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Jimmie Don Aycock

Committee time

Now the real work gets started.

Joe Straus

House Speaker Joe Straus announced committee assignments for the Legislature’s lower chamber on Thursday, ending speculation over key chairmanships and giving lawmakers the go-ahead to start considering bills.

Here’s his list.

Of the standing committees, 32 are chaired by men, six by women. That’s one more female chair than the 2011 session.

Among the committee chairs, 26 are white, five are black and seven are Hispanic, one more than last session.
State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock takes over the Public Education Committee as battle lines are already being drawn over accountability, student testing and school choice reforms. He is well-regarded in public education circles and has drawn support from advocacy groups that oppose private school vouchers — an indication that any legislation enacting such a policy, a priority for his counterpart in the Senate, Dan Patrick, might encounter a hurdle when it comes to the lower chamber.

As noted, the list of committees and members is here. Burka notes where committee chairs were changed, in most cases because the previous Chair is no longer in the House. The Public Ed committee looks reasonably promising – Chair Aycock, and members Dan Huberty and Bennett Ratliff are all ParentPAC endorsees; member Marsha Farney was the non-crazy Republican to emerge from the GOP primary for SBOE10 in 2010. If a voucher bill makes it out of the Senate this is the kind of committee one might hope would bottle it up. If there’s a committee to watch for possible shenanigans, it’s the Corrections committee, which has Debbie Riddle and Steve Toth among its seven members. There is a Redistricting committee, which may or may not have much to do but which will have a couple of bills relating to how prison inmates are counted for redistricting purposes to consider. The Elections committee will have a bill to repeal voter ID and several others to make voting easier on its list of things to ponder. Rep. Eric Johnson, author of the latter and one of the former, is on the Elections committee. We’ll see if he can get any action on those bills of his. Take a look at the committee list and see what you think about it. BOR has more.

Electing educators

This sounds good, but there are a couple of things missing.

More than a dozen Republicans and Democrats who have sat on school boards are running for the Texas House this year, and a backlash over spending cuts and standardized testing might help them get there.

Legislators sliced per-student spending last year, prompting schools to trim programs, increase class sizes and enact new fees. The publicity surrounding those cuts could persuade voters to change their representation in Austin, particularly if the alternative is a candidate seen as friendlier to public schools.

“We’re saying it’s time to bring in a significant number of new legislators,” said Carolyn Boyle of Texas Parent Political Action Committee, which endorses and helps candidates who it deems pro-education.

Boyle said her group plans to back an equal number of Republican and Democratic candidates in legislative races this year. A similar strategy worked in 2006, when groups representing parents, teachers and others helped at least 10 candidates defeat incumbents or win open seats in the Legislature.

It would be nice to see a list of the candidates with school board backgrounds. Other than Alief ISD Trustee Sarah Winkler (D) in HD137 and Lufkin school board president Trent Ashby (R), who is named later in the story, I can’t think of any off the top of my head. I’m far too lazy to go through a hundred or so candidates’ webpage bios to try and figure it out.

Boyle said this year’s crop of candidates with school board experience is the largest she has seen since 2006.

But this year, the education community does not appear to be as unified as it was then. A candidate who appeals to the leadership of Boyle’s PAC, for instance, may not appeal to a teachers group.

“In 2006, we had a number of former school board members who were recruited at a time when we felt like public education was under attack, and it really united all of the education groups,” said Lindsay Gustafson, director of public affairs for the Texas Classroom Teachers Association.

But since then, Gustafson said, “We’ve found that a lot of the former school board members that we supported weren’t necessarily going to be supportive of us on issues that were divisive in the education community between administrator groups or the school boards and educator groups.”

One of those divisions, for example, was over whether the state should loosen limits on class sizes in elementary schools. More broadly, some of the candidates who received help from Parent PAC and teachers groups in earlier races voted for the cuts in per-pupil spending.

“We’re going to have to be a little bit tougher when we’re vetting candidates,” said Richard Kouri of the Texas State Teachers Association. “A lot of folks that we felt like we helped get there didn’t seem to know us in 2011.”

