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Patrick Unveils First Round of Education Proposals

Virtual learning, A-through-F school ratings and teacher quality were among the topics covered by broad slate of education reform bills announced by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Education Chairman Larry Taylor on Tuesday.

New Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick emphasizes school choice as one of his top legislative priorities at a Texas Tribune event on Jan. 27, 2015.

*Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.

Measures focused on school accountability, online learning, career development and teacher quality were among the broad slate of education bills Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor announced Tuesday.

Taken together, the Republicans’ legislative package would both reward the state's high-performing schools and "help children find a way out" of those that are failing, said Taylor, R-Friendswood. 

The proposals Taylor described included an A-through-F rating system for public schools; lifting existing limits on online courses; making it easier for high-school students to take courses that count for college credit; updating teacher evaluations; and an "opportunity" school district to oversee the worst-performing schools in the state.

Taylor also said he had filed a "parent empowerment" bill that would drop the number of years a school must be poor-performing for parents to petition for new management from five to two.

During the 2013 legislative session, lawmakers attempted to enact a number of the measures proposed Tuesday, including A-through-F grades for school and the achievement school district proposal.

The A-through-F proposal passed only when the bill’s authors agreed that the grades would only apply at the district level and to delay its implementation until 2016. Taylor’s new bill would apply at the campus level. The state currently rates schools as either “met standard” or “needs improvement.”

A measure similar to Taylor’s opportunity school district bill failed amid concerns including how it would be funded. The policy, also sometimes called an achievement school district, is embraced by the Obama administration's Race to the Top program. It has been adopted by a handful of other states including Tennessee, Louisiana and Virginia. 

All of the legislation announced Tuesday is part of the legislative agenda advanced by Texans for Education Reform, which praised the proposals in a statement released after the news conference.

The group’s leaders include former Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano. Dick Weekley and Dick Trabulsi, veterans of the state’s tort reform battles who now control one of the state’s wealthiest political action committees, were among those who founded it at the start of the last legislative session.

Measures aimed at improving early-childhood education or establishing a school choice program that would help parents pay for private schools for their children were not among those unveiled.

Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has asked lawmakers to put the former on the legislative fast track. Patrick has said the latter is a top priority for him as lieutenant governor this session. 

Patrick said senators would soon file bills addressing both topics.

At the announcement, Patrick and Taylor were joined by four Republican senators, Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, Kel Seliger of Amarillo, Paul Bettencourt of Houston and Charles Perry of Lubbock, as well as Democrat Eddie Lucio of Brownsville.

Disclosure: Texans for Education Reform was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2013. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here

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Public education 84th Legislative Session Dan Patrick Education Greg Abbott Larry Taylor