Texas Gov. Rick Perry has signed legislation that will make some significant changes in the state’s accountability system and budgeting requirements for schools, including tougher high school graduation standards and elimination of a requirement that school districts must spend 65 percent of their operating budgets on classroom instruction.
But some high-profile bills failed to pass in the session that ended June 1—including a proposal to lift the cap on the number of charter schools permitted, a request that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has made of all states.
Lawmakers also failed to approve measures that called for a reduction of the power of the Texas board of education, which has been criticized by some as making some decisions based on political ideology, particularly in the area of science.
In addition, they didn’t pass any bills that would have made changes in the state’s programs for English-language learners, such as stepping up monitoring. A U.S. district court has ruled that Texas doesn’t provide adequate programs for its ELLs on the secondary level, but the state has appealed that decision and is waiting for a decision from the appeals court.
The legislature, which meets every two years, approved $32 billion for K-12 education for the coming biennium, which starts Sept. 1. That’s about $500 million, or 1.6 percent, above the amount that lawmakers approved for the previous biennium, although the state’s overall $87.1 billion general revenue fund for the coming biennium is $1.6 billion less than for the current one, which ends Aug. 31.
The state has not yet provide a breakdown of how the $32 billion for the upcoming biennium is distributed between fiscal 2010 and 2011.
Public education got $14.8 billion the first year of the 2009-10 biennium and $16.7 billion for the second year.
In addition to increasing graduation requirements and getting rid of the 65 percent rule, the new accountability law in Texas eliminates a mandate that 3rd graders must pass state tests to be promoted to 4th grade and changes the way that the state determines quality rankings for schools.
In explaining why lawmakers decided to revamp the state’s accountability system, Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said, “The lawmakers were concerned that one test, the snapshot aspect, determined so much for a school.”
She added: “[Under the new law,] three years of data are taken into account when we determine a rating. If they’ve had one bad year, that doesn’t reduce their rating.”
Jackie Lain, the associate executive director of governmental relations for the Texas School Boards Association, said her organization supported lawmakers in approving the elimination of a mandate that 3rd graders must pass state tests to be promoted to 4th grade.
“It seemed more humane to allow the districts to determine the criteria that should be used in deciding whether to promote the students,” she said.
Texas state law still requires that 5th graders and 8th graders must pass the state’s academic tests before being promoted.
The accountability measure signed by the governor added a new layer of college-readiness indicators to the state’s accountability system for schools. But at the same time, it says that school districts must meet only 85 percent of indicators overall, instead of 100 percent, which was the case previously.
Ms. Lain said her organization supports this decision because it evens the playing field between large, diverse districts and smaller, more homogenous ones. She said that homogenous school districts previously had an easier time meeting accountability indicators because they didn’t have enough minority students in some subgroups to qualify for having to meet some of the indicators.
The school boards’ group also agreed with the lawmakers’ decision to leave the charter cap intact, despite pressure from Washington to lift it. Ms. Lain said that it’s her understanding from the Texas Education Agency that it’s very difficult for state officials to close low-performing charter schools. “You’ve got to hold them accountable before you lift the cap,” she said.
Ms. Ratcliffe noted that Texas can grant 215 charter school contracts, and all of them have been given out. Some charters have multiple campuses, so Texas has more than 400 charter schools in all, she said.
A version of this article appeared in the July 15, 2009 edition of Education Week as Texas Reworks School Accountability, Budgeting