Last Friday, the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment released its final report after hearing invited testimony from a wide range of education stakeholders, including TCTA, in mid-July. The report comes in anticipation of Gov. Greg Abbott calling a special session on education in the coming months, which will likely address school finance, teacher salaries and school vouchers, which were left pending during the regular session.
Learn more about the formation of the committee here.
Each section of the report lays out some expository facts followed by a summary of the invited testimony and a list of recommendations for further legislative action in the upcoming special session.
Topic 1: “Ensuring all Texas youths enjoy equal educational opportunities and the freedom to obtain a quality education, regardless of circumstance.”
This section outlines all the existing choices parents have when selecting the best education for their children. Currently, around 85% attend a public school or public charter, 8% are homeschooled, and 4% attend private school. Within public school districts, there are also specialized Early College campuses, Pathways in Technology (P-TECH) campuses, and Texas Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math academies (T-STEM) available for parents to choose.
While this section mentions the numerous choices parents have available, the intent was almost certainly to continue the discussion on Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) from the regular session. Proponents claimed that more competition in education would lift the whole system and that ESAs would allow families who cannot afford private school to attend, while opponents worried that ESA funding lacks accountability and oversight and that any type of voucher program would reduce funding to public schools.
Among the recommendations, most notable were that the Legislature should work to expand the current slate of options available to parents with children in public school districts and that ESAs should still be on the table, with some minor technical changes. This almost certainly indicates that vouchers will still be a major topic during the upcoming special session.
Topic 2: “Improving outcomes for Texas public school students and meaningfully supporting educators and educational institutions.”
This section dives into recent student test scores on state and national assessments and discusses COVID-era learning losses to make a case for an investment into education. It also discusses the teacher workforce and the recent teacher retention crisis. The report acknowledges that effective teachers are the most important factors outside the home in student achievement and concedes that Texas teachers are too often underprepared and under-supported once they begin their careers. Almost 35% of teachers have fewer than five years of experience, and 41% of those teachers leave the profession before five years.
The Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA) was created in the 2019 session to encourage teachers to stay in the profession by allowing exemplary teachers to earn higher pay, but not every district participates in the program and it can be difficult for teachers to earn any TIA money. The report provides a glowing review of TIA, but even considering COVID, it has not had the desired effect. Currently only a small percentage of Texas teachers have received a TIA designation.
This section also includes a summary of recommendations from the Teacher Vacancy Task Force, which was created last year to develop a list of recommendations to help train and retain teachers. Some of the task force’s recommendations were addressed during the regular session, but most were left up in the air.
Given the massive amount of information surrounding these topics, this section also had the longest list of recommendations. Notable among them are recommendations to increase the basic allotment, which “can be used to compensate teachers,” to expand TIA by creating a fourth designation below “recognized,” to support teachers in managing student behavior, and to bolster the Teacher Residency Program. While the recommendations lack an outright call for increasing teacher salaries, asking for an increase in the basic allotment is a good sign if the committee is contemplating an amount higher than the meager increase suggested during the regular session.
It is also noteworthy that Select Committee Chair Brad Buckley released a statement thanking members for their hard work, mentioning “[a] meaningful teacher pay raise and an increase in the basic allotment" as critical elements to support teachers and students. The report’s endorsement of the Teacher Vacancy Task Force recommendations should include support for "a significant increase in overall teacher salaries," which is, quite literally, the first item mentioned in the task force’s recommendations.
Topic 3: “Modernizing assessment and accountability measures for Texas schools educating K-12 students.”
Given the introduction of a new accountability system in a last-minute House proposal during the regular session, it was not surprising to see our state assessments mentioned in the committee’s charge. Revision of the current system may be a welcome addition as state testing places a heavy burden on students and teachers alike, although implementation is always key to a new proposal’s eventual success or failure.
Testimony centered around the impact of the A-F rating system and the lack of support to low-performing campuses. Some witnesses even testified that businesses would make relocation decisions based on a district’s A-F ratings.
Recommendations were modest and mostly asked TEA to provide better tools to districts with regard to cut scores and to reduce the burden of high-stakes testing on schools.
While this is a lot to digest, we anticipate that this report will guide the debate during the upcoming special session. As more information becomes available, be sure to check back with us for more Capitol updates.