The Way I See It: New Texas Legislature bills encourage OER use to increase student access

By Daniel Williamson
Special to Rice News

Editor’s note: This column originally appeared on the OpenStax blog.

Texas expanded its role as a national open education resources (OER) leader this June when the Texas Legislature passed several measures to increase OER use within the state.

Daniel Williamson

Daniel Williamson

Authored by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, and sponsored by Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, SB 810 creates a new grant program for higher ed that helps college and university professors transition to the use of OER in their classrooms. The program, administered by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, is modeled on Georgia’s successful Textbook Transformation Grants.

SB 810 also requires state colleges and universities to provide searchable information that will allow students to seek out courses that use only free materials.

For K-12, the legislature doubled its current budget for developing new OER that’s aligned to Texas’ curriculum standards. The $20 million that is to be allocated over the next two years will prioritize “subject areas that constitute the bulk of school district purchases” and advanced high school STEM courses. This budget increase will expand upon the OER initiative that began with last year’s award of a contract to Rice University-based nonprofit OpenStax to develop seven high school texts (texts that are slated to be in Texas classrooms this fall).

In separate legislation, SB 1784 updates the Texas OER statute. This bill was authored by Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, and sponsored by Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble, who are chairs of the committees over K-12 education in the Senate and House. The updates include a more current definition of OER that uses language generally accepted by the OER community, as well as added provisions to recognize that OER sometimes contains public domain or fair-use content.

Furthermore, the updates authorize the commissioner of education to use open licenses on material as a way to encourage its widest use by Texas schools. The exact requirements of the licenses are left to the commissioner to determine, but the licensing provisions in SB 1784 are designed to be consistent with the Creative Commons Attribution License and include wording that specifically allows the state to use a license that is “commonly applied to an open education resource.” In making these changes, the updated bill moves away from original purpose — encouraging purchase of digital content by the state — and toward a more full embrace of today’s concept of high-quality, sharable and adaptable OER.

Several other bills that encourage OER use in K-12 were merged into SB 810 on its way to passage. Of particular note is the added requirement that the Texas State Board of Education “include information regarding open education resource instructional materials during the adoption cycle, including any cost savings.” The outdated term “open source” was also updated to “open education resource” throughout the Texas instructional materials law.

Both SB 810 and SB 1784 have now been signed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Finally, HB 3526, by Rep. Howard and Sen. Taylor, restores and updates the Texas Technology Lending Grant program that provides grants to help school districts create “lending libraries” of tech equipment for students who could not otherwise access digital instructional materials.

All in all, the results of this session give the OER community reason to expect a successful future for OER in Texas — and gives the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board reasons to expect a growing to-do list!

–Daniel Williamson is managing director of OpenStax, the Rice University-based nonprofit whose mission is to improve student access to education.

About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.