Recent Changes in Public Schools
Members of the 68th Legislature passed a historic education-reform bill in the summer of 1984. House Bill 72 came in response to growing concern over deteriorating literacy among Texas’ schoolchildren over two decades, reflected in students’ scores on standardized tests.
Provisions of HB 72 raised teachers’ salaries, but tied those raises to teacher performance. It also introduced more stringent teacher certification and initiated competency testing for teachers.
Academic achievement was set as a priority in public education with stricter attendance rules; adoption of a no-pass, no-play rule prohibiting students who were failing courses from participating in sports and other extracurricular activities for a six-week period; and national norm-referenced testing throughout all grades to assure parents of individual schools’ performance through a common frame of reference.
No-pass, no-play now requires only a three-week suspension for a failing course grade, during which time the student can continue to practice, but not participate in competition.
North Hopkins High School near Birthright. Photo by Robert Plocheck.
The 74th Legislature passed the Public Schools Reform Act of 1995, which increased local control of public schools by limiting the Texas Education Agency to:
- recommending and reporting on educational goals;
- overseeing charter schools;
- managing the permanent, foundation and available school funds;
- administering an accountability system;
- creating and implementing the student testing program;
- recommending educator appraisal and counselor evaluation instruments;
- and developing plans for special, bilingual, compensatory, gifted and talented, vocational and technology education.
Texas students, beginning with the Class of 1987, have been required to pass an exit-level exam, along with their courses, in order to receive a diploma from a Texas public high school. Beginning with the Class of 2005, Texas students must pass the exit-level Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) to meet this graduation requirement. TAKS, which is the most rigorous graduation test ever given to Texas students, covers English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.
To give Texas residents a sense of how schools are performing, the state has issued ratings for its public school districts and campuses since 1993. The new system is based on state test scores and high school completion rates.
A teacher also may remove a disruptive student from class and, subject to review by a campus committee, veto the student’s return to class. The district must provide alternative education for students removed from class. A student must be placed in alternative education for assault, selling drugs or alcohol, substance abuse or public lewdness. A student must be expelled and referred to the appropriate court for serious offenses, such as murder or aggravated assault.
Actions of the 84th Legislature
The public backlash against student testing continued in 2015 with the 84th Texas Legislature reducing the focus on exit-level testing. Although 92 percent of the Class of 2015 had passed all five end-of-course exams by May of their senior year, lawmakers passed a bill that allowed students, who had passed their required classes but had failed up to two of the five end-of-course exams, to receive a diploma if approved by an individual graduation committee.
Lawmakers also made changes to the state’s school rating system. Beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, districts and schools will receive a ratings of A, B, C, D or F, rather than a rating label such as Met Standard or Improvement Required.
Legislators repealed the criminal offense associated with failing to attend school. Truancy will now carry a civil penalty. It is still a Class C misdemeanor for a parent to contribute to their child’s truancy.
At the request of Gov. Greg Abbott, lawmakers worked to strengthen high-quality prekindergarten programs. They also reinstated funding for math and reading academies, providing training for teachers.
Actions of the 83rd Legislature
Efforts to restore the 2011 funding cuts to public education and a growing public backlash over the state's standardized testing program dominated the public education agenda during the 2013 legislative session. During the 2011 state budget crisis, lawmakers cut $4 billion from the Foundation School Program, which is the main funding source for public schools, and another $1.4 billion from other programs, primarily grant programs.
Lawmakers restored $3.4 billion to the Foundation School Program during the 2013 legislative session. As a 2007 law that created the STAAR testing program began to take affect during the 2011–2012 school year, there was a growing public concern about the mandate that high school students must pass 15 end-of-course exams to meet high school graduation requirements. That was a significant increase from the previous testing program called the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), which required students to pass four tests to meet graduation requirements.
For the first time, there was also a requirement that the test score must count for 15 percent of a student's final course grade, which meant the test score could impact class rank. Lawmakers reacted to these concerns by passing House Bill 5, which reduced the number of end-of-course exams students must pass to graduate from 15 to five. It also eliminated the 15-percent grading requirement and substantially changed high school diploma plans.
New laws also ushered in provisions that call for a major expansion of publicly funded charter schools and provided the Texas Education Agency with stronger measures that can be used to close poorly performing or financially troubled charter schools.
Actions of the 82nd Legislature
The 82nd legislative session in 2011 ended with no state budget and several key education-related bills still pending, bringing on the call for a special session where a handful of bills were finally passed.
House Bill 1, passed in the regular session, cut school funding by $4 billion and slashed another $1.3 billion in special program funding. In addition, House Bill 1 eliminated funding for several programs, including the Pre-Kindergarten Early Start Program, the Technology Allotment, science lab grants, new instructional facilities allotment, and middle school physical education grants.
Senate Bill 1 contains the school funding bill, including a provision that allows charter school bonds to be guaranteed by the Permanent School Fund for a AAA rating.
Senate Bill 6, the textbook bill, expands the way school districts can use funding for textbooks. It creates an Instructional Materials Allotment (IMA) which entitles a school district to an annual allotment from the state that may be used to purchase instructional materials, regardless of whether or not they are on the State Board of Education’s adopted list; consumable materials; bilingual, supplemental, and state-developed open-source instructional materials; and technological equipment.
The allotment may also be used to pay for training educational personnel directly involved in student learning in the appropriate use of instructional materials, as well as salaries of employees providing technical support for technological equipment.
Actions of the 81st Legislature
Although a smaller-than-usual number of public education bills were approved by lawmakers during the 81st Legislature in 2009, the bills’ impact was widespread.
Lawmakers provided more flexibility in the state’s primary graduation plan by reducing the number of required courses and increasing the number of electives. The changes were effective immediately. In the 26-credit, Recommended High School Graduation Program which most students follow, the number of electives increased from 3.5 to six.
Students are no longer required to take a health class or a technology application class. The number of required physical education credits was also reduced for this degree program.
Beginning with the 2009–2010 entering freshman class, students who follow the 22-credit Minimum Graduation Plan were required to earn one fine arts credit. The 26-credit Distinguished Achievement Program, the state’s third graduation plan, was not changed by the new legislation.
House Bill 3, which included the graduation changes, contained a number of other revisions. It eliminated testing requirements tied to third-grade promotion. Previously, third-grade students were required to pass the reading Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) in order to be promoted. Fifth and eighth-grade students still must pass the reading and math TAKS to be promoted.
The bill requires a revamping of the state’s assessment program for grades 3–8 with a replacement test for TAKS.
Sanctions for schools or districts that earn the state’s lowest school rating were also revised. Previously, a school that received the state’s lowest rating for five years in a row was required to be closed under state law. House Bill 3 makes the closure permissible but not mandatory.
Another major bill approved, House Bill 3646, updates the state’s school finance system.
Senate Bill 174 provides consumers with more information about educator preparation programs, which will help prospective teachers select the best possible teacher training program. The bill revised the Accountability System for Educator Preparation Programs (ASEP) to include certification exam results, performance results for beginning teachers, student achievement information and information provided by field supervisors of teachers in training.
Numerous bills provide expanded avenues for the purchase of textbooks or other instructional material to be used in Texas classrooms. Although electronic materials have been available for use in the state’s classrooms since the early 1990s, House Bill 4294 allowed expenditure of state textbook funds for equipment, such as laptops, necessary to utilize electronic instructional material.