Friday, July 29, 2005

Sen. Van de Putte Asks Community Leaders/Parents to Testify Monday

Van de Putte Asks Community Leaders/Parents to Testify Monday. The meeting will be at 10 AM Monday in Room E 1.036.


Public hearings will start Monday morning on Shapiro's new school bill.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said San Antonio community leaders and parents — not only school administrators — should show up.

"What I need is for people from the business community and parents to come and say, 'Do what's right. This is not enough money.' We have not been hearing that from the public," she said.

Senate seeking public support with new bill

Web Posted: 07/29/2005 12:00 AM CDT

Gary Scharrer
Express-News Austin Bureau

AUSTIN — Unwilling to surrender on school finance, Senate leaders will roll out a new version of an education reform bill today in hopes of catching public support before the issue dies.

(Tom Reel/Express-News) Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, relaxes as business on the House floor in Austin slows down before a lunch break Thursday.
"We'll be going back to basics," Senate Education Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said Thursday night after nearly five hours of closed door meetings as the Senate struggled to keep school reform alive.

Efforts to reform public education and taxes largely deflated earlier this week when the Texas House shot down both bills in spectacular fashion that defied the will of state leaders.

Senate leaders will try to craft a bill that increases public education spending by $1.4 billion a year and that gives local school districts more discretion. School superintendents have complained of unfunded mandates in proposed reform bills.

Public hearings will start Monday morning on Shapiro's new school bill.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said San Antonio community leaders and parents — not only school administrators — should show up.

"What I need is for people from the business community and parents to come and say, 'Do what's right. This is not enough money.' We have not been hearing that from the public," she said.

Parents and others are only advocating for textbook funding and teacher pay raises, she said.

The Senate effort to write a new school bill faces long odds. The House would have to agree to concepts in the Senate approach already rejected. More importantly, the Senate plan hinges on a tax bill for which the House has shown little appetite.

Asked whether he'd seen anything to make him believe the House would pass a tax measure, House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, said, "Not at this point ... We'll keep trying, but that's where we are."

Even some senators are skeptical.

"We know how to fix the problem," said Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. "The problem is we need more money for public education, and the (leaders) said, 'No,' so we're stuck."

Gov. Rick Perry wanted lawmakers to cut school property taxes, but the House voted 124-8 on Tuesday for a tax bill needed to finance property tax relief.

The school reform portion of the package did not include enough money to improve public education, according to many lawmakers and school groups.

The inability of lawmakers to fix the state's public school system is beginning to frustrate Texas parents and taxpayers, according to some grass-roots groups. Lawmakers have struggled unsuccessfully on school funding in four sessions.

"Parents are showing their frustration, teachers are showing their frustration and it's not about maintaining the status quo," said Anna Alicia Romero, spokeswoman for the Texas Latino Education Coalition.

The organization wants state lawmakers to make funding more equitable between property rich and poor school districts and also to increase the state's investment in public education.

"If our policy makers insist on skirting the issues of equity, not providing a classroom environment that's conducive to learning and that values all kids and if they are going to continue to punish teachers, we don't have a formula for success," Romero said. "We would rather have no bill passed than a bad bill."

The Texas House largely took that approach by throwing the summer's second special session into disarray with the resounding vote against a tax bill that Perry favored, designed primarily to increase sales and consumption taxes.

That came after House GOP leaders worked to kill a school reform bill when Democrats persuaded enough Republicans to amend it by steering more money to teacher pay and making its tax provisions friendlier to lower-and middle-income homeowners.

Although public opinion polls consistently show public support for higher teacher pay and more money for public education, state and legislative leaders have focused more on property tax cuts. Critics complain that many of the proposed reforms in the school bill would only saddle local school districts without giving them the money to pay for them.

In a guest column in the Express-News on Thursday, Devine school Superintendent Rickey Williams, a self-described Republican, said his "party has become the enemy of public education in Texas."

Thursday, July 28, 2005

5 million Children Die Annually in the World Because of Unhealthy Environment

I just saw this snippet by the Word Health Organization. This report on children is quite sobering. -Angela Pravda.RU:Society:More in detail
15:45 2003-04-07

Over five million children die annually across the world for reasons of unhealthy environment. These figures were cited at a news conference in RIA Novosti by Mikko Vienonen, a special envoy of the WHO director-general to Russia.

According to him, this is why a healthy living environment for children has been chosen as the watchword for the World Health Day on April 7.

Vienonen emphasised that adverse environmental factors are responsible for up to one-third of the entire global disease burden. What is more, it is estimated that children aged up to 5 suffer from this in 40 per cent of cases.

According to WHO, in the European region, the children risk exposure to over 15,000 harmful environmental factors. Among these are water pollution, road accidents, global climatic change, contaminated food and water, and radiation. These risks, acting together, cause such negative effects as asthma, nervous disturbances, and malignant growths. Particularly dangerous for the child population are allergy and asthma, said the WHO envoy. According to him, over the past decade the occurrence of asthma symptoms among children in the majority of European countries has more than doubled.

In Russia, between 1997-2001, the number of asthma cases likewise increased by 30 per cent, noted Vienonen. He also expressed concern over the quality of drinking water in the country.

Frustrated Watchers Say House Ought to Pack it Up

Texas Latino Education Coalition to which LULAC belongs will be holding a news conference in Austin tomorrow, Thursday at 10:00 a.m. on the South steps of the Capitol (facing Congress Avenue). For those who are able to stay longer, teams will visit key legislators’ offices.

The visitor paid parking garage is located on San Jacinto and 12 streets. We need as many coalition members and other advocates to be there as possible!

Media Advisory – News Conference

Texas Latino Education Coalition to
Unveil Six Steps to Education Excellence

When: Thursday, July 28 • 10:00 a.m.

Where: South Capitol Steps, Austin
(parking at 12th Street and San Jacinto)

Why: Texas must stand by excellence, fairness and equity for all students. On Thursday, the Texas Latino Education Coalition will present six steps to education excellence.

Who: The Texas Latino Education Coalition is a collaborative of organizations and individuals who advocate the rights of Latinos at the local, state and national levels. Its mission is to improve public education for Latino children, which will impact the quality of education for all children.

Representing thousands of Texans, member organizations include: the Intercultural Development Research Association, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Mexican American School Board Members Association, the League of United Latin American Citizens, among many others.

Media contact: Christie L. Goodman, APR, at IDRA (210-444-1710)

Education community looks to the courts as lawmakers wonder what's next.
By Mark Lisheron, Ben Wear
Thursday, July 28, 2005

Just maybe, local lawmakers said as they tried not to burn themselves on the wreckage of Tuesday's House session, the Legislature wasn't as close to the goal line with school finance and property tax relief as everyone thought.

As Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick met in private Wednesday at the Capitol to salvage something of the second special session, pessimism deepened among House members from both parties. The most hopeful lawmakers questioned the motives of their colleagues after House leaders rushed school funding and tax-swap legislation to their doom Tuesday.

The education community, having witnessed Tuesday's carnage on the House floor, sees little chance that Humpty Dumpty can be put back together again, either in this special session or any new session Perry might call.

They'd just as soon see the Legislature quit trying and wait for the Texas Supreme Court to provide direction. The court is expected to rule this fall whether the state's school finance system is constitutional.

"I would love to have something we could support and stand for, but I haven't seen it," said Clayton Downing, executive director of the Texas School Coalition, which represents the 140 or so districts that must share their property taxes with other districts. "And I don't have any hopes to see it."

Most everyone produced a villain. Lack of real leadership, the intransigence of Democrats, pressure from school superintendents, the intransigence of Republicans. The lack of consensus on what went wrong was symptomatic of the uncertainty about how to proceed expressed by House members Wednesday.

"For the first time, colleagues of mine were saying it's time to pack it up, go home and let the courts decide," Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, said, still not quite believing what he had seen the day before. "At some point, you have to ask if the governor calling us back is a political advantage. At some point, someone is going to blink. After yesterday, I stopped thinking about whether it's going to be the governor or the Legislature."

State Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, the author of the doomed House Bill 2, mused about the hopes of the education community Tuesday shortly before his bill came up for debate. HB 2 would have increased education spending and reduced redistribution of property taxes, though educators said that it fell short of what's needed and that the new money would have been eaten up by new mandates.

"They're betting on the courts," Grusendorf said. "That's been the dynamic all year long. They really believe the courts are going to give them a pot of gold."

The sequence of events Tuesday also presents questions about Craddick's commitment to school finance, former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff said. It was Craddick who cast the tiebreaking vote to pass the bill in the first special session.

After Tuesday's vote, Craddick lamented that without three or four Republicans in attendance the measure couldn't be protected. A spokeswoman said Wednesday that support for the legislation vanished after it was changed on the House floor.

"In the past, whenever he has really needed them, he's been able to turn the screw and come up with 78 or 80 votes," Ratliff, a longtime Republican senator, said. "The question is, was this a failure of leadership, or maybe he didn't care whether he had the votes or not."