This is where it gets dicey. I support ParentPAC, and have been a fan of theirs since they burst onto the scene in 2006. But the ParentPAC-backed Republicans – Diane Patrick, Jimmie Don Aycock, Dan Huberty, Four Price, among others – voted along party lines last session, which is to say they voted to slash spending on public education and voted for measures that would put more kids in classrooms and make it easier to cut teachers’ pay. If they’re not going to stand up for what’s right under those conditions – and let’s be clear, there will be more where that came from in 2013 – then what good are they? Maybe Trent Ashby, who is challenging the teabagger Marva Beck in HD57, will be an improvement over her – not that high a bar to clear, after all – and maybe so will some of the other Republican school board members running. I share Gustafson and Kouri’s concerns about how we can be sure about that. Good intentions and a good resume only go so far. I want to know what these people plan to do about fixing the structural budget deficit, what their general philosophy is about the inevitable next overhaul of the school finance system, and I want to hear them say that they will vote for restoring education funding, and against further cuts. Then I want them to be held accountable for their votes. That isn’t so much to ask, is it?

By the way, there was another Save Texas Schools rally in Austin yesterday, and it drew another good crowd.

More than 1,000 teachers, students and administrators from schools across Texas rallied Saturday at the state Capitol to decry $5.4 billion in cuts to public education and demand that lawmakers restore some of that funding — or at least not impose another round of cuts next year.

The demonstrators, who also included parents and a number of Democratic lawmakers, marched through downtown, than gathered under the Capitol’s pink dome for nearly three hours. They chanted “Save Texas Schools!” and held up signs that read: “Cuts hurt kids,” ”You get what you vote for,” and “If you can’t read this, thank your congressman.”

[…]

When crafting its two-year budget last summer, the state Legislature voted to pump an additional $1.5 billion into the account used to fund public schools, but made slightly more than that in cuts elsewhere. Lawmakers also rewrote the school funding formula to cut an additional $4 billion, despite average public school enrollment increasing by 80,000 students per year statewide.

Another $1.4 billion in cuts was made to grant programs. All told, Texas’ per-student funding fell more than $500 as compared to the last budget cycle, the first decline in per-pupil state spending since World War II.

Four lawsuits have been filed on behalf of more than 500 school districts representing more than 3 million Texas children. The suits charge that the Legislature’s plan is not equitable in how it distributes funding to school districts — but the legal fight likely won’t begin for months.

“For the first time in 60 years, the Legislature that meets in this building behind us failed to finance the current school funding law,” John Folks, superintendent of Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, told the crowd Saturday. “That shows very clearly the priority that Texas has put on public education.”

Another target at the rally was the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness or STAAR test. Students across the state will begin taking the new standardized test Monday.

“They say ‘STAAR,’ we say ‘No!'” the demonstrators chanted.

Every time I write about the devastating effect of the Republicans’ cuts to public education, I get a comment about how over the past decade spending on public education had grown faster in Texas than the growth in student enrollment. That’s true, but it doesn’t come close to telling the whole story. Aside from the fact that both state and federal legislation has increased costs on school districts via various accountability measures, school districts face numerous costs that are beyond their control and which are generally not given much consideration by the Lege. You may have noticed the high price of gasoline these days. School districts and their fleet of school buses certainly have. Probably the biggest factor in busting school districts’ budgets is the skyrocketing cost of health insurance, which increased by 131 percent between 1999 and 2009. What that means is that even without adding any more students or staff, school districts would be feeling the pinch. They can’t do anything about energy prices (electricity costs more now, too; thanks, utility deregulation!) and like the city of Houston they can only do so much about health insurance costs. What do you think they’re going to do when the Lege cuts their budgets? We’re seeing it now, and we’ll see more of it in the future if we don’t change direction.

Who will be the Lege education expert post-Hochberg?

In writing a political obituary for State Rep. Scott Hochberg, who announced his retirement from the House last week, Abby Rapoport spends a paragraph on his purported successor as the go-to education legislator.

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, is clearly the chosen member to take the reins from Hochberg, but it’s bound to be a tough job. During the session, it fell to Aycock to try, unsuccessfully, to pass a fiscal matters bill containing school finance language. While Aycock is undoubtedly smart and eager, he’s only in his third term. Hochberg had the trust of his colleagues, that he both understood all sides and would explain the policy options fairly.

The House will dearly miss its resident nerd.

