Texas Education Reform Agenda Includes School Choice

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Texas Senate leaders have announced an education reform agenda, the majority of which is opposed by teacher advocate groups who believe they are pushing the privatization of the school system.

The agenda includes a number of education bills, one of which would issue letter grade ratings to public schools in the state each year.

“Everyone in this room knows the difference between an A and an F when you’re talking about education,” Senate Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor said. “It’s very clear. A ‘C’ is right in the middle, right? We all know that. Where is acceptable?”

Other proposals including the creation of an “opportunity” school district that would be in charge of the lowest-performing schools in Texas and would introduce a new method of evaluating teachers. It would also end the limit to the number of online courses each student is allowed to participate in.

“Limiting kids in today’s world to three online courses I think is a little bit dated. It was dated last week. It’ll be dated even more by the end of the school year. That’s how quickly things are moving in Texas,” Taylor said.

A parent empowerment bill has also been filed that would offer parents the right to petition to close a school labeled as failing for two consecutive years rather than the five years they need to currently wait.  “That is too long for kids to suffer in a system that is not working in that particular school,” Taylor said.

Critics of the agenda believe the bills merely encourage the creation of charter schools, referring to them as “parent trigger bills.”

“It is very much like a gun,” Monty Exter with the Association of Texas Professional Educators said. “Once you pull the trigger, you can’t pull that bullet back. Once it’s done, it’s done, and parents often don’t realize what all they’re giving up before they actually pull that trigger.”

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said he would announce a school choice program later in the year during the legislative session.  He went on to say the issue would be one of the top priorities, “But reforming education is more than a single shot. It is a comprehensive plan,” the Houston Republican said.

In general, school choice programs allow students who currently attend failing public schools an opportunity to transfer to better public schools, charter schools or private or parochial schools using a state-funded voucher.  “148,000 students, approximately, today, are trapped in 297 school campuses across our state that have been failing for more than two years,” Patrick said.  He tried to push the idea in the past, but was unsuccessful.

An additional measure would allow middle school students the chance to participate in college and career readiness courses.  Lawmakers approved reforms to allow high school students more pathways for graduation during the last session.