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by Trey Garrison    Tue, May 2, 2006, 03:37 PM

Much has been made about the economic benefits of those who work off the books or below minimum wage - i.e. illegal immigrants. Certainly it helps businesses that don't have to pay payroll taxes, withholding, unemployment insurance and other benefits.

But then there's the cost. For instance, health care.

Parkland Hospital spends over $400 million a year to treat patients who don't have health insurance, and conservative estimates say that as many as 60 percent of those patients are illegal immigrants.

Parkland receives money from the federal government to cover some of this cost, but it's one of the reasons the hospital seems to operate in a constant state of financial crisis.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement says there are as many as 50,000 illegal immigrants in Dallas County.

Candace White, public relations specialist for Parkland, said that in fiscal year 2005, the hospital spent $409,969,000 to treat patients who did not have health care insurance.

There are no official breakdowns of how many of those patients are illegal immigrants, because the hospital studiously does not inquire about the immigration status of anyone who walks through their doors.

However, conservative estimates by health care insiders place the percent of patients who are illegal immigrants at around 60 percent.

Congressman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said last month that as many as 9,000 of the 16,000 babies born at Parkland in 2005 were to illegal immigrants.

“It places a heavy burden on government services, especially hospitals, schools and law enforcement,” Hensarling said.

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by Scott Bennett    Tue, May 2, 2006, 02:45 PM

According to a Roper Poll conducted for National Geographic 1 in 3 Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 thought the most heavily defended border on earth was between Mexico and the US (Answer: N. Korea and S. Korea).  Another 1 in 3 couldn't locate Louisiana on a map even after months of saturation coverage of Hurricane Katrina.  Fully 6 in 10 couldn't locate Iraq on a map.  That was better than the three fourths that couldn't find Israel which was almost as many (7 in 10) that thought geography was a croc. 

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by Will Lutz    Tue, May 2, 2006, 02:03 PM

The elected State Board of Education would lose discretion over the curriculum, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, if the committee substitute to HB 1 unveiled in the Senate Finance Committe May 1 were to become law.

Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) is concerned that our high school curriculum is not aligned with what is expected of students in higher education. "We're losing people. There's a huge disconnect between our high school curriculum and our college curriculum, vis a vis the fact that we've got kids going to remedial courses [in college.]" So she asked the commissioner of education and the commissioner of higher education to draft language to align the higher education standars with those in K-12 education.

The first draft of that proposal could empower the Texas Education Agency and the appointed commissioner to rewrite the curriculum at the expense of the elected State Board of Education. The curriculum, known as the Essential Knowledge and Skills, is one of the few areas of education where the elected board still has close to complete authority. Conservative board members have used that authority to insist that American history courses emphasize George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and that spelling books go back into elementary classrooms. Some in the education community prefer to place more emphasis on diversity, rather than the Founding Fathers, in history classes and use whole language rather than phonics to teach reading.

The language in Article 5 of the committee substitute to HB 1 lets college professors and K-12 teachers rewrite the curriculum. Specifically, it directs the appointed commissioner of education and the commissioner of higher education to appoint "vertical teams" to recommend changes to the graduation requirements and curriculum. These proposals are then submitted to the two commissioners for their approvals. Then the bill states that "The State Board of Education shall incorporate college readiness standards and expectations approved by the commissioner of education and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board under subsection b into the essential knowledge and skills." There is no discretion for the elected board to reject or modify the standards. In other words, all the new power in the bill is given to the appointed commissioner not the elected State Board of Education.

Shapiro said the language was brought to her by the two commissioners. "We wrote in the language that the two commissioners [of higher education and of education] asked us to write in," she said. "They felt that this was their best effort at this moment in time at moving this process forward. There's not a state in the United States nowhere that currently aligns their high school curriculum and their college curriculum. And I asked them to come forward with the proposal on how to go forward."

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by Will Lutz    Tue, May 2, 2006, 02:01 PM

The House voted to use all available state money for property tax relief. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst fought to put about $1.4 billion of new money into education, about half of which goes to an across-the-board teacher pay raise. But you wouldn't know that from listening to public testimony on HB 1. All the education groups argued there wasn't enough money.

The teacher groups wanted a bigger raise. The administrator groups wanted more money. "I was a little disappointed to hear some of the education groups complain," Dewhurst said. "We didn't see any measures come out of the house to improve public education, although I believe the Speaker and the House members want to work with us on improving public education. The Senate took the initative to pull together a bill to raise across-the-board our teacher salaries, to provide incentives to our teachers on each campus who work toghether and have better performance, to provide real accountability -- not only financial but academic. So I was quite frankly a little disappointed by the response of some our education groups. I can't believe that they're sincere. Every teacher I've talked to over the last few weeks appreciates what we're doing to trying to do to help improve public education in the state and say thank you to our good teachers."

