Tuesday, March 01, 2005

HB2 comes out with Committee Substitute, Dems to unveil counter-proposal

As expected, the committee substitute on HB 2 came out last night. It's more verbose than the introduced version, but nothing substantial has changed.

Granted this committee substitute is still massive and I can't cover all the areas here, but these are same areas that you might not hear about in the news:

  • Retains Robin Hood for districts that raise more than the cost of their Tier one allotment. The district also has the option to consolidate with a poorer district.

  • Provides that students must pass end-of-course exams to move to the next grade or to graduate.

  • Provides that if local districts pay teachers above the state minimum, then that pay should be based on the teacher's ability to improve student performance.

  • Establishes new sanctions for public schools that are in the lowest ten percent in performance.

  • For the bottom five percent the commissioner shall assign a team to assist the campus to improve. The second year the commissioner shall establish an alternative management system for that campus. The commissioner may do these things for campuses rated in the bottom 6-10%.

  • Deletes the escalator clause that automatically increased the state minimum salary schedule for school employees (teachers, other auxiliary workers like bus drivers and janitors).

  • Deletes the requirement that all school employees get $1000 to help fund health insurance. Only teachers get the $1000 in this bill. It takes money away from the educational support staff that need it the most.

  • Allows districts or campuses that are rated exemplary to be exempt from almost all the state standards that helped them achieve that status, including class size limits, contracts, minimum salaries, teacher certification requirements, etc.

So the Dem's are holding their press conference tomorrow. You'll hear all their counter-proposals then, including:

  • Tripling the exemption for the homestead tax from $15,000 to $45,000, providing a broader tax relief than the statewide property tax currently touted by the GOP.

  • Buying down the property tax from $1.50 to $1.25. They will attack the fact that the GOP plan for lowering the property tax to $1.00 since it mainly benefits homes that cost more than $250,000.

  • All in all, this Democratic plan will cost roughly $6.64 billion. Since the GOP set the spending bar at $11.789 billion, then that provides over $5 billion in new money to schools, which is greater than the $1.5 billion actually provided by the Republican plan (or even the $3 billion that the GOP plan wants). Most of the Dem's proposed spending would go to across-the-board teacher raises and once again providing health insurance to all other school employees.

That's the economic side of the Democratic counter-proposal, and I'm pretty sure almost every other proposal will be opposed, such as the proposed end-of-year exams, setting the start date after Labor Day, and tying student performance to how teachers and schools are handled by the state.

Texas at the top of its own game

According to an article today El Paso Times, Texas ranks first in the nation for child population growth, uninsured children, the amount of toxins emitted by manufacturers, clean water permit violations, executions, and job discrimination lawsuits (also from today). It ranks dead last in high school graduation rates, the percentage of the population with health insurance, and the average consumer credit score.

The article quotes Sen. Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso) blaming the heavily regressive tax system currently in place. One thing I didn't know until recently was that Texans approved a consitutional amendment pushed by then-Lt. Bob Bullock in 1993 to approve a personal income tax. Article 8, Section 24 of the Texas Constitution allows for the state to implement an income tax that is determined by the voters, who would have to vote for each increase. However, legislation containing a personal income tax would have to be passed the Legislature.

I found that fact out from reading a recent 2005 policy brief by Dick Lavine of the Center for Public Policy Priorities [PDF] arguing for a small income tax. Why? Because according to that article, Texas is 49th in tax revenue collected, despite its enormous population.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Opposition to stem cell research gettin' a lil outta control

Well that's according to a recent Rio Grande Valley Politics post. New legislation would guard against human cloning - OK, I've heard the arguments for that. But HB 864 would also make it a felony to conduct any form of stem cell research - including studying a patient's own DNA in a petri dish - and to ban the transportation of stem cells to or from Texas. This is especially freaky since:

If a cure for diabetes was found in California as of the result of stem cell research, any Valleyite going to California specifically to be cured of diabetes would be GUILTY of a felony upon returning home to Texas. Even if the same Valleyite transported their own DNA to culture stem cells in a Petri dish would be GUILTY of a felony and subject to civil penalties not less than $500,000 for seeking treatment for their incurable disease.