In the final weeks of Texas’ regular legislative session, public education advocates are making a final pitch to lawmakers to pass key reforms that would hold schools accountable to parents.
Texas Education 911—a network of parents, educators, and pro-family organizations from across the state—has advocated all session for fixes to the troubled public education system that will put students and families first.
In a letter to legislators, the alliance called the need for reforms “so urgent and serious” that a special legislative session is warranted to act on parent-identified priorities and solutions that lawmakers fail to address during the regular session that ends May 29.
“We, Texas parents, are counting on you to be truly heroic in supporting these priority enforcement and transparency bills in the closing days of the 88th Regular Session,” said the letter, signed “The Parents of Texas Education 911.”
One of the major reforms endorsed by Texas Education 911 is removing school districts’ governmental immunity and allowing parents to sue schools that violate students’ rights—for example, when a Prosper ISD bus driver was accused of sexually abusing two elementary school students for most of a school year.
The girls’ family sued, but the district and Superintendent Holly Ferguson claimed sovereign immunity from any legal responsibility. A year later, no one in the district has been held accountable for the abuse or the subsequent cover-up, in which district officials failed to notify other families whose children rode the accused molester’s bus until the lawsuit became public months later.
State Rep. Harold Dutton (D–Houston) proposed House Bill 5290 to lift schools’ sovereign immunity.
Texas Education 911 said Dutton’s bill “could bring the single most significant reform to schools, all self-driven. We believe that this bill would make schools self-regulate, and quickly. Parents, children, staff, and taxpayers win. Corruption loses.”
House lawmakers allowed HB 5290 to die in committee.
Thursday at midnight was the deadline for House bills to receive a preliminary vote of approval by the full House.
Another of the network’s parental rights priorities is the creation of a parent ombudsman to help “level the playing field” for parents forced to fight local school districts on behalf of their children.
In the grievance process that families must follow when lodging complaints, the deck is stacked against parents, students, and teachers.
Two proposals to create an independent education ombudsman—House Bill 1924 by State Rep. Jared Patterson and Senate Bill 2114 by State Sen. Angela Paxton (R–McKinney)—failed to receive committee hearings.
“Unfortunately, without enforcement of the laws, parents and children, as well as teachers, are left in tenuous situations, often full of fear and frustration,” said Texas Education 911.
The group’s letter highlighted more than a dozen in-school attacks and district violations that parents reported this year alone, including the sexual assault of a 6-year-old girl by another student in Plainview ISD while a teacher was in the classroom (which authorities are now calling “mutual inappropriate sexual contact”).
“These things are happening all over Texas, and we have solutions,” the letter said.
“If legislators truly understood what was going on in our schools and why we need them to take up our solutions and protect parental rights in education, would they use their power to do good?” asked Texas Education 911 organizer Melissa Beckett in a social media post sharing the letter.
“Would they turn a blind eye to these horrible stories experienced by children and parents DURING SESSION, while parent solutions are right there waiting for them to act?” Beckett asked.
Judging by the results of the regular session so far, lawmakers are turning a blind eye.
Some of Texas Education 911’s pro-parent reforms were allowed to die in the House. More than a dozen of their priorities never received any legislative action at all.
Several priority bills are still on life support, though:
- House Bill 900 by Patterson to keep sexually explicit books out of children’s school libraries passed the House on April 20 and finally received a hearing in the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.
- House Bill 964 by State Rep. Jacey Jetton (R–Richmond), requiring educators convicted of having an “improper (sexual) relationship” with a student to register as sex offenders, passed the House on April 26 and was referred to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on April 27.
- House Bill 2510 by State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R–Deer Park) to require more transparency about school district contracts passed the House on May 6 and was referred to the Senate Education Committee on May 9.
- Senate Bill 163 by State Sen. Donna Campbell (R–New Braunfels), which removes the expiration date on schools being required to receive parental opt-in before students participate in sex education, passed the Senate on April 20 and was considered in the House Public Education Committee on Wednesday.
- Senate Bill 175 by State Sen. Mayes Middleton (R–Galveston) to ban taxpayer-funded lobbying passed the Senate on April 6 and has since stalled in the House State Affairs Committee.
- Senate Bill 595 by State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R–Brenham), which would require parental consent for mental health testing and surveys at school, passed the Senate on May 3 and is waiting for a hearing in the House Public Education Committee.
- Senate Bill 1031 by State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood) to prohibit school surveys of minors’ sexual behaviors passed the Senate on April 26 and was referred to the House Select Committee on Youth Health and Safety on May 6.
Texas Education 911 recently announced it will be issuing legislator ratings identifying which lawmakers take action on parent-identified education concerns and solutions in either the regular or a special session.
Only Gov. Greg Abbott can call a special legislative session, but Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has said he’s willing to force a special session if the House fails to pass the Senate’s priorities.