Thursday, February 03, 2005

House Education Plan Calls for Online Tests, $3 billion

Bill sends students back to school after Labor Day as well.

by Jason Embry
Thursday, February 03, 2005

Texas House leaders filed a sweeping education bill today that would require schools to start after Labor Day, students to take state tests online and school board members to run for office in November instead of May.

The plan calls for the state to increase education spending by more than $3 billion over two years, on top of new money it will spend to support student enrollment growth. It also calls for an initial one-third reduction in school property taxes for maintenance and operation.

It does not, however, prescribe how lawmakers will make up for the property tax cut or pay for the new spending.

The bill is the House's first substantive effort on school finance reform, the dominant issue of the young legislative session. It is similar to the goals for education reform that every senator endorsed last month.

The House plan would give school districts at least a 3 percent increase in state money this fall, said Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, the chairman of the Public Education Committee. It also would set aside about $270 million per year for districts to use in locally developed incentive or mentoring programs for teachers.

It does not call for an across-the-board pay increase for teachers.

The bill would make it easier for students to transfer out of schools that receive low ratings over two years. It also would expand the ratings system to measure how quickly students who do not speak English learn the language.

It also would require schools to begin the year after Labor Day, a change that is estimated to save $85 million a year but is likely to draw heavy criticism from some local districts. It also requires school trustees to run for office in November, every four years, so that school districts do not bear as much of the cost of a May election.

The bill would move toward the online administration of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test.

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