Notes & Noticias – HB 5 Conference Committee

Dear Friends,

Education is one of my top priorities this session, so I was honored to be appointed to the conference committee on HB 5, the major reform bill on public education curriculum and testing.

The conference committee will resolve discrepancies between the House and Senate versions of the bill. I am committed to continuing to advocate for policies that promote college and career readiness in our public schools.

Read more below. If you enjoy my newsletter, please ask your friends to sign up for it on my website.

Fighting for Education

Current education policy in Texas focuses on teaching to standardized tests and ensuring that students are ready for college. HB 5 seeks to reduce these “high stakes” tests and better prepare students to enter the workforce.

The bill does this by offering a workforce-related curriculum and allowing school districts to partner with institutions of higher education so that high school students may earn more college credits toward industry-recognized certifications upon graduation.

The status quo has unintentionally led to limited options for high school students and an excessive reliance on standardized testing, ultimately leaving many unprepared for life after graduation.

HB 5 provides flexibility for students to develop their talents and pursue their interests through diploma “endorsements” and “acknowledgements,” to reduce the emphasis on testing by decreasing the number of end-of-course exams students are required to pass to earn their diplomas, and to institute school ratings that provide a clearer understanding of overall school performance.

In the House, I added three amendments to HB 5 that I will fight to protect in conference committee. 

Confirmation of Graduation Plan: Requires high school students to confirm a graduation plan that promotes college and workforce readiness and facilitates the student’s transition to postsecondary education. This also requires school districts to publish information about each graduation plan online in English and Spanish.

College Preparatory Courses: Requires school districts to partner with colleges to develop and deliver English and Math college preparatory coursework during the 12th grade. This will enable students to save money by taking developmental courses in high school if they are not yet college-ready, and satisfy a fourth credit of advanced Math or English.

Accountability Standards: Requires school districts to consider certain college readiness and career preparedness criteria when making accountability standards decisions. Benchmarks for consideration include the percentage of students who satisfy Texas Success Initiative benchmarks, and the number of students who earn at least 12 or 30 hours of postsecondary credit required for the foundation high school program or earn an endorsement.

The Legislature has a major opportunity to improve education and prepare more students for college and fulfilling careers. I am committed to advocating for our students’ needs in the conference committee.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

As sine die approaches, there are good, bad, and ugly bills making their way into law. Here are just a few of them.

The Good: House Passage of Representative Coleman’s Mental Health Bill

Late last week Representative Garnet Coleman passed a bill in the House that would designate certain eating disorders as serious mental health disorders in order to ensure that medical treatment for these life threatening conditions are covered by insurance. Though challenging to most people’s common conception of what an eating disorder looks like, the complex nature of these diseases makes them both hard to detect and hard to treat, but at the same time mentally and physically debilitating, and – in many cases – life threatening.

I am proud that so many of my colleagues voted in favor of this bill. Its passage will mean that insurance providers can no longer deny coverage to individuals in need of treatment on the grounds that the disease is not serious mental illness. Though overdue – Rep. Coleman has been unsuccessfully introducing this bill multiple sessions in a row – this is an important step. It shows that the Legislature has caught up with modern understandings of psychological and mental health, and will save lives.

The Bad: House Passage of Representative Fletcher’s Campus Carry Bill

In light of recent tragedies, and with the knowledge that many people are killed due to gun violence or gun negligence each day (in fact, since the Newtown shootings, more than 4,000 people have died due to gun violence/negligence) – the Texas Legislature has unfortunately taken a backwards approach to confronting this problem: reduce restrictions on purchasing and carrying firearms. One bill in particular, HB 972 by Republican Rep. Allen Fletcher, would allow universities to allow CHL holders, both faculty and staff, to carry their weapons on campus.

The testimony we heard in favor of this bill was about allowing people to protect themselves. But, aside from simple mathematical probability that more guns equals more gun deaths, what would realistically happen in an active shooter situation on a carry-campus? First responders and police officers are trained to locate the gun in these situations; it indicates who the perpetrator is. It is not difficult, then, to see where confusion resulting from multiple guns being drawn by student vigilantes could reasonably result in a higher amount of gun deaths or injuries.

The Ugly: House Passage of Representative Krause’s Pro-Discrimination Amendment

Though Republican Rep. Matt Krause voted earlier in the day to maintain local control for universities, he diverged from this cherished platform today when he proposed an amendment that make it the duty of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to protect student organizations when they discriminate against current or prospective members. Though veiled as a protection of our constitutional right to free speech and freedom of association, this amendment allows student organizations to bypass university nondiscrimination policies. These policies were put in place to protect these very constitutional rights. Universities have a responsibility and the legal authority to require student organizations to open their doors to all students.

Representative Krause’s intentions are clear when we consider his previous failed attempt to achieve the same goal: Krause filed HB 360 to cut state funding to institutions of higher education that mandate student organizations allow all students, regardless of the student’s beliefs, race, gender or sexual orientation, to participate.

Celebrating 40 Years

As Vice-Chair of MALC, I want to thank everyone that came out yesterday to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. It was a great pleasure to have several folks from my district at the Capitol. I was honored to have Bishop Joe S. Vásquez from the Diocese of Austin kick-off the event.

I am honored to work with an organization dedicated to representing Latinos across Texas. Yesterday’s event was a great way to recognize the tremendous work MALC has done to make sure all Texans have their voices heard in our legislative process.

Thanks to everyone who joined our celebration yesterday.