The Houston Chronicle's Rick Casey writes about how John Sawyer, a former assistant superintendent for business and finance at Fort Worth ISD, worked with the school district's auditor to use a program under which the federal government "reimbursed school districts for expenses involved in delivering medical and some special education services to low-income children."
Sawyer and his district made a ton of money off the program.
Our resident economist Carl Pellegrini provided Dallas Blog with some price changes over the past twelve months which reflect the rising cost of raw materials. Fresh and dry vegetables increased 57%, gasoline 40.5%, home heating oil and distillates 36.5%, eggs for fresh use 35.1%, oil field and gas field machinery 10.7%, and transformers/power regulators 10%. He sees inflation in raw materials spreading into the capital goods sector. But, according to the new Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, supposedly there is no inflation. Carl Pellegrini is skeptical about that: "Not to worry--the 'it is different this time' Fed--will get us through unharmed." Carl is not so sure and believes that the Fed will be forced to deal with the pervasive effects of this spreading inflation, whether it acknowledges its existence or not.
There is a lot of food for thought here. Carl Pellegrini's next economic analysis for Dallas Blog will be available within a week.
There's only one more town hall meeting scheduled on the 2006 bond program - Council member Dr. Maxine Thornton-Reese hosts one at Beckley-Saner Recreation Center on Tuesday at 6 p.m. - and DallasBlog's read is that voters attending these meetings are on board for a larger bond package.
DallasBlog has attended half a dozen town hall meetings, and from south of the Trinity to the northernmost districts, attendees are saying they want the 2006 bond to be big enough to handle a good portion of the city's ennumerated $7 billion needs package.
But what voters need to be aware of, says one council member, is the effect of some of the projects they want on the city's operating budget in the long run.
Council member Angela Hunt of District 14 (just west of Highland Park) says that while she's been listening carefully to the kinds of programs voters say they want covered, she's keeping an eye on the effect on the city's operational costs.
"One of the issues that we must consider are the operating and maintenance costs associated with certain types of bond projects," she told DallasBlog. "For example, a new road has little to no ongoing maintenance costs, and will likely save us in annual maintenance expenditures. However, if we build a new library or recreation center, each year we have to budget money out of the general fund to pay for electricity, water, employees, etc. That money is not in our budget now, so if we decided to do those types of projects, there would be a tax increase associated with it."
Because the bond meetings are intended to help council members determine which projects to include in the bond program, staff can't project those costs right now. After staff has analyzed the public input, Hunt said, the council will be able to better estimate what the O & M costs are, and what it will mean to the annual budget and to property taxes.
"I and other councilmembers have made it clear to our manager that we want the O & M property tax implications fully explained to the voters," she said.
A Rasmussen poll released today indicates that only 66% of the American people have been following the news about Dick Cheney's hunting accident. Of those only 27% think that the incident raises serious questions about Cheney's ability to serve as VP while 57% see the incident as merely "one of those embarrassing things that happens to all of us." Of those polled 39% believe the US needs stricter gun control laws while 52% disagree.
Points, the Sunday viewpoints section edited by Rod Dreher, had an excellent series of articles and short takes on a wide range of subjects. It quotes Republican Senator Chuck Hagel from Nebraska as saying: "This party that sometimes I don’t recognize anymore has presided over the largest growth of government in the history of the country and maybe even the history of man." I second Chuck Hagel’s concerns about the spending excesses of the Administration and Congress.
Sunday’s Points also has an incisive piece by self-described liberal Jim Sleeper entitled the "Pornification of the Public Square". As Sleeper notes, "Sex sells. And until liberals challenge the free speech that permits it and conservatives protest the free market that preaches it, our kids will pay the price." To read the entire Sleeper article link here (registration required).
Dallas Democrat Suzanne Martin has an excellent article in Points entitled "One sad Democrat" in which she bemoans the lack of solutions being offered by her Party to the serious problems facing our state and nation: "Many of the politicos who failed those folks in the Gulf Coast are elected Democrats. Texas Democrats haven’t exactly being swinging the axes to break the school finance logjam. Washington Democrats act beat-up and tired." To read Suzanne’s entire article, link here (registration required).
Yet, another interesting article (by another Democrat, Mickey Kaus) is about the propaganda barrage in the mainstream media (the Dallas Morning News arts section is one of the worst offenders in this regard) on behalf of the movie about the two homosexual cowboys, Brokeback Mountain. Kaus finds that those folks who are pushing the idea that this is some kind of "breakout" movie are kidding themselves. To read Kaus’ full article, link here (registration required).
Finally, Wendy Shalit has a fascinating piece on how the Orthodox Jews have it right in their attitude towards sexuality. Here is how she concludes her article: "When it comes to modesty, I often wonder, who are the real extremists? Those who insist that only public and tawdry displays of sexuality are legitimate, or those who appreciate privacy and restraint as necessary components for attaining real intimacy." To read Shalit’s entire article, link here (registration required).
By the way, the man who edits the Points section has a new book coming out this week entitled "Crunchy Cons". Rod Dreher makes the case that cultural conservatism needs to re-assert its influence over a conservative movement that seemingly has lost its way. Sounds like Dreher’s book is well worth reading.