Rep. Aycock is a ParentPAC endorsee, and is certainly well regarded on education issues. There’s only one problem: The San Antonio court put him in a district that voted over 60% for President Obama in 2008. Even if SCOTUS throws out the San Antonio map and restores the original Lege-drawn one for 2012, there are no guarantees that Aycock will be back, as the HD54 that was drawn for him by his colleagues was mighty purple. He’d at least be a favorite under the Lege map, but he’d be no lock.

Putting it another way, if Hochberg is Matt Schaub, and Aycock is Matt Leinert, who’s TJ Yates? That person may find himself or herself suddenly thrust into the spotlight in 2013. Better make sure he or she is taking extra reps, because this scenario is entirely foreseeable, and we need to be prepared for it.

House Appropriations follows Senate, passes SB1

The grim march of the inevitable takes another step.

The House Appropriations Committee voted along party lines on Saturday to recommend a controversial plan to reduce public education spending by at least $4 billion, cuts which hundreds of Texans later protested during a Capitol rally.

The full House will take up the school funding bill later in the week in a special session that Gov. Rick Perry called Tuesday after Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, killed the plan to cut public education with a filibuster in the last hours of the regular session.

Actually, the Appropriations committee vote wasn’t exactly along party lines.

Abilene Republican Rep. Susan King, who voted against a similar measure during the regular legislative session, said she still cannot support the measure because the scope is too broad. Not only does it contain $3.5 billion in “non-tax revenue” to help balance the 2012-13 budget, but also a highly contentious school funding plan that was finished just two days before the end of the regular session Monday.

“I voted against it several times,” King said after the House Appropriations Committee meeting had adjourned. “It’s the fact that something of this major importance was brought out in a very cloaked way at the very end and pushed into a fiscal matters bill. It should have been kept out. It should have been kept separate, in my opinion. Almost everything for education was rolled into that one fiscal matters bill.”

[…]

King’s vote is evidence of the lack of unanimity among even Republicans over the measure, particularly the school funding plan.

While Democrats are opposed to it mostly because of the sizable cuts it imposes on schools, Republicans such as King question the fairness of how those cuts are distributed and are wary of the last-minute — even secretive — nature of the closed-door negotiations that produced the plan.

King said her questions and concerns were dismissed.

“Toward the end of the session, I asked multiple times, you know, ‘What exactly are the negotiations on this? What is it, what will be brought to us?’ ” King said. “And, I mean, you cannot imagine the comments made to me. You know, ‘You don’t need to ask that question,’ ‘You’re going to hurt the deliberations if you ask for that.’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s just transparency.’ ”

Of the 20 committee members present Saturday, 14 voted for the measure — including Rep. Drew Darby, who represents San Angelo’s District 72 — and five voted against the measure — including King and four Democrats. Another Republican, Rep. Geanie Morrison of Victoria, registered “present not voting.” Seven members were absent.

You’d think that lack of transparency that Rep. King cites might be a concern to more people. Does the Lege really know what it’s about to vote on? As Rep. Scott Hochberg pointed out, there hasn’t even been a committee hearing on the proposed changes to school finance. The response from those pushing to get something passed, as expressed by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, is that they have to do something now, and they can fix whatever it is they do in 2013. The thing is, though, they wouldn’t actually have to do that. Patricia Kilday Hart explains:

In our current system, the Legislature sets out school funding formulas in statute, usually after lawmakers see computer runs demonstrating how a particular scheme affects their schools. Putting those formulas in statute means the state is legally obligated to fully compensate school districts for variables like enrollment growth or lost tax revenue due to declining property values.

But the plan panned by Davis and Hochberg — and again under consideration in the special session — will free lawmakers to decide each budget cycle to choose how much money schools get. Public education will be toppled from its special status in the state budget to just another program that will compete for scarce dollars.

The GOP leadership has downplayed the impact of this change, arguing that lawmakers have always made public schools a priority. But the very reason this school finance bill is necessary is to free the state from owing about $4 billion under current formulas.

To some, including Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, this is sound policy. Last week, he called the school finance proposal “a true cut in an entitlement.”

Note the use of that dirty word — entitlement — as if public education is some kind of welfare, not the underpinning of democracy envisioned by Thomas Jefferson.

