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Monday, May 30, 2005

School Finance Plan Rests in Pieces

This about sums up school finance this session. The recapture approach to school funding lives (known by opponents as "Robin Hood"). If there's no special session, the courts will handle school finance for our state. Today is the last day of the session and lots of folks are clearing out.

Kathy Miller, President of the Texas Freedom Network summed up the session well: “Texans clearly set key priorities for this Legislature, especially dealing with crises in school funding and children’s health care. But lawmakers wasted time on distractions like sexy cheerleaders, scapegoating gay Texans and pushing vouchers. Now three times in three years they have failed to improve the way we pay for our public schools. Next year we’ll find out if
politics has a three-strikes rule.”

See today's post of Carolyn Boyle, of the Coalition for Public Schools, as well.

I'll be out for a week in Guanajuato, attending a conference on ethnography at the U of Guanajuato so this blog will likely be quiet until I return.


-Angela


Excerpt from the Austin A-Statesman—

"The battle over taxes also illustrated the different pressures that the leaders of the House and Senate face.

House Republicans do not need Democratic votes to pass most bills, but Democrats have enough votes in the Senate to block legislation from coming up. Democrats were particularly critical of efforts to raise the sales tax, saying they hurt low- and middle-income families, and Dewhurst's bargaining position reflected that.

Senate negotiators also put more emphasis on seeing that every school district in the state has nearly the same amount of money per student.

The only voters that Craddick has to answer to are the ones in his West Texas district. Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson said that allows him to pursue a more narrow agenda than that of Dewhurst, who is elected in a statewide vote.

"The West Texas constituency is smaller cities and rural areas, sort of the traditional Texas," Jillson said. "Whereas Dewhurst has to keep his eyes on the cities and the big suburbs around the cities. That is simply an area that is more aware of urban problems, and it has an upper-middle-class constituency that is damn sure their kids are going to get a good education."

jembry@statesman.com; 445-3654

http://www.statesman.com/news/content/shared/tx/legislature/stories/05/30schoolfinance.html

UT student leader turns lobbying into legislative success

This is so cool. Omar Ochoa lobbied legislators so that they now have a place at the state's boards of regents. Fingers crossed that Perry won't veto this legislation.
-Angela


By Laura Heinauer
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Monday, May 30, 2005

He has been in office less than two months, but Omar Ochoa already has been able to accomplish more than most University of Texas Student Government presidents.

In the past week, he has lobbied lawmakers to advance legislation that would add students to the state's boards of regents. Student government presidents have been championing the idea for the past 30 years.

On Sunday, the measure passed both houses of the Legislature and was awaiting the governor's signature.

"I'm elated to have this historic victory for students," said Ochoa, who spent Memorial Day weekend lobbying legislators.

Politics is nothing new for Ochoa, whose father was mayor of Edinburg, a town of about 50,000 near the South Texas border with Mexico.

"I was wearing 'Vote for Joe' T-shirts when I was still in diapers," he said, referring to shirts he wore for his father, Joe Ochoa.

That kid in diapers now spends his days rubbing elbows with powerful state politicians and top University of Texas brass.

He was in a meeting discussing zoning and safety issues in UT's West Campus on Wednesday with Austin Mayor Will Wynn when he got the call informing him that the student regent measure, which had looked as though it could fail, had been attached to other pieces of legislation and had been passed in the Texas House.

"We were all so excited, we forgot where we were for a minute," Ochoa said.

One thing Ochoa hasn't forgotten is where he comes from. The day after his meeting with Wynn, he was on his way to Edinburg to speak at his high school's honor society banquet.

He said he'd never forget when about 30 people from his hometown, clad in Vote for Omar buttons and armed with stacks of fliers, came to Austin during his election to help with his campaign. Or when he won, and his hometown county judge and state legislators showed up to watch him be sworn in.

"I come from a very supportive culture, and my family, my community was really terrific," he said.

Ochoa is one of only a few Hispanics to serve as UT Student Government president, and he is well aware that the number of Hispanics going to college isn't keeping up with the population increase.

Having grown up in the Rio Grande Valley, which has one of the lowest college enrollment rates in the state, Ochoa said he knew of several students who could have gone to UT but didn't because they couldn't afford it.

So he has been working to ensure grant money for low-income and first-generation college students. He also plans to make several trips to the Valley during his yearlong term to encourage students that they, too, can go to college.

"I want to be a role model to people from the Valley, to show you can come here to one of the best universities in the country and be successful," he said.

As for his success in the Legislature, Ochoa attributes it to his willingness to compromise, his efforts to build a coalition with other student government representatives throughout the state and a dogged determination to keep all lawmakers with legislation affecting the student agenda in the loop.

He has worked closely with outgoing UT Student Government President Brent Chaney and student government leaders from other colleges to support the installation of nonvoting student regents appointed by the governor.

Ochoa, who faced criticism from students who wanted the student regents to have a vote, said the majority of states that have a student on their boards of regents, including California, started with a nonvoting student regent.

Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, said Ochoa is an energetic young man with a future in politics.

He should know. He also was UT Student Government president. Unfortunately for Alonzo, he was elected the same year that students voted to abolish student government in the late 1970s.

"It's like big, huge, in my opinion — bigger than being a state representative," Alonzo said. "It's the one thing, of all my accomplishments, that I am still the most proud of."

Ochoa says he's just trying to do the best he can.

"It's an overwhelming job, long hours, crappy pay, people criticizing you," he said. "But what motivates me is I've seen how it has worked in the past, and I think we have a good plan for making it work better."

lheinauer@statesman.com; 445-3694

http://www.statesman.com/news/content/shared/tx/legislature/stories/05/30OCHOA.html

Friday, May 27, 2005

School Law Spurs Efforts to End the Minority Gap

This article by Sam Dillon of the NYTimes examines the usefulness of disaggregating data by race in looking at the achievement gap. While that kind of information is useful, it says nothing of the collateral effects that occur (e.g., schools becoming test factories) when the test no longer measures the reform but becomes the reform itself. The irony is that the latter is more likely to occur in schools with lots of poor and minority children in them because of the ways that the tests are used (beyond mere aggregation/disaggregation of data). These kinds of analyses of NCLB are always too superficial to be valid. For it to be so, a deeper analysis of the system needs to be investigated as well.

Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond who spoke here in Austin recently reminds us how the numbers (aggregation/disaggregation of data) in themselves don’t provide the info on how to minimize the achievement gap. Hence, mere activity and action are not necessarily synonymous with acting in an informed manner. Plus, politics is always a factor.

We know from decades of research that well-funded & well designed bilingual ed programs are effective at reducing and eliminating the gap, but minorities’ lack of political power & frequently poor leadership in our schools and districts keeps bilingual education from being well funded and thusly, well designed. Also, as noted below, other gaps (e.g., housing, poverty, employment) need to also be addressed as well as schools simply cannot do it all.

Congratulations, by the way, to Dr. Enrique Aleman, my former student, for getting cited in the NYTimes. -Angela

Vouchers and Star Wars in the Texas State Legislature...

Everybody need to check out the following cool commentaries on politics and vouchers this session beginning with Amy Smith's analysis in the AUSTIN CHRONICLE, continuing with John Young's commentary, and MOST ESPECIALLY checking out State Representative Aaron's allegory likened to Star Wars on his blog titled, SB422: The Revenge of the Sith Bill.

Another important sidebar is Archbishop Gomez's support of school vouchers as covered in the S.A. Express News.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Court Showdown Over Fla. Vouchers Nears

Published: May 25, 2005
Court Showdown Over Fla. Vouchers Nears
By Alan Richard
Miami

In a case being watched nationally and by educators and families here, the Florida Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments June 7 on whether the state’s original school voucher program violates the state constitution.

The court is to decide whether Opportunity Scholarships, available to students enrolled in Florida’s persistently lowest-rated public schools, run afoul of a prohibition on using public money in religious institutions. A decision could come before public schools open in August for a new year.

See Also
Read the story, “Students Use Vouchers to Leave School With ‘F’ Grade.”


But it isn’t just the 720 students statewide who now opt to use Opportunity Scholarships to attend religious or secular private schools whose plans could be determined by how the court rules. Lawyers on both sides agree that if the court strikes down those vouchers, other state K-12 scholarships now being used by some 25,000 Florida students could be in jeopardy.

And the tremors would likely be felt in the school choice movement nationwide. Though the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 upheld the inclusion of religious schools in the Cleveland voucher program under the U.S. Constitution, other states have constitutional restrictions similar to Florida’s.

Along with scrapping the Opportunity Scholarships, a decision against vouchers could lead to the demise of Florida’s McKay Scholarships, which provide state-financed tuition aid to about 14,300 special education students.

Lawyers for the state contend, though, that higher education scholarships and other types of state aid for religious colleges and hospitals could also be at stake.

A court ruling against the scholarships would allow voucher opponents “to pick up a club and attack any program” that offers public aid to religious institutions, said Clark M. Neily, a lawyer for the Washington-based Institute for Justice who will defend the state at next month’s hearing in Tallahassee.

Others cast doubt on how far such a ruling might reach. Ronald G. Meyer, a Tallahassee-based lawyer who is leading the case against the state, disputed the “parade of horribles” that Mr. Neily claims would happen if the state supreme court outlaws the Opportunity Scholarships.

The state can easily distinguish between such vouchers and other forms of state aid to religious colleges and hospitals, Mr. Meyer said. “What the constitution seeks to address is the use of public monies to support the inculcation of religious values,” he said.

