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Alternate graduation route still under consideration; 9 other education bills advance to full Senate

The Texas Senate Education Committee heard testimony Tuesday from a long line of supporters and a few critics of Senate Bill 463, which would keep individual graduation committees that allow students to graduate even if they fail STAAR exams.

These graduation committees were put in place temporarily in 2015 by SB 149. If SB 463 is not signed by the governor this session, the committees will cease to exist in September.

Among the supporters who testified was Amarillo ISD Superintendent Dana West, who named students who failed to pass STAAR and graduated anyway thanks to the committees established by SB 149.

"The examples included a student who got into a serious car accident and now is the only woman in her college welding program, and a Somalian immigrant who almost dropped out when he failed the required state English exam and who now is studying hard at a local college," the Texas Tribune reports.

Critics of the bill say it lowers standards for all Texas students and results in the graduation of students who are not qualified.

"We need to send people out with a credential that means something," Sandy Kress​, former Senior Education Adviser to President George W. Bush, said. "I think if we wanted to do something creative, these legislators might consider having a two-tiered diploma."

According to the Texas Education Agency, almost 13,000 Texas high school students were eligible to use an individual graduation committee in the 2015-16 school year, and about 70 percent of those students (9,014 kids) actually graduated. Those 9,014 graduates represented 2.8 percent of the total number of graduates in Texas that year.

The companion in the lower chamber, House Bill 966, has not yet been heard.

Sb 463 was left pending Tuesday, but the Education Committee advanced several other bills. Here's a list, via the Texas Association of School Administrators:

  • SB 1566 (Kolkhorst) would amend the roles and responsibilities of school board trustees and require the creation of a secure data portal for trustee review of campus and district academic achievement data. A substitute bill was passed 9-0 and sent to the local calendar.

  • SB 640 (Van Taylor) would, unless a home-schooled student attended a particular school previously in a certain year, require a public school that participates in a UIL-sponsored activity to provide a home-schooled student, who otherwise meets league eligibility standards, to represent that school in a league activity in the same manner that the school provides the opportunity to participate to students enrolled in the school. The bill was passed 8-1 and sent to the local calendar.

  • SB 1153 (Menéndez, et al.) would require that school districts notify the parent of each child receiving advanced assistance from the district for learning difficulties, including response to intervention strategies. The bill would also require a PEIMS code to be made to record the amount of students receiving intervention strategies in the district. A substitute bill was passed 9-0 and sent to the local calendar.

  • SB 1837 (Hughes, et al.), as substituted, would require charters operated by colleges and universities to continue to receive FIRST ratings and require TEA to make modifications to the indicators. A substitute bill was passed 9-0 and sent to the local calendar.

  • SB 2131 (West) would require a school counselor to provide information during the first year of high school on the availability of dual credit and joint high school and college credit programs, including the types of dual credit offered and the transferability and application of dual credit offerings to regional junior or community colleges, public technical colleges, and four-year colleges and universities. The bill was passed 9-0 and sent to the local calendar.

  • SB 1483 (Larry Taylor) would allow the commissioner of education to establish a Technology Lending Program to provide grants to school districts and open-enrollment charter schools to provide students access to equipment necessary to access and use electronic instructional materials. The bill was passed 9-0 and sent to the local calendar.

  • SB 1658 (Larry Taylor) would make provisions for the disposition of property and management of assets of an open-enrollment charter school that closes. A substitute bill was passed 9-0 and sent to the full Senate.

  • SB 1784 (Larry Taylor) would allow money in the state instructional materials fund to be used for open education resources for public schools and allow the commissioner to purchase state-developed open education resources, which are defined in the bill. A substitute bill was passed 9-0 and sent to the local calendar.

  • SB 2080 (Larry Taylor) would require school districts to include how many of their students have disabilities and are required to be tracked by the residential facility monitoring system in their PEIMS reports. A substitute bill was passed 9-0 and sent to the full Senate.

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