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TX Sen. Shapiro Resolution Creates Stir in Senate

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX –

Still anxiously awaiting HB 2 coming to the Senate floor, members had to get past a proposed resolution to allow the conference committee to go outside the bounds before the bill would face its first test.

Things got a little tense in the Senate when Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) offered a resolution allowing the Conference Committee on HB 2 to go outside the bounds.

Shapiro outlined the provisions of the resolution:

- Establishing a set-aside limit for principal training - cannot exceed $3.6 million.

- Teacher Retirement System (TRS) longevity incentive - aimed at providing incentive to the most experienced teachers to remain in the classroom and reduce the number of early retirements that cripples the TRS system. Gives incentive after one year of Rule of 80.

- Commissioner rule-making - permits the Commissioner of Education to adopt rules in the teacher mentoring section of the bill in a manner consistent with the Government Code. Language changed to be consistent with that in both House and Senate versions of the bill.

- Commissioner subpoena authority - this was already provided for in another part of the bill

- A new curriculum review process - as there is a move away from textbooks and into digital or print format, curriculum still drives the format. There is a five-year limitation, ensuring curriculum standards will keep pace with high achievement and accountability measures already in place.

- New definition of direct instructional activities - With respect to the "Rule of 65," although the language is identical in both bills, after it passed, the conferees recognized that it is in the best interest of the state to change this language to get a better definition. Will now use the federal definition from the National Center of Educational Statistics (NCES).

- Instructional cost definitions - changed due to using NCES definitions.

- Technology grants - to move in the direction of offering electronic instructional materials, a Technology Grant Program is established to help schools put proper infrastructure in place - program will be established only if the $65 million for the program is available.

- Electronic notice of meetings and notices - neither chamber had this in their engrossed versions but it showed up in the conference committee report, allowing school districts to post meetings and notices on the Internet instead of in newspapers. Shapiro said she will have a technical correction to remove this provision.

- Temporary certification - allows the Commissioner of Education to grant temporary certification to individuals with management experience to serve as a principal or superintendent.

Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) asked if the bill would be subject to a Point of Order since the changes are being sought after the conference committee report was placed on senators' desks. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst advised that such resolutions to go outside the bounds are "commonplace" and it would not be subject to a point of order.

Asked by Barrientos why these issues were not brought up in previous discussions, Shapiro responded that many were. She said most are "clarifications of things we have already done." She did say, however, that the instructional costs issue was new and came up after many school officials offered "very negative feedback" regarding being required to spend 65 percent of their funds in the classroom, since it appeared only the core courses had assessments with them. "So we changed the definition of instructional activities so it would satisfy many of our school districts."

Barrientos took exception to being asked to approve subject matter that was not contained in the bills passed out of the House and Senate. "Now those who signed the conference committee report want us to vote for this in the last five hours of the session?"

"That is correct," responded Shapiro.

Barrientos questioned if a vote on the resolution was a "test vote" in anticipation of a vote on HB 2 itself.

"No," said Shapiro. "If you were against it, you would still have to look at these issues if they are part of the bill and then decide how you feel about the vote."

Fielding a number of questions from Sen. Mario Gallegos (D-Houston), with the clock ticking, Shapiro became frustrated and asked Gallegos if he was beginning a filibuster. He responded that he was not, but instead was asking questions school districts in his senatorial district were asking.

Gallegos later asked if a point of order could be called because a rule setting limitations on conference committees states that they should limit their discussions and actions "solely on the matters in disagreement between the two houses." He asked why the resolution should not have been passed before the conference committee action.

Dewhurst responded that the resolution is a motion to go outside the bounds and it suspends the conference committee rules.

Gallegos argued again that the resolution should have been passed before it was being discussed today on the Senate floor.

"That's what we're doing right now," said Dewhurst.

Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) said it appears the Senate is being asked to amend the conference committee report "after it's written."

The resolution passed by a narrow 16-14 margin.