Florida is one of 38states with so-called “Blaine amendments” or with similar language in their constitutions prohibiting state aid for religious purposes. The name comes from the prominent late-19th-century Republican politician James G. Blaine.

Such language was the basis for the lower courts’ rulings in Florida. Mr. Neily argues that the Blaine amendment has a “bigoted history” aimed at keeping money from non-Protestant institutions long ago. If the Florida Supreme Court upholds the lower-court rulings, the state will consider an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Mr. Neily said.
Futures in Doubt

Since the Opportunity Scholarships began in 1999, students have been able to use them to transfer out of public schools that receive F ratings on state report cards two times within four years. Currently, 21 public schools across the state are in that category.

One of the most common destinations for Miami students using Opportunity Scholarships is Archbishop Curley-Notre Dame High School in the city’s Little Haiti section, near downtown.

About 72 students used the scholarships to attend the Roman Catholic school in the 2004-05 school year. The modest but bucolic campus run by the Christian Brothers order has become a welcome new home for students on the scholarships.

The school was Florida’s first to integrate black and white students in 1960, said Brother Patrick Sean Moffett, the first-year principal of Archbishop Curley-Notre Dame.

Students say it’s a calm, well-run school that’s small enough for teachers to know all their students. “What we have is parents and youngsters who want something better,” Brother Moffett said.

Because the $4,355 Opportunity Scholarships do not cover the school’s $7,000 annual tuition, the 475-student school serving grades 9-12 must raise additional money to help the voucher students attend. “Financially, it’s costing us a small fortune,” Brother Moffett said of enrolling the voucher students.

The courts should not bar the scholarships, he argued, because parents—not the private schools—decide how to use the money. He added that his school does not force its Catholic beliefs on students. The student body president is Jewish, he said, and other student officers are Muslim and Baptist.

“It’s not supporting religion,” Brother Moffett said of the voucher program. “It’s being used to support parents.”

The school allowed interviews with students who receive Opportunity Scholarships only if Education Week would not use their names. The school keeps their identities confidential to guarantee that other students and teachers will not treat them differently, Brother Moffett said.

Many of the students receiving the scholarships at Archbishop Curley-Notre Dame are from Haitian or other immigrant families. Six students spoke of how the vouchers had helped them escape public middle or high schools that they described as being overcrowded and having serious problems with teacher quality and student discipline.

“If the voucher program can change one person’s life, I think it’s done enough,” said a young man from the Bahamas, an 11th grader. “But it’s not just one person [who benefits],” he said.

“I think they should keep the Opportunity Scholarships. I have two little brothers, and I want them to have the same opportunities to come here,” said another young man, an 11th grader born in Haiti.

“I know my mom wouldn’t be able to afford” the tuition bill if not for the vouchers, said a young woman in the 12th grade.
New Lawsuit Targets?

If the state supreme court ruling goes their way, opponents of Florida’s school choice programs say they will expand their legal battle to target the other state programs that allow students to leave public schools and attend religious schools.

“Obviously, if they decide in our favor, … we’re going to probably take a look at trying to expand it to the other voucher programs,” said Mark Pudlow, the spokesman for the Florida Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. The FEA is a major supporter of the case against the vouchers.

But if the scholarships stand, the Florida ruling could help pave the way for programs in other states where Blaine amendments stand in the way of voucher programs, said Mr. Neily, a lawyer defending Florida’s vouchers.

“Florida really has become ground zero for the future of the Blaine amendments,” Mr. Neily said.

Already, school choice advocates in Florida and elsewhere have begun to pursue other programs that do not involve the use of state vouchers at religious institutions, as a way to get around Blaine amendments and other state constitutional provisions that could lead to cases like Florida’s.

For example, Florida’s corporate-tax-credit scholarships for low-income families now help about 10,400 students tap state-sponsored tuition aid using money that flows through nonprofit organizations collecting donations for the scholarships from businesses in exchange for tax breaks. But Mr. Pudlow said even those scholarships could be targeted.

Florida Commissioner of Education John L. Winn, who helped create the Opportunity Scholarships as a policy adviser to Gov. Bush, said he believes the vouchers are the most effective incentive the state can provide for its lowest-performing schools to improve.

“I have absolutely no doubt that public schools hate the scholarship more than they hate the F [rating],” he said.

If the supreme court rules against vouchers, Mr. Winn would not support legislation to offer vouchers only to secular private schools. “If they strike it down, then the whole program will be struck down,” he said.
McKay Users Watching

Although the thousands of special education students and their families using Florida’s McKay Scholarships are not directly covered by the Opportunity Scholarships case, they worry about losing their vouchers nonetheless.

Those concerned include parents like Deborah Kidwell and her 13-year-old son, Daniel, a quiet boy and gifted sketch artist who has been diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder. Like all McKay recipients, the family chose to leave a regular public school and apply for state aid that Daniel can use in a public or private school—secular or religious—of his family’s choice.

The amount of each scholarship varies based on a student’s disability.

“He was getting nowhere” in public school, Ms. Kidwell said during a visit to Spring Gate School, a private school that serves Daniel and 19 other students in grades 1-10 in Plantation, Fla., a western suburb of Fort Lauderdale. “Other kids [at his old school] would not accept the way he was,” she said.

Ms. Kidwell removed Daniel from the Broward County public schools last summer after constant frustrations and failing grades. Now, he’s making straight A’s.

The new school has brought Daniel out of his shell, Ms. Kidwell said. She added that other students at Spring Gate accept Daniel warmly, and he benefits from the extra-small classes that his $9,000 full-tuition voucher pays for. He also receives after-school tutoring.

Tom Ehren, who manages the McKay Scholarships for the 272,000-student Broward County schools, said that the program may work for some families, but it presents problems for others. About 1,900 Broward County students use McKay Scholarships to attend private schools, he said.

Parents cannot easily determine the quality of the private schools in the program, he said.

Others say that many families that have children with disabilities would be in trouble without the McKay program. “I think there would be plenty of parents up in arms if they did away with the McKay Scholarships,” said Debra Kern, the director and founder of Spring Gate School.
Vol. 24, Issue 38, Pages 1,22-23

Lack of Diversity Persists Among Ph.D. Recipients, Study Says

May 25, 2005
Lack of Diversity Persists Among Ph.D. Recipients, Study Says
By KAREN W. ARENSON / NYTimes

As universities try to add more black and Hispanic professors to their faculties in the coming years, they will find they are limited by the lack of diversity among graduate students, according to a new study by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

The study, which is being released this week, said that only 7 percent of Ph.D. recipients in 2003 were black or Hispanic, while nearly a third of all Americans in the age group typically awarded the degrees were.

"The Ph.D.'s who lead the way in the world of thought and discovery are far more monochromatic than the population," Robert Weisbuch, the foundation's president, wrote in the precede to the report, "Diversity and the Ph.D."

He said that though roughly one in four Americans are black or Hispanic, members of those minority groups were earning just one Ph.D. of every nine granted.

Though there has been some increase in the percentage of minority Ph.D. students, he said, "the fact remains that doctoral programs have made significantly less progress in diversifying than have business and government."

The study comes as Harvard and many other leading universities have been criticized for the lack of diversity in their faculties, and have pledged to try to do better. Many have succeeded in drawing more black and Hispanic students, but without offering them many role models in the classroom.

The Woodrow Wilson study suggests that increasing diversity on faculties will become all the more difficult because financial support for minority students in Ph.D. programs is shrinking.

One reason is that some programs meant to foster graduate student diversity have pulled back. In the face of legal challenges, programs once aimed at minorities have opened their doors to other students.

Another problem, the report said, is that many of the black and Hispanic students who do earn Ph.D.'s tend to specialize in certain areas, like education. So while blacks made up 6.6 percent of the Americans awarded Ph.D.'s in 2003, they made up 14 percent of all students who received Ph.D.'s in education. At the same time, fewer than 4 percent of the Ph.D.'s in engineering, in the physical and life sciences and in humanities that year went to blacks.

Hispanic students, however, were spread somewhat more evenly across the disciplines, earning 4.9 percent of all Ph.D.'s awarded to Americans in 2003, and 4.7 percent of those degrees in the arts and sciences.

The study did find that the number of black and Hispanic students earning doctorates had grown in the last 20 years. The study reported that 1,708 blacks earned Ph.D.'s in 2003, up from 925 two decades earlier, an 85 percent increase. In 1983, fewer than 4 percent of all Ph.D.'s earned by Americans went to blacks, compared with the 6.6 percent in 2003.

Similarly, the number of Hispanics earning Ph.D.'s grew to 1,270 in 2003 from only 542 two decades earlier. And their share of the Ph.D.'s granted grew to 4.9 percent in 2003, from 2.3 percent in 1983.

The study also noted that there were very few American Indians in doctoral programs; they earned 133 of 26,000 Ph.D.'s given to Americans in 2003. In contrast, Asian-Americans received 5.2 percent of the Ph.D.'s awarded that year, though they represented 4.1 percent of the population.

Data in the report were drawn from a larger study, Doctorate Recipients From United States Universities: Summary Report 2003, which was based on the Survey of Earned Doctorates published by the University of Chicago in 2004.

http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=KAREN%20W.%20ARENSON&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=KAREN%20W.%20ARENSON&inline=nyt-per

Progress Slow on School Finance

With days left in session, sticking points are sales, business taxes

11:38 AM CDT on Wednesday, May 25, 2005

By TERRENCE STUTZ and CHRISTY HOPPE / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – House and Senate leaders declared Tuesday that they were making progress toward a school finance overhaul and tax-swap plan, but with just days left, they still face major roadblocks over business taxes and a sales tax increase.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick met for nearly 1 1⁄2 hours Tuesday. Mr. Dewhurst said the pace of negotiations "absolutely" will have to pick up for an agreement to be reached before the legislative session ends Monday. And he signaled that the Senate is waiting for the House to fully engage.

