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Jimmie Don Aycock

House passes school finance reform bill

Well done.

Rep. Dan Huberty

State Rep. Dan Huberty succeeded at a difficult task Wednesday: getting the Texas House of Representatives to vote for legislation overhauling the funding system for public education, without a court mandate.

After a four-hour discussion of more than 30 proposed amendments, the House voted 134-16 to tentatively accept its top education leader’s plan to inject $1.6 billion into public schools, simplify the complex formulas for allocating that money, and target certain disadvantaged student groups for more funding. The bill must still be approved on a third and final reading in the House.

[…]

The tentative victory comes after senators approved a budget that cuts state funding for public schools by $1.8 billion in general revenue, and uses local property tax revenue to make up the difference.

Huberty’s bill would increase the base per-student funding the state gives to school districts, in part by increasing funding for students who are bilingual and dyslexic. The Legislative Budget Board estimates about 96 percent of districts and 98 percent of students would see more money under the bill.

“This is the first time in over 30 years that we have the opportunity to vote for school finance, to make a holistic change,” Huberty said before Wednesday’s vote.

Throughout the evening, Huberty successfully moved to table many of his colleagues’ proposed amendments to the bill, either because they would add to the bill’s price tag or because he deemed them irrelevant to his legislation.

“This is the school finance bill,” he reminded Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, who unsuccessfully tried to attach a provision to HB 21 that addressed the testing and accountability system.

The House budget allowance for this bill would provide more funding to more school districts for busing, but many legislators expressed concern that the money would be stretched thin because districts that didn’t provide bus service would still receive transportation money. None of the amendments to address transportation funding passed.

Rural legislators banded together to add a provision that would help hundreds of small districts with fewer than 1,600 students. The provision, proposed by Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, would remove an existing financial penalty for school districts smaller than 300 square miles, which was originally intended to encourage them to consolidate.

Darby proposed putting all districts with fewer than 1,600 students at similar levels of funding, which he said would increase funding for more than 400 districts.

“Almost half the school districts in Texas will benefit from these amendments,” he said.

Legislators voted 86-59 to approve Darby’s amendment, despite Huberty’s opposition.

See here for the background. The Darby amendment was about Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction, for which you can get some background here. Getting something through the House is a big accomplishment; as the story notes, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock declined to put a bill forward in 2015 on the grounds that it didn’t stand a chance. Priorities are shifting, and there seems to be a lot of support for finally addressing some of the serious shortcomings in the current system. Which, if it happens, would vindicate the Supreme Court’s decision to not force the issue but leave it up to the Legislature. Assuming that Dan Patrick and the Senate – and Greg Abbott – go along, of course, That’s far from a sure thing, as a brief perusal of the Senate’s budget proposal would show. But it’s a start, and it could happen. That’s more than what we’ve had in a long time. Kudos all around.

New school grading system looks pretty harsh

Brace yourselves.

Schools in poor neighborhoods overwhelmingly received the worst grades under Texas’ new rating system — but even typically high-performing districts got C’s and D’s, according to scores that will be released Friday.

The “what if” grades show how schools and districts could fare in the new A-F system, which won’t take effect until 2018.

The plan to give public schools letter grades has infuriated educators across the state. As of Thursday, 152 districts have adopted resolutions opposing it. Critics say the approach is over-simplistic and stigmatizes poor schools.

Education Commissioner Mike Morath — who cautions that the new system is a work in progress — has said grades will give families a better understanding of how their schools are doing while crediting schools for the progress they are making.

All North Texas districts meet current state standards according to results released this summer. But 11 would have earned an F in at least one of four categories in the new grading system, including Mesquite, Wylie, Farmersville, Lancaster and Cedar Hill. Highland Park, Plano, Allen and McKinney each got at least one C.

“That’s amazing when you consider that they all met the standard two weeks ago and the scores, the data, haven’t changed,” Mesquite Superintendent David Vroonland said. Both the new and old system are largely based on the same STAAR results and other data.

Dallas ISD got a D in student performance and B’s in three other categories.

DeSoto got an F in student performance and in preparing kids for life after high school.

“We continue to wait for more information from TEA on the methodology of the new system, however, this continued attack on public schools, your DeSoto public schools, is an attack on the foundation of our country,” superintendent David Harris said in a prepared statement on Thursday.

“The government ‘ranking’ and comparing schools, feeds the agenda of those claiming our schools are failing and vouchers are the answer. Meanwhile, public schools tend to be underfunded and over mandated by the state and federal governments.”

The Legislature approved the grading system during the 2015 session. Other states, including Oklahoma and West Virginia, have similar accountability measures. But Virginia killed its plan to give letter grades over concerns of fairness to schools.

The Texas Education Agency is releasing grades in four areas: how well students performed on state tests; how much progress students made from year to year on those tests, how well schools are closing the gaps between poor children and their peers; and students’ college or career readiness. Next year, a fifth measure will allow schools to grade themselves on student and community engagement. Schools and districts will also receive an overall grade.

Critics of the system say it doesn’t actually reflect what’s going on in classrooms and will only stigmatize schools in poor neighborhoods that will have a harder time meeting standards. Those schools already struggle to recruit and keep talented teachers and engaged families.

See here for a bit of background. The A-F grading system was part of a larger bill authored by outgoing Education Chair Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock. It generated controversy at the time, but as is sometimes the case when the end of the session is approaching and things need to get done, it was passed in spite of the concerns about that part of the bill. The story above is from the Dallas Morning News, but similar stories are coming in from all over the state.

Various Central Texas districts, including Austin, Leander, Hays, Georgetown, Bastrop, Manor, Elgin, San Marcos, Hutto, Dripping Springs and Elgin received unacceptable grades of Ds and Fs in certain categories, according to a report sent to the Texas Legislature last week that was obtained by the American-Statesman.

Even some nationally ranked campuses, including Round Rock’s Westwood High School and Eanes’ Westlake High, didn’t muster straight As under the new system, and schools that received top marks from the state just a few months ago received unacceptable scores. The grades are meant to give districts and the public a glimpse of how the new system will work when it is finalized next year, and are not official or punitive. The accountability ratings doled out in August still stand.

[…]

Austin school district Superintendent Paul Cruz said having an A through F system is confusing if it is not the same A through F system that people know and understand. Under this system, a school can have a 90 and still be failing, he said, and “that’s not the grading system we use in our schools.”

Blackshear Elementary, for example, is a national Blue Ribbon school, and has been recognized by the Texas Education Agency for the work it has done with a high concentration of students from low-income families. Yet it received an F under the postsecondary readiness category because of absenteeism, he said.

And of course, from here in Houston.

Houston ISD, Texas’ largest school system, earned B’s for closing achievement gaps and learning gains on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness. It earned a C for student achievement on the STAAR, and its lowest mark – a D – came in postsecondary readiness, a stumbling block for many Texas schools.

Educators argue that this new system relies too much on standardized tests and fails to take into account the complexities of individual schools and districts, like whether their student body is predominantly poor or non-native English speakers.

“The real education experts are pretty united on this one. We see it doing more harm than good,” said Clay Robison, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, which represents 68,000 teachers and support staff.

[…]

Katy ISD Superintendent Lance Hindt lambasted the preliminary grades on Friday as an attack on public schools for political gain.

“Our legislators’ ‘ranking’ and comparing of public schools feeds the agenda of those claiming our public schools are failing and vouchers, tax credits, scholarships, etc. are the answer,” Hindt said. “Meanwhile, public schools are underfunded and overmandated by the state and federal governments. Our private school counterparts would never accept funding that tied them to the mandates the Legislature and the TEA place on our public schools – essentially eroding communities’ local control.”

The final system that will be used to calculate letter grades in 2018 is expected to include five domains. Friday’s tentative grades included just four categories, similar to those in the state’s current accountability system.

At least two Houston-area schools, including HISD’s Sterling High and Spring Branch ISD’s Sherwood Elementary, scored straight F’s in Friday’s preliminary grades despite having “met standard” in their official accountability rankings.

At least 78 Houston-area schools, including charters, earned D’s and F’s, even though they “met standard” in the current system. Of those, 12 schools and five districts got straight F’s on the preliminary letter grades but “met standard” in the current accountability system.

The two systems are not meant to be compared, said Lauren Callahan, a TEA spokeswoman.

“When you’re looking at the current system, you really don’t have a good idea as a parent whether your campus barely met standard or they are knocking it out of the park,” she said. “There is a lot more that goes through the A-F system than is in the pass-fail system.”

Still, the mismatched results baffled leaders at schools that earned F’s but still “met standard,” as was the case at Sherwood.

Rep. Mary Gonzalez has filed a bill to rescind the A-F grading system. I don’t think that will pass, but given the massive problems with the STAAR test, I do think some action will be taken, with a delay in implementation being the most likely possibility. As always, you should contact your legislators to let them know what you think about this. A statement from the TEA is here, and the Trib has more.

Hey, here’s an idea: Increase funding for public education

That’s just crazy talk.

Texas House budget and public education leaders said Wednesday that the best way to overhaul the state’s school finance system is to increase the base amount of money it gives to each district per student.

While costly, boosting the “basic allotment” — currently $5,140 per student — would help ease systemic funding inequities among the state’s 1,200 school districts and reduce the growing number of wealthier districts that are required to send money to the state to help buoy poorer ones, according to state Reps. John Otto of Dayton and Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen. The two Republicans, who are both retiring before the 2017 legislative session, chair the House Appropriations and Public Education committees, respectively.

The panels are meeting jointly Wednesday and Thursday to hear from various experts, organizations and the public on how to fix key provisions of the state’s complex, patchwork method of funding public schools. The assignment came from House Speaker Joe Straus in early June, weeks after a momentous Texas Supreme Court decision that upheld the system as minimally constitutional while also deeming it “undeniably imperfect” and urging lawmakers to make improvements.

Otto and Aycock added that the benefits of increasing the basic allotment could go beyond reducing the number of districts that must make “recapture” payments under the state’s Robin Hood plan.

They said the move could also lower the amount of money the state is required to send to a small share of school districts every year since the state forced them to cut property taxes. (Long-held opposition to the Robin Hood plan has gained some momentum recently with Houston ISD, the state’s largest school district, facing its first recapture payment.)

[…]

Rising property values have saved the state about $14 billion over the past decade, Otto told the panels Wednesday, citing calculations from the Legislative Budget Board. Local revenue has made up an increasing share of public education spending during that time.

“Essentially the burden is shifting to the locals, and the state is benefiting from that,” Otto said.

If the state were investing more, school property tax rates would be much lower, officials from state agencies and schools said Wednesday.

Nicole Conley, chief financial officer for Austin schools, told the panels the district would be able to slash its tax rate by 35 cents per $100 valuation if it didn’t have to pay recapture. That would save the average Austin homeowner $1,400 annually, she said, urging a “complete overhaul” of the system while acknowledging that is unlikely.

“I do think that a complete overhaul will be something that is going to require a substantial investment from the state; I’m not quite sure about your temperament and readiness to get there,” she said, adding that lawmakers have become “over-reliant” on recapture.

She suggested capping the number of districts required to pay recapture and providing transportation funding to those that still have to, which the state doesn’t currently do.

It’s nice to see these things discussed, but don’t get your hopes up. Both Reps. Aycock and Otto are retiring, and even if they were coming back there’s no way that any legislation to address public ed funding or school finance in this way would make it through Dan Patrick’s Senate. I’m glad that the concerns of school disitricts (not just HISD) that are being affected by recapture are being heard, but it doesn’t make the strategy of voting down that HISD referendum this fall any less chancy. The Chron has more.

An early look ahead to the legislative races

The Trib takes a look at the legislative races that could end with a seat changing parties.

vote-button

• HD-23. Freshman state Rep. Wayne Faircloth, R-Dickinson, against former state Rep. Lloyd Criss, R-La Marque.

• HD-43. State Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, will face Democratic challenger Marisa Yvette Garcia-Utley.

• HD-54. State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, decided not to seek reelection in a district where Republicans have only a narrow advantage over Democrats in presidential election years like this one. Killeen Mayor Scott Cosper apparently won the Republican runoff, but his 43-vote margin over Austin Ruiz has prompted a recount. The winner will face Democrat Sandra Blankenship in November.

• HD-78. State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, will contend with Jeffrey Lane, a Republican in a district where Democrats have demonstrated a slight advantage.

• HD-102. Freshman Rep. Linda Koop, R-Dallas, will face Democrat Laura Irvin.

• HD-105. State Rep. Rodney Anderson, R-Grand Prairie, currently holds this swing district. He’ll battle Democrat Terry Meza in November.

• HD-107. State Rep. Ken Sheets, R-Dallas, has fended off a series of challenges in his narrowly Republican district; this time, the chief opponent is Democrat Victoria Neave.

• HD-113. Like Sheets in the district next door, state Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, has a district where the incumbent is always under attack. Her Democratic opponent this time is Rhetta Andrews Bowers.

• HD-117. State Rep. Rick Galindo, R-San Antonio, is one of two House Republicans defending a district where Democrats generally win statewide races. He’ll face the guy he beat, former Rep. Philip Cortez, a Democrat, in November.

• HD-118. The other of those Republicans is John Luhan, also of San Antonio, who won a special election earlier this year to replace Democrat Joe Farias, who retired. He’ll face Democrat Tomás Uresti — the loser of that special election — in a November rematch.

• HD-144. State Rep. Gilbert Peña, R-Pasadena, represents a district that has gone for Republicans in some years and Democrats in others. And it’s another rematch: He will face former Rep. Mary Ann Perez, the Democrat who lost in 2014 by 152 votes out of 11,878 cast.

Several incumbents got free passes in districts where an able opponent might have been dangerous. In HD-34, state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, drew no Republican challenger. In HD-45, Republican Jason Isaac didn’t draw a Democratic opponent.

That’s a pretty comprehensive list. Because I like numbers, I went and dug up the 2012 district results so you can get some idea of how steep a hill these are to climb for the Democrats:


Dist    Romney    Obama    Romney%   Obama%    Diff   Boost
===========================================================
023     31,282   25,365     54.56%   44.24%   5,917   23.3%
043     25,017   22,554     52.05%   46.92%   2,463   10.9%
054     25,343   21,909     52.90%   45.73%   3,434   15.7%
102     29,198   24,958     53.01%   45.31%   4,240   17.0%
105     23,228   20,710     52.11%   46.46%   2,518   12.2%
107     27,185   24,593     51.81%   46.87%   2,592   10.5%
112     28,221   22,308     55.01%   43.48%   5,913   26.5%
113     27,098   23,893     52.51%   46.30%   3,205   13.4%
114     35,975   28,182     55.21%   43.47%   7,793   27.7%
115     29,861   23,353     55.26%   43.22%   6,508   27.9%
136     35,296   26,423     55.06%   41.22%   8,873   33.6%

“Diff” is just the difference between the Romney and Obama totals. “Boost” is my way of quantifying how wide that gap really is. It’s the ratio of the Diff to the Obama total, which put another way is how big a turnout boost Democrats would need in 2016 over 2012 to match the Republican total. That doesn’t take into account any other factors, of course, it’s just intended as a bit of context. Note that for HDs 78 (where Obama won by more than ten points in 2012), 117, 118, and 144, Democrats already had a majority of the vote in 2012, so in theory all that is needed is to hold serve. Individual candidates matter as well, of course, though in 2012 there was literally only on State House race in which the winner was not from the party whose Presidential candidate carried the district, that being then-Rep. Craig Eiland in HD23. Point being, you can swim against the tide but it’s a lot more challenging to do so these days. I went and added a couple more races to the list that the Trib put together just for completeness and a sense of how big the difference is between the top tier and the next tier. I don’t have a point to make beyond this, I’m just noting all this for the record.