So close and yet so far

With these dissonant political messages being sent to the Republican majority in the House, the big surprise Wednesday was not in how negotiations collapsed, but how the House got as far and as close to working agreements as it did.

When the first special session on school finance ended last week, House and Senate negotiators had reached a deal on school spending and insisted they were close to agreement on raising sales taxes and expanding business taxes to pay for property tax cuts.

An amendment to the school spending proposal presented Tuesday by Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, though, demonstrated how far apart factions in the House truly were, Ratliff said.

Hochberg called for an additional $3.8 billion in school spending, to be funded by a reduction in the property tax relief the House had been working toward. It also called for raising residential homestead exemptions.

To the surprise of many in the House, not the least of whom was Hochberg, the amendment passed with bipartisan support. In short order, other amendments were added to the school finance bill, a vote was called for, and a majority in the House killed the bill. With school spending dead, the House overwhelmingly shot down its tax plan, too.

"It's a great study in how all politics is local," Ratliff said. "You had at least a sizable number of Republicans who wanted to go home and tell their people they voted for money for schools, teacher pay and an increase in the homestead exemption. Then when it came time to pay for it, you saw what happened."

In the space of an hour, Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, said he went from hopeful to hopeless. On Wednesday, he still could not be sure what the motives were for the votes taken in quick succession the day before. Strama was also not sure if there was any point in pressing on.

"Should we continue to try, the charge will be for the leadership to see if they can govern in a bipartisan fashion over the next couple of weeks," he said.

Better to wait?

Politicians on Wednesday could not even say for sure what effect pressure from the various factions of the education lobby had on the House collapse.

The Texas Association of School Administrators, which represents school superintendents, posted online notices Monday and Tuesday laying out what it saw as the flaws of the spending proposals and calling on members to contact legislators and express opposition to it.

"There ought to be a rule that you never have a special session on school finance in the summer," joked Brad Shields, an education lobbyist for school districts that depend on industrial property taxes. "Because all the teachers and superintendents are off, and they have lot of time to get involved."

Shields said that some legislators in recent days had been concerned about passing politically dangerous school finance and tax-swap legislation and spending most of the available new money on teacher raises. Then, they worried, the Texas Supreme Court might later force them to spend still more money on education, which could require a tax increase.

Better to wait for the court to rule first, the emerging consensus went, Shields said. Scott McCown, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities and author of a key school finance decision in his earlier days as a district judge, said that opposition among educators was grounded in the bill's flaws, not a roll of the dice on the Supreme Court.

"There's a saying among trial lawyers that 'pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered,' " said McCown, whose group advocates for low- and middle-income families. In negotiating a final bill in the first special session and bringing parts of it back in this session, McCown said, the Legislature's Republican leaders overreached and stacked the deck too heavily for wealthy districts. And got slaughtered.

Superintendents across Central Texas voiced frustration Wednesday over legislators' inability to pass a school spending plan.

"It was a bad bill," said Kirk London, superintendent of the 10,000-student Hays Consolidated school district. "There was no credit given for us being a fast-growth district."

School officials said they fear legislators will make a hasty decision without thinking through all the consequences for districts. School officials also said legislators need to leave decisions, including school start dates, curriculum and incentive pay, up to local boards. Mandates in those areas were included in the failed legislation.

"I don't think our Legislature is necessarily all that concerned with education," said Tom Glenn, superintendent of the 20,000-student Leander school district. "I think they're concerned with taxation, and I'm sick of it."

Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, is prepared to prove Glenn wrong. Gattis remains convinced that the nearness to a workable school finance bill was not an illusion. But Gattis is not naive.

"It took us three special sessions to get redistricting done, and that was purely political on both sides," Gattis said. "The schoolchildren of Texas and the taxpayers of Texas are more important than some political process. We had a temper tantrum yesterday. Now it's time to get back to work."

Additional material from staff writer Melissa Taboada

Find this article at:

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

School Finance Bills Unravel in the House

School finance in this third legislative session is yet again on a very rocky road. At least the Hochberg amendment, despite Grusendorf's (the Committee Chair on Public Education in the House) objections shows promise. Check out this good quick read from the Burnt Orange Report . Also see yesterday's BO Report for more discussion on the Hochberg Amendment. -Angela

Measures backed by Republican leaders dealt bipartisan blow

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

By TERRENCE STUTZ and CHRISTY HOPPE / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – House members slapped down Gov. Rick Perry and Republican leaders Tuesday, rejecting twin school finance bills and pushing the current special session to the brink of collapse.

In a chaotic day of debate and political maneuvering in the chamber, House members slammed the door on their leader's plans to solve the state's education funding crisis and provide property tax relief to millions of businesses and homeowners.

After the tax bill – which traded billions of dollars in school property tax cuts for higher state taxes on consumers, smokers and some businesses – was turned down by a lopsided vote of 124 to 8, GOP House leaders were left wondering what else could be done to salvage the special session, which began less than a week ago.

"We just didn't have the votes. We couldn't get 'em," said a disappointed House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland. "The members are worn out, and they've taken this vote multiple times. They're kind of fatigued voting on the same issues."

The current special session is the second in a row for lawmakers who failed to agree on school finance legislation in their regular session this year and in a subsequent special session that ended last week.

Asked whether lawmakers should just adjourn and go home, Mr. Craddick said, "That's not my decision." For now, he said, House members will continue to work on school finance and will consider other legislation on Thursday.

Mr. Perry said he was disappointed by the vote but noted that the special session lasts another 24 days. "I still believe where there is a will, there's a way. ... The Legislature cannot pass this great challenge to another day."

GOP leaders had hoped to lead the way Tuesday by passing the school finance bill and then following up with a tax swap measure.

But Mr. Craddick and his lieutenants suffered a rare defeat on the House floor when the chamber's 62 Democrats were joined by 14 Republicans in amending the Republican plan by providing more tax relief for homeowners, bigger pay raises for teachers and nearly twice as much new money for school districts.

Faced with legislation that suddenly included a tax shift to businesses and far more additional funding for schools than they felt was prudent, sponsors of the bill pulled the plug, first by accepting dozens of amendments that were never explained and then calling for a quick vote on the measure, which was rejected on a 79-62 vote. Most Republicans voted no.

Ironically, most Democrats – who were initially opposed to the legislation – supported the bill in the final vote.

"One more round in a never-ending saga," said a disappointed Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, after his bill went down to defeat. In the end, even he voted against it because of the changes made on the House floor.

'I don't think it's over'

Afterward, Mr. Grusendorf refused to sound the death knell for school finance. "You can only push it up that hill so many times, but I don't think it's over," he said.

The Senate is still working on its own version of the legislation, but the proposal has run into some opposition in the upper chamber. If the Senate passes a bill, it would then go to the House for consideration.

Mr. Grusendorf laid partial blame for defeat of the bill on school districts and education groups, who were almost universally opposed to the original measure because of what they complained was inadequate funding.

"I wish they had been for something instead of against everything," Mr. Grusendorf said.

After dumping the school finance bill – which also included several proposed reforms such as merit pay for teachers and a new mandatory starting date for the school year – House members took up the tax swap measure.

But after defeat of the school finance proposal, most members were predicting a similar demise for the tax bill, with its combination of higher sales and cigarette taxes, and closing of loopholes in the state's business franchise tax.

After considering a handful of amendments, sponsors called for a vote without the usual pleas for support to pass the legislation. The electronic voting board in the House immediately flashed a sea of red lights, signifying no votes from most members.

"We have to start over," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, after the vote.

Democratic leaders, who have vigorously opposed most of the Republican proposals for school finance and taxes, saw signs that the session was on its last legs.

"They appear to be wanting to throw in the towel," said Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

Clock is ticking

The state is under a court order to revamp the $33 billion-a-year funding system by Oct. 1 or see funding for all schools cut off until the job is done. That order by state District Judge John Dietz has been appealed by state officials to the Texas Supreme Court. The high court has held a hearing in the case, but is not expected to rule until late August or September.

Republican leaders initially tried to clear the way for quick approval of the school finance bill Tuesday by offering a motion – which failed – to cut off debate and all amendments shortly after sponsors laid out the legislation.

Opponents – mostly Democrats – vigorously objected to pushing such major legislation through the chamber without more careful examination.

'This is a mockery'

"This is a mockery," said Rep. Paul Moreno, D-El Paso. "What is being done by the speaker is totally a sham, a disgrace to the House."

Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, said, "If we don't have time to debate this school bill, we should not be here."

The Democratic minority and a group of Republicans offered changes opposed by Mr. Grusendorf and other bill supporters.

The amendment by Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, called for nearly doubling the amount of new money for schools – $3.8 billion over the next two years – and increasing raises for teachers by nearly $1,000 over the next two years to $2,500.

And it boosted the homestead exemption for school property taxes from the current $15,000 to $32,500, guaranteeing a significant savings for homeowners. Mr. Grusendorf argued against it, but the House approved the proposal on a 76 to 67 vote. Fourteen Republicans joined the Democrats to adopt the amendment.

