The regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature ended Monday, May 29, 2017. The 140-day period was marked by political — and in some cases even physical — strife, and resulted in the lowest number of passed bills in many years.

Below is a look at the major education issues taken up during the session. Next week’s update will include a more comprehensive list of bills that passed, including TCTA proposals and “fixes” that were included in successful legislation.

Unless otherwise noted, the bills below passed the House and Senate and have been sent to the governor, but have not yet been signed. Any bill not signed or vetoed by June 18 will become law without the governor’s signature. All provisions go into effect Sept. 1, 2018, except where otherwise noted.

Bills that didn’t pass

Many significant bills never made it to the finish line, including:

  • Vouchers in any form
  • Prohibition on payroll deduction of association dues
  • Any version of a “bathroom bill”
  • Legislation reducing the number of required standardized tests

Successful bills

School funding - SB 1

Although a specific school finance bill did not pass, the budget adopted by legislators includes provisions for funding the public schools, including the following highlights:

  • Fully funds enrollment growth.
  • Provides grant program funding including $25 million for E-Rate, $12 million for the Student Success Initiative, $31 million for Communities in Schools and $4.5 million for Boys & Girls Club.
  • Earmarks $236 million within the budget (not additional funding) for the governor’s high-quality pre-K program.
  • Includes $75 million to help districts with declining property values that stand to lose funding because of the expiration of the ASATR program (additional state aid for tax reduction).

TRS-Care - HB 3976

Legislators faced with the TRS-Care crisis chose a combination of additional funding and structural reform to keep TRS-Care solvent for the next few years. In addition to the below, SB 1 (the budget) includes $350 million in supplemental funding for TRS-Care.

  • Requires districts to increase their contribution from the current 0.55 percent of payroll to 0.75 percent (bringing in another $134 million).
  • Amends current law to remove the requirement that TRS provide at least one free level of health insurance coverage, so retirees will now be required to pay a premium.
  • Provides that retirees who are at least age 65/Medicare-eligible will no longer be able to select from three levels of health care coverage, but will instead be enrolled in a Medicare Advantage program with Part D prescription coverage.
  • Provides that retirees who are under age 65 will be enrolled in a high-deductible plan. The premium costs will be phased in over a four-year period. During the next four years, pre-65 disability retirees (who took a disability retirement prior to Jan. 1, 2017) will not have to pay a premium for coverage.
  • Pre-65 retirees will not have to pay for certain specified generic maintenance drugs. Other prescriptions will be full price until the deductible is met, after which the plan will cover 80 percent of the cost.
  • The new terms apply beginning with the 2018 plan year, which begins Jan. 1, 2018. Until then, current and new retirees will continue to enroll in the existing plans.
  • There is no "grandfather" provision; retiring early will not exclude an employee from these provisions.
  • See more plan design details and premium rates here

Accountability — HB 22

Legislation revising the state accountability system passed in the closing days of the session.

  • Does not delay implementation of A-F ratings for districts (districts will receive their ratings beginning with the coming school year), but postpones campus-level A-F ratings until the 2018-19 school year (campuses will be rated either "improvement required" or "met standard" for the 2017-18 school year).
  • Reduces the five domains in the current system to three: student achievement, school progress, and “closing the gaps.” Includes more non-test-based indicators in these domains to reduce the emphasis on state testing.
  • Revises the meaning of a “D” rating from unacceptable to needs improvement, which falls under the category of acceptable. Only an “F” rating will be considered unacceptable.
  • Creates a new “Local Accountability System” component that allows districts to assign an overall rating to one or more campuses rated A-C at the time, based on a combination of the commissioner-assigned ratings and locally-developed measures.