"All I can do is make sure the Senate is prepared to reach an agreement," he said. "We know where we are."
Also Online

En español: Avanza acuerdo sobre educación


Still, he added, the differences between the two are not great. Mr. Craddick declined to comment on their discussions.

After two weeks of canceled meetings and little public movement on the biggest issue before lawmakers, negotiators outlined several areas in which they had made progress, such as a deal on how much to cut property taxes. But on major school reforms, a half-dozen key issues remain to be resolved.

Among those are student testing in high schools and teacher compensation – including competing plans that would institute a massive incentive pay program for the state's 300,000 classroom teachers.

"We are close enough where we can come to an agreement," said Senate Education Committee chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano. "We've come a long way in the last few days, and I hope we can do something by tomorrow."

Her House counterpart, Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, agreed that the two sides "are a lot closer than we were last week. Hopefully we can put the final touches on this in the next few days."

Ms. Shapiro cautioned that the school finance and tax plans are linked, and agreement must be reached on everything for any deal to apply. Top staffers to Gov. Rick Perry were also involved in the discussions.

Sticking points

The five senators and five House members working on property tax relief and new taxes to compensate for it said their talks are down to two big sticking points – how much more consumers should pay in sales taxes and how much businesses should pay in a revamped business franchise tax.

They are close to an agreement on the size of the property tax cuts: probably a 23 percent reduction in the maximum school property tax rate this fall, from $1.50 per $100 assessed valuation to $1.15. It would fall to $1.10 in2006.

On a home taxed at a value of $100,000 – after homestead exemptions and other items are deducted – the savings would be about $350 this fall.

Jim Keffer, the lead House negotiator on the tax bill, said the House is dropping its proposed 3 percent snack tax, which he said caused a lot of potential collection problems that "we didn't want to deal with."

Other expansions of the sales tax – such as to bottled water and car repairs – are still on the table, although one Senate negotiator said: "That junk's gone."

Mr. Keffer, Sen. Kim Brimer and other lawmakers on the tax bill committee said that an agreement hinges on whether lawmakers can compromise on the proposed sales tax increase and restructuring the state's business franchise tax.

House members want a higher sales tax – an increase of a penny to 7.25 percent – and a lower business tax. Senators are pushing for a lower sales tax – a half-cent increase – and a business tax that would raise about three times as much revenue as the House plan.

"If we can get the sales tax and business tax handled, we can make everything else fit it," said Mr. Keffer, R-Eastland. "It's a balancing act."

Mr. Brimer, R-Fort Worth, said that Senate leaders have already agreed to reduce their proposed tax increase on alcoholic beverages from 25 percent to 13 percent and are willing to accept a slightly higher sales tax increase if the House will agree to a business tax that raises more revenue.

"We can make an adjustment, but we're not willing to go to a full penny on the sales tax," Mr. Brimer said. "If we do that, we would have the highest state sales tax in the country."

House leaders have countered that when local sales taxes are figured in – an extra 2 cents in Dallas and many other areas – Texas would still have a lower overall rate than all surrounding states except New Mexico.

Business franchise tax

Just as big an obstacle to an agreement is the structure of the revamped business franchise tax that would be a centerpiece of the tax-swap plan. Each chamber has passed its own version of the new tax – and the differences are substantial.

The House plan would raise about $650 million a year in additional revenue to offset the property tax cuts, while the current Senate plan would generate nearly $2 billion – a figure that is $500 million less than the proposal endorsed by the Senate this month.

"We're giving businesses $2.6 billion in property tax cuts, and they're only going to charge them an extra $650 million in franchise taxes," Mr. Brimer said, calling on House leaders to provide better "balance" between consumers and businesses in their tax-swap plan.

Mr. Keffer pointed out that businesses also pay substantial sales taxes, which must be considered when trying to offset $4 billion in property tax reductions.

Despite the differences, Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said there is still time to strike a compromise.

"We're not that far apart where a decision can't be made," said Mr. Fraser, a member of the tax bill committee. "We just have to find the right balance between what businesses pay and what consumers pay."

Mr. Dewhurst said senators are motivated to reach a deal. But in the House, he said, "they've been distracted on a number of different legislative issues, and my whole purpose of going over to see the speaker this afternoon was to share with him that I felt was the urgency for both he and I to reach an agreement and for our conferees to meet and reach an agreement."

He said he believes Mr. Craddick also understands the urgency: "The speaker understands that time is passing."

E-mail tstutz@dallasnews.com and choppe@dallasnews.com
WHERE THEY STAND

House members and senators negotiating a school finance and tax overhaul have reached agreements on a few major provisions ...

SCHOOL FUNDING: Both sides want to put about $3 billion more into the system during the next two years.

PROPERTY TAXES: They are close to a deal to cut the maximum school property tax rate from $1.50 per $100 assessed valuation to $1.15 this fall. It would fall again next year, to $1.10.

SNACK SURCHARGE: The House had wanted a 3 percent tax on snack foods but has agreed to drop it.

CIGARETTE TAXES: Both sides are pushing for a significant increase, but a final amount hasn't been settled.

... but are still far apart on others:

BUSINESS TAXES: The Senate wants a broader tax that hits more businesses and takes in about $2 billion in revenue. The House's version would collect about $650 million.

SALES TAXES: The House is sticking to a penny increase. The Senate is willing to move up a bit from its half-cent increase, but not all the way to a full cent.

ALCOHOL TAXES: The Senate has cut what it sought roughly in half, from a 25 percent across-the-board hike to 13 percent. The House is still wary of any increase.

TESTING: The House wants to give end-of-course tests to high school students. The Senate wants to leave the current Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills in place.

TEACHER PAY: The details of how to increase salaries and create an incentive-pay system are still being discussed.

SPECIAL AND BILINGUAL EDUCATION: The Senate wants to continue allocating funds under a formula weighted for how much assistance a student needs. The House wants to provide a set amount per student.

SCHOOL BOARD ELECTIONS: The House wants them held only in the fall; the Senate wants to let districts decide.

Terrence Stutz
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http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/052505dntexschoolfinance.de74e963.html

Perry: Voucher Fight Won't End with Session

HOUSTON CHRONICLE
May 25, 2005, 11:05AM

Perry: Voucher Fight Won't End with Session

Governor admits the issue is dead for now, but says it's misunderstood
Associated Press

AUSTIN - Lamenting the defeat of private school vouchers this legislative session, Gov. Rick Perry predicted Tuesday that voucher proponents will renew their fight in two years.

While a voucher plan is "probably done for the session," which ends Monday, proponents will keep up the fight in Texas, Perry said.

"I suspect as long as there are children who are in need of getting some relief in failing schools that it will always be out there and be promoted by a number of Texans," he said.

Amid volatile House debate, legislation that would have allowed limited state-funded private school vouchers collapsed late Monday. The plan would have used taxpayer money for private school tuition for some economically disadvantaged students in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

Lawmakers are trying to find more money for public schools and work out a new school funding system before the Legislature adjourns. Texas is under court order to change its school funding method or risk a school shutdown by October.

The next regular legislative session doesn't convene until January 2007.

Perry said he thinks the voucher issue is misunderstood.

"I don't understand why people are afraid of letting these children and their parents have a choice," he said.

Perry noted he has pushed for a pilot school voucher program since he was lieutenant governor in 1999.

One of Perry's major campaign contributors, San Antonio businessman James Leininger, is a supporter of private school vouchers. Last year, Leininger was among those who went on a trip with the Republican governor and some of his aides to the Bahamas over Presidents Day weekend.

The House voucher proposal died on a technicality after several close votes on measures that changed the original intent of the plan that was included in Senate Bill 422.


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HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com | Section: Local & State
This article is: http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/metropolitan/3197104

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Voucher Victory Last Night at the Legislature

TO: Coalition for Public Schools Organizations
FROM: Carolyn Boyle

We are excited and claiming "victory" after a five hour debate on private school vouchers in the Texas House of Representatives. Tomorrow I'll send a complete report after I've had a good night's sleep and get the vote reports to tell you exactly how the members voted on 5 different voucher votes.

You may have thought I was exaggerating when I was predicting practically a tie vote, but tonight we had repeated votes with numbers like 72-72, 72-70, and 74-70. The whole scene was described as a "circus," "theatre," and "better than anything on TV." If you did not watch it live, you should go back and watch the debate on the Texas House archives. Just go to this site and click on Chamber 79th Session. http://www.house.state.tx.us/media/welcome.php

Passionate efforts led by Rep. Carter Casteel and Rep. Scott Hochberg to strip the voucher subchapter from the bill ultimately failed, and all our folks in the gallery were feeling so down. Then Rep. Charlie Geren proposed an amendment to strip out from the voucher program Dallas and Fort Worth ISDs and to substitute Arlington and Irving ISDs (the districts represented by bill authors Rep. Kent Grusendorf and Rep. Linda Harper-Brown). That amendment passed!

Then Rep. Geren proposed an amendment to remove all the words about private schools from the section and to substitute the words "public schools," turning it into a public school choice program. Then that amendment passed! The bill was effectively gutted of vouchers because the "scholarships" could only be used for other public schools.

