WEEK IN REVIEW
(AUSTIN) — Several Senators gathered at a Tuesday press conference to support accepting more than $500 million in federal stimulus money for unemployment insurance. Some in state leadership have cautioned that this money comes with strings attached, in the form of required reform to the state's unemployment policies. Senator Rodney Ellis thinks the state should make these changes and take the money. "I've heard the concerns that the unemployment funding in the Federal stimulus package comes with strings attached. Quite frankly, I don't care," said Houston Senator Rodney Ellis. "To a Texan who has lost a job and worries how they are going to pay their bills, the aid isn’t a string; it’s a lifeline."
In order to receive all $555 million from the federal stimulus plan for unemployment, the state would have to make a number of statutory changes to the policies that govern who gets unemployment insurance and why. The state would have to begin using a claimant's last earnings from the previous four quarters to determine the size of insurance payments, and would have to extend benefits to part-time employees and those that leave employment to follow a spouse to a new location.
Wednesday, Senate Education Committee Chair Senator Florence Shapiro saw committee approval for her plan to reform the state's policy of granting automatic admission for students that graduate in the top ten percent of their high school class to a state school of their choice. The top ten percent rule has come under fire from officials at the University of Texas at Austin, who say that because demand for admission is so high they will soon only admit freshmen under this rule "This is a capacity issue for us, we simply do not have the room to take all the top ten percent students. It has become a crisis for us, not just in the future, but right now," said UT President Bill Powers.
Shapiro's bill, SB 175, would cap top-ten rule admissions at any state school to half of the incoming freshman class. Admissions would start at the top down: first, the top one percent graduates would be admitted, then the top two percent graduates and so on until the cap is reached. The rest of the applicants would be placed into the general application pool. SB 175 passed the Senate Higher Education Committee on a vote of 4-1, and will now head to the full Senate for further consideration.
Shapiro also unveiled a new school accountability plan at a Thursday press conference. She co-chaired an interim study committee on this issue, traveling across the state to hear testimony from teachers, parents and administrators. SB 3 is the culmination of this study. SB 3 would begin judging schools success based on how well students are prepared for college or the workforce. Shapiro said the previous system set standards too low and only created the illusion of progress. "Change for the better is what we're looking for," she said. "Students need to be moved forward, and we need to change to the trends that we see confronting the state of Texas in the future."
The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 9 at 1:30 p.m.