Bill of the Week: HB 159


For this weekly feature, the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD) profiles a noteworthy bill that is currently going through the legislative process. The bill may relate directly to TCDD’s Public Policy Priorities or another disability-related issue.

Bill: House Bill (HB) 159, relating to improving training and staff development for primary and secondary educators to enable them to more effectively serve all students.

Bill Author: Rep. Mary González, Texas House District 75 (El Paso)

Joint Authors:

Senate Sponsor: Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., Texas Senate District 27 (Brownsville)

Cosponsor: Sen. Carol Alvarado, Texas Senate District 6 (Houston)

What does the bill do?

HB 159 would add requirements for educator preparation programs and staff development in order to better serve all students, including students with disabilities.

A student with a disability is defined as:

  • A student who is eligible to participate in a school district’s special education program
  • A student who is covered by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • A student who is covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Under the terms of the bill, the State Board for Educator Certification would propose rules that specify what each educator is expected to know and be able to do, particularly regarding students with disabilities. Training requirements for an educator certificate would include demonstrating the following:

  • Basic knowledge of each disability category under IDEA and how each category can affect student learning and development
  • Basic knowledge of conditions that could be considered a disability under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and how a condition can affect student learning and development
  • Competence in the use of instructional planning techniques that:
    • Reducing barriers in instruction
    • Providing appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges
    • Maintaining high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students of limited English proficiency
  • Competence in the use of evidence-based instructional practices, including:
    • General and special education collaborative and co-teaching models and approaches
    • Multitiered systems of support, including response to intervention strategies, classroom and school-level collaborative structures, and evidence-based strategies for intervention and progress monitoring systems
    • Classroom management techniques using evidence-based behavioral intervention strategies and supports
    • Appropriate adaptation strategies, including accommodations, modifications, and instruction in the use of assistive technology for instruction

Many of these same competencies would be required for the approval and renewal of an educator preparation program, as well as in staff development utilized by school districts.

The bill would require the qualification for principal certification to emphasize the principal’s ability to create an inclusive school environment and to foster parent involvement, as well as curriculum and instruction management for students with disabilities.

The bill specifies that certain educator preparation program standards must add information about students with disabilities. Requirements would be added to a comprehensive field-based teacher program so that it is designed based on state-of-the-art practices that apply to all students, including those with disabilities. The program would include curriculum theory and application within diverse student populations. The current requirement of at least 15 field hours would have to involve, to the greatest extent possible, students with disabilities.

If passed into law, HB 159 will take effect on Sept. 1, 2021.

Statement from the bill author, Rep. Mary González:

Represenative Mary Gonzales“We know that when we create a more inclusive classroom, all students benefit. All teachers need the tools to work with kids with disabilities and all students deserve an accessible educational environment.”

Where is the bill in the process?

HB 159 was sent to the governor on May 24, 2021, and awaits further action. The bill passed in both the House and Senate. It received a public hearing before the House Committee on Public Education on March 16, 2021. You can watch the discussion here, beginning at the 00:01:35 mark.

Who supports the bill and why?

The following comments were taken at the March 16, 2021, public hearing:

