Setting the Table: Texas Senate Education Committee Makes Proposals for 2011 Session

The Texas Senate Education Committee, chaired by Plano Republican Sen. Florence Shapiro, has come out with a wish list of policy changes that Shapiro can be expected to seek in the 2011 session of the legislature. Not all of them have the full backing of her committee members, however. Controversial recommendations include:

–Removing the cap on the number of charters that can be awarded for the operation of charter schools, and increasing funding for charter schools. Current law sets a limit of 215 on the number of charters issued by the State Board of Education (though multiple campuses can be operated under a single charter). In separate written comments on the committee report published along with it, four committee members voiced objections to unrestricted charter expansion and to prioritizing increased charter funding in times of budget stringency. The four were Democratic Sens. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, Mario Gallegos of Houston, Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, and Royce West of Dallas.

–Incorporating “a student achievement component in teacher evaluations to measure individual educator’s effectiveness.” Three committee members challenged this recommendation. Sen. Davis said:  “I am reluctant for us to correlate teachers’ evaluations with students’ test results. First, I do not think there is adequate data to suggest a ‘value-added’ measure would accurately evaluate a teacher’s performance.” Gallegos added:  “I do not believe that creating a teacher evaluation system based on a student’s performance is the only way we can achieve an environment of highly effective teachers.” Van de Putte noted:  “I do not believe that the data supports including student achievement in a teacher’s evaluation would promote quality teaching but rather shows that it could deter quality teachers from accepting positions at hard to staff campuses or for shortage subjects—a price we cannot afford.”

–As a cost-cutting measure, considering options to “modify class size limitations to allow more flexibility to school districts….”  This proposal drew critical comments from Sens. Davis and Van de Putte. Davis cited the documented benefits of smaller class sizes and the potential harm of increasing class size. She suggested that “we not accept this option as a cost-saving measure. Van de Putte said she “cannot support legislation attempting to address costs for our schools that would defeat the progress we have made in improving the classroom learning environment.”

–Another potentially destructive cost-saving notion in the committee report was characterized this way:  “Provide districts greater flexibility in educator contracting.” The recommendation was not spelled out any further, but this option likely means we can anticipate bills to water down the modest due-process protection for teachers in Texas public schools. (The fact is that the vast majority of teacher dismissals in this state are uncontested, and school districts seldom lose a contested case. When they do, it’s typically because they failed to meet even the most elementary standards of fair procedure.)

Future Hotline messages will delve further into the Senate Education Committee’s interim report, which also addresses changes in middle schools, special education (including “school choice options”), and programs for English Language Learners.