by James B. Crow
Legislature Opens Door for
‘Districts of Innovation’
34 H TASB 2015 Annual Report • texaslonestaronline.org
For us old-timers, it’s déjà vu all over again. In 1995, the Texas Legislature passed a new law that, at the time, was heralded as providing school districts with relief from many of the onerous
state mandates that stifled creativity, innovation, and student
achievement. That law, of course, was the home-rule school
district concept, still on the books today.
Twenty years later, it’s never actually been implemented
by a single Texas school district.
Fast-forward to 2015. The Legislature again passed a
new law designed to give school districts significant flexibility and the authority to exempt themselves from many
current sections of the Texas Education Code. House Bill
1842, effective immediately, gives school districts most of
the flexibilities available to Texas’ open enrollment charter
schools. Unlike the home-rule district law, this legislation,
called “Districts of Innovation,” already has begun to draw
interest from several school districts.
A Concept to Consider
I’ve chosen this topic to encourage more school districts
to give this concept serious consideration. Here’s more
While home-rule districts and districts of innovation
are similar in concept, there are some major differences
between the two laws. Both concepts allow a school district
to go through a process to develop a plan that would
specify the state laws from which it would be exempted.
Both processes require significant input and involvement
of citizens and school district staff. One major difference,
however, is that to become a home-rule district, the plan
(or charter, in this case) must be approved in a districtwide
election in which at least 25 percent of the registered voters
participate. To become a district of innovation, the school
board can approve the plan developed through the speci-
fied process provided it passes with a two-thirds majority
vote of the board.
So, what mandates could a district free itself from as
a district of innovation? This is not totally clear yet, as the
statute specifies only those laws from which a district cannot
exempt itself. The “off-the-table” requirements that cannot
be waived include academic and financial accountability
provisions such as student assessments; elections for school
boards; the duties of trustees, superintendents, and princi-
pals; PEIMS; open meetings and open records; purchasing
laws; and several others.
The commissioner of education is expected to release
rules this month that will include a list of provisions from
which districts of innovation can be exempted.
What does that leave as open for consideration? Among
the likely exemptible requirements are those regarding site-based decision making; uniform school start date; class size
caps; teacher appraisal, certification and contracts; required
minutes of instruction time; and more.
The relief from mandates is reason alone for districts to
consider this idea. But what’s more exciting, at least among
the districts that are already considering this concept, is
that they are looking to use the greater flexibility to focus
on such critical areas as improving student achievement,
increasing operational efficiency, and expanding parental
and community involvement.
Essentially, innovation plans will be about local control.
Each district will pursue designation as a district of innovation for different reasons, and no two plans may look the
same. Community members should note that each innovation plan will be unique to the local school district. The
experiences of other school districts may be informative but
may not directly relate to the purpose or progress of a plan
in another location.
Investigate the Possibilities
For years, Texas school board members and administrators have complained about the ever-increasing number
of state mandates and prescriptive laws and bemoaned the
continual erosion of local control. Now there is a realistic process for districts to do something about this. Take
advantage. Investigate the possibilities and the potential of
becoming a district of innovation.
For more information, see the TASB Legal Services’
eSource Q&A at