Republicans sure are hoping to get a bailout on school finance

Am I the only one who thinks that a lot of this sounds like wishful thinking?

BagOfMoney

The Texas Supreme Court may punt in a far-reaching school finance case, asking a lower court to assess the Legislature’s latest efforts on public schools. If it does, a new law may reduce the influence of trial judges elected in liberal Austin.

The Republican-backed law, passed largely along party lines, would deny Travis County’s Democratic judges their usual first crack at deciding multibillion-dollar lawsuits over school finance and politically fraught battles over redrawing congressional and legislative districts.

If it’s invoked in the school finance case, Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, would ask Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, also a Republican, to name a three-judge panel. Two of the three would be judges who sit — and are elected — some distance from Austin.

Rick Gray, who represents hundreds of low- and medium-wealth school districts in the lawsuit, predicts that adding geographically dispersed judges to review the Legislature’s work won’t change the final decisions.

In recent years, lawmakers have underfunded schools even as they set higher academic requirements for students, he said. About 650 of the state’s 1,023 school districts joined the current suit, he noted.

“These cases are really not about politics,” Gray said. “If you’ve got more than 60 percent of your school districts saying, ‘We can’t do it,’ that screams at you that you’ve got a problem.”

[…]

In oral arguments before the high court in September, aides to Paxton argued that the justices should throw out the case or send it back to district court for a review of budgetary and school-related actions of the 2015 Legislature.

Gov. Greg Abbott, in a friend of the court brief filed in late August, made the same plea. The Republican governor said in this year’s session, lawmakers passed “important reforms,” such as $118 million in grants to enrich the quality of prekindergarten programs. Over the past two sessions, the state has boosted overall school spending by 17 percent, Abbott said.

Lawyers for the plaintiff school districts, such as Gray, said they doubt the Supreme Court will toss their suit or require further study.

They noted that Travis County District Judge John Dietz already reviewed the Legislature’s 2013 move to increase school funding by $3.4 billion, after lawmakers cut $5.4 billion to offset a severe shortage of state revenue two years earlier.

[…]

House Public Education Committee Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said he discussed the case in October with Abbott, a former attorney general and Supreme Court justice.

“His prediction when I spoke with him was that there’s a 50 percent probability of a remand, a 25 percent probability of reversal and a 25 percent probability that there’d be substantial upholding of Dietz’s ruling — which leaves a 75 percent chance that the school districts will be unhappy,” Aycock said.

I’m not sure where Abbott came up with those numbers, but I’d guess it’s based on faith that we may finally have a Supreme Court that’s too conservative to care about school finance. I suppose the Supreme Court could remand the case back to a district court, but if so it will do so with instructions about how to revisit the case and what guidelines it should use to do so; it may also be that only part of the case is remanded. The point I’m making is that how they do so and what they tell the lower court to reconsider is of great importance. That said, it’s hard to escape the perception that underlying this is a hope that by doing so, and by getting (presumably) two Republican judges involved in the review, they can finally be free of this nonsense. That sure would be easier than actually dealing with it.

Supreme Court to hear school finance appeal

We near the end of the road. This road, anyway.

BagOfMoney

Shut out by lawmakers in their efforts to overhaul the state’s troubled education funding system, more than 600 school districts are now pinning their hopes for relief on the Texas Supreme Court.

The high court will hear arguments on the volatile issue of school finance Tuesday, once again taking up the question of whether the current funding system is unfair and inadequate.

It will be the seventh time in the last quarter-century that the court has been called on to settle a legal challenge over the way Texas funds the education of millions of children.

Gov. Greg Abbott weighed in on the issue last week, filing a brief that urges the justices to reverse the decision of now-retired state District Judge John Dietz of Travis County, who ruled for the districts last year. The governor argued that judges should not second-guess the Legislature’s decisions on education.

“Both as a matter of constitutional law and as a matter of responsible policymaking, the courts are not the appropriate forum for making decisions about statewide education policy,” Abbott said. “It’s time to stop fighting about school finance and start fixing our schools.”

The Republican governor argued that the Legislature “substantially increased” funding for public schools earlier this year. The plaintiff school districts note that the actual increases amount to about 1 percent a year for the past five years — less than the rate of inflation.

And those small hikes came after lawmakers enacted record funding cuts in 2011 to help offset a massive shortfall in state revenue without raising taxes.

Yeah, about that

Three years later, as the state prepares to argue an appeal before the Texas Supreme Court, a Texas Tribune analysis shows that schools still are grappling with the fallout from the lean budget times even as the Legislature has restored a majority of the cuts.

An examination by the Tribune found:

  • Public school staffing remains lower than it was before the cuts, with at least 3,700 fewer teachers in regular, non-charter districts last school year, according to state data. That’s as student enrollment in those schools grew by more than 220,000.
  • The state still is approving far more waivers allowing elementary schools to exceed a 22-student class size limit established in 1984. Last year, the total number of campuses requesting waivers exceeded 2,100, according to state data; In the five school years leading up to the 2011 budget cuts, it never topped 1,375.
  • Scores on the high-stakes STAAR (State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness) exam remain flat — with success rates hovering in the 70th percentile — even though students have now had several years to get used to the more difficult testing regime, implemented in early 2012.
  • Per-student state funding has recovered to pre-2011 levels for some districts, but many still are behind. Under the two-year budget state lawmakers passed this year, lawmakers have restored more than 90 percent of what they cut four years ago, yet nearly 30 percent of school districts will receive less per-student funding from the state than they did before the reductions, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Budget Board.

And all that is happening as enrollment continues to grow, largely with kids who are economically disadvantaged, and standards continue to be raised by the Legislature. (Both of those links contain a lot more, so go read them in full.) The state’s response to the lawsuit is basically “hey, money isn’t everything, they should, like, work smarter or something”. Which unfortunately may be good enough for the Supreme Court, but we’ll see. We should have a decision in early 2016, thus allowing any special session (if one is needed) to take place after the primaries. The Rivard Report and Better Texas Blog have more.

Supreme Court to hear school finance appeal in September

Mark your calendars.

The Texas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Sept. 1 in the long-running case challenging the state’s school-finance system.

“We are very pleased that the court is moving so expeditiously,” attorney David Thompson, representing the Houston Independent School District, Fort Bend ISD and dozens of others, said Friday. “We think it’s a recognition of how important this issue is to every community in the state.”

More than two-thirds of Texas districts sued the state in 2011 after lawmakers cut $5.4 billion from public education amid a budget crunch while raising academic standards. In the suit, hundreds of school districts argued that, despite warnings from the Texas Supreme Court over the years about school funding, “the State has fallen back on temporary fixes that ultimately fail to support the increasing expectations Texas has set for a student population that is rapidly growing and disadvantaged.”

In response, the suit argued, districts have had to respond “in what amounts to an unconstitutional state property tax.”

In addition, the suit also claimed the current system was inefficient and inadequate to fund districts at a constitutional and equitable level.

[…]

Then-Attorney General Greg Abbott, now governor, appealed the ruling directly to the state Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case in January.

“After nearly four years of successful litigation, the inequities in the current system remain critically excessive,” said Wayne Pierce, executive director of the Equity Center, which provided research and testimony for the Texas Taxpayer & Student Fairness Coalition representing the school districts in the suit.

He said the system has long been broken, with many districts underfunded while taxpayers are burdened with property taxes.

“It is not unusual at all for the poorest districts to receive 50, 60,000 dollars less per typical elementary classroom than what the state system routinely makes available in the wealthier districts,” added Pierce.

Just as a reminder, the original trial was held in 2012 with the first of the six suits being filed in October of 2011; the final verdict was rendered last August after a rehearing in June of 2013 to consider the effect of that year’s legislative session. Abbott appealed the latest ruling last September, and here we are. Depending on how things go, we could have a special session sometime next year, or the Lege could try to address any needed changes in the regular 2017 session. If Judge Dietz’s ruling is upheld and the Lege is going to have to pony up a few more billion dollars to the schools, it will make for a very interesting session, that’s for sure.

Three legislators announce their departure

The first to say goodbye is Rep. Sylvester Turner.

Rep. Sylvester Turner

Rep. Sylvester Turner

Representative Sylvester Turner fought back tears today as the House gave him a bipartisan farewell as he concluded a 26-year legislative career to run for Houston mayor. “My time is up. My season is about here. And Mr. Speaker, in 24 hours, my desk will be clear,” Turner told the House, his eyes filled with tears.

Turner, who sometimes is called the “conscience of the House,” had once contemplated a career in the ministry before turning to law and politics. “God made me a very passionate person,” Turner said. “For twenty-six years, I have made this my ministry. And I’ve tried to hold true to it.”

Win or lose, Turner said he always tried to make a difference.

“I have given it my best. I have fought hard for the things I believe. I have done my best to keep them at the front. I have not won every battle. Every vote has not come my way, but I have given it all that I could,” Turner said.

At one point, he choked up and could not speak. Taking a white handkerchief from his pocket, he wiped his eyes.

“I love each and every one of you,” he told his colleagues. “Whether we have voted together or not is not important to me. Whether you are a D or an R is not important to me. The reality is we are Texans, but proud Texans.”

There has been some confusion in published reports about the exact nature of Rep. Turner’s plans. I emailed his campaign and have confirmed that while he is not running for re-election, he will not resign his seat until he wins the Houston Mayor’s race. (Yes, “wins” was the term used in our correspondence. What would you have expected?) I suppose that could leave some wiggle room in the event he loses, but I see no reason not to take him at his word. I expect there will be a spirited primary for HD139 next March.

Next, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, the Chair of the House Public Education committee, announced his departure.

When the Texas Legislature tackles a long overdue overhaul of the state’s school finance system, it will have to do without the lawmaker who has shepherded its two chambers through complex education issues for the last two sessions.

State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, announced Monday he will not seek re-election after almost a decade in the Texas House.

“Let me urge you as you go forward to not think about the extremes on the right or the left but to think about good policy,” Aycock said in an emotional parting speech on the House floor, as he asked his colleagues to remember that the state’s 5.2 million school children depended on them.

Known for his plainspoken good humor — and his deft balancing of the diverse and often warring factions within the education community — the veterinarian, rancher and former school board member has served as the chamber’s Public Education Committee chairman since 2013.

“I don’t think there is anybody in this body who has garnered the respect that you have for your evenhanded way of dealing with things, authentic way of being, and willingness to do what’s right for the state of Texas,” state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, told Aycock on the floor Monday.

I’ll have more to say on this in a minute. Rep. Aycock had been rumored to be leaving. He’s been an honest broker and a good Public Ed chair. I don’t know who’s next in line – Rep. Alma Allen is the Vice Chair, but there’s no way that a Dem will get the gavel; looking at the other members, I’d guess Rep. Dan Huberty, with Rep. Marsha Farney, a former SBOE member, as a dark horse possibility – but he or she will have a tough act to follow.

And finally, Rep. Joe Farias also chose to hang them up.

After five sessions in the Texas House, Democratic state Rep. Joe Farias of San Antonio announced Monday that he will not seek re-election.

A veteran of the U.S. Army, Farias emerged as a key player this year in the fight against proposed cuts to the Hazlewood program, a popular college tuition initiative benefiting Texas veterans. Ahead of the debate on Hazlewood, Farias gave an emotional speech in which he asked his colleagues to not break a promise the state had made to its veterans.

“Why take from them when they’ve given so much?” Farias said in his speech about veterans and their families. The bill aimed at reining in Hazlewood’s costs died after Farias and other military veterans in the House rallied against the proposal.

Democratic state Rep. Armando Walle of Houston, Farias’ deskmate in the House, announced his colleague’s retirement.

“What you have sacrificed for this country, Joe, none of us can ever repay you,” Walle said after announcing Farias’ departure.

I met and interviewed Rep. Farias during his first campaign in 2006. A good guy and a good member, and his departure is a good opportunity for an up-and-comer.

What makes these latter two announcements interesting is that HDs 54 and 118 pass for what counts as swing districts in Texas. Here’s the relevant election data:

2012 Dist Romney Obama Romney% Obama% ======================================== 054 25,343 21,909 52.9% 45.7% 118 17,824 22,234 43.3% 55.2% 2014 Dist Abbott Davis Abbott% Davis% ======================================== 054 14,945 9,086 61.1% 37.1% 118 10,452 11,899 45.8% 52.1%

Basically, a Dem could win HD54 in 2016, but would have a very hard time holding it in 2018, barring a fundamental change in off-year turnout patterns. Similarly, a Republican could win HD118 in an off year, but probably not a Presidential year. Still, as these are two non-hopeless seats, I’d expect them to be very much on the radar next year. All of this is modulo any potential court-mandated changes to district lines. I don’t expect any changes to HD54, though one could draw it as a Dem-majority district (there was at least one proposed map in 2011 that did so), but HD118 could change, if only as a consequence of HD117 changing. I’ll be keeping an eye on them no matter what. In the meantime, my best wishes to all three of these Reps as they enter the next stage of their lives.

Where the education reform bills stand

As we know, the attempt to take a first stab at school finance reform did not make it to the House floor. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t some action on school-related issues. This Chron story from the weekend recapped a couple of the major bills that did make it through.

Jimmie Don Aycock

Lawmakers likely could have killed House Bill 2804, the A-F and accountability legislation, by delaying debate until midnight Thursday, the deadline for passing House bills out of that chamber. Instead, out of respect for [Rep. Jimmie Don] Aycock, the bill’s opponents chose to allow a vote even though they knew it would win approval.

On Friday, Aycock said he would be proud if the bill is the last piece of legislation he helps shepherd to passage.

“I was pleased and surprised that some people who opposed the bill, had every right to oppose the bill, chose not to kill it on the clock,” said Aycock, who is mulling whether to retire from politics. He was elected in 2007 and quickly rose to become chairman, but at nearly 70, says he wants to return to his central Texas ranch life.

[…]

Originally, House Bill 2804 sought solely to revamp the way schools are held accountable by placing less emphasis on state standardized test performance in grading campuses.

Sensing he didn’t have the political support to pass the bill as it was, however, Aycock amended it to mandate schools be given A-F grades, a proposal popular with many Republicans. Educators and many Democrats oppose the A-F scale, saying it stigmatizes low-performing schools.

Aycock says having an A-F system won’t be an issue if the grades are determined fairly: “It’s not the horrible deal that everybody thinks it will be if you have an accountability system on which to base it. If you have the present accountability model, then it’s just totally unacceptable.”

Schools are graded now either as “met standard” or “improvement required,” based largely on student performance measures. Under House Bill 2804, 35 percent of a school’s grade would be determined by measures like completion and dropout rates, and by how many students take AP and international baccalaureate classes. Ten percent would be based on how well the school engages with its community, and 55 percent on state test scores with a particular emphasis on closing the gap between the top- and bottom-performing students.

[…]

House Bill 1842, which would force districts to improve failing schools or face tough consequences, passed the House the day before with little of the discussion Aycock’s other legislation generated. Aycock called the bill “one of the most far-reaching bills of the session,” and said while he carried it, Dutton was the architect.

