Education

Capital Tonight: Public education chair talks frankly about school funding

Students starting high school for the first time next year will have a brand new slate of graduation options ahead of them. In the meantime, lawmakers are still wrestling with the complex process of implementing those changes, which were passed last legislative session.

In Wednesday’s Capital Tonight, we heard the concerns some lawmakers have about whether the pathways to graduation are too complicated for students and parents to navigate. Plus, we talked to the Public Education Committee Chair, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, about how counselors and increased funding will play a role in making the new law go more smoothly in the future.

BOND INFORMATION

Voters across Central Texas will have bond propositions to consider on the May ballot. But figuring out where exactly the money goes and how it affects local debt can by a tricky task. State Comptroller Susan Combs joined us in-studio next to talk about her office’s efforts to increase transparency with a helpful new website.

DEADLINE DELAY

The Obama administration is giving people more time to sign up for health insurance as part of the Affordable Care Act. The deadline to sign up was slated for March 31st, but The White House had hinted last week an extension was in the works. We spoke to enrollment experts in Austin to see how they’re dealing with the change.

Cigarroa steps down as UT System chancellor, says fight over Powers unrelated

The head of the University of Texas System formally announced he would end his five-year tenure to return to transplant surgery.

In a press conference Monday, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said he had accomplished everything he’d set out to do as chancellor, and that it always had been his intention to return to medicine full-time. Cigarroa has accepted a job as head of pediatric transplant surgery at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Cigarroa touted his accomplishments as chancellor, including the establishment of two new medical schools: the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the Dell School of Medicine at UT Austin. He also cited his Framework for Advancing Excellence, which the UT Board of Regents adopted in 2011. The plan called for increased engineering education, expanded online learning and the Horizon Fund, which provides seed money for the commercialization of UT research.

The chancellor’s departure comes during a tumultuous time for the Board of Regents, UT Austin President Bill Powers and the Texas Legislature. In December, Cigarroa announced Powers would stay on as president, but cited strained tensions with the board. Meanwhile, a joint committee of lawmakers is investigating UT Regent Wallace Hall, who has been accused of a “witch hunt” against Powers. Cigarroa said the controversy surrounding the UT Austin president had nothing to do with his decision.

“I evaluate all presidents as I’ve always done, based on facts and performance,” Cigarroa said. “I support President Powers, and I will continue to evaluate presidents every day — not only President Powers but all 15.”

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, who has been supportive of Powers, says she believes the decision has more to do with the fight over leadership than Cigarroa would admit.

“Although I am confident that he will deny any disharmony, I am equally confident that his decision was influenced by the continued negative circumstances at hand. His action personifies the harmful repercussions of the current attack on those who pursue excellence, protect the privacy of students and strive for true transparency for all,” Zaffirini said in a statement.

Cigarroa said he will remain as chancellor until his replacement is found, a process UT Board of Regents Chair Paul Foster says will likely to take 4-6 months. He will also continue to serve the board as an adviser for the UT Rio Grande Valley medical school.

 

Panel posts reviews of controversial CSCOPE lesson plans

A four-member panel created to re-evaluate a set of controversial lesson plans has posted its work online.

State Board of Education Chair Barbara Cargill created the panel, known as the CSCOPE Ad Hoc Committee, after growing concern from parents, educators and conservative bloggers that the CSCOPE lesson plans presented an anti-American and anti-Christian bias. The panel is made up of four SBOE members, along with 140 parents, teachers and other stakeholders chosen by all SBOE members, according to the review committee’s website.

CSCOPE was an online tool created by regional education service centers to help smaller school districts adhere to the state’s education guidelines. An effort in the legislature to kill the system actually moved it into the public domain, where any district can use it., but only after a thorough public review process. It’s now known as the TEKS Resource System.

 

Capital Tonight: Adding up changes to education law

Back to School

The state’s school finance problems were back before a court Wednesday, this time over changes both sides agree need to be included as evidence.

That evidence includes the $3.4 billion in funding restored this session, on top of numerous changes to testing and graduation requirements. District Judge John Dietz has set a new date to take state lawmakers’ changes into account. In Wednesday’s episode, we looked at what to expect from the trial.

Abortion Bills

Abortion law in Texas could be changed drastically if a new Senate bill makes it to the governor’s desk. We spoke to Whole Woman’s Health, a licensed abortion clinic in Austin, to find out what the changes mean.

Immigration Backtrack

Plus, a key player on immigration reform in Washington says he’s thinking of backing out.

Click the image below to see why Congressman John Carter says he has serious concerns with an immigration reform bill he helped draft.

