Friday, February 18, 2005

Board wants control over textbooks

The State Board of Education was once able to directly control the language and content of textbooks, but then-Attorney General Dan Morales cut that power in 1996 saying that the SBOE had no right to regulate school textbooks. But The Quorum Report claims that SBOE member Terri Leo got Rep. Charlie Howard (R-Sugar Land) to file HB 220, which is trying to be passed off as one that simply fact-checks textbooks. HB 220 calls into question what the state of addressing ideas like creationism and sex education will be.

In the past year, creationism and sex ed. have made headlines since some parents would like creationism to be taught simultaneously with Darwin's theory of evolution, and they want abstinence-only textbooks. If I remember correctly, last summer parents wanted textbooks that said that if you get AIDS from having sex, just wait it out; it'll go away. Hmmm...the SBOE has already authorized the purchase of new health textbooks that exclusively promote abstinence (according to Planned Parenthood), so I don't know if kids ought to be taught that diseases that have caused pandemics just "go away," as well as anything else that the SBOE may authorize.

Dems react to HB 2, fight over funding numbers

Yesterday morning, members of the House's Mexican American Legislative caucus (MALC) held a press conference to bash HB 2, the controversial public education bill filed by Ken Grusendorf (read more on HB 2).

First, they discussed the amount of money going to schools under the proposed funding model. Grusendorf has argued that $3 billion in new money will be placed in schools, and this new money would compensate for drastic cuts to Robin Hood. However, members of MALC pointed to the fiscal note written by the Legislative Budget Board on HB 2 that said state money going to HB 2 would total $12.4 billion for the 2006-2007 biennium; however, "Of that total, nearly $11 billion is the direct result of lowering to $1.00 the local property tax. The remaining $1.5 billion is net new revenue to school districts."

Hey Kent, $1.5 billion ≠ $3 billion.

Second, MALC addressed the equity gap since HB 2 calls for cutting Robin Hood by nearly 90 percent. The Quorum Report reported that "he said that 'without a doubt' HB 2 represents the most equitable system that has been seriously considered by the state." However, Pat Haggerty (R-El Paso) and MALC member also spoke at the press conference addressed the 2003 funding cuts and claimed that considering those cuts, "public education gets $398 million less" from HB 2.

Haggerty pointed to a $700 million cut in Active School Employee Health Care, a $123 million undercount in weighted ADA, a $5 million cut in Advanced Placement programs, and a $25 billion cut in Basic Skills programs.

"All these things were cut last session," Haggerty said. "They are now saying they are going to put new money in to help students. Actually, all they are putting back in is what they took out last time."

The Austin American-Statesman reports that HB 2 would also impose a cap 35 percent on the amount of money wealthy districts send to the state government for redistribution; rich districts like Highland Park in Dallas would see a 52 percent increase of funding - since it currently sends 70 percent, or double the cap, to the state for redistribution.

The article also draws attention to many districts that have a small number of students but have big property values stemming from "oil fields, power plants or other features that drive up values" that are located in those districts. How much money would these areas save from HB 2?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

APD on the UT campus?

Terry Keel (R-Austin) authored HB 479, which would grant local law enforcement agencies, including the Austin Police Department, the the same jurisdiction, powers, privileges, and immunities as the University of Texas at Austin Police Department. They would have jurisdiction over "all or part of the university campus" and would retain "the autonomous authority to deploy agency personnel on university property and in university facilities." So they can drive around campus with shotguns and AR-15s in the trunk of their squad car and beat anti-war activists, also.

EDIT: From today's (Feb. 18) Austin American Statesman:

Keel wrote the bill in response to a policy established in August by former UT Police Chief Jeffrey Van Slyke that prohibited Austin police officers from attending UT events without prior approval from university police. The policy, which also required off-duty city police officers to surrender their weapons while on campus, was abandoned in November.

P.S. The House Higher Education Committee is having a public hearing the bill on Monday, February 21 in E2.036.

Just what Texas needs - a Sin City

Sylvestor Turner has filed HB 897 and House Joint Resolution 38 (since a constitutional amendment is required for this type of gambling) to bring in an estimated $1.2 billion in new revenue through expanded gambling by placing video slot machines in dog tracks and Indian reservations across the state. In addition, the Texas Lottery Commission would issue a video lottery retailer license in Houston, Galveston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, El Paso, the lower Rio Grande Valley, East Texas, the Panhandle-South Plains area and Central Texas.

Turner wanted to transform the next-to-useless Astrodome into the world's largest casino last session, and this bill may be able to begin transforming the eighth wonder of the world into a wonderful new home for sucking pocket change from old ladies.

"Two years ago I would have voted 'no' on this," Turner told the Houston Chronicle. "We can't be asking for additional revenue for children, pay raises for judges, significant property tax cuts, without trying to come up with legitimate ways to pay for those needs."

Two words: Income Tax.

Or in more words than that: close tax loopholes for business partnerships. (that's six words)

Generic prescription drugs could save Texans money

This is a pretty good Houston Chronicle article about proposed bills by Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Rep. Scott Hochberg (D-Houston) to allow Texans to buy generic, cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. This bill would establish a program similar to those in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, along with a website to list drug prices and the pharmacies that have been inspected and licensed in Canada.

