Battle lines drawn in looming debate over Texas public education


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist ROBERT MCMURREY

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

Posted on February 7, 2013 at 7:16 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 7 at 7:21 PM

AUSTIN -- From the sidelines the Texas House chamber can seem subdued, but battle lines are being drawn this week over the future of public education in Texas.    
On Wednesday House Public Education Chairman State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) filed HB 5, a sweeping education reform bill supported by several house Democrats as well as top Republicans. 
"I think we kind of want the same thing," Aycock told KVUE. "We want student success, we want the flexibility for finding their way in life. I think it's clear that the governor and the speaker and the lieutenant governor have all expressed indications they want to expand the career and technical aspects of education. This bill allows the time and flexibility to do that." 
Students currently have to pass 15 exams in order to graduate, a number HB 5 would reduce to five. It would also eliminate the requirement that end of course exams count toward 15 percent of a student's final grade, a measure approved unanimously by the Texas Senate in a separate bill passed on Wednesday. 
"We're getting indications from parents and school administrators, teachers, that there ought to be a measurement but that was too large a percentage of your final score," State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) said Thursday.
The changes to testing have raised concerns, in particular when it comes to reducing the amount required to graduate.  
"In the current system, we still have about half of our students that are not college-ready when they graduate. This would make it even worse," said Drew Scheberle with the Austin Chamber of Commerce. 
Under HB 5, Scheberle said standards for science and math would particularly suffer.
While acknowledging the business community may be supportive of some sort of reduction in the amount of required exams, Scheberle suggests it would have to be done in a way that doesn't reduce the rigor required for graduation.
"My hope is that Rep. Aycock will go back, take the good parts of the bill on reducing testing somewhat and give students more flexibility without lowering our expectations for students," said Scheberle.
The biggest battle is still finance. House Democratic Caucus Leader State Rep. Yvonne Davis (D-Dallas) announced plans to file a supplemental budget amendment seeking the restoration of $5.4 billion cut last session. Despite Republican leadership firmly opposed to the idea, Davis suggests the amendment could still gain traction.
"It's more than a statement. We want people who run saying we support public education, we support a stronger education system, this gives them an opportunity to do that," Davis told KVUE. "We think there are more people who believe that we can do better for our students and our teachers and our parents than we're doing, and we think that we'll get 76 votes." 
While much talk continues to point toward a special session in the spring of 2014 to fully address education funding, Aycock said the uncertainty over the state lawsuit doesn't preclude some sort of action during the regular session.
"We could address some of it now," said Aycock. "My guess is that we will not make those decisions until after the [Texas] Supreme Court has ruled."
With the lines drawn, the debate will soon begin.
To read the full text of HB 5 -- CLICK HERE.