  • TxSER: Christine Broughal, speaking for Texans for Special Education Reform (TxSER), offered the following remarks: “We believe that this bill would greatly benefit not just students with disabilities, but any students in a classroom, including English language learners, gifted learners, and those learners that may have experienced learning loss as a result of COVID coming back to the classroom, by giving teachers proactive techniques to come … already prepared for the diversity they will be having in their classroom.”
  • Jennifer Bacak: A recent graduate of the TCDD-coordinated Texas Partners in Policymaking program, Jennifer Bacak provided the following comments: “My daughter is a very feisty 6-year-old. She also has Down syndrome and she needs a lot of supports to be successful in school. Here’s the thing: the accommodations that benefit my daughter also benefit the student in her classroom with ADHD or the student that has dyslexia, the student who is an English language learner and the student who is silently struggling. There are a lot of supports and levels that the special ed teachers use to make learning accessible for my daughter. Many of them are simply best practices. The research is very, very clear: when students with disabilities are included in classrooms with their peers, all students do better.”
  • TxP2P: Amy Litzinger, speaking in her role as public policy lead at Texas Parent to Parent (TxP2P), offered this testimony: “Graduating teachers need to practice and internalize a variety of ways to teach, produce work, and show mastery. Because of the many teachers they encountered on an IEP (Individualized Education Program), my teachers wished they had this. The IEP modification page is not a roadmap for a regular education teacher and doesn’t translate to how they should broaden their process. It shouldn’t be the responsibility of the student to educate teachers on methods of support. [HB 159] provides buy-in for a teacher to understand that all inclusion students should get what they need, where they are served. They don’t belong some other place.”
  • TCASE: Kristin McGuire, speaking in her role as director of governmental relations of the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (TCASE), provided the following remarks: “Most students who receive special education services spend 80% of the day in the general education classroom. … Our teachers are heroes, plain and simple. HB 159 ensures that future educators are taught in such a way that their education prep programs teach them to consider varying ability and student engagement and the student end product, and that becomes an immediate and standard practice, rather than a reactive one.”

The following groups also registered their support for the bill but did not provide testimony: Disability Rights Texas, the Association of Texas Professional Educators, Easterseals Texas, the Arc of Texas, the Texas Association of Community Schools, the Texas Association of Behavioral Analysis Public Policy Group, the Intercultural Development Research Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Texas, the Academic Language Therapy Association, Decoding Dyslexia, Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, Project Lead the Way, and Texans Care for Children.

Who opposes the bill and why?

No opposition to the bill was registered at the public hearing.

Additional testimony:

  • TCDD: Sabrina Gonzalez, public policy analyst for TCDD, submitted the following written comments on the bill:  “Not only will HB 159 ensure that teachers are better prepared to provide students with disabilities an education that meets their needs, but it will also ensure that Texas teachers are following the federal requirements mandated under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”

Additional information:

Though TCDD takes no formal position on HB 159, the Council approved the following position statement at its November 2019 quarterly meeting:

Education: TCDD supports the position that all students with developmental disabilities have a right to an appropriate, individualized, and quality education, alongside their non-disabled peers, that empowers and prepares them for life post-graduation.

How much will the bill cost?
The Legislative Budget Board (LBB) determined the bill would not impact the state budget in a significant way.
Is there a Senate companion to the bill?
Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. filed Senate Bill (SB) 180, an identical Senate companion to HB 159. Though it passed out of the Senate Education Committee, SB 180 did not receive a vote by the full Senate.

Stay informed:

For the latest information about where HB 159 is in the process, follow the bill on the Texas Legislature Online. To receive future legislative updates from TCDD, subscribe to TCDD eNews or follow us on Twitter.

Bill of the Week Updates

HB 119, which would prohibit organ transplant discrimination based on disability, was recently signed into law by the governor. It will be effective starting Sept. 1, 2021.

HB 797, which would allow for the administration of certain FDA-approved vaccines by home health nurses, was recently signed into law by the governor. It is effective immediately.

HB 1535, which would expand the eligibility for medical use of low-THC cannabis, was recently passed by the Texas Senate. If the House agrees to the changes made to the bill in the Senate, it will be sent to the governor for action.

Likewise, the House must decide whether to accept the Senate’s changes to HB 2256, which would create a bilingual special education certification for teachers. If the House does so, the bill will be sent to the governor for action.

The following bills have been sent to the governor, where they await further action:

  • HB 2107, which would allow outpatient services for children who are unable to proceed in juvenile court proceedings due to an intellectual disability
  • HB 2831, which would create an advisory committee on the confinement of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in county jails
  • SB 25, the Senate companion to Bill of the Week HB 892, would enable residents of long-term care facilities to designate an essential caregiver for in-person visitation
  • SB 50, which would develop a competitive integrated employment initiative for working-age adults with disabilities
  • SB 89, which would require schools to provide an IEP supplement for students enrolled in special education during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • SB 776, which would create an inclusive sports program for students with intellectual disabilities


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