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With the quorum restored and legislation being reinstated in the Texas House, Republican lawmakers hope to push through a wide range of education-related bills in the next two weeks, covering issues from the priorities of the socially conservative wing of the party until the recovery of funding. schools can offer online learning during the pandemic.
A series of bills were sent to the Texas House Public Education Committee ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, covering funding for virtual funding for learning, “critical career theory,” athlete treatment transgender, pro and anti-mask rules, notifications to parents of positive COVID -19 cases in their children’s schools and forcing schools to teach and adopt policies on child abuse.
The Senate has already addressed most of the issues on the agenda of the governor’s special session and it is now up to the House to work before the end of the session in about two weeks.
At the center of the discussion at Tuesday’s hearing, as it has been since the school year began, was virtual funding for learning. With a 9-1 vote, the committee passed Senate Bill 15, which would provide such funding, with some limitations.
A bill that would have established and expanded e-learning this fall died in the regular session after Texas House Democrats came out to prevent the passage of a GOP-backed election bill that would ban local voting options, among other changes.
Those who oppose the long-term establishment of e-learning claim that students learn best in classrooms and cite the decrease in STAAR scores during e-learning. Supporters say it gives options to families, especially for students who excelled in e-learning last year and for those with medical issues.
SB 15 is presented as a measure with enough railings to make sure students succeed and to help those who might fall through the cracks. The bill would pay for e-learning by September 2023 and would give local school districts and charter schools the autonomy to establish their own e-learning programs. Lawmakers set a fall date of 2023 to allow them to review the issue during the next regular session.
However, the bill passed by the committee would allow for remote learning to be offered only to schools that received a C grade or higher in the most recent round of state accountability testing. No more than 10% of the district’s student population could enroll online and schools could require students to return to classroom learning if they do not meet academic standards.
School districts that, for whatever reason, do not offer e-learning, could be contracted with other districts to do so, depending on the bill. To reduce the pressure on teachers and schools, educators could teach only virtually or in person.
“Senate Bill 15 allows our districts to be innovative and flexible to meet the needs of our students,” said Rep. Keith Bell, R-Forney.
Monty Exter, a pressure group at the Texas Association of Professional Educators, said ATPE opposes the bill because they believe e-learning doesn’t work for most students and the bill would give districts an incentive to expand their virtual offerings.
Exter told the committee that Gov. Greg Abbott has had the power all along to fund e-learning without making school officials struggle to fund themselves as they should have done over the past month. Committee members also mentioned that Education Commissioner Mike Morath could have issued the same resignation that funded e-learning last year, although he lost that power as of Sept. 1. , according to a new law.
Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor of political science at the University of Houston, agreed that Abbott could have done what Morath did last spring, but right now it seems Abbott’s approach to the pandemic is to pass it on. as quickly as possible.
“Politically, the governor is paying close attention to what his base wants with respect to the pandemic, and that means trying to get back to normal,” he said.
Bob Popinski, policy director at Raise Your Hand Texas, said the research and education policy group supports the virtual funding bill because, although they believe all students should be in the classrooms , they know that the pandemic is still very real and that schools should do it. be funded for a virtual option.
Popinski also believes there are enough provisions in the bill to help students succeed regardless of whether they learn virtually or in person.
In a statement, the Texas State Teachers Association said it opposes SB 15 because it would expand e-learning even after the pandemic subsides and could divert taxes from classrooms, where the most students perform best. Instead, the organization asked Abbott to use its emergency powers to fund short-term e-learning.
“We believe the classroom is the best learning environment for students, but we understand that many parents want to keep their children at home learning remotely, especially since Governor Abbott is struggling with mask requirements in school districts “, it is said in the communiqué.
Another bill debated by the committee on Tuesday was Bill 28, which seeks to restrict the way careers and history are taught in schools. Early Tuesday evening, dozens of people were still waiting to talk about the bill.
Abbott has already signed Act HB 3979, which advocates sought to eliminate the teaching of “critical race theory” in K-12 public school classrooms. But Republican lawmakers want to do more. If HB 28 becomes law as it was written, it would replace HB 3979 and eliminate the current requirements for teaching students about a long list of topics such as the history of Native Americans, the work of civil rights activists , the Chicano movement and women’s suffrage. Critical race theory is not mentioned by name in HB 3979 and educators say the theory is not taught in public schools.
HB 28 forbids teachers to teach things such as that slavery contributed to the founding of the United States. The bill would also remove a requirement to teach that white supremacy is “morally wrong,” which was included in HB 3979.
According to experts and theorists, critical race theory is an academic discipline that emerged in the 1970s and argues that racism is inherent in our social systems that perpetuate racial inequity in broad strokes.
Keven Ellis, chairman of the State Board of Education, told committee members Tuesday that while HB 28 is removed from the lesson requirements included in the law Abbott signed, that doesn’t mean these writings they are not taught.
The bill adds that school districts should post information on their websites explaining what is being taught to students. This part of the bill does not apply to school districts with less than 300 students. Representative James Talarico of D-Round Rock said part of the bill is aimed at large districts that have a large number of students of color.
Representative Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, author of HB 28, said he would be willing to discuss the application of this section to all school districts, regardless of size. He said the bill aims to promote education that is not defined by someone’s skin color.
Talarico told Toth that instead of trying to solve the problem of “critical race theory,” the committee should focus on more important issues, such as the ongoing pandemic and its effect on students, parents and educators.
“I thank President Dutton and President Huberty and Rep. Bernal: they’re all trying to work with you to make this bill less bad, to put some lipstick on this pig, but it’s still a pig.” , said Talarico. “What you are doing is trying to solve a fabricated problem [that] not a problem except on Fox News “.
The TSTA said in a statement that “critical career theory” bills are a bad service to Texas students, who deserve to know the country’s failures and successes.
“Critical race theory bills are more efforts to whitewash the teaching of racism in the history and culture of our nation,” the organization said.
Outreach: The Texas Professional Educators Association, Raise Your Hand Texas, Texas State Teachers Association, and the University of Houston have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit and nonprofit news organization funded by part by donations from members, foundations and sponsoring companies. Financial supporters have no role in Tribune journalism. Here is a complete list.
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