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Texas House Passes Public Education Requirements Bill

A state senate committee approved a smaller cut in education spending in the new state budget.
Photo by Ryland Barton for KUT News.
A state senate committee approved a smaller cut in education spending in the new state budget.

After roughly 9 hours of debate, Texas House lawmakers passed a bill that would change the requirements high students must meet in order to graduate. The House voted 145 to 2 in favor of the legislation authored by Republican State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock

Lawmakers debated amendments, and amendments to amendments, on the House floor Tuesday, as they decided the public education reform bill they’d send on to the Senate.

State Rep. Aycock, author of House Bill 5, is the Killeen Republican who chairs the House public education committee. Among other things, his bill would reduce the number of STAAR exams given to high school students from 15 to 5. It would also allow them to choose a path to college or one to a vocational career.

"I want to give the flexibility without forcing up or forcing down," Rep. Aycock said. "I want them to have the ability if they want to become…the one everyone’s talking about is welders, which we need thousands of. The technical skills folks, I don’t want to tell them that that’s not OK. I want them to make a conscious decision to head that way in life."

Democratic State Rep. Mark Strama of Austin says standardized testing should be addressed. But not by reducing the number of exams because, he says, that will raise the stakes even higher on the remaining tests. Strama says he also worries about giving kids paths other than ones that would make them college ready.

"We ought to start kids off with the expectation that they can achieve anything," Rep. Strama said. "And when we have high expectations for kids there’s a lot more likelihood of them rising to meet those expectations.  And not all of them will but more of them will if we have high expectations for them than if we don’t."

Strama voted against the bill. Democratic Rep. Sylvester Turner, however, supported it.

"I think the bill will be better than the status quo," Rep. Turner said. "Certainly there are a lot of students who don’t want to take all those exams and end of course exams and teachers are teaching to the exams so we’ve substantially reduced the number of exams on this bill. I think on balance that’s a good thing."

Lawmakers passed dozens of amendments. Among them a report that must be made for the governor, lieutenant governor and Legislature on how this bill affects graduation rates and college completion, among other data. Another amendment requires schools to inform parents if their child changes his or her college plans.

The amended bill goes next to the Senate for a vote.