Four bills filed by Senator José Rodríguez to address aspects of the cheating scandal at the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) passed out of the Education Committee today. A fifth bill passed out of the Open Government Committee. The bills will likely be considered for a vote by the full Senate next week.
EPISD has struggled to deal with revelations that its former superintendent and several administrators manipulated both students and data to give the appearance that standardized test scores were improving. This allowed the former superintendent, Lorenzo Garcia, to receive salary bonuses, as well as increase EPISD's performance ratings. Garcia has since pled guilty to charges of fraud as well as unrelated federal charges stemming from contracts he gave to a former mistress. This all happened on the watch of the EPISD Board of Trustees, which failed its oversight duties yet still does not accept responsibility for its lack of due diligence.
"The EPISD scandal has touched unknown numbers of students, and the scheme developed by Garcia and his administrators apparently spread to other districts in our community. These proposals are just one piece of what must be a community-wide response to this shameful behavior on the part of administrators, educators and those who oversee the district," Rodríguez said.
The bills passed by the Education Committee today are:
· SB 119, which would create a program that would require EPISD to offer remedial classes and alternative graduation for students cheated of their education by the actions of district administrators.
· SB 122 adds school districts’ boards of trustees to the list of county officials who can be removed from office for incompetence or misconduct.
· SB 123 strengthens TEA’s oversight of school districts by providing the commissioner of education with the authority to issue subpoenas and the ability to more easily investigate suspicious data reporting by districts.
· SB 124 makes the fraudulent manipulation of data reported to the TEA a third degree felony.
The bill passed by the Open Government Committee, SB121, strengthens whistleblower protections to encourage school district employees to report illegal activity without fear of retaliation.