In 2006, the 79th Texas Legislature (3rd called session) identified the need for connecting educational information sources into a longitudinal data warehouse for the use of policy and practice. Legislators authorized the creation of three Education Research Centers (ERCs) to house Texas data and facilitate research that benefits all levels of education in Texas. The ERCs were to provide access to high quality, student-level data from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), and other sources of educational information for the state of Texas. The ERC data resources would span from the Pre-K level through higher education (P-16) and into the Texas workforce; it would host longitudinal information dating back from 1990 to current day. Researchers would be able to use this rich warehouse of data to follow individual Texas students from their first day in school to their last day on the job.
A year following the 79th Texas Legislature, three ERC sites were selected to receive state funding to develop and begin operating data centers. These centers were all located at institutions of higher education in Texas: The University of Texas at Austin (Texas ERC), The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD ERC), and Texas A & M University (TAMU ERC). By September of 2008 these centers were permitted to host the state data and allow researchers access to data for advisory board-approved research projects. The ERC advisory board played a key-role in oversight, research and proposal review, security measures, and general operation of the ERCs. There was a steep learning curve for all involved in the process. The operation of the ERCs as a fully functioning State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) in this time provided both the state and higher education host sites with valuable information on governance and implementation. Developing and operating ERCs necessitated all those involved to maneuver the intricacies involved with providing rich streams of confidential student-level information for researchers while providing the highest levels of security and privacy possible.
In May 2012, at the close of five years, the state sent out a new Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for the renewal of the ERCs per legislative requirement. An important part of the RFQ and the continuation of the ERCs was the capacity for self-sustainability as state funding was non-renewable. After a long wait, new contracts for continuation were sent to two ERC locations (Texas ERC and UTD ERC) in May of 2013.
Around the same time the ERC contracts were sent to the two institutions, a legislative bill addressing the ERCs (HB 2130) had already been filed and was largely through the 2013 83rd Texas Legislature. This bill was created to better align ERCs to state priorities, amend state laws to fix implementation issues, and streamline authority and oversight to reduce the complexity. HB 2130 passed both houses easily and was signed into law by the summer of 2013. Because HB 2103 authorized changes in the ERC law, contract negotiations had to begin anew for the two ERC locations. At the same time, new Texas Administrative Code (operating guidelines that follow Texas Education Codes) also had to be written to mirror the changed legislation and administer the new ERC rules and regulations.
In Fall 2013, the two year logjam ended. New legislation and rules have created a more streamlined process for oversight and function of the ERCs. Given the new statute, the ERCs will be less likely to be stalled by the previous complex political and bureaucratic implementation issues. The future is promising for the ERCs to facilitate research projects, partnerships, and funding resources to help improve data usage and educational outcomes in the state of Texas.