This school finance bill is a tipping point for the Texas public education system. If the state’s obligation to local schools is no longer carved in statute, public education funding becomes vulnerable to last-minute budget balancing by 10 lawmakers on a conference committee. If they decide to trim a couple of billion from education, the other 171 members of the Legislature have little voice.

Not to mention the voters. We’re one step closer to that now.

Back to school finance

The Lege has started the process of picking up where it left off on school finance. The Trib reminds us how we got here.

[T]he earlier failure of SB 1581, which put a behind-closed-doors conference committee in charge of any decisions about how to distribute $4 billion in cuts in state funding across school districts, was a dramatic warning of just how much further lawmakers had to go to find consensus on what they repeatedly called the “second most important bill” of the session. As lawmakers again tackle the issue in the special session the governor called on Tuesday, it is worth revisiting the demise of SB 1581.

Passing a new school finance plan, said veteran education consultant Lynn Moak, often depends on selling lawmakers on what changing formulas will mean for their districts. That can lead to a situation, he said, where “we’re really passing a printout and having to translate it back into a school finance bill.” Difficult under normal circumstances, that becomes infinitely more challenging when the state is coming up $4 billion short in funding for public education.

“Nobody has ever done this before. Nobody has ever had the kind of massive cuts to deal with,” he said, adding, “The Legislature really did not spend any time prior to January trying to work out a game plan, and wrote one as they went along, and it showed.”

Before the conference committee were three options to chose from: separate proposals from Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, and Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, that enacted cuts relative to a districts’ wealth, and a proposal from Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, that chopped districts the same across the board. Each, though, contained a numbers game nobody really wanted to play.

The simplicity of Eissler’s approach — which was originally a last-minute amendment to SB 1581 — gave it a political advantage among House members. In a scenario with no real winners, lawmakers newly unsettled by the stark realization of what the gaping reduction meant for schools in their districts realized they wouldn’t have to return to their superintendents and explain why they voted for deeper cuts for some and not others.

That still wasn’t enough for the House to coalesce around Eissler’s plan in time to pass it as a part of SB 1581. As the bill was debated on the House floor, “there was no single bloc of votes for anything,” said David Anderson, an education lobbyist for the Austin-based HillCo Partners, a government consulting firm, who described a “meltdown” that night between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. as members began taking a hard look at projections of the cuts for their districts.

[Rep. Jimmie Don] Aycock and Eissler both said that until shortly before then, members had been concerned with what the budget cuts were going to look like across the state, and hadn’t had an opportunity to consider the impact on their individual districts.

“People were so focused on the cuts that only those few geeks of us who wade around in school finance even saw it coming,” Aycock said, adding, “It was only late in the session when we figured out the number, and then the question became how do we divvy it up.”

In other words, these yahoos voted to cut billions of dollars from the state public education budget without having any idea what the effect would be on their own school districts. And remember, the House initially voted to cut $8 billion from public ed, which is double the amount that wound up getting cut. If they’re blanching at what that means, imagine what they’d be thinking if the House budget had been adopted as it was. The mind boggles.

Meanwhile, of course, more than enough money is in the Rainy Day fund to cover this shortfall. It still wouldn’t account for growth and other higher expenses, but it would moot this current exercise. More seriously, the legislation that’s being considered, which the Democrats fought tooth and nail against, would not just distribute cuts for this biennium but would mean permanently lower allocations for public schools.

For about 60 years, Texas lawmakers have afforded public education a special status in terms of state funding.

Written into law is a guarantee that schools would get enough money to provide a basic, foundational education for each student. That obligation has dictated what the state has put into the Foundation School Program to cover growing enrollment and a changing student population.

But the school finance plan now under consideration by legislators wipes that guarantee out and makes future appropriations dependent upon how much money is available rather than how much is needed.

“The commitment to fund current law would cease to exist as a legal commitment,” said Lynn Moak, a school finance expert and consultant. “Public education has lost its special status.”

[…]

On Sunday, state Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, highlighted the shift in Texas’ future obligation to schools during an exchange on the House floor with Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, one of the House negotiators on the compromise.

Eissler had already acknowledged that the change would mean that school districts would no longer be legally entitled to a certain amount of state aid.

Hochberg asked him if that change would allow the state to routinely short school districts.

