Gov. Rick Perry on Monday signed into law the major education reform plan enacted by the Legislature during its regular session and then gave lawmakers a second piece of unfinished business — road construction funding — to consider during the ongoing special session.
Perry called lawmakers back to the Capitol on May 27 for a 30-day special session to approve redistricting legislation in preparation for next fall’s elections, and he had hinted that he might add other issues to his call.
The signature education legislation, House Bill 5, had swept through both the House and Senate, largely on a wave of parental discontent about what they felt was the overtesting of their children. HB 5 scales back from 15 to five the number of tests needed to graduate from high school, revamps curriculum requirements to better serve teens who are not college-bound and creates a broader array of accountability measures for schools.
But there was speculation in recent days that the governor might veto the bill under pressure from some business interests — including the Texas Association of Business and the Austin Chamber of Commerce — concerned that the legislation represented a retreat from high academic standards.
In a buoyant signing ceremony in his crammed public reception room, the governor said that HB 5 had, through the legislative process, “come a long way from where it started,” allayed those concerns and merited his signature.
Perry said that HB 5 and five other smaller-bore education and workforce development bills that he also signed Monday created a package of reform “that strikes an appropriate balance between our need for rigorous academic standards and the students’ need for flexibility, a balance between our need for accountability and the appropriate level of testing in the classroom.”
“Texas refused to dilute our academic standards in any way because our standards are working,” Perry said.
The new law represents a stark about-face from what had seemed an inexorable trend toward more and more testing.
“While high-stakes testing seemed like the right thing to do when it was introduced, parents and educators made it clear to us that 15 end-of-course exams are too many, and that the classroom balance had shifted too much toward testing and too far from teaching. Reducing the exams to five will restore that balance,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, a member of the Senate Education Committee, who attended the signing ceremony and also had early concerns about the bill.
The new law will replace the uniform 4x4 graduation plan — four years each of math, science, social studies and English — with more flexible options that require a foundation of only three years of math, science and social studies and four years of English.
Students will have to choose an “endorsement,” such as Business and Industry or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, that will require an additional year of math and science but give them flexibility in how they choose to meet those requirements. The objective is to give more choices to students, particularly those not going to college.
Under the new law, schools would be evaluated on more measures than the state standardized assessment by using at least three other measurements — which could include the percentage of students graduating with endorsements or distinguished level of performance, the number of students earning college credit and the number of students earning workforce certificates.
House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, the chief architect of the reform, said fears that it would undermine rigor for college-bound students are unfounded and said the real effort was aimed at better serving the more than 40 percent of high school students in Texas who are not headed to college but need the training to pursue successful careers.
“We’ve done pretty well with the college student crowd, but a lot of other students have been left by the wayside,” Aycock said.
Aycock admitted to some nervous moments in recent days about the governor’s intentions, noting there had been intense pressure on the governor from both sides.
“You never know until it’s signed,” Aycock said.
“The ink is dry,” he said after the signing. “Thank the Lord.”
While some business interests opposed HB 5, others — including the Texas Association of Manufacturers; NFIB/Texas, the state’s leading small business association; and Jobs for Texas, a coalition of businesses and trade associations — welcomed the governor’s action, which they hope will help address the shortage of workers prepared to enter trade and technical careers.
“This legislation will provide avenues for students who might otherwise be left behind simply because they would rather be a welder than an engineer,” said NFIB/Texas Executive Director Will Newton. “Not all students are interested in obtaining a bachelor’s degree but would like to enter the workforce upon graduation or shortly thereafter.”
After the signing, Drew Scheberle, Austin Chamber of Commerce senior vice president for education, who had expressed concerns about the bill, said in a statement, “The Chamber is committed to working with Central Texas school trustees to maintain what has worked, allowing Central Texas to remain the strongest region for high-quality jobs in Texas and career opportunities for our students.”
House Bill 5 highlights:
• Reduces from 15 to five the number of end-of-course exams needed to graduate from high school.
• Eliminates requirement that end-of-course test scores count for 15 percent of a student’s overall grade.
• Replaces 4x4 graduation plan — four years each of math, science, social studies and English — with more flexible options that allow students more discretion. Students will select an ‘endorsement,’ such as Business and Industry, as a specialty on top of the foundational courses.
• Establishes new accountability rankings for schools based on academic performance, financial performance, and community and student engagement. Schools and districts would be rated using letter grades of A, B, C and F.