Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Technicality Slays House Bill on Class Sizes — for Now

by Morgan Smith | Texas Tribune

The House was set to debate a bill that would scrap a 27-year-old law mandating a 22-to-1 student-teacher ratio in kindergarten through fourth grade today — but before it got the chance, state Rep. Borris Miles, D-Houston, derailed the legislation with a point of order.

HB 400 from state Rep. Rob Eissler, R-Woodlands, would replace that ratio with a hard cap of 25 students per classroom.

Miles challenged the bill because the analysis did not match up with the text of the bill. It now returns to the Public Education Committee, which Eissler chairs, which must pass it out once again. It could hit the House floor for the second time as early as Friday. In an interview after his point of order was sustained, Miles called eliminating the class size ration "ridiculous" and said that it pitted teachers against administrators. He said that when it returned to the floor, he would continue to challenge it.

"There's other points of order on HB 400 that need to be addressed," he said.

Outside the House chambers, Eissler emphasized that his bill was about protecting teachers' jobs and expressed frustration that it had been delayed on a technicality. "We're in the cat-and-mouse game now; that should tell you how badly they don't want this to pass," he said.

In 1984, the Legislature passed an extensive school reform package, which included a requirement that prohibited schools from going above a 22-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio in elementary grades. Teachers associations have fought hard to keep that in place, saying the detriment to students' educational experience that removing the ratio would bring isn't worth what they believe will be a marginal benefit. They also question whether it would actually help reduce costs. Districts can already apply for a waiver if they lack the space or qualified teachers to create a new class — and they say the Texas Education Agency already grants the vast majority of such requests.

Eissler's bill also contains provisions that eliminate minimum salary requirements for teachers, authorizes unpaid furloughs and removes the 30-day period for districts to notify teachers of their termination. It also scraps the 10-to-1 student teacher ratio for remedial classes.

In the upper chamber, state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has similar legislation pending in committee. SB 443 changes the 22-to-1 class size cap to a 21-to-1 district-wide average. But it prohibits districts from having any class sizes larger than 24 — and does not provide a waiver.

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