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State to Ride Herd on Failing Schools

If school district leaders can’t fix failing schools, the state may strip their authority under a new law effective Sept. 1. This story is part of our 31 Days, 31 Ways series.

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Throughout August, The Texas Tribune will feature 31 ways Texans' lives will change because of new laws that take effect Sept. 1. Check out our story calendar for more.

If school district leaders don’t fix failing schools, the state may strip their authority under a new law effective Sept. 1.

“We wanted to apply both a carrot and a stick to the boards saying we’re going to let you have the flexibility to do what you want to do, but we also expect to hold you responsible at some point,” said state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, the primary author of House Bill 1842. “The whole district is responsible for turning those schools around.”

The new law sets deadlines for each step in a new reform process advocates say puts pressure on districts to improve failing schools, and allows the Texas education commissioner to install a board of managers replacing district leaders who fail to fix underperforming campuses.

“They’ve never done that for academic reasons in the past,” said David Anthony, CEO of the education advocacy group Raise Your Hand Texas. “In the past, there hasn’t been a definite outcome if we don’t turn the school around. [HB] 1842 provides a definite outcome.”

After two years of academically unacceptable ratings, districts must develop reform plans with input from parents and other community members who have a stake in the success of the school, such as representatives of local higher education institutions.

Schools have not previously been required to gather community input so early in the reform process, Texas Education Agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said.

A reform plan must describe the school’s budget and academic programs. The district can also plan to turn the school into a charter school.

After three years of academically unacceptable ratings, the education commissioner can approve the plan to fix the school, install new leadership at the school or district, or close the school altogether. After five years of academically unacceptable ratings, the commissioner must either install new management at the district level or close the school.

Although the new law establishes a protocol for closing schools, Aycock says he hopes it results in fewer school closures and more school reform.

“This is the school improvement bill,” he said, “which hopefully will keep them from closing these schools.”

Disclosure: Raise Your Hand Texas is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here. 


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