What's new . . .
I regret to report that the chances for a special session on school finance reform are dimming. The State Senate and House Joint Working Groups on School Finance Reform and Educational Excellence and other groups of legislators are continuing to meet. Senator Florence Shapiro, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, released an outline of a plan last week that would rework the school finance system, increase teacher salaries, restore the $1,000 educator health insurance supplement, provide a teacher incentives program, and reduce local property taxes. The plan would be funded by a combination of business, sales, and tobacco taxes. Despite these activities, no consensus has developed among members of the House and Senate, and the Governor continues to state that he will not announce another special session on school finance until there is a consensus. With five months remaining before the 2005 regular legislative session and the school finance lawsuit going to trial in August, it does not appear that an education special session will be called. Information on the pending lawsuit and school finance hearings is available at: www.capitol.state.tx.us/psf/capitol.htm.
Meanwhile, legislative committees continue to hold public hearings on their interim assignments. Two of my committees met recently, the Sunset Advisory Commission and the Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade. The Sunset Commission met for two days in Austin to review the Public Utility Commission and Office of Public Utility Counsel and make decisions on the Texas Lottery Commission, Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, and Texas State Board of Podiatric Medical Examiners. Discussions at these meetings focused on recent problems at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, telecommunications issues, and the purposes of the Office of Public Utility Counsel. The Senate International Relations and Trade (IRT) Committee met in San Antonio to review the effects of federal legislation on the border economy. In addition, the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations (IGR) met to examine the fees charged by county clerks when they receive requests for copies of public documents, the Joint Interim Committee on Nutrition and Health in Public Schools (Nutrition) met to examine the role of proper nutrition in public education, and the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education met to review the effects of the 1997 legislation that requires Texas state universities to automatically admit students who are in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating class and the 2003 tuition deregulation legislation. If you would like to review the testimony given at these hearings, you can visit the committee website and click on the Audio/Video Archives for the appropriate date: www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/Senate/commit/c535/c535.htm.
To review any of the other committees mentioned here, you can visit those websites at the following links:
Sunset Advisory Committee - http://www.sunset.state.tx.us/
Senate I R T Committee - www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/Senate/commit/c545/c545.htm
Senate I G R Committee - www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/Senate/commit/c520/c520.htm
Nutrition - www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/Senate/commit/c875/c875.htm
Another issue of interest to those with school-age children is last week's vote by the State Board of Education to require students following the Recommended High School and Distinguished Achievement High School programs to take four years of science in high school beginning with students who enter the ninth grade in the 2007-2008 school year. This new requirement is important to note because effective with the upcoming 2004-2005 school year, the Recommended High School Program becomes the program in which students entering ninth grade this fall will automatically be enrolled. While the new science requirement will not apply to this year's ninth-graders, it will apply to all who enter ninth grade in 2007. The extra year of science is contingent on the Legislature providing the more than $200 million the requirement is estimated to cost. For more information on the Recommended High School Program requirement, see the Focus section below.
Focus . . .
One of the goals of the "Closing the Gaps" initiative of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (featured in last month's Email Update) is to "close the gaps in participation rates in higher education across Texas . . ." In order to close the gaps in participation rates in higher education, more students must be encouraged to take a college preparatory curriculum in high school. In 2001, the Texas Legislature addressed this goal by enacting the provision in House Bill 1144 that makes the Recommended High School Program, rather than the Minimum High School Program, the required or "default" program for students entering ninth grade in 2004 and thereafter.
There are three high school graduation programs in Texas:
- The Minimum High School Program requires 22 credits for graduation including four credits (years) of English Language Arts, three credits of Mathematics, two credits of Science, two and one-half credits in Social Studies, one-half credit in Economics, one credit in an Academic Elective, one and one-half credits in Physical Education, one-half credit in Health Education, one credit in Technology Applications, one-half credit in Speech, and five and one-half credits in Elective Courses. Students in the Minimum program are not required to take a Language Other Than English or a Fine Art and they have more choices as to which courses they take within each subject area. They also take fewer credits in Social Studies and Science than the Recommended and Distinguished Achievement programs for graduation. For all students entering high school prior to the 2004-2005 school year, the Minimum program was the program they were automatically enrolled in (the default program) unless they chose to enroll in the Recommended or Distinguished program.