“I think House Bill 1842 is the best bill on public education that helps students more than any bill that I’ve seen in this Legislature, and I’ve been here 30 years,” [Rep. Harold] Dutton said Friday. “We have never pressured districts to do something about (low-performing schools). This does that. This says to the school district, ‘Either you do it, or we’ll get someone who can.’ ”

The legislation would require any school that has received a failing grade for two straight years to create an improvement plan to take effect by the third year. If the school has not improved by the end of the fifth year, the commissioner of education would have to order the school’s closure or assign an emergency board of managers to oversee the school district.

Schools that have received consistently failing grades, such as Kashmere and Jones High Schools in the Houston Independent School District, would have one less year to implement a turnaround plan.

“Kashmere is what started me down this road,” Dutton said.

Kashmere earned the state’s “academically acceptable” rating in 2007 and 2008, but it has failed to meet standards every other year over the last decade. Its enrollment has fallen to about 500 students, most of whom come from poor families. Last school year, more than a quarter were in special education and 2 percent were designated as gifted, state data show.

“We’re just going to wait and see what the state does,” HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said about Aycock’s legislation. “If the state gives us the option of trying to manage it, we would implement some of the same strategies we have found to be successful in North Forest.”

I don’t care for the A-F grading system. I tend to agree with the critics that say it will stigmatize some schools. Not just the schools that get a D where they might have gotten a “meets standards”, but perhaps also the ones that get a B instead of an “academically recognized”. Who wants to send their kids to a B school if an A school is available? As for HB 1842, I don’t have any problem with the concept, but I’d like to know there’s some empirical evidence to suggest something like this can work, and has worked before. We haven’t done much to track the progress of students that were taken from failing school districts that the state shut down, so there’s not much of a track record here. What happens if we try this and it doesn’t work? What comes next?

The Observer updates us on some other education bills.

“Parent Empowerment”

Under a measure passed in 2011, parents can petition the state to turn schools with five consecutive years of poor state ratings into charter schools, to have the staff replaced, or even to close the school. It’s a tactic known as a “parent trigger,” and Taylor’s Senate Bill 14 would reduce that period to three years.

“This is about parent empowerment,” Taylor said when he introduced his bill in March. “[Five years] is too long to have young children stuck in a school and to have people defending that failing school district.”

California adopted the nation’s first parent trigger law, and its use there has prompted controversy. Critics say the few instances when the law has been invoked led to community conflict, teacher attrition, and dubious results. Nevertheless, reform advocates hope to spread and strengthen such laws across the country.

SB 14 easily passed the Senate in April but has less support in the House. The measure will also be heard in the House Public Education Committee on Tuesday.

Virtual Schools

Texas law allows public school students in grades 3-12 to take up to three online courses, paid for by the student’s school district at up to $400 per course. Senate Bill 894, by Taylor, would lift the three-course cap and extend online courses to students in kindergarten through second grade.

Texas needs to remove existing barriers and provide greater opportunity for students to access online courses, Taylor said as he introduced his bill in March.

David Anthony, CEO of Raise Your Hand Texas, a nonprofit education advocacy organization, has called SB 894 a “virtual voucher” that would drain funds from public schools and direct them to for-profit virtual school providers.

Research has shown that student performance lags in corporate-run virtual schools compared to their traditional brick-and-mortar counterparts. “There is little high-quality research to call for expanding [virtual schools],” according to a 2014 report from the National Education Policy Center.

SB 894 was voted out of committee in April but has yet to be brought up on the Senate floor for a vote.

Vouchers

After numerous defeats by a coalition of rural Republicans and big-city Democrats during past sessions, the fight for school vouchers returned to the Capitol this session.

Senate Bill 4, by Taylor, would create scholarships to enable mostly low- and middle-income students to attend private and religious schools. Under the measure, private businesses would receive a tax credit for funding the scholarships.

Students from families with an income of not greater than 250 percent of the national free and reduced-price lunch guideline would qualify—for a family of five that means an annual income of about $130,000. Patrick proposed a very similar measure in 2013.

Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) memorably used a hearing on this measure to denigrate public education.

The bill passed the Senate, but several representatives told the Observer vouchers will be easily defeated in the House. SB 4 is currently stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Dan Bonnen (R-Angleton). Bonnen has emerged as a fierce foe to Patrick this session, and it is not clear if he will even bring the bill up for a vote.

Here’s Raise Your Hand Texas testifying against the “parent trigger” bill. I can’t say I’ll be sad to see any of these die.

And finally, there’s still the budget, which as always has an effect on schools. Here’s some information of interest for anyone who lives in HISD from local activist Sue Deigaard:

HB1759, that would have made structural modifications to school finance and added $800 million more to the $2.2 the House added in their budget for public education, was pulled from the floor on Thursday. Basically, there were so many amendments it was unlikely there was time left to get it to a vote and the time spent on a HB1759 vote would have preempted other bills from being discussed. It also sounds like the vote in the Senate for HB1759 would have been especially steep even if it had been approved by the House.

So, HISD will go into “recapture.” That means that per Ch 41 of the Texas education code, because HISD is a “property rich, student poor” district, instead of HISD receiving money from the state we will have to send local tax revenue TO the state to redistribute to other districts. We are projected to lose as much as $200 million over the coming biennium. Here’s the fun part…the electorate in HISD gets to decide whether or not to send that money back to the state. Yet, not really. First, the HISD board will have to vote on whether or not to even have such an election. If they don’t hold an election, the state comes and chooses properties within HISD and annexes them on paper to other school districts. If they do hold an election and voters do not approve to give money to the state (which is the likely outcome), then the state comes and chooses properties within HISD and annexes them on paper to other school districts. The “ask” now is for the budget conferees, which include a few members of the HISD legislative delegation, to approve the House pub ed allocation that increases basic allotment for pub ed by $2.2 billion instead of the Senate version that increases it by $1.2 billion. Also, at least as I understand it, that “increase” still does not restore the per pupil allocation that was cut back in 2011, and like last session mostly just funds enrollment growth. As logic would dictate, adding the extra $1 billion in the House version over the Senate version infuses the system with more money so HISD has to send less back to the state through recapture. Basically….House budget = better for HISD.

Unfortunately, the Senate won this skirmish.

The budget conference committee — made up of five senators and five House members — approved a $1.5 billion boost to public education beyond enrollment growth, according to the LBB. The figure matches what the Senate had requested. The House had pushed for a $2.2 billion increase, and had briefly considered an additional $800 million on top of that tied to reforms in the state’s convoluted school finance system.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, was the lone “no” vote on the committee’s decisions to set the level of public education funding, in large part because he felt the amount was too little compared to how much the state was putting toward tax cuts and border security, he said.

“Conservatives spend money like they’re printing money,” Turner said, except on education.

Budget conferees included Rep. Sarah Davis and Sen. Joan Huffman. When HISD has to raise taxes or cut programs to cover this loss, you can thank them for it.

School finance bill dies

Alas.

Jimmie Don Aycock

A months-long effort to reform the state’s problem-plagued school finance system before the Texas Supreme Court weighs in came to an end on Thursday.

Facing a slew of amendments and attempts to kill his bill on procedural grounds, House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock withdrew his measure from consideration less than an hour into a scheduled debate on proposed fixes to the way the state funds public schools.

“We could go all day with this bill,” said Aycock, a Killeen Republican. “I don’t think it’s fair to leave this bill pending with everything else that’s up when we know already the Senate is already almost certainly not even considering the measure.”

[…]

After months of private discussions and meetings, Aycock said in March that House leaders no longer wanted to wait for a long-needed overhaul of the system.

“We had to ask the fundamental question: Do we want to do what’s right for the state of Texas and the children of Texas, or do we want to sit around and try to play lawyer and outguess the courts?” Aycock told reporters at a Capitol news conference.

But lawmakers in the state Senate, where Aycock struggled to find a sponsor for his legislation, did not share the same appetite to tackle reform this session.

In an interview at the Capitol two days before he decided to pull his measure down, Aycock said it had “become abundantly clear” the Senate did not intend to move his bill even if it made it to that chamber.

“It’s one of the largest issues before the state, and I hope we get to talk about it,” Aycock said.”I think a lot of the membership on the House side — and apparently on the Senate side — don’t seem to realize some of the problems we are facing and how big those problems are.”

See here and here for the background. My initial pessimism turned out to be correct, though in this case I’d have been happy to be wrong. Clearly, the only way this will be addressed is at the sharp point of a court order. Thanks for trying, Rep. Aycock, we do appreciate the effort. Maybe we can use some of your work when that special session comes around. PDiddie has more.

Mostly positive reviews for the Aycock school finance plan

So far, so good.

Jimmie Don Aycock

A plan from a top House lawmaker to overhaul the state’s public education funding system received largely favorable reviews from school districts during a marathon legislative hearing that ended late Tuesday night.

“While this bill, some consider it not to be perfect, for us fortunately it is a significant step in the right direction,” Houston Independent School District Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones said during a meeting of the House Committee on Public Education.

Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, has argued since the legislative session began that lawmakers shouldn’t wait for the outcome of a school finance lawsuit to consider changes to the school finance system.

[…]

Aycock’s proposal removes multiple provisions in the current school finance system.

It drops the number of districts that must send money back to the state under “recapture,” or what’s commonly known as Robin Hood. The nickname comes from the practice of taking property tax revenue from richer districts and redistributing it to poorer districts in an attempt to equalize school funding throughout Texas.

That adjustment, Skillern-Jones said, was a life raft for school districts that are “property rich, but poor in students,” like Houston. The district faces sending $200 million back to the state in the 2016-2017 school year.

(See how individual school districts would fare under Aycock’s plan here.)

It also eliminates the “Cost of Education Index,” which gives districts extra money based on characteristics like size, teacher salaries in neighboring districts and percentage of low-income students. Under Aycock’s proposal, that money would instead go to overall per-student funding.

That change that generated the most discussion Tuesday. Both smaller school districts that would lose money meant to help them account for economies of scale and districts with high numbers of the low-income and English-language learning students that the index is supposed to help raised caution about the effects of such a shift.

“While I never say no to money… I would ask that it would be looked at in the way that it is distributed,” said Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers. “I believe that our most needy students … are perhaps are going to get left out.”

See here for the background. The Observer notes the points where there is still work to be done.

But the biggest change Aycock proposes is the elimination of the Cost of Education Index (CEI), which steers more funding to urban and high-poverty districts to pay for higher teacher salaries. In the last few weeks, Aycock has stressed that the index is hopelessly outdated—it was created in 1991 and hasn’t been updated since—and nobody argued that point Tuesday night. But many weren’t willing to simply let it go.

“The underlying premise of the CEI is undeniably sound,” said Lori Taylor of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, who has conducted a series of studies since 2000 on how the Legislature could update the index to reflect current costs.

Former state Rep. Paul Colbert (D-Houston), a school finance leader in the ‘80s and ‘90s, agreed that while the index is flawed, its purpose—steering more money to urban and high-poverty districts that must pay higher salaries—is still vital. “You can’t just do away with it and pretend the problem doesn’t exist. You’re merely not addressing an uncontrollable cost,” Colbert said. “And that’s not equitable.”

Aycock agreed the change would affect districts unevenly; changing any piece of the school finance system creates winners and losers. Aycock has said he’s trying to minimize the pain of simplifying the system. “The party that gets hit the worst removing the CEI is the Valley area,” he noted at one point last night.

“How do we fix that?” wondered Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston).

“I don’t know that I can,” Aycock told her. “I’ve done everything I think I can to fix that.”

[…]

Aycock has suggested his bill would improve equity by moving more districts closer to the state average of per-student funding. But it would also enrich wealthy districts more than poor districts, which some analysts last night noted was basically the opposite of equity. San Antonio’s Edgewood ISD, with 96 percent students are from low-income families, would gain $171 per student under Aycock’s bill, while nearby Alamo Heights—with 22 percent low-income students—would gain $469. In South Texas, Los Fresnos CISD would gain $54 per student while the wealthier Point Isabel ISD. which includes South Padre Island, would gain $289.

Analysts outside the Capitol realm have noted these disparities too. Bellwether Education Partners analyst Jennifer Schiess recently told Education Week that Aycock’s bill “isn’t negative on equity. It just doesn’t move very far.” Schiess wonders whether such modest improvement is truly worth the fight.

Representatives from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Center for Public Policy Priorities and the Intercultural Development Research Association urged the committee to focus on steering money to students who need it most, and to follow Travis County District Judge John Dietz’s suggestion last year by updating the adjustments for poor students and those with limited English. Like the CEI, those weights have been untouched for decades.

None of these problems are going to get solved until there’s more money allocated to public education. That ain’t gonna happen until the Supreme Court says so.

Aycock’s bill has not yet been voted on in committee, and while I expect it will eventually pass who knows what will happen when it hits the Senate, which has shown little appetite so far for anything positive for public education. Even if this does get signed into law, there will still be questions of adequacy of school funding for the Supreme Court to rule on, as well as to decide whether or not this satisfies the equity issue. There’s still a long way to go.

Here comes the school finance bill

It’s a big deal.

Jimmie Don Aycock

The House education chairman on Tuesday unveiled a $3 billion proposal he hopes will overhaul the way Texas funds public schools and derail a looming lawsuit in the process.

“My objective when I began this was to simplify the situation that we’re in,” Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said before providing details of his proposal to the House Public Education Committee he chairs. “Please, before you take a shot at it, take a look at it.”

House Bill 1759 would make 13 changes to the way Texas funds public schools. It would provide $3 billion more than what’s needed to fund enrollment growth and would redistribute some existing funding to ensure each school district receives a more equitable amount.

Nearly all of Texas’ 5.4 million schoolchildren would receive more funding under the proposal. No district would see its per-student funding amount drop, according to data released Tuesday, but some would not see any gains.

Houston ISD, for example, would see its per-student funding increase by $213 in 2016 and $269 to $5,747 in 2017. If current funding mechanisms are continued, by contrast, HISD’s per-student funding level would drop. This is because HISD faces what’s called a “recapture cliff” in 2018, when it will be required to give an estimated $101 million back to the state to prop up poorer school districts.

[…]

Aycock hopes his bill will represent enough of a change to derail Texas’ latest school finance lawsuit, filed against the state by more than 600 school districts after the Legislature in 2011 cut billions in public education funding.

Last August, state District Judge John Dietz struck down the state’s public school funding system, saying it created an illegal, de facto statewide property tax and citing problems of equity, adequacy and efficiency. Then-Attorney General Greg Abbott appealed to the state Supreme Court, which is not expected to rule before the legislative session ends in June.

Aycock said Tuesday that he thinks his bill makes enough changes that, if it passes, Dietz’s ruling would be reversed or the case would be sent back to the lower court. Sheryl Pace, a school finance expert at the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, agreed.

“If this were to pass, I think there’d be a good chance of that,” said Pace. “This is a substantial change.”

See here and here for the background. This is a big step forward, and I agree it would have an effect on the litigation. Keep in mind, however, that funding disparities between districts wasn’t the only issue that was litigated.

Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) has said that Aycock’s proposal would mean new money for schools, but she doubts it would do enough for poor students or English-language learners to make the system truly equitable.

That was a major issue in District Judge John Dietz’s ruling against the state last year, and Aycock said this afternoon that his bill didn’t touch the funding weights that provide money for those students. But he did call his plan “the most equitable statistical sample that’s been proposed for many years,” and said, “I honestly move it helps the state’s position, moves the ball in the right direction.”

