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January 26, 2011     Hays Free Press
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January 26, 2011
 

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Hays Free Press January 26, 2011 OMNIOM Page 5A I + G~exasOVemor Rick Perry spoke of with suitable pomp and owing terms at his inaugura- tion on Jan. 18, and afterwards sat down to a barbecue meal served on the Capitol grounds for an estimated 14,000 well-wishers and officials, San Antonio businessman Red Mc- Combs saved the state some cash by sponsoring the catered meal, offered flee of charge to those who reserved tickets online, via the inaugural com- mittee's web site. Perry, who in his speech referred to the 21st century as "The Texas Cen- tury," enters his third consecutive four- year term as governor. Perry moved from the role of lieutenant governor to govemor in December 2000, when then-Gov. George W. Bush resigned to pursue the presidency. Perry's name toms up as a potential Republican candidate for president in 2012, but the govemor has not signaled interest in seeking the presidency. PROPOSED CUTS COMMAND ATTENTION One sentence out of Gov. Perry's inaugural speech: "We must continue investing in our people, developing young minds, grooming and attract- ing the best and brightest in the fields of science and medicine, and giving individuals the tools and the freedom to prosper." Perry did infer in the same speech, however, that serious belt-tightening would be needed. A day after Perry said those words on the south steps of the Capitol, the Leg- islative Budget Board offered up House Bill 1, the general appropriations bill for 2012-2013. The 900-plus page state budget bill, as currently written, suggests cuts that could be made on a path to a balanced budget that would compensate for a $27 billion revenue shortfall. Suggestions such as the cutting of 10,000 public education jobs and four community colleges are noticed quickly. For example, Rep. Jim Keffer, R-East- land, immediately called the proposed closure of his district's Ranger College "the height of irresponsibility." And then, Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxa- hachie, who chairs the House Appro- priations Committee and serves on the 10-member Legislative Budget Board, CAPITAL had this to sa3n. "I appreciate the concems of my colleagues regarding the elimination of state funding for four community col- leges. The points that have been raised am valid and deserve a full review. Over the coming days and months, other such concerns will be identified. 'As I said on the House floor, I am committed to thoroughly examining this and other issues to determine whether the priorities provided for in this initial budget proposal am appropriate, and ensuring that we protect essential services while staying true to our core missions. Through the process, we will make adjustments as determined necessary by this body." So, the budget bill truly is a start- ing point, and maybe lawmakers will find a wayto keep education cuts to a minimum. After all, it's been said many times and in many places by many state lawmakers and other top officials that education is the key to our state's economic progress and future in general. MORE ADDED TO PLOWS LIST OF MUSTS The governors list of emergency items for the legislature to attend to this session is growing. Perry last week said he wants a law passed that requires a sonogram of a woman's embryo or fetus, so the im- age could be viewed before abortion pmcedures would ensue. Other emergency items the governor has said he wants addressed: stricter voter identification requirements, a balanced state budget, and lawsuit reforlIL By lawsuit reform, a governor's office news release said he means: Creating an early dismissal option for frivolous lawsuits; Ensuring victims of frivolous law- suits do not bear the financial burden of defending themselves through the creation of a"loser pays" system; Ensuring new laws cannot create causes of action unless expressly estab- lished by the Legislature; and Setting up expedited trials and lim- ited discovery for lawsuits with claims between $10,000 and $100,000. STATE'S I IPLOYMI IT RATE IMPROVES Texas' total nonfarm employment increased by 20,000 jobs in December, the Texas Workforce Commission an- nounced Jan. 21. Texas has gained 230,800 jobs since 2009, but today, the state's unemploy- ment rate remains at 8.3 percent. In contrast, the U.S. Department of Labor tabulated the national tmem- ployment rate at 9.4 percent for the month. Currentl the Texas Workforce Commission estimates the number of Texans working at 12.2 million. Ed Sterling works for the Texas Press Association and follows the Legislature for the association. edsterling@texaspress.com "t's not the dollar-driven cottage industry that denying evidence .about global warming has be- come, but stay tuned. With budget savings in view, the full-court press is on in state legisla- tures to deny that smaller class sizes help students do better. Tight state budgets am forcing the "science," the rationalizing of larger class sizes. In reality, we am talking about the whims of policy makers who can only guess what it actually takes to "leave no child behind" relative to the very standards on which they insist. As a parent, it always was simple intuition to me that a smaller class made a difference. Then one day I saw it in reality- as a teacher. My intuition now tells me that those who trivialize dass size aren't as interested in student success as their dime-store slogans say. In Florida in November, voters re- jected a dollar-driven effort to amend the state constitution and to lift strict