Texas Legislature should focus on more pressing education issues

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House Bill 729 was introduced by Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, in the Texas House, which if passed could incorporate teaching positive character traits, such as honesty, kindness, and school pride, into the state curriculum. However, teaching these traits is already a requirement under the Texas Education Code, and adding it into the curriculum would be both a waste of time and money.

According to the Texas Education Code, school districts must already implement a character education program focused on the teaching of positive character traits, determined by a committee of teachers, parents and community leaders from the district. The code applies to schools that are supported in part or in whole by state tax funds, and thus applies to the entirety of the public school system that this bill targets. 

The current bill is merely a repetition of this program. The character traits it would introduce to the state curriculum would be similar to those enforced by the code, and would be derived from a committee of a similar makeup.

Yet, the Texas Education Agency and the Legislative Budget Board estimate it would cost school districts $25 million dollars in the first year and $4 million dollars the following year to train teachers and fully implement the program — a cost that would simply reinforce an already existing program. Still, teacher groups have told lawmakers that they’re in support of the bill. It’s hard to oppose instruction in support of enforcing positive character traits, no matter how unnecessary.

Instead of reinforcing preexisting educational standards, the Texas Legislature should be striving to improve upon those standards and introduce new ones. The focus should be areas that Texas is failing in, areas that actually need the attention of the legislature. One such area is sex education. With a reported 60 percent of public schools teaching abstinence only sex education and 25 percent teaching none at all, a bill adding sex education standards to the state curriculum would be a necessary step forward. Another area is special education. Only 8.5 percent of students in Texas receive special education, far below the national average of 13 percent. This clearly qualifies for a bill to restructure the education standards.

Failures in proper sex education is why Texas ranked fifth highest in the nation in teen pregnancy rates in 2015. A lack of special education is leaving an estimated 250,000 children without the services they need. Reinforcing the teaching of positive character traits in the curriculum might increase attendance and raise graduation rates, but those rates are already at 89 percent for 2014-15 public high schools in Texas, putting us fourth in the nation and first for low-income students. 

Forcing districts to waste millions of dollars on adapting their curriculum to something they are already teaching at schools is a gross misuse of the Texas Legislature’s time. Instead, they should focus on solving actual problems within public schools and using their limited time on something of actual importance.

Berdanier is a philosophy junior from Boulder, Colorado. Follow her on Twitter @eberdanier