Senate Passes Apollo Early Start Plan

(Austin, Texas)—By a vote of, the Texas Senate today approved HB 1555, legislation by Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) to allow a school district to add locally funded additional days of instruction prior to the uniform school start date. The bill will proceed to a conference committee to reconcile minor differences between the version passed by the House and that of the Senate.

The bill is an effort to continue the reforms launched by the Houston Independent School District to improve academic achievement. Last year, H.I.S.D. established the Apollo 20 initiative, a ground breaking program in partnership with Harvard’s Education Innovation Laboratory to help turn failing schools around by adding additional days at the front of the school year to provide students additional time to prepare for AP exams and state exams.

“Texas ranks 43rd in the high school graduation rate and 49th in the percentage of the population with a high school diploma,” said Ellis. “We need to take a more direct and innovative approach to improving education in this state. The Apollo Program is a novel, locally-conceived and controlled program that is already showing real results which I believe could benefit more students across Houston.”

House Bill 1555 allows districts with enrollment of 190,000 students add instructional days before the fourth Monday in August in 20% of its campuses. The additional days would be supported with local, not state, funds. The participating campuses must have a majority of students identified as educationally disadvantaged and must be undergoing a comprehensive reform model, as determined by the district’s board of trustees.

Studies conducted at Rice University show that Texas is in danger of developing a permanent underclass, if educational achievement levels are not addressed. According to H.I.S.D, on average the campuses in the Apollo 20 Initiative are 87% economically disadvantaged – seven percent above the district average, and were chosen out of the 40 lowest performing schools in the district. Results have already shown improvement in student attendance and discipline at schools participating in the pilot program, as well as significant improvement on mathematics diagnostic tests.

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