Online at:

Booming Population of Latinos in Southeast Heralds a Demographic Wave for the Region's Colleges

Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Booming Population of Latinos in Southeast Heralds a Demographic Wave for the Region's Colleges


The Hispanic population is growing faster in the Southeast than in any other region of the country, and the impact on some aspects of public policy, including higher education, has yet to be felt, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Pew Hispanic Center.

The report, "The New Latino South," focuses on six Southern states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee -- that experienced tremendous Hispanic population growth from 1990 to 2000, exceeding 1,000 percent in some counties. Following an economic boom in the region, the report says, young, foreign-born Hispanic men immigrated largely to those six states. During the 1990s, the region's population of Hispanic children of school age -- many of whom did not speak English -- grew by more than 320 percent.

By 2007, the report says, those children are likely to make up 10 percent of students in the Southeast's public schools.

That demographic wave will hit colleges and universities in the region soon thereafter.

A representative of the Pew Hispanic Center said the group was unable to comment on the potential impact on higher education of the trends described in its report. But in a special report in 2003, The Chronicle noted that Latinos "remain severely underrepresented and underserved in higher education" -- a pattern that the demographic changes seem likely to exacerbate.

Is It Good for the Kids?

I like Gene Carter's reference to Professor Sonia Nieto's assertion in ED LEADERSHIP, "As Sonia Nieto wrote in Educational Leadership, the question of which children are taught by high-quality teachers is a profoundly multicultural one that reveals deeply ingrained inequalities in our schools. In the struggle to raise student academic achievement and close achievement gaps between poor and affluent children, we must not fail to do what we know makes an enormous difference: guarantee all students access to experienced and capable educators." -Angela

July 2005

Closing the Educator Gap
By Gene R. Carter, Executive Director, ASCD
Our most vulnerable students—those in high-poverty, low-performing schools—are far less likely than their wealthier peers to attend schools with the most qualified staff, according to a new report from the Learning First Alliance (LFA), a partnership of ASCD and 11 other leading education associations.

The report, A Shared Responsibility: Staffing All High-Poverty, Low-Performing Schools with Effective Teachers and Administrators, finds that efforts to close gaps in student academic achievement are thwarted by deep-rooted staffing inequities. The students who most need highly effective teachers are the least likely to be taught by them, and the instructors they do get are often not the best equipped in nearly every area of teacher quality that research has shown to matter most for student learning.

As Sonia Nieto wrote in Educational Leadership, the question of which children are taught by high-quality teachers is a profoundly multicultural one that reveals deeply ingrained inequalities in our schools. In the struggle to raise student academic achievement and close achievement gaps between poor and affluent children, we must not fail to do what we know makes an enormous difference: guarantee all students access to experienced and capable educators.

Research cited in the LFA report indicates that California teachers in high-minority schools are five times as likely to lack full certification as their peers in low-minority schools. Another study concluded that 70 percent of math classes in high-poverty middle schools are taught by teachers who have not completed a college major or minor in mathematics or a related field, such as math education or statistics.

Complex conditions perpetuate these staffing inequities and prevent high-poverty schools from attracting and retaining qualified staff. A recent study found that high-poverty urban schools lose 22 percent of their teachers annually, compared with only 12.8 percent in low-poverty schools—a problem compounded by lower numbers of candidates applying for open positions.

This troubling chain of events leaves our neediest schools with constant vacancies, fewer applicants to fill them, and a greater likelihood of hiring less-experienced teachers. We cannot counteract these conditions simply by producing more teachers or shuffling existing educators among schools. Rather, we need to turn our high-poverty, low-performing schools into places where educators want to work.

The LFA report recognizes that we must address all of the factors that contribute to gaps in educator quality. It identifies the following eight priority areas that need improvement if we are to bolster the ability of our disadvantaged schools to attract and retain effective staff:

School Leadership—Ensure that high-poverty, low-performing schools have effective leaders. 

Working Conditions—Make the job "doable" by ensuring adequate resource staff; manageable class sizes; and a safe, supportive environment. 

Professional Support—Provide intense teacher support so that teachers succeed in challenging classrooms. 

Incentives—Compensate staff for taking on tougher assignments in high-poverty, low-performing schools. Recognize and reward improvements they make.

Preparation—Ensure that teachers and leaders are prepared to be effective in high-poverty, low-performing schools. 

Hiring and Placement—Create processes and practices that facilitate the timely hiring and placement of effective teachers in high-need schools. 

Policy Coherence—Establish a coherent set of federal, state, and local policies that promote recruitment and retention of effective teachers for challenged schools.

Funding—Ensure adequate and equitable funding based on student needs.

Children come to school with diverse learning needs and advantages, but the need for quality teachers in all schools is constant and unchanging. A study highlighted in the May 27, 2003, issue of ASCD ResearchBrief found that teacher effectiveness is "the single biggest factor influencing gains in achievement—an influence many times greater than poverty or per-pupil expenditures." 
Our efforts to close the achievement gap must focus not only on identifying schools where student performance is in need of improvement, but also on overcoming gaps in crucial resources such as teacher effectiveness.
Report is available at The Learning First Alliance.

Sonia Nieto's article, "Profoundly Multicultural Questions," is available in the December 2002/January 2003 issue of Educational Leadership.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

House Members Easily Pass Hike in their Benefits

Bill also raises pay for judges as some lawmakers argue that school finance is priority

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

AUSTIN - With a swift vote and no debate, state representatives approved a boost in their own retirement benefits Monday as they gave judges a pay raise.

House Bill 11 by Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas, won final passage, 105-26, amid criticism that House lawmakers have watched out for their own financial interests before those of schools and teachers.

The bill now goes to the Senate State Affairs Committee, where it is likely to win committee approval. Even so, it could face trouble getting to a floor debate. The House, after rancorous debate and major changes, voted down a multibillion-dollar school funding bill today.

Texas is under court pressure to change its $33 billion school funding system, known to some as Robin Hood because it takes money from wealthy districts and shares it with poorer ones.

A state district judge last year declared the Texas system inadequate and unconstitutional. The state appealed that decision to the Texas Supreme Court, which is expected to rule in the coming weeks and months.

This is the fifth session, counting regular and special sessions, in which the Legislature as tried to tackle school finance.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst vowed to block all other legislation until there is a final agreement on school finance reforms and a tax bill to fund it.

"I want to take up telecom and judicial pay, but not right now," Dewhurst said. "We want to go ahead and get Senate Bill 2, which is education reform, passed out of the Senate. We want to see the tax bill come over from the House and vote on that, and then I'll consider taking up those bills."

Judicial pay under the House bill would increase from:

•$101,000 to $125,000 for state district judges.
•$107,000 to $137,500 for Court of Appeals judges.
•$113,000 to $150,000 for Texas Supreme Court justices.
The pay increases are funded by a $4 fee increase for each criminal case and a $37 increase for each civil lawsuit.

A judge representing both district and appellate judges said they have received no pay increases in the past seven years.

"We're getting to the point where we are losing so many judges because salaries were not even keeping up with inflation," said Chief Justice Linda Thomas of the 5th District Court of Appeals in Dallas.

Lawmakers' pensions have been tied to judicial salaries since 1975 and legislators prefer that linkage, said Hartnett.

"It's been hard enough getting the bill passed with the link (between judges' pay and lawmakers' pensions) in place. Trying to de-link it would have made this harder to pass," he said.

The bill would raise lawmakers' pensions by 22 percent, Hartnett said, the first increase in seven years.

Currently, Texas' part-time lawmakers are paid $7,200 a year, although retired lawmakers can begin collecting pensions at age 50 if they have served at least 12 years. Benefits increase with each year of service. Under the bill, a retired official with a dozen years' experience would get a pension hike of $6,431 annually, bringing the total pension to $34,500.

A few senior lawmakers, including Speaker Tom Craddick, eventually would collect annual pensions of $100,000 or more if the bill passes.

Four Houston representatives voted against the bill: Republicans Gary Elkins and Debbie Riddle and Democrats Scott Hochberg and Senfronia Thompson.

While Thompson thinks judges need a raise, "she thinks teachers deserve a pay raise before judges get one," said Patrick Johnson, her legislative counsel. "It's sending the wrong message."

Hartnett said others also voting against the bill agreed teachers need a raise before judges.

"Then there are some who feel it was politically wise to vote against the bill who are privately delighted that it passed," he said.

School Spending Plan Dies in House

79th LEGISLATURE: SPECIAL SESSION II--This second special session is already not promising. There's a basic tension between business interests and those wanting increased and equitable support for public schools. We'll see what the next few days hold. -Angela

Members say school finance could be doomed.
By Mark Lisheron
Tuesday, July 26, 2005

No sooner had the House surprised its membership by adding a passel of amendments members hadn't even seen to House Bill 2, the state's school finance legislation, than the House sent the entire measure down to defeat 79-62 this afternoon.

And no matter how insistent House Ways and Means Chairman Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, was about immediately plunging ahead with House Bill 3, the companion tax measure, fellow representatives believed that Keffer was at the helm of the Titanic and that school finance reform might soon die again.

Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, asked Keffer repeatedly whether the vote that blew up House Bill 2 was a tool to end the session. Repeatedly, Keffer insisted that he was there to lay out, discuss and pass the measure.

House Bill 2 proposed spending more money on schools, granting teacher pay raises and reducing the amount of money distributed from property-wealthy districts to property-poor districts. But school officials and teachers said it didn't do enough for education, and many lawmakers said it didn't do enough for their districts.

After the vote, representatives huddled in small clusters, buzzing so loudly about what had happened so quickly, they were several times admonished to quiet themselves so Keffer could be heard.

Several members asked Speaker Tom Craddick whether they could propose an amendment that would postpone any further discussion of school finance and tax reform for up to a week to allow the Senate to bring forward versions of the education spending legislation the House could consider. The proposals were not allowed.

Before the House vote, the Senate recessed until noon Thursday to allow the House to bring its school and tax measures forward. At the time, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said he was confident the House would provide the Senate with the framework for legislation the Senate had enough votes to pass.

Dewhurst was not troubled by an omen of things to come: Just before the Senate convened, Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, was able to push through an amendment to the House school finance plan that, in short, reduced tax relief to put more money into state schools.

The vote, 76-67, featured some of the usual party alignment, but Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, the powerful chairman of the Appropriations Committee, bucked Republican leadership and voted for the Democratic-sponsored changes.

Pitts said that Hochberg's amendment had problems but that at least it allowed for debate on a school finance measure that his constituents despised.

"I have had over 1,000 e-mails and calls telling me not to vote for this bill," Pitts said during a recess after the vote. "They didn't like what I call the Highland Park provisions (that could allow property-wealthy districts to keep more money), the school starting date and the elections in November. People in my district wanted me to vote for their children."

Voter input can help motivate lawmakers

Editorial / San Antonio Express-News
Posted: 07/26/2005 12:00 AM CDT

If the last special session is any guide, Texas lawmakers are likely to come up with a half-baked, unfair and inadequate school finance plan in the current session — if they come up with one at all.

If the Legislature wants to reduce property taxes, it should make the cuts big enough to be worth the effort, not just enough to campaign on next year.

And while they are changing the tax system, lawmakers must increase the amount of revenue spent on public schools if they want to prepare Texas children for the economy of the future.

The state has been shirking its fair share of the cost of education for too long and dumping the burden on local property owners.

The state's long-term economic health is at stake. Improving public schools must be the top priority in this debate if Texas is to prosper in the long run.

A broad-based business tax that imposes the burden on all companies and partnerships equitably would be preferable to the hodgepodge that was debated in a conference committee during the last special session.

Stretching the sales tax to new heights hurts poor Texans.

The solutions that came close to approval in the last session didn't match the state's needs and failed the fairness test.

Shifting the tax burden won't solve the problem.

If Texans want to influence the direction of the state's school finance and taxing structure, now is the time to let lawmakers know that voters want real action and real reform.

We urge readers to contact lawmakers and tell them to fix the school finance system, add revenue for education and pay for it fairly.
Online at:

School Finance Bill Abruptly Yanked Back

GOP leaders trying to satisfy holdouts; any shifting riles Democrat

09:28 PM CDT on Monday, July 25, 2005

By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Senate leaders abruptly pulled back a school finance and education reform bill Monday after a large bloc of senators indicated that it was opposed to bringing the measure up for debate in the chamber.

The legislation was expected to be passed and sent to the House on Monday before several senators said they wanted the bill rewritten before they would support it. Under Senate rules, a measure must secure a two-thirds vote of the chamber to be brought up for consideration.

Trying to shore up support for the bill, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, met with senators in a closed-door caucus Monday afternoon to solicit opinions on potential changes.

"There's a lot of misinformation about the school finance bill," Mr. Dewhurst said, referring to strong opposition to the proposal from most school districts and education groups in the state. "We'll work on the bill to see how close we can get."

Ms. Shapiro said the bill will be altered to reflect the wishes of a majority of senators and to include as much language as possible from the compromise proposal that was hammered out by House and Senate negotiators in the closing days of the last special session.

"We will talk about differences, and I will make changes," Ms. Shapiro told senators on Monday. "We'll work on a proposal that the Senate is comfortable sending out of here."

But Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, said any movement toward the House-Senate agreement – which included several concessions by the Senate – would be "compromising down."

"That is not going to help my districts," he said, citing universal opposition from school superintendents in his Senate district. "Anything less than what we need for facilities, equity and teacher pay raises, I will have to be a no vote."

Senate leaders said they hope to bring the revised measure to the full chamber on Wednesday or Thursday.

House members are scheduled to take up their school finance bill and a companion tax swap measure – trading billions of dollars in school property tax cuts for higher state taxes on consumers, smokers and some businesses – on Tuesday.

"We've just started re-polling. I think we'll have 77-78, if they're all here," House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, said Monday when asked about support for the school finance bill in his chamber.

On the tax bill, he said, "We're pretty close on it. This is kind of where we were when we left off" in the last special session.

The bill includes a three-quarter-cent increase in the state sales tax – to 7 percent – and expansion of the tax to auto repairs, Internet access and computer repairs. The measure also would boost the state cigarette tax $1 a pack and close loopholes in the business franchise tax.

Among the areas of concern to senators in the school finance bill, Ms. Shapiro said, are teacher pay raises, a later starting date for the school year, a change in local school board elections, new state mandates for school districts and limits on "Robin Hood" property tax revenue sharing by wealthy school districts.

Staff writer Christy Hoppe contributed to this report.

Online at:

Special Session Sputters Along

Tue, Jul. 26, 2005

by John Moritz and R.A. Dyer
Star-Telegram Austin Bureau

AUSTIN - The theme song for lawmakers' latest attempt to overhaul the state's school finance system might be "One Step Up/Two Steps Back."

Texas Senate leaders on Monday postponed a debate on one major component of the school finance revamping, saying they were not sure they had the votes to pass it. Late last week, they said they were poised to pass it.

And in the Texas House, a floor debate is scheduled for today on the other major component, a rewrite of how the state raises money for schools. But the leader of the lower chamber said it remained unclear whether the votes were in hand to pass it.

"We started re-polling there -- we're redoing all that," said House Speaker Tom Craddick.

Soon after the previous special legislative session, which Gov. Rick Perry called a month ago, finished last week without an agreement, Craddick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said they were "real close" to completing their work on the complex legislation.

But they had said the same thing time and time again during the special session, and during the regular session that ended May 30.

One component of the overhaul would revamp the state's tax system; the other dictates how schools spend that money. The House is expected to take up both bills today; the Senate is expected to consider legislation related to education spending.

Dewhurst and the Senate sponsor of the legislation, Plano Republican Florence Shapiro, offered an optimistic assessment of the bill's progress. But a number of senators expressed concern that the folks back home had little or no enthusiasm for the work being done in Austin.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, said local school officials in his South Texas district told him over the weekend to vote no on the most recent House-Senate compromise.

"Anything less than what we need for facilities, for equity for teachers' pay raises, I will have to be a no vote on," Lucio said.

But even as progress on school finance seemed to sputter, lawmakers were able to turn their attention to other unrelated business on Monday.

For the first time since the legislation came to the floor in the spring, the House took a recorded vote on a bill that raises lawmakers' own retirement benefits while increasing salaries for state judges. The House has voted on the legislation several times but always on a nonrecorded voice vote.

The bill passed 105-26 on Monday. Eighteen members either declined to vote -- including Rep. Anna Mowery, R-Fort Worth -- or were absent.

Craddick, R-Midland, said that several members requested the recorded vote. The fact that it also boosts lawmakers' own pensions -- just as it increases pay for state district judges, appellate judges and those on the Supreme Court -- was "not a big factor," he said.

"I never heard members talking about it," said Craddick.

Area lawmakers voting for the legislation, House Bill 11, included Reps. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie; Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth; Toby Goodman, R-Arlington; Bob Griggs, R-North Richland Hills; Kent Gru-sendorf, R-Arlington; Phil King, R-Weatherford; Rob Orr, R-Burleson; Todd Smith, R-Euless, and Bill Zedler, R-Arlington.

Those opposed included two Fort Worth Democrats, Lon Burnam and Marc Veasey, as well as Vicki Truitt, R-Keller.

The House also adopted House Bill 6, which makes available $2.75 billion in bonds for university construction projects. It will also provide project funding for shortages in critical fields such as nursing, teacher education, engineering and computer science, according to information from the speaker's office.
John Moritz, (512) 476-4294 R.A. Dyer, (512) 476-4294

House Rejects School Finance, Tax Bills

House Rejects School Finance, Tax Bills
Associated Press

AUSTIN - You might call it chaos. Confusion. Fatigue.

Certainly you can call it a stalled special legislative session after the Texas House voted down its own multibillion-dollar school funding bill and property tax relief measure today.

The moves appeared to spell trouble for the latest 30-day special legislative session called by Republican Gov. Rick Perry to change the Texas school funding system and reduce property taxes. But other bills on those subjects still could be considered.