It does, and Rep. Aycock deserves a lot of credit for that forward motion. Assuming the House passes his bill – and I think it will – the question is what if anything the Senate will do with it. The prospect of at least scaling back the school finance litigation is sure to be an incentive for them, but the Senate has not shown any inclination to add money to public education – those tax cuts ain’t gonna pay for themselves, if you know what I mean – and has chosen instead to spend its time on bills that won’t actually solve any problems. Remember, Dan Patrick thinks the main problem with the 2011 cuts to education is that they didn’t go far enough. So good luck, Rep. Aycock. You’re going to need it. The Trib has more.

Budget passes House as most amendments get pulled

It was a long day in the House on Tuesday and Wednesday but not a terribly bloody one as many of the budget amendments and riders that had been queued up got withdrawn. A brief recap of the action:

Border “security”:

BagOfMoney

House Democrats tried — and mostly failed — to divert funds allotted for border security and the Texas Department of Public Safety to other departments during Tuesday’s marathon budget debate.

But the rancor over immigration enforcement that many expected didn’t materialize after lawmakers agreed to pull down amendments that, if debated, would have aired ideological differences over the contentious issue.

After predicting a “bloody day” on the House floor, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, pulled an amendment that would have reduced the appropriations for a public college or university by the same amount that it awarded in grants or financial aid to undocumented students.

Last month, Stickland expressed frustration over the lack of traction for a bill he filed to eliminate a 2001 provision that allows undocumented immigrants in-state tuition.

But on Tuesday, Stickland, with little attention or fanfare, withdrew the amendment after discussions with lawmakers.

“We did some negotiations,” he said.

An amendment by state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, that would have defunded the state’s Border Faculty Loan Repayment Program, which was created to help keep doctoral students on the border to teach, was also withdrawn with little attention.

On the funding, Democrats made good on their promises to try and take money from border security operations, which was at about $565 million when the day began, to local entities or other state departments.

[…]

One border lawmaker had tentative success in transferring money from DPS to his district for local law enforcement grants. An amendment by state Rep. Alfonso “Poncho” Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass, would take $10 million from the agency for that effort. But it’s contingent upon another measure — Republican state Rep. Dennis Bonnen’s House Bill 11, an omnibus border security bill — making it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk and getting signed.

Republicans had a bit more success in shifting money.

State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, was able to direct money into the state’s military forces for paid training for Texas’ 2,300 members of the reserve unit.

“Most of them reside in most of our districts, and we have zeroed out money for training,” he said.

But the success came after a lengthy back and forth between Huberty and members upset at where the funds would be taken from. Huberty offered one amendment that would have taken $2.2 million from the Texas Agriculture Department. That didn’t sit well with Democrat Tracy King, D-Batesville, the chairman of the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee. Huberty eventually pulled that amendment and instead took $2.2 million from the Texas Facilities Commission.

Huberty specified on Monday that the money is not intended to extend the Texas National Guard’s deployment on the Texas-Mexico border.

The Senate wants to spend even more money on the ridiculous border surge, so this fight is far from over. The fact that this is a complete boondoggle that makes the rest of the state less safe, it’s one of the few things that certain legislators actually want to spend money on.

The voucher fight was similarly deferred.

A potentially contentious vote on a measure that would have banned spending public money on school vouchers was avoided after its author withdrew the amendment.

Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) said he pulled the amendment because it wasn’t necessary.

“Given the commitment of the House to supporting public education, I felt this amendment was duplicative,” Herrero said. It also would have forced some lawmakers to take a difficult vote, caught between turning their backs on their district’s public schools and potentially earning the ire of conservative interest groups.

A coalition of Democrats and rural Republican lawmakers has coalesced during the past two decades to defeat voucher legislation. Herrero said the anti-voucher coalition is still strong.

“The coalition is solid,” Herrero said, “Vouchers for all intents and purposes are dead in the House.”

The coalition may be strong, but Texas Republican Party Chairman Tom Mechler is working to weaken it. Mechler sent a letter to GOP legislators Tuesday pushing them to vote against Herrero’s amendment.

If you followed the budget action on Twitter, this was the first major amendment to get pulled, and it was a sign of things to come. Attention will shift to Public Education Chair Jimmie Don Aycock when that loser of a bill passes the Senate.

Finally, you knew there had to be a moment that would be worthy of the Daily Show and the kind of viral mockery that makes us all heave deep sighs. Sure enough:

Seven hours into Tuesday’s debate on the House’s $210 billion two-year budget, things got first heated and then uncomfortable as state Rep. Stuart Spitzer, R-Kaufman, successfully pushed an amendment to move $3 million from HIV and STD prevention programs to pay for abstinence education.

A line of opponents gathered behind the podium as Spitzer laid out his amendment and proceeded to grill, quiz and challenge the lawmaker on his motives.

“Is it not significant that Texas has the third-highest number of HIV cases in the country?” state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, asked. “Does it bother you to know there are people walking around with HIV, undiagnosed?”

Turner and Spitzer also had an exchange over how Spitzer had arrived at his price tag. “If we gave you a billion dollars for abstinence, would that be enough?” Turner asked. “Or would you need two?”

[…]

Texas allows school districts to decide whether and how to approach sex education, as long as they teach more about abstinence than any other preventive method, like condoms and birth control. But a number of representatives questioned the effectiveness of this program.

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, pointed out that the state currently has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the country, and the single-highest rate of repeat teen pregnancy.

“It may not be working well,” said Spitzer, in reference to the current abstinence education program. “But abstinence education is HIV prevention. They are essentially the same thing.”

State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, took to the podium and asked Spitzer, “Were you taught abstinence education? Did it work?”

Spitzer replied that he was a virgin when he married at age 29. “I’ve only had sex with one woman in my life, and that’s my wife,” Spitzer said.

Dutton continued. “And since you brought it up, is that the first woman you asked?”

“I’m not sure that’s an appropriate question,” Spitzer responded.

The House was called to order, and Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, took the microphone. “Earlier you stated that you could not get STDs without having sex,” she said.

“It depends on what your definition of sex is,” said Spitzer. “I can go through of all of this if you want to.”

“If you still think you can’t get an STD without having sex, then maybe we need to educate you,” Collier added.

Spitzer’s amendment ultimately passed 97 to 47.

Spitzer is a medical doctor, because having one Donna Campbell in the Lege just wasn’t enough. He must have been absent the day they went over how intravenous drug use is a frequent means of transmission for HIV. This is another lesson the state of Indiana could teach us if we cared to pay attention. The Observer, Nonsequiteuse, RG Ratcliffe, Trail Blazers, and Newsdesk have more.

House will address school finance

Good.

Jimmie Don Aycock

With a plan that would add $3 billion to the state’s public education budget, the Texas House has decided to take on school finance reform this legislative session.

As he announced a deal Wednesday that would put $800 million on top of the $2.2 billion the chamber had already allocated to public schools, Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, called the decision a “significant change in direction.”

The topic of school finance was largely expected to go unaddressed this legislative session while a massive lawsuit involving more than two-thirds of the state’s school districts awaits a ruling from the Texas Supreme Court.

After months of private discussions and meetings, Aycock said House leaders no longer wanted to wait for a long-needed overhaul of the system. The proposal will be filed as House Bill 1759.

“We had to ask the fundamental question: Do we want to do what’s right for the state of Texas and the children of Texas, or do we want to sit around and try to play lawyer and outguess the courts?” Aycock told reporters at a Capitol news conference.

The Observer fills in some details.

Aycock said his priority is to correct illogical and outdated features in Texas’ school finance formulas, like adjustments for higher salaries in expensive urban districts or the extra cost of educating students with limited English proficiency, which haven’t been updated in more than 25 years. Tinkering with any of those would upset the delicate equilibrium of a system that, despite its flaws, has been in place since 2006.

“The fact is that when you change these complicated formulas, some people win, some people win more than others, some people lose,” Aycock said. “In order to mitigate that pain politically, you can only do this sort of modification when there’s more money going into the system.”

Some, but not all, members of the crowd around Aycock this morning have been meeting since last fall in an informal working group on school finance reform. The group includes Republicans and Democrats from both urban and rural districts.

In an interview, Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) said Aycock’s plan wouldn’t fix what’s wrong with Texas’ school finance system, but to Democrats who’ve been railing against the state’s chronic underfunding of schools, the extra money was welcome. “It was an offer we couldn’t refuse,” she said.

Still, adding more money this session to Aycock’s plan wouldn’t address the system’s basic flaws, or allow for reforms like pre-kindergarten expansion.

“I think it’s a huge step toward addressing what the court said we need to address,” Howard said, but “I take Chairman Aycock at his word that this is not about trying to make the lawsuit go away.”

[…]

David Thompson, an attorney representing one group of school districts suing the state, told the Observer that without a bill to look at yet, it’s impossible to guess how the case might be affected. “I do very much appreciate the House’s willingness to spend some time to address the issue,” Thompson said, adding that the plans Aycock described include “some very positive features.” Thompson said he’s most interested in seeing a proposal that steers more money to districts that educate the state’s neediest children.

Had lawmakers completely punted on school finance reform—or if the House’s plan eventually falls through—a Supreme Court ruling against the state would likely prompt a special session in 2016 dedicated to fixing the system. If nothing else, the new reform effort could serve as a practice run for new members getting to know the arcane system for the first time.

Rep. Aycock had previously filed a different school finance bill, HB654, to simplify the school funding mechanism by grouping the state’s 1,026 regular school districts into at least 30 “school finance districts”. This is something else entirely, and it’s not clear to me what the status of that bill is. Regardless, considering that Rep. Aycock talked about “nibbling around the edges” back in December, it’s quite a step forward. Whether it can survive the tax-cuts-uber-alles mania that is gripping the Senate remains to be seen, but for now this is a hopeful sign.

What will happen with pre-K this session?

They say it’s a priority, though I would advise tempering one’s expectations.

Currently, Texas funds a half day of preschool for 4-year-olds whose first language is not English, whose families have low incomes, whose parents are active duty military or who are in foster care.

Texas has some of the weakest quality standards for preschool, with no limits on student-to-teacher ratios or class sizes, according to reports from the National Institute for Early Education.

A Republican-led Legislature cut about $5.4 billion from public education funding in 2011, including $200 million for a pre-K grant program that helped some school districts offer full-day classes.

Lawmakers restored a portion of the funding in 2013, including about $30 million for the grant program.

[…]

Rep. Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, said that while there’s more bipartisanship support for pre-K this year, Democrats and Republicans likely will split on whether to make it a funding priority.

“I think we’re getting past the point where we have to convince folks of the importance of pre-K,” he said.

But even though more people “are recognizing and acknowledging the importance of that early investment, it’s still going to be determined by the action of the folks in charge and whether they’ll put money behind their assertions that there is a value,” he said.

Greg Abbott put forth a pre-k plan during the campaign, though it didn’t get a lot of discussion and he was vague about details and cost. Even at the high end of his proposal, the amount the state would spend on pre-k would still be down from 2011. With other priorities likely to take precedence and little to no room for growth, my expectation is that we may get some new standards and maybe some incentive money, but nothing beyond that. So again, to sum up in three words, don’t expect much.

Aycock files school finance reform bill

Interesting.

Jimmie Don Aycock

A key House Republican said Texas lawmakers should not wait for the outcome of a sprawling school finance lawsuit to discuss changes to the state’s current public education funding system.

“While we do not know the final outcome of the school finance lawsuit, I believe it is appropriate to foster broad conversations on this matter while awaiting the final decision,” Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said in a memo circulated to colleagues Monday.

[…]

In the memo, Aycock asked for the input of House lawmakers on a “very rough initial bill” that he intended to be a “conversation starter.”

His proposal, House Bill 654, would simplify the school funding mechanism by grouping the state’s 1,026 regular school districts into at least 30 “school finance districts,” which would provide per-student funding that is within $30o of the statewide average.

“I am not even confident that I like this concept,” Aycock said. “The unfortunate truth is that with each passing lawsuit, the Legislature is forced into more and more convoluted decisions in our effort to balance constitutional requirements, court mandates, and limited resources.”

Aycock’s memo is here. I didn’t expect anything of substance to happen this session, but I’ll be glad to be wrong. Aycock is an honest broker, so while there’s obviously a lot of blanks to be filled in, this is a discussion well worth having.

Until we have some more of those blanks filled in it’s hard to evaluate this idea – as noted above, even Aycock himself isn’t sure about it – but the basic idea has merit. It does attack the basic inequity problem, though I suspect setting up these school finance districts and maintaining them going forward will be fraught with political intrigue. Can you imagine what the school finance district redistricting process will look like? I’m not saying any of this to cast aspersions, just to point out that any change to the existing system, whatever its merits, will necessarily be difficult because someone will wind up better off and someone else will wind up worse off. It’s human nature.

And indeed, that seems to be the opening bid in response.

Aycock said his proposal is modeled after the “County Education Districts” the state set up in 1991, which subsequently were shot down for violating the state Constitution by enforcing an illegal statewide property tax.

School finance expert Sheryl Pace of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association said she believed the education districts were working before they were undone.

“I thought it was a good system. It provided equity, but also gave school districts some local control,” said Pace, who added she believes Aycock’s proposal could “be an improvement because you’d have statewide equity.

“Right now you have some districts that are receiving substantially more revenue than others per weighted student,” she said. “My guess is the property-wealthy districts won’t like this bill because it forces them to consolidate their tax bases with other school districts, and more than likely given the math, their tax rate would go up.”

Mark Trachtenberg, an attorney representing many of the property-rich school districts, including Alamo Heights in Bexar County, confirmed Pace’s suspicions Monday.

“I think it’s a good idea to have a wide-ranging discussion on how we should finance our schools,” said Trachtenberg, who said the proposal “causes some concerns” from a legal standpoint. “I just think this idea is going to be a nonstarter for a lot of my clients.”

None of this means that Aycock’s bill can’t or won’t go anywhere, just that it will take a lot of effort and a lot of compromise to get something resembling consensus. I have more faith in some people working to achieve that consensus than I do in others. K12 Zone and Trail Blazers have more,

The Lege is unlikely to do anything substantive on education this session

Oh, there will be lots of sound and fury, as well as various sideshow distractions, but in the end the main issue to resolve – school finance – will be at best “tweaked”. For anything more than that, we will have to wait till the Lege is forced to act by the Supreme Court.

Jimmie Don Aycock

Public education promises to dominate the 2015 legislative session, as advocacy groups prepare yet again for a struggle over vouchers and lawmakers decide whether to tweak an outdated, complex school finance system.

With nearly 40 percent of the state’s $200 billion budget going to education, school finance is always a major driver of debate during Texas’ biennial legislative sessions. The nature of the debate in next year’s session is harder to anticipate, however, as new leaders with resolute education stances flood the upper chamber.

“I think there will be some – I hate to use the term ‘nibbling around the edges’ – but tweaks and specific measures” to how Texas funds public schools, said Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen. “But do we have a full revamp of the school finance system? I would be surprised if that happened before the Supreme Court ruled.”

Aycock, who chairs the House Committee on Public Education, has been meeting with a small ad hoc group of lawmakers since state District Judge John Dietz of Austin struck down Texas’ method for funding public schools in late August, citing problems of equity, adequacy and efficiency. Attorney General Greg Abbott has appealed Dietz’s ruling to the state Supreme Court.

The legislative group likely won’t yield any cohesive policy recommendations, but Aycock said he plans to file legislation to tweak the system and he expects others will, too. The changes will fall far short of what many teacher groups want, however.

See here for some background. The sideshow of course will be vouchers, and with Dan Patrick running amok in the Senate it is possible they could get somewhere. I doubt they’ll gain much traction in the House where the Parent PAC-endorsed Aycock and Speaker Joe Straus can deep-six them, but you never know. I figure there will be some action on standardized testing, because there’s always some action on standardized testing, and I’m interested in hearing more about “community schools” as the anti-vouchers. Beyond that, we wait for the Supreme Court.

