Monday, May 09, 2011

Attempt to Lift Class Size Ratio Stumbles Again

by Morgan Smith | Texas Tribune

Lawmakers in the House took a second swing at state Rep. Rob Eissler's school mandate relief bill late Friday night. And once again, they whiffed.

A point of order from parliamentary mastermind state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, is being considered overnight after almost four hours of debate on the floor.

As the debate kicked off, an impassioned state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, delivered a speech that Democrats — and some Republicans, like state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman — echoed all night as they detailed their opposition to the bill's proposal to eliminate minimum salary requirements, lift the 22-1 class size ratio, authorize unpaid furloughs and remove termination notification requirements.

"We are dealing with HB 400 because we are unwilling to pay the tab for public education for children to get a higher quality education," Turner said, "HB 400 is a consolation bill that shows we're willing to compromise and dumb down education in Texas."

But Eissler, R-The Woodlands, demonstrated he came ready to deal when he offered an amendment from the floor that kept the 22-1 class size ratio for kindergarten through fourth grade but made it significantly easier from districts to get a waiver exemption as long as they maintained a 22-1 district wide average. And teachers' groups scored a victory when Eissler agreed to make the bills' measures temporary — something he previously said he would not do.

"As much as I hate weakening our 22-1 law at all, all I'm saying is that if we have to do it, we should sunset it," said state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, the author of the amendment.

Eissler initially said he believed making the measure temporary would be "creating havoc" in school districts. But after a few moments of deliberation, he approved the amendment.

None of those concessions were enough to stop Democrats from deploying their favorite tactic of the session, however— which proved successful when the parliamentarain sustained it the next morning.

The House is set to take up the bill for a third time on Monday.

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