- The Recommended High School Program requires 24 credits for graduation including four credits of English Language Arts, three credits of Mathematics, three credits of Science, three and one-half credits in Social Studies, one-half credit in Economics, one and one-half credits in Physical Education, two credits in a Language Other Than English, one-half credit in Health Education, one credit in Technology Applications, one credit in Fine Arts, one-half credit in Speech, and three and one-half credits in Elective Courses. As noted above, beginning in the 2007-2008 school year, students in the Recommended program will be required to take four credits of Science, reducing the Elective Courses to two and one-half credits. Students in the Recommended program have fewer choices as to which courses they may take within each academic area than students in the Minimum program. For all students entering high school in the 2004-2005 school year and thereafter, the Recommended program will be the program they are enrolled in (the default program) unless the student, the student's parent or other persons standing in parental relation to the student, and a school counselor or school administrator agree that the student should be permitted to take courses under the Minimum program.
- The Distinguished Achievement/Advanced High School Program also requires 24 credits for graduation. The requirements are the same as those of the Recommended program except that the Distinguished Achievement program requires three credits (instead of two) in a Language Other Than English, which results in two and one-half credits of Elective Courses, and the Distinguished program also requires students to complete specific "Advanced Measures" that focus on demonstrated student performance at the college or professional level. Beginning in the 2007-2008 school year, students in the Distinguished Achievement program will be required to take four credits of Science, reducing the Elective Courses to one and one-half credits.
College Board advanced placement and International Baccalaureate courses may be substituted for requirements in appropriate areas. Detailed information on the three programs is available from your local high school or you can read the law online at: www.tea.state.tx.us/rules/tac/chapter074/ch074e.html .
For students seeking to continue their education at a college or university, the Recommended or Distinguished Achievement programs are truly the "minimum" required plan. However, according to the Texas Education Agency, in the 2003-2004 school year (in Texas public schools), a total of 75,770 graduating seniors were enrolled in the Minimum graduation program. This compares to 134,561 graduating seniors enrolled in the Recommended graduation program and 16,903 enrolled in the most rigorous of the three plans, the Distinguished Achievement program. With the new law making the Recommended program the default program going into effect this school year, these numbers should change significantly. And, should the issue of opting out of the Recommended program for the Minimum program come up for your child, be aware of how important this decision is for your child's future.
Did you know . . .?
While driving on our Texas highways, I am sure you have noticed the wide variety of Texas license plates displayed on vehicles. Originally, the State of Texas issued only one type of license plate. Today, there are over 100 different license plate themes that can be purchased for your vehicle. The themes range from college and universities to sports teams to a wide variety of organizations. By purchasing a "themed" license plate, you not only give your vehicle a different appearance, but it also gives you the opportunity to contribute to one of your favorite organizations. A fee of $15-$30 is charged in addition to the regular yearly registration fee and other applicable fees and a portion of that fee is donated to the specific organization represented on the license plate of your choice. There are also military plates available (to those who qualify) with lower fees than the typical "themed" plates in recognition of the importance of military service. Click on the following link to view the different plates that are available. Once you click on the plates of your choice, you will then be able to see exactly how much the plates will cost and where the proceeds will go, as well as download a form for ordering the plates. www.txdot.state.tx.us/vtr/vtrreginfo.htm?pg=digplate.
In closing . . .
Democratic government depends on the informed and active participation of its citizens and requires that governmental bodies protect the citizen's right to know by making public records accessible. This can only be achieved by requiring Texas legislators to record their votes. While the primary objective of a possible special session is education, I feel that it is also the perfect time to emphasize the need for recording votes in the Texas House and Senate. I will file legislation in any called special sessions and/or the next regular session requiring that votes taken in the Texas Legislature be recorded.
As always, if I or my staff can be of assistance to you, please do not hesitate to contact us.
State Senator - District 16