This is not the first time Dewhurst has made concessions to educators, only to have them still oppose the bill. In August 2005, Dewhurst stripped most of the controversial education reforms such as November election of school boards out of the school finance bills under consideration and produced SB 8, which had more discretionary money in it than the other bills under consideration at that time. The education groups still opposed it because they wanted more money.

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by Tom Pauken    Tue, May 2, 2006, 11:27 AM

Ed Bradley

The central theme of The Da Vinci Code, the best-selling novel and soon-to-be movie, is that "a mysterious European society, known as the "Priory of Sion" supposedly had guarded for centuries the "momentous secret" that "Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and today their descendants are living in France".

Dan Brown, the author of The Da Vinci Code claims that this part of his novel is fact, not fiction.

Ed Bradley and the 60 Minutes crew set out to investigate the "secret" of the Priory of Sion. Guess what they found? The whole story is a fraud. Click here to read the complete story of the what 60 Minutes found out about The Priory of Sion.

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by Brian Bodine    Tue, May 2, 2006, 12:28 AM

Protestors supporting rights for illegal immigrants went to downtown Dallas on Monday and rallied in front of the City Hall in the late afternoon. The protestors heard from a number of different speakers, many of whom spoke to the crowd in both Spanish and English. Some speakers insisted that Hispanic Americans would vote in massive numbers in November in order to threaten the incumbency of politicians who do not support rights for the nation’s illegal immigrant population.

Jose De la Rocha, an event organizer in charge of security and logistics, estimated that as many as ten thousand demonstrators were at City Hall. While most of the protestors carried American flags, there were a significant number of Mexican flags at the rally.

When asked by the DallasBlog why there were so many Mexican flags at the rally when the purpose of the rally was to show support for immigrant rights in the United States, De la Rocha said that people wanted to represent their culture and heritage. He also said that if people were going to carry a Mexican flag, they should carry an American flag as well.

Many of the demonstrators carrying Mexican flags at the rally also carried American flags.

After 5 pm, there did not appear to be any groups counter-protesting the demonstration.

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by Brian Bodine    Mon, May 1, 2006, 11:20 PM

Dr. Lois Parrott
DallasBlog’s conducted a Q&A with DISD Board of Trustees President Lois Parrott. Parrott is seeking reelection in District 3.

DallasBlog: What steps do you propose DISD take to lower the dropout rate?

Lois Parrott: We are working on three major initiatives which will revamp and redesign our middle and high schools. Class size and small learning communities have proven to be helpful in improving student retention. Ensuring that students are on and above grade level by diagnosing their level of progress will become a best practice used in every school.

“Early college” will begin this fall. This model will be duplicated if it becomes successful. Early college is for high school students who have the desire to attend high school and take college credit courses simultaneously - when they graduate from high school they will have earned 2 years of college as well.

Funding for these initiatives will be obtained from grants of both private and federal dollars.

Students will be given help in preparing for college. The type of assistance will be in areas of counseling, preparing applications, applying for scholarships and college selection. A more rigorous curriculum geared for college level preparation helps students become more successful. Being able to provide good quality teaching and a rigorous curriculum is a best practice and has been an effective tool used in student retention.

DallasBlog: Do you support performance-based initiatives for principals? If so, what do you believe principals should be evaluated on?

L.P.: No. Principals should be paid on the market value and given raises according to the appraisal instrument designed by the administration. The Board does not delve into personnel matters.

DallasBlog: Are there any changes to the district’s bilingual language program that you would like to see?

L.P. : The program is following State and Federal Laws.

DallasBlog: In 2005, DISD’s contract with FedEx Kinkos resulted in printing and copying costs doubling to $12.82 million. How do you propose to prevent and/or limit this kind of waste in the future?

L.P. : This contract with FedEx Kinkos was sold to the board as a cost saving program, it did not work. I have full faith that the revised internal audit program and having renegotiated this contract will prevent and limit this kind of waste at our schools in the future.

DallasBlog : What do you anticipate will be the most pressing issue(s) facing the district this year and how do you propose to deal with it?

L.P.: We’re making progress on many fronts; making improvements to do a better job of teaching and spending our tax dollars wisely. While our schools still need much improvement, there are signs that changes taking place in our school system are making a positive difference every day.

- Student curriculum is better aligned with individual needs to improve student achievement and help more students graduate.

- Many schools have undergone renovation, 20 new schools have been built and more are under construction.

- More of the school district’s budget is going directly into the classroom, less into its administration.

- Better fiscal management and public accountability resulted in our bond rating being raised, saving district taxpayers millions in interest.

Significant as these achievements are, I won’t rest until every school is exemplary and every student is achieving at her or his full potential. I will continue working – and fighting- to align the DISD administration with the wants and needs of the Dallas communities it serves.

These are areas I plan to address in the next term:

- Reducing administrative costs and unneeded bureaucracy through our Dallas Achieves Initiative.

- Improving communications and cooperation between the school board and the city - council to achieve sharing of resources and facilities.