“That would allow us to,” Eissler said, “but I don’t see that happening.”

“This is not a good year to make that argument, Mr. Chairman,” Hochberg responded.

Anyone who thinks that we can simply take the Lege’s word for it that they wouldn’t use their new authority to short school districts to actually short school districts needs to pay attention to Dan Patrick:

State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said the school finance change “is a true cut in an entitlement” and an essential cut at that.

“There are no guarantees, and for a Legislature to say we can guarantee this forever is not being straightforward to the people,” said Patrick, who was deeply involved in the Senate’s school funding discussions.

[…]

But in the future, a specific vote to change the law would not be necessary. Lawmakers would simply put less into the budget than the funding formulas call for, as is the common practice for higher education funding.

“That is a very, very big change in the way that we do funding for the schools,” Hochberg said.

Patrick agreed that it is a significant change to how the state has done its business.

“I think it’s a change that is needed as we move forward. We need to have real cuts,” Patrick said.

So at a time when Texas has a population that is much younger than the national average, which is a key driver of the state’s population growth, Dan Patrick thinks we need to cut education funding, not just now but forever. If you think that maybe isn’t such a hot idea, you need to vote that way in 2012.

Still no school finance plan

Tonight’s the night for something to happen if it’s going to, because legislatively speaking there is no tomorrow.

The 2012-13 state budget agreed to by House and Senate negotiators provides school districts $4 billion less than what they are owed under current law. Three proposals for how to spread that pain among school districts were floating around, each with varying impacts on the districts and the state.

There was little certainty going into the scheduled late-night debate about what the House would consider when Senate Bill 1581 finally came to the floor. Nearly 70 proposed amendments had been filed for the bill.

Shortly after 10 p.m., the bill was toppled on a procedural error and never came up for debate.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said earlier Monday that a consensus had not yet developed around any of the three proposals, and he postponed action until Monday night to allow talks to continue.

[…]

Without House action, the remaining option is for the conference committee members who are negotiating another budget-related measure, Senate Bill 1811, to figure out a plan.

If no change is made, schools would be funded according to current law, and the state would run out of money for public education in early 2013.

At which point the Lege would be forced to use Rainy Day funds to make up the balance. Why they’re not simply doing that now remains a mystery. What will be the excuses to not use it in 2013, one wonders? Or will they simply re-adopt the strategy of this session and push more expenses into the next biennium for the subsequent Lege to deal with?

Credit goes to Rep. Yvonne Davis of Dallas for the point of order that halted SB1581. Last night’s events were good news in another way.

SB 1581 was also a prospective life raft for a number of other thorny education measures — like Eissler’s proposal to lift the class size limit and Rep. Sid Miller’s school voucher program. Eissler said he was investigating the possibility of attaching HB 400, his mandate relief package, to a bill — possibly SB 1811 — in conference committee.

As always, nothing is truly dead until sine die, and there is always the possibility of a special session if things are truly screwed up enough. But the more paths that get foreclosed, the harder it is for this stuff to happen, and at this point that’s all you can hope for. Texas Politics has more.

School finance still to be done

We may have a budget deal, but what we still don’t have is a school finance plan.

The Senate’s long-stalled plan to apportion a $4 billion reduction in school aid had been suddenly resurrected, passed and zipped over to the House.

But when Senate Bill 1581 hits the House floor Monday for debate, state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, the bill’s sponsor, said he will have to overhaul it or kill it.

“My intent will be to heavily change this bill … especially the (school) finance piece,” Aycock, R-Killeen , told his colleagues on the House Public Education Committee at a hastily called late-night meeting that ended early Saturday morning. The bill also includes other education-related budget changes, such as a reduction in the state’s contribution rate to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.

With one week left in the legislative session, the school finance measure is one essential piece of the elaborate budget puzzle that is still up in the air after the House and Senate finally agreed on Friday to spend $80.6 billion in state money over the next two years.

It is a complicated mix of politics and math that will determine how the state divvies up the $32.5 billion pot of aid among the nearly 5 million students in Texas public schools.

[…]

At issue is how various school districts were treated under the 2006 school finance reform package, a widely panned change enacted in the wake of a Texas Supreme Court ruling.

