Charters, school finance developments in Lege

House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler indicated Friday that he will move to strip some amendments, including one allowing an expansion of charter schools, which the Senate added to House Bill 6, the instructional allotments bill.

And, House and Senate negotiators reportedly have reached a deal on how to distribute the $4 billion in public education cuts in HB1, the new state budget, among the state’s 1,000-plus school districts.  We expect a vote on SB 1811 on Sunday.

The House adopted Eissler’s motion to send HB6 to a conference committee. House conferees are Eissler and Reps. Dan Huberty, Mark Strama, Scott Hochberg and Dan Branch. Senate conferees are Sens. Florence Shapiro, Robert Duncan, Leticia Van de Putte, John Corona and Jane Nelson.

If HB6 comes back from the conference committee with the charter school amendment still attached, Rep. Roland Gutierrez indicated he will try to kill the bill on a point of order that the bill would violate the dual-subject rule.

As passed by the House earlier in the session, HB6 would have established the new instructional allotment for textbooks and other instructional materials. But the Senate added several amendments to the bill earlier this week, including one allowing an expansion of charter schools, others promoting the state virtual school network, one dealing with school food service contracts and another addressing a school district’s grading policy.

The charter expansion amendment by Sen. Dan Patrick includes language from Patrick’s SB127, which would abolish the cap on open-enrollment charter schools and allow the State Board of Education to grant as many as 10 new charters each fiscal year. The amendment also would allow a charter holder to establish one or more new open-enrollment charter school campuses under a charter without applying for authorization from the state board under certain circumstances. The amendment would allow the state board to grant a charter on the application of an eligible entry for an open-enrollment charter school intended primarily to serve students with disabilities, including students with autism.

The school finance agreement reportedly calls for 6 percent across-the-board cuts advocated by House Public Education Chairman Eissler to be imposed on school districts in the first year of the biennium and the Senate’s more-complicated plan to replace the current school finance system be used in the second year. Under the Senate plan, districts that receive higher allotments of funding now would suffer the deepest cuts. Failure to reach agreement on a school finance plan before the regular session adjourns Monday could trigger a special session this summer. The apparent failure of windstorm insurance legislation also could result in a special session.

The school finance negotiations are part of the deliberations on SB1811, a fiscal matters bill that must be passed in order to balance the new budget. SB1811 also could serve as a vehicle for last-minute efforts to attach amendments raising class sizes, cutting teacher pay or authorizing private school vouchers.

In another part of the budget-balancing act, the House on Friday accepted Senate amendments to House Bill 4, which imposes spending cuts to close a revenue shortfall for the rest of the current biennium. That bill now goes to the governor.

The House also approved Senate amendments to the following bills and sent them to the governor:

HB 1244 by Joaquin Castro and Royce West, relating to developmental education courses and the assessment of student readiness under the Texas Success Initiative for public institutions of higher education.

HB 2909 by Dan Branch and Florence Shapiro, relating to increasing awareness in Texas of the importance of higher education.

The Senate accepted House amendments to the following bills and sent them to the governor:

Senate Bill 49 by Sen. Zaffirini, requiring a school district to provide the parents of a student removed to a disciplinary alternative education program with written notice of the district’s obligation to provide the student with an opportunity to complete coursework required for graduation. The notice must include information about all methods available for completing the coursework and state that the methods are available at no cost to the student.

Senate Bill 391 by Sen. Patrick, requiring notification that a publisher of an adopted textbook for a grade level other than pre-kindergarten must submit an electronic sample copy of the textbook as required by Sections 31.027(a) and (b).

Senate Bill 736 by Sen. Hinojosa, allowing a school board to appoint a member from a local domestic violence program to the local school health advisory council.

Senate Bill 988 by Sen. Van de Putte, creating the Cybersecurity, Education, and Economic Development Council. The council will be required to make recommendations for improving the infrastructure of Texas’ cybersecurity operations with existing resources and through partnerships between government, business, and institutions of higher education. It also will examine specific actions to accelerate the growth of cybersecurity as an industry in this state.

Senate Bill 1094 by Sen. Rodriguez, requiring the development and delivery of high school equivalency examinations online.

Senate Bill 1620 by Sen. Duncan, requiring the State Board of Education to establish a process under which an applied STEM course may be reviewed and approved for purposes of satisfying the mathematics and science curriculum requirements for the recommended high school program. The bill also requires that academic credit for a STEM course be transferable among institutions of higher education. The bill also addresses certification to teach STEM courses.