Educator misconduct — SB 7 (signed by governor)

Senate Bill 7 tightens up laws regarding educator misconduct with students:

  • Expands the current prohibition against misconduct by an educator with a student who attends school in the same district to prohibit such behavior with any student in any district, and to apply also to private schools.
  • Expands the responsibilities of superintendents, including requiring notification to the State Board for Educator Certification if an educator's employment was terminated and there was evidence of misconduct, and requiring that a superintendent complete an investigation of misconduct even if the employee resigns.
  • Requires notice to parents of a student involved in an incident of misconduct.
  • Requires applicants for teaching (and other) positions to disclose whether they have been convicted of or even charged with having an inappropriate relationship with a minor.
  • Allows SBEC to suspend or revoke a certificate if the person assists another person in obtaining school employment if the person knew that the other person had engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor or student.
  • Requires districts to adopt a policy regarding electronic communications; the policy cannot require employees to disclose their personal email or phone number to students.
  • Prohibits TRS pension payments to a person convicted of a qualifying felony (such as sexual abuse of a child, improper relationship between an educator and student, or aggravated sexual assault).

Special education

Several bills related to various aspects of special education passed, including the following:

  • SB 160 (signed by the governor) prohibits TEA and the commissioner from using a performance indicator that solely measures numbers or percentages of students receiving special education services.
  • HB 657 requires a special education student’s Admission, Dismissal and Review committee to convene upon the student’s first failed attempt to pass STAAR in order to determine if the student should be promoted instead of having to re-take the STAAR test.
  • HB 1886 requires education service centers to employ a person licensed as a dyslexia therapist to help school districts with support and resources. It also requires that students be screened for dyslexia at the end of kindergarten and first grade.
  • SB 2141 provides that commissioner’s rules regarding a representative for a student in a special education due process hearing must require that the person, if receiving monetary compensation, abide by a code of ethics and professional conduct, and must enter into a written agreement with the subject of the due process hearing that includes a process for resolving disputes between the person and the representative.
  • SB 1398 includes several adjustments to last session’s bill allowing video cameras to be placed in self-contained special education classrooms upon request. The law had been interpreted to be far more broad than intended (for example, cameras had to be placed in all self-contained classrooms in the district, rather than the specific one for which the request had been made). The bill narrows the scope of the video camera placement to only the requested classroom, and clarifies that the placement only applies for the specific school year, unless continuation is requested.
  • HB 61 includes the video camera provisions also in SB 1398 (above) and also includes provisions adding, as both an academic indicator for middle/junior high schools and as a factor in the determination of academic distinction, the percentage of students formerly receiving special education services who achieved satisfactory performance on the standardized tests as determined by commissioner rule.
  • SB 2130 requires TEA to conduct a study on the impact of the state assessment system on students in special education programs.
  • SB 1153 requires districts to notify parents and report to TEA students for whom intervention strategies for learning difficulties were provided, including response to intervention.

Teacher preparation and certification

  • HB 3349 requires SBEC to create an abbreviated educator preparation program that would allow a person with a high school diploma, seven years in an approved occupation, and a license or certificate, to become a certified trade/industrial teacher with as little as 80 hours in an educator preparation program.
  • HB 2039 creates an EC-3 early childhood certificate that will be in addition to, not replacing, the current EC-6 certificate.
  • SB 1839 contains provisions that include digital learning and literacy instruction in educator preparation programs. It also relaxes some components of educator preparation, for example, prohibiting SBEC from requiring only face-to-face field supervision visits of a non-teaching certification candidate in the classroom and providing that three of the five required field supervision visits may occur through video-or technology-based methods. Candidates can satisfy up to 15 hours of field-based experience by serving as a long-term substitute. 

Student discipline

  • HB 674 prohibits out-of-school suspensions of children in grades below three, except in situations involving an offense related to weapons, violent offense, or drug/alcohol related offense. It adds optional provisions regarding implementation of a positive behavior program as an alternative for these students who may not be suspended; the program may not rely on in- or out-of-school suspensions or placement in a disciplinary alternative education program to manage student behavior.
  • SB 179 will be known as “David’s Law” after a San Antonio student who took his life after vicious cyberbullying. The bill defines cyberbullying and adds it to existing bullying statutes, and tightens up related notification and reporting processes. It allows removal of a student to a DAEP or expulsion if the student engages in bullying that encourages a student to attempt suicide, incites violence against a student through group bullying, or releases or threatens to release intimate visual material of a student without consent. The bill provides the opportunity for injunctive relief for a victim of cyberbullying, and raises the offense of “harassment” to a Class A misdemeanor if it was committed via electronic communication against a child with the intent to cause injury or suicide. It also includes provisions providing support for students with mental health needs.