Day: February 11, 2013

Invest in Texas’ Future

            When Ross Perot embarked on his crusade to fix the Texas education system in the 1980s, he said the state’s schools excelled in only three areas: drill team, band and football. To fix this, he helped craft and lobby for a sprawling education reform package that boosted state aid to poor districts, funded prekindergarten, increased teachers’ salaries, required high school students to pass a statewide standardized test in order to graduate and prohibited failing students from participating in extracurricular activities.             The package was a bold and controversial move that invested significant resources in Texas’ future while demanding significant returns. Mark White, who oversaw the reforms as state governor, contended that the “oil and gas of Texas’ future will be the well-educated mind.”             Today’s situation is wholly different. Governor Rick Perry recently called state funding for public education “phenomenal,” despite the fact that Texas ranks at the bottom of the pile nationally on state education aid. That same state aid fell 25 percent over the past decade, after accounting for inflation and a 2006 revenue swap. That year, the legislature cut local property taxes and compensated districts for the $7 billion in lost revenue they faced because of the cuts. Although this increased the state’s funding share, it only replaced local dollars and was not an increase in education funding. Aid also dropped drastically last session, when...

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The Medicaid Debate Texas Should be Having

It seems that one of the major battles of the legislative session will come down, once again, to politics versus prudence. While the Supreme Court upheld most of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), it ruled that states have the option of expanding Medicaid eligibility. Although Gov. Rick Perry and other state leaders have adamantly opposed expansion, major stakeholders including the Texas Hospitals Association support it. Nearly one in four Texans are uninsured — the highest rate in the nation. Experts project that full implementation of the ACA will enable about 3 million more Texans to obtain insurance through Medicaid or the private market. Whether some Texas politicians like it or not, the ACA isn’t going anywhere — and Medicaid expansion is an important part of making it work. The ACA requires everyone to have health insurance, but it doesn’t provide assistance to the poorest of the poor. Nearly 2 million uninsured Texans do not qualify for subsidies because they live below the federal poverty level, according to U.S. Census data. That’s where Medicaid should come in. The vast majority of uninsured Texans (78 percent) are adults younger than 65. These are largely the working poor: people in the service industry, employees and owners of small businesses, part-time workers, and others whose employers do not provide health insurance. Medicaid expansion would ensure that these Texans aren’t taxed for being...

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School Accountability: Reform or Retreat?

Last week, the Statesman delivered good news for Texas: STAAR passing rates jumped after a recent round of retakes.  This is a big win not only for Texas schoolchildren and teachers, but also for state policy.  The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) identified the students in need of a little extra help, and teachers provided additional instruction. Many of those students were then able to demonstrate proficiency. This is a familiar pattern for proponents of consequential accountability.  Since the rise of accountability in the mid-90s, younger students have improved a grade level or more in both math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  Unsurprisingly, the greatest gains have been among students who are traditionally underserved:  African Americans, Hispanics, and students with disabilities.  Before statewide assessments, these students could be conveniently hidden from scrutiny. The alternatives to a strong system of assessments and accountability – failing to identify these students or, if identified, to pressure schools to provide them assistance – are unfortunately well-known to Texans.  We did it that way for years.  Still, even before most committees begin their hearings, plenty of legislators would return the state to that old system or worse. The initial House budget zeroes out funding for assessments completely.  While contravening federal law might be expected from this crowd, it is an odd turn of conservatism when members...

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Exciting New Direction for the Baines Report

The past year has been a busy one for the Baines Report. We got a new website, revived the PolicyBriefs podcasts and published op-eds from 28 of our students, professors and alums. Thanks to our writers' excellent critique and analysis, several of these articles were featured on the UT-wide election blog and LBJ homepage, helping to showcase the brilliant minds at LBJ. More people are reading the Baines Report than ever before, with nearly 6,500 people from the United States, China, Germany, India, Japan, Pakistan, South Korea and 62 other countries visiting the site in 2012. These readers are eager to see new content: over 800 people have already visited the site since the new year. While I've enjoyed my time as the Editor-in-Chief, it's time for me to pass the reins to our first-year cohort. I am happy to announce that we have two excellent new Editors-in-Chief to take over the helm in 2013: Kaitlin Sharkey and Rob Wieczorek. Both have strong writing backgrounds and will continue to make the Baines Report a publication the school can be proud of. Taking over for Jennifer Lee as the PolicyBriefs manager will be Gene Vela, who was an integral part of getting PolicyBriefs back on its feet last semester and has already started creating content for the new year. We also have Rene Cardona lending his marketing expertise to Baines to...

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