of Proclamation 2024 would proceed as is, and science materials will be adopted and ready for districts to select and purchase in time for the 2024-2025 school year.  

Texas AFT’s Kelsey Kling speaks at a Texas Freedom Network press conference in support of rigorous, accurate science textbooks. 

HB 1605 & Curriculum Review

Speaking of HB 1605, much of the later part of the day Tuesday was dedicated to a presentation from the Texas Education Agency on how its staff plans to develop the review mandated by that bill of K-5 English and Spanish language arts and reading and K-12 mathematics on an aggressive timeline. Approving these materials will unlock some of the funding set out in HB 1605. To do so, SBOE will need to accomplish the following by April 2024: 

  • Set minimum TEKS percentage (currently 50%, but most adopted materials are significantly higher) 
  • Approve quality rubrics (i.e., effective instructional strategies) 
  • Adopt suitability rubric (i.e., no harmful content and other laws) 
  • Re-adopt factual error definition 
  • Consider criteria for the parent portal 

If that sounds like a lot, it is. Many board members expressed concern over doing this in a deliberative way in such a short time. What is unclear is how each of the metrics will weigh within the review process and whether or not there will be a reasonable time for publishers to respond to the rubrics before the first “quality review.” The board will consider drafts of rubrics at its November meeting, with adoption expected in late January and the first materials review to begin in April 2024.

HB 1605 also requires the board to direct the commissioner and the agency to begin working on a grade-level vocabulary list and a list of literary works (at least one per grade/course) that will be required instruction. The board anticipates adding a new standing item to its agenda to receive updates on the progress of this list. One thing to watch for is the assessment implications of adding lots of mandatory vocabulary and reading onto teachers and students. 

STAAR Updates & Charter School Rules

Wednesday began as usual with comments from the commissioner of education. The main topic was the statewide STAAR results released in August. Members had several questions regarding how these results will factor into the forthcoming A-F accountability ratings. We know that special populations will be weighted differently in the calculations, but we will have to wait and assess the impacts when the ratings are published Sept. 28. 

When questioned about the lawsuit involving seven districts to delay the implementation of the A-F “refresh”, Commissioner Morath claimed it was “without merit.” Morath also took questions on the status of the Houston ISD takeover. However, he was evasive in his responses to questions about libraries being taken over as discipline centers, claiming misrepresentation by the media. 

Another item we were watching closely was the “no-contact” rule that prevents new charter school applicants from lobbying the board between the application deadline (November) and the approval vote (June). The board voted 11-3 to allow charter applicants and their representatives to contact board members after making it through the external review process and before moving on to the capacity interviews. The two-thirds majority vote means that the rule takes effect in time for this generation of charter applications. This is a major blow to the integrity of the charter approval process and highlights the influence that charter organizations and supporters have been able to wield in the boardroom via their large donations.  

School Funding

In some rare good news for school funding, the SBOE approved the distribution of $1.56 billion from the Permanent School Fund (PSF) to the Available School Fund (ASF) for Fiscal Year 2024. These funds will be added to the $600 million in direct contributions to the ASF, previously approved by the General Land Office’s School Land Board (SLB), from oil and gas royalty revenues generated on PSF lands managed by the SLB.

The combined amount of $2.16 billion in PSF revenues received by the ASF will flow to school districts and charter schools, on a per-student basis, during this school year to support instructional materials, technology, and other educational expenses.

HB 900 & Censorship

On Thursday, the Committee on Instruction’s agenda was full of items we care deeply about: teaching the truth, special education, and censorship. The committee considered items related to HB 900, HB 3978, and ethnic studies courses.  

As part of the implementation of HB 900, the committee heard testimony on the library collection development policy that the SBOE must adopt in partnership with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC). This collection development policy would apply to all school and classroom libraries and has to (among other things) prevent the acquisition of harmful, obscene, or sexually explicit material. However, this same policy must also prohibit the removal of library materials based solely on the ideas contained in the material or the personal background of the author of or characters in the material.

The committee expressed concern for the extra burden that would be placed on other personnel if the campus lacks an appropriately certified librarian. While this was merely a discussion item, the SBOE and TSLAC may eventually have to adopt this policy for all school libraries. It was only after this meeting concluded that a judge issued a temporary injunction against implementing the bill. This should stop the board’s deliberation of this topic for the time being, but we will continue to watch this closely.  

An American Indian and Native Studies (AINS) course developed and piloted in Grand Prairie ISD received approval last spring for use as an innovative course. Innovative courses approved by the SBOE may be awarded state elective credit. After hearing from supporters about the positive impacts of the course at this meeting, the committee asked staff to bring the course before the full board for consideration for inclusion in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). This will be a discussion item in November; the course could be adopted in time for the 2024-2025 school year. 

It seems we can expect the next several board meetings to be equally consequential. We will continue to closely monitor the rulemaking surrounding HB 1605.