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Tex. Lawmakers Clear Overhaul of School Code

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Near the end of a legislative season that promised big changes, only lawmakers in Texas can boast so far that their local schools will face a vastly changed system next year as a result of this year's session.

Despite newly elected Republican majorities that pledged to shake up education policy in several states, it was the Texas legislature--where Democrats maintained control after last November's elections--that delivered on providing flexibility to local school districts, taming the state bureaucracy, revamping the rules for hiring teachers, and establishing a new school-finance system. (See related story .)

(See education-policy specialist for the National Conference of State Legislatures. "Governor [Pete] Wilson in California was the first to sound the trumpet on rewriting the school code, but Texas is the first state to do anything."

While a rewrite of the education code remains on the drawing board in California, school officials in Texas face a staggering list of changes.

Still Mulling Impact

Many of the state's education groups are still analyzing the final version of Senate Bill 1, preparing to brief their constituents.

"We don't have the sense we're playing under new rules because we're still trying to figure out how it all works and fits together," said Frank Battle, the legislative counsel for the Texas Association of School Boards.

The bill, which was signed into law late last month by Gov. George W. Bush, includes several major changes.

It limits the authority of the Texas Education Agency, and grants school districts the opportunity to gain greater local control by seeking a "home rule" charter that would require the district to comply only with minimum state and federal regulations. The law changes the terms by which districts offer contracts to teachers, relaxes the state's no-pass, no-play law, and modifies the state's requirement that high school students pass an exit exam to graduate from high school. (See related story

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