GOP House Speaker Tom Craddick said the session isn't necessarily doomed, but he did say legislators — who have spent two regular sessions and three special sessions tackling school finance — are tired.

"The members are just basically worn out voting on these different proposals. I don't know where we go from here," Craddick said. "We're open to ideas."

The tax bill was intended to cut school property taxes and replace them with an array of consumer and business taxes. It in large part reflected a proposal Perry made earlier this summer when he initially called legislators back to Austin.

"This was the governor's plan. We worked on it, massaged it as much as we could. To be quite frank, we didn't get there," said Rep. Jim Keffer, a Republican from Eastland who sponsored the tax bill but urged fellow House members to vote against it.

They followed his lead with a bipartisan 124-8 vote.

Perry said he wouldn't give up and would keep pushing lawmakers to find a solution in the remaining 24 days of the special session.

"I know they're frustrated. I know they're tired. So are taxpayers," Perry said. "Although today the House failed, they will live to ride again."

The 79-62 vote against the Republican-backed education spending bill came after the House approved a Democrat's plan to provide an additional $3.8 billion over two years to schools, including money for a teacher pay raise and more bilingual education funding.

That was substantially more money than the Republican measure included. Democrats and some Republicans joined to approve the amendment by Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston.

His plan also would have given an extra school property tax break to homeowners through a larger homestead exemption.

The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Kent Grusendorf of Arlington, later led the charge to quickly vote against the bill because it was so dramatically changed from its original form. Grusendorf said the more costly changes would have hurt Texas businesses and that the bill was doomed for failure.

Craddick agreed. Once Hochberg's amendment was added to the bill, it didn't balance financially, he said. But Hochberg disputed that and said his proposal was designed to fit with the amount of money available in Grusendorf's bill.

Craddick described the fast-moving series of events Tuesday as being "kind of like a mushroom-type effect" as both bills were defeated.

Democratic Rep. Rene Oliveira of Brownsville had urged against a swift vote on the tax bill, saying it could potentially wreck the special session if it were voted down.

"I think you're commanding the Titanic right now with that approach," Oliveira told Keffer.

Afterward, passage of a school finance bill in this session began looking less likely.

"The stars are going to have to be aligned for that and right now, they're not aligned," Grusendorf said.

Texas is under court pressure to change its $33 billion school funding system, known to some as Robin Hood because it takes money from wealthy districts and shares it with poorer ones.

A state district judge last year declared the system inadequate and unconstitutional. The state appealed that decision to the Texas Supreme Court, which is expected to rule in the coming weeks and months.

Grusendorf said some lawmakers don't want to pass a school funding bill until the court rules.

He said his education spending plan would have pumped $2.4 billion more into schools. That proposal reflected a House-Senate compromise hammered out in the last special session, which ended last week in failure.

Democrats criticized that proposal as doing too little for schools and teachers. They said the proposed new funding mechanism would widen the gap between the extremely wealthy school districts and the rest of the districts in Texas.

Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, president of the Senate, cautioned today against overreacting to the House actions. He said senators were continuing to negotiate on their own education spending bill.

Monday, July 25, 2005


July 25, 2005, 12:52AM


Good teachers flock to good schools, avoiding schools where their talents are most needed.
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

FANCY new schools with state-of-the-art science labs and sparkling natatoriums enhance the educational experience, but they don't amount to much if classrooms are staffed by inexperienced, unqualified or burned-out instructors. With the right teacher, students can achieve lofty academic heights in the most Spartan classroom.

The sad irony, according to a study by University of Texas researcher Edward Fuller, is that when it comes to having abundant school resources or good teachers, the choice seldom is an either/or situation. It's an all-or-nothing proposition.

Fuller's research, using data from the 2003-04 school year, the latest available, examined seven school districts in the Houston region. He found that the teachers with the best credentials work in the schools with the most affluent students, and the less-qualified instructors teach in schools populated by low-income students. This matters because of another correlation — students who attend schools where the worst teachers predominate tend to perform poorly on standardized tests.

Fuller, who specializes in teacher recruitment and retention issues, used three criteria to judge teacher quality: classroom experience, certification to teach a given subject and teacher turnover (high teacher turnover is an indication of a poor work environment).

Obviously, some inspired and skillful teachers teach in poor-performing schools. They tackle the most challenging assignments and endure the worst working conditions. Their students tend to have poorly educated parents less able to help them with homework.

Many poor children lack school supplies and suffer from poor nutrition. When discipline at school becomes an issue, it can be difficult to get parents working multiple jobs to focus on finding a solution.

The problem is how to attract and retain good teachers at the schools that desperately need them. There are only so many excellent teachers who will remain in under-resourced schools. They deserve merit bonuses and a medal.

Education experts say that incentive pay for teaching in less-desirable schools can be part of the solution. Those schools also need to provide adequate training and teaching supplies, enforce student discipline and cultivate a supportive workplace. Schools that provide these things will find that the best teachers will flock to them and stay put once on board.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Take two: State Tackles School Funding

Debate starts this week on sticking points

11:15 PM CDT on Sunday, July 24, 2005

Associated Press

AUSTIN – With a new special session under way, Texas lawmakers plan to plunge into the school funding debate this week to move legislation along and perhaps get out of town soon.

That's their intent, anyway.

As past sessions have proved, reaching an agreement in the Legislature on the complex and sweeping question of how to pay for Texas' public schools isn't easy. The $33 billion system educates 4.3 million children.

Both the House and Senate are meeting today, when the Senate may take up the education spending portion of a school finance package. The two chambers in large part are working from the education and tax proposals they crafted in the previous 30-day special session, which ended in failure Wednesday night.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry ordered the next session to begin Thursday.

School finance is one of the most important items the Legislature tackles, said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Republican who presides over the Senate. He said "whether it takes four weeks or six weeks, the objective is to get it right, and that's what we're dedicated to doing."

Lawmakers came close to approving a $2.4 billion education spending plan last week. But because they waited until the final hours of the special session to wrap up the matter, a Senate Democrat had time to kill the measure with a filibuster.

The measure would have provided more money for bilingual education and transportation and given districts enough money to pay teachers about $2,000 more in 2006 and an additional $500 in 2007. The pay raise calculation included the full restoration of a $1,000 health-care stipend that was cut in half two years ago.

Some of the raise included incentive pay, which teachers' groups criticized because they say it's not clear how many teachers would even be eligible.

"As we begin another special session on public education, we hope state leaders take the time to listen to educators," said Melodye Pinson, president of the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

Texas is under court pressure to change its funding system, which relies heavily on local property taxes. State District Judge John Dietz ruled the system inadequate and unconstitutional last year and ordered the state to change it.

Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick said a House-Senate panel that was trying to reach a tax bill compromise had whittled the massive plan down to just a few disagreements.

Disputes remained over how much to raise the state sales tax from the current 6.25 percent and how much to cut property taxes.

Both the House and Senate wanted to raise the cigarette tax by $1 per pack from 41 cents.


Parents aim to teach legislators a lesson on schools

Web Posted: 07/23/2005 12:00 AM CDT

Jenny LaCoste-Caputo and Brian Chasnoff
Express-News Staff Writers

Parents of Texas schoolchildren have reached their boiling point.

Time and again, they've watched the Legislature attempt to overhaul the state's public school funding system. Time and again, the legislators have come up short.

Fed up, the parents are taking a page out of the politicians' playbook and forming a political action committee of their own. The goal: to oust old guard lawmakers they say don't support public education.

Dinah Miller, a Dallas parent who's serving as secretary of the Texas Parent PAC, calls the move a "parent revolt."

"The state Legislature must invest in high-quality public education. They have repeatedly let us down," she said. "Our legislators completely ignored the PTA, school board members, superintendents, and all other education groups."

The House and Senate were unable to agree on a school funding plan in the 140-day regular session, which ended May 31. Gov. Rick Perry called lawmakers back for a 30-day special session to finish the job, but that deadline came and went this week with no solution.

Perry has called another 30-day session, so lawmakers are at it again.

Carolyn Boyle, an Austin parent, resigned from her paid post as coordinator of the Coalition for Public Schools to head the Texas Parent PAC as a volunteer.

"I quit my job because I was so fed up with the Texas Legislature," Boyle said. "I realized we need new people at the Texas Legislature."

Boyle said she was disillusioned by a Legislature that didn't listen to advocacy groups or constituents. The Legislature she saw in action made decisions based on the promise of committee chairmanships, the threat of axing local projects and old-fashioned bullying, Boyle said.

"Who are they listening to? Not parents," Boyle said. "This is not how the democratic process is supposed to work."

The group plans to raise $250,000 by next year to help fund elections of new House and Senate candidates. The nonpartisan organization will support 10 Republican candidates and 10 Democratic candidates.

Asked if that goal is ambitious, Boyle said: "We think it's conservative. Do you know how many parents there are in Texas? How many teachers, superintendents and school board members?"

Cathy White, parent of two children at Thousand Oaks Elementary in San Antonio's North East School District, says she loves the idea of a parent-driven political action committee.