House starts thinking about school finance

Good to see.

Jimmie Don Aycock

For the past several weeks, state lawmakers have been meeting to discuss how to better fund public education in the wake of a court ruling calling Texas’ school finance system inequitable, inefficient and illegal.

Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, confirmed he and 12 to 15 members of the state House have formed an ad hoc, informal group to discuss the state’s method of funding public schools ahead of the 2015 session. The bipartisan group has held a few meetings since the system was declared unconstitutional by State District Judge John Dietz in late August, Aycock said. Attorney General Greg Abbott later appealed that ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.

“I think our group is, basically, looking at what’s practical and doable, independent of whatever the Supreme Court ruling is,” Aycock told the Houston Chronicle on Friday. “And as you might expect in that group, there’s a variety of opinions.”

Aycock said the group has not yet yielded any concrete ideas – no specific bills or funding amounts have been discussed – noting many of the most important funding decisions sat not with his panel but with the appropriations committees.

Ideally, however, he said he hoped the group would first tackle the issue of equity.

“That’s my personal, biggest concern,” said Aycock. “If I could solve anything, my priority would be the equity issue. I’m a big believer in we need to try to fund as equitably as possible. I don’t think we’ll ever achieve perfect equity.”

A couple of the plaintiffs’ attorneys had positive reactions to this, and I tend to agree. If there’s one Republican I have some faith in on this, it’s Aycock. He will at least lead an honest discussion, and he will have the members’ trust. Whether there is anything they can come up with that can then be passed in both chambers is another story, but that’s not his concern right now. It’s not clear to me that equity will be any easier to tackle than adequacy will, but I suppose one can cling to the belief that the Supreme Court will not force that issue. Be that as it may, I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

SBOE backs down on Algebra 2

So much for that.

Only high school students who pursue an honors plan or a diploma specializing in math and science will have to take algebra II under recommendations that the Texas State Board of Education preliminarily approved Thursday.

Despite an initial proposal that had included the advanced math course in all five new diploma plans, the 15-member board was nearly unanimous in its decision Thursday. The single no vote came from Martha Dominguez, D-El Paso.

“I think what we’ve done so far tonight accomplishes what we’ve been charged to do,” said member Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo.

The board, which has the responsibility of determining which courses school districts should offer in five separate endorsements as a part of an overhaul passed by the Legislature in May, has had two days of testimony and discussion on the topic. That included an unexpected visit from House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, and Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston. Both lawmakers urged the board to reserve as much flexibility for local school districts as possible — and not to require algebra II to fulfill all of the graduation plans.

See here for the background. While this is over for now, I have always believed that the issue will continue to be debated and refined in the Legislature. There just isn’t sufficient consensus on the matter, and some of the proponents of Algebra 2 have a strong voice. Keep an eye on any candidates that make noise about it, too. I don’t know what form this debate will take in 2015, I just feel confident that it will happen. Texpatriate has more.

Are we going to require Algebra 2 or not?

Apparently, despite what happened in the last Legislature, it’s still an open question.

The State Board of Education has proposed toughening high school graduation requirements despite the Legislature’s clear intent last spring to provide more flexibility.

The board’s draft plan – up for debate and a preliminary vote this week – would require most students to pass an Algebra 2 class to graduate. The proposed rule has set off a renewed battle over the value of mandating the advanced math course.

Proponents argue Algebra 2 is tied to college and career success. Colleges often require the course for admission. But other educators and business leaders contend some students need options that may be more relevant to their interests and job plans.

State lawmakers this year unanimously passed a law to overhaul graduation standards, promoting more flexibility for students, but they left decisions about some courses to the education board.

The sponsors of House Bill 5, Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, repeatedly emphasized that local school districts should get to select the classes they deem appropriate.

Another sticking point is whether students should have to take a speech class – a mandate left out of the law but included in the education board’s draft rules.

“These questions were addressed through the Legislature. They were pretty clear what their intent was,” said H.D. Chambers, superintendent of the Alief Independent School District and a leading voice favoring the bill. “It’s déjà vu.”

Chambers and others said a compromise is possible. For example, the board may end up requiring Algebra 2 only for some graduation plans.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize the SBOE had this role to play. They expect to make a decision in January after soliciting feedback from the public. School groups tend to oppose making Algebra 2 mandatory, while business groups tend to favor it. I expect the same arguments we had this spring to be made all over again. If you have a strong opinion on this, you should contact your SBOE member or sign up to testify at one of their meetings. We’ll see what happens.

Perry signs HB5, adds transportation to the special session

There had been some buzz about a possible veto, but in the end this was to be expected.

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.

Actually, STAAR scores were flat, and high schoolers continued to have trouble with the end of course exams. And there were definitely some people who thought that HB5 did dilute standards, including TEA Commissioner Michael Williams and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner Raymund Paredes. Be that as it may, HB5 did do a number of good things, and we’ll just have to see what happens with the graduation requirements. As I’ve said before, I fully expect this matter to be revisited by the Lege again and again. Texas Politics has more.

Meanwhile, the scope of the special session has been expanded, though thankfully not for anything bad.

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday added transportation funding to the agenda of the special session.

In his directive, Perry asked the Legislature to consider the “funding of transportation infrastructure projects” during the 30-day session, which began late last month.

“Texas’ growing economy and population demand that we take action to address the growing pressure on the transportation network across the state,” Perry said in a statement. “As we enjoy the benefits of a booming economy, we have to build and maintain the roads to ensure we sustain both our economic success and our quality of life.”

Not clear when the Lege will get around to this, since the House stands adjourned till Monday the 17th. Also not clear why Perry violated his previous dictum about waiting till redistricting was done before doing anything else. But that’s Rick Perry for you.

Even before Perry added transportation to the call, lawmakers had been filing road funding bills with the hope that he would. For his part, Perry has been advocating for 100-year bonds to finance transportation infrastructure, arguing the state should take advantage of historically low interest rates.

But a large contingent of Republicans remains adamantly opposed to TxDOT assuming any more debt. Some lawmakers want to tap the Rainy Day Fund for transportation funds, but conservatives have already objected to using the account for water projects and ending accounting tricks so it’s unclear if that will re-emerge during the special session.

Perry himself added to the problem during the regular session when he shot down the idea of even a modest increase in the vehicle registration fee as a way to help fund transportation. Perry also said he’d only add items that had consensus and thus would be easy enough to pass, and it’s not clear that this applies to transportation. But other than that, it’s a great idea. I’ll be happy if the Lege can actually get something done on this, but I’m not counting on it.

Pushing for the Governor to sign HB5

While a lot of big ticket items were addressed by the Legislature during the regular session, not all of those bills have been signed into law yet. Among them are the big education reform bills, and proponents of fewer standardized tests are urging Rick Perry to sign them.

Six organizations representing a statewide coalition of advocates in favor of reducing the emphasis on high-stakes testing sent a joint letter to Gov. Rick Perry Monday morning urging him to sign House Bill 5 — the omnibus bill that would drastically reduce the number of state exams students must take and overhaul curriculum requirements for high school students.

The letter calls on Perry to sign HB 5 as soon as possible, stating the delay is costing schools money and hurting students. The letter also notes that 123,000 Texas high school students failed at least one state test last year and that early reports from several school districts “indicate that the number of students failing at least one test is likely to double.”

“Parents, teachers, education support staff and, most importantly, current ninth and tenth grade students across Texas are confused and unsure of their high school future,” the letter states.

Representatives from Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment and the Texas Association of School Administrators both signed the letter.

Many districts have started to plan for summer school, which includes remediation for students that failed the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, test. Remediation may be unnecessary if students failed a test no longer required under HB 5. Instead of the 15 tests students are currently required to pass, HB 5 requires high school students to pass end-of-course exams in Algebra I, Biology, U.S. History, English I and English II.

You can see a copy of the letter here.The Texas PTA also sent out a message asking its members to call Perry’s office in support of signing the bills. I haven’t seen any indication that Perry might veto any of these bills, but the DMN’s William McKenzie is arguing that he should.

For several policy reasons, he should veto HB 5, HB 866 and HB 2824. Those are the most important education bills coming to his desk.

HB 5 would reduce from 15 to five the number of high school end-of-course exams students must take. The proposal also would make it easier to graduate without the current four years of math, science, social studies and English. HB 866 would allow some students to skip annual testing in reading and math in some grades. HB 2824 would allow some districts to no longer give some of the state’s tests in grades three through eight.

Being the politician that he is, my hunch is Perry does not veto HB 5 outright. It is the main anti-testing bill. It has passionate support from suburban parents, some of whom urged him Monday to sign the measure. They also are key voters, and I don’t see him crossing them completely on such a visceral issue.

But he could veto HB 5 on narrow grounds, such as requiring legislators to revisit in special session the type of tests HB 5 reduces. He could send it back with guidelines for requiring fewer tests but making sure those few tests include state exams in key subjects.

For example, he could request that HB 5 require end-of-course tests in Algebra II and English III. They matter because they are seen as good predictors of a student’s readiness to do college work.

He also could send it back with instructions about improving applied math and science courses in high school. HB 5 would allow math and science courses that are aimed at trade jobs. Perry could say let’s make sure Texas has the best type of applied math and science courses in the nation.

HB 866 and HB 2824 are different matters. Perry has plenty of room to veto them outright.

HB 866 would require the governor to ask Washington for a waiver from testing in reading and math in grades three through eight. Testing in those grades is the backbone of No Child Left Behind. Despite that law’s bad press, the Obama administration has never let up on testing in those subjects in those grades.

Why should states let up on testing students in reading and math in elementary and middle school?

Don’t most parents want to know whether their kids are advancing in reading and math year over year? Don’t they want to receive each year the kind of detailed information that the state provides parents about their children’s work on STAAR tests? That includes their high-achieving children, whom HB 866 would exempt from some annual reading and math tests in grades three through eight.

McKenzie is now joined in his desire to see HB5 vetoed by the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

In this special session, the Legislature can fix House Bill 5. Here’s how:

• Reduce graduation testing by at least half. Continue to expect students to demonstrate knowledge at least on par with TAKS to graduate. If the Legislature doesn’t scrap end-of-course testing altogether and return to the TAKS, they should at least choose the six tests which cover the same content: algebra, geometry, biology, chemistry, physics, and English 11/writing.

• Continue to place students on an internationally competitive course of study. In House Bill 5, this would be either an endorsement or the distinguished course of study. Continue to ensure parents have a major say in the decision made about their child’s graduation plan.

• Ensure each endorsement requires students to learn content in physics and algebra II or statistics (applied or traditional). Manufacturing is built on these skills.

• Continue to keep all incentives like college scholarships, top 10 percent automatic admission and university admission aligned to student completion of that competitive course of study.

• Ensure innovative courses which teach traditional content in a hands-on way first receive approval from Texas’ Education commissioner or the State Board of Education to ensure that, if the family moves, credits transfer with the child.

• Fund the state to train every high school counselor thoroughly on the raft of new options, graduation plans, seals and college eligibility requirements.

This approach reduces testing, reduces mandates, increases flexibility, keeps the system simple but doesn’t lower expectations.

I blogged about HB866 before, and I disagree with McKenzie on this. I think if there’s one place you can dial back on testing, it’s with the students that have already demonstrated a clear grasp of the material. I have mixed feelings about HB5, and I don’t know anything about HB2824. I don’t know how likely a veto of any of these are, but I do know that Sen. Dan Patrick sponsored HB5 and co-sponsored HB866, and I have a hard time believing Perry would stab him in the back like that. Be that as it may, Perry has till June 16 to decide on all the unsigned bills, so to whatever extent you think you can influence his opinion, now is the time to contact his office and let them know how you feel about this legislation.

Who will be on the Ten Best and Ten Worst lists?

The Trib starts the speculation.

Texas Monthly‘s list of the best and worst legislators of the 83rd session doesn’t come out until June 12, but why should Paul Burka and his colleagues have all the fun? Use this interactive to select your own personal best and worst list. Click or drag to put up to 10 House and/or Senate members in each column, then hit the button at the bottom of the page to submit your choices. You’ll be able to share your picks on Facebook and Twitter, and our leaderboard will aggregate everyone’s selections so you can see how yours stack up against theirs. We’ll have the final results after voting ends at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Voting for their list is now over, and a look at the leaderboard suggests to me that most of it was based on who the voters themselves like or dislike. The way Burka operates is pretty straightforward: He favors those who get things done and disfavors those who fail to get things done or get in the way of getting things done. He prefers good policy, to be sure, but ultimately this is about effectiveness and collaboration. I think after all these years I have a decent idea of the qualities he looks for in a Best or Worst member, and so here are my predictions about who will appear on his lists. Note that these are not necessarily the choices I would make if I were in charge of compiling these lists – I’d be much more about who worked the hardest for and against the greater good as I see it – but merely my guesses as to what Burka will say. By all means, feel free to chime in with your own prognostications, it’s more fun that way.

My guesses for the Ten Worst list

I will be shocked if Rep. Van Taylor, possibly the least popular member of either chamber, is not on the Worst list. He’s everything the Worst list is about – petty, rigid, obstructive, and so forth. Basically, he Does Not Play Well With Others, and that’s a sterling qualification for Worstness.

I will also be shocked if Sen. Joan Huffman is not on the list. Patricia Kilday Hart, who used to be Burka’s wingwoman on the Best & Worst lists, could easily be writing the entry for Huffman here:

* When exonerated inmates and their families appealed to the Texas Legislature to create an Innocence Commission, the last thing they expected was a lecture. But that’s what they got, courtesy of Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston. Huffman, a former judge and prosecutor, hijacked a committee hearing for a 10-minute peevish denunciation of the proposal as “second-guessing” prosecutors. Then she announced there was nothing anyone could say to change her mind. Waiting to testify was Cory Sessions, whose brother, Tim Cole, spent 14 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit, before dying of an asthma attack. According to the Innocence Project, Texas has had more total exonerations (117) and DNA exonerations (48) than any other state in the country.

* Then, late Friday, Huffman chaired a conference committee that gutted a tough ethics bill that would have required lawmakers’ personal financial statements to be available online, and include disclosures of any family members’ income received from doing business with government entities. Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, called the conference committee’s decisions “a strategic assault on transparency.”

Again, these are textbook examples of Worstness in action. If Huffman isn’t on the list, the list has no meaning.

Those two are crystal clear. After that it gets murky. I’m guessing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, for being generally ineffective at his job since at least 2007 and for trying to compensate for his ineptness by trying to channel Ted Cruz; Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, who has every right to be aggrieved by Sen. Huffman’s treatment of the Innocence Commission bill but whose vengeance spree against Huffman resulted in the death of some non-controversial legislation; Rep. Drew Springer, for being obsessively meddlesome; Rep. Tom Craddick for his conflict of interest defense of the status quo at the Railroad Commission; and Rep. David Simpson, who was completely ineffective in his attempts to be obstructive. While I think there’s a case for their inclusion, and I say this as someone who likes Rep. McClendon and shares her frustration with Sen. Huffman, I will not be surprised by the inclusion or omission of any of them. Obviously, there will be others, as I’ve only suggested six names. These are the ones that stand out to me; I suspect there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that may affect the list that I’m not advised about.

