This article appeared in the 2017 summer issue of The Classroom Teacher.

The regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature was, more than anything, a battle between the House and Senate, and particularly between Senate president Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus. To the extent Gov. Greg Abbott — silent through much of the session — weighed in, it was usually to support Patrick, and the agenda for the special session that was announced in June was full of Patrick’s priorities.

Fewer bills passed during the 2017 session than in any session in recent memory, in large part because of the interplay between the House and Senate. The slowdown made it very difficult for TCTA to advance our legislative priorities, but we did have several successes.

The Senate quickly passed a few bills that TCTA adamantly opposed, including the payroll deduction prohibition and a voucher bill containing “tax credits” and “education savings accounts” to provide funds for families to send students with special needs to private schools. But along with several other Patrick-supported proposals, these died in the House. Meanwhile, Patrick held hostage crucial legislation necessary to continue the functions of several state agencies, eventually forcing the summer special session.

One of the most controversial issues for teachers was the TRS-Care legislation. A bill either increasing funding or changing benefits had to pass in order to avoid the complete insolvency of the retiree health program, but the version that was approved was a blow both to existing retirees and to those who had made plans to retire in the near future. 

TCTA opposed the legislation when it was initially introduced because of its severe impact. The final version included some additional funding that helped bring down premiums and deductibles, but its passage galvanized teachers into action in the weeks following the session’s end as the costs became clear. (See page 4 for information on one of the rallies held in support of teachers and public schools.) Current teachers also will bear the burden of the legislature failing to increase state contributions toward active employee health insurance.

The text below reviews many, though not all, of the education-related bills that passed. Note that the summaries may not include all details, and we encourage anyone who would like more information to contact TCTA legislative staff at legislation@tcta.org, or to look up final bill language by entering the bill number at www.legis.org.

STAY UP TO DATE: In late July, as this issue was going to print, the legislature was back in Austin for a special session that began July 18 and could last through mid-August. Several issues that could impact education and teachers specifically are on the agenda. TCTA’s Survival Guide, arriving later this fall, will include information about the session’s outcomes; in the meantime, keep up with current events in Austin through Capitol Updates on the TCTA website and our emailed eUpdates (if you’re not currently receiving them, click here to sign up). Our regular “Star Legislators” article will be featured in a later publication to reflect legislator actions during both the regular and special sessions.

Bills that passed

The bills below were signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott. Generally, bills go into effect immediately or for the 2017-18 school year; exceptions are noted. More passed bills and more details are available on the tcta.org website under the “Politics and Government” tab.

Accountability and Testing

HB 22 by Rep. Dan Huberty / Sen. Larry Taylor includes revisions to the accountability system:

  • 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 “improvement required” or “met standard” for the 2017-18 school year).
  • Reduces the current five domains 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.
  • Changes 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.

SB 825 by Sen. Larry Taylor / Rep. Dan Huberty replaces the mandatory administration in 8th grade and 10th grade of a national preliminary college preparation assessment (such as PSAT), at state cost, by instead giving districts the option to administer such tests. 

SB 1882 by Sen. José Menéndez / Rep. Linda Koop allows a school board to partner with a charter school governing body, or an entity eligible for a district-authorized charter, to operate a district campus, including as an alternative to intervention under the accountability statutes. Before entering into a contract for operation of a campus, the district must consult with campus personnel regarding the contract between the district and the charter school. 

Career and Technology

HB 728 by Rep. Bobby Guerra / Sen. Juan Hinojosa requires the SBOE to develop an advanced computer science program under which students in participating school districts can meet an advanced math or science credit by completing an advanced computer science course focused on the creation and use of software and computing technologies. (Program must be implemented during the 2018-19 school year.)

HB 3593 by Rep. Diego Bernal / Sen. Larry Taylor requires the SBOE to approve courses in cybersecurity. A district can offer a course in cybersecurity approved by the board of trustees for credit without obtaining SBOE approval if the district is partnering with an institution of higher education that offers an undergraduate degree program in cybersecurity. Adds cybersecurity and computer coding to the STEM endorsement courses. Allows a teacher to be eligible for the subsidy currently provided to students taking a CTE certificate or license exam if the teacher passes a certification exam related to cybersecurity. 

SB 22 by Sen. Larry Taylor / Rep. Eddie Lucio III creates the P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) program and advisory council. The council comprises representatives of school district and charter schools, higher education, and business/industry. The P-TECH program provides a course of study — at no cost to the student — under which students in grades 9-12 combine high school and postsecondary courses, allowing them to complete high school and obtain an associate degree, postsecondary certificate or industry certification within six years. (Begins with the 2018-19 school year.)

