Texas House pushes for more aggressive rainy day investing
AUSTIN — The state comptroller would have to take a bit more risk investing most of the money in the rainy day fund under a bill the House approved Thursday.
Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said his measure is about “being safe” with taxpayer dollars but also “being a better steward.”
Even if Comptroller Susan Combs continued to invest the rainy day money very conservatively, she could earn about 3 percent interest on slightly more than half of the fund balance over the next two years, Branch said. The more aggressive approach would generate about $450 million in additional earnings, he said.
The bill would require about $4.3 billion of the $8 billion currently in the rainy day fund to continue to be kept in highly liquid, low yield assets.
They are not all that different from cash, said Branch and another author of the bill, Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls.
Branch invoked a parable from the Bible as he urged colleagues to put at least some of the money to better use.
“We shouldn’t be burying our treasure,” he said.
Read more here…
Top senator vows his charter school plan will pass
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The top proponent for school choice in the Texas Legislature vowed Wednesday that his much-watched effort to expand charter schools in Texas will become law — even though it could still face a tough road in the House.
Speaking to a midday charter school rally at the state Capitol featuring hundreds of activists, parents and teachers — some of whom brought their classes from Dallas, San Antonio and Austin — Sen. Dan Patrick cried, “I feel really good!”
“For the first time in almost 15 years, this Legislature is going to pass a bill addressing charter schools,” Patrick said. “Raising the cap, allowing for more flexibility, innovation and an opportunity for those 100,000 parents who are on a waitlist.”
Education Chairman Aims to Expand Charter Schools
Broad changes to the state’s charter school system, including the creation of a new state board to oversee the state contract process, would result from legislation filed Monday by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston.
The State Board of Education currently oversees applications for charter school contracts, which state law caps at 215. Patrick’s Senate Bill 2 would create a new state entity to authorize the contracts and lift that cap, allowing for an unlimited number of charter school operators in the state.
Read more here.
TX High School Graduation Rates Among Highest in U.S.
From: Texas Tribune
New preliminary data released by the U.S. Department of Education shows that Texas — along with five other states — ranks in fourth in the nation for its four-year high school graduation rates. With an overall rate of 86 percent in the 2010-2011 school year, the state follows Iowa, with 88 percent, and Wisconsin and Vermont, both at 87 percent.
It’s the first time all states have used a common measure that the department developed in response to federal regulations passed in 2008.
The state’s graduation rates also fared well compared to others across most student demographics. For African American students, it tied for first place with Montana at 81 percent. When it came to Hispanic students, Texas reported an 82 percent graduation rate, making it 2ndin the country, behind Maine. The state was near the national median in graduating students with limited English proficiency, ranking 25th with a 58 percent graduation rate.
Hutchison: Higher Education—A Great Investment for Texas
From: The Alcalde
A thriving economy depends on a vibrant business culture, and Texas is arguably the best state to do business in the nation. Our low taxes and reasonable approach to regulation, coupled with our abundant natural resources, have made us a prime destination for industries from energy to technology.
But there is one other crucial factor to success: higher education.
It is a major draw for companies looking to establish headquarters in any given locale. They want an educated workforce, access to the best research capabilities and an infrastructure that has the built-in capabilities to undertake public-private partnerships without putting the majority of the burden on the private side. This is what a state rich in academic excellence provides. And while Texas has outstanding universities, which already produce excellent research, there is still more we can do. My goal is for Texas to be the number one destination for research and technology companies in the US.
Presently, we have three tier-one universities: UT Austin, Texas A&M and Rice. California has nine, New York has seven. With strategic investment, we could easily take our number to six. We have the resources, and six of our universities are already on the cusp of tier-one status. What we need now is to commit to taking them over the tipping point. We also have room to create several specific centers of excellence. This would mean colleges and universities focusing on one particular area of expertise and developing their capabilities to make them the number one world destination for that field.
New report cites increasing debt of Texas school districts, colleges
From: Dallas News
Outstanding debt incurred by school districts and higher education institutions in Texas is increasing at a faster rate than inflation and enrollment growth, according to a new report from state Comptroller Susan Combs. School districts, as they have for several years, continue to have the largest outstanding share of local government debt in the state, according to the report. In the 2011 fiscal year, public school debt was $63.6 billion, or $13,530 for every student in a school district with debt. A total of 854 districts out of 1,024 in the state have outstanding debt.