- Supporting and maintaining our elementary, middle and high school magnet schools - and creating a public foundation to support the fine arts.

- Creating the Dallas Independent School District Foundation to help fund programs.

- Creating small learning communities in high schools to reduce the drop out rate.

Our work will never be complete. There will always be problems that need fixing, programs that need reevaluating and expenses that need trimming. And, as the district grows, we will remain challenged to do what we must with fewer tax dollars per student. That’s why it matters who we elect to the school board.

I am honored that those who experience these challenges first-hand, the teachers, have chosen to endorse my reelection. Both the Alliance AFT and the Dallas NEA are supporting my campaign to keep our schools moving in the right direction. I have also been endorsed by the MetroTex Association of Realtors, a group which understands that better schools make better communities.

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by Will Lutz    Mon, May 1, 2006, 08:10 PM

The Texas Senate has passed HB 2 to third reading, 21-10. (One additional final vote is required for final passage.) The vote broke roughly on party lines. All Republicans voted for it as well as Democrats Frank Madla (D-San Antonio) and Ken Armbrister (D-Victoria). The bill contains some of the taxpayer protections in the Perry-Sharp tax plan. Specifically, it dedicates all of the revenue increases under the plan to property tax relief until the maintenance and operations tax rate for schools goes down to $1.00 per $100 of property value. The Senate version of the bill dedicates a portion of the new revenue to education once tax rates go below $1.00. The House version dedicates all to property tax relief. One of the goals of HB 2 is to ensure that the revised franchise tax in the Perry-Sharp plan (HB 3) is not a net tax increase.

The debate on the bill was spirited. Bill sponsor Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) told colleagues the bill would ensure that the legislature would keep its promise and deliver tax relief to Texans. But several Democrats, most notably Sens. Royce West (D-Dallas) and John Whitmire (D-Houston) told Senators the bill could tie the hands of future legislatures and make it more difficult to fund other priorities. Whitmire warned that passage of HB 2 could build momentum for the use of video lottery terminals (electronic slot machines) as a way to raise money to fund the state's priorities.

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by Will Lutz    Mon, May 1, 2006, 08:07 PM

Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) unveiled the committee substitute to HB 1 today. The bill uses the surplus to provide 17 cents of property tax relief. Shapiro also added a package of education provisions to the bill. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) asked committee members to submit their amendments by 9 a.m. tomorrow. Committee action is expected in the next few days. Key provisions of the bill include the following:

* School districts will be allowed to increase property taxes four cents this coming year without voter approval. This is up from three in the House version. This is a source of contention within the bill. School superintendents asked Senators to go up to six cents of tax effort without voter approval.
* The bill would allow teachers to set aside a portion of their pay to health care tax free.
* The substitute contains an across-the-board teacher pay raise of $2,000.
* The bill dedicates $100 million to performance incentive programs for high-poverty schools. It is expected that an additional $200 million will be provided for incentives in the upcoming biennium.
* The bill adds $500 per average daily attendance (students) to address concerns with Texas high schools, particularly college readiness and dropouts. This amount of money depends on sufficient revenue being available under the state’s spending cap for property tax relief.
* The bill directs the State Board of Education to require four years of math, science, social studies, and English at the high school level.
* The bill allows the commissioner of education to order the takeover of repeatedly low-performing schools by a non-profit entity.
* The bill directs the commissioner of education and the commissioner of higher education to create panels of K-12 teachers and college professors to draft new college readiness standards. The State Board of Education is required to incorporate those new standards into the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills if those standards receive the approval of both commissioners.

Most of the testimony in committee so far has been education groups calling for more spending and less property tax relief. One controversy currently being discussed with HB 1 is whether the bill will limit recapture (Robin Hood) transfers. In its current form, the bill does not have any limits on recapture and all pennies of maintenance and operation tax effort are recaptures. Legislators who represent Chapter 41 (recapture) districts are currently negotiating this issue with lawmakers who represent property poor districts.

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by Trey Garrison    Mon, May 1, 2006, 07:30 PM

The daily reports that the Dallas County District Attorney’s office is being flooded with e-mails, faxes and phone calls demanding that the "person" charged with torturing and killing a 10-month-old puppy be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Deshann Quatrail Brown, 21, a real piece of work, was charged last week with animal cruelty for stabbing Mercy the dog, and then dousing her with gasoline and setting her on fire.

Because Brown has a lengthy criminal history (naturally) the charges could be upgraded to a third-degree felony and he could face up to 10 years in state jail. This despite a somewhat clueless magistrate having Brown cut on a $2,500 bail. (Duh - how do you think serial killers get their start, magistrate?) On a brighter note, more than a few people have said they plan to send pictures of Mercy as she looked after the attack to Brown's future cellmates, to ensure they know just what kind of guy he is.

Oh, and props to KLLI-FM talk radio king Russ Martin, a longtime animal champion, for publicizing Mercy's plight and getting Brown caught.

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