Wanda Moebius, a spokeswoman with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, rebuffs the bill: "Just because someone says that a drug is Canadian, it doesn't mean it's Canadian. Just because someone says it's safe, that doesn't mean it is true." Gimme a break.

UT System not lagging funds?

According to recent testimony by the Legislative Budget Board, the biennial revenue estimate reports that the University of Texas System office kept $117 million in unexpended funds that they could have used at their discretion last year. More on this this to come....

More on Top Ten

More bills have been filed for amending the Top Ten Percent law:

HB 1046 by Dan Branch (R-Dallas) would cap Top Ten at 50%.

HB 1113 by Tony Goolsby (R-Dallas) would do the exact same thing as HB 656, "Top Five" - another Goolsby bill, except that this bill would move the enactment year from the 2009-10 academic year to the 2005-06 year.

This is a good website on Top Ten

Monday, February 14, 2005

Tuition news

Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) has filed a bill to re-place caps on tuition. HB 1019 repeals certain provisions of the tuition deregulation bill, HB 3015, that the Lege. passed two years ago. Coleman's bill does not allow institutions of higher education to charge tuition rates that exceed rates established in Section 54.051 or 54.0512 of the Education Code (which is currently $50 per credit hour for resident undergraduate students). However, the bill still allows for institutions of higher education to set differing tuition and fee rates "for each program and course level the governing board considers appropriate to increase graduation rates, encourage efficient use of facilities, enhance employee performance, or further another legitimate purpose of the institution."

In Senate news, Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso) has filed SB 80, which amends the amount of financial aid set aside, as stipulated by HB 3015. Included as a provision for tuition deregulation, each public institution of higher education must set aside 20 percent of all tuition revenue collected for financial aid. SB 80 would raise that bar to 40 percent.

In 1999, Shapleigh - among other Democrats - created the TEXAS Grant program to help lower income students attend college. TEXAS Grants paid either all or a substantial portion of tuition and fee payments for thousands of Texas students. However, due to rapid increases in tuition from tuition deregulation, the TEXAS Grant program has been gutted, and SB 80 is Shapleigh's response to this.

Kip Averitt (R-Waco) has filed SB 470, which is a similar bill to Shapleigh's, but it gives more flexibility to the process: it sets aside 20 percent of all tuition revenue collected for financial aid, if the institution charges between $46 to $66 per semester credit hour; 30 percent if the institution charges betweeen $66 to $86 per semester credit hour; and 40 percent if the institution charges more than $86 per semester credit hour.

How the state balanced the budget in 2003:

by cutting state services and subsequently stunting economic growth.

From a recent Houston Chronicle article

Health care cuts brought side effects: '03 slashes hurt Texas' economy, but facility closure isn't the answer, studies find

State health care budget cuts in 2003 cost the state economy as much as $16 billion in lost productivity, stunted employment growth by about 70,000 jobs and shifted at least $1.5 billion in costs to local taxpayers


Major cuts were made in state services in 2003 as lawmakers tried to balance a budget with a $10 billion deficit without raising taxes. This year state revenues are about adequate to maintain current services, but pressure is growing to restore almost $1 billion in health care cuts made two years ago while also recognizing the potential for growth in the client population.

The budget cut about 250,000 low-income children from the Children's Health Insurance Program and 365,000 more from health care coverage through Medicaid for the poor.


The hospital association study, which focused on state health care funding that impacts hospitals, found the cuts cost the state economy about $8.4 billion in the past two years and dramatically stunted job growth.


[The mental health study] said the cost to Texas runs to about $16 billion a year when the impact of inadequate care for 4 million mentally ill Texans and the effect on their families of lost time and work and wages is studied

1) Perryman's report for the Texas Hospital Association

2) Mental Health Association in Texas report [PDF]

Texas Tomorrow Fund freezes due to tuition deregulation

For the second year in a row, the Texas Tomorrow Fund, a state fund that helps low- and middle-income families finance their children's education, has been frozen for the second straight year due to uncertainty over tuition costs. Tuition deregulation, an omnibus measure passed two years ago, has lead to the downfall of the Texas Tomorrow Fund and the TEXAS Grant program.

Texas Tomorrow Fund freeze continues

Web Posted: 02/13/2005 12:00 AM CST
Associated Press

AUSTIN — The state's prepaid college tuition plan won't accept new enrollment for the second year in a row because of continuing uncertainty over tuition costs at public colleges and universities, according to Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn.

"I regret tremendously that that the board had to suspend the program for another year," she said, referring to the Texas Prepaid Higher Education Board, which oversees the $1.5 billion Texas Tomorrow Fund. Strayhorn chairs the board.

"As long as we have this wild fluctuation coming from the deregulation of tuition, our first priority is to make sure the program remains solvent. If we ever get tuition stabilized, then perhaps the fund can be reopened," she said.

The Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry deregulated rates for the first time in 2003. University governing boards were given control of tuition rates, a power previously held by the Legislature, to meet rising expenses.

Tuition costs rose an average of 23 percent from fall 2003 through last fall.