All during this time a point of order offered by Rep. Jim Dunnam was under consideration by the chair, and after the bill was stripped of vouchers the Speaker sustained the point of order and killed the entire TEA Sunset bill.

So...it was a victory but not exactly the victory I envisioned. We were very disappointed with the votes of some legislators and very happy about the votes of others (voting records to be shared tomorrow and talked about for months to come). It was also a disappointment that some legislators who oppose vouchers appeared to have been persuaded to "walk" the vote.

I'm heading home with a renewed sense of hope about the legislative process, continued respect for the wisdom and creativity of public school supporters in the legislature, and respect and love for all the wonderful individuals who are advocates for children through the Coalition for Public Schools!

Thanks for all you have done to achieve this important victory tonight! But now...we need to be watchful for what is happening Tuesday and Wednesday in the Texas Senate and House.

***********************************************************
Coalition for Public Schools, 1005 Congress Avenue, Suite 550, Austin, Texas 78701-2491, (512) 474-9765, Cell: (512) 470-1215; Fax: (512) 474-2507, Carolyn Boyle, Coordinator
email: cboyleaust@aol.com www.coalition4publicschools.org

House Kills On-Again, Off-Again Vouchers Bill

This was the best late-night t.v. that was on last night. The passions ran high. See my other post on this from Carolyn Boyle who provides her own description of what happened last night. -Angela

May 24, 2005, 12:46PM
THE LEGISLATURE

Dramatic night at the statehouse ends the quest for this session
By JANET ELLIOTT and JEFFREY GILBERT
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

AUSTIN - A plan to make Texas one of the first states with a large-scale voucher program died Monday night after a raucous debate and a series of close votes in the House.

After the bill was gutted to make vouchers available only for public and not private schools, Speaker Tom Craddick sustained a parliamentary challenge that killed the issue for this session.

"I woke up this morning thinking this may be the day we made history in Texas," said Rep. Kent Grusendorf, sponsor of the proposal. "I'm disappointed."

It was the first time in eight years that the House debated the volatile issue of giving students public funding to attend private and parochial schools. In 1997, the effort failed on a tie vote and Monday's debate delivered similar drama.

Members on both sides of the issue shouted and clapped during the hours-long debate.

"I'm very happy because the people won in this state rather than big money," said Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston.

The voucher proposal was attached to a Senate bill reauthorizing the Texas Education Agency. The author of the bill, Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, had promised Senate Democrats that he would not agree to a TEA sunset bill containing a voucher proposal.

The education agency will now be attached to a safety-net bill that will continue its functions until the next legislative session in 2007.


HISD, North Forest affected
The language debated by the House would have allowed as many as 30,000 students in the Houston, North Forest and five other urban, high-poverty districts to qualify for vouchers .



"We have to do something to throw a lifeline to help those kids trapped in large urban inner city schools," said Grusendorf, R-Arlington.

He said where vouchers have been tried in other states, the public schools that lost students "actually responded to the competitive pressure" and have improved. "They tried to keep other children from leaving," Grusendorf said.

Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, was one of several members who tried to strip the pilot program from the bill.

"This is a proposal that would drain millions of dollars from public school budgets at a time we can't seem to come up with money for textbooks we've already promised to the kids," said Hochberg.

Hochberg's amendment was tabled 72-71, with Craddick casting the deciding vote after an initial vote yielded a tie. Houston Democrats Kevin Bailey and Harold Dutton were not present for the vote.

After the vote, Dutton was officially excused. Bailey's office said he had to return to Houston for personal reasons.

A second vote on another amendment to strip the provision failed on a 72-72 tie with Craddick voting to table the amendment.

After that, however, Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, succeeded with two amendments that proved lethal. One stripped out the Dallas and Fort Worth districts, and the other removed private and parochial schools.

The chamber was buzzing Monday with word that Craddick and longtime Republican backer James Leininger were pressuring undecided lawmakers in a back office.

Leininger, a San Antonio businessman, has used part of his fortune to set up a voucher program there.

One lawmaker said at least 12 Republicans had been called into a meeting. Craddick's office would neither confirm nor deny the widespread reports about Leininger's presence.

"There's only one reason this issue is before us at a time when most members would prefer to vote against it, and that is because a major contributor has been sitting in the back hall working members for a week," said Hochberg.


Who would have qualified
Under the bill, students would have qualified by being at risk of dropping out or victims of school violence. The program also would have been open to students in special education or limited English proficiency programs, and those from households whose income does not exceed 200 percent of the qualifying income for free and reduced price lunches.



The vouchers would have been for 90 percent of the statewide average public funding per student.

The Austin-based Coalition for Public Schools, which opposes vouchers, said the Houston Independent School District could have lost $200 million and North Forest $9 million in the next two years. However, a Legislative Budget Board report estimated the school districts affected by the program would have lost a total of about $69 million per year.

 
janet.elliott@chron.com jeffrey.gilbert@chron.com

http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/topstory/3195096

High School Exit Exams on the Rise

TOP STORY --EdWeek.org

Monday, May 23, 2005
High School Exit Exams on the Rise
By Kavan Peterson, Stateline.org Staff Writer
      Exit Exams

* Twenty states require high school graduation exams: Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
* Four states are phasing in exit exams by 2006: Arizona, California, Idaho and Utah.
* Washington will withhold diplomas in 2008.



Earning passing grades doesn't guarantee a high school diploma anymore for half of U.S. public school students.

A growing number of states now require high school students to pass an exit exam to graduate, though some states are backpedaling amid backlash over students denied diplomas.

High school students in 20 states this spring must pass a standardized test to get a diploma. The class of 2006 will see the next major expansion of exit exams. Four states -- Arizona, California, Idaho and Utah – for the first time next year will withhold diplomas from seniors who fail the final exam. Washington state will phase in the test by 2008.

Phasing in high-stakes exit exams has been a bumpy road in some places. High failure rates caused lawmakers in Arizona and California to postpone the date for withholding diplomas from 2004 to 2006. In Arizona , 64 percent of the class of 2004 failed the state math exit exam and 41 percent failed the English exam. In California , a study projected that about 20 percent of seniors would have been denied diplomas in 2004 if the test were enforced.

Education officials in both states adopted new standards for the states' exit exams last year that have lead to higher pass rates, raising questions of whether they lowered the bar to pass more students. Lawmakers in both states also are considering legislation to postpone the tests again or to toss the requirement altogether.

"A very intense grassroots battle is being waged in California and Arizona to force lawmakers to fix real problems in schools instead of taking diplomas away from students who are doing their best under poor learning conditions," said Monty Neill, executive director of Fair Test, an organization that has been researching testing in public schools since 1987.

By 2008, seven in 10 students nationwide will be taking exit exams, according to the Center on Education Policy (CEP), which publishes annual reports on high school exit exams. Most students first take the test in the 11th grade and are allowed up to five re-tests if they fail.

Exit exams differ from those mandated by the No Child Left Behind law, which requires annual testing in grades three to eight and at least once in high school. Those tests are not tied to high school graduation.

Lawmakers hope the exit tests will improve student performance and boost the value of a high school diploma. Reforming America's high schools has become a national priority in recent months, with President Bush urging Congress to hold high schools accountable for student achievement by extending federally mandated testing to grades 9-11. The nation's governors also have targeted high school for reform, and 18 states recently formed a coalition pledging to aggressively raise the academic bar in their high schools.

"Exit exams can be a critical lever or incentive for encouraging kids to reach higher standards," said Matt Gandal, vice president of Achieve, Inc., a nonpartisan group sponsored by state governors and business leaders that is coordinating state efforts to reform high schools.

Education researchers, however, said they fear high-stakes tests intimidate students and lead to higher dropout rates, especially among low-income or disabled students and black and Latino high schoolers, who fail at higher rates than white and Asian students.

About 90 percent of high school seniors ultimately pass the test, but a high percentage fail on their first attempt and an unknown number drop out before ever taking the test, according to CEP. Depending on the state, up to 70 percent of students fail the math test and up to 40 percent fail the English test first time around. Pass rates decrease dramatically when broken down by types of students, with black, Hispanic, low-income, non-English speaking and disabled students scoring 30 to 40 percent below Asian and white students.

Measuring the impact of exit exams on dropout rates is difficult, researchers say, because states do not accurately track students who change schools, get held back or drop out.

For example, the Massachusetts Department of Education reported that 96 percent of the class of 2004 passed the state exit exam. But the department did not count high school dropouts in its calculation, said Anne Wheelock, a research associate at the Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation and Education Policy at Boston College .

Instead of counting how many seniors graduated, Wheelock calculated that just 74 percent of Massachusetts students who started as freshmen in 2001 received diplomas in 2004.

"The state's pass rates are really half-truths at best," Wheelock said.

Utah's plans to introduce exit exams next year are on track, but nearly one-third of the 35,000 students in the class of 2006 still have not passed one or more sections of the state's exit exam, which tests reading, writing and math. The state board of education recently asked for $10 million to pay for tutoring, summer school and other programs to help failing students, but the Legislature rejected the request.

Only 11 states with exit exams allocate funds for tutoring and additional instruction for students who fail, according to CEP.

The list includes Virginia , where lawmakers voted last year to boost services to low-income students at risk of failing the state exit exam. Extra funding helped expand a pilot program created by Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D) that combined summer school, tutoring and online tutorials for about 2,900 high school students. Nearly three-quarters of those students eventually passed their exams and received a diploma in 2004, said Virginia Department of Education spokesperson Charles Pyle.

"The approach to graduation under Governor Warner was to hold fast to the higher standards that had been set while at the same time expanding opportunities for students who were struggling to meet the higher standards," Pyle said.

