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April 2, 2001     (512) 463-0300
Photo: Senator Jeff Wentworth discussing Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 974 on the Senate Floor
San Antonio Senator Jeff Wentworth discussing Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 974 on the Senate Floor. CSSB 974 relates to the required courses high school students must take to gain admissions to Texas universities and colleges.

College Admission Bill
Sparks Lengthy Debate

AUSTIN - A bill authored by San Antonio Sen. Jeff Wentworth led to a lengthy floor debate in the Senate today.

Under state law, high school students who graduate in the top ten percent of their class are eligible for automatic admission to a Texas public college or university. High school students in Texas have the option of three curriculum tracks: a basic curriculum that does not include any college prep courses, a college prep curriculum that is the state-recommended track and an advanced college prep track.

Wentworth's bill, the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 974, would require high school students to take at least the recommended curriculum to be eligible for Texas' automatic admission program. CSSB 974 would not apply until 2004-2005, which Wentworth said would give any high school that does not offer a pre-college curriculum time to begin doing so.

Wentworth characterized CSSB 974 as a matter of fairness, saying that students who are competing for automatic admission and state grant money should take comparable classes.

"I've had many phone calls and letters from parents (who) are livid with the fact that the Legislature passed such an unfair system," Wentworth said.

But several senators, led by Carlos F. Truan of Corpus Christi and Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin, questioned the bill's consequences.

Truan defended the current automatic admission system, adding that the bill would throw up unnecessary roadblocks for many students to attend college.

"What's so unfair?" Truan asked about the current system.

"It's not fair for those kids who are not taking the pre-college curriculum to compete against and be judged against those kids that are taking the pre-college, recommended curriculum," Wentworth replied. "That's the unfairness."

Barrientos questioned the bill's effect on students at schools where no college-prep curriculum is offered. Wentworth said he knew of only one school district in Texas that does not offer more than the minimum curriculum, and the delayed implementation of the bill would allow time to add more advanced course work.

A floor amendment, sponsored by San Antonio Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, would create an exemption for students who attend school in a district that does not offer a pre-college curriculum. Van de Putte's amendment was adopted without opposition.

Wentworth left the bill pending without moving for a vote on final passage. Although it's customary in the Senate to suspend rules in order to allow bills to be voted on without being read on the floor on different days, Wentworth never makes a motion for final passage of his bills on the same day as second reading. It is expected to come up for debate again this week, possibly as early as Tuesday.

"I think (CSSB 974) is probably a good idea. It seems to me that if students really want to be considered as in the top ten percent, they ought to take a curriculum that prepares them for college," Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff told reporters after the Senate adjourned. "There is an unfairness involved when you have some students taking the recommended curriculum, others taking the minimum, and they are ranked based on their grades under different criteria."

Ratliff continued that every student "needs to be playing by the same set of rules," but schools that do not offer a college-prep curriculum should be examined further.

"If we find out that there are schools that are still not offering the recommended curriculum (by 2004), I would think there would be time to repair that," Ratliff said. "But, frankly, I think that any school that by that time is not offering the recommended curriculum, somebody needs to look at the school system. That's a problem if we've got schools out there that are still not offering the recommended curriculum. They're not preparing their kids for college."

The Senate passed several other bills in today's session, including CSSB 385, sponsored by the chair of the Senate Education Committee, Teel Bivins of Amarillo. CSSB 385 would require high school students to take at least the recommended curriculum unless the student, the student's parent or guardian and a school counselor and administrator agree that the student should be allowed to take the minimum curriculum.

Another proposal, Senate Bill (SB) 218, authored by Plano Sen. Florence Shapiro, was passed that would direct the state education commissioner to create a financial accountability rating system for school districts.

In today's final floor action, Lubbock Sen. Robert Duncan won approval of the report by the conference committee formed to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of his bill dealing with DNA testing, CSSB 3. The bill, which has been declared an emergency by Governor Rick Perry, would establish procedures for the preservation and use of DNA evidence and post-conviction DNA testing.

The bill will go to the governor if the House takes the same action on the report.

The Senate stands adjourned until 10 a.m. Tuesday.

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