Judge sets date for new school finance trial

The judge in the state’s school finance case has set a date to hear new evidence, based on changes the lawmakers made to education funding this legislative session.

In February, State District Judge John Dietz ruled that the way the state finances schools was unconstitutional. It was based on massive education funding cuts and stricter graduation requirements passed in 2011. Dietz also found disparities between property rich school districts and property poor districts.

The state asked the court to reopen the case based on laws passed during the current legislative session. Lawmakers elected to restore $3.4 billion in education funding and also reduced the number of standardized tests necessary for students to graduate. Lawmakers also passed a bill that creates a vocational path to graduation.

The more than 600 districts that sued in 2011 maintain the entire school funding formula is flawed and that the additional funding won’t fix the basic problem.

Dietz said Wednesday the case will go back to trial on Jan. 6th. He has scheduled six weeks of testimony to hear what the new funding means.

 

Updated: Perry puts education bill veto rumors to rest

Gov. Rick Perry put pen to paper, officially signing a stack of education bills into law today. He was joined by Sen. Dan Patrick and Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock as he formally adopted six bills, including House Bill 5.

Many were closely monitoring the fate of the House education bill. Perry’s actions today put to rest speculation that he might veto the legislation. HB 5 changes high school graduation requirements and lowers the number of standardized tests from 15 to 5. It also creates a pathway to graduation that includes a focus on vocational training as opposed to college readiness.

Rumors had been swirling at the Capitol that Gov. Perry would veto the measure due to concerns that the new standards might not be rigorous enough. While the legislation garnered widespread support from parents and teachers’ organizations, others, like the Texas Association of Business, had been staunchly opposed.

Update: Education Commissioner Michael Williams says his agency will begin work immediately to begin the transition to the new testing requirements. In an email statement, Williams said in the long term, the “revisions will have a great impact on the state accountability system for schools, charters and districts.” He hopes implementation details will be announced “sometime in the near future.”

 

Capital Tonight: Public education issues still unresolved

Back to School

More questions are being raised in about the state’s school funding system.

Players from both sides of the school finance lawsuit were back in court Wednesday in an effort to get District Judge John Dietz to admit public education changes passed out of the 83rd Legislature as evidence. But many of those changes are still up in the air, pending Gov. Rick Perry’s signature — or his veto pen.

Campus Construction

As the special session creeps slowly along, some lawmakers are holding out hope that their legislation will make it on the call.

One push in particular is gaining a lot of attention. Legislation that would have approved about $2.5 billion in tuition revenue bonds fell through in the final hours of the regular session, but backers of the bills are hopeful it will be considered during the special session.

Candidate Perspective

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson stopped by the studio to give his take on the regular session as a candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Click the logo below to see the full interview.

Capital Tonight: Special session all but guaranteed

Extended Session

With only three days left in the regular session, a key part of the overall budget deal has been rejected by the House, at least in its current form. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is signalling that a special session is more than just a possibility.

Click the image below to hear the latest from the Capitol, with insight from Wayne Slater of The Dallas Morning News, Brandi Grissom from the Texas Tribune, Ryan Poppe of Texas Public Radio and the Quorum Report‘s Harvey Kronberg.

Education Update

Amid all the budget back-and-forth, questions remain over two House and Senate education bills that have yet to make it to the Governor’s desk.

Senator Leticia Van de Putte is on the committee tasked with working out the differences. She joined us to talk about what the final product could look like.

Rainy Day Relief

Recovery efforts are still underway for the parts of Bastrop County hit by wildfires.

Our John Salazar spoke to elected officials to find out how much money they’re setting aside from the Rainy Day Fund, and the specific relief it will bring.

Capital Tonight: Long-term transportation funding stalls

Dead Stop

Both the House and the Senate approved important pieces of the budget pie yesterday, including money for education and water needs. But long-term transportation funding still hangs in the balance, even though it, too, was included in the list of top lawmakers’ priorities at the beginning of session.

We spoke to Reps. Drew Darby and Joe Pickett about where things stand today.

Budget Blowup

The goodwill that fueled yesterday’s budget breakthrough may already be coming to an end. Rep. Sylvester Turner now says the Senate didn’t hold up its end of a deal to provide $200 million more in education funding, because the money is tied to electricity bill rebates from a fund meant for low-income Texans.

We spoke to Rep. Turner and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams about the disputed deal.

Capital Commentators

Plus, Democratic strategist Harold Cook and Republican strategist Ted Delisi discussed all the day’s political news. Click the logo below to watch the full episode.