All states with exit exams allow multiple re-test opportunities and alternate tests for students with disabilities, according to CEP. Thirteen states (Alaska, California, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia) provide alternate diplomas or certificates of achievement for students who do not pass the exit exam. Seven states (Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Maryland, New York, North Carolina and Virginia) allow students to substitute passing scores on other tests, such as the SAT. Nine states (Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio and Utah) have a waiver or appeals process so that students who fail can request a diploma if they meet other criteria.

Send your comments on this story to letters@stateline.org. Selected reader feedback will be posted in the Letters to the editor section.

Contact Kavan Peterson at kpeterson@stateline.org.

http://www.stateline.org/live/ViewPage.action?siteNodeId=136&languageId=1&contentId=33244

School voucher bill fails in raucous debate

Posted on Tue, May. 24, 2005

By R.A. Dyer
Star-Telegram Austin Bureau

AUSTIN - A measure that would have allowed parents to obtain taxpayer-supported vouchers to send their children to private schools was shot down late Monday night by a bitterly divided Texas House of Representatives.

The voucher measure, part of a bill to reauthorize the Texas Education Agency, survived several challenges by House opponents who said it would harm public schools.

Each challenge failed by just two or three votes, and on one vote, House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, cast a tie-breaker.

But state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, tacked on an amendment that effectively gutted the voucher provisions. Craddick then upheld a technical objection to the bill, killing it outright.

State Rep. Kent Grusendorf, the Arlington Republican who sponsored the voucher bill, said it would have given parents more choices in their children's education. But he appeared to concede defeat after Craddick upheld the technical objection.

"We debated a very important issue tonight. I want to thank you," he told members.

The debate was among the most contentious so far in the House this session, with members shouting over one another, clapping, chanting and whistling.

At one point, state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, ran across the House floor and grabbed the microphone from Grusendorf.

Vouchers also divided the Republicans and split the Tarrant County delegation.

During an exchange over Geren's amendment to gut Grusendorf's bill, Grusendorf bellowed, "Are you going to let me answer? Are you going to let me answer?"

During another exchange, Geren said to state Rep. Jim Jackson, R- Carrollton, "Are you going to ask me a question, or are you going to pontificate?"

Chances are slim that the voucher provision might return before the legislative session ends Monday. Key Senate lawmakers also oppose the measure.

State Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, raised the technical objection that spelled doom for vouchers. He noted that an official description of the bill did not comply with changes made in a House committee.

Geren's successful amendment, which gutted the bill, stated that the "school choice" provisions would apply only to parents who want to move students from one public school to another but would bar the use of taxpayer-supported vouchers to send children to private schools.

That provision was adopted 74-70.

Area lawmakers who supported Geren were Reps. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth; Toby Goodman, R-Arlington; Bob Griggs, R-North Richland Hills; and Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth.

Lawmakers who supported Grusendorf in opposing Geren's amendment were Reps. Phil King, R-Weatherford; Anna Mowery, R-Fort Worth; Todd Smith, R-Euless; Vicki Truitt, R-Keller; and Bill Zedler, R-Arlington.

Geren also successfully attached an amendment to the legislation that took his home school district, Fort Worth, out of the bill and replaced it with Grusendorf's home district in Arlington. That amendment also removed the Dallas district from the bill, and replaced it with the district of another key voucher supporter, Rep. Linda Harper-Brown of Irving.

As originally written, the measure would have allowed up to 5 percent of students in the state's largest districts, including Fort Worth, to get vouchers. It applied mostly to children at risk of failing and to low-income students, although opponents said that incoming students at any income level could get vouchers.

The legislation also would have allowed up to 5 percent of students in the Edgewood, North Forest and South San Antonio school districts to get vouchers.

That could amount to more than 550,000 children, according to an analysis provided by opponents of the legislation. But supporters said there are only 19,000 places in private schools.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
© 2005 Star-Telegram and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
http://www.dfw.com
http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/news/legislature/11724106.htm

Monday, May 23, 2005

The merry, make that maniacal, month of . . .

JOHN YOUNG, Opinion page editor

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Let's say that Emily Harrington's evening was a microcosm of the month for many of us.

Take the mad seconds in which she changed backstage from a derby-hatted Charlie Chaplin (singing "Smile" and playing it on the violin) to the blue evening gown in which she barely missed a bar on a "Phantom of the Opera" medley (without a trace of mustache.)

The all-state singer surely lost count of all the costume changes, but missed no cue as the Waco High School choirs staged their year-end Big Show.

Instructor Florence Scattergood went through the motions of a thousand butterfly wings in getting 220 choir members on stage and off. That, too, was analogous of May.

As if August through April aren't chaotic enough, this month rolls around. On top of all else on teachers', students' and parents' plates – like TAKS scores and finals and term papers – one has year-end events, banquets, concerts and more. Toss in such things as UIL playoffs and Little League. Oh, and did I mention commencement?

This all brings to mind a piece of legislation that Texas doesn't need. Pending an actual agreement on school finance, lawmakers are set to make school start uniformly after Labor Day and end a week after Memorial Day.

Though promoted for cost-savings, the proposal goes against the philosophy that school districts should be able to start school according to their needs. I'm no fan of starting in mid-August, but many districts do with the very valid intent of finishing fall semester and finals before Christmas break.

Pending approval, we have another example of lawmakers – who uniformly tout "local control" – telling schools what to do.

So add one more thing that makes May maniacal. The Legislature is still in session. If you're involved in education, that means every morning you open the morning paper with a wince.

What new hoops will lawmakers erect for teachers to earn their paychecks in the name of "accountability"?

Will foes of "government schools" try a stealthy way to enact school vouchers? (Answer last week: Yes, attached to a sunset bill for the Texas Education Agency.)

How close to "adequate" have lawmakers steered the ship of state in funding schools while telling teachers to row at ramming speed? Lawmakers think they've been master navigators on school finance. A judge may shoot a cannonball through that.

Meanwhile, the chaos of a concluding school year continues – outdated books returned to the shelf so they can be one more year removed from current; teachers assessing their next set of impossible missions.

All of which reminds me of one more reason Texas shouldn't require schools to continue classes into June. Some of us already have more May than we can stand.

John Young's column appears Thursday and Sunday. E-mail: jyoung@wacotrib.com

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Opening UT's Doors

Opening UT's Doors
EDITORIAL BOARD
Sunday, May 22, 2005

The appointment of a vice provost to promote diversity at the University of Texas at Austin signals a more aggressive — and welcome — approach to integrating faculty, the student body and academic programs.

Gregory Vincent's appointment as the provost for inclusion and cross-cultural effectiveness was announced last week and should be recognized as a serious step toward making UT reflect today's Texas population. Years of efforts to diversify UT's campus have produced mixed results: The number of Hispanic students has increased, but their numbers still don't represent the percentage of the state's growing Latino population. African American enrollment remains embarrassingly low more than 50 years after the end of legal segregation. The number of Asian students has increased dramatically, far exceeding their proportion in the population; UT faculty is more diverse, but relatively few of its tenured staff are Hispanic or African American.

The new vice provost isn't a magician who can instantly undo a century of policies and culture that produced an environment many minorities find unwelcoming — if not hostile. But the administration's commitment to the effort is reflected in Vincent's title and is underlined by the salary it carries: $170,000 a year.

Preparation for Texas' future begins now. Minorities are rapidly becoming the state's majority population. Therefore, a commitment to diversity isn't a politically correct administrative decoration but a serious economic tool. Economic experts have repeatedly warned that household incomes for all Texans will drop if we fail to graduate from college tens of thousands more Hispanics and African Americans in the next decade. As the state's largest, and arguably best, university, UT has a significant role in charting that future.

In establishing the post, UT is following a road other universities are traveling. Last week, Harvard University unveiled an ambitious $50 million initiative to recruit and promote women and underrepresented minorities on its faculty. A few years ago, Texas A&M University in College Station created a similar post to help boost diversity.

A logical place for Vincent to start is with student and faculty recruitment. About 1,700 of UT's more than 50,000 students are African American; and Hispanic students of all races total just 6,727. Those figures show there is plenty to do.

http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/05/22diversity_edit.html

Children's Defense Fund's Critique of Pre-school Testing

This resonates with the dictum that there is no standard child. -Angela
WASHINGTON, May 17 /U.S. Newswire/ --

Today the Government Accountability Office confirmed what the Children's Defense Fund and other early childhood experts have maintained for the past two years, that the National Reporting System is not a reliable or valid method to assess the progress of young children. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released these findings in a new report titled, "Head Start, Further Development Could Allow Results to Be Used for Decision Making."

In 2003, with only 18 months of development, the Bush administration implemented The National Reporting System (NRS), an initiative to systematically test the early literacy, language, numeracy skills of all four and five year old children enrolled in Head Start. The test was controversial from its onset, with more than 400,000 young children mired in the politics of this detrimental test.

Questions about age appropriateness and cultural fairness of test items were raised by many advocates and scholars. Also, many argued the test was too narrow, and omitted entire areas of childhood development.

More than 900,000 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children from low- income families are served by Head Start each year. Twice a year, this standardized test was administered to more than 400,000 4- and 5-year olds at a cost of more than $22 million.

Experts on child assessment agree that the specific testing approach for young children will inevitably lead to "teaching to the test," narrowing of curriculum, and encouraging teachers to neglect critical components of children's growth and learning. This type of assessment is both limited and short-sighted in terms of helping children in Head Start develop content knowledge, motivation to learn and the ability to develop complex thinking skills-things research indicates are imperative for success in school. Advocates and members of Congress have expressed similar concerns.