“Public education is a critically important function of the state, and taxpayer dollars should always be spent prudently,” Combs said in a statement summarizing the report. “Construction costs are a large portion of school debt and we should all strive to spend efficiently and effectively.” During the past decade, the comptroller said, debt service payments on bonds have increase from 7 percent to 9.8 percent of total school district expenditures, making it the fastest-rising spending category in education during the period. Higher education debt has risen as well, as outstanding debt jumped 246 percent while enrollment increased 32 percent in the past decade.
While Combs said education is crucial to the state’s economic success, “We must also ensure costs do not overburden Texas taxpayers and families.” She noted that while many school districts and colleges provide the public with details on new projects they plan to finance with long-term debt, taxpayers in some cases are not aware of the amount of debt being issued. To cut costs and improve transparency of such decisions, the report offered several recommendations, including offering incentives for school districts and colleges to enter into dual-use facility arrangements where new classrooms would be used by different entities. The report also calls for more cost-effective design and construction of new facilities.
Texas students doing better on AP tests
From: My SA
Among Texas public school students, Hispanic and African Americans made the largest gains on their Advanced Placement test performance last school year, the Texas Education Agency announced this week.
Students who complete an AP course, designed with college-level rigor in mind, can earn a grade of one to five on the test. Many colleges award credit if a student earns a three or higher — which can spare students some tuition fees.
Compared to the previous year, almost 14 percent more Hispanic students and 12 percent more African American students scored a three or higher in 2011-12, according to College Board data provided by the TEA. Advanced Placement is one of the College Board’s programs.
The number of Texas students overall taking AP exams increased by 4 percent and the number who earned a three or better increased by 9.1 percent, data showed.
Texas Senators analyze virtual learning statewide
From: Bloomberg Businessweek
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Education leaders in the Texas Senate are holding a hearing on the growing demand for virtual learning statewide.
Democratic Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio will serve as acting chairwoman for Monday’s hearing, which will include testimony on successful virtual learning programs and analyzing what hinders those not working so well.
The committee’s outgoing chairwoman, Republican Sen. Florence Shapiro, is retiring and has allowed members to run recent hearings while the Legislature is out of session.
Last week, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst promoted tea party favorite Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston to replace Shapiro as committee chairman.
Patrick is one of the Senate’s most-conservative members and a strong advocate of charter schools and a system allowing parents to use public money to send children to private schools.
Guest Column: Schools Should Offer Multiple Paths
From: Texas Weekly
Bill Hammond raises some legitimate concerns about the current state of public education in Texas. We both agree that too many students drop out before they finish high school and a significant percentage of those who do graduate are not prepared for college. However, he and I disagree on how to address those problems.
Hammond encourages us to “stay the course” of the existing high-stakes testing system and “4×4” curriculum that have come to dominate public education in Texas. Implicit in this expensive testing system (the cost to Texas taxpayers is an estimated $450 million over a five-year period) and the 4×4 curriculum is the idea that everyone should be prepared to go to a four-year university. I call it the “one-size-fits-all” approach to education, which doesn’t acknowledge that students have different talents and interests. The current system clearly isn’t working all that well to prepare students to be “college ready.” And it is doing a particularly poor job for those students who would benefit from a greater emphasis on career and technical education at the high school level.
So why should we “stay the course” of an overly prescriptive curriculum and a high-stakes testing system that haven’t delivered on its promises since they were first put in place in the mid-1990s? Rather than acknowledging…
Guest Column: Schools and the Talent Shortage
From: Texas Weekly
You’d think that in this economy, job openings would barely see the light of day before getting snapped up by eager applicants. That’s not the case in the manufacturing sector, where high-quality, high-paying jobs sit vacant — sometimes for months, sometimes indefinitely — because of a shortage of manufacturing workers.
According to a recent Skills Gap studyconducted by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte Consulting, two-thirds of business respondents report a moderate to severe shortage of qualified, available workers. Last spring, the San Antonio Manufacturers Association shed local light on this problem, estimating more than 1,500 open jobs in the area remained unfilled due to a lack of skilled workers. Training programs from the Texas Workforce Commission help to bridge the gap, but we need a long-term, comprehensive solution.
Texas isn’t alone, as the skilled-talent shortage is acute nationwide and around the globe. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for every three skilled workers who retire, only one person steps up to fill the gap. Globally, more jobs for skilled tradespeople go unfilled than any other category of employment, according to a recent survey by…