Senate Education Committee Chair Florence Shapiro today presented the committee substitute to House Bill 2 (CSHB 2), which constitutes Texas Children First, the Senate plan to reform the state's public education system. "Our proposal, Texas Children First, aptly states what we believe, that we think it's important to put children first," said Shapiro. "I think that makes a very bold statement that this bill is first and foremost going to do what's right for children." In addition to several provisions directed at students, the Senate plan addresses teacher pay, school facilities and educational accountability.
Shapiro says that Texas high schools need to better prepare all students to enter college, rather than simply entering the workforce with only a high school diploma. The bill would change high school curriculum to do that and link "exemplary" status, as awarded by the Texas Education Agency, with success in sending students on to college or vocational school. Under the bill, the state would cover the testing costs for students who want to take the ACT or SAT.
The Senate plan also calls for an increase in funding for bilingual education programs, including a bilingual immersion pilot program, and would fund a day-long pre-kindergarten program for at-risk students. The bill would create electronic records for all students in order to better track transfers, graduation and drop-out rates.
Teachers could expect a pay raise under the Senate plan, intended to bring average Texas teacher pay up to the national standard. The bill also includes provisions for incentives paid to excellent teachers. Half of the money would be set aside for districts to construct an incentive plan tailored to local needs, while the other half would be intended for stipends for teachers who move to hard-to-staff schools or become certified in a subject where there is a need for more teachers. CSHB 2 would hold certification programs responsible for the quality of teachers they turn out, and would also create administrator training academies to improve the effectiveness of school management.
Another major section of the bill deals with the question of accountability. "We want districts to have the flexibility and to meet the unique needs of the children of their community, but we also expect results," said Shapiro. "As we put new money and more money into the system, the need for that accountability becomes more apparent." Under the Senate plan, schools which receive an "unacceptable" rating from the TEA would immediately be provided with assistance from the state. If a school is deemed unacceptable two years in a row, it will be placed under the authority of a management team appointed by the Commissioner of Education. The plan would reward schools deemed "exemplary" by exempting them from certain mandates and providing more flexibility in self-management.
CSHB 2 will be before the committee for the next few weeks. Thursday, the committee will hear invited testimony, with public testimony during subsequent sessions. Shapiro said she wants all committee amendments to be submitted by April 18, and she intends to move the bill out of committee by the end of the month.
In other action today, Senator Todd Staples discussed a bill he filed that would close a loophole in the state's government code related to just compensation for public use of private lands. Under the government code, the state must compensate a property owner if governmental action reduces the value of his or her property by 25 percent. The loophole in effect exempts municipalities from this requirement. Senate Bill 1647 would close that exemption, and require reimbursement of up to 75 percent of the property's value.
At issue here are several ordinances throughout central Texas intended to preserve groundwater quality that have lowered the values of some properties by 90 percent. "We have to be sensitive to the property owners in the state while we establish regulations that impact their property values," said Staples. "This bill allows environmental regulations to continue while protecting property owners with the right of just compensation."
The Senate will reconvene, Wednesday, April 6, at 11 a.m.