House Bill 1 Stalled and Sent Back to Committee
With the Texas Legislature in the middle of its fourth Special Legislative Session, several high profile education policy issues remain unsettled, including school finance, academic accountability, teacher supports, and school choice.
The Texas Senate has continued to maintain a narrow scope this special session with SB 1 focusing on school choice and SB 2 covering school finance. Both bills are currently awaiting hearing with the House Educational Opportunity and Enrichment Select Committee (the Select Committee).
Meanwhile, the House was pursuing HB 1, a much broader bill that covers the spectrum of education policy. On Friday, November 17, 2023, the House voted to strip HB 1 of its proposal for Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), the school choice vehicle Governor Abbott has focused his attention on for the past two special sessions. Without the school choice sections, HB 1 was sent back to Committee by Chairman Buckley, the author of the bill and the chair of both the Public Education and Select Committees. It is unclear how the Legislature will proceed with the end of the session rapidly approaching on December 6, 2023.
While ESAs and school choice continue to dominate the conversation at the Capitol, other critical areas of public education policy continue to be lost in the shuffle. Below we highlight major missed opportunities that were included in HB 1, along with other policies we are keeping a close watch on.
HB 1 Missed Opportunities
Early Education: HB 1 would expand the Early Education Allotment, a pool of funding currently earmarked for supporting educationally disadvantaged and emergent bilingual students in Kindergarten through 3rd grade. HB 1 also prioritized early literacy by outlining a clear quality process for literacy screeners and requiring effective interventions for students who need additional support. Together, these policies would target even more resources to ensure students have foundational skills in literacy and math early in their education journey.
Teacher Incentive Allotment: As schools grapple with a nationwide teacher shortage, educator compensation continues to be a critical issue. In addition to base increases, the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA) is a pathway for the Legislature to increase compensation for highly-effective teachers to promote recruitment and retention. By adding a new designation to TIA, the Legislature could greatly expand the number of educators that are eligible for additional compensation and ultimately support high-quality instruction for our students.
Texas Teacher Residency Program: The Texas Teacher Residency Program would codify a robust option for future educators to receive paid on-the-job training in instruction while working toward their certification. Moving forward with this program would further strengthen our pipeline for qualified educators.
Additional Recommendations by the Texas Teacher Vacancy Task Force: In addition to compensation and residency support, HB 1 included a number of policies aligned with recommendations made by the Teacher Vacancy Task Force to support our educators, including a time study, financial support for certain certifications, and technical support for TIA implementation and strategic staffing.
Policies to Watch
While there were many shining areas of HB 1, the proposal for the statewide accountability system gave us pause.
Article 9 of HB 1 would eliminate the statewide academic accountability system in 2026 without a proposal for a system to take its place. Until that point, evaluation methodology would revert to the 2022 Accountability Manual, which included implementation of state law to hold districts harmless for pandemic-related learning loss by assigning a ‘Not Rated’ designation rather than D/F ratings.
The bill also established a Commission on Assessment and Accountability that would be broadly charged with making recommendations for “improvements to the current public school assessment and accountability systems and the adoption of a new assessment and accountability system.”
Our accountability system sets clear expectations for school districts regarding academic achievement and progress and provides the public with transparent access to information about student learning. Without a clear vision of the future of accountability, districts could be left without guidance for student academic outcomes, parents left without necessary information to support their child’s education, and students are left without a mechanism to ensure our education system is doing its best to support their academic success. Texas needs to maintain a collective understanding of the expectations for student achievement and growth.
If the Legislature takes up these topics again this session, or in another potential special session, here are our recommendations for research-backed, student-focused policies:
- Retain the policies focused on early education and strengthen our pipeline for recruiting and retaining effective educators. Although we do recommend some technical adjustments to the early literacy components, we believe these changes directly impact student growth and support teachers.
- Refrain from eliminating the statewide accountability system. While there is always room for improvement, our accountability system is a necessary component of public education. We must ensure we retain a fair, transparent, and rigorous accountability system, even as we work to make improvements.
- Narrow the scope of the Commission on Assessment and Accountability. Providing a broad directive to adopt a new assessment and accountability system, especially with the sunset deadline of 2026, risks a hasty solution to a complex problem. We recommend focusing on the college, career, and military readiness indicators, which have been the center of most of the public commentary.
- Moving forward, D and F campuses should receive ratings. If the will of the Legislature is to revert to the formula used to assess districts and campuses in the 2022 A-F Accountability Manual, the directive to use “Not Rated” in place of D and F ratings is no longer productive. The hold harmless provision was necessary in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic to reflect the challenges students and schools faced with learning loss. However, we now need a fully functional accountability system to be able to measure and monitor how well our schools are able to support students as they strive to catch up to grade level post-pandemic.
The Texas Legislature is still working toward consensus on education policy. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter, visit our policy page, and follow us on social media for updates and action items for public education policy.