"The lawmakers aren't taking into consideration what teachers and parents have to say," she said. "It makes you wonder do they know anything about being in a classroom."

Carolyn Baker, a grandmother and school volunteer from Round Rock, agrees that it's time for some new blood in the Capitol.

"I've been extremely let down, very disappointed with their inability to get anything done, and I'm a Republican," said Baker, who was in Austin attending a Texas PTA Leadership Seminar. "Something has to happen."

Legislators are working under pressure from a judge's ruling that the current school funding system, which relies heavily on local property taxes, is unconstitutional. The Texas Supreme Court is considering the case.

Texans may disagree on where the money to fund schools should come from and how much schools need, but there is a general disdain among many for the politicians' inability to reach a compromise. Critics say the only proposals that do get serious consideration at the Capitol do little to boost school funding, impose unfunded mandates and widen the spending gap between rich and poor school districts.

"I think it's typical of the politicians we have in office today. We don't have any leaders," said Tom Presley, 55, a real estate agent from Wilson County.

Diane Meizer, 34, a homemaker from Floresville, calls the failed efforts to craft a school funding plan "pathetic." Donna Hosea, 54, from Grapevine, calls them "ridiculous."

Tommy Faifer, 51, also of Grapevine, said: "It's typical politics."

As superintendent of the Center Point School District, Lee Ann Ray is increasingly anxious as the school finance debate drags on week after week.

"It's very frustrating when it comes to planning for the new school year. The law says we have to adopt a budget by Aug. 31," said Ray, whose district of 550 kids in eastern Kerr County usually gets about 40 percent of its $4 million budget from the state.

"Our expenditure side is ready to go," said Ray. "We're waiting for the Legislature to tell us how much revenue we'll get from the state."

Boyle said she hopes more parents start to pay attention to what's going on in Austin and how it will affect Texas schoolchildren. One of the main goals of the Texas Parent PAC is to educate parents about the political process and make sure they're aware of how their legislators vote.

She is confident that parents will be a powerful force for change — and she hopes the politicians in Austin are listening. She puts it this way:

"We think parents are a sleeping giant."


Paying a premium to ensure victory for the Texas GOP

This has been an evolving story in Texas politics that has incredible implications for school, or other social welfare funding, etc. It reveals the inner-workings of a corporate state. -Angela

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Texas Association of Business might have given Texans an unintended look at just why there is a law against corporations contributing to political campaigns. And if it beats back all the civil lawsuits and criminal investigations, consumers will discover what living under a corporately controlled state government is really like.

As reported by this newspaper's Laylan Copelin in Friday's editions, insurers contributed at least $580,000, and possibly much more, of the $1.7 million raised by the business association's political campaign in the 2002 legislative races. The association has tried to keep the names of contributors, and how much each contributed, secret. But Copelin pieced together a large part of the picture from court documents.

If you think this has nothing to do with you, congratulations: You must be one of the few Texans satisfied that your homeowners' insurance premium is reasonably priced, even if it provides far less coverage than it did before 2003.

The business association's 2002 campaign was, under any plain reading of the law, illegal because it accepted secret donations from corporations that were then spent on behalf of Republican legislative candidates. State law bars corporations from contributing to election campaigns, and it requires that all campaign contributions be public.

But the business association argues that its ads never used certain "magic words" such as "elect," so that — technically — they weren't election ads. And because the ads were not campaign ads, the association argues, it is not required to reveal its donors.

None of this stopped the association from bragging, after its 2002 campaign, that it "blew the doors off the November 5 general election using an unprecedented show of muscle that featured political contributions and a massive voter education drive" to elect a slate of highly pro-business candidates.

As Copelin showed in his story Friday, one of the biggest secret contributors to the association's campaign was the insurance industry, which was facing a firestorm of public anger over huge increases in homeowners' premiums. The industry was also under assault because of rising medical malpractice premiums. And, with the rest of the business community, it wanted to make it more difficult for injured plaintiffs to sue and win judgments against them.

The Legislature that convened in January 2003 faced that homeowners' anger and ultimately adopted some reforms. Most companies cut their premiums somewhat, though only under pressure from the insurance commissioner. What we'll never know is whether the Legislature would have been more responsive to consumer interests had fewer of its members depended, indirectly, on insurance industry campaign contributions. The 2003 Legislature also enacted landmark tort reform legislation that also helped insurers.

This year there was an effort in the Legislature to remove any supposed loopholes from state election law regarding the ban on corporate contributions. But the legislation died in a House committee: Why bite the business hand that feeds you?

If the business association wins its lawsuits and thwarts any criminal charges, a whole new era of corporate campaign contributions will begin, and none of it will be given with the average Texan in mind. If you don't think so, take another look at your homeowners' insurance premium.

Folks back home really have final say on schools, taxes

This is one of the better political analyses of the politics on school funding than I have read in awhile. -Angela

7/24/2005 12:00 AM CDT

Peggy Fikac and Gary Scharrer
Express-News Austin Bureau

AUSTIN — It was a classic back-hall moment that underscored the bruising battle to change the state's education and tax policy.

A top aide to Gov. Rick Perry buttonholed Sen. John Whitmire as the Houston Democrat prepared to kill a school funding bill championed by the governor in the closing hours of this summer's first special session.

Dan Shelley, a former senator well liked by the lawmakers he seeks to influence, was uncharacteristically stern-faced as he spoke in low tones, but with little apparent impact. Whitmire's answer to the GOP governor's emissary was unyielding: "I'm representing my district."

And that's why state leaders are having a tough time arm-twisting lawmakers to vote for school and tax reform bills that don't enjoy overwhelming support back home.

The Legislature's fourth failure in two years to restructure school funding and taxes shouldn't surprise anyone, said Sen. Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria, a 22-year veteran of the Legislature.

"There are two things generally that no speaker, no lieutenant governor, can get between his members (and their constituents) on, and that's schools and taxes. This has both," Armbrister said of the twin struggles over House Bills 2 and 3.

Changing the way Texans pay taxes while also reforming public schools invites a tricky balancing act in which lawmakers weigh the benefit or loss to the people and schools in their districts against state policy and political considerations that also affect their constituents.

"I don't know that you can even separate the two. Obviously, the district is where I live. I sure want to make sure that we do no harm there. And if that's good there, you would hope that in the bigger picture of the state, it's the same way," said Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland. "It's so complex because Texas is so diverse."

Keffer carries the tax measure in the House as Ways and Means Committee chairman. But he is disappointed that the bill takes only an "incremental step" in reforming the business tax.

"It's a tough vote," he said, "because I don't have everything in it that I think ought to be in it."

The difficulty of this balancing act never has been more evident than this year.

State leaders have found it hard to completely agree among themselves about bills even some supporters say are, at best, a first step. And the critics — including educator groups, consumer advocates and some businesses — complain bitterly that the school and tax bills will hurt more Texans than they help.

Supporters of the tax measure, HB 3, emphasize it will save billions of dollars in school property taxes. But opponents hammer at the inequity in a plan that would only benefit households making more than $100,000 a year, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Budget Board.

That's because higher sales and other consumption taxes would pay for school property tax cuts. Households earning less than $100,000 will end up paying more after the tax swap, according to the analysis.

The debate is driven by a judge's ruling that the school funding system is unconstitutional, in part because of its reliance on local school property taxes and because the judge found the state's education funding inadequate. The tax measure is meant to address the first part of the judge's ruling.

"This is not really a tax-cut bill. It's a tax-shift bill," said Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, who, as Senate Finance Committee chairman, is carrying the measure in his chamber and who, like Keffer, has expressed disappointment that it doesn't include broader reform of the business tax.

"It's hard to build a solid constituency ... because for every person that gets a break, another one has to pay a higher tax," Ogden said.

"Every time you make somebody happy, you make somebody else mad."

Lawmakers started out with broader tax reform ideas that would have involved more businesses, but the House and Senate couldn't agree. Perry suggested simply plugging loopholes in the franchise tax on corporations as an achievable goal.

But doing so has provoked opposition from affected businesses that don't want to be singled out.

An estimated 10,000 Texas companies use those legal loopholes to escape business taxes, including the San Antonio Express-News.

Express-News Publisher Lawrence Walker Jr. said executives of Texas daily newspapers agreed last year not to oppose efforts to close the corporate franchise loophole under one condition: "Everybody gets taxed."

"To put a bill in, which still exempts the law firms and the real estate firms and the oil and gas partnerships and the medical doctors, is just egregious," Walker said.

Closing the franchise tax loopholes would cost the Express-News "several million" dollars a year, he said.

Portions of the business lobby would retreat from its opposition to the proposed tax bill after all businesses are treated the same, Walker said.

"It's just about fairness and equity," he said.

Walker recently expressed his opposition to Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, who voted for the bill to close the franchise tax loopholes without expanding the tax to business partnerships.

Wentworth said he agrees with Walker and favors a low-rate business tax applied to all but sole proprietor, or "mom and pop"-type businesses.