My guesses for the Ten Best list

I think the strongest case can be made for the three key players in the budget deal – Sen. Tommy Williams, Rep. Jim Pitts, and Rep. Sylvester Turner. Williams and Pitts had a Herculean task navigating the budget through a minefield of competing interests and outside saboteurs. Budgeting is never easy, but in some ways it was more challenging this year with a surplus than last year with a deficit, since the ideologues who didn’t want to restore any of the cuts had to be beaten back, and some of the things that needed doing such as the SWIFT fund, required supermajorities. They did about as good a job of at least mollifying the people who wanted to get something productive done as you could ask for. Turner held the Democratic caucus together in holding out for the original deal they thought they were getting to restore much of the money that had been cut from public education even as they were threatened with a special session (you can now see why they didn’t cower at that threat), and he cut a deal on the System Benefit Fund that worked for both himself and Williams. In terms of Getting Things Done, these three certainly stood out.

For his handling of education bills, and for ensuring that vouchers were dead before they could get off the ground, I expect Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock to be included as a Best. It’ll be interesting to see how Burka deals with Aycock’s Senate counterpart, Sen. Dan Patrick, who did accomplish quite a bit with his charter school bill, and who was a team player on the bike trails bill, but who nonetheless made a spectacle of himself over vouchers, going so far as to imply that it was a civil rights issue. You can make a case for Patrick on both lists; I suspect Burka will note him in a sidebar but not include him on either.

Sens. Rodney Ellis and Robert Duncan deserve consideration for the discovery bill, while Ellis was his usual eloquent self on the matter of sunsetting tax breaks and Duncan shepherded potentially divisive bills on the Teacher Retirement System and Employee Retirement System in a way that was fiscally responsible and endorsed by the employees in question.

You know I’m no fan of hers, but Rep. Sarah Davis, along with Rep. Donna Howard, brokered a deal to restore much of the cuts made to family planning funds from 2011. Whether Davis herself helped her Republican colleagues come to the realization that sex is a leading cause of pregnancy or they figured it out on their own I can’t say, but this was a good accomplishment and I will not be surprised if Burka rewards Davis (and possibly but less likely Howard) for it.

These are the names that stand out to me. Again, there are surely others whose merits are less clear to me, but I feel comfortable putting forth these names as likely candidates. Who do you foresee gaining this biennial notoriety? Leave your own guesses and let us know.

Testing and charter bills pass

A lot of stuff gets done at the last possible minute in the Legislature. The two big education bills were examples of this.

The session’s two biggest school reform bills, one from each chamber, have danced the House and Senate in the session’s closing days—a stalemate that broke Sunday night as both bills passed each chamber around the same time.

Members of the lower chamber began with their own House Bill 5, which reduces the required high school tests from 15 to 5, creates a new set of graduation plans for high schoolers, and lets the state rate its schools on an “A to F” scale. The final version of the bill is closer to the House’s proposal than the one passed by the Senate.

Its author, House Public Education Chair Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) urged a quick finish for one of the session’s centerpiece bills, and one that saw hours of debate on the House floor in March. “Let’s just vote it,” he said tonight.

Rep. Mark Strama—who voted against HB 5 when it passed the House—spoke in favor of the bill this time, devoting his final speech on the House floor to the proper role of testing in education policy. (He’s announced he won’t seek reelection.)

“HB 5 is an improvement over current law,” Strama said, but he defended the standardized testing movement of the last 20 years, crediting it with helping African-American and Hispanic students to close the “achievement gap” with Anglo students. ”The problem with testing in Texas was the stakes we had attached to those tests,” he said.

Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) said he’d vote for the bill too, despite his concern that that it doesn’t go far enough to help “the kids that are going to be on the bottom, I don’t care which test you give. … If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we will keep getting what we’ve been getting.”

The House voted unanimously in favor of the bill.

Senate Bill 2, which would let the state approve around 100 new charter school operators in the next six years, had a less certain fate in the House, where charter expansion bills have died in the last two sessions.

[…]

That bill passed 105 to 41, with no votes from a handful of Republicans along with Democrats. The Senate passed SB 2 without debate, on a 28-3 vote.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. The Trib breaks down what’s in the bills:

HB 5

  • High school students would take a foundation curriculum of four English credits; three science, social studies and math credits; two foreign language credits; one fine art and one P.E. credit; and five elective credits. They 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.
  • To qualify for automatic college admissions under the top 10 percent rule and state financial aid, students must take four science credits and algebra II must be among their four math credits.
  • The state will require five standardized tests in English I, English II, algebra I, biology and U.S. history. School districts will have the option of offering diagnostic exams in algebra II and English III that will not count toward their accountability rating.
  • Districts will get an A through F rating; campuses will remain under the existing exemplary, recognized, acceptable and unacceptable labels.

SB 2

  • The state cap on charter contracts will increase by about 15 a year to 305 by 2019.
  • Dropout recovery and charters created by a school district would not count toward that cap. High-performing charter schools from out of state would. Up to five charters focused on special needs students would not count toward the cap.
  • School boards would have the authority to vote in favor of converting low-performing campuses in their districts into charters.
  • The Texas Education Agency, not the State Board of Education, would oversee the charter approval, renewal and closure process.

Given the late changes and the broad scope of these bills, it’s going to take awhile to fully understand what they mean, and to uncover any hidden secrets in them. The Legislative Study Group gave a favorable recommendation to HB5 but an unfavorable recommendation to SB2. Their analyses are always a good starting point. For what it’s worth, I was inclined to support SB2 and I was uncomfortable with the removal of Algebra II from the recommended curriculum. What do you think about these bills?

House approves charter expansion bill SB2

A big step forward for those who would like to see more charters.

Senate Bill 2 passed on a 105-34 vote on second reading. It now faces a third reading before it can be reconciled with a similar version the Senate passed last month.

“I think the bill supports quality charters, helping them to expand and grow but at the same time helping to shut down the poor performers,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen.

Its author, Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has called SB2 the most comprehensive charter school legislation since the state introduced the publicly funded and privately run schools in the 1990s. Previous efforts to change the system made it through the Senate but failed to gain traction in the House.

The bill would update rules on the renewal, expansion and revocation of charters, raising the current cap of 215 charters that can be authorized at any one time by allowing an additional 10 per year up to a total of 275 by 2019. Charter holders may operate multiple schools under a single charter.

It would also tighten nepotism rules – an amendment exempts current employees – and give operators the right of first refusal on the lease or purchase of unused facilities in traditional public school districts.

[…]

The House adopted other amendments, including one requiring teachers at charter schools to hold bachelor’s degrees and another requiring the majority of a charter’s board members to be “qualified voters.”

Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, introduced the latter amendment, saying it was not aimed at any particular charter operator. Critics of the Harmony Public Schools charter network have complained to lawmakers in the past about the presence of Turkish citizens among Harmony leadership.

Since the House adopted amendments that make the bill differ from the one that the Senate passed, it has to go through a conference committee and get re-passed by each chamber. I don’t expect that will cause any problems, but sometimes strange things happen in the last days of a session. Trail Blazers and the Observer have more.

Senate passes amended HB5

The Senate has passed its version of House Bill 5, which makes sweeping changes to standardized testing and curriculum requirements for high school students.

Texas high school students would have new curriculum requirements under legislation unanimously passed by the Senate on Monday — but they won’t be the ones the House envisioned when it approved its version of the legislation more than a month ago.

The Senate version of House Bill 5, which the upper chamber reached consensus on after weeks of extensive negotiations that continued through Monday afternoon, still drops the number of required state exams for graduation from 15 to five in biology, U.S. history, algebra I, and English I and II. It would still allow students to complete diplomas in specialized areas or “endorsements,” like humanities, science and technology, and business and industry.

But it changes the courses that students must complete to graduate under those endorsements, most significantly requiring four years of math for all of them.

The legislation now goes to conference committee, where representatives from both chambers will meet to work out their differences.

Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said HB 5 provided the structure for “the most rigorous, most flexible” high school graduation plan in the country. He also emphasized the legislation’s commitment to reducing high-stakes testing, which he said had taken the “fun out of teaching.”

Many Senate Democrats, along with Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, favored preserving the current “4×4” curriculum — which includes four years each in science, social studies, English and math — but adding more options for career skills and advanced math courses. Patrick pushed to keep the plan passed out of his committee, which has four years of English but drops to three years of science, math and social studies in certain endorsements to give students chances to take specialized courses.

The proposal that emerged from Senate negotiations, which Patrick called the “flex 4×4,” puts all students on track to completing four years of math and English, with algebra II as a requirement for all endorsements except the business and industry track. The advanced math course, which some education researchers say increases students’ chances at post-secondary success, would be required for automatic admission to state colleges under the top 10 percent rule and to apply for certain state scholarships.

Under the House version, students would opt into a college preparatory curriculum with the additional years of math, science and social studies. That plan has encountered criticism from groups like the Texas Association of Business, La Raza and the Education Trust, who believe it would reverse the state’s progress in improving students’ preparation for post-secondary education and result in fewer low-income and minority students heading to college.

Here’s HB5, and here’s what I wrote about the House passage of it. The main points of contention were about the algebra II requirement and whether the default endorsement was the most rigorous one or not – in other words, whether a student had to opt in or opt out. The person pushing the opt out path was Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, and the Observer reports on her activities.

Under an amendment tacked on by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), students on the foundation plan must complete four years of science and four years of math with Algebra II to qualify for automatic admissions to state universities under the Top Ten Percent Rule.

That means some students who graduate with the career endorsement may not qualify for automatic admissions, depending on which math classes they choose. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), who led Friday’s negotiations, introduced an amendment that would have required Algebra II for all students.

“I tell ya, I find it quite insulting,” Van de Putte said of people who insinuate that some students just can’t succeed in Algebra II, which is considered a college-ready indicator.

Van de Putte said her amendment would reduce the possibility of reverting to an old system that tended to steer minority students into career and technology fields instead of college—a concern that prompted groups like the National Council of La Raza to agitate against the bill. Van de Putte said today’s system already funnels minority students into the lower degree plan.

“I want to make sure with this amendment that we’re not failing our kids because we’re so afraid with failing ourselves,” Van de Putte said.

However, Van de Putte ultimately withdrew her amendment so lawmakers could discuss her idea in conference committee.

In a statement after the bill passed, she explained her lingering concerns with a graduation path that isn’t built for college readiness. ”I worry that some ninth-graders, especially from families without a history of higher education, won’t realize what they can achieve. I fear that choosing the minimum plan will lead to a minimum wage job,” she said.

Van de Putte also tried, unsuccessfully, to require multiple notifications to students reminding them that choosing the career endorsement may disqualify them from automatic college admissions. “If we’re going to let 15-year-olds decide what their endorsements are, we need to let them be fully informed,” Van de Putte said.

Several legislators from both parties said one notice would be enough, and Patrick raised his voice saying that he didn’t want blue collar work to be stigmatized.

Among Van de Putte’s successful amendments was an option for school districts to offer a seal of bi-literacy on qualifying students’ diplomas, and another protecting dropout recovery schools from being penalized for low test scores.

The Texas Association of Business, which continues to veer between being a force for good and a petulant bully, continues to be unhappy with the thrust of this legislation.

Texas Association of Business president Bill Hammond criticized the Senate bill, saying the weaker requirements will “doom generations of students to a mediocre education and low-wage jobs.”

He noted that only about 25 percent of Texas high school graduates are college- or career-ready.

The requirements are “meant to increase that number and put in place [higher] standards,” he said.

The bill now goes to conference committee to get the differences worked out. I doubt what emerges will be any more to Bill Hammond’s liking than the Senate version is now, but perhaps the final bill will resemble the Senate version more than the House version. It’s mostly been parent groups like TAMSA that have pushed for limits on end of course exams, and they have proven to be a fairly loud voice in this process as well. I’m really not sure what to make of all of this. I do think we test too much, but I also think algebra II should be taught, and I’m a little concerned about weakening curriculum requirements. I have a hard time sorting out all the data on this. If there’s one thing I am sure of it’s that we will revisit this subject again in 2015, and probably 2017 and 2019 and who knows how many future sessions. I don’t think this will ever be anything but a work in progress.

Legislative quick hits

This is the time of the session where there’s lots happening, and there isn’t always the time or space to stay on top of it all. So here are a few quick updates on things that are happening in an attempt to at least not be too far behind.

A bill to give Tesla Motors an opportunity to operate in Texas moves out of committee in the House.

The House Business and Industry Committee advanced a bill on Tuesday that would allow Tesla Motors to circumvent the state’s franchise dealer system and sell cars directly to Texans, giving a shot in the arm to the company’s efforts to operate in the state.

Tesla says an exemption from the franchise dealer system is the only way the company can operate successfully in Texas, but the owners of state auto dealer franchises have objected, saying the effort weakens a business model that has been key to their success.

House Bill 3351, by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, was replaced by a committee substitute that offered auto dealers another layer of protection: If Tesla ever sells more than 5,000 cars a year in the state, it will become subject to existing regulation and must start to franchise its operations.

With Tesla projecting sales of only a few hundred cars a year in the state, the bill’s supporters, including Diarmuid O’Connell, the vice president of business development for Tesla motors, called this a workable approach.

“This would give us the space we need to introduce our technology in the state,” he said.

See here for the background. I’m rooting for this one.

A bill to allow online voter registration has passed the Senate.

[Tuesday] afternoon, the Texas senate approved SB 315, a bill proposed by State Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) to allow holders of unexpired Texas driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs to register to vote online.

Currently, registered voters in Texas may change their addresses online if they move within the same county but must complete a paper application if they are registering to vote for the first time or have moved to a different county.

In testimony on the proposed bill, election administrators said the legislation would both save significant money by reducing the need to manually enter information and eliminate transcription mistakes that happen with the current process.

The version of the bill approved by the Texas senate differs slightly from the original filed version in that the passed bill no longer requires voters to use the address listed on their license or ID as their voter registration address.

A similar bill – HB 313 – by State Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) is currently pending in the state house.

See here for the background. Another bill I’m rooting for. BOR has more.

Sen. Dan Patrick’s charter school expansion bill had its hearing in the House

Lawmakers didn’t let on too much of their feelings about the bill—but Killeen Republican Jimmy Don Aycock, chair of the House Public Education Committee, said he didn’t consider the bill watered-down, because it allows the state’s charter network to grow. Charter school officials seemed to agree.

The bill still gives charter schools priority access to unused public school facilities, which Kathleen Zimmerman, executive director of NYOS Charter School, said is the bill’s most important improvement. Zimmerman said she has to give up her office for tutoring sessions because unlike public schools, charters don’t get facilities funding.

Under the Senate version, the education commissioner would revoke charters of schools that performed poorly in three out of five years.

Zimmerman said she didn’t focus on those higher standards because she wanted to highlight the positives. But, she said, “as a charter operator, I don’t want poor performing charters either.”

Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) said she’s concerned that charters may have a hard time getting loans because some banks want them to plan to be open for more than five years.

Charles Pulliam, chief development officer of Life School charter in Dallas, said that prospect would undermine the flexibility charters need to test out innovative education strategies.

“It scares me a little,” Pulliam said. “To have one blanket way of determining if they are successful is a mistake.”

The bill is SB 2, and it easily passed the Senate after adding a bunch of mostly Democratic amendments. It is pending in the House Public Ed committee.

Speaking of charter schools, a bill to limit the role ex-SBOE members can play at one has advanced.

A measure to bar former State Board of Education members from taking a job at a charter school or related foundation within two years of serving on the board is headed to the full Senate.

Senate Bill 1725 by state Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, is intended to close the revolving door between the SBOE and charter schools.

