By Eddie Villa
The 87th Legislative Session has come to a close. The session had a real effect on how schools will operate in the coming year, between the passing of a bill that will revamp the social studies curriculum to inaction on a bill that would have allowed schools to continue virtual learning in the fall.
With the passage of House Bill 3979, students in secondary schools can expect an expanded social studies curriculum that covers topics from the history and importance of the civil rights movement to the women’s suffrage movement.
Under the bill, students may not receive course credit or extra credit for a student’s political activism or lobbying. In addition, the bill specifies that a social studies teacher may not be compelled to discuss a particular current event or widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs. If the teacher chooses to do so, the teacher must explore the topic from diverse perspectives to the best of the teacher’s ability. The legislation also limits teacher and staff training that presents any form of race or sex-stereotyping or blame based on race or sex.
The bill bans school districts from punishing students for openly discussing those concepts.
Austin ISD advocated for the passage of House Bill 1468, which would have paved the way for virtual learning to remain an option in the upcoming 2021-22 school year. The bill did not pass. The district was actively making plans for a remote learning model for the fall so teachers could be prepared if the bill passed.
Throughout the state, AISD and other districts will be discussing whether they can continue and enhance online learning opportunities in the upcoming school year through a new Texas Education Agency waiver.
Other important education bills
The district closely followed other bills through the five-month session. Below are education-related bills that passed and how they may impact families.
HB 999 – This bill was a district priority relating to the use of Individual Graduation Committees for certain high school students––a practice currently in place to help seniors who have failed two or fewer End of Course assessments to graduate.
The bill continues to allow 12th-grade students during the 2020-2021 school year to participate in the Individual Graduation Committee process to graduate.
HB 1603 – This bill relates to the use of Individual Graduation Committees and other alternative methods to satisfy certain public high school graduation requirements. The bill will make Individual Graduation Committees permanent. The Texas Education Agency commissioner will be authorized to conduct a special accreditation investigation when 10 percent or more of the students graduating in a particular school year from a particular high school campus are awarded a diploma based on the determination of a committee.
SB 1 State Budget – The key takeaway of this bill is that it fully funds the current school finance formulas and accounts for student enrollment growth and inflation. The budget appropriates about $58 billion over two years to TEA for disbursement to districts through the Foundation School Program, resources for students at-risk of dropping out, resources for disabled students, and school improvement programs. Another $6.4 billion is dedicated to the assessment/accountability system, technology and instructional materials, child nutrition programs and agency operations. Action on the state budget is pending before the Governor.
HB 1525 – This bill relates to the public school finance system and public education. This 65-page bill would do many things, including adjusting formula funding weights. It was amended in the final days of the session and now contains many provisions in stand-alone bills that failed to pass. For example, the bill now requires enhanced notification and posting requirements for meetings of School Health Advisory Committees, as well as increased parental review of curriculum materials and a requirement that the parent provide the district written consent before a student may receive human sexuality instruction. The bill would also require school districts to accept donations from a parent-teacher organization designated to fund supplemental educational staff positions at a school campus.
SB 1365 – This bill relates to public school organization, accountability, and fiscal management. The bill would enhance due process protections for districts going through TEA investigations; limit the authority of the TEA commissioner to what is explicitly stated in state law regarding sanctions; provide for an appeals process for certain sanctions, including the appointment of a board of managers; codify the differences between and treatment of D and F ratings in the accountability system; and provide a one-year pause in the accountability system as schools address issues related to the pandemic.
HB 4545 – This bill relates to the assessment of public school students, establishing a strong foundations grant program for Pre-K – 5th grade and providing accelerated instruction for students who fail to achieve satisfactory performance on certain assessment instruments. School districts will be required to establish accelerated learning committees for each student who fails the third, fifth, and eighth-grade math or reading STAAR, and for each time a student fails a STAAR exam in grades 3-8, the district is required to provide accelerated instruction to the student in summer school or the following school year.