Our future prosperity will depend on how well we are educating our children and equipping them with the knowledge and skills to succeed in an future defined by rapidly changing technology.
Today, our future looks bright thanks to the Texas Legislature adopting innovative strategies and targeted investments that will help close achievement gaps and remove barriers to better prepare all Texas students for future success.
Maximizing Funds to Close Achievement Gaps
Texas 2036 sought to protect investments made during the last session in evidence-based education reforms, maintain appropriate student assessment and accountability, and optimize funding streams to maximize returns for our schools. In this legislative session, three bills passed that will maximize available funds to address existing long-term achievement gaps and the learning loss as a result of the pandemic.
Senate Bill 1232, by Sen. Taylor and Rep. Bonnen, creates a process to merge the investment operations of the Permanent School Fund (PSF) under a new operating structure designed to mirror UTIMCO’s management of the Permanent University Fund (PUF).
The current bifurcated management structure, which divides investment operations between the General Land Office’s School Land Board and the State Board of Education has resulted in a “cash drag” that limits investment returns while also introducing investment risks. PSF experts have stated that merging operations will likely increase education investment fund returns by more than $100 million per year, every year, with compounding growth.
This merger will help ensure that the full $48.3 billion corpus of the PSF is properly diversified and structured for resilience against market volatility, all while simultaneously allowing the state a path toward greater distributions to the Available School Fund.
House Bill 1525, by Rep. Huberty and Sen. Taylor, addresses unintended consequences in HB 3, the historic school finance reform passed in 2019. The bill improves the Career and Technology Education (CTE) Allotment by incentivizing schools to offer high-quality CTE courses in a program of study. The bill also includes provisions to address learning loss and accelerate student learning with more than $600 million in general revenue funds and $1.3 billion in state discretionary Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to go directly to schools for tutoring, extended learning, and other evidence-based practices.
And House Bill 4545, by Rep. Dutton and Sen. Taylor, establishes the Strong Foundations grant program to support elementary campuses in implementing high-quality instruction, increasing parental engagement, and administering diagnostic and formative assessments. The bill also replaces grade placement committees with accelerated learning committees to focus on accelerated learning rather than remediation.
Removing Barriers to Online and Digital Learning
While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive learning loss for students across Texas, one silver lining has been widespread experimentation and adoption of new learning models and technologies, including virtual and hybrid learning. Additionally, schools have received devices and funding for connectivity but much of this was through one-time investments. Schools need long-term funding for device maintenance and refreshers, internet subscriptions, and other reoccurring costs. Ultimately, there was no major reform in the area of virtual learning, but two bills that will improve the quality and access to online learning did pass.
House Bill 3261, by Rep. Huberty and Sen. Taylor, implements the transition plan for electronic assessment that was set in motion during the last session when the Legislature passed HB 3906 directing the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to study the feasibility of electronic assessment of the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) Test and develop a plan. The bill includes a temporary matching grant to ensure schools are prepared for electronic testing for the next biennium. Additionally, the bill provides for districts to spend funds from the Technology & Instructional Materials Allotment (TIMA) on Internet connectivity and training for online assessment.
The Legislature took steps to ensure teachers are better prepared for virtual learning. Senate Bill 226, by Sen. Paxton and Rep. Lozano, adds instruction in virtual learning and virtual instruction practices to educator preparation programs. This training must cover best practices in assessing students who receive virtual instruction and develops a virtual learning curriculum.
Almost 200,000 Texas high school students enroll in dual credit each year. However, research has shown that dual credit coursework in Texas does not always lead to positive student outcomes such as postsecondary degree completion, shortened time to degree, or reduced student debt. Strengthening student advising can help to ensure that students have the resources and guidance they need to both enroll in courses that are closely aligned with higher education pathways and succeed academically in the dual credit courses in which they are enrolled.
Senate Bill 1277, by Sen. West and Rep. Turner, requires school districts and colleges to offer advising to students before they enroll in dual credit courses in order to help them make more informed course enrollment decisions and understand the advantages and disadvantages of taking dual credit coursework.
Texas 2036 is proud to have supported these bills. Together, they have the power to strengthen and improve educational outcomes for all Texas students. At Texas 2036, our vision is for Texas to remain the best place to live and work through our bicentennial in 2036. To make that vision a reality, we will continue to work to improve Texas’ education system, positioning Texas students – and Texas as a whole – for success today, and into the future.