Senate Bill 6 passed out of the Texas legislature's special session and is headed for Governor Rick Perry's desk where it is expected to be signed. The bill gives Texas school districts much additional flexibility with textbook funds, but it also takes a step back from a reform passed the previous session and injects the extremely conservative State Board of Education into decisions they previously were excluded from. Chalk up another victory for the Tea Party. More on the shift to the right in a moment; first the bill.
SB 6 combines the textbook money and the $30 per student technology allotment into a single Instructional Materials Fund and districts receive a per pupil amount – the Instructional Materials Allotment (IMA) – from that fund. What is revolutionary about SB 6 is how that IMA may be used. Texas was the first state to change its definition of textbook to include digital content and the technology to access and use that digital content. A half dozen states how have a similar definition. SB 6 keeps that definition and also allows the IMA to be used to pay for professional development and to pay for tech support. This is unprecedented flexibility with textbook dollars in Texas, and that is the good news. But, as is often the case with policy changes at any level, there is bad news: potentially more intrusion from the Texas SBOE and less money resulting from the merging of the textbook and technology funds.
The State Board of Education: The 2009 Texas legislature passed legislation which established three pathways for content to get into schools in addition to the traditional, arduous State Board of Education adoption route – the commissioner's list, an open educational resources option, and an option for the commissioner to contract for content. Each route bypassed the SBOE. SB 6 now allows the SBOE 90 days to review the commissioner's list and may require the commissioner to remove material that had been on the list. No criteria are provided in SB 6 for why the SBOE may remove content from the commissioner's list. When I asked a Texan intimately involved with negotiations and deliberations on the bill about this, I was told, "This is what happens to reasonable Republicans these days – threaten them with a Tea Party candidate in the next primary and they will cave in to some demands." The SBOE's reach into the OER submissions is less intrusive: within 90 days of submission of OER, the SBOE may review the materials and shall post the list of materials with comments and distribute those comments to school districts.
The Money: The other bad news is money. An early, back of the envelope, calculation by Jennifer Bergland of the Texas Computer Education Association, is that the IMA will turn out to be about $80 per pupil for the 2011-12 school year. This may change based upon application of some formulas, various cuts off the top for administration of the fund, and distribution to schools for the blind and deaf and juvenile justice, but approximately $80 seems to be a likely number. I talked with Alice Owen of Irving ISD, and she figures that value will be significantly less than they get now, because one book can cost $80. I pointed out that with their long-standing 1 to 1 program at the high school level, they were not using millions of dollars worth of textbooks from the state. With SB 6, Irving would have flexibility to use funds that heretofore might have gone into warehousing books they didn't use.
The impact of SB 6 in Texas will depend in large degree upon implementation, because SB 6 also gives the commissioner and the TEA staff significant flexibility. The commissioner and the TEA staff can take this opportunity to be creative and run with it by calling for OER and contracting for different content in different ways. They could stretch limited dollars significantly by leveraging all the options and being strategic about which option they use with which subject area.
In future posts we will look at implications of this legislation for other states as well as possible impacts on the publishing industry. What is your take on the impact of this bill?