But Wentworth said the "speculation around here is that there's a lot of limited liability partnerships — oil and gas partnerships in Midland, Texas — and the speaker is not going to allow them to be taxed."

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst also favored bigger reform of the business tax system, although he recently broke a rare tie vote in the Senate against doing just that. Dewhurst blamed the House and Perry for the scaled-back effort.

However, House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, does favor "a more reformed business franchise tax that would bring everyone under the umbrella," Craddick spokeswoman Alexis DeLee said.

She noted the House passed a bill this spring that would have taxed partnerships.

"Now the House and the Senate have agreed upon the governor's plan, and that is what we are moving forward with," she said.

Lawmakers have targeted a new school property tax rate of about $1.20 per $100 valuation to operate public schools — down from the current $1.50. Such a rate would deliver only modest tax savings for most homeowners. Half of all Bexar County homeowners, for example, would save less than $17.75 a month at a $1.20 rate. Most school districts now levy a rate of $1.50 per $100 property valuation.

The median home value of $86,000 in Bexar County translates into a $213-a-year tax savings at the $1.20 rate. A $500,000 home would get a $1,455 tax savings.

State and legislative leaders wanted to deliver a bigger property tax break than what lawmakers settled for, Craddick said.

"Whatever we do is a start. Everybody wants (larger cuts), but they don't want to look at the hard facts of what it takes to get there," Craddick said.

Democrats criticize not only any tax shift from the wealthy to middle- and lower-income Texans but slam the approach of GOP House leaders in crafting a new tax bill.

The public won't get an opportunity to participate, and five Anglo House members will write the bill. All are male.

"Every woman in Texas should be offended," said Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine. "The average every-day person isn't represented — no Latinos, no people of color."

Craddick's spokeswoman defended the tax bill writers as experienced lawmakers with an extensive background on tax policy.

"The speaker wanted people who were most familiar with the issue," DeLee said.

Some GOP lawmakers, meanwhile, are skittish about voting for any tax increase.

"If you have a Republican who has a record of voting for a new tax or an increased tax — even though it may have been to offset a reduction in property taxes — the opponent (in a GOP primary) won't ever talk about that," Wentworth said. "They just talk about you raising taxes, so that makes everybody a little gun-shy."

Approving a new school reform plan also has proven difficult. The bill that died last week attracted plenty of critics for multiple reasons.

Teacher groups attacked it because the touted $1,500 pay raise shrunk to $500 by their measurement of new money. School officials criticized it for leaving schools short of money needed to pay for mandates in the bill. And others said the bill would widen the equity gap between poor and rich school districts instead of closing the existing disparity.

The proposed plan helped property-wealthy districts more than it did poor schools, according to an analysis by the Legislative Budget Board.

Bexar County's Alamo Heights School District, for example, would get $315 more per student, according to the analysis, which made adjustments for special student populations. The Eanes district west of Austin stood to get $441 more per student, while Highland Park, a wealthy enclave of Dallas, would have received $447 more per student, according to the analysis.

But the Edgewood School District, lead plaintiff in a landmark 1994 lawsuit against Texas that improved equity between rich and poor schools, only would get $170 more per student.

The same analysis showed the San Antonio School District getting $183 more per student; the South San Antonio district would get $189 more.

Rep. Fred Hill, R-Richardson, said of HB 2, "You could probably make a case to vote against it. But it's better than what we've got now. It's a step in the right direction."

He said setting policy to benefit all Texans, including disadvantaged students, is good for his district and the whole state.

"I'm talking about the next generation, basically. If we do not do something to educate the people in this state right now who are amongst those that you would call disadvantaged and poor, we're going to pay for it in the long run. It's going to affect Texas," he said.

Education groups' opposition to the proposed school reform bill doesn't appear to bother Dewhurst, Craddick or Perry

"I don't know any school finance bill in the past that the superintendents have gotten behind," Dewhurst said. "This (HB 2) is a significant improvement on what we were working on (at the end of the regular session in late May). We have made a lot of progress since May 28th. This is a better bill for schoolchildren, for superintendents, for our teachers."

Perry said, "For the life of me, I can't understand why someone would walk away from the opportunity to put additional dollars into these schools, to put that money into our teachers' pockets that they need and that they deserve, to get those schoolbooks into the classrooms and to get property tax relief."

The Legislature's inability to agree on school and tax bills during two regular and two special sessions is not testing Texans' patience, Dewhurst said.

"Voters want improvement in our school finance system. They don't care whether it takes four weeks, six weeks or seven weeks," he said. "This is too important not to get it right."

Changing the tax structure always means raising taxes for some or imposing new taxes on those who aren't paying. Doing so is politically risky with the next election lurking less than a year away, said Armbrister, the veteran senator from Victoria.

And changing the education code is inherently difficult because all 181 members of the Legislature are familiar with schools.

"Everybody's an expert," Armbrister said, "because everybody went to school."

Saturday, July 23, 2005

NCLB Update: Measuring Student Learning

July 2005 | Volume 4, Number 6
Focus On …
NCLB Update: Measuring Student Learning

Measuring student learning is a central focus of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). In fact, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has referred to testing as "the linchpin of the whole doggone thing." Spellings has insisted states strictly follow the law's requirement of testing students each year in grades 3–8, but new opportunities may open up for states that want to change the way they assess student learning.
The U.S. Department of Education has convened a series of meetings to review whether states should have a new option to meet NCLB's assessment provisions. This option would allow states to measure individual students' growth from year to year. The current practice compares the performance of students in a particular grade with the performance of students in that same grade the previous year.

The Department held the first of these meetings on June 22 with an invited group of researchers, state and local officials, and representatives from nonprofit organizations and interest groups. It is not yet clear which growth models are under consideration, though one meeting attendee told Education Week that the Department appeared interested in a range of options. Several different growth models have been proposed already by states eager to find more accurate methods of measuring improvements in student achievement.
Pioneering States
The federal government previously approved one accountability model that includes measures of student growth. In Massachusetts, schools are awarded 100 points for each student who scores at the proficient level or higher, but they also gain reduced credit for students who improve at lower levels. For example, schools receive points for moving students from "failing" to "needs improvement," even though those students did not score at the proficient level.

Minnesota and Oklahoma use a similar method under NCLB's "safe harbor" provision. Schools that initially do not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in those states may still pass if they reduce the percent of non-proficient students in a subgroup by 10 percent from the previous year. Bills have also been approved in the Minnesota House and Senate to provide for developing value-added assessments.

Still other states, including Florida and Tennessee, have submitted proposals that would allow schools that failed to make AYP use growth measures as a second chance measure. Tennessee, for example, has proposed tracking the performance of individual students over time and evaluating schools based on how much academic growth each student makes from year to year.

In June, New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein announced similar plans to measure each student's growth. The proposed plan will compare a school's results, grade by grade, against student improvement in similar schools. It will also include a comprehensive assessment of each school's learning environment, including parental involvement and the quality of work students must complete.

Klein said this growth model would present a wealth of information about teaching and learning, as well as provide "a powerful tool for working with educators to improve where necessary and to share best practices where appropriate." He said the new system would be a supplement to, not a replacement for, a focus on absolute achievement.
Concerns from Policymakers and Researchers
Some policymakers and federal officials have been wary of value-added and growth models. Unlike current AYP calculations, not all growth models are designed to measure a school's progress toward achieving NCLB's goal of 100% proficiency by 2014. Sandy Kress, a former education advisor to President George Bush, said he does not believe growth models will be approved under NCLB unless they are based on students' reaching proficiency.

Researchers also have raised questions about technical issues surrounding growth models—such as the quality of the test, whether to adjust for student and school characteristics, and what to do when some data on individual students are missing.
Looking Ahead
Holly Kuzmich, a senior policy adviser in the U.S. Department of Education, told Education Week that the Department does not have a timeline for when it will complete its work. "Obviously, we want to work on this as quickly as possible and get an answer to the secretary as quickly as possible," she said, "but we need to gather all the right information."

The Department of Education plans to include other interested groups in future meetings. The individuals invited to the June meeting were:
Patricia Brenneman, the superintendent of the Oak Hills, Ohio, school district;

Michael D. Casserly, the executive director of the Washington-based Council of Great City Schools;

Mitchell Chester, an assistant superintendent in the Ohio education department;

Chrys Dougherty, the director of research for the National Center for Educational Accountability in Austin, Texas;

Lou Fabrizio, the director of accountability for the North Carolina education department;

Brian Gong, the executive director of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment in Dover, N.H.;

Eric Hanushek, a professor of education at Stanford University;

Kati Haycock, the director of the Washington-based Education Trust;

Ted Hershberg, a professor of public policy and history at the University of Pennsylvania;

Tom Houlihan, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers;

Jim Mahoney, the executive director of Battelle for Kids;

Lana Seivers, the commissioner of education in Tennessee;

Richard Wenning, the accountability program director for the Denver-based Colorado League of Charter Schools; and

John L. Winn, the commissioner of education in Florida.


