When Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 5 on Monday, he ended weeks of speculation that he might veto the high-profile education legislation because of concerns that it would weaken high school graduation standards.
The bill, by House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, drops the number of state standardized tests high school students must take to graduate and changes the courses needed to earn a diploma. It passed both chambers unanimously, with many lawmakers hailing the bill as one of the session's most important, after months of lengthy committee hearings and contentious behind-the-scenes negotiations.
As Perry signed HB 5 with Aycock and Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, by his side, the governor said the measure reflected an "appropriate balance between a need for rigorous academics and flexibility" and had "come a long way" to address the concerns of its critics, which include the Texas Association of Business and the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
"Texas refuses to dilute our academic standards in any way because they are working," he said, citing the state's rising graduation rates and test scores.
Two state education officials who had previously opposed the bill — Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams and Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner Raymund Paredes — were also present at the signing. They both said they looked forward to working together with school districts, community colleges and universities to make sure implementation goes smoothly.
"As a state we should never apologize for striving to get our youngsters not just into college but through college," said Williams, who had expressed concerns about an earlier version of the bill's elimination of high-level math and science requirements for some students.
He said the legislation would help move Texas toward becoming a national leader in career and technology education. But he also cautioned that in pursuing that goal, educators should "make sure we don't close off or make choices for other folks' kids they would not make on their own."
Starting with the 2014-15 school year, high school students will take a foundation curriculum of four English credits; three credits each in science, social studies and math; two foreign language credits; one fine arts and one P.E. credit; and five elective credits. Students would add a fourth science and math credit when they select one of five diploma "endorsements" in areas including science and technology, business and industry, and the humanities.
The current standards, which have been in place since 2006, require four years each science, English, social studies and math for all students.