The 81st Texas Legislature has taken a new approach to education bills and has renamed the section of the Brazos River in Somervell County, passing into effect three new bills that will affect Glen Rose.

HB 3646 and HB 3 are two education bills that have been sent to Governor Rick Perry to sign into order. HB 3646 addresses the school finance and programs while HB 3 handles the accountability, curriculum and promotion requirements of schools. The Legislative Budget Board has issued a $1.3 billion increase for public education for the 2010-11 biennium. HB 3646, which was introduced in March, includes reducing the amount paid by Chapter 41 school districts in recapture payments and removing the mid-size adjustment exception for these districts. Glen Rose Independent School District (GRISD) is part of the mid-size adjustment due to its property-rich area, which means the school district is subject to recapture, or Robin Hood Plan, payments.

The new bill limits the amount of recapture, but GRISD will see an increase in payments.  However, the school district will be able to keep $700,000 more than what would otherwise be paid to the state due to the increase in WADA, or weighted average daily attendance. 

School districts are paid based on its WADA records. WADA compensates school districts when schools have a higher rate of certain classification of students, which can include low socioeconomic, special education, or bilingual and English-speaking students.

GRISD has a current WADA of $2,067 from the 2008-09 school year. The new bill allows a minimum $120 per WADA increase, which GRISD will receive. With the mid-size school adjustment and the WADA increase, the WADA will increase to $2,175. For school districts gaining more than $350 per WADA, the gain will be limited to $350 per year, but this will not apply to GRISD.

“With the increased WADA, we will be able to retain more money in the district,” said Wayne Rotan, superintendent of GRISD.

If a school district goes over the limit of $319,500 of taxable value per WADA, then those funds are sent back to the state. Currently, GRISD gives 50 cents of every dollar back to the state due to recapture. During the 2008-09 school year, the district gave $13,300,000 back to the state. For the 2009-10 school year, GRISD will return a sum just short of 16 million, at $15,800,000.

HB 3646 also states an across-the-board educator pay raise for full-time classroom teachers, speech pathologists, librarians, counselors and nurses. The pay raise will be $800 per year of each educator’s share of $60 per WADA. GRISD will provide additional raises on top of the state-mandated raise, according to Rotan.

HB 3 has mixed reviews by the GRISD superintendent. The “school accountability” bill includes financial ranking requirements for campuses and districts.  Schools are graded based on the Academic Excellent Indicator System (AEIS). An annual report is sent out to parents and guardians with the AEIS “grades.” 

Schools are ranked based on the Accountability Rating System, which is based on school performance and AEIS information. The levels are Academically Acceptable, which meets required improvement; Recognized, which meets 75 percent for each subject; and Exemplary, which meets 90 percent standard for each subject.

The ARS ratings are based off the lowest indicator. This means that whether the district has more indicators in the Recognized level, but only one in the Acceptable portion, the ARS rates the school as Acceptable.  

“This [past] school year, we expect three campuses will be Recognized,” said Rotan. “It’s just down to the placement of two students.”

However, Rotan disagrees with the ranking in the school accountability system.  He believes that school districts are penalized in the school accountability system. 

“Accountability rankings should be based on an average of the indicators instead of the lowest indicator,” Rotan said. “The schools with more diverse student population or highest number of subgroups should not be penalized.”

HB 3 eliminates the standard 65 Percent Rule. Gov. Perry had issued the executive order, stating that 65 percent of school budgets must be spent on classroom instruction. This includes football, band, athletics and field trips, but it did not include libraries, food service, transportation or nurses.

“If we didn’t have any electricity, or nurses, or libraries or food to feed our students, we wouldn’t be able to instruct our students,” Rotan said.

The advocacy group First Class Education, which was created by Republican political consultant Tim Mooney and funded by founder Patrick Byrne, authored the 65 percent Rule in 2005. First Class Education’s intentions were to promote using inefficient expenses made by administration and giving the funds recovered to teachers and students. It was adopted by Texas and several other states.  However, while intentions were pure of heart, many school districts may be happy to see it go.

“I’m glad to see that [the elimination of 65 percent rule],” said Rotan. “But there won’t be much of an impact [on GRISD] because we have been meeting above the law [65 percent expenditure].”

HB 3 will change the annual testing for students. The TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) testing will be replaced with end-of-the-year course exams from ninth grade and up during the 2011-12 school year. Students will be required to pass with an accumulative score of 70 on the exams. This year’s seventh graders will be the guinea pigs for the state-mandated law when they enter ninth grade in 2011.

Students must also be able to pass English III and Algebra II, if he/she is on the Recommended or Advanced graduation plan. HB 3 also requires that graduation plans include at least one fine arts credit.

“The majority [in middle school] are doing that already,” said Rotan of the fine arts credit requirement. “There won’t be much of a change there [for GRISD].”

While HCR 181 is not an educational bill, it is a bill that names part of a riverway in Somervell County. According to Texas Legislature Online, HCR 181, authored by State Representative Sid Miller, designates “the section of the Brazos River Basin and its contributing watershed in Somervell County as the Scenic Riverway of Somervell County.”

The 840 mile-long Brazos River flows through the eastern third of Somervell County. John Graves, who lived on a farm in Glen Rose, immortalized the Brazos River with his novel, Goodbye to a River, published in 1960. The 79th Legislation designated the section of the river basin downstream of Morris Shepard Dam to the county line between Parker and Hood Counties as the John Graves Scenic Riverway as a tribute to the author.

A river basin near the John Graves Scenic Riverway is the section of the Brazos River where Graves lived close to in his Glen Rose farm. This is the portion that has been named the Scenic Riverway of Somervell County.