Texas Textbook Bill Expands Electronic Options for Educators
- By Geoffrey H. Fletcher
A bill to significantly change the textbook process, including allowing the use of textbook funds to purchase technology, continues its way through the Texas Legislature. Six amendments were added to the bill Saturday, May 2, and the amended bill passed in the House Monday, May 4.
House Bill 4294 would:
- Allow the state textbook fund to be used to purchase technological equipment;
- Create a commissioner's list of electronic textbooks and instructional materials that would bypass the Texas State Board of Education, a notorious gauntlet fraught with politics; and
- Require that school districts purchase a classroom set of textbooks adopted by the State Board of Education for each subject and grade level in the state curriculum.
An amendment from Representative Dan Branch, a co-author of the bill, would expand the possibilities for technology significantly. The original bill created a commissioner's list of electronic textbooks and instructional materials and allowed districts to purchase technology to operate and access these resources. However, technology purchased with textbook funds was limited to those materials on the commissioner's list under the original bill. Branch's amendment adds "any textbook or materials approved by the State Board of Education," thus allowing districts to use textbook funds to purchase technology for materials adopted on the SBOE's list when it is "necessary to support the use of" that material.
If, for example, the SBOE adopted a middle school social studies textbook that also had CD-ROMs and Web sites as part of the materials, districts could use some of the state textbook funds to purchase technology to use those CD-ROMs and Web sites. This amendment significantly expands the scope of materials eligible to be linked with technology.
Flexibility in Adoption Duration
An amendment from another co-author of the bill, Rep. Rob Eissler, provides even more flexibility in the textbook process. The amendment allows districts that select subscription-based electronic textbooks from the most used SBOE list and from the commissioner's list to change their minds and switch to another subscription, if they have used the original subscription for a year and if the state education agency approves the switch.
In the old system, once districts adopted a textbook, they were stuck with it for six to eight years or until that subject came up for adoption again. This amendment would change that process for subscription-based materials. The implications for companies are significant. In the past, they were able to devote all their attention to the initial sale. If this bill makes it through the rest of the political process, companies selling subscription-based products will need to pay special attention to service, support, and currency of materials.
Yet another amendment by Eissler allows publishers of electronic textbooks and instructional materials to update navigational features or management systems with the only requirement being a notice to the commissioner. The amendment also allows providers of electronic textbooks and instructional materials to update the content "if needed to accurately reflect current knowledge or information." They will have to notify the commissioner and have the updates subject to a review by the commissioner, but this is considered a less odious process than the current practice required for materials.
HB 4294 does not yet have a sponsor in the Senate, but insiders have claimed that the lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate and wields considerable influence in Texas, wants to see the bill passed. The legislature is scheduled to adjourn before the end of the month, so time is running short for the bill.
Geoffrey H. Fletcher is the deputy executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).