WEEK IN REVIEW
CONTRACT REFORM, SCHOOL RATING SYSTEM,
DISEASE RESPONSE BILLS CLEAR SENATE
(Austin) — The Senate approved a measure Monday that will rate individual public school campuses under a system the author believes will be easier for parents to understand. Next year, campuses will be rated the same way that districts are, on a scale ranging from "exemplary" to "unacceptable". Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor believes that scale may not communicate school quality well enough. "These four designations, I believe, lack the clarity of an A through F rating system," he said. His bill, SB 6, would rate schools using that scale, which he says will make it clear to parents and school administrators which schools are succeeding and which are failing within a district. An amendment added to the bill by San Antonio Senator José Menéndez would publish the reasons a campus received its grade along with the rating. Another amendment by the author would push the implementation of the new system to 2017.
Tuesday, a bill that seeks to improve the state's response to potential deadly disease outbreaks passed the Senate. When Texas became the first U.S. state with a diagnosed case of Ebola last September, state and local officials were faced with an unprecedented crisis. Though an outbreak was averted, Health and Human Services Chair Charles Schwertner said the response revealed some weaknesses in the state's disease preparedness, and that the state can better prepare for the next disease threat. His bill, SB 538, implements a number of reforms that would clarify the chain of command during a disease emergency, stockpile protective equipment for healthcare workers or first responders, and would allow officials to enforce control orders proactively. Control orders are official actions such as quarantines aimed at preventing the spread of infectious diseases. These new protocols would only apply if the Governor declared a "state of infectious disease emergency", which would require that a deadly, uncontained disease is spreading or likely to spread through the population.
Also Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill that makes sweeping reforms to fix the rules under which state agencies sign contracts with private sector vendors. Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson promised to address the issue after a State Auditor's Office report uncovered serious problems with transparency, accountability, and conflicts of interest in the state's contracting system. SB 20, by Nelson, aims to fix these problems through new reporting requirements, document storage and notification policies. "Responsible contracting is a critical component to producing a responsible budget and to ensuring taxpayer money is spent in accordance with the high standards that our citizens deserve," said Nelson.
Specifically, her bill would require the creation of a centralized clearinghouse at the Office of Comptroller to keep a record of all contracts signed by state agencies. It would require agencies to post active contracts and proposed contracts on their state website, and require them to keep documentation relating to a contract for four years after it ends. Leadership at agencies would have to take a more active role in the contracting process, with agency heads required to personally sign off on all contracts worth more than one million dollars.
All bills passed this week by the Senate now head to the House for further consideration.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, April 5 at 11 a.m.