Senate Considers Education Finance Reform Bill in Committee of the Whole
The Senate met today, May 10, as a Committee of the Whole to hear testimony related to House Bill 1, the comprehensive school finance reform bill. Plano Senator Florence Shapiro, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, is the Senate sponsor of the bill and laid it out before the Committee of the Whole. She said this bill proposes do three things: reduce property taxes, create an equitable business tax to increase school funds, and improve educational excellence in the state. Today, the Senate dealt with the third aspect of this bill, that of educational excellence.
HB 1 would create an incentive system where teachers would be rewarded for outstanding service or meeting certain improvement goals. The bill would create an Educator Excellence Incentive Program, which would consist of $175 million each year to be awarded to teachers in districts that significantly improve student performance. The bill would also allow for a program that would grant money to individual school districts for local incentive programs. This money would be awarded to local teachers based on criteria set forth by the local district, subject to approval from the education commissioner.
Shirley Neeley, Texas Commissioner of Education, testified that the incentive program is a good way to not only reward teachers for good work but to increase student performance. Neeley said incentives are "positive, motivational, encouraging and compelling". Sandy Kress, a former education adviser to President Bush, agreed with Neeley, citing the improvement in students' test scores in the Dallas Independent School District when it tried an incentive program in the late eighties and early nineties. Gayle Fallon, of the Houston Federation of Teachers, was not so sure about the effectiveness of incentives, calling them divisive, and saying that they are often imposed externally with no consideration of the culture of teaching. She added that incentives can only work if implemented fairly, with input from teachers, and if the incentives are equally accessible to all teachers, have clear goals, and are perceived as necessary by educators.
The Committee also heard testimony on the need of post-secondary education for Texas students. Carolyn Kostelecky, Regional Manager of the ACT, said that many Texas students are unprepared for college. She said, according to ACT college entrance exam data, 70 percent of high school seniors are not prepared for entry level science courses in college. She attributes this to the fact that many students only take the minimum required courses in their junior and senior years. These requirements do not entail higher level math and science courses. Carolyn Bacon, Executive Director of the O'Donnell Foundation, says that Advance Placement courses in high school are key to making sure graduates are ready to go on to a two- or four-year college or university. Students with some AP experience are much more likely to finish college in 4 or 5 years, and their college G.P.A. is half a point higher than students with no AP experience.
The Senate will reconvene as a Committee of the Whole Tuesday, May 11, to continue hearing testimony regarding House Bill 1.