PERRY DELIVERS STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS
(AUSTIN) — Govenor Rick Perry today laid out his priorities for the upcoming 80th Legislative session in his bi-annual State of the State address. Education, health care and border security were the central themes of his speech, but he also called for more money for cancer research, childhood obesity reduction, and a possible sale of the state lottery to a private company. He also asked both Republicans and Democrats to set aside past differences and to work together to achieve necessary goals for the state. "Before us is a unique opportunity to address great challenges," he said. "We can either dissolve into partisan disputes that leave Texas no better off for the 140 days that we are here, or we can join together in a spirit of bipartisan unity for causes greater than self - greater than political party."
One of Perry's major priorities for the regular session is to find a way to get health insurance to the 5.5 million Texans without coverage. He advocated taking some of the money Texas receives from the federal government for indigent health care, and, supplementing that with some state money, creating a funding pool to help pay insurance premiums for the 2 million Texans living below the federal poverty limit. With respect to Medicaid, Perry said the federal government should give states the flexibility to customize benefits packages for differing populations. He also wants to create a multi-billion dollar cancer research program to improve treatment and prevention here and across the nation.
Perry outlined several education reforms in his speech. He wants to put $80 million towards the Early Start Pre-Kindgergarten program, and also to increase funding for higher-education financial aid by $360 million. Perry also proposed $50 million for a program to increase the number of nurses in Texas through better recruiting of students and a more streamlined approach to the licensing process. His budget also includes full funding for the El Paso Medical School and the Irma Rangel Pharmacy School in south Texas.
Perry said the state should spend more money on border security, in order to put more manpower and technology along the Rio Grande. The state should end the practice of collecting fees for one purpose, and then spending that money on another purpose, such as balancing the budget.
Much of the money needed for Perry's initiatives would come from a potential sale of the state lottery to a private company. Perry said that with more and more states trying to sell their lotteries, Texas must move quickly in order to get the best deal. He estimates selling the lottery could net as much as $14 billion. Of that money, Perry said he would put $2.7 billion for an indigent healthcare fund, $3 billion for cancer research, and the rest of the money towards an endowment that could supply up to $800 million each year for public schools.
|Lt. Governor David Dewhurst calls the Senate to order for a joint session of the Legislature called to allow Governor Rick Perry to deliver his State of the State address.|
Lt. Governor David Dewhurst said he isn't so sure about selling the lottery. Relying on the rate of investment return from a public education endowment could leave the state short of cash. "One of my initial concerns is, that if the numbers that were mentioned this morning, $8 billion in a trust fund for public education, depending upon the rate of return, you could be some where between a billion or a billion and a half short each biennium," said Dewhurst. "That money would have to come from general revenue."
Education Committee Chair Florence Shapiro said that voters who approved the creation of the lottery in the past with the expectation of that money going to education could feel short-changed. "Currently in the state budget $1.1 billion [in lottery money] a year goes to education," she said. "If the numbers the Lt. Governor is referencing are correct, we could be short that money, and the citizens voted for the lottery for the purpose of education funding."
Also today, Shapiro, Dewhurst, and Galveston Senator Kyle Janek unveiled legislation in the form of Senate Bill 4 to increase the quality and accountability of state charter schools. The "Champion Charter Schools Act" seeks to reward high-achieving charter schools and eliminate lower performing ones, as well as create a system of accountability to ensure continuing educational quality. The plan would create an incentive for schools that make the Texas Education Agencies' "Exemplary" or "Recognized" list, giving those schools up to $1000 per student for facilities expansion. Schools that make the 'unacceptable list' two years in a row would be closed.
Under SB4, all charter schools would have to undergo the charter issuance process. In order to get a new charter, schools must have more assets than liablities for the past fiscal year, and at least 25 percent of students must meet reading and math requirements set by the state. Certain schools would get automatic reissuance, including schools that are run by a government organization, serve student populations with 85 percent or more students in residential housing facilites, or schools that had charters issued after 2002.
Janek said that this program will promote good practices while eliminating schools that don't teach their students. "You weed out the bad, you make the good ones solvent, and you export the successes," he said. "You can't ask for much more out of a charter school bill."
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, February 7 at 11:00 a.m.