Law & Courts

Cyberbullying, Transgender-Student Rights Among K-12 Issues Tackled in Texas

By Daarel Burnette II — June 06, 2017 4 min read
A visitor looks out on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives as lawmakers enter the last stretch of the session which wrapped up business last week. The legislature dealt with a broad basket of K-12 issues including school finance, accountability, and school choice.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Texas ended a rodeo-like biennial legislative session last week that wrangled a mix of education issues—including cyberbullying, the rights of transgender students, school funding, accountability, and various school choice options—with varying results.

In the end, bills that would crack down on cyberbullying and make a slight alteration to the state’s controversial letter-grade system made it to the desk of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who was expected to sign them into law.

But various efforts by the GOP-dominated legislature failed to clear the way for the use of vouchers and education savings accounts, or to dismantle and revise the state’s K-12 funding formula.

Funding Battle

The state’s elected supreme court decided a little over a year ago that, while the Texas public school system’s performance needed more money and dramatic academic improvement, especially for its black and Latino students, it was not the court’s place to tell the legislature how to spend the state’s money or its teachers how to educate its more than 5 million students.

Texas has been under court order for years to more evenly distribute local oil revenue among wealthy and poor districts—what is known in school funding circles as the “Robin Hood plan.” But districts overall still pay the vast majority of school costs, a sore point for local superintendents. Many of the state’s districts are growing rapidly.

With the dip in oil prices, the state has experienced a revenue shortfall, and many legislators were eager this year to let wealthy districts rely even more on local revenue.

A Senate bill that would have done just that, while also providing more money to poorer districts, had been gaining traction until recent weeks. But at the last minute, a Republican senator attached a provision to the bill that would have allowed for the use of education savings accounts by special education students to attend private schools. The House, which for the last several years has blocked efforts to allow for tuition vouchers, killed the bill.

The legislature ended up passing a $217 billion overall state budget that would keep per-pupil spending at about the same level as the current school year. A large portion of that revenue will come from the state’s rainy-day fund and local revenue, and the state reserved some of the money for pre-K and to alleviate school overcrowding.

Grading the Schools

After the Texas Education Agency earlier this year released disappointing preliminary grades under the state’s A-F grading system, suburban superintendents and district board members led a petition-backed drive aiming to get rid of the grading system or dramatically water it down so that fewer well-regarded districts with stagnant test scores or large achievement gaps would receive failing overall grades.

In the end, the legislature passed a bill that delayed the letter-grade accountability system from going into effect until the 2018-19 school year and reduced the number of categories districts would be graded on.

The legislature also passed a bill that would allow high school students who have failed two standardized exams to still graduate and another bill that waives accountability measures if a regular public school decides to share space with a charter school.

Those changes came months before the state’s accountability plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act, still in draft form, is to be submitted to the federal government. ESSA goes into effect in the 2017-18 school year.

Textbook Approvals, School Climate

Legislation also passed letting the state school board’s 15 elected members reject textbook content deemed not “suitable for the subject and grade level.” It now goes to the governor, who can sign or veto it, or allow it to become law automatically.

Critics worry the proposal weakens limits in place since 1995, which allow the board to seek edits to textbooks only for factual errors or to better align with Texas curriculum.

Even with those limits, ideological battles in the state board over textbooks have long made national headlines. Texas’ textbook market is big enough to affect textbook content elsewhere.

On the school climate front, the legislature passed a bill that forces district administrators to come up with a way to, among other things, allow for students to anonymously report incidents of cyberbullying to schools officials. It gives school officials up to three days to tell victims’ parents about bullying incidents.

Lawmakers also passed a bill that allows for guns to be kept in parked cars outside schools, along with legislation that more severely punishes teachers who engage in inappropriate relationships with their students.

The heated national battle over whether transgender students have the right to use restrooms corresponding to their gender identity also roiled the legislative debate.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, entered into a standoff last week with Republican House Speaker Joe Straus over a House compromise bill that would have required school districts to provide single-occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities for students who don’t want to use the ones associated with their “biological sex.”

Patrick said the bill left too much open for interpretation and demanded that the House pass a bill with stronger language that more clearly bars transgender students from using the bathroom of their choice.

The standoff drew intense scrutiny, especially in light of a controversial battle over the issue in North Carolina, and high-profile legal cases involving students in Virginia and, most recently, in Wisconsin.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the June 07, 2017 edition of Education Week as Texas’ Session Sees Movement, Debate on K-12


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Families Sue Rhode Island's Governor to Overturn His School Mask Mandate
The families say mask-wearing threatens to cause serious and long-lasting damage on their children's physical and emotional well-being.
Linda Borg, The Providence Journal
2 min read
Students line up to have their temperature taken as they return for the first time as their school, The Learning Community, reopens to in-person learning after it closed for the pandemic a year ago, in Central Falls, R.I., on March 29, 2021.
Students line up to have their temperature taken as they return for the first time as their school, The Learning Community, reopens to in-person learning after it closed for the pandemic a year ago, in Central Falls, R.I., on March 29, 2021.
David Goldman/AP
Law & Courts Federal Judge Denies Parents' Suit to Block Florida's Ban on School Mask Mandates
The parents argued that their children, due to health conditions, were at particular risk if any of their peers attend school without masks.
David Goodhue, Miami Herald
3 min read
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.
Marta Lavandier/AP
Law & Courts Texas Attorney General Sues More School Districts That Require Masks
The Texas attorney general's office anticipates filing more lawsuits against districts flouting the governor’s order. Will Dallas be next?
Talia Richman, The Dallas Morning News
4 min read
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Austin Police Association in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2020.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Austin Police Association in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2020.
Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP
Law & Courts Can They Do That? Questions Swirl Around COVID-19 School Vaccine Mandates
With at least one large school district adopting a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, here is a look at the legal landscape for such a requirement.
5 min read
Image of a band-aid being placed on the arm.
iStock/Getty