"A host of factors make it unrealistic to measure 4- and 5- year olds' progress with an unproven standardized test," said Yasmine Daniel, Director of Early Childhood Development for the Children's Defense Fund. "Early childhood assessment is effective when used as a tool to improve curricula and classroom teaching. Tests, however, are an entirely different matter. They are not a good predictor of children's learning. Children's skills are constantly changing. What they do not know today, they may very well know tomorrow. Early childhood development is a process not a conclusion."

The Children's Defense Fund and other early child care advocates are calling for a freeze on the testing of Head Start children until the National Reporting System can be determined valid and reliable. As Congress debates the reauthorization of Head Start, we ask that it do the right thing for children.

"Early childhood is a time for exploring, engaging and instilling the love of learning, not drilling children with specific test questions. The last thing we need is 'teaching to the test' for preschoolers,"
Daniel said.

---

The Children's Defense Fund's Leave No Child Behind mission is to
ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe
Start, and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood
with the help of caring families and communities.

Mexican and Indian Always…

Interesting commentary on Villaraigoza's mayoral victory in Los Angeles last week. This benefits Latinos and humanity, generally, everywhere. -Angela

BY ROBERTO RODRIGUEZ & PATRISIA GONZALES
RELEASE DATE: MAY 23, 2005

By Roberto Rodriguez

As has been universally acknowledged, Antonio Villaraigoza's victory as mayor of L.A. this past week is of historic proportions. Coupled with two other major developments, his election takes on an even greater national and historic significance.

Last weekend, some 40 anti-Mexican bigots were chased out of nearby Baldwin Park as they went from protesting immigration to protesting the Mexican-Indian heritage of the region and continent. What drew their ire are several inscriptions on a monument. One reads: "This land was Mexican once, was Indian always and is, and will be again." Another one reads: "It was better before they came.” Artist Judy Baca says that the latter quote refers to a statement by a white civic leader who was lamenting the influx of Mexican immigrants into the area - not an anti-white statement as the detractors were claiming.

The protest reveals that the anti-immigrant movement is indeed anti-Mexican and anti-Central American, and that these communities are not docile and dormant. In response to the protest, some 500 counter-protestors sent the small group of extremists scurrying home, reminding the world that accepting insults belongs to another era. These hate-mongers had been emboldened by the armed Minuteman militia project (encouraged by Gov. Schwarzenegger and egged on by Lou Dobbs at CNN) that patrolled the Arizona border last month.

Another equally important development is this week's inauguration of the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at UCLA. It's been a long 36-year wait, and the symbolism is stark.

Villaraigoza attended UCLA during the early years of Chicano Studies (early 70s) when students of color were scarce and not welcome and Chicano Studies was viewed as an illegitimate discipline. This was also the early years of MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan), a student activist organization that was also viewed in a similar light. (Some high schools and universities across the nation continue to view MEChA in a negative light).

Despite the efforts of the extreme right wing to demonize MEChA (along with Chicana/Chicano and Ethnic Studies) Villaraigoza's victory is not so much a vindication of the era's politics of decolonization as it is an affirmation of the larger and current global struggle for equality, human rights and human dignity.

Villaraigoza's victory comes at a time when the anti-immigrant movement has been invigorated by the passage of the REAL ID Act - an apartheid-type law that restricts undocumented immigrants from entering federal buildings, boarding planes and getting a driver's license. (Aren't we all comforted by the knowledge that the next terrorist that ploughs a truck bomb into a federal building, airport, hotel or shopping center will be fully licensed?)

The reality is that it is a fear-driven anti-Mexican measure, not unlike many other Department of Homeland Security initiatives. (While DHS anti-terrorism operations at airports and other facilities have snagged some 1,100 undocumented workers the past two years, they have netted zero terrorists.

This is why Villaraigoza's victory is historic; because it affirms the politics he has been a part of since the 1960s. Normally, this would be irrelevant, but it is so because those are the politics that the extreme right has been vilifying for years. It is these same extremists that have been haranguing Villaraigoza and other elected officials over their involvement in the human rights struggles of that earlier era.

This is also why the inauguration of the Chicana and Chicano Studies department is of equal importance and linked to his victory and also linked to the situation in Baldwin Park. Ethnic Studies is about memory - and precisely why it is in the crosshairs nationwide of those same forces. Without that memory, the extremists get to invent their own history and challenge not just the humanity and indigeneity of the people, but of the land itself.

The anti-immigrants are deluded by their own biases, convincing themselves that they are not anti-Mexican nor anti-immigrant - just anti-illegal alien. Here's a news flash by way of every major religion and great world philosophy: Ningun ser humano es illegal - no human being is illegal.

Humanity's challenge is not to create more illegal categories or larger hunted populations, but to chart a course for the day when there will no longer be any more legal or illegal citizenship or human categories.

That may take 100 years, but that course can be charted now. Villaraigoza has to run the city of the future, but if he so chooses, he can also join in that other leadership role. Either way, he deserves a historic congratulations.

© Column of the Americas 2005

The writers can be reached at: XColumn@aol.com or (608) 238-3161. Please encourage your local newspaper to carry and run our weekly column. For information on the Aztlanahuac Map exhibit and the San Ce Tojuan documentary, go to:
http://144.92.121.201/whsexhibit

Friday, May 20, 2005

"Charter Schools' Performance and Accountability: A Disconnect"

Arizona State University's Education Policy Research Unit recently released
a report written by my colleague, Gerald Bracey, that effectively demonstrates how charter schools are a failed education reform. (Roll over title for PDF file). -Angela

Area Seniors Stuck in No-Passing Zone

Having not mastered TAKS, hundreds won't see graduation day

12:32 PM CDT on Friday, May 20, 2005

By TAWNELL D. HOBBS / The Dallas Morning News

Kendra Rainey won't be wearing that graduation gown hanging in her closet. And the announcements mailed to friends and family are now a painful reminder.

Last week, Kendra was ushered into a counselor's office at Bryan Adams High School in Dallas to get the bad news: She failed to pass the TAKS in her final attempt and will not graduate with her class Sunday.

"It makes me feel like all I've done is a waste of time," said Kendra, 18, who didn't pass the math and science portions of the test. "I can't be there with my class."

But she is not without peers. Hundreds of area seniors – including up to 697 students in DISD, or about 10 percent of the senior class – will not receive their diplomas after failing to pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

This is the first school year that seniors who did not pass all portions of the TAKS cannot graduate. They began taking the exit-level test in the 11th grade and had up to five chances to pass.

Those students are left to consider some options: They can continue to retake the TAKS until they pass or pursue a GED. Others may choose to do nothing – never receiving a diploma after finishing all of their coursework.

The news has hit students – and parents – hard.

Patricia Rainey said her daughter has cried more times than she can count. She now has to postpone attending Texas Southern University in Houston, where she was accepted.

"She's been crying every day, I feel so sorry for her. She has me crying," she said. "This is holding her back."

Dallas Independent School District spokesman Donald Claxton, who said the final number of affected students will be reported in about a week, agreed that it's not an easy situation.

"They are students who have gone through the school district for 12 years and aren't ready to graduate," Mr. Claxton said. "When that doesn't happen, we share their concern and pain."

He said DISD would work with students wanting to retake the test.

"All hope is not lost. We are going to continue to coach them," Mr. Claxton said.


Number varied



The number of affected seniors varied among area school districts. Fifty-eight students in Garland won't march, and 151 will sit out in Arlington. Seventeen students fell short in Plano, while every senior in the Highland Park and Carroll school districts passed the exit exam.

Of districts reporting results, Dallas had the largest percentage of seniors failing the TAKS.

The Texas Education Agency will soon release statewide numbers, but 11 percent, or 24,937, of Texas seniors still needed to pass a portion of the test in April – before the last retake.

At that time, 95 percent of students had passed math and English language arts, 94 percent had passed science, and 99 percent had passed social studies.

Students said the test – particularly math and science – was challenging.

Ashlee Williams, a student at Skyline High School, was visibly upset when she spoke about the math test.

"It was my fourth time taking it," she said. "What's the point?"

Detorrian Rhone, 18, said the pressure was too much for him. He said he was nervous the whole time taking the math and science exams.

"They were like, 'If you don't pass, you don't graduate,' " said the Bryan Adams student.

The graduation rule involving standardized tests is not new to Texas. Previously, seniors needed to pass the TAAS. But the TAKS, which debuted in 2003, is much more rigorous than its predecessor.

The new exam covers more subjects, including the addition of science. Students also began taking the exit-level TAAS in the 10th grade, which gave them more opportunities to pass. Only about two percent of last year's seniors did not pass TAAS.

TEA spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe said state lawmakers wanted to make sure that a high school diploma meant something.

"We know that it is heartbreaking for students to get to mid-May and discover they aren't going to graduate," she said. "But ever since the class of 1987, students have had to pass a state test in order to graduate."

The next opportunity to retake the test is in July. School districts have the option of allowing students to participate in commencement. Or they can give them "certificates of coursework completion," which indicates all necessary credits to graduate were completed.

Dallas and Mesquite allow neither. But the Denton and Richardson school districts allow both.

DeEtta Culbertson, a TEA spokeswoman, said excluding seniors who failed a state exam is not an unusual practice.

"They believe that the kids who are participating are the ones that earned it," she said.


Difficult to handle



But for students and parents, the exclusion is difficult to handle.

