The following was included in TCTA's 2017-18 Survival Guide, the ultimate reference tool for Texas educators, and is current as of September 2017 but is subject to change.

Since the District of Innovation concept was passed into law in 2015, more than 600 Texas public school districts have filed DOI plans with the Texas Education Agency. The district-level site-based decision-making committees (“district-level committees”) play a crucial role in the process; click here for more information.

A district must have at least an “acceptable” rating in order to pursue District of Innovation designation. (About 95 percent of Texas districts are rated acceptable or higher.) The process can begin with either a petition signed by a majority of the district-level committee or a resolution adopted by the board of trustees. After a school board votes to begin the DOI process, it must hold a public hearing to consider whether the district should pursue innovation status. If the school board chooses to move forward, a separate committee will be appointed by the board to develop a plan for the restructured district. 

This committee must present a comprehensive educational program for the district, and must identify provisions of the Education Code that are deemed to inhibit the district’s ability to implement the program. These are the provisions from which the district will be exempt. The plan must be made available to the public for 30 days, after which the district-level committee must hold a public meeting and vote on the plan. A simple majority vote by the district-level committee is required; final approval by the school board requires a two-thirds majority vote. The plan is in effect for up to five years, and a district can amend or rescind a plan at any time. A TCTA-initiated provision of Senate Bill 1566 during the 2017 session aims to increase accountability in DOI plans. It requires Districts of Innovation to post the current DOI plan on the district’s website and, within 15 days of adoption, to send a new or revised plan to TEA, which must promptly post the plan on the TEA website.

Districts of Innovation can exempt themselves from some of the most important provisions of the Education Code, including nearly all teacher rights and benefits. 

In general, a District of Innovation can exempt itself from any provision of the Education Code that does not apply to charter schools. (Commissioner of education rules include a handful of additional restrictions primarily intended to clarify the law, such as specifying that districts cannot exempt themselves from school finance provisions.) 

Among the laws from which a district CANNOT be exempt are some related to district governance, school finance, health and safety, curriculum and graduation requirements, bilingual and special education, accountability/testing, criminal history checks, participation in TRS, and provision of health insurance coverage.

Among the many provisions Districts of Innovation can exempt themselves from:

  • State personal leave days
  • State minimum salary schedule
  • Teacher contract rights
  • Duty-free lunch and conference periods
  • Teacher certification requirements and parental notification
  • Minimum attendance for class credit
  • Teacher appraisals
  • A teacher’s right to remove disruptive students
  • Class-size limits and parental notification
  • Uniform school start date
  • Required minutes of instruction
  • Teacher authority over grading
  • Restrictions on class interruption
  • Parent and student rights, including transfer rights, and the right to parent notice of unsatisfactory grades

The most popular exemption by far is from the uniform school start date, with many districts proposing to begin classes earlier than the fourth Monday in August. Other popular provisions exempt districts from teacher certification and class-size requirements. 

This new option for school districts makes it absolutely crucial that local leaders pay close attention to what school boards are doing and get involved. Serving on the district-level committee or the committee that develops the educational plan is the best way to be at the table and represent the views of the districts’ teachers.

For more on Districts of Innovation, click here.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The content of this Survival Guide is based on current state and federal laws and regulations. However, because a District of Innovation can exempt itself from much of the Texas Education Code, some laws described in this guide may not apply in a particular district. Employees should check their school district website for local policies and the innovation plan (if applicable).