WEEK IN REVIEW
SENATE PASSES TESTING, TEACHER RETIREMENT REFORMS
(AUSTIN) — The Senate approved two bills this week that would make sweeping reforms that would affect both teachers and students. The first of these measures, HB 5 sponsored in the Senate by Education Committee Chair Dan Patrick of Houston, would cut the number of high-stakes tests students take in high school by two-thirds. The second would increase the amount of money deducted from a teacher's paycheck for the teacher retirement fund. Both bills still have some steps before they go to Governor Perry.
HB 5 was developed in response to parents' complaints that high school students are spending too much classroom time taking standardized tests and not enough time learning. Currently, a high schooler has to take 15 end-of-course exams over the course of their education in order to graduate. Counting practice and benchmark tests, Patrick told colleagues a student could be looking at up to 90 days taking tests over the course of his or her high school career. HB 5 would reduce that number to 5, including exams for U.S. History, Algebra I, Biology, and English I and II. Tests for Algebra II and English III could be offered by schools, but only for diagnostic purposes and scores wouldn't count against either the student or the school.
The bill also creates a new graduation path for high school students, called the "flex 4x4" by Patrick. Students would still have to take four years each of math, science, English and social studies, but students more interested in different careers could take extra courses in certain subjects.
As this bill was heavily amended by the Senate, it will likely go to a conference committee, where five members of each chamber will hammer out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.
The teacher retirement bill, authored by Lubbock Senator Robert Duncan, passed the Senate on Wednesday. This bill aims to prevent a future collapse of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) by dealing with any unsoundness in the fund today. "We were upside down earlier, because we were relying too much on investment returns," Duncan said. "This puts us in a situation where we are actually having long term fixed contribution rates that should support this system for a long time."
The bill would incrementally increase employee contributions to TRS from 6.4 percent of gross pay today to 7.7 percent over the next five years. State matching contributions would go up to 6.8 percent and all districts would be required to pay in 1.5 percent of their salary scale into the fund. All three percentages would be linked, so that if a future legislature decides to lower the state contribution rate, the other two rates would have to go down the same amount. This bill must still be considered and approved by the House.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, May 13 at 11 a.m.