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May 1, 2009 (512) 463-0300

WEEK IN REVIEW

(AUSTIN) — The Senate this week approved a new accountability plan for public schools, one that puts college readiness as the main factor in gauging a school's success. Bill author and Education Committee Chair Senator Florence Shapiro said preparing students for life after high-school should be the goal of every educator. "The passing standards on the [current] assessments lack any link to success after graduation," she said. "The world today requires sound preparation. All students must be prepared for post-secondary education." The bill, SB 3, would determine success based on math and reading preparation for students entering college. It would also look at end-of-course exams in four core subjects: science, social studies, math and English.

The bill is more flexible in judging school districts, said Shapiro. School assessments would be based on three-year rolling averages, rather than just a single year. Schools could also win recognition in a variety of areas, from academic achievement and student growth to excellence in fine arts and second-language education, and would permit students to take eight elective courses in high school. The bill now heads to the House.

The Senate also passed reforms this week to the state's windstorm insurance system. The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA), intended to be the insurer of last resort for coastal residents and businesses, is now virtually the only insurer in that area. Coupled with a catastrophic fund that is completely empty the state could be responsible for up to $68 billion in damage claims should another major hurricane hit the Texas coast, said Horseshoe Bay Senator Troy Fraser. He said Thursday that passage of his bill, SB 14, is vital to protecting the state from an enormous cost. "I said before the session started, we have to pass two bills this session, one is the budget, and the other one is the TWIA windstorm bill, and I still believe that," he said. His bill would use bonds issued before or after a storm to pay for damage claims, with surcharges on coastal insurance policies used to pay those bonds back. Above $2 billion in claims, and the rest of the state would chip in through premium surcharges, splitting the cost 70/30 with coastal residents. The state could also assess millions to TWIA member companies in the event of a hurricane.

In committee this week, the Senate State Affairs Committee heard testimony about a bill that would permit the concealed carrying of handguns by licensed individuals on Texas college campuses. Bill sponsor Senator Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio said Monday that Texas students need to protect themselves in the event of a school shooting like what happened at Virginia Tech. "I don't want Texas college students picked off like sitting ducks by some deranged madman who comes on campus with a weapon as has happened on other campuses throughout the country," he said. The bill would still prohibit carrying a concealed handgun at college sporting events, and would permit universities to set rules about storing guns in residential halls. Students, parents and activists from both sides of the issue testified before the committee. Opponents of the bill say putting more guns on campus would increase the danger to students, while supporters said individuals with concealed carry licenses are careful, conscientious gun owners who have the right to defend themselves wherever they are. The bill remains pending before the committee.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, May 4, at 11 a.m.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.

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