Texas bill calls for school critique reform

By Will Weissert
Associated Press

AUSTIN — Top legislative conservatives clamoring for Texas to adopt a school choice voucher plan proposed a series of other education changes instead Tuesday that are less controversial but could still spark heated debates.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor presented a package of bills including plans to issue A through F grades for individual public schools — rather than just giving letter grades to school districts, which lawmakers approved last session — and expanded online learning.

There are also proposals linking teacher pay raises to annual evaluations, and allowing parents to petition to close failing schools after just two years, instead of the current five.

“Education is not a partisan issue,” said Taylor, a Republican from Friendswood.

Indeed, less outspoken Republicans and even Democrats and teachers groups have cheered some of those ideas in the past. But much of what was listed, especially teacher evaluations that would clash with traditional, seniority-based pay scales, and issuing individual schools around Texas ‘Fs’ should prove contentious.

“None of the proposals offered by Senator Taylor and the Lieutenant Governor would give teachers and students the time and resources they need to improve teaching and learning,” Texas State Teachers Association President Noel Candelaria said in a statement. Instead the group would like to see lawmakers fully restore $5.4 billion in cuts to classroom approved in 2011.

Taylor also called for scrapping rules that students enrolled in online classes also be enrolled in public schools. He ducked a question, however, about educational accountability standards for online courses if they don’t follow state benchmark set for public schools.

Taylor also noted that the Senate last session passed a bill allowing a majority of parents in school districts to petition to shutter schools that fail to meet state academic standards faster.