An amendment by Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, would allow former board members to take a job at a charter school within the two-year period so long as that member did not vote to create that particular school.

The Senate Education Committee passed the bill 6-3 late Tuesday.

The three nays all came from Republicans, which suggests this bill could have problems getting any farther.

The Lege has been trying to change the name of the Railroad Commission to something more reflective of reality for as long as I can remember. They’re still trying, and working on some other reforms as well.

The bill, SB 212 by State Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, embodies a previous Sunset review of the Railroad Commission that didn’t pass in the last legislative session that would forbid certain campaign contributions. For instance, commissioners could not accept donations from a party involved in a contested case hearing. It would also limit campaign contributions to the 17 months before an election and 30 days after. Commissioners are elected to six-year terms.

A contested case hearing is the way citizens protest against an oil and gas company permit or action.

Barry Smitherman, Chairman of the Railroad Commission, said during testimony that the campaign restrictions were “tricky” because the commissioner position is elected statewide, the state is big, travel is necessary and commissioners must raise money.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who sits on the committee, said the Sunset Commission had thought hard about how to put reasonable limits on the campaign financing.

“Sitting there for a six-year term, being able to raise unlimited amounts of money from the industry that they regulate, there clearly is a perception problem,” said Ellis.

The Railroad Commission should be subject to restrictions that differ from other statewide elected officials, like senators and representatives, because the nature of the commission is unique, Nichols said, because the commissioners have six-year terms, they regulate a specific industry and they set rates.

Similar Sunset legislation for the commission originating in the House, HB 2166 by State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, recently passed out of committee, but largely stripped of the campaign and ethics reform, according to Texas Energy Report. That bill could end up competing with the Senate bill discussed Tuesday.

[…]

No one testified specifically against the name-change provision. [Commissioner Christi] Craddick suggested the more succinct Texas Energy Commission. State Sen. Glen Hegar, R-Katy, who worked on the Sunset review that failed to pass in the last legislative session, also suggested a new name.

“I’d like to change it to Texas Department on Oil and Gas because it sounds cool … TDOG,” Hegar said.

The official name in the bill is Texas Energy Resources Commission. But I like Sen. Hegar’s suggestion.

We close with two from the inbox. First, from Equality Texas:

Moments ago, the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence advanced House Bill 2403 by Rep. Mary González of El Paso on a committee vote of 5-3.

HB 2403 would remove existing inequity in Texas’ “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense law. The “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense is a logical approach to the reality that adolescents sometimes make sexual decisions that adults wish they had not made, but that adolescents have been making since the beginning of time.

Under current law, if teen sweethearts are of opposite sexes, consensual intimate contact remains a matter between parents and their children. However, the “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense is not currently available to dating teens of the same gender. The state should not intrude on the right of parents to instill their values about sex into their children. Nor should the state interfere if teenage sweethearts make decisions that their parents believe are not what is best for them.

This needs to be a conversation between parents and their children. Not between parents, their children, an arresting officer, a prosecuting attorney, and a trial judge. That is why the “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense exists.

HB 2301 will ensure that it applies equally to straight & gay teens.

Today’s House committee action follows advancement of identical legislation by the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice. On April 9th, Senate Bill 1316 by Senator John Whitmire of Houston was advanced by the committee on a 4-1 vote. SB 1316 is on the Senate Intent Calendar for Tuesday, April 23, 2013.

See here for more. As far as I can tell, the full Senate has not taken up SB1316 as yet.

Last but not least, a non-good bill from Empower the Vote Texas:

HB 148 by Rep. Burkett is scheduled to be voted on by the full House tomorrow, April 25th. Please contact your State Representative and tell them to vote NO on this bill. If you are not sure who is your State Rep, you can use the “Who Represents Me” lookup tool. Emails addresses for all House members are firstname.lastname @ house.state.tx.us, however phone calls are much more effective.

Attached are the letter ETVT sent to all Representatives opposing this bill along with supporting documents. The original text of the bill as introduced, the new text of the committee substitute, witness list, and bill analysis can be found here.

A copy of the letter is here. The hearing is today, so we’ll see how it goes.

Texas Lottery Commission dies and is reborn

And we have our first curveball of the legislative session.

Is this the end?

The House voted Tuesday to defeat a must-pass bill reauthorizing the Texas Lottery Commission, a stunning move that casts doubt on the lottery as a whole and may potentially cost the state billions in revenue.

House Bill 2197 began as a seemingly routine proposal to continue the operations of the commission that oversees the lottery until September 2025. But opposition mounted after one lawmaker called it a tax on the poor, and the House eventually voted 82-64 to defeat the measure.

A short time after the vote, the House called an abrupt lunch recess and could reconsider the measure if any lawmaker who voted against it offers such a motion. Unless lawmakers reconsider, the commission would begin a one-year wind down, and cease to exist by Sept. 1, 2014.

“There are more members than I thought who are against the lottery and just have a psychological aversion of it,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, who sponsored the failed bill.

The state Senate has yet to consider the matter, but it can’t because the so-called “sunset bill” on the Lottery Commission initiated in the House.

For now, there’s no one to operate the lottery, which means a potential loss of $1.04 billion in annual revenue for the Permanent School Fund and $27.3 million to cities and counties from charitable bingo.

The state budget already under consideration in the Legislature has factored in the $1.04 billion — and losing the lottery proceeds would create a deficit lawmakers would need to fill.

Here’s HB2197. I think it’s fair to say no one saw this coming. Here’s more from the Trib:

During a spirited debate on the bill, state Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, got a round of applause in the House as he spoke against the bill, calling the lottery a “predatory tax” and “a tax on poor people.”

As soon as the vote was over, House leaders were already discussing possible workarounds to keep the programs going. Anchia said the House may reconsider the vote.

Texans spent $3.8 billion on lottery tickets in the 2011 fiscal year, according to the Legislative Budget Board. The majority of that was paid out to players and retailers, with $963 million transferred to the Foundation School Account. Another $8.1 million was transferred to the Texas Veterans Commission.

Anchia warned that charity groups around the state would be outraged at learning they could no longer host bingo games.

“VFW Bingo’s dead now,” Anchia said. “They’re going to have to go back to their constituents and explain why bingo is illegal.”

I don’t disagree with what Rep. Sanford says, though I wonder if he will feel the same way when the payday lending bill comes to the House floor. In the end, however, everyone sobered up after taking a lunch break.

In a 91-53 vote Tuesday afternoon, the Texas House passed House Bill 2197, continuing the the Texas Lottery Commission. An earlier vote Tuesday had failed to continue the commission.

Bill supporters spent the hour after the first vote impressing on those who voted against it the impact of cutting $2.2 billion from schools. The House Republican Caucus hastily assembled to discuss the situation.

“I think when people took a sober look at the budget dilemma that would ensue, they voted different,” said state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, the bill’s author.

Several lottery critics in the House saw the day’s drama as a victory, setting the stage for a more thorough debate on the lottery in the future. Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said he originally voted “no” largely to make clear his opposition to gambling. Once that statement was made, it made more sense to back the Lottery Commission for now.

“I don’t like gambling, but I do like school funding,” Aycock said. ‘It was, for me, at least, a signal vote. I sort of anticipated I would switch that vote when I made it.”

State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said school funding was also the primary motivator for his switch.

“When you weigh principle vs a billion dollars in public ed, I set aside my principle for a billion dollars in public ed,” Burnam said. “I still hate the lottery.”

I had always wondered why they vote on bills three times in the Lege. Now I understand. Having had their fun and having made their statements of principle, if the Lege is serious about wanting to eliminate the Lottery, let’s go about it in the next session by filing a bill and letting it go through the usual committee process, mmkay? Thanks. BOR, who notes that failure to pass this bill could have led to a special session, and Texpatriate have more.

House passes major changes to testing and graduation requirements

This is a big deal.

Texas public high school students would face far fewer high-stakes exams and gain more freedom in choosing courses under a major education bill approved by the state House on Tuesday.

Hours of debate among lawmakers centered on whether the state was giving students much-needed flexibility or scaling back too far – eliminating an Algebra II class as a standard graduation requirement, for example.

The bill, which is similar to proposals in the Senate, says students would have to pass five end-of-course exams to graduate, down from 15. It also scraps the default requirement that students take four years of math and science courses.

Supporters say House Bill 5 would decrease dropouts, letting students take more meaningful vocational classes that will prepare them for jobs after high school if they decide against college.

“I believe this is good policy. I think most people in Texas believe this is good policy,” Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said after his bill passed following nearly nine hours of discussion.

[…]

The legislation would end the three-tiered diploma system that kept some students on the lowest level from being admitted into most colleges.

All students now would have to complete a “foundation” curriculum that includes four years of English and three years each of math, science and social studies.

Students could add on “endorsements” by taking courses in a speciality: business and industry; science, technology, engineering and math; public services; arts and humanities; or a mixture. Those students also would have to take a fourth math class, meant to raise the rigor, under an amendment from Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.

Students who complete an endorsement and take four years of science and math, including Algebra II, would meet the “distinguished” standard.

The Statesman notes the main issue debated during the daylong discussion of this bill, led by Rep. Mark Strama, who was one of only two votes against it.

A bipartisan coalition of members led by Strama argued that the state would be backing away from the rigorous requirements that have produced results, particularly among low-income and minority students, in the name of giving students flexibility.

“Every conversation I’ve had for months has revolved and swirled around this issue,” Aycock said.

Under current law, the 4×4 curriculum is the default graduation plan for all students unless they opt for a minimum plan requiring fewer credits for graduation that doesn’t qualify the student for a four-year college.

Strama put forth an amendment that would make the default plan under House Bill 5 the “distinguished diploma,” which is close to the 4×4 plan and a prerequisite to qualify for automatic college admission under the state’s top 10-percent law.

The distinguished diploma requires four years of science and math, including Algebra 2, rather than the three years called for in the “foundation diploma.” Algebra 2 is seen by many educators as a key indicator of whether a student is ready for college.

“We should assume all of them want a college prep curriculum and are capable of it, and let them decide if they don’t,” Strama said.

Higher Education Committee Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, signed on to Strama’s amendment and said he was concerned that looser requirements might be sending the state in the “slightly wrong direction,” away from ensuring students are prepared for the 21st century economy.

Forcing students to choose between an upper and lower track would stigmatize the foundation diploma as the lesser option when that isn’t the intention, said Aycock and his allies.

“It would have all these students have to admit at the very beginning of school: ‘I can’t hack this. I have to drop down to a lower level in order to get through high school,’” state Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, said of Strama’s amendment.

After nearly 90 minutes of debate, Strama’s amendment was set aside on a 97-50 vote.

Bill McKenzie, for one, heartily approved of Strama’s amendment. Strama explains his No vote here, and it’s worth your time to read it.

In a preview story, the Trib expanded on these concerns.

Over the past several years, Texas has had “significant gains among all students, especially those of low income backgrounds,” in college and career preparation, said Sonia Troche, the Texas regional director of La Raza. “What they are doing now is actually helping.”

Primary among the concerns of opponents like Troche is a provision that would do away with the state’s so-called 4X4 graduation plan, which requires four years of courses in math, science, social studies and English. Instead, students would complete a “foundation” program with four credits in English, three in math, two in science, three in social studies and then they would earn “endorsements” by completing five credits in areas of study like humanities, science, engineering, technology and math, or business and industry.

The array of choices available to students could prove difficult to navigate for low-income and minority students whose parents are not acquainted with the system because of language or educational barriers, Troche said. Under the current plan, the default is a diploma that requires all of the courses needed for college readiness. The proposal would also reduce the number of end-of-course exams students must from 15 to five total tests, one each in reading, writing, biology, algebra I and U.S. history.

“To a family that may not know all the details, they might think their son or daughter just graduated from high school and are now eligible for college,” Troche said. “But, in fact, if they did an endorsement type of program and graduated from high school but didn’t complete all the required courses, they would have a high school diploma, but would not ready to go to college.”

[…]

State education officials like Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner Raymund Paredes and Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams have joined Shapiro and Troche in sounding an alarm about the proposed changes.

Paredes said in a February interview that even if there are currently high-paying jobs in fields that do not require post-secondary education, the job opportunities for those without a college degree continue to dwindle.

“There’s an increasing amount of information that suggests career technical education is going to be done increasingly in two-year institutions, because once again, the demands of advanced manufacturing jobs and high skilled industrial jobs are growing,” he said.

High school, Paredes said, needs to prepare students to be successful in that setting.

At a Senate hearing Monday, Williams said he would recommend the number of required end-of-course exams to be reduced to eight — three more than under the HB 5 plan in either geometry or algebra II, world history or geography, and chemistry or physics. In remarks delivered around the state, he also said he does not support moving away from the 4X4 curriculum.

See Burka for more on that. I don’t agree much with the Texas Association of Business, which has been among the most stalwart supporters of the STAAR tests, to the point of hostage taking, but this is a valid concern, and it tracks with what I’ve been hearing from people who actually work in schools. Raise Your Hand Texas on the other hand seems pleased with HB5. I’m not sure what to make of all this just yet.

Rep. Harold Dutton knows what he makes of it.

No Child Left Behind, and its precursor Texas system, was created to make sure that, well, no child was left behind. But to Dutton’s way of thinking, no version of accountability, past to present, has touched the lives of African-American males in the Texas school system. So Dutton, being Dutton, proposed our accountability system be based solely on the progress of African-American males.

Aw, ever the jokester, that Dutton. On the floor, near the tail end of yesterday’s debate, Dutton talked about the dominance of African-American males in the state jails, county jails and the probation system.

“What’s the one thing they have in common, other than their race? You know what that one thing in common is?” Dutton asked from the front microphone of the House. “The TEAMS test didn’t help them. The TAAS test didn’t help them. The TAKS test didn’t help them. The end-of-course exams didn’t help them, and the reality is that House Bill 5 is not going to help them, either, unless we do something about it.”

And Dutton’s idea of doing something about it would be to judge school districts by how they teach the children on the bottom rung of academic progress. Needless to say, he didn’t get a lot of support in the House.

Not a lot of big-money lobbyists for that, I’m afraid.

The Observer tracked the amendments that were proposed for HB5.

The amended bill includes new requirements that STAAR tests be given later in the year—no sooner than the third week of May—and that copies of the test be released annually instead of every three years. (Strama introduced both of those.)

Amendments approved back-to-back by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) and Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington) would bar anyone working for a test contractor like Pearson from making political contributions or serving on advisory committees for the state. The amendments appear targeted at Pearson lobbyist Sandy Kress, who serves on a Texas Education Agency committee on accountability.

Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) tacked on an amendment limiting the benchmark tests school districts can give to two benchmarks per STAAR test. The House also approved his amendment that requiring a review of the bill’s effects on graduation rates and college readiness.

Villarreal said he supports HB 5 because he’s seen how vocational opportunities help students in his district. He said some students who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in school get to see how classroom concepts apply to the real world, and find high-paying jobs after graduation.

Rep. Diane Patrick (R-Arlington) voted for the bill, but tried in vain to add protections for rural students in small schools, who she worried wouldn’t have enough course options to finish one of the “endorsements” required for a distinguished diploma.

“My concern is that we have created a plan that is not available, not attainable to all students,” Patrick said. Some representatives suggested distance learning would solve that problem.

Strama sparked the day’s toughest debate around noon, with a proposal to make the college-ready “distinguished” path the default for students, reflecting concerns from higher ed leaders and some Latino and African-American members that HB 5 would leave too many minority students unprepared for college. Strama’s amendment failed, and he eventually voted against the bill.