"That's like taking their spirit," said Terry Tucker, whose daughter did not pass the science portion. "They've worked for four years for that moment."

Ms. Tucker said her daughter, Tamara Roberts, cried for two days and even vomited when she got the news that she couldn't graduate. She said her daughter now has to postpone attending El Centro College.

Tamara, 17, who tried to pass the science test five times, said it only seemed to get harder.

"I want to walk across that stage," said the Bryan Adams student. "I want them to call my name, too."

Michael Burney, also a Bryan Adams senior, tried to pass the science exam four times. He plans to take it again in July.

"Sometimes it makes me feel like all I've done – it's a waste of time," said Michael, who will delay plans to attend Lincoln Tech in Grand Prairie.

Meanwhile, families have been left to cancel graduation parties and absorb a financial hit. Kendra Rainey spent $250 on a graduation package that included her gown and announcements. She also bought senior pictures for $209 and a senior lunch for $13.

Several parents and students showed up at a Dallas school board meeting Wednesday night with a few homemade signs. One read: "12 years for what? To be kicked to the curb at the end!"

Patricia Rainey, Kendra's mother, said she predicts the dropout rate will increase as students give up on ever passing the test.

"They're always hollering about kids dropping out of school, but look what they're doing," she said.

E-mail tdhobbs@dallasnews.com
TAKS IMPLICATIONS
This is the first school year that seniors must pass the TAKS to graduate. Here is a look at some area districts:
School district Number of seniors Number who failed TAKS % not graduating
Arlington 3,351 151 4.5% *
Cedar Hill 447 14 3%
Dallas 7,000 697 10% *
Denton 765 17 2.2%
DeSoto 460 8 1.7%
Duncanville 644 18 2.8%
Frisco 639 20 3.2%
Grapevine-Colleyville 950 4 0.4%
Garland 3,190 58 1.8%
Lancaster 301 19 6.3%
McKinney 762 9 1.2%
Mesquite 2005 37 1.8%
Plano 3,220 17 0.5%*
* Approximate number of seniors
SOURCE: Dallas Morning News research
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Online at: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/052005dnmettaksgrads.c48da1b3.html

ARIZONA: State Deems Failing Grades Good Enough to Pass AIMS

Pat Kossan
The Arizona Republic
May. 13, 2005 12:00 AM

Try scoring a 59 percent on a reading test, and most high school teachers would flunk you.

But that is now a passing grade on the reading section of the high school AIMS test for the Arizona's Class of 2006. You can now get 60 percent correct on the math section and still pass.

This year's junior class is the first that must pass the reading, writing and math high school AIMS test to get a diploma. They got a considerable break Thursday after state officials reviewed their spring test results and then officially lowered the score needed to pass the exit exam, whose full name is Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards.

With the help of the new, lowered passing scores, and after taking a third crack at the high school AIMS test, an estimated 61 percent of the Class of 2006 passed. That's up from the 43 percent passing rate for the fall 2004 tests.
On Thursday, after two days of deliberations and on the advice of a teacher committee and testing experts, the Arizona State Board of Education reduced the passing score for math to 60 percent correct from 71 percent. It also reduced the passing score for reading to 59 percent correct from 72 percent.
But that isn't the only reason for the jump in the percent of students passing the test.

• The number of students enrolled in the Class of 2006 also fell. It dropped to 63,500 during 2005 spring testing from 67,853 on the first day of the exam in spring 2004.

• State officials made the test easier, better matching the questions to what students are learning in the classroom.

• Districts scrambled to add teacher training, special courses dedicated to getting students to pass the test, and free tutoring.
Now, the Legislature wants to help, too. It was close Thursday night to passing a bill that would raise the AIMS scores of kids who pass core high school classes with A's, B's or C's.
Despite the flurry of efforts to get more kids to pass the exam and get a diploma, lowering scores and adding points for course work will help only the small number of students already close to passing the test, experts said. Students still lagging far behind will have to study their way to a passing grade and do much better on their final two AIMS attempts before graduation day.
Most Arizona State Board of Education members said lowering the scores would look as if they were lowering the bar and backing off high standards for high school graduates, but still they voted 9-1 to do it.
Member Michael Crow, Arizona State University president, did not attend the deliberations or vote.
Only Arizona state schools chief Tom Horne voted against lowering the passing scores and said that students already are improving without the change.
Horne said that about 55 percent of the Class of 2006 would have passed the AIMS without lowering the scores and they have two more times to take it.
"The students already are doing a lot better by virtue of our tutoring programs and the schools' efforts and student motivation," Horne said. "I believe that will be clouded by people focusing on the percent they need to get correct."
But Horne got little backing from fellow members of the State Board of Education. Some questioned the validity of using the ever-changing high school AIMS test as the only door to graduation, while others said the state hasn't fulfilled its duty to reach the poorest students in the poorest and most poorly equipped schools.
State Board President Matthew Diethelm has been a strong supporter of using AIMS as an exit exam, but in the end couldn't imagine keeping nearly half the Class of 2006 from getting a diploma.
Diethelm said he was frustrated that state education officials hadn't done enough to help students at the very bottom of the heap.
"This is the fair and correct thing to do no matter what the perception of those who haven't been involved in the process," Diethelm said.
Jesse Ary, the only African-American and minority on the 11-member board, said more than just lowering the passing score needs to be done for students unable to pass the test.
Ary said the test needs to be carefully examined for cultural bias and that state must spend more time and money on its poorest students.
"The best ways to elevate the best of our students is to find ways to elevate the least of our students," Ary said.

Reach the reporter at pat.kossan@arizonarepublic.com.
http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/0513scores13.html

Roundup: Revisions to top 10% law on hold; Senate: Vote where it's convenient

79th LEGISLATURE
Roundup: Revisions to top 10% law on hold; Senate: Vote where it's convenient
Thursday, May 19, 2005

HIGHER EDUCATION

Revisions to top 10% law on hold

It's anybody's guess whether lawmakers will revise a law guaranteeing students in the top 10 percent of their Texas high school graduating classes admission to any public college or university in the state.

The latest twist: On Wednesday, Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, put a 48-hour hold on a House-passed bill that would allow campuses to limit top 10 percent students to half the freshman class. That means the Senate Education Committee cannot consider House Bill 2330 until 10 a.m. Friday. The panel had planned to take up the measure today.

Barrientos was the Senate sponsor of the top 10 percent law when it was enacted in 1997.


ELECTIONS

Senate: Vote where it's convenient


Voters would be able to cast ballots at select polling sites anywhere in their county, instead of just in their neighborhood, under legislation approved unanimously Wednesday by the Senate.

Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, the Senate sponsor of House Bill 758, said the measure allows for county election officials to try out the change in some elections. Under current law, early voting is allowed outside precincts; but on election days, voters can cast their ballots only in their precinct.

The idea: More voters will turn out if they can vote at the the most convenient place.


HONORS

Ronald Reagan highway in works


The latest, and probably last, attempt to name a highway for former President Reagan was approved Wednesday by the Texas Senate without so much as a whimper of opposition.

Earlier this spring, proposals to name highways in Houston and streets in Austin, Williamson County and elsewhere prompted lively and emotional debate thanks to insistent opposition from Democrats. They offered unsuccessful amendments to name them instead for Democrats such as former President Johnson and former Govs. Ann Richards, Preston Smith and Dolph Briscoe, among others.

Wednesday, the Senate unanimously approved House Bill 55, which would name a portion of Interstate 20 that runs between the Tarrant-Parker county line and Grand Prairie as the Ronald Reagan Memorial Highway.

Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, voted for the bill while holding his nose.

INVESTIGATIONS

More money for integrity sleuths


House and Senate conferees on the state budget have agreed to increase funding for Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle's Public Integrity Unit, the sleuths who investigate politicians.

The additional funding has to be used to investigate and prosecute insurance fraud, not to investigate public officials. Insurance and tax fraud are two other areas that the unit has authority over.

Under the House version of the budget, the unit's funding would have been increased to $3.3 million a year for the next two years, allowing for an additional forensic analyst position. The Senate version would have jumped it up even even more to add two full-time forensic analysts and a part-time law clerk.

Some House members have been less than enamored with the unit for its investigation of House Speaker Tom Craddick, aides to powerful GOP U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and a Republican-business political action committee.

Earlier in the legislative session, rumors swirled that funding for the unit might be slashed in reprisal.


CONFRONTATION

Tow truck drivers want answers


Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, was confronted Wednesday morning by angry tow truck drivers outside his Capitol office.

Whitmire said the group of Houston wrecker owners demanded to know why he is continuing to support legislation on Houston's Safe Clear program, which allows disabled cars to be towed quickly from expressways as a safety measure.

"They wouldn't take 'no' for an answer," Whitmire said. "They wouldn't let it go. It was just me and them. . . . I was getting a little concerned, frankly, because of their attitude."

An aide summoned state troopers, who promptly ushered Whitmire into his office and dispersed the drivers.

Whitmire said the drivers were upset because they have not been included as contract operators in the Safe Clear program.


WINE

Industry gets help from the House


It's hard to promote the state's wine industry if people can't find the wineries.

The Texas House on Wednesday tentatively approved legislation to change that, authorizing the wineries to advertise where customers can buy their wines and giving the state Transportation Department the authority to erect signs to direct traffic to wineries.

However, the House repealed a section allowing wineries to sell beer in wet areas if food is served.

It also decided that for a wine to be labeled a Texas wine, at least 75 percent of the grapes have to be grown in Texas. Some members wanted to drop that to 50 percent.


Quote of the day


"Mr. Speaker, did a fire alarm go off?"

Rep. Harold Dutton

The Houston Democrat made the comment after dozens of lobbyists left the House gallery en masse when a point of order derailed a proposal to allow statewide franchises for television providers.

http://www.statesman.com/news/content/shared/tx/legislature/stories/05/19LegeBriefs.html

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Vouchers Get Second Chance

Proposal added to TEA bill; home-school plan also resurrected

07:59 AM CDT on Thursday, May 19, 2005

By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Contested legislation that would allow low-income and at-risk students in Dallas and other urban school districts to transfer to private schools at state expense was added by a House committee Wednesday to an unrelated bill reauthorizing the Texas Education Agency.

The private school voucher proposal was approved as part of the TEA measure by the House Public Education Committee, which passed a nearly identical voucher bill this month that died before it was considered by the full House.

The proposal would enable thousands of students in Dallas, Fort Worth and at least five other urban districts to attend private schools as long as those schools meet certain standards, such as annual testing of students.

Committee members also resurrected another measure that was presumed dead – legislation that would allow about 2,000 home-school students to take some classes and participate in extracurricular activities at regular public schools.

That proposal by Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, was substituted for an unrelated Senate bill that governed payment of tuition to school districts by nonresident students. As now written, the Senate bill would allow home-school students to enroll in a public school for one or more classes – such as chemistry or a foreign language – and would increase funding for districts based on how many of the students they educate.

Both bills face a Tuesday deadline for passage by the House.

Approval of the voucher plan drew sharp criticism from voucher opponents, while groups supporting vouchers applauded the panel for letting the legislation go forward.

"School choice opens the door to a brighter future for many children," said Texas Public Policy Foundation President Brooke Rollins. "Chairman [Kent] Grusendorf and his colleagues on the House Education Committee should be praised for bucking the special interests that have for too long held back the needs of Texans." The foundation is a conservative think tank based in Austin.

The Texas Freedom Network, which battles with conservative groups over education issues, said the voucher plan is a "reckless" scheme that could jeopardize the existence of the state agency that oversees public schools in Texas.

"The committee chose today to hold all Texas schoolchildren and the TEA hostage to the wishes of wealthy political donors who want taxpayers to subsidize tuition at private and religious schools," said Kathy Miller of the freedom network, referring to campaign contributions from key GOP donors who support vouchers.

Those concerns may prove to be unfounded as the Senate author of the TEA bill promised Senate Democrats that he would kill the measure if the House used it as a vehicle to launch a voucher program. The promise was made shortly before the Senate approved the "sunset" legislation, which reauthorizes the agency.

Opponents – including virtually every public education group in the state – said the voucher plan would deal a huge blow to public schools, depriving them of millions of dollars at a time when many districts are cutting programs and employees to make ends meet.

Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, author of the voucher language, has pointed out that students she is targeting are those in greatest need of help because they are poor, at risk of dropping out, in special education or are victims of school violence.

Further she said, her legislation limits the number of students who would be eligible for vouchers to 5 percent of each district's enrollment. That figure represents about 30,000 students statewide.

A Legislative Budget Board fiscal note on the bill indicated that if 15,000 students take advantage of the voucher option, the seven school districts would lose nearly $70 million a year in funding.

The home-school legislation could prove significant in future years, considering that at least 160,000 children in Texas are taught at home.

Mr. McCall said he was asked to sponsor the legislation by the Plano school district, where a significant number of home-school children reside.

E-mail tstutz@dallasnews.com


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Online at: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/051905dntexvouchers.bf43ed5c.html

School Voucher Proposal Revived

79TH LEGISLATURE

At-risk students would benefit from plan, though it faces long odds on approval.
By Jason Embry
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Thursday, May 19, 2005

Efforts to send at-risk students in Austin and other urban areas to private schools with public money were revived at the Capitol on Wednesday, but the proposal still faces long odds as the legislative session winds down.

Conservative lawmakers and advocates have long tried to create a voucher program in Texas but have met steady resistance from school and parent groups, Democrats and rural legislators.

"We really have a problem in our urban schools," said Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, the chairman of the House Public Education Committee. "We need to provide these children another opportunity to succeed."

Grusendorf's committee tacked a pilot voucher program onto Senate Bill 422, which allows the Texas Education Agency to stay open. But the lawmaker who is carrying that measure in the Senate has assured voucher opponents that he will not accept the change.

Despite those hurdles, the vote by the education committee illustrated the determination of key House member to push vouchers.

The pilot program would allow students in the state's largest school districts to transfer to another public school or attend a private school and use public money to pay at least some of the cost.

Students qualifying for the program would include dropouts, special-education students, students who speak limited English or those who are victims of assault at the hands of another student. Also qualifying would be students whom the state considers to be at risk of dropping out or who come from families with incomes that are no more than twice the amount that would qualify them for reduced-price meals at schools.

No more than 5 percent of a district's students could get a voucher.

A similar measure that would have affected an estimated 15,000 to 19,000 students was approved by the House education committee but was not considered by the full House before a legislative deadline stopped it last week.

A preliminary Legislative Budget Board analysis of that plan said it would save the state about $2 million the first year but that it would cost the state almost $9 million a year by 2009.

It warns that the cost could be much higher if students who attend private school briefly enroll in public school in order to receive a voucher, then go back to private school.

The analysis said the bill would cost the state after the first couple of years because an increasing number of students who otherwise would pay to attend private school would use the vouchers.

It also said local districts would lose $69 million a year because their funding is based on enrollment, and as enrollment shrinks, so does funding. The state would continue spending most ofthat money but would send it to private schools.

"The committee chose today to hold all Texas schoolchildren and the TEA hostage to the wishes of wealthy political donors who want taxpayers to subsidize tuition at private and religious schools," said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which monitors social conservatism in government.

Even if the Senate bill stalls because of vouchers or other provisions, lawmakers are expected to find other legislation to keep the education agency operating.

jembry@statesman.com; 445-3654


http://www.statesman.com/news/content/shared/tx/legislature/stories/05/19vouchers.html

Bishops pushing school vouchers

COMMENTARY-OPINION
Bishops pushing school vouchers
By Guillermo X. Garcia
Express-News Austin Bureau

AUSTIN — May 19, 2005 - Texas Catholic bishops have launched a statewide effort targeting lawmakers, many of them Catholic, whom the bishops believe can be persuaded to vote for an expanded school voucher program, lobbyists for the church acknowledged Wednesday.

As part of that effort, San Antonio Archbishop José Gomez wrote to a number of Bexar County lawmakers last week saying it was his "personal expectation" that they would support voucher programs.

The House education committee Wednesday passed a voucher proposal for a 12-year pilot program authored by Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, sending it to the House floor.

Two lawmakers who oppose voucher programs said they were disappointed by the tone in the archbishop's letter, which they termed threatening and intimidating.

"Most people don't respond well to threats, veiled or otherwise, and I take this (letter) as a threat," said one lawmaker, who described himself as a devout Catholic, and asked not to be named.

Deacon Pat Rodgers, communications director for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, said Gomez's intention was not to intimidate or threaten but to ask legislators to consider alternatives to public education.

He said Gomez wants quality education available to all, and "if he doesn't advocate for Catholic education, who will?"

Brother Richard Daly, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference, said the group sent the names of targeted legislators to their home dioceses.

"We are coordinating this statewide," he said. The voucher issue "one of our legislative priorities."

Some legislators who received the letter said they didn't feel intimidated by it.

But those legislators also said that they were not persuaded by Gomez's argument.

"I wasn't intimidated by the letter, but it was quite a direct message, no minced words," San Antonio Democrat Rep. Carlos Uresti said. "I respect (Gomez's) position, and I appreciate his passion, but with all due respect to the archbishop, he did not change my mind. I opposed vouchers before the letter, I continue to oppose vouchers after the letter."

On the heels of the letter, James Leinninger of San Antonio, a wealthy physician whose CEO Foundation is sponsoring 160 Edgewood School District students via a privately funded voucher program at Holy Cross High School, this week personally lobbied lawmakers off the House floor.

Although they appeared to overlap, it wasn't immediately clear if Gomez' letter and Leinninger's lobbying effort were coordinated.

One lawmaker said he felt the efforts were linked.

"As a Catholic, I'm tremendously disappointed to hear that my church has purposefully aligned itself with folks who are strict advocates of the Republican Party," said Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine. "Mr. Leinninger clearly is not bipartisan."

Leinninger, who couldn't be reached for comment, is viewed as a lightning rod for voucher programs, which seeks to use public tax dollars to fund private or faith-based schools.

Harper-Brown said her bill, in the form of an amendment, was added as an amendment to a bill that reauthorizes the Texas Education Agency, which lawmakers must consider before the session ends May 30. Without passage of the sunset measure, the agency ceases to exist.

If approved, the pilot program is estimated to cost $69 million.

The Senate sponsor of the TEA sunset bill, Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, said he will not accept the planned House voucher amendment and would work to strip it from the bill.

Voucher proponents say the goal is to provide a high-quality education for students from lower socio-economic levels who could not otherwise afford private school tuition. They view vouchers as providing competition to public schools and force greater accountability in the public education system.

Opponents say the public education system is hemorrhaging from a lack of financial resources and claim that voucher programs seek to "cherry pick" prized students, while leaving behind special needs students, who require more money to educate.
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ggarcia@express-news.net   

The Associated Press and Staff Writer J. Michael Parker contributed to this report from San Antonio.

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/stategov/stories/MYSA051905.1A.lege_voucher_archbishop.28a6d0c40.html