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Texas State Capitol. Photo courtesy of http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/Resources/Images.aspx.

School is out for the summer, but the future of Texas public education is front-of-mind for Lancaster ISD parents and officials in the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium—especially after Gov. Perry’s veto of a critical bill, HB 2824, on Friday.

The governor wrote in opposition of the bill, which was approved unanimously by the Texas House and Senate, that its implementation would “compromise academic rigor” and “student outcomes.” In his official veto statement, Perry said the education commissioner is “developing a new accountability system that will allow districts to innovate without sacrificing important accountability.”

LISD Superintendent Dr. Michael McFarland and the other 22 district leaders have been working toward education and testing reform since 2011, writing letters and making appearances imploring lawmakers to support the bill. If approved, HB 2824 would have allowed schools in the Consortium to pursue more local control in developing teaching methods and make recommendations to legislators on "the effective use of technology and digital learning strategies in the learning environment so that... students are well prepared for the ever-changing workforce needs of Texas."

The Consortium is self-funded and accepts in-kind donations for its development strategies and research. It was established two years ago when the governor signed into law SB 1557, which laid the groundwork for HB 2824. State Rep. Dan Branch, who represents the Park Cities and several other areas of Dallas, filed the bill along with Rep. Bennett Ratliff, representing Coppell, a Consortium district, and three other House members.

In response to Perry’s denial of the bill, Highland Park ISD Superintendent Dr. Dawson Orr said the Consortium will continue to push for more digital learning opportunities and a more localized accountability system, rather than a statewide method of measuring college readiness.

“The Consortium is fully committed to carrying out the intent of SB 1557 that created the Consortium and to the spirit of HB 2824 that garnered unanimous support in both the House and the Senate,” he said.

Orr and other Consortium district officials say STAAR testing is excessive. In a 2012 column, Orr noted that high school students spend 45 days on testing—25 percent of the entire school year. Despite the $100 million the state spends on mandatory assessments, Orr also said “countries that require far less standardized testing outperform our students on international measures” and that the current system prevents instructors from teaching meaningful material.

HB 5 addresses more specifically the number of tests high school students must take and affects every Texas public school, not just Consortium schools. The bill's passage, which will limit state-mandated STAAR exams required to be passed for high school graduation to five subjects instead of fifteen: English I and II (reading and writing combined into one test), Algebra I, Biology, and US History. The governor signed HB 5 into law June 10.

Perry’s block of HB 2824 might have been a step backward for Lancaster ISD students, but Orr said he and other Consortium members won’t quit.

“Even though the governor’s actions today make it more difficult to accomplish our charge, we remain steadfast in our mission to transform public education, with student-centered learning as the driving force behind everything we do,” he said.

For more information on the Texas High Performing Schools Consortium and the districts involved, click here.