As the regular session of the 88th Texas Legislature gavelled to a close on Memorial Day, it was clear that, while much had been accomplished, there was still more work to be done. With an appropriated $4 billion investment in public education yet to be allocated, another special session on school finance is anticipated in the coming months.
In preparation, House Speaker Dade Phelan formed a new 15 member committee, the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment, to study the issues likely to come before the legislature at that time. The committee is charged with submitting an initial report by Aug. 11 with recommendations on the following topics:
- “Ensuring all Texas youths enjoy equal educational opportunity and the freedom to obtain a quality education, regardless of circumstance;
- Improving outcomes for Texas public school students and meaningfully supporting educators and educational institutions; and
- Modernizing assessment and accountability measures for Texas schools educating K-12 students.”
Commit was honored to be among the 43 educators, community members and advocates invited to testify in the committee’s first of two full-day hearings on Tuesday, July 11th and Wednesday, July 12th. Centered in data-driven proposals from the regular session worthy of continued consideration, the presentation from Policy and State Coalition Managing Director Kate Greer focused on the latter two charges aligning with Commit’s legislative agenda: student outcomes and assessment and accountability. Here are the key takeaways from her testimony:
Learning Acceleration Must Remain A Priority For Texas
Research from the Hoover Institution suggests Texas stands to lose nearly more than $930 billion in GDP if the academic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic goes unaddressed. “The good news,” Greer testified, “is that it's not a foregone conclusion. We can recover from learning loss.”
As the graph above demonstrates, students are already beginning to see rebounds in reading, but math performance is unfortunately lagging behind its pre-pandemic peak. High-impact tutoring, as codified in HB 1416 from the regular session, is a promising strategy to support students who are behind academically, and Commit supports ensuring the Legislature provides adequate resources for school systems to effectively implement this intensive intervention.
State Leaders Should Adopt Recommendations from the Teacher Vacancy Task Force
Last year, Gov. Greg Abbott formed the Texas Teacher Vacancy Task Force (TVTF). The group, made up primarily of current Texas teachers, released a final report and set of recommendations in March. These recommendations were discussed at length during the regular session with significant support but ultimately failed to pass.
It is our hope this will change in an upcoming special session. In particular, the recommended teacher residency programs promise to help new, diverse educators enter the classroom better prepared – which in turn helps them stay in the profession longer. “Once we have great teachers,” Greer continued, “let's keep them in the classroom and incentivize [them] to teach in hard-to-staff schools through the Teacher Incentive Allotment,” which the task force recommended expanding and accelerating.
Strong Academic Foundations in Early Childhood will Improve Student Outcomes
Historically in Texas, only five percent of students who are behind in third-grade reading catch up within two years. But too often, tutoring and other interventions only become available to these students after they’ve taken a third-grade assessment. As Greer pointed out in her testimony, “for the majority of kids, waiting until third grade is too late.”
Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston sought to remedy the problem of delayed intervention in the regular session with House Bill 2162, which received broad bipartisan support but failed to meet procedural deadlines. We urge the legislature to reconsider this policy, as well as others that would increase funding for early education and promote public private pre-K partnerships.
Our State’s Accountability System Should Focus On Core Academics
In 2017, the legislature created our state’s A-F system of rating school districts with House Bill 22 (85R). But due to the pandemic’s disruption of public education, full ratings have only been given for two of the subsequent school years, including 2022-23.
Given the limited time the system has been fully implemented, combined with responsive changes underway through the Texas Education Agency, “The Commit Partnership does not believe that legislative changes are required to the system right now,” Greer stated. “The system was designed to explicitly make Texas nationally competitive in postsecondary success. [The above slide] shows that we are not there yet. We've got a long way to go, and it's important that we keep the focus on core academic skills.”
"About half of our kids are not meeting grade-level expectations [in reading],” said Greer in conclusion. “And so I don't think any of us should go home and feel like our job is done, but rather we should see what was left undone by the regular [legislative] session and look at data-driven strategies to reinvest in our kids.”