by KIM HILSENBECK
House Bill (HB) 300, filed on March 6 by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), offers an alternative to the current 1,100 page education code in the form of a 62-page document.
Isaac says this comprehensive legislation outlines a new approach to public education.
If passed, the Texas Education Code would be amended by adding Title 7, which would read as follows: Alternative public education governance system chapter 2100.
The bill allows for the voluntary adoption of an alternative public education governance system that includes both independent school districts and charter schools.
Language in the bill says, “Safeguarding the health and safety of students and other persons affected by the operation of public schools is paramount, and for that reason it is appropriate that provisions of this code designed to protect health and safety apply in relation to the public schools operating under this title.”
A news release from Isaac’s office said HB 300 would allow school districts to opt-out of the current mandate-filled education code and instead implement their own plan for student achievement and accountability.
The bill would allow districts local control and freedom to decide how to use and allocate resources most effectively. Those districts would also have more authority to hold schools accountable for poor performance.
In essence, the bill would pave the way for parents to send their children to another public school within the same district, or potentially a nearby district. Isaac said families would be assured that the full allotment of public funding attributable to a student will follow that student to whichever school he or she attends.
Under Title 7, Isaac wants schools to determine their own accountability plan subject to limited and well-defined state approval. That plan would outline each school’s goals, develop measurable academic milestones for students in each grade and conduct assessments to determine if the milestones are met.
For example, a school may choose to use the Iowa Means Test instead of State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR). Schools may also decide to use the ACT or SAT, which are tests many students already take, in place of STAAR.
Under this bill, money would be allocated directly to schools (instead of to the district) on a per student basis, Isaac said the amount for each school will be based on enrollment instead of the current use of average daily attendance. Absent students count against schools in terms of funding.
Isaac said a school board member from Dallas ISD told him that not having to count every student every day would save that district about five percent of their overhead budget, or around $75 million every year. That’s $75 million to instead spend on, for example, teacher’s salaries, welding classes and digital instructional materials.
According to Isaac, this bill does not attempt to address the school funding issue, which is a separate and equally important discussion.
He said under his plan, there would be a weighted formula to ensure that the per-student amount in an ADA based district is about the same as the per-student amount in an enrollment based district. However, because the districts will no longer be subject to “a seemingly endless list of unfunded state mandates,” the net effect will be more money to spend in other areas.
Depending on how many districts opt into the new system, competitive choice could become a driving factor in how parents select a school.
An expansion of alternate forms of assessment other than STAAR could also have a negative financial impact on Pearson, the company that develops the test questions, prints and distributes test booklets and scores the exams. Texas spends $468 million for Pearson’s current five-year contract.
“House Bill 300, the Independent School District bill, offers an alternative to the current 1,100 page education code in the form of a 62 page document,” Isaac said in a statement. “It gives school districts the flexibility to manage their own curriculum, teachers the freedom to attend to the needs of their students, and parents the ability to have more say in ensuring the best education for their children, driving competition, innovation, and excellence.”
The bill would also allow Texas to “create and maintain a system of certification to ensure that the goal chosen for a school will, when achieved, have prepared each student for the next stage of life, whether that is further formal education, meaningful employment and participation in the civic life of the community, or both.”
Isaac said the legislation was developed by a bipartisan group of educators including Ron Franklin, former Houston ISD Board President.
This bill must pass the House Committee, the Senate Committee and get approval by Gov. Rick Perry before it can become a law. HB 300 has not yet been assigned to a committee for hearings. No companion bill has been filed in the Texas Senate.
The last day for legislators to file bills was March 8.