What's new . . .
Another school finance special session in mid-July is still the talk at the State Capitol. The Senate and House Joint Working Groups on School Finance Reform have both met and begun to outline general areas of agreement. Consensus has not been reached on specific legislation to date, but House and Senate members are working in the joint committees, through small group meetings of legislators, and through conference calls to develop a compromise plan that addresses both educational excellence and school finance issues. You can follow the progress of the Working Groups online at: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/psf/workingGroups.htm. The school finance lawsuit, brought by about 200 independent school districts, is scheduled to go to court on August 9th. I continue to believe it is the Legislature's responsibility to act now, although the authority to call the Legislature into session rests exclusively with the Governor.
While legislators are working on school funding, they are also meeting in committees to study issues which will shape much of the legislation of the next session. The committees are holding public hearings, conducting research on their assigned topics, and will be making recommendations by December 1, 2004, with draft legislation. Following are summaries of some of the interim committee meetings. Committee websites are also provided should you want more information.
- Senate Higher Education Subcommittee - Changes to current law which requires the state's public universities to automatically admit the top 10% of students in each Texas high school are being discussed. Currently 60-65% of the entering freshman are admitted under the top 10% law at UT and 70% at A&M.
- Senate Jurisprudence Committee - Conducted a hearing on Thursday, May 6, 2004, to study insanity defense laws and evaluate the impact of changing the defense of "not guilty by reason of insanity" to "guilty, but insane."
- Senate Workers' Compensation Select Interim Committee - Met to hear invited testimony concerning the potential impact of provider networks on the workers' compensation health care delivery system. In addition, the Committee took testimony on the impact of the Texas Workers' Compensation Commission's 2002 Medical Fee Guidelines on the access to quality medical care for injured workers and medical costs.
- Senate Criminal Justice Committee - Met to discuss best practices for probation and community supervision programs. Specifically, the committee discussed programs to reduce underage drinking.
- Sunset Advisory Committee - Has met and listened to testimony for the following agencies: Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, Texas State Board of Podiatric Medical Examiners, Texas Optometry Board, Texas Lottery Commission, Texas Workers' Compensation Commission. In addition, the Sunset Commissioners have made final decisions regarding the following agencies: Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, Texas State Board of Barber Examiners, Texas Cosmetology Commission, Texas Board of Chiropractic Examiners, and Texas State Board of Pharmacy. The recommendations will now be prepared as legislation to be debated in the 2005 session of the Texas Legislature.
- Senate Finance Committee - Has met and reviewed fees at state regulatory agencies, funding for homeland security, institutions of higher education, budgetary concerns for prison populations and state bond issuance.
- Senate Business and Commerce Committee - The committee has reviewed the Residential Construction Commission to determine its effectiveness, Texas usury laws, and electric competition and renewable energy sources.
- Senate Health and Human Services Committee - The committee has reviewed possible improvements to the foster care system, health facility regulation, and patient safety.
- Senate Infrastructure Development and Security Committee - Various methods of research that states are doing to reduce the uninsured motorist rate have been brought before the committee. The Texas Department of Public Safety is in the process of building a database in conjunction with insurance carriers and using a policy number or identifier to determine those in compliance and those who are not.
- Senate Intergovernmental Relations Committee - The committee met in order to discuss their Interim Charge #2, which requires a joint study of the effect of subdividing uniform state service regions into urban/exurban areas and rural areas. Exurban, is currently defined as "an incorporated city that is not a rural area and has a population no greater than 100,000 based on the most current information published by the U.S. Census Bureau."
- Senate Government Organization Committee - Has met to study the management of state assets and leases, including real estate, leased space, inventory and other assets by the General Land Office, the Texas Building and Procurement Commission, as well as other agencies.
In other news, I am pleased that the Texas quarter is now available. In 1999, I authored the legislation that designated the committee to design the Texas quarter, and I was honored to serve on the design committee.
Focus . . .
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and "Closing the Gaps" Initiative
The 2000 census revealed that Texas' population grew faster and its population diversified further than previously projected. New projections from the office of State Demographer Steve Murdock indicate that by 2026 the Hispanic population in Texas will be the largest population group in the state and Texas will be a minority-majority state. To address the impact on enrollment in institutions of higher education by these projected population changes, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (Coordinating Board) adopted the "Closing the Gaps" initiative.
The four goals of the Closing the Gaps plan to be accomplished by 2015 are:
- Close the gaps in participation rates in higher education across Texas to add 500,000 more students, reflecting an increase in overall enrollment and proportionate increases in each ethnic group.
- Increase by 50% the number of degrees, certificates, and other identifiable student successes from high quality programs. To meet current and projected workforce demand, Texas must award more degrees in ALL areas, but in particular, degrees are needed in nursing, technology related disciplines and teaching careers.
- Substantially increase the number of nationally recognized programs or services at colleges and universities in Texas, with institutions coordinating their programs and services to insure that needs are being met in every part of the state.
- Increase the level of federal science and engineering research funding to Texas institutions by 50% to $1.3 billion to support the work of higher quality faculty and graduate students.
In the past, Texas has concentrated on access to college. The top 10% law is an example of this effort. Under the Closing the Gaps initiative, Texas is also focusing on improving retention, graduation, and overall education quality. When you take the difference in income for a high school graduate and a college graduate over a 40-year working life, there is a lifetime earning difference of over $1.2 million. Taking steps to encourage enrollment in higher education is vital to the economic development of the future of Texas . As we work on the quality and financing of public education in Texas , we must also focus on our commitment to higher education in Texas .
Did you know . . .?
Summertime is here and the traveling season has begun. For those of you who are in the midst of planning summer vacations within Texas, the following link provides a great deal of helpful information such as popular events and activities going on across the state, lodging options, and trip saver coupons. http://www.traveltex.com/
The Texas State Railroad State Park in Rusk, Texas , has launched its "Kids Ride Free" summer promotion and lasts through Labor Day Weekend. The train ride is very enjoyable for kids and adults of all ages. The following site provides additional information for the Texas State Railroad State Park , http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/railroad/.
Are you looking for ideas to keep your children busy on these hot summer days? The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has a website designed for kids that is fun and educational. The website contains many explorative ideas for children along with facts and pictures of different native species. Please visit http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/adv/kidspage/.
TPWD offers an assortment of outdoor programs and educational resources throughout the year that may interest you. To find out detailed information regarding what is offered visit http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/involved/programs/.
In closing . . .
Congratulations to our Senate District 16 school districts - Dallas , Garland , Highland Park , Mesquite , and Richardson - for exceeding the overall statewide percentage of students who passed all of the TAKS tests. The statewide average passing rates range from 49-75 percent passing, compared to District 16 with a range of 54-95 percent passing. Good job students, parents, teachers, and administrators!
As always, if I or my staff can be of assistance to you, please do not hesitate to contact us.
State Senator - District 16