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March 8, 2011 (512) 463-0300

BILLS SEEK TO GIVE SCHOOL DISTRICTS MORE CONTROL

(AUSTIN) — School districts would have more discretion regarding teacher employment, class size and state mandates under two measures considered Tuesday by the Senate Education Committee.

Senator Steve Ogden of Bryan, Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano
Education Commmittee Chair Florence Shapiro of Plano confers with Finance Committee Chair Steve Ogden of Bryan at Tuesday's Education Committee hearing.

Committee Chair Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano said the current budget crisis means the state must find ways to reduce the financial burden on local districts. "Over the past several decades, the state has increased mandates on local education entities, and we're being told that these unfunded mandates are raising the cost of education," she said.

Shapiro's bill, SB 3, aims to increase local control over public education. "Texas will never reach its potential for education excellence until it both removes restrictions on local decision making power over resource allocation and gives districts some much-needed breathing room in controlling the operation of their individual schools," said Shaprio.

SB 3 would give districts increased discretion over teacher employment policies. It would allow districts to furlough teachers for seven non-instructional days each year. Districts could fire teachers that don't maintain certification standards, and would not be subject to minimum salary requirements for retired teachers that teach part-time. The bill would also give flexibility regarding how schools use their limited resources. It removes the 10 to 1 student/teacher ratio required in remedial classes, removes regulations on test management standards, and extends the telecommunications discount provided to schools, scheduled to end next year, through 2014.

The second measure, SB 443 by Houston Senator Dan Patrick, would change class size requirements and give districts further discretion in employment practices. "The flexibility we will give to the school districts will enable districts to retain more teachers," said Patrick. "The goal here is to do what's best for students, and to protect as many teacher jobs as we possibly can."

His bill would change the current requirement of a 22: to 1 student to teacher ratio. Patrick says the current system doesn't work, because many school districts apply for waivers that allow them to get around this current ratio standard. SB 443 would require that districts maintain a 21 to 1 average ratio across all classes, but would prohibit classes that exceed 24 students.

Under his bill, districts could immediately fire teachers that are convicted of felonies immediately, avoiding, said Patrick, the lengthy and costly hearing process required to terminate a teacher.

Shapiro warned districts not to abuse the new freedom proposed under SB 3 and SB 443. "We need to give you back the local control, but I think it's very important to remember what we can do we can also undo," she said. Both bills remain pending before the committee.

The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, March 9 at 11 a.m.


Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.

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