Curriculum / Graduation Requirements

HB 1545 by Rep. Travis Clardy / Sen. Robert Nichols allows certain high school courses related to law enforcement to count as credit hours toward the training required for a peace officer license; the applicant must have earned an endorsement in the public services category.

SB 463 by Sen. Kel Seliger / Rep. Dan Huberty revises the law passed in 2015 that allows individual graduation committees (IGCs) to determine whether a student who has failed up to two end-of-course exams will be allowed to graduate. Extends the statute’s expiration date from 2017 to 2019. Requires the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to compile data on the post-graduation pursuits of students awarded a diploma via the IGC process.

SB 671 by Sen. Donna Campbell / Rep. Ryan Guillen requires SBOE to adopt criteria allowing a student to receive one languages-other-than-English credit by having completed a dual language immersion program in elementary school.

SB 826 by Sen. Larry Taylor / Rep. Dan Huberty revises current law regarding the sequencing of math and English courses to remove the requirement that an advanced English course can only be taken after English I, II and III; and an advanced math course only after Algebra I and geometry.

SB 2039 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini / Rep. Senfronia Thompson requires the commissioner to develop one or more modules on sexual abuse and sex trafficking for use in the health curriculum. The bill also adds the subject of sex trafficking to the current law requiring districts to adopt a policy addressing sexual abuse and other maltreatment of children. 

Discipline

HB 674 by Rep. Eric Johnson / Sen. Sylvia Garcia prohibits out-of-school suspension of a student in a grade below three except for a weapons offense, violent offense, or drug/alcohol-related offense on school property or at a school-related activity. Allows districts to implement a positive behavior program in consultation with campus behavior coordinators and service center personnel to provide a disciplinary alternative for students below grade three. The program must provide alternative courses of action that do not rely on in- or out-of-school suspension or placement in a DAEP.

HB 2880 by Rep. Harold Dutton / Sen. José Menéndez reduces the penalty for the threatened exhibition or threatened use of a firearm on school property or on a school bus from a third degree felony to a Class A misdemeanor, unless the person actually possesses or has immediate access to the firearm (in which case it remains a third degree felony).

Health / Safety

HB 4056 by Rep. Toni Rose / Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. enhances the list of best practices programs for addressing mental health concerns in schools by requiring the inclusion of programs and practices relating to building skills relating to managing emotions, establishing and maintaining positive relationships, and responsible decision-making; trauma-informed practices; positive school climate (including interpersonal relationships, teaching/learning practices, and organizational structures as experienced by students, parents and personnel); and positive behavior supports.

SB 7 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt / Rep. Ken King expands the current laws that govern improper teacher/student relationships by extending them to cover inter-district relationships (an improper relationship between a teacher and a student of any age at any school). It expands reporting statutes to provide that failure on the part of a superintendent or principal to make required reports would be a Class A misdemeanor; if the person was found to have intentionally concealed an employee’s criminal record or an alleged incident of misconduct the failure to report would be a state jail felony. Schools must adopt a policy regarding electronic communications between employees and students; at TCTA’s initiative the policy must allow employees to opt out of disclosing their personal phone numbers or email addresses. Educators will receive instruction regarding proper methods for notifying administrators if a student initiates improper communications with an employee. Provides that employees who are convicted of felony misconduct offenses are ineligible to receive a TRS pension.

SB 30 by Sen. Royce West / Rep. Senfronia Thompson requires SBOE and the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to jointly develop instruction on proper interaction with peace officers during traffic stops and other encounters. The instruction must include roles/duties/responsibilities of peace officers, a person’s rights regarding interactions with peace officers, and proper behavior for both civilians and peace officers during interactions. It must also address the laws regarding questioning and detention, requests to present proof of ID and the failure to comply with those laws, as well as how/where to file a complaint or compliment regarding an interaction with a peace officer. The instruction must be included in one or more courses in the required curriculum for students in grades 9-12. (The inclusion of the instruction in the required curriculum begins with the 2018-19 school year.)

SB 179 by Sen. José Menéndez / Rep. Ina Minjarez is known as David’s Law after a San Antonio student who took his life after vicious cyberbullying. The bill defines cyberbullying (“bullying that is done through the use of any electronic communication device…”) and adds it to existing bullying statutes. 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.