Surprisingly, there are two remarkables in Sunday's excursion into mediocrity by the daily's second most unremarkable columnist.
The first was noticed by my buddy Tim Rogers on today's FrontBurner under "Corrections and Clarifications," where he generously provides pro bono editing services.
The second notable is that nowhere in the Sunday column is mentioned the concept of property rights. I guess they've gone the way of horse carriages?
But maybe, Steve, it's not snobbery, arrogance and elitism. Maybe, just maybe, it's the duty of the Highland Park Town Council to defend the interest of its citizens, including their presumably anachronistic property rights.
And maybe that's more important than traffic engineers getting restful sleep.
It's been a deadly weekend on icy North Texas roads. At least four people were killed in separate accidents, Sunday alone. David Phillips was among those killed.
He was the youth pastor at Christ Chapel Bible Church in Fort Worth. A woman driving with her three children in the S-U-V, south on Highway 67 at Ledbetter lost control on a bridge, hit a median, flipping the vehicle. A 3-year-old, who was not in a car seat or strapped-in, and all three of the passengers were taken to a hospital.
The young boy was listed in critical condition, the rest of the family in good condition. Several emergency vehicles, at least 15 in Dallas...were hit by people who lost control on the ice.
In response to Gov. Rick Perry’s Border security plan, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn criticized the state’s practice of granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants and called for its repeal.
So what is this program anyway, and how does it work?
In 2001, the Legislature passed and Perry signed House Bill 1403. The bill had bipartisan co-authorship; several business groups testified in favor. It allows graduates of Texas high schools or others who have resided in Texas for at least three years to receive in-state tuition at state universities.
The bill did not have organized opposition, though many legislators may not have known what it did. During House floor debate, the term "illegal immigrant" or the euphemism "undocumented worker" was not used. Only one House member, Rep. Will Hartnett (R-Dallas) voted no. The Senate’s only three no votes came from Jane Nelson (R-Lewisville), Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio), and Mike Jackson (R-La Porte).
Under previous law, Texans granted permanent residency status (i.e., a green card) by the federal government could get in-state tuition at state universities if they met all other requirements.
Also, for decades, anyone with a scholarship (athletic or academic), teaching assistantship, or research assistantship from a university would get in-state tuition as well. But this privilege applied just as much to Oklahomans as to Canadians, Mexicans, and Eastern Europeans.
What HB 1403 does is allow those in this country illegally to receive in-state tuition and state financial aid (such as the TEXAS Grant program). This is a privilege not extended to residents of other states such as Oklahoma or Maryland.
To qualify, an illegal immigrant would have to graduate from a Texas high school or would have to have lived here for three years after high school graduation. Immigrants without residency must sign an affidavit pledging to apply for permanent residency as soon as they are eligible to do so. (They do not have to obtain a green card, just apply for one.) Those with applications for residency pending before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly the INS) are also eligible.
Many illegal immigrants graduate each year from Texas high schools. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Plyler v. Doe, invalidated a Texas law that prohibited illegal immigrants from attending public K-12 schools. Additionally, the Texas Education Agency, in the manual for its database, tells school districts not to track a student’s immigration status.
Note that the Higher Education Coordinating Board states on its website that holders of F-1 visas (student visas) are not eligible for resident status, since this visa is granted only to those whose permanent residence is abroad. Hence, an immigrant who gets a visa and remains in the U.S. legally will often be charged out-of-state tuition, whereas an immigrant who stays in the U.S. illegally will get the lower, in-state tuition.
After Strayhorn raised this issue, LSR filed a public information request with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to determine how many students have taken advantage of this program. In fiscal year 2003, 5,761 students got the benefit; in 2004, 8,512; and in 2005, 11,556. Of those, 8,300 attended Texas community colleges, with the remainder (3256) attending four-year institutions or medical schools.
One surprise in the data is that Border universities do not serve the largest number of HB 1403 beneficiaries. The largest four-year recipient of HB 1403 benefits in 2005 was the University of Texas at Dallas, with 715. (UT-Austin, which has a significantly higher enrollment, had only 513). The community college with the most HB 1403 benefit recipients was Houston Community College, with 1460.
In contrast with 2001, immigration is now a hot topic on the Texas political scene. Prior to this election cycle, candidates were hesitant to bring it up. But this cycle, candidates talk about it even if not asked.
With the renewed national focus on illegal immigration, expect this issue to get more attention in 2007.
Students receiving in-state tuition under House Bill 1403
Most popular schools for HB 1403 students, 2005
Two-year Four-year Houston Community College 1460 University of Texas at Dallas 715 Austin Community Colege 672 University of Texas at Austin 513 North Harris College 532 University of Texas at Arlington 449
Source: Public Information Request. Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
The chairman on the House Public Education Committee is facing a challenge from a candidate closely tied to many school groups. The race has the potential to determine the course of education policy in Texas.
