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August 9, 2004     (512) 463-0300

Senate Education Committee Reviews Learning Supplements

AUSTIN - The Senate Committee on Education met today, August 9, 2004 to explore possibilities for the future of learning materials such as textbooks and technology in Texas school systems. After a few procedural issues, the committee began invited testimony.

A panel on the textbook review and adoption process included: Dr. Robert Leos, Senior Director of Textbook Administration, Texas Education Agency (who earlier gave a brief solo overview of the textbook process); Laurie Mankin, President, Textbook Coordinators Association and Textbook Coordinator, Fort Bend Independent School District; Holly Eaton, Director of Professional Development and Advocacy, Texas Classroom Teachers' Association; Samantha Smoot, Executive Director, Texas Freedom Network; and Chris Patterson, Director of Research, Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Following, was a panel on the textbook funding process: Dr. Leos; Joe Bill Watkins, Partner, Vinson & Elkins; Sam Gesumaria, President, Hampton-Brown; Gordon Davis, CEO, CEV Multimedia; and Patti DeWitt Folkerts, Owner, Patti DeWitt Co.

The processes of ordering and distribution required two separate panels. One panel on depository included Dr. Leos and T. Bryan Squyres, District Textbook Manager, Northside Independent School District. Another panel, this one on textbook capacity, included Dr. Leos and Mr. Squyres and added Rick Woolfolk, School Board Trustee, Denton Independent School District.

A panel on textbook credit pilot was comprised of Ms. Mankin and Eugene Rios, Manager of Textbook Review, Texas Education Agency. This panel was followed by a panel on the Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program (JJAEP) and textbooks. Linda Brooke, Director of Education Services, Texas Juvenile Probation Commission; and Michael Griffiths, Juvenile Services Director, Dallas County JJAEP both fielded questions from the committee.

The final panel spoke to the issue of increasing technology applications and included: Karen Kahan, Director of Technology Applications, Texas Education Agency; Barclay Burns, President, Learning.com, and Ann McMullan, Executive Director of Education Technology, Klien Independent School District.

The Committee is chaired by Sen. Florence Shapiro. Membership includes Vice-Chair Sen. Royce West, Sen. Kip Averitt, Sen. Kyle Janek, Sen. Steve Ogden, Sen. Todd Staples, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, Sen. Tommy Williams, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini. The committee took public testimony following the invited witness panels. The committee stands recess subject to the call of the chair.

Senate Committee Hears Concerns of Rio Grande Valley Residents

The Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade traveled to Brownsville today, August 9, 2004, for an in-depth examination of economic issues facing the border in general and the Rio Grande Valley in particular.

Chairman Eddie Lucio opened the meeting by reminding the audience and witnesses that the State of Texas is not responsible for federal initiatives, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, that have changed the border. But the state is able to tailor its policies to reduce problems that may arise from certain federal programs.

Mayor Eddie Trevino welcomed the committee to Brownsville, saying that the main economic challenge facing the Rio Grande Valley is how to ensure a stable supply of fresh water, given the area's high growth rate. He told the committee that the "flow of goods from Mexico is an essential part of our well being", and that trade and tourism from Mexico is vital to the state as a whole. He urged the senators to oppose any federal initiative that would limit trade or the free flow of Mexican citizens into Texas, saying "we need a program that can tell the difference between terrorists and tourists."

Dr. Michael Zolkoski, Brownsville School Superintendent, told the committee that when people are required to make all of their financial records public, many people who could serve the community do not run.

Representatives from the Texas Department of Transportation testified that it is well aware of the challenges that the border faces due to new federal programs and policies, and that the last legislature has given the department the tools to ensure the area has the transportation structure that it needs. Engineering Director Amadeo Saenz reported that federal road funds could be used for badly needed drainage in some colonias, as long as the drainage built was related to a road project.

Diane Rath of the Texas Workforce Commission reported that unemployment along the border had fallen over the past 12 months, with much of that improvement coming due to job creation in the McAllen area. She said that the Texas economy overall has continued to improve, so that unemployment is now only slightly higher than the national average. Bill Card, of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Partnership, said it was essential that the entire Rio Grande Valley be able to market itself as a single metropolitan statistical area, and needed government help in doing so.

Dr. Saud Ghaddar of UT-Pan American said that if the federal Department of Homeland Security is to impose new conditions on Mexican visitors then it should ensure that the proper infrastructure is in place so that they are delayed as little as possible. Anything else, she said, would mean a tremendous loss of tourist dollars for the Rio Grande Valley. Jim Springfield from Valley Baptist Medical Center told the committee that when combined with the extreme population growth the Valley is facing, further limitations on government funding could mean a decrease in the quality of health care.

Valley health care also faces a nursing shortage. Dean Robin Froman of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, testified that over the past six years there has been a 61 percent increase in nursing applications, but there has been only a 13 percent increase in faculty, meaning that many of those prospective students are never admitted to school. When combined with a record number of retirements in the nursing profession, she says that the schools are simply not able to keep up with demand, and cannot afford to pay faculty what they can make in the profession.

John Henneberger, from the Texas Low Income Housing Service, said an unintended consequence of new laws allowing home equity loans in Texas is that out-of-state companies are charging abnormally high rates for home refinancing along the border. He also said that federal authorities have done a poor job of regulating these lenders. Farm worker housing was an issue for Henneberger as well, as he recommended that the Department of Housing and Community Affairs assume the responsibility for inspecting those facilities. He said current inspectors at the Texas Department of Health do not have the resources to do a proper job.

Both Monica Stewart, from the McAllen Chamber of Commerce and Raul Bestiero, from the Port of Brownsville, testified that new restrictions on immigration from the federal government were hurting business throughout the Valley. Stewart said her customers were mistreated at border crossings, despite having previously obtained permission to enter the U.S.

The Texas Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade is chaired by Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. Members include Senators Eliot Shapleigh as vice-chair, John Carona, Kevin Eltife, Craig Estes, Kel Seliger and Judith Zaffirini. The committee recessed subject to call of the chair.

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