August 31, 2009

From the desk of Rep. Allen Vaught

Legislation Passed in the 81st Legislative Session
This article continues the series of articles looking at new laws passed during the 81st legislative session. This month Texas students head back to school for the 2009-2010 school year, so in this article, I would like to specifically discuss some of the new legislation affecting public school students.

Public School Accountability Overhaul
For the first time, Texas will use college readiness as a measure of school accountability. The English III and Algebra II end-of-course exams will be designed to measure college readiness and prepare students for the rigor of college-level work. House Bill 3 adds more electives to the recommended graduation plan so that students can enjoy increased flexibility with their schedules.

Although the emphasis on TAKS testing will be lowered for student progression through the Texas education system, it will still be a factor used to measure school accountability. High school students will demonstrate knowledge on end-of-course exams as a graduation requirement. House Bill 3 removes a prohibition against promoting a student to fourth grade if the student did not pass the TAKS third grade reading test and instead considers a variety of factors for promotion.

Additionally, campuses will be able to earn distinctions for outstanding academic achievement in several areas including growth in student achievement, closing the academic testing gaps, fine arts, physical education, the four core subjects, 21st Century Workforce Development, and second language learning.

Teacher Retention
Statistics suggest alarming teacher retention rates with more than 50 percent of teachers leaving the field within five years. In 1996, Texas began a pilot program that required school districts to assign a mentor to beginning teachers. Evaluations of this program and other studies have shown that mentoring indeed improves retention rates for teachers. With increasing demand for teachers to move into different subject areas, the state must find cost-effective ways to ease the transition and provide assistance for those teachers who need support. Senate Bill 1290 expands this program so that beginning teachers (with less than two years experience) and teachers entering new subject areas or grade levels are also included in the mentoring program.

Electronic Textbooks
School districts will now be allowed to use their remaining textbook and technology funds to purchase electronic textbooks and materials to supplement their already purchased State Board of Education approved textbooks. House Bill 4294 provides school districts with the opportunity to make the digital transition and will give computer savvy children more tools for learning. Engaging and interactive instructional materials will help ensure we bring our students into the 21st century era of technology and prepare them for the future.

College Visits
Recent studies show that the likelihood of a student attending college directly after high school increases with college campus visits during their junior and senior years. Previously, if a student chose to take their visit during the school year it was not counted as an excused absence and could count against their attendance record. House Bill 2542 authorizes school districts to excuse up to two days’ absence for a high school student during the student’s junior and senior years to visit an institution of higher education. School districts are also charged with establishing verification procedures for these visits. This new law takes effect for the 2009-2010 school year.

The next article will continue to highlight major legislation which passed during the 2009 legislative session.

If any parents or educators have questions regarding the new state laws and policies, I invite you to contact my district office at (214) 370-8305 or my capitol office at (512) 463-0244. If you have particular questions regarding legislation mentioned in these articles, please feel free to email me as well at I look forward to hearing from you.