SB 1553 by Sen. José Menéndez / Rep. Diego Bernal requires that a registered sex offender entering the premises of a school during regular operating hours immediately notify the administrative office of his/her presence and registration status. The office can provide a chaperone to accompany the person while on school property. Revises current law regarding refusal of entry to or ejection from a school to allow a school administrator, school resource office or school district peace officer to refuse to allow a person on property or to eject a person if the person refuses to leave on request and to implement such a ban for up to two years, if the person poses a substantial risk of harm to another person or behaves in a manner inappropriate for a school setting after being warned. 

Higher Education / Dual Credit

SB 802 by Sen. Kel Seliger / Rep. Donna Howard requires the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to conduct a study to identify best practices to ensure that courses transferred to an institution of higher education, including dual-credit courses, apply toward a degree program. 

SB 1091 by Sen. Kel Seliger / Rep. Donna Howard limits the courses that can be offered for dual credit to those that are in the core curriculum of the institution of higher education, a CTE course, or a foreign language course. Exempts from this provision a dual- credit course offered as part of the early college education program.

Instructional Materials

HB 3526 by Rep. Donna Howard / Sen. Larry Taylor changes the name of the instructional materials allotment to the technology and instructional materials allotment; makes the same change to the instructional materials fund. The fund may, in addition to current uses, be used to pay expenses associated with the instructional materials web portal authorized in the bill. The commissioner can establish a grant program of up to $25 million from the technology and instructional materials fund to implement a technology lending program for students to have access to equipment necessary to use electronic instructional materials.

SB 801 by Sen. Kel Seliger / Rep. Ken King expands current law regarding the instructional material list adopted by the SBOE to require that all materials be suitable for the subject and grade level for which they were submitted and be reviewed by academic experts in the appropriate subject and grade level. Applies to materials adopted on or after Sept. 1, 2017.

SB 1784 by Sen. Larry Taylor / Rep. Dan Huberty clarifies the definition of “open-source instructional material” to refer to resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that allows for free use, including courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, videos tests, software and other materials used to support access to knowledge. 

Foster and Homeless Students

SB 490 by Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. / Rep. Dan Huberty adds to the responsibilities of school counselors providing information on the availability of education and training vouchers and tuition/fee waivers for higher education for students in the conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services. The counselor must report to the student and parent/guardian the number of times the counselor has provided the information to the student. Adds a requirement that a school district’s annual report must include the number of counselors providing counseling services at each school. Adds reporting requirements regarding the availability of school counselors at each campus to PEIMS.

SB 1220 by Sen. Borris Miles / Rep. Hubert Vo requires TEA to assist in the transition of homeless and foster care youth from one school to another by ensuring that the new school relies on decisions made by the previous school regarding placement in particular courses or educational programs. 

Prekindergarten

HB 357 by Rep. Dan Huberty / Sen. Joan Huffman adds the children of certain persons eligible for the Star of Texas award (peace officers, firefighters and emergency medical first responders who are severely injured or killed in the line of duty) to the list of children eligible for free prekindergarten. 

HB 1593 by Rep. Dwayne Bohac / Sen. Bryan Hughes adds provisions specifying that the family engagement strategies required for the high-quality prekindergarten grant program must include the parental involvement/
home learning aspect of family engagement.

School Governance / Administrative Issues

HB 441 by Rep. Armando Martinez / Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. prohibits districts from providing student instruction on Memorial Day. If a district would otherwise have to use Memorial Day as a make-up day for weather or disaster purposes, the commissioner must waive the required amount of instructional time to allow the district to remain closed.

SB 725 by Sen. Borris Miles / Rep. Diego Bernal provides that a district can allow a campus to donate food to a nonprofit organization, through an official of the organization who is directly affiliated with the campus (teacher or parent, for example). Donated food can include surplus food prepared for school meals to be served in the cafeteria or food donated to the campus through a food drive or similar event. The district can adopt a policy under which the school provides food at no cost if the student is unable to purchase a meal or snack.

SB 1566 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst / Rep. Ken King includes numerous provisions regarding school district and charter school powers and duties, including the following:

  • Requires that a district post minutes reflecting a trustee’s lack of required training hours if the deficiency exists for more than a year; the posting will be continued until the trustee meets the requirements. Trustees must complete at least three hours of training every two years on evaluating student academic performance, and new trustees must complete the required hours within the first 120 days of holding office.
  • Requires Districts of Innovation to post the current DOI plan on the district’s website, and to within 15 days of adoption send a new or revised plan to TEA, which must promptly post the plan on the TEA website. (TCTA provision)
  • Requires school boards to adopt a policy that allows a principal to provide access for “patriotic societies” that are a youth membership organization (such as Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts) to speak to students during school hours about membership in the society. 
  • Requires school boards (rather than the current law “school district”) to adopt the grace period policy regarding unpaid meal accounts. 
  • Provides that a district or charter school cannot prohibit a person (specifically including a school employee) who holds a handgun license from transporting or storing a gun or ammunition in a locked private vehicle in a school parking area as long as it is not in plain view.

