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Special ed funding, book bans and more: How education issues fared in the Texas Legislature

Patricia Lim

The regular legislative session is over, and all this week, we’ll be taking a closer look how certain issues fared — what passed and what failed.

Among the hot topics for lawmakers this year were a wide variety of education issues. Here’s the status of some key education legislation:

Special education funding

Before the session started, lawmakers released a report on the shortfall in state funding for special education. It’s big – almost $2 billion per year.

That’s largely because Texas funds special ed based on where students are placed – for example, a student integrated into a general environment gets less money than a student in a self-contained classroom, even if they both need more support.

As Democratic state Rep. Mary González of El Paso explained, a group of lawmakers recommended funding based on what services students need, not where they get them.

“If we really wanted to measure the true costs, and fund the true cost – which is really our goal and our mandate – going to the service intensity model is more accurate to both the cost and recognizing the needs of the student,” González said.

Other lawmakers agreed, but during the session, the Legislature tried to link private school subsidies – also known as vouchers or education savings accounts – with more money for special ed in public schools. The voucher proposal fell flat in the Texas House, and took special ed funding with it.

– Dominic Anthony Walsh, Houston Public Media

Money for state-approved instructional materials

House Bill 1605, which is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, garnered bipartisan support in the Texas Legislature – but teacher groups have reservations.

It gives school districts $40 per student to spend on materials the Texas Education Agency says meet curriculum standards, and another $20 per student to print and distribute open-source materials approved by the State Board of Education.

Lawmakers who sponsored the bill — and school administrators who testified in favor of it — said adopting district-wide lesson plans will elevate the quality of instruction and save teachers time.

Doug Dawson, founder of the School Innovation Collaborative, a nonprofit that operates a network of San Antonio ISD schools, told lawmakers during invited testimony that instructional materials purchased for his network during COVID helped bring more students up to grade level and freed teachers from Googling for lesson plans.

“It is shifting from focusing all your time on what you teach to how you teach it,” Dawson told the Senate Education Committee in March. “And I think that’s really, really important because that allows our great teachers to bring the lessons to life as opposed to focusing on what they’re delivering to students every day.”

But groups representing teachers say a set curriculum will stifle teachers and prevent them from choosing the best lessons for their students.

“My best lessons were the lessons that I got to create and think about my kids that are in my room and what they like and what they didn’t like and what I knew that they would enjoy,” said Tricia Cave with the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

Cave said teachers want fewer administrative duties, not less time lesson planning.

– Camille Phillips, Texas Public Radio

Book bans in school libraries

HB 900, which bans certain books in school libraries, is on the governor’s desk.

The legislation requires companies that sell books to school libraries to set up a rating system for books based on references to sex.

Books containing such references that are part of school curriculum will still be allowed with parent permission. Books that aren’t and are deemed “patently offensive” will be banned entirely.

Adri Pérez, organizing director of the Texas Freedom Network, said the bill unfairly targets literature highlighting the experiences of LGBTQ people and people of color.

“To attack that, to try to take away those stories and that access from students in Texas schools is fundamentally an attack on the freedom of information and on democracy in the state of Texas,” Pérez said.

Some book vendors say they feel unprepared to take on the burden and expenses of rating materials.

– Aurora Berry, The Texas Newsroom

Armed security in schools

Just days after the first anniversary of the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, lawmakers passed HB 3, requiring armed security in every Texas public school.

The measure calls for at least one armed officer on every campus. School trustees can request an exemption to a peace officer, based on so-called good cause, but they’d have to offer an alternative, like a school marshal or a trained and armed teacher.

The bill also calls for additional mental health training and development of an alert system for parents or guardians to flag when possible violence occurs on a campus. This was an emergency item for Abbott.

– Bill Zeeble, KERA News

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