Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to date with the most essential Texas news.
With a restored quorum and new legislation at Texas House, GOP lawmakers hope to pass a wide range of education-related bills over the next two weeks, covering issues ranging from wing priorities socially Conservative Party to Restore Funding So Schools Can Offer Online Learning During the Pandemic.
A series of bills were sent to the Texas House Public Education Committee ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, covering funds for funding virtual learning, a decision on “critical race theory” in schools, the treatment of transgender athletes, pro and anti-masking rules, notifications to parents of positive COVID-19 cases in their children’s schools, and requiring schools to teach and adopt policies regarding child abuse.
The Senate has already dealt with most of the items on the Governor’s Special Session agenda, and it is now the House that must work before the end of the session in about two weeks.
At the heart of the discussion during Tuesday’s hearing – as has been the case since the start of the school year – was funding for virtual learning. On a 9-1 vote, the committee passed Senate Bill 15, which would provide this funding, with certain limits.
A bill that would have established and expanded e-learning this fall died in the regular session after Texas House Democrats withdrew to prevent passage of an election bill backed by the GOP which would ban local voting options, among several other changes.
Those who oppose the long-term establishment of virtual learning say students learn best in classrooms and cite falling STAAR scores during the virtual learning period during the pandemic. Those in favor say it offers options for families, especially for students who excelled at virtual learning last year and those with medical issues.
SB 15 is touted as a measure with enough safeguards to ensure student success and to help those who might fall through the cracks. The bill would pay for e-learning until September 2023 and give local school districts and charter schools the autonomy to set up their own e-learning programs. Lawmakers have set a date for fall 2023 to allow them to revisit the issue at their next regular session.
However, the bill as approved by the committee would allow distance learning only in schools that received a grade C or higher in the latest round of state accountability tests. No more than 10% of the district’s student body could be enrolled online, and schools could require students to return to classroom learning if they don’t meet academic standards.
Under the bill, school districts that for some reason do not offer virtual learning would be allowed to contract with other districts that do. To reduce the pressure on teachers and schools, educators would only be allowed to teach virtually or in person.
“Senate Bill 15 allows our districts to be innovative and flexible to meet the needs of our students,” said Representative Keith Bell, R-Forney.
Monty Exter, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said RUTF opposes the bill because he believes e-learning doesn’t work for most students and the bill would encourage districts to expand their virtual offerings.
Exter told the committee that Gov. Greg Abbott always had the power to fund e-learning without forcing school officials to scramble for funding like they had to over the past month. Committee members also mentioned that Education Commissioner Mike Morath could have issued the same waiver that funded e-learning last year, although he loses that power on September 1 under a new one. law.
Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston, agreed that Abbott could have done what Morath did last spring, but for now it appears Abbott’s approach to the pandemic is to pass it as quickly as possible.
“Politically, the governor is very careful about what his base wants with regard to the pandemic, and that means trying to get back to normal,” he said.
Bob Popinski, director of policy at Raise Your Hand Texas, said the education policy and research group supports the Virtual Funding Bill because, although he believes all students should be in the classrooms, they know that the pandemic is still a very real thing and that schools should be funded for a virtual option.
Popinski also believes the bill contains enough provisions to help students succeed, whether they learn virtually or in person.
In a statement, the Texas State Teachers Association said it opposes SB 15 because it will expand virtual learning even after the pandemic is over and could divert taxpayer dollars from classrooms, where most of students are the best performers. Instead, the organization called on Abbott to use its emergency powers to fund short-term virtual learning.
“We believe the classroom is the best learning environment for students, but we understand that many parents want their children to stay home to learn from a distance, especially as Governor Abbott is fighting mask requirements in school districts, “the statement said.
Another bill discussed by the committee on Tuesday was Bill 28, which seeks to restrict how race and history are taught in schools. By early Tuesday evening, dozens of people were still waiting to speak on the bill.
Abbott has already signed into law HB 3979, which his supporters said aimed to eliminate the teaching of “critical race theory” in public school classes from Kindergarten to Grade 12. But Republican lawmakers want to do more. If HB 28 becomes law as drafted, it will replace HB 3979 and remove the current requirements that students be taught on a long list of subjects such as Native American history, the work of civil rights activists, the Chicano movement and women’s suffrage. Critical race theory is not mentioned by name in HB 3979, and educators say the theory is not taught in public schools.
HB 28 prohibits teachers from teaching such things as slavery contributed to the founding of the United States. The bill would also remove the requirement to teach that white supremacy is “morally wrong”, which was included in HB 3979.
Critical race theory, according to experts and theorists, is an academic discipline that emerged in the 1970s and argues that racism is inherent in our societal systems which largely perpetuate racial inequality.
Keven Ellis, chairman of the State Board of Education, told committee members on Tuesday that although HB 28 is getting rid of the course requirements included in the law signed by Abbott, that does not mean that these writings will not be taught.
The bill adds that school districts must post information on their websites explaining what is taught to students. This part of the bill does not apply to school districts with fewer than 300 students. State Representative James Talarico, D-Round Rock, said part of the bill targets large districts that have large numbers of students of color.
Rep Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, author of HB 28, said he would be ready to discuss applying this section to every school district, regardless of size. He said the bill is intended to promote education that is not defined by the color of someone’s skin.
Talarico told Toth that instead of trying to solve the non-existent problem of “critical race theory,” the committee should focus on bigger issues such as the ongoing pandemic and its effect on students, parents and educators.
“I appreciate President Dutton and President Huberty and Rep. Bernal – they’re all trying to work with you to make this bill less bad, to put lipstick on that pig, but it’s still a pig.” , said Talarico. “What you are doing is trying to solve a manufactured problem [that] is not a problem, except on Fox News.
The TSTA said in a statement that the “Critical Race Theory” bills do a disservice to Texas students, who deserve to be told about the failures as well as the successes of the country.
“The bills critical of racial theory are more of an effort to whitewash the teaching of racism in our country’s history and culture,” the organization said.
Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators, Raise Your Hand Texas, the Texas State Teachers Association, and the University of Houston have financially supported The Texas Tribune, a non-profit, non-partisan news organization funded in part by donations of members, foundations and companies. sponsors. Financial support plays no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list of them here.
Join us September 20-25 at the Texas Tribune Festival 2021. Tickets are on sale now for this multi-day celebration of big, bold ideas on politics, public policy and the day’s news, hosted by award-winning journalists of the Texas Tribune. Learn more.