Update on Legislation

There have been several bills filed that would impact graduation requirements, school safety, and testing. The Texas Association of School Board’s furnish districts with summaries of the bills. Below is information from TASB regarding recent bills:

Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) filed SB 225 this week. The bill would replace the minimum, recommended and distinguished graduation programs with one new program called the foundation high school program. The foundation program would call for 26 total credits:

  • four credits of English (English I-IV);
  • three credits of math (Algebra I, geometry and Algebra II, or other advanced
         math course);
  • two credits of science (biology, integrated physics and chemistry, or other
         advanced science course);
  • three credits of social studies (one credit in world history, world geography,
         or equivalent; one credit in United States history; and at least half
         credits each in government and economics);
  • two credits of the same foreign language;
  • one credit of fine arts;
  • one credit of physical education; and
  • ten credits of electives.

Further, the bill provides for the commissioner of education to adopt core courses that satisfy advance course requirements of the foundation program and allows students to earn endorsements in the following categories by completing curriculum established by the State Board of Education:

  • science, technology, engineering and math (STEM);
  • business and industry, which includes courses related to construction, logistics,
    marketing, heating/air conditioning, welding, etc.;
  • human services, such as health sciences, education, law, culinary arts,
    agricultural science, etc.;
  • humanities, such as political science, world languages, cultural studies, etc.; and
  • general studies, which would be a combination of other endorsements.

The bill would also eliminate the provision that end-of-course exams count toward 15 percent of a student’s course grade and would provide for a transition plan to implement the new graduation requirements in the 2014-15 school year — making provisions for
students subject to the current graduation plans under certain circumstances.

Regarding end-of-course exams (EOC exams), the bill maintains the current administration of all 15 EOC exams, but only requires that five be required for graduation: Algebra I, English III, biology, and United States history.

The bill would also allow four-year colleges and universities to admit students who graduate under the new Foundation Program.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) and Rep. Diane Patrick (R-Arlington) today filed companion bills that would make substantial changes to the state’s testing and accountability system.

SB 240/HB 640 eliminates the 15 percent rule, reduces the number of end-of-course exams from 15 to 3, eliminates the cumulative score calculation, infuses testing alternatives such as SAT and ACT exams, suspends 2012-13 state accountability ratings, and prohibits the use of end-of-course exams for student class rank or admission into a Texas college.

Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands), Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), and Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Humble) announced their plan to file legislation to allow for school districts to create a separate local tax specifically for hiring licensed peace officers to
protect school campuses.

The “Texas School District Security Act” provides for a dedicated sales tax (if available under the state cap), or a dedicated property tax specifically for crime control and enhanced security based on local school district needs. The revenue generated from a local option School District Security Fund would be separate from all other district funding.

I am hopeful that these bills will cause a general discussion about testing and the overall accountability system. I certainly think that there exists a place in education for good tests that measure a student’s learning and that can provide good information to the student, parents, and teachers about that learning. At the same time, I have been and continue to be a proponent for utilizing quality tests that are already in existence. The SAT and ACT tests have been around for decades. To me, there is no sense in trying to reinvent the wheel to come up with measures of college readiness. These tests are there and could be easily utilized by all of our students.

I am pleased that the topic of school safety is at the forefront of this legislative session. Again, I hope that many different avenues are explored by our representatives and senators to provide the best protection for our children. I think that the introduction of the “Texas School District Security Act” is a start. As it is now, this bill would give residents of a school district, by virtue of property taxes, the option of voting to raise additional funds solely for the purpose of security measures. While this is a step in the right direction, I hope that our legislators come to realize that a district should not be limited simply by the property wealth that is contained within its borders. As with other school finance issues, a district with higher property values is going to be able to generate more funds than a district with lower property values.

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