The following was included in TCTA's 2018-19 Survival Guide, the ultimate reference tool for Texas educators, and is current as of September 2018 but is subject to change.

Since the District of Innovation concept was passed into law in 2015, nearly 800 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” (D or higher) rating to pursue District of Innovation designation. (About 98 percent of rated Texas districts received at least a D in 2018.) 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 Texas 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. 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. The most popular exemption by far is from the uniform school start date, with more than half of Texas districts now beginning classes earlier than the fourth Monday in August. Other popular provisions exempt districts from teacher certification and class-size requirements.

Charter partnerships

A law passed in 2017, Senate Bill 1882, allows a school board to partner with an open-enrollment charter school or other eligible entity (such as a university or nonprofit) to operate a district campus, including as an alternative to state intervention under accountability statutes. On paper, SB 1882 offers districts flexibility in the partners they approach and the type of campus they decide to operate. It also allows districts with one or more failing schools a chance to turn them around without accountability sanctions, such as creating TEA-approved turnaround plans, or having a school shut down or taken over by the state. But districts that choose this process give up control of their campuses to an outside entity. That could spell trouble for teachers, students and parents. Charter schools are not required to follow as much of the Texas Education Code as traditional public schools. That means certain teacher rights and benefits could be taken away, such as contract provisions, duty-free lunch, planning time or the ability to remove disruptive students from classrooms.

If your district is pursuing DOI status or considering a charter partnership, reach out to TCTA’s Legal Department for help.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The content of this Survival Guide is based on current state and federal laws and regulations. Some laws may not apply in districts that have approved District of Innovation plans to exempt themselves from certain parts of the Education Code. Check your district for DOI plans and local policies. If you have concerns or questions about your district’s policies, call the TCTA Legal Department at 888-879-8282.