Senate Committee Hears Second Day of Testimony
AUSTIN - The Senate Committee On Education met today, Wednesday, September 8, 2004, at the State Capitol to hear continuing testimony on Interim Charges #1 and #6.
Charge #1 is to study the implementation of SB 186 (relating to the computation of public school dropout and completion rates) and make recommendations for improvements to current statutes and programs; Explore opportunities for maximizing current resources and identifying additional state, federal, and privately-sponsored programs for at-risk students that offer innovative delivery of educational services that encourage students to finish school; And focus on mentoring programs, including, but not limited to Communities in Schools, and the use of technology to provide instruction.
The committee first heard from a panel on Adolescent Literacy: Challenges, Consequences, and Possible Solutions. The two member panel included Dr. Donald Deshler, Director, University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning and Dr. Sharon Vaughn, Director, Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts, University of Texas at Austin.
A second panel addressed the committee, this one on At-Risk Programs. The panel featured Dr. Susan Barnes, Associate Commissioner for Standards and Programs, Texas Education Agency (TEA); Christi Martin, Director of Education Initiatives; Carol Smith, Rider 69 Audit Manager, State Auditor's Office; and Virginia Carmichael, Project Manager, State Auditor's Office. Ms. Carmichael stated that "success in working with at-risk students depends also on how the local district is able to identify the needs and provide the services that their at-risk students need, and this varies widely from district to district."
Interim Charge #6 is to study the TEA's implementation of the state's new accountability system and make recommendations to resolve any problems found; Examine the impact of the federal No Child Left Behind law on the state's accountability system and make recommendations for changes to state law to meet the federal legislation; Examine the ability of the current Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) database to meet future information needs and recommend changes, if necessary; And review and make recommendations on innovative alternatives for tracking student performance.
A panel including Dr. Chriss Cloudt, Associate Commissioner for Accountability and Data Quality, TEA; Dr. Adrain Johnson, Superintendent, La Marque ISD; Dr. Daniel King, Superintendent, Hidalgo ISD; and Dr. David Splitek, Superintendent, Lackland ISD gave an Accountability System Overview.
A panel also spoke to the issue of Federal and State Accountability Issues. The panel included: Dr. Cloudt; Gene Lenz, Deputy Associate Commissioner for Special Programs, Monitoring and Interventions, TEA; Nancy Stevens, Deputy Associate Commissioner for Accountability Performance & Monitoring, TEA; Dr. Mike Strozeski, Assistant Superintendent of Accountability and Continuous Improvement, Richardson ISD; and Dr. Francine Holland, Deputy Executive Director for Instructional Services, Region XI Educational Service Center.
The Next Phase of Accountability was addressed in a panel featuring: Sandy Kress, Former Senior Education Advisor on the No Child Left Behind Act, President George W. Bush; John Stevens, Executive Director, Texas Business and Education Coalition; Dr. Splitek; and Dr. Strozeski. Mr. Kress said that "Texas has been ahead of the curve in so many ways for so long, but we've got a lot of things to do to stay ahead. It's going to be a very important time in the next few years for federal policy to be aligned with our efforts."
Public Testimony followed. The Senate Committee on Education is chaired by Senator Florence Shapiro. Members include: Senator Royce West (vice-chair), 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 stands in recess subject to the call of the chair.
Senate Committee Examines Valley Water Problems
The Texas Senate Select Committee on Water Policy traveled to Brownsville today, September 8, 2004, to examine issues regarding water supplies in the Rio Grande Valley. The main areas of concern were the security of the water supply, financing additional infrastructure and the availability of water from Mexico.
Mayor Eddie Treviño of Brownsville welcomed the committee, saying that the city was in the unique position of being both on the coast and the Mexican border, and because of that had unique water needs. With a population on both sides of the border that is rapidly growing, Trevino said its need for a stable water supply is critical, saying that Brownsville is "no longer that sleepy town along the border".
Committee member Frank Madla of San Antonio then briefed the committee on the work of his Subcommittee on the Lease of State Water Rights. The question of selling those state-owned water rights to the private sector has been controversial in west Texas, and his subcommittee held four hearings to gauge public sentiment. Madla said that specific rules need to be adopted by the Legislature which would clarify exactly what powers certain state agencies have. He said it was wrong for a "small group of individuals" to make decisions on whether state-owned water should be sold.
Regarding the security of the drinking water supply, Buck Henderson of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, reported that while Texas had increased security around water system plants and was indeed ahead of other states, there is more to be done. He said that the state's water systems are implementing emergency response plans since not every threat could be anticipated. Jack Colley of the Governor's Division of Emergency Management told the committee that local water authorities face increased costs when implementing security measures, that that "great strides have been made". Jim Darling, McAllen City Attorney, told the committee that state and federal authorities need to allow local governments greater flexibility in how those funds are spent. He said the cities of the Rio Grande Valley have water supplies that are especially vulnerable since much of it is delivered via open canals. These canals were originally built to supply river water to farmers, but are today being used as the means of getting water to the cities.
Kevin Ward from the Texas Water Development Board described how additional infrastructure for local water authorities could be financed. Ward told the committee members that in the 42 counties that make up the border area, there is a need for $785 million dollars in funding to bring local water supplies in the underserved communities called colonias up to state standards. Committee Chairman Ken Armbrister said that back when the Legislature had authorized funding for colonia water upgrades, it was under the impression that no more of these settlements would be built. Apparently, he said, that is not the case. Ward also reported that statewide, the need for infrastructure improvements is almost five billion dollars.
Carlos Rubenstein, Regional Director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, spoke on the treaty between the United States and Mexico that governs water use from the Rio Grande. He told the committee that while Mexico has made good on water deliveries in recent months, there still remains a water debt left over from previous droughts and that the U.S. and Mexico still have not come up with a long-term plan to ensure treaty compliance by both sides. A panel of Rio Grande Valley representatives followed, giving further details on the difficulties that the Valley has had getting enough water out of the Rio Grande.
The Texas Senate Select Committee on Water Policy is chaired by Senator Ken Armbrister. Members include Senators Kip Averitt, Robert Deuell, Robert Duncan, Troy Fraser, Jon Lindsay, Eddie Lucio, Frank Madla Eliot Shapleigh, Todd Staples and Tommy Williams. The committee recessed subject to call of the chair.