class-size requirements. In Texas, State Comptroller Susan Combs has advocated removing a long- mandated 22-1 student-teacher ratio in grades I(-4. Her plan would eliminate 11,900 teaching positions statewide. Combs' report states that classes with a 1-25 ratio "could operate without any loss of instructional effectiveness." Well. That depenck What kind of class are we talking about? lfthe issue is the basic skills that second-graders need to compete withTaiwanese second-grad- ers, Combs' claim is specious at best. How do I know? Because I saw how a smaller class benefited one particu- lar student on a basic skill in a rare snow day in the Sun Belt. On that February day. a dusting left CentralTexas streets slippe~, at least until midday. About half of the students in my 8 a.m. developmental writing class at the community college hit "snooze" and stayed in their warm beds. Remarkably, among those who showed up was o.ne I least expected. Call him Tony. Tony uitimately would not pass the course, for he would find just about any atmospheric event as grounds not to attend. And when he was there, he made himself invisible. Expecting him to show up for extra help outside of class also was out of the question. On this snow day, Tony- being inexplicably present in an almost barren classroom- could not hide. And I, being there as well, had to teach something to someone. To my surprise, when it was him and me, Tony and I were connecting, and he was learning. I felt a great buzz. I knew Tony could succeed in my class. I felt he believed the same. It didn't happen, partly because of his poor attendance and partly because with a typicallylarge class, in no way could I address his needs to make the requisite difference in his instruction. But the snow-day experience pointed out the absurdity of the claim made by people who say class size doesn~ matter. Of course it does, particularly when the emphasis is on the very basic skills on which schools are hammered by state policy makers - math, wriling, reading. These are endeavors in which the teacher needs to go around the room and make sure everyone is on the same page. The Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Depart- raent of Education, calls dass-size reduction one of very fea proven means of increasing student achievement. In denial, some policy makers have their heads back in ivy-dotted college lecture periods where the fascina- tion quotient (and tuition invested) keeps an auditorium of sophomores and freshmen rapt. Yeah, try that with second-graders. Class size matters. Anyone who be- lieves otherwise ought to try saddling up 25 mounts from differing starling points and riding them to one destination. Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Wouno umn jmag.com Bill gives too much leeway on spending In.today's en oamertt of leaner bhdgets and increased taxes, it is important for elected officials to ................ remember whose money is resting in ..... their coffers and every penny must be accounted for and all spending justified. While voters chose to elect indi- viduals to oversee the nmning of the city, coun school and state, it is the hired administrators who take care of the day-in and day-out business of keeping the wheels amting and services available. While elected officials place their faith in hired administrators to conduct business properly, voters do not intend to sim- ply open the purse strings and allow tax dollars to flow uncontrolled and unaccounted. A bill filed by State Rep. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson, aims to unlock the bank and give gov- ernmental bodies greatly increased authority to spend public funds without public oversight. House Bill 679 allows a governing body to grant authority to an official or employee responsible for ptmchas- ing or for administering a contract to approve a change order that involves an increase or decrease of $50,000 or less. That is a significant increase from the present $25,000 threshold which all governmental entities must adhere to before seeking approval from the elected governing body. Button claims the increase is needed to offset rising costs of conducting regular business, due to inflation. Govermnent lobbyists have used that argument of adjusting for inflation for a couple of sessions and will most likely sing the same song this session. While voters go about their everyday lives trusting city, county and school officials to conduct the people's business in the best and most honest manner possible- and the majority of them do - voters do want someone to be held account- able when it comes to spending tax dollars. House Bill 679 could give non- elected administrators broader lati- tude where tax dollars am concerned and take elected officials out of the picture, thus leaving voters with little or no say in how their money is spent. In effect, government purchasers could avoid any public scrutiny, including in some cases, even elected officials, because the purchase would then be lumped in with other invoices, which too often become part of a consent agenda item, and quicklyapproved by elected officials without discussion or review. The bill also has the potential to open the door to possible preferen- tial treatment/punishment of out- spoken business owners with zoning issues or other political issues with the administrator of a local govern- ing entity where local purchases of goods or services is concerned. Rep. Button should reconsider HB 679, so elected officials - those people hired directly by the people's vote- are left with the responsibility of authorizing major purchases with tax dollars. Reprinted with permission from the Longview News-]ournal +