Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Texas Legislature considering education issues other than funding

By Jessamy Brown | Star-Telegram
Sunday, Mar. 20, 2011

Most of the education bills getting Texas lawmakers' attention this session center on school funding. But there are dozens of other bills that propose changes in how school districts operate day-to-day and what children do at school.

On Thursday, the Senate passed a "truth in grading" bill that would bar school districts from creating minimum grade requirements rather than grades based on merit. The bill, HB79, will now go to the House for consideration.

It is the second time around for the measure, authored by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. She filed a similar bill in 2009, but 11 school districts challenged it in court, asserting that the law applied only to individual course assignments, not to averages or report-card grades.

Some school districts said the ability to assign artificial grades of 50, 60 or 70 can help keep students in school.

Nelson's bill this session seeks to make it clear that school districts can't require teachers to assign a minimum grade for any reason, including on course grades, tests, progress reports and course assignments.

Teachers should have the authority to award the appropriate grades for students, said Holly Eaton, the Texas Classroom Teachers Association's director of professional development and advocacy. She testified in favor of the bill at a Senate education committee public hearing.

"Those kinds of decisions should be left to the professional, that being the teacher," Eaton said. Here are several bills being considered that deal with the daily experience of teachers, students and others who work in schools.

Senate Bill 88

School campuses in which 80 percent or more of the student body qualify for free or reduced-price breakfast would be required to provide free breakfast to all students at that school.

Senate Bill 242

Known as the "anti-bullying bill," it would require school districts to create anti-bullying polices and train employees on preventing, identifying and responding to bullying. It would also expand the definition of bullying to include cyberbullying and off-campus bullying, and would allow districts to transfer a bully to another class or campus.

House Bill 79

School districts would be barred from prohibiting the Ten Commandments from being posted in a classroom.

House Bill 285

Schools would be required to have one counselor for every 300 students, and districts would be entitled to more state funds to cover the costs.

House Bill 286

School districts would be required to create allergy and anaphylaxis management plan for students with food or life-threatening allergies. The plan must include methods to lessen a student's exposure to the food or allergen.

House Bill 677

Students who want to participate in a University Interscholastic League sport would first be required to get a baseline cognitive linguistic test, along with a physical exam. Athletes who suffer a concussion would be required to have a cognitive linguistic test before they could return to a game or practices.

House Bill 1326

School districts would be required to shorten their school week from five to four days. Districts would have to change their schedules so the average length of a school day is at least 8.5 hours. The district's state funding share would not be affected by the calendar change.

House Concurrent Resolution 31

The Texas Education Agency would be asked to create a rating system to measure performance of local school boards. The board would be rated every two years under such an accountability system. The new system would assess how the district allocates employees and funding to low-performing schools.

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