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April 22, 2004     (512) 463-0300

Senate Education Committee Holds First Meeting of Special Session

AUSTIN - The Senate Education Committee met today to hear testimony on the state of Texas' public education system. As the committee awaits an education finance reform bill from The House of Representatives, Committee Chair Senator Florence Shapiro called today's meeting to brief members on current problems and successes in the state's public school system. Chris Patterson, Director of Research for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, testified that Texas high-school graduates are under prepared for higher education. According to Patterson, college entrance exam scores in Texas have declined over the last five years. She attributes this to inadequate college-preparatory curriculum at the high school level and shortcomings of standardized tests at all levels of education. Compounding these problems, says Patterson, is the fact that 30 percent of Texas high school teachers are instructing outside of their area of certification. Patterson advised the committee to increase high schools accountability when it comes to college preparedness, and also to add provisions for college readiness to the state school budget. Following Patterson's testimony, Senator Shapiro said she would ask the governor to add college-prep curriculum reform to the committee's interim charge.

John Stevens of the Texas Business and Education Coalition agreed with Patterson's testimony, telling the committee that "the accountability system is a successful driver of school improvement" for elementary and middle schools. Stevens also urged the committee to give more time to the exit level Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) exam which is given to all high school juniors. Stevens identified four major concerns that the state could address through financial incentives: completion of secondary education, English mastery for non-English speaking students, increased aid for disadvantaged and at-risk students, and making scholastic excellence the standard for students. The criteria for these financial incentives, says Stevens, should be students' improvement in identified areas, such as graduation rates and improvement of standardized test scores.

The committee also heard testimony today on effective teaching methods and programs, education funds distribution under the current financial model, and distribution of educational funds under the current system.

The Senate Education Committee is Chaired by Senator Florence Shapiro, and Vice-chaired by Senator Royce West. Senators Kip Averitt, Kyle Janek, Steve Ogden, Todd Staples, Leticia Van de Putte, Tommy Williams, and Judith Zaffirini are all members of the committee.

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Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.