The race between Rep. Kent Grusendorf (R-Arlington) and former Arlington School Board President Diane Patrick in House District 94 continues the longtime fight between school reformers who want to change the system and school administrators who fear they will lose local control in the process.
Grusendorf has represented HD 94, which makes up the western part of Arlington, since 1987. Besides serving as chairman of Public Education, he belongs to the Ways & Means Committee. He has also served as Chairman of the House Republican Caucus and on the State Board of Education, prior to his legislative service.
Patrick, no stranger to education issues, says it is time for a change. She was an elementary school teacher before being elected to the State Board of Education in 1992. She currently teaches education at the University of Texas at Arlington.
"After the five failed sessions with the incumbent as the chair of the House Public Ed Committee was unable to craft legislation that could make it to the governor’s desk, I felt it was time for a change," Patrick said. "Our citizens need better representation."
Grusendorf sees the passage of significant school reform as just around the corner. He was the author of the omnibus school reform bill, HB 2.
We must "finish the job," Grusendorf said. "If you’re going into the fourth quarter of a football game, are you going to fire the guy that made more yardage that anybody else? So I feel like we accomplished more than anybody else on the school finance issue. [W]e passed it out of the House three times. Now the largest barrier has been removed, in that we have a resolution to the litigation." The Supreme Court gave the Legislature until June 1, 2006, to fix the way the state funds its schools.
Grusendorf and Patrick differ sharply as to what constitutes education reform. Grusendorf has a long record of authoring legislation that would institute accountability measures in the school system like the requirement that schools spend at least 65 cents of every education dollar for classroom instruction, incentive pay for teachers, November school board elections and a uniform school start date.
Grusendorf sees the race as an attempt by the school lobby to kill fundamental education reforms. "The school people have targeted me as the No. 1 target in the state," he said. "[If] they could chop the head off the dragon, they can kill reform." He noted that other school reformers in the Legislature are being targeted as well.
"I think the fundamental question is, where do we go from here?" Grusendorf said. "I think over the last two decades we’ve had a 40 percent increase in student enrollment growth. During that same time we’ve had a 151 percent increase in school employment, and only one in three of those have been a teacher, and at the same time we’ve had a 270 percent increase in school property tax funding.
"The fundamental question I have raised is do we continue the status quo, or do we make some course corrections? And I really don’t think the state of Texas can afford the status quo."
Patrick sees it differently. She wants school reform to be a collaborative effort that includes all the representatives involved, including parents, teachers, schools, businesses and communities. "One of the problems with what’s been going on with the failure to resolve school funding is not all the players have been to the table. Not all the players have been heard," Patrick said.
Patrick, for the most part, opposes many of Grusendorf’s education proposals, which she considers unnecessary mandates on local school boards.
On the 65 percent rule, Patrick said discretion should be left to the local school districts to define what constitutes classroom instruction. Some school districts, she said, would want to include counselors or school librarians in the definition: "We have over 1000 school districts in the state. What works and what’s needed in one district is not necessarily what’s needed or works in another district."
The Arlington ISD, she said, spends 50 percent less on average than the state average on administrative costs.
"I don’t think the state should be issuing a mandate about achieving those kinds of goals," Patrick said. "I think that that should be left to the local districts."
Patrick thinks offering incentive pay for teachers based on student performance would be tricky. It’s a team of teachers who are usually responsible for a student’s success, she said. "The starting pay for Texas teachers is $24,000… I think the base pay itself needs to be increased."
Patrick favors allowing schools to offer teachers a stipend when they see fit, particularly for hard-to-fill subjects like bilingual and special education.
She opposes legislative mandates requiring school board elections be held in November and uniform school start dates be observed. She said school boards currently have the option to hold their elections on any of the four uniform election dates, which are in January, May, August and November. "I think that that should be left to the local districts," she said.
In the past, the district has been reliably Republican and usually elects conservative candidates. Both candidates have long histories in elective office in the district. Grusendorf has served almost two decades in the House and prior to that on the State Board of Education. Before her election to the State Board, Patrick served on the Arlington school board (1981-92).
Both Patrick and Grusendorf are running active campaigns. Direct mail is already flowing. Grusendorf’s mail highlights Gov. Rick Perry’s endorsement and his education proposals. "Unfortunately, the liberal special interests who don’t want reform are challenging Kent in the March 7th primary. Join me in supporting Kent Grusendorf," Perry said.
Patrick’s mail highlights the failure of the legislature to pass a school finance bill and attributes this failure to Grusendorf. The mailer also states that Patrick will "fight Democrat plans for a state income tax and stand up to Austin liberals and their anti-family social agenda."
Patrick has hired political consultant Rob Allyn, whose firm ran the "Save Texas Courts" campaign urging a no vote on Proposition 12 – a tort reform constitutional amendment that capped non-economic damages in lawsuits (particularly medical malpractice suits).
Grusendorf said that is an issue in the race. " I was a 100 percent supporter of tort reform… my opponent’s campaign is being run by Rob Allyn who was the chief PR person for the trial lawyers," he said.
Patrick said she supports tort reform too. "I think the tort reform was an important legislative [policy] put in place," Patrick said.