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Senators lay out plan for Texas schools

March 3, 2015

By Jackie Vega and Phil Prazan

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick spoke Tuesday about education in a packed press conference room. Chair of the Senate Committee on Education Sen. Larry Taylor and other senators were also on hand, laying out their plan for Texas schools. Taylor laid out some of the first kind of major bill priorities and initiatives of the conservative-led Senate. Some of these bills, they say, are to make the state’s public school systems more accountable to parents — and that includes a hotly contested ranking system that would rank campuses on a scale of A to F.

“You know Texas has a lot of great schools, we have some good schools and frankly we have some schools that aren’t getting the job done,” said Taylor.

Texas already grades school districts, but will only say if an individual campus has met state standards. This idea of grading schools came through the session last time but failed.

“This will help highlight those campuses and put pressure frankly on the district and the parents to do something about those campuses,” said Taylor.

“Look at that fire department in that same way and instead of going in to put the fire out, we stood off to the side and insulted the building and we only go in to randomly pull out 5 to 10 percent of folks in the building,” said Monty Exter from the Association of Texas Professional Educators. He thinks this would act as shaming parents into private schools.

Another bill in the works, called the Opportunity District, would lump all failing schools together and a sort of “crisis mode” is enacted. That creates a brand new district for those troubled schools, with a structure that helps them. That structure includes their own superintendent and boards. The crux of the issue in this bill is whether they throw state money its way — or whether they privatize it.

Another hot-button issue at hand is what is being called parent empowerment — formerly known as “parent trigger.” That aims to get parents to take a larger role in actually running the school. It also allows parents to petition a district for improvements if it fails state standards two years in a row.

Still, Patrick has emphasized that there will be more bills specifically focused on school choice.

Another bill, though this one a favorable one, targets online digital learning for high school and junior high students and increase access for all Texas students. Another favorable bill is one that would improve teacher quality. It sets the framework for teacher development that includes appraisal, training and compensation.

Workforce development was also a focus. The measure provides for a college and career-readiness course for all seventh and eighth-graders. Taylor says those courses would be tailored to each region.