Since October 8, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has issued four batches of interim study assignments to Texas Senate committees, giving us a good preview of his priorities for the next legislative session. (A fifth and final batch is scheduled for release
on October 14.) In the interim charges issued so far, you will find little or no reference to promoting adequacy and equity of school funding to provide quality education, little or no reference to curbing the excessive emphasis on standardized testing, and nothing about using the community-school approach to provide a full array of services inside and outside of school to support student academic success.
Patrick’s Education Committee directives, issued on October 12, instead call first and foremost for studies and recommendations to promote private-school vouchers (see “School Choice” item below) and the expansion of charter schools. His wish list for interim studies by another committee, the State Affairs panel, also highlights a renewed attack on your freedom to have your union dues deducted voluntarily from your paycheck, couched in language that falsely implies public funds are being used to benefit unions. (In fact, the relevant Education Code provision makes it clear that any costs of administering payroll deductions are to be borne by the organization that receives the deductions.)
Upcoming Hotlines will report on additional education-related Senate interim charges from the lieutenant governor to the Higher Education Committee and other committees. Meanwhile here is the full text of his interim charges for the Education Committee:
- School Choice: Study school choice programs enacted in states across the nation, examining education savings account and tax credit scholarship programs in particular. Examine the implementation process used in other states and what impact these programs have had on student academics and state and local district budgets. Make recommendations on which choice plan could best serve Texas students.
- Charter School Approval, Expansion, Revocation: Study the approval, expansion, and revocation of public charter schools in Texas, including the implementation of SB 2 (83R) and other legislation. In particular, examine the issues surrounding the disposition of state property when charters are revoked, non-renewed, or cease to operate. Make recommendations regarding policies to ensure an efficient and effective transfer and disposal of state property that preserves state interest while ensuring that certain investment capital and the bond market supporting charter construction remains robust. In addition, make recommendations if needed to clarify policies regarding expansion of existing high-quality charter schools in Texas. Additionally, examine facility funding for charter schools in other states and make recommendations on facility funding assistance for charter schools in Texas.
- Teacher Preparation, Retention, Shortages: Study teacher shortage and retention issues in Texas and evaluate educator preparation programs to determine if these programs are preparing educators for the rigors of the 21st century classroom. In particular, examine the shortages of ELL, special education, and STEM educators across the state and identify the issues creating a shortage. Make recommendations to improve educator preparation throughout the state and increase certification rates. (Joint Charge with Senate Higher Education)
- Efficiency/Productivity Review: Conduct a comprehensive performance review of all public schools in Texas, examining ways to improve efficiency, productivity, and student academic outcomes. Study performance-based funding mechanisms that allocate dollars based upon achievement versus attendance. Identify any state mandates which hinder student performance, district and campus innovation, and efficiency and productivity overall.
- Broadband Access: Evaluate digital learning opportunities in classrooms and examine existing barriers to schools’ ability to provide a digital learning environment. In particular, study the availability of affordable broadband access to school districts across Texas. Examine different options for improving access to broadband service in all areas of the state, for districts and student homes. Make recommendations on a statewide plan for building the necessary infrastructure to provide a competitive, free-market environment in broadband service.
- Teacher-Student Relationships/Student Safety: Study the recent rise of inappropriate teacher-student relationships, the impact of social media interaction between teachers and students, and examine the current efforts by the Texas Education Agency, schools, law enforcement, and the courts to investigate and prosecute any educator engaged in inappropriate relationships. Determine what recommendations, if any, are needed to improve student safety, including increasing agency staff, adjusting penalties, and strengthening efforts to sanction educators’ certificates for misconduct. Study and address the issue of prevention through training and education of school employees.
- County School Systems: Examine the structure and performance of the two remaining county-based school systems, Harris County Department of Education and Dallas County Schools. In particular, study the efficiency of these entities and determine whether those services are duplicative with education service centers or could be absorbed by education service centers.
- School Board Governance, Low-Performing Schools: Examine current school board governance policies and practices and make recommendations that could improve the focus, attitudes, and outcomes of Texas school boards, districts, and students. Study existing board training requirements for public schools and make suggestions to educate school board trustees of policies that could achieve better student outcomes, particularly within the framework set for low-performing schools in House Bill 1842 (HB1842)(84R).
- Monitoring Charge: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Education and make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, and/or complete implementation. Specifically, monitor the following: 1) Legislation establishing state intervention procedures for public schools with academically unsuccessful ratings of at least two consecutive school years; and providing school districts the ability to be designated as a district of innovation; 2) Initiatives to build a high-quality pre-kindergarten grant program; 3) Legislation to raise standards of teacher preparation programs and establish a more consistent, high-quality accountability system; 4) Program to require the placement and use of video cameras in self-contained classrooms or other settings providing special education services to students; 5) Legislation to address training support for counselors, and advising courses for middle school students; and 6) Legislation to establish criteria for alternative measures of assessments to meet high school graduation requirements.