Upcoming State Hearings: Charter Schools, Campus Carry, and More

The state legislature’s interim calendar is starting to fill up, with committee hearings scheduled for the next couple of months on a wide array of topics involving public education from pre-K through college. Notable upcoming hearings include:

December 2—The Texas Senate’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee will meet for a preliminary look at several issues, including an examination of ways “to improve government accountability in elections regarding the issuance of public debt.” Only invited witnesses will be able to testify. We anticipate that anti-tax advocacy groups will try to make a case for mandating ballot language more to their liking in bond elections.

December 7—The Senate Education Committee will hear testimony on charter schools and on inappropriate teacher/student relationships. Public testimony will be taken.

The charter portion of the hearing will focus on changes in state policy in 2013 that affect the approval, expansion, and revocation of charter schools in Texas. Special attention will be given to issues surrounding the disposition of state property when charters cease to operate. Also highlighted at this hearing will be concerns of charter operators regarding facility funding. In recent sessions legislation to create a facilities-funding stream for charters has failed. Some lawmakers have been concerned about increasing charter funding for this purpose when facilities funding for school districts remains inadequate and inequitably distributed.

The other topic of this hearing, “the recent rise of inappropriate teacher-student relationships,” deserves careful examination. As the director of the state’s investigations into these matters recently told the Dallas Morning News, while the number of reports of such misconduct has risen, only “a very, very small percentage” of certified Texas educators are the subject of such reports—fewer than 200 out of half a million certificate holders in the state. Even so, any rise in the number of reported cases warrants scrutiny. The committee hearing will consider factors that could contribute to such misconduct, including “the impact of social media interaction between teachers and students.” Among possible legislative responses to be weighed are “increasing agency staff, adjusting penalties, strengthening efforts to sanction educators’ certificates for misconduct,” and “prevention through training and education of school employees.”

December 10—The House State Affairs Committee will take invited testimony only on its charge to “examine state and local laws applicable to undocumented immigrants throughout the State of Texas and analyze the effects of those laws in conjunction with federal immigration laws and the policies and practices followed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

January 26, 2016—The Senate State Affairs Committee will take invited testimony only on “open and campus carry legislation” and consider “if the current laws regulating the places that handguns can be carried are easily understood or if clarification is needed to ensure the average citizen understands when, where, and under what circumstances it is lawful to carry a weapon, versus when it is a criminal offense for which there may be a defense.”