The court said lawmakers had enacted an unconstitutional statewide property tax. Lawmakers responded by reducing local school property tax rates by one-third and dedicating more state money to the schools to replace the local money.

So no school district suffered as the balance of state and local money changed, lawmakers essentially froze the level of per-student revenue at what each school district was getting in 2005-06. It was supposed to be a short-term solution but has persisted for five years.

That snapshot captured some districts at an ideal moment, while others were not so lucky. Small and rural districts believe they got a bum deal while many suburban and urban districts have been living high on the hog.

State Sen. Bob Deuell had the numbers to show just how unequal the funding formula has been for different school districts.

[L]awmakers have allowed the system to deteriorate to the point where a child’s school funding largely hinges on the zip code of his or her parents’  home. It would be interesting to see how the state defends that as a rational system for funding public education.

Deuell noted that the top 100 best funded school districts have property tax rates of $1, while the lowest 100 school districts levy an average tax rate of $1.16.

The physician-senator read a list highlighting the lowest and highest revenue per student in each senatorial district.

Senate District 1 (Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler):  Lowest, $3,926; Highest, $6,981; Disparity, $3,055 per student.

Senate District 2 (Sen.  Bob Deuell, R-Greenville): Lowest, $4,576; Highest, $6,261; Disparity, $1,694.

Senate District 3 (Sen.  Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville): Lowest, $4,407; Highest, $7,367; Disparity, $2,960.

Senate District 4 (Sen.  Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands): Lowest, $4,615; Highest, $7,064; Disparity, $2,449.

Senate District 5 (Sen.  Steve Ogden, R-Bryan): Lowest, $4,694; Highest, $8,646; Disparity, $3,952.

Senate District 6 (Sen.  Mario Gallegos, D-Houston): Lowest, $4,890; Highest, $5,668; Disparity, $778.

Senate District 7 (Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston): Lowest, $4,772; Highest, $6,024; Disparity, $1,252.

Senate District 8 (Sen.  Florence Shapiro, R-Plano): Lowest, $5,194; Highest, $7,418; Disparity, $2,224.

Senate District 9 (Sen.  Chris Harris, R-Arlington): Lowest, $4,836; Highest, $5,706; Disparity, $870.

Senate District 10 (Sen.  Wendy Davis,D-Ft.Worth): Lowest, $4,797; Highest, $6,880; Disparity, $2,083.

Senate District 11 (Sen.  Mike Jackson, R-LaPorte): Lowest, $4,863; Highest, $5,984; Disparity, $1,121.

Senate District 12 (Sen.  Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound): Lowest, $4,770; Highest, $7,050; Disparity, $2,280.

Senate District 13 (Sen.  Rodney Ellis, D-Houston): Lowest, $4,890; Highest, $5,292; Disparity, $402.

Senate District 14 (Sen.  Kirk Watson, R-Austin): Lowest, $5,102; Highest, $6,282; Disparity, $1,180.

Senate District 15 (Sen.  John Whitmire, D-Houston): Lowest, $4,887; Highest, $6,459; Disparity, $1,572.

Senate District 16 (Sen.  John Carona, R-Dallas): Lowest, $4,780; Highest, $5,856; Disparity, $1,076.

Senate District 17 (Sen.  Joan Huffman, R-Southside Place): Lowest, $4,804; Highest, $6,876; Disparity, $2,072.

Senate District 18 (Sen.  Glenn Hagar, R-Katy): Lowest, $4,710; Highest, $7,935; Disparity, $3,225.

Senate District 19 (Sen.  Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio): Lowest, $3,831; Highest, $12,400; Disparity, $8,569.

Senate District 20 (Sen.  Chuy Hinojosa, D-McAllen): Lowest, $4,678; Highest, $9,548; Disparity, $4,870.

Senate District 21 (Sen.  Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo): Lowest, $3,732; Highest, $10,908; Disparity, $7,176.

Senate District 22 (Sen.  Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury): Lowest, $4,118; Highest, $7,750; Disparity, $3,632.

Senate District 23 (Sen.  Royce West, D-Dallas): Lowest, $4,884; Highest, $5,430; Disparity, $546.

Senate District 24 (Sen.  Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay): Lowest, $3,896; Highest, $6,864; Disparity, $2,968.