After the vote, Strama told the Observer that while there are many issues with standardized testing in Texas, the problems are with the execution of the tests and not with the number of end-of course exams.

“I’m afraid that in the upper level coursework we’re going to have wildly varying degrees of rigor and achievement across the state,” he said. “It is more important than ever that we measure kids with one yardstick.”

As the state’s low-income population continues to grow, Strama said it’s more important that students in poor schools are held to the same tough standards as all students.

“If we can’t get those kids to pass these tests, we’re going to pay a high price, and saying they don’t have to pass the test isn’t going to solve the problem,” Strama said.

Here’s a press release from Rep. Villarreal on his amendments. Like I said, I’m still thinking about all this. To say the least, it’s a big and complicated subject, and I don’t claim any particular expertise. I am certain that there will be differences with the Senate bill, and there will be much horse-trading in conference committee. Reducing the number of exams, and aligning them with college admissions makes sense to me. Providing viable alternate paths to high school graduation that prepare kids for a professional career and aren’t viewed as lesser achievements is a good idea, too. I feel confident that whatever we do this session, we’ll be revisiting it next session, and likely again after that.

The prospects for increasing charter schools

According to the Trib, it’s trickier than it might look.

Senate Bill 2, the centerpiece of Patrick’s plans for the session, is the most ambitious attempt to expand the state’s charter school system since it was established in 1995. To succeed, it will have to pass a Legislature that defeated more modest proposals just two years ago.

The graveyard for such measures has typically been the House, whose 150 members represent much smaller districts than the 31 state senators. That means the influence of local power players can override party politics — particularly in rural areas where those players are often school boards and superintendents, two groups that have traditionally had a tense relationship with charters, which are publicly funded but privately operated.

“In Texas, it’s often the interests of rural, the interests of urban, the interests of suburban. In other states, it might be two factions instead of three,” said former state Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, a former House Public Education Committee chairman who is now working as a lobbyist. “The Legislature has a strong hand, but that that hand could be tied when you have seemingly similar but different goals.”

It is a dynamic that threatens to materialize again. The chairman of the House’s education committee, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, has said he favors a more limited approach than Patrick’s legislation.

“Senator Patrick and I have had conversations about it, and he knows I’m not comfortable with that large a jump,” Aycock said. “That reflects the nature of the committee, if I am reading the committee right, and I think the House as a whole as well.”

[…]

The legislation has also drawn objections from superintendents and school board members, who argue that in a time of limited resources, charter schools that serve only 3 percent of the public school population should not received additional state funding — and that before looking to expand charters, the state should move to shut down the poor-performing schools.

In 2011, a bill from Patrick that would have increased the charter contracts the state could offer by 10 a year, as well as measures addressing the facilities shortage, were part of a slate of charter school legislation that failed.

But despite past difficulties, there may be room for compromise this time around. Aycock said that he would support a “reasonable” increase in the number of charter school contracts available with proper oversight.

We’ll see what that means. Patrick is supposed to introduce a committee substitute for SB2 today for a hearing on it, so we’ll have a better idea of where this is headed and what its prospects may be then. One thing to note is that even if no bills pass this session, or in the upcoming special session to deal with school finance, don’t count this out for the future. Vouchers were supposed to be dead after Kent Gruesendorf got successfully primaried by Diane Patrick and the Texas ParentPAC, but they have made a zombie-like return this session. Any idea with enough money behind it never truly goes away (*cough* *cough* expanded gambling *cough* *cough*), and the charters have a lot of money behind them.

One more thing:

In the past decade, charter school enrollment has increased steadily to about 155,000 students at about 500 different campuses. After the latest round of approvals in 2012, only six charter contracts remain of the 215 available. An estimated 101,000 students are on waiting lists for the schools, though there are questions about whether that number adequately accounts for students on waiting lists for multiple schools.

I’m glad to see someone question the pedigree of that “hundred thousand student waiting list” statistic, which has been thrown around like a Frisbee at an Ultimate game. As often as I’ve seen that number quoted, I’ve yet to see a source or an explanation for it. Is there an official Charter School Waiting List out there somewhere, or is this just somebody’s best guess? If it’s the latter, whose guess is it and how did he or she arrive at it? This would be a useful topic for some intrepid reporter to investigate.

Patrick files his own voucher bill

I guess if you want something done right, you do it yourself.

Ending speculation over when — or whether — his widely promoted school choice legislation would emerge, state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has filed a bill creating a business tax scholarship for students to attend private schools.

The Equal Opportunity Scholarship Program, or Senate Bill 23, would allow economically disadvantaged and at-risk students who attend public schools to transfer to private schools, including religious institutions. Under the program, businesses would receive an up to 15-percent state tax credit in exchange for contributions to a nonprofit organization that would distribute grants to qualifying students, with priority given to those at underperforming campuses. The legislation is co-sponsored by state Sen. Ken Paxton, the McKinney Republican who filed his own tax credit scholarship bill Monday.

“In order to give the children of Texas a better education and a brighter future we must focus on creating more choices for parents including charter, online learning, and the ability for parents to find the right school for their child,” Patrick said in a news release announcing the bill Friday. “Several hundred-thousand students are stuck in low-performing schools today. This should not be acceptable to anyone.”

Many hundreds of thousands more suffer from lack of access to health care, but of course Dan Patrick (and his soulmates) don’t care about that. You just have to admire the brazenness of it all.

But despite the high-profile praise, leaders in the House, including Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, and Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, have expressed skepticism that such programs could pass in the lower chamber.

They have also generated opposition from advocacy groups in the state, including the Coalition For Public Schools, whose membership includes the state’s major education associations. The coalition released a statement Friday saying it was “appalling to see such legislation filed that would create a corporate tax loophole and voucher scholarships to divert critical dollars into an experimental voucher program to subsidize private education” following the $5.4 billion state budget cut to public education in 2011.

There is also concern about what critics of the plan view as a lack of accountability it provides for taxpayer dollars. The program would intercept the money before it hits public coffers, which would allow private schools to remain outside of regulations and accountability measures applied to the state’s public schools. At a Thursday event hosted by the Tribune, Aycock said that he considered a tax credit program to be a use of public funds — and that any proposal that did not provide adequate accountability measures for public money would be unlikely to pass out of his committee.

I’ll throw in a statement from Raise Your Hand Texas as well. I’m not going to waste my breath on this. It’s a lousy idea that will line a bunch of pockets and benefit a select few at the expense of everyone else. I’ll just add one more thing, via RYHT, that I hadn’t really thought about before: the potential for fraud.

A Texas Freedom Network Education Fund briefing paper documents serious problems with tax-credit voucher schemes in other states. Often, for example, tax-credit vouchers simply subsidize tuition for students already in private schools rather than helping needy children as promised by proponents. In fact, some Georgia private schools have worked to funnel voucher donations back to the children of the donors themselves. In addition, tax-credit voucher schemes have led to the creation of a virtual cottage industry of organizations that make money soliciting donations. Lobbyists in Pennsylvania control the state’s largest voucher organizations and use decisions about who gets vouchers to curry favor with lawmakers.

A tax-credit voucher scheme in Texas would open the door to similar problems in this state. In fact, that’s essentially the warning from Gov. Rick Perry’s former education commissioner, Robert Scott. Speaking at a Texas Tribune event in Houston last week, Scott said:

“Whether it’s public funds or it’s siphoned off tax dollars that go into a 501 (c) 3 and they get to hand out the money, the potential for fraud is incredible. Those checks are going to go out and they’re going to find out that those kids don’t actually exist, as we have with charter schools in the past.”

Tax-credit voucher schemes are a racket, which even some of the state’s most prominent Republicans are now acknowledging.

This should not be a surprise to anyone. There are many, many examples of just exactly this kind of behavior everywhere else in the tax code. Why would we want to add another avenue for it? Hair Balls and Sen. Rodney Ellis have more.

Vouchers continue to be a tough sell

I won’t be happy till they’re dead and buried, but it’s something.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, doesn’t think the Senate has a taste for vouchers. Noting that a two-thirds vote of the 31-member chamber is needed to bring up a bill for discussion, she said, “I believe there are 11 votes to block.”

House Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said he and Patrick have discussed the issue. “It would be very difficult to find the votes in committee or on the (full House) floor for any significant voucher program,” Aycock said.

Besides objecting to diverting state support to private schools, some critics suggest it could be problematic to give franchise tax credits for one type of donation and not others. Some raise concerns about how scholarship recipients would be chosen.

Tax consultant Billy Hamilton, whose clients include Raise Your Hand Texas, an education advocacy group that opposes vouchers, said the proposal isn’t good tax policy.

“It’s just another thing that says you can get a special tax break if you do this. If you don’t feel like doing this, you can’t get a tax break, and ultimately your taxes will be higher because other businesses do it,” Hamilton said.

Another complicated tax break that arbitrarily favors some over others is just what our tax code needs, isn’t it? What’s really weird is how at the end of the story Sen. Patrick and his lackey Bill Hammond talk alternately about vouchers being “dramatic change” that will help “transform education”, but also just a small part of a much larger package of reforms that will really only affect a few students, so why is everyone getting all uptight about it already?!? It’s unlikely to be that big a deal on the grounds that private schools don’t serve that many students, won’t be able to accommodate that many more students, and the best of them likely won’t be terribly interested in the kind of students Sen. Patrick claims to be trying to help. It is likely to be a boondoggle for the businesses that take advantage of whatever cookie the legislation would offer, and for some number of parents who were always going to send their kids to private school and now have a way of getting the taxpayers to help pick up the tab for it. The best thing to do here is recognize this for the waste of time that it is and focus on things that might actually have a chance of improving student outcomes.

Here come the STAAR reform bills

Fire one:

State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, the newly appointed chairman of the House Public Education Committee, filed legislation Wednesday that would restructure the state’s high school graduation and student testing requirements.

Aycock’s proposal, House Bill 5, would move public schools to an accountability system with grades of A through F, a concept that has drawn support from Sen. Dan Patrick, the Houston Republican who chairs the upper chamber’s education committee, and Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams. It would also significantly reduce the number of standardized tests students must pass to graduate.

The legislation removes a requirement that graduating students must achieve a certain cumulative score across 15 end-of-course exams and changes the number they must take to five in reading, writing, biology, Algebra I and U.S. history. Students would be able to count satisfactory performance on Advanced Placement, SAT, or ACT exams toward graduation requirements. It also expands the diploma options available to high school students, allowing them to earn “endorsements” with focuses on areas of studies like humanities, science, engineering, technology and math, or business and industry.

“House Bill 5 will improve education in Texas by better equipping schools to meet students’ individual needs,” Aycock said in his announcement. “The filing of this bill is the first step in a very important conversation about the quality of both our schools and our workforce.”

He said that every member of his committee had signed onto the bill, which is co-authored by two Democrats and two Republicans.

Here’s HB5, which has a lot more to it than just STAAR reform. I suspect this will be the marquee education bill, at least in the House, this session. The Observer has more on HB5.

Fire two:

The Senate launched its effort to roll back high-stakes testing requirements in Texas schools on Wednesday, approving a bill that would scrap the state rule mandating that new end-of-course exams in high school count as 15 percent of the grade in each subject tested. The measure was approved unanimously and sent to the House. Sen. Dan Patrick, author of the bill and chairman of the education committee, said the change was “widely requested by parents, students and educators across the state.” The rule had been suspended last year and this school year because of vigorous objections by superintendents, concerned over the large number of students who failed one more of the EOC tests last year.

[…]

A bill filed in the House Wednesday by Aycock also calls for scrapping the 15 percent rule – and all members of the House education committee have signed on as co-authors. Aycock’s measure also would reduce the number of EOC tests that would have to be passed to graduate from high school – from the current 15 to five. Patrick said he plans to file legislation that would also reduce the number of exams for graduation, but he has rejected the idea of a moratorium on the EOC tests or dropping the requirement that students pass some of the exams to earn a diploma.

Patrick’s bill was SB135. The 15 percent rule appears to be history, and the number of end-of-course exams will drop, but there’s still a lot of room for debate as to what else happens.

Along those lines, one of the things Dan Patrick wants to make happen may have a hard time in the House.

Speaker Joe Straus warned the Texas Senate on Wednesday that if it passes a divisive school vouchers bill, the measure might not reach a floor vote in the full House.

Straus, R-San Antonio, didn’t rule out the possibility of a so-called school choice bill’s passing this session.

But he urged Senate GOP leaders “not to go full bore on something that’s an exercise in futility.”

Straus, appearing at a Texas Tribune TribLive event with the online politics outlet’s CEO and editor in chief, Evan Smith, stressed the state’s diverse educational map. That’s code for: Be careful with my rural Republicans.

Still, he did not shed a single watt of light on a specific approach that might fly in the House, such as open enrollment within a school district, or across school district lines.

“We’ve seen this before,” Straus said, recalling the House’s defeat of a voucher pilot bill in 2007, which was his first full session as a House member.

Resistance from rural Republicans as well as perceived hypocrisy by proponents, who declined to nominate their own school districts to be the site of pilots, killed the measure. In the eyes of many, San Antonio hospital-bed inventor James Leininger’s hands-on lobbying in behalf of the bill didn’t help. At the time, the House was run by Speaker Tom Craddick, a Midland Republican whom Straus forced to the sidelines in 2009.

“It just exploded in front of our very eyes,” Straus said of the 2007 bill.

The speaker said a 2013 revival has to have broader support.

“If there’s a school choice option that members, representing their districts, can support, then we’d certainly be open to it,” he said.

You can see more about what Straus had to say here. He’s not declaring a voucher bill dead, but he seems disinclined to go to the mat for something divisive. We’ll see what that ultimately means. It would be fine by me if a voucher bill never made it out of the Senate in the first place, of course.

UPDATE: Hair Balls has more.

Committee time

Now the real work gets started.

Joe Straus

House Speaker Joe Straus announced committee assignments for the Legislature’s lower chamber on Thursday, ending speculation over key chairmanships and giving lawmakers the go-ahead to start considering bills.

Here’s his list.

Of the standing committees, 32 are chaired by men, six by women. That’s one more female chair than the 2011 session.

Among the committee chairs, 26 are white, five are black and seven are Hispanic, one more than last session.
State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock takes over the Public Education Committee as battle lines are already being drawn over accountability, student testing and school choice reforms. He is well-regarded in public education circles and has drawn support from advocacy groups that oppose private school vouchers — an indication that any legislation enacting such a policy, a priority for his counterpart in the Senate, Dan Patrick, might encounter a hurdle when it comes to the lower chamber.

As noted, the list of committees and members is here. Burka notes where committee chairs were changed, in most cases because the previous Chair is no longer in the House. The Public Ed committee looks reasonably promising – Chair Aycock, and members Dan Huberty and Bennett Ratliff are all ParentPAC endorsees; member Marsha Farney was the non-crazy Republican to emerge from the GOP primary for SBOE10 in 2010. If a voucher bill makes it out of the Senate this is the kind of committee one might hope would bottle it up. If there’s a committee to watch for possible shenanigans, it’s the Corrections committee, which has Debbie Riddle and Steve Toth among its seven members. There is a Redistricting committee, which may or may not have much to do but which will have a couple of bills relating to how prison inmates are counted for redistricting purposes to consider. The Elections committee will have a bill to repeal voter ID and several others to make voting easier on its list of things to ponder. Rep. Eric Johnson, author of the latter and one of the former, is on the Elections committee. We’ll see if he can get any action on those bills of his. Take a look at the committee list and see what you think about it. BOR has more.