Crunch Time Near for Major Education Bills
The 84th Legislature started with ambitious plans for reforming public education. Now it's make-or-break time for many of the major initiatives still alive. Here's a roundup of where things stand.
The opening weeks of the legislative session saw ambitious plans for education reform — expanding pre-kindergarten, overhauling teacher evaluations, creating a private school voucher program and updating the state’s accountability system, to name just a few.
With just over a week left in the 84th Legislature, it’s make-or-break time for bills. Ahead of another big deadline Saturday — when Senate bills must make it out of House committees — here's where the big education measures stand.
- Pre-kindergarten: Efforts to expand state-funded early education to a full day have failed this session. The Gov. Greg Abbott-backed House Bill 4, which creates a grant program for school districts that choose to implement certain quality standards, has passed both chambers. It now either heads to the governor’s desk or conference committee — depending on whether the House approves amendments added in the Senate.
- Accountability: Priority legislation from Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor enacting A-F grades for schools became part of HB 2804, which passed the House last week and awaits Senate approval. That bill makes broader changes to how the state evaluates schools, including bringing in factors like community engagement, Advanced Placement course enrollment, attendance and dropout rates.
- School Turnarounds: Controversial proposals to allow parents to petition for new management at struggling public school campuses as well as to create a special state-managed district for underperforming schools have both passed the Senate. Those bills — Senate Bill 14 and SB 669, respectively — await approval of the House Public Education Committee, which must vote them out by Saturday’s deadline if they are to have a shot at passing.
- Virtual Education: A bill from Taylor — SB 895 — that would lift existing limits on the number of online courses students can take has passed his panel but has yet to make it to the Senate floor. This one is likely out of time.
- Private School Scholarships/Vouchers: As the session has progressed, lawmakers have narrowed down proposals that would give parents financial support to send their children to private schools. What’s left on the table is a plan to allow businesses to contribute to a scholarship fund for low-income students in exchange for a state tax break. The measure, SB 4, has passed the Senate and awaits a hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee, which it must clear by Saturday.
- Teacher Evaluation: The prospects of what has been a multi-session push to overhaul the state’s teacher evaluation system succeeding this time around appear to be grim. The two big measures — state Sen. Kel Seliger’s SB 893 and SB 892 — must both be heard in House committee by Saturday to have a chance to make it to the governor’s desk.
- School Finance: The clock ran out on House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock’s effort to tackle the state’s outdated school finance system last Thursday, which was the deadline for the House to pass its own bills out of the chamber.
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