Autonomy & Innovation

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To provide targeted educational programs to the diverse student body in Texas, school districts must innovate and collaborate. Districts of Innovation (DOI) and district-authorized campus partnerships offer these opportunities.

The Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 1882 in 2017 to empower and incentivize school districts to offer innovative new school models through district charter partnerships. Using this incentive, districts are eligible to receive the higher of state charter– or district-level funding. This can mean between $1,000 and $1,500 per student in additional resources.

The local school board must approve all district charter partnerships. The district continues to enroll the students, receive state funding, and remain accountable for student performance. Funds will flow to the campus through a contract between the district and the partner.

Districts can create partnership schools with nonprofits, units of local government, institutions of higher education, and state open-enrollment charters.

Examples include:

  • Career and technology campuses developed with employers to meet local workforce needs
  • Clinical residency teacher preparation designed in partnership with local colleges of education
  • Early college high schools created with local community colleges

Policy Provides Opportunities for Autonomy & Innovation

Districts of Innovation, as created by House Bill 1842 in 2015, represents an important step forward in public school flexibility policy. The law allows districts to access the same exemptions from state law as open-enrollment charter schools. To do so, they must receive a two-thirds vote of their board of trustees and approval by the district-level decision-making committee. HB 1842 promotes greater autonomy for schools while preserving the accountability, transparency, and local control essential to the public school system.

Districts of Innovation Across Texas

District of Innovation plans vary from school district to school district and can include many different exemptions, the most popular of which include:

School Start Date Exemption

Dozens of districts have exempted themselves from the requirement to begin school no earlier than the fourth Monday in August. While some districts specified a start date in their plan, others left this decision to the board on an annual basis. Of those districts that specified, most appear to be moving the start date one week earlier or less.

The most common reasons given include:

  • The desire to prevent summer learning loss, particularly as it relates to at-risk students
  • The need to balance the number of days in the fall and spring semesters
  • The desire to have fall semester examinations prior to Christmas vacations
  • The desire to align school start date with higher education institutions with whom districts partner for dual credit purposes

CTE Teacher Certificate Exemption

Of the districts that have exempted themselves from some form of teacher certification requirements, a significant majority pointed to the need to find CTE teachers as a motivation for accessing the exemption, often pointing to the desire to hire industry experts.

Other common sources of motivation included the desire to partner more easily with faculty from institutions of higher education for dual credit purposes and allowing certified teachers to teach a course outside his or her area of certification in order to expand course offerings, particularly in small and rural districts.

90% Attendance Requirement for Course Credit Exemption

The most common reasons given by districts for exempting themselves from the requirement that students be in class for at least 90% of days in order to receive course credit were:

  • The desire to refocus award of credit around mastery of the subject-matter rather than seat-time
  • The desire to innovate around the location, time and method of instructional delivery
  • The desire to encourage participation in extra-curricular activities which sometimes require students to miss class
  • The desire to refocus staff resources toward students at risk of not mastering content

Class-Size Exemption

The most common reasons given by districts accessing an exemption from the requirement to maintain class sizes of 22 to 1 in grades kindergarten through 4 were:

  • The desire to prevent a disruption caused by reshuffling classes or the need to seek a waiver if classes grow beyond 22 students after the start of the school year, and
  • The desire to allow districts to take the entirety of the classroom environment, including instructional methodology, student need, and teacher experience and ability into account when creating classrooms.

7-Hour Day Exemption

The most common reason given by districts accessing an exemption from the requirement for a 7-hour school day was the desire to allow for early release or late start on certain days in order to provide collaborative staff planning or professional development.  These districts will either add time on other days or add days in order to ensure that total annual instructional time is not lost.

Appraisal System Exemption

In accessing an exemption from the state teacher or principal evaluation system, districts mostly cited the desire to implement locally-developed systems aligned with district goals and strategic plans as their motivation for accessing this exemption.

Contracts Exemption

Districts accessing an exemption from one or more contract provisions in Chapter 21 of the Texas Education Code reported they were largely designed to:

  • extend the probationary period for experienced teachers who are new to the district to two years rather than the one year allowed under current law;
  • modify the number of contract days to align with the state requirement to track instructional time in minutes rather than days; or
  • place teachers hired on local teaching permits on an at-will basis.

The following map shows all Districts of Innovation, 725 total (as of April 12, 2018). Below the map are several profiles of individual Districts of Innovation. You can find a list of all Districts of Innovation and links to their plans on the Texas Education Agency website

DOI Profiles

Dripping Springs ISD

Harlingen CISD

Point Isabel ISD

Roscoe ISD