Special Education

HB 657 by Rep. Diego Bernal / Sen. José Menéndez authorizes a student’s ARD committee, which must convene after the student’s first failed attempt to pass a STAAR exam, to determine whether the student should be promoted instead of having to re-take the STAAR test.

HB 2130 by Rep. Kevin Roberts / Sen. José Menéndez requires TEA to conduct a study of the impact of the state’s testing program on students in special education programs. The study must address whether the administration of tests complies with federal law; and whether state assessments will provide an accurate evaluation of academic achievement, are appropriate for students’ educational capacity, result in a decrease in the number of students promoted, result in a decrease in graduation rates, result in fewer opportunities to pursue higher education, result in fewer opportunities for competitive integrated employment, and other such subjects. The study must also address whether exempting special education students from assessments (unless a parent requests the assessment) would impact the state assessment program and to what extent. 

SB 160 by Sen. José Rodriguez / Rep. Gene Wu prohibits TEA and the commissioner from adopting or implementing a performance indicator that measures a district’s or charter school’s aggregated number or percentage of enrolled students receiving special education services.

SB 1153 by Sen. José Menéndez / Rep. Dan Huberty expands information provided to parents regarding strategies being used with students who may have a learning disability. It ensures that parents are entitled to access to records relating to assistance provided for learning difficulties, including information regarding intervention strategies (which may include response to intervention and other early intervening strategies). 

SB 1398 by Sen. Eddie Lucio / Rep. Senfronia Thompson addresses problematic issues with the 2015 bill that authorized the placement of video cameras in self-contained special education classrooms. The bill narrows the scope of the statute to reflect its original intent — that the cameras are only to be placed in the classrooms that are specifically requested, and only for the year for which the request was made (unless the request is subsequently renewed). It specifies that the equipment is required to be placed only in classrooms or settings in which the requesting parent’s child is in regular attendance, or if requested by a staff member, in the setting to which the staff person is assigned. 

Teacher Certification / Preparation

HB 2039 by Rep. Dan Huberty and Sen. Judith Zaffirini requires SBEC to establish an early childhood (EC-3) certificate (in addition to, not replacing, the current EC-6 certificate). A person is not required to hold this certificate to be hired by a district to teach preK-3. 

HB 3349 by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins / Sen. Van Taylor requires SBEC to create an abbreviated educator preparation program for a person seeking certification in trade and industrial workforce training that requires no more than a high school diploma, seven years of experience in an approved occupation, and a related license/certification. The program must include at least 80 hours of classroom instruction in pedagogy, creating lesson plans and student assessments, classroom management,
and relevant laws.

SB 1839 by Sen. Bryan Hughes / Rep. Linda Koop addresses teacher preparation programs. Provides that rules addressing ongoing support for a candidate seeking certification for a certification class — other than classroom teacher — cannot require that the preparation program conduct formal observations onsite in a face-to-face setting; observations must be permitted onsite or through use of video or other technology. Allows a candidate for certification to satisfy up to 15 hours of field-based experience by serving as a long-term substitute teacher (this experience may occur after admission to a program or in the two preceding years). Allows the commissioner to establish exceptions to the examination requirements for an out-of-state educator to obtain a Texas certificate.

TRS / Health Insurance

HB 3976 by Rep. Trent Ashby / Sen. Joan Huffman restructures retiree health insurance by splitting TRS-Care into two programs — one for Medicare-eligible retirees and one for non-Medicare-eligible/under age 65 retirees:

  • Requires districts to increase their contribution from the current 0.55 percent of payroll to 0.75 percent.
  • 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.

SB 507 by Sen. Kelly Hancock / Rep. John Frullo adds participants of TRS-Care, TRS-ActiveCare and the state employee plan to laws that provide dispute resolution services for out-of-network health benefit claims. 

UIL / Extracurricular

HB 1075 by Rep. Ed Thompson / Sen. Kelly Hancock requires UIL sports officials to undergo a criminal background check once every three years.

HB 1645 by Rep. Jose Lozano / Sen. Judith Zaffirini provides that if a district allows high school students to earn letters for extracurricular achievements, the districts must allow for a letter to be earned on the basis of a student’s participation in a Special Olympics event.

Click here to read more about TCTA's 2017 legislative successes.