In January 2014, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus released the interim charges on topics to be studied by House committees prior to the next legislative session, which begins in January 2015. Issues include school finance, teacher quality, employee and retiree health insurance, and much more.

While interim studies do not always result in bills that pass, the topics of study chosen are usually a good indication of what legislators will focus on in the upcoming session, and the recommendations made often form the basis of legislation. TCTA will monitor and participate in the committees’ deliberations to represent our members.

Among the charges of interest (excerpted):

Appropriations Committee

School finance

Conduct a basic review of current public education and higher education funding formulas. Specifically, focus on whether items funded outside base formulas (Foundation School Program [FSP] and higher education formulas) should be included inside the formulas. After the review, the committee may recommend the addition or deletion of funding items or changes in levels of current funding.

Public Education Committee

Accountability/graduation requirements

Monitor the implementation of HB 5 (83R) and report on recommendations for improvement. Work with the Texas Education Agency, the State Board of Education, and public and higher education stakeholders to ensure the creation of additional rigorous mathematics and science courses needed to address the current and projected needs of the state's workforce.

Student achievement/teacher quality

Explore innovative, research-based options for improving student achievement beyond standardized test scores. Evaluate standards for effective campus management as well as teacher preparation, certification and training. Review current teacher evaluation tools and instructional methods, such as project-based learning, and recommend any improvements that would promote improved student achievement. Engage stakeholders on how to recruit and retain more of our "best and brightest" into the teaching profession.

School district governance

Solicit input from leading authorities on the traits and characteristics of good governance, effective checks and balances between the board and administration and the effective relationship between a board and the superintendent. Review current oversight authority by the Texas Education Agency over school board policies on governance. Make recommendations on trustee training, potential sanctions, and means of grievances, as well as recommendations on whether the role of trustee or superintendent needs to be more clearly defined.

Underperforming schools

Review successful strategies and methods that have improved student achievement at chronically underperforming schools. Identify alternatives that could be offered to current students who are attending these schools and determine how to turn these schools around. Identify the benefits and concerns with alternative governance of underperforming schools.

Streamlining TEKS

Review the broad scope and breadth of the current TEKS in the tested grades, including the format, testing calendar, and the limitation on instructional days available. Recommend options to streamline the assessment of TEKS and focus on core concepts. Review current federal testing requirements in grades 3-8 to determine if testing relief is possible.

Harris County Department of Education

Examine the role of the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) in serving school districts. Review the programs and services of HCDE, specifically the department’s ability to assist school districts to operate more efficiently. Report any costs or savings the HCDE provides districts and taxpayers. Make recommendations to improve the operation of the HCDE.

School safety and discipline

Study the impact of SB 393 (83R) and SB 1114 (83R). Assess the impact of school discipline and school-based policing on referrals to the municipal, justice and juvenile courts, and identify judicial policies or initiatives designed to reduce referrals without having a negative impact on school safety. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Corrections)

Pensions Committee

Health care for active employees

Study the affordability of health care for active public school employees. Examine how premiums and out-of-pocket costs have increased over time and how these increases have affected employees and school districts, and make appropriate recommendations. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Appropriations)

TRS-Care

Examine the immediate and long-term fiscal impact of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) health care plan (TRS-Care). (Joint charge with the House Committee on Appropriations)

Accounting standards

Examine the new reporting requirements proposed by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB). [TCTA note: changes in federal accounting requirements can affect how financially healthy a pension system or health insurance fund appears to be.]