Senate District 25 (Sen.  Jeff  Wentworth, R-San Antonio): Lowest, $4,426; Highest, $6,109; Disparity, $1,683.

Senate District 26 (Sen.  Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio): Lowest, $3,759; Highest, $5,573; Disparity, $1,814.

Senate District 27 (Sen.  Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville): Lowest, $4,304; Highest, $7,321; Disparity, $3,017.

Senate District 28 (Sen.  Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock): Lowest, $4,390; Highest, $12,979; Disparity, $8,589.

Senate District 29 (Sen.  Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso): Lowest, $4,614; Highest, $5,083; Disparity, $469.

Senate District 30 (Sen.  Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls): Lowest, $4,425; Highest, $7,488; Disparity, $3,063.

Senate District 31 (Sen.  Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo): Lowest, $4,432; Highest, $12,387; Disparity, $7,955.

A difference of $1,000 per student can pile up quickly. That kind of disparity amounts to at least $25,000 per classroom.

No one disputed or discounted Deuell’s case. But the prevailing attitude is:  ”We’re doing the best we can do this session.”

And if the Lege were a school district, they’d be rated academically unacceptable. Doing your best isn’t good enough if your methodology sucks. This is where the rubber meets the road, and as PDiddie notes, we’ve been down this road before. The Lege isn’t going to fix this problem until it is made up of members that actually care about fixing it in a just, equitable, and adequate fashion. The best we’re going to get out of this Lege is clarity for the next school finance lawsuit.

Another point of order delays Eissler’s school bill

HB400, the bill by Rep. Rob Eissler that among other things raises the 22:1 student:teacher limit in grades K-4, came up for debate last night after the “sanctuary cities” bill got sidetracked by a point of order. Here was the original AP story about this bill going into the debate.

Districts could increase class sizes, cut employee pay and give teachers unpaid furloughs under the bill by Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands. Schools could also wait until the end of the academic year to notify teachers that contracts won’t be renewed. Current law says teachers have to be notified 45 days before the end of the year.

GOP House leaders say the bill will free schools from state mandates while saving teacher jobs. They say districts have been begging for more leeway in dealing with lower funding because of massive budget reductions.

“These changes should have been made a long time ago,” Eissler said, citing current law that only gives school districts the option of laying off teachers.

But key teacher groups statewide say the bill will devastate educators and their ability to stay in the classroom. They say Eissler’s bill is launching an attack on educators that will result in severe pay cuts and make it even easier to fire teachers.

[…]

Teacher advocates argue that the reforms Eissler seeks should be temporary, much like a Senate bill that allows teacher furloughs and salary reductions only while the state faces a budget crisis.

Democrats in the House argued that the bill was just paving the way for legislators to continue underfunding public schools.

“This is a conciliation bill that says we are prepared to downsize and dumb down the educational system of Texas,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. “It is nothing to do about quality education, nothing to do about excellence, and everything to do with us not wanting to spend one additional dollar from the rainy day fund.”

Eissler did give some ground on these points as the debate opened.

Eissler, R-The Woodlands, demonstrated he came ready to deal when he offered an amendment from the floor that kept the 22-1 class size ratio for kindergarten through fourth grade but made it significantly easier from districts to get a waiver exemption as long as they maintained a 22-1 district wide average. And teachers’ groups scored a victory when Eissler agreed to make the bills’ measures temporary — something he previously said he would not do.

“As much as I hate weakening our 22-1 law at all, all I’m saying is that if we have to do it, we should sunset it,” said state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, the author of the amendment.

Eissler initially said he believed making the measure temporary would be “creating havoc” in school districts. But after a few moments of deliberation, he approved the amendment.

That sunsetting would be for the 2014 school year. These gains did not stop the bill from being put on hold by another point of order from Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, who had previously stalled the “sanctuary cities” bill as well.

[Martinez-Fischer] objected to Eissler’s bill because the committee minutes reflect that Rep. Todd Smith, R- Euless, offered a committee substitute for the bill, but the bill printing says it was offered by Rep. Jimmy Don Aycock, R-Killeen.

“So you either have a committee meeting problem, or you have a printing problem,” Martinez Fischer said.

“But – you don’t have a chairman problem,” he said within earshot of Eissler.

The San Antonio legislator told Eissler he could have avoided the problem had only he