Texas PTA Legislation

By Debbie Press, PISD/Legislative Representative



Texas State Senator Florence Shapiro spoke to constituents on February 28 at a Town Hall meeting at Frisco City Hall about this term’s legislative issues. She covered a broad range of topics including education.

Senator Shapiro chairs the Senate Education Committee. She and her committee are working on a range of bills to improve the state’s education system for our children.

Here’s an overview of what she said on a range of educational topics, with updates and additional information from her website, newsletter and press releases through March 6.

For the latest information ....

Uniform GPA “Uniform GPA is dead,” she said. She did not elaborate.

TAKS, Public School Accountability and Broadening 4X4
“TAKS has outworn its welcome,” she said.

Senator Shapiro co-chaired the Select Committee on Public School Accountability with Representative Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands. The committee met with teachers, parents and administrators across the state. SB 3 and HB 3 are the culmination’s work.

The respective bills define new goals and objectives to revamp the current public school accountability system. They aim to shift the focus from the single subject TAKS tests to overall post-secondary readiness, meaning students are either ready to enter the workforce or college.

In a March 5 press release, Senator Shapiro says the current system looks at one-time performance on a minimum skills test, ignoring growth in student achievement, resulting in a narrow curriculum and causing school to devalue enrichment subjects. She says the current system created an “illusion of progress.”

The respective new bills would give schools credit for helping students demonstrate growth in achievement, utilizing a three-year rolling average. It involves a two-tiered accreditation system and a distinction tier.

“While we believe the strong academic core of the 4X4 we passed in the last legislative session is critical for all Texas students, we recognize the need for flexibility for students to pursue an academic path that allows them to nurture their individual interests and talents,” Eissler said.

The bills would create the Texas Diploma Plan, which, in effect, is the 4X4, requiring four years each of English, math, science and social studies plus two years of foreign language credits and eight elective credits.

The Standard Diploma Plano would replace the minimum plan. It would require four years of English, three years each of social studies, math and science. They would have additional electives. Expanded Career and Technical Education Courses would be permitted for some math and science credits.

Top 10 percent
College Admissions Rule

In early March, the Senate Higher Education Committee approved Senator Shapiro plan, 4-1, to reform the state’s policy of granting automatic admission for students that graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class to a state school of their choice.

Senator Shapiro’s SB 175 would cap the Top 10 percent rule admissions at any state school to half the incoming freshman class. Admissions would start at the top, meaning first the top percent of graduates would be admitted. Then, the top 2 percent would be admitted until the cap is reached.

The remainder of applicants would be placed in the general pool.

SB 175 will head to the full Senate for further consideration.

According to Senator Shapiro’s newsletter, University of Texas officials have concerns with the current system because demand for admission is so high they will soon only admit freshmen under the Top 10 percent rule.

“We simply don’t have room to take all the top 10 percent students,” UT President Bill Powers is quoted as saying in Shapiro’s February newsletter. “It has become a crisis for us, not just in the future, but right now.”

State funding

The Senate Finance Committee is considering how to pay for state services as a result of the national economic downturn. State leaders have suggested a 2.5 percent reduction in budgets from all state agencies.

In the committee’s hearing of Article III of the state budget, which funds public education, the findings as of March 7 suggest that the cost to the state for the 2010-2011 biennium will be less because of higher than expected property value grown, combined with student growth under projected levels.

Math & Science Teacher Shortages

Senator Shapiro and Senator Dan Patrick, R-Houston, have filed legislation to reverse the growing shortage of math and science teachers around the state. Senate Bill 816 creates a scholarship program for college students pursuing degrees in math and science.

The program would provide recipients with up to $5,000 in annual scholarships for four years. Upon graduation, recipients would be required to teach math or science for four years in an underserved area of the state.

Recent studies reveal major shortages of math and science teachers. For example, the lack of high school science teachers has increased 80 percent since 2004. More than one-third of high school science teachers are not certified to teach the subject.

“For Texas to remain competitive in a global economy, we must provide our students with math and science teachers of the highest quality and strongest content knowledge,” Senator Shapiro said in her February newsletter. “This bill will greatly help us reach this goal by encouraging individuals to enter the teaching field and to remain in the classroom.”


Background Regarding the Current Plan

In addition to the 16 math, science, English and Social Students credits, the 4x4 Recommended Plan also requires a minimum of two years of foreign language as well as other required courses. There’s also a Distinguished Plan for students who complete a third year of foreign language and additional mastery of AP/IB classes.

Two years of math and science were previously required by the state. PISD required three years of each.

Three of the four years, the math and science classes are now specified. That means our students are required to complete Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry and a choice of specific classes for the fourth year of math. Those students who took Algebra I in eighth grade will still be required to take four years of math in high school.

The mandated sciences are: Biology, Chemistry, Physics and a choice from a list of laboratory-based classes.

This means our kids are limited to 3.5 elective credits throughout high school on the Recommended Plan, 2.5 elective credits on the Distinguished Plan. If they have the time, energy and finances, students can take summer school or E-school to complete additional classes.

The Plano ISD Council of PTAs identified five concerns about the current 4x4 plan:
1. Increasing high school drop out rates;
2. Limiting opportunity in fine arts, athletics, technology and vocational classes;
3. Offering no allowance for natural talents and interests
4. Exacerbating the lack of certified math and science teachers
5. Questioning the plan’s necessity since no Texas universities or colleges require four years of math or science for admission, nor do the majority of the largest and fastest growing occupations in the country, according to PISD Council data.



What you can do

The Council encourages parents to write, e-mail or call State Senator Florence Shapiro, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. Please share that you are PTA member, that they are concerned about the 4x4 plan, and that you are looking to her to make the necessary changes to ensure all Texas children can find a path to success, says Cara Mendelsohn, the president of the Plano ISD Council of PTAs.

Written correspondence can be sent to: The Honorable Florence Shapiro, 5000 Legacy Dr., Ste. 494, Plano, Texas 75024. She can also be reached by e-mail Florence.shapiro@senate.state.tx.us or by phone: 972-403-3404 or 512-463-0108.

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