The 84th legislative session ended on June 1, 2015. See the bills that have become law.

Curated by

Morgan Smith

Reforming public school accountability

Near the top of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s education agenda for the 2015 legislative session was a plan to change how the state rates public schools, replacing the current system with an A-F grading method.

Supporters of the proposal say such an accountability system would make a school’s performance easier to understand, would help more parents become involved in their children's education and would allow the state to target failing schools effectively. 

Critics of the plan, however, argued that giving a school a low grade would unfairly stigmatize the school and its students. They also letter grades wouldn’t take into account factors like funding problems.

House members folded in legislation enacting the A-F system into a broader education measure, which passed both chambers. 

More changes came to the accountability system with House Bill 1842, which allows the state to impose sanctions and changes in schools that have been failing for at least two consecutive years. It also permits higher performing school districts to create “multiple-campus innovation zones” exempt from certain state and local requirements.

Updated: June 2, 2015

Reforming Pre-K

There was widespread and bipartisan energy behind an effort to boost early education in the state. Gov. Greg Abbott used his first speech after his November win to say education — particularly improving students’ foundation in pre-kindergarten through third grade — would be a top priority of his administration. And during his State of the State address in February, Abbott identified early education as one of five emergency items, putting it on a legislative fast track.

The issue has also long attracted attention from key lawmakers in both parties. But a divide existed between those who wanted to expand half-day programs to a full day and make them better, and others who wanted to first get a better handle on how the existing programs are working. Count Abbott in the latter group. 

Lawmakers approved a version of the Abbott approach, and the governor signed it into law in May. The legislation was not perfect, according to both its supporters and critics. Early education advocates had hoped it would emerge stronger from the legislative meat-grinder, while conservatives — including those on a panel that advises Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — saw it as an expansion of state-funded pre-K. 

House Bill 4 sets aside $118 million over two years for school districts that agree to bolster their pre-K programs geared toward students from low-income, non-English-speaking, foster and military families. The districts would have to meet certain teacher quality and curriculum measures before they could receive the funding.

Updated: June 1, 2015

School choice and vouchers

In the 2013 session, despite a loud drumbeat leading up to January from supporters including then-Sen. Dan Patrick and then-Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, legislation that would allow students to receive public money to attend private schools died with barely a whimper. Two years later, a skirmish over private school vouchers was brewing again, but 2015 did not see a different outcome.

As the session began, a team of powerful conservative senators filed several measures taking varying approaches to providing public support for parents to send their children to private schools. 

But all of that legislation failed, including Senate Bill 4, a priority measure for Patrick that passed out of the Senate — as did efforts to loosen regulation of virtual education and a proposal known as an "achievement school district," which would have created a statewide entity to manage underperforming campuses.

Updated: June 1, 2015

Improving educator quality

At the federal government’s request, Texas is moving toward a teacher evaluation system based partly on student achievement on standardized tests. It’s a controversial policy that attracted attention at the Capitol, though there was also agreement in the education community that the state needed to update its almost 20-year-old approach to assessing teachers. Included in the conversation was the state’s shortage of certified teachers in areas like math, science, and bilingual education.

However, all the major efforts this session to overhaul teacher evaluation and compensation failed.

But the focus at the Capitol wasn't just on teachers. A week before the 2015 session, Speaker Joe Straus announced the House intended to strengthen reforms overhauling high school curriculum lawmakers passed last session by providing extra training for the guidance counselors who help students navigate the state’s new diploma requirements.

Lawmakers approved House Bill 18, which creates counseling academies at the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Texas at Austin to help school advisors guide students on higher education and career opportunities, as well as the various pathways to a high school diploma. It also requires school districts to provide information to middle school students on graduation plans and requirements and potential career choices. 

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here. 

Updated: June 1, 2015

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The Texas Legislative Guide was designed and developed by Becca Aaronson, Emily Albracht, Daniel Craigmile, Annie Daniel, Ben Hasson and Ryan Murphy for The Texas Tribune. The Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that promotes civic engagement and discourse on public policy, politics, government and other matters of statewide concern.