Federal Government Exploring Individual Student Growth Under NCLB
Education Week (registration required)
White Paper. The implementation of the accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act: A state perspective
California Department of Education
ED Panel To Explore Growth Models For AYP
Title I Online
States Hoping to "Grow" Into AYP Success
Education Week (registration required)
State Lawmakers Want a New Approach to Student Testing
Minnesota Public Radio
N.Y.C. Schools to Measure Gains, Not Just Raw Test Scores
Education Week (registration required)

Department of Education to Publish State High School Completion Rates

by David J. Hoff / Education Week

The U.S. Department of Education will publish a common graduation rate for every state in an attempt to provide a clearer picture of how successful the states are in assuring students complete high school, the department’s second-ranking official told state policymakers here July 13.

The department will calculate each state’s graduation rate based on the number of high school graduates in a given year divided by the average of the number of students who entered the 8th grade five years earlier, the 9th grade four years earlier, and the 10th grade three years earlier. The so-called “averaged freshman graduation rate” will be published alongside the graduation rates that states report under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the department official said in a speech to state policymakers gathered here July 12-15 for the national conference of the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

“[The new calculation] has been shown to track very closely with true on-time graduation rates,” Deputy Secretary of Education Raymond J. Simon told members of the ECS. “It makes it easier to understand, more accurate, and makes the system more transparent.”

Mr. Simon said the new state calculations will be reported on an interim basis and will provide a common measure of how well states are ensuring students are completing high school.

States have come under increasing criticism in recent years for publishing graduation rates that are misleading and not comparable across states. Some states, for example, calculate their graduation figures based on the percentage of seniors who earn their diplomas by the end of the school year—a measure that ignores students who drop out before reaching the 12th grade.

Mr. Simon said many states lack the data systems to provide more precise measures of their high school graduation rates. But the federal government will be able to calculate the “averaged freshman graduation rate” by using enrollment and other data already collected by the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the federal agency.

Meanwhile, the National Governors Association on July 14 announced the first 10 states to receive grants of up to $2 million under a program aimed at improving graduation and college-readiness rates that was unveiled at the National Education Summit on High Schools in February. Financed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and several other philanthropies, the grants will be used for purposes that include improving state academic standards; aligning curricula and assessments to meet college-entrance requirements; promoting the need for high school reform to the public; expanding science, math, and technology education; and implementing systems for collecting and analyzing data, according to the NGA and the Seattle-based Gates Foundation.

The 10 states awarded grants are Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Virginia.
Washington State Granted Flexibility

In a separate section of his speech, Mr. Simon said the Education Department has granted Washington state permission to take into account students who take more than four years to graduate for determining adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind law. The state also will continue to publish a graduation rate measuring what percentage of students earn their diploma in four years, but can use the extended time period for accountability purposes.

“We want to see incentives created to encourage dropouts to return to school,” Mr. Simon said. “This change is a positive step forward.”

While other states have received permission to take into account in their graduation rates students with limited English or those with disabilities who take more than four years to graduate, Washington state’s provision could apply beyond those special populations.

© 2005 Editorial Projects in Education
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Books in Storage as Feud Drags On

Posted on Fri, Jul. 22, 2005
By R.A. Dyer / Fort Worth Star-Telegram Austin Bureau

AUSTIN - As a result of the Texas Legislature's repeated failures to agree on school finance, millions of textbooks probably won't make it to schoolchildren in time for the first day of classes.

That's the word from Texas textbook coordinators, who say students taking fine arts, foreign language and health classes should expect to get second-hand books -- or no books at all -- when they show up next month.

"I don't have enough books -- and that's what districts from across the state are facing right now," said Brian Squyres, textbook manager for the Northside school district near San Antonio. "We're praying for the old ones to hold together."

With the end of the special legislative session this week, Gov. Rick Perry and Texas lawmakers have now struck out three times in their attempts to overhaul school finance. On Wednesday, Perry ordered lawmakers back yet again -- saying the Legislature will continue to meet until it gets the job done.

The logjam in Austin is already causing headaches for school district administrators statewide. Besides complicating the writing of budgets and the setting of taxes, it has also held up $295 million for health, foreign language and fine arts books -- about 6 million in all -- that were scheduled to go into classrooms in a few weeks.

Lawmakers have agreed to fund the books but need authorization to pay for them through separate legislation that remains tied up.

Already approved by the State Board of Education and printed by publishers, the books now languish in warehouses and await delivery.

Although they operate without contracts from the state, publishers print the books with the expectation that the state will purchase them.

Another $150 million in textbooks for career technology, English as a second language and other subjects have been funded and will be in schools this fall.

The problem with not getting the go-ahead for fine arts, health and foreign language books is that in many cases they replace books already older than the children who use them, officials said. Districts have lost many of the books to normal wear and tear, but also need more of them because of growth, officials say.

"We're going to move forward with whatever textbooks we have," said Mark Thomas, spokesman for the 22,000-student Birdville district. "There's really not a whole lot else we can do unless they decide the funding issue. We just hope it's sooner rather than later."

Pat Linares, a deputy superintendent for the Fort Worth district, said if textbook funding doesn't come through from the state, teachers and administrators will "get creative" with educational projects, using supplemental materials or reusing old textbooks.

"It's always a difficult situation when decisions have not been made totally about anything related to the funding of public education," Linares said. "We have to think of creative ways to make sure our children get the education that is necessary."

Cliff Avery, director of the Textbook Coordinators Association of Texas, said that districts typically order books in April for delivery in June or July. It then takes several weeks for publishers and districts to process the books.

In the unlikely scenario that lawmakers immediately agree on a new school finance system, that still doesn't leave enough time for districts to get the books ordered, delivered, inventoried and distributed, Avery said.

As a result, districts now find themselves confronting several undesirable options:

• They can wait for the Legislature to agree on school finance and order books then. But who knows when that will be, said Squyres, who also acts as president of the Textbook Coordinators group. "That's when we start deciding to use classroom sets. It really puts us in a bind."

• Districts can attempt to purchase books on the used market. The problem with that option is the state doesn't reimburse districts for second-hand books, Avery said.

• Or they can just do what the Mansfield and Arlington districts have done: Try to make do with whatever is available.

Steve Brown, the Arlington district's associate superintendent of finance, said it's too early to tell whether the district will need to purchase new books out of pocket.

"We're not going to jump out there yet and buy any because the Legislature is still looking at it, and it's still a possibility," Brown said. "And we're going to have to look at how much it would cost to see if we could afford to purchase the new books the state is supposed to be furnishing."

Joe Glover, the Mansfield district's director of school services, said health, fine arts and foreign language classes must start out with old versions of materials. One of the fastest-growing districts in the state, Mansfield also must provide textbooks for the hundreds of new students expected to enroll, he said.

"It's not like it's going to make the curriculum fall apart," he said. "We will still be doing what we've been doing for years, we will continue teaching."

Staff Writers Eva-Marie Ayala, Aimee Streater, Terry Webster and L. Lamor Williams Contributed to This Report.
R.A. Dyer, (512) 476-4294

A Timeline of Events in the Texas School Finance Battle

AP State News
July 20, 2005

Here's a look at major dates in Texas' school finance battle:

_ 1989: The Texas Supreme Court throws out the state's school funding law after finding "glaring disparities" between rich and poor school districts. The high court later rules two other Texas school funding plans unconstitutional in the early 1990s.

_ 1993: Days before a court-imposed deadline threatened to close Texas schools, the Legislature forces property-rich school districts to share some wealth with poorer ones.

_ 1995: The Texas Supreme Court upholds the share-the-wealth system, sometimes called "Robin Hood."

_ 2001: Then-acting Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, who as a state senator authored the "Robin Hood" funding plan, says it needs review and possible change.

_ 2003: Attorneys for property-wealthy school districts argue before the Texas Supreme Court that Robin Hood has created an illegal statewide property tax after many districts have pushed collections to the legal limit.

_ April 20, 2004: The Legislature meets in a special session called by Republican Gov. Rick Perry to address school finance. The session ends two days early when lawmakers fail to pass a new plan.

_ Sept. 15, 2004: After a trial brought by 300 districts, both rich and poor, a judge rules the education funding system unconstitutional and threatens to order the state to halt school spending in October 2005. Following the judge's written ruling in late November, the state appeals to the Texas Supreme Court.

_ Jan. 11, 2005: Legislature convenes in regular session and Perry declares education funding an "emergency." Lawmakers fail to pass a new system before session expires May 30.

_ June 18: Perry vetoes $35 billion in education spending, forcing lawmakers into 30-day special session.

_ June 21: Special session begins.

_ July 6: Attorneys for hundreds of school districts tell Texas Supreme Court justices in oral arguments the state has abdicated its obligation to educate its children. State lawyers argue the Legislature _ not the courts _ should repair Texas' education finance system. The court does not immediately rule.

_ July 19: Lawmakers tout their progress on an education spending plan but acknowledge defeat in this special session of an accompanying bill to reduce property taxes. Gov. Rick Perry says he'll call legislators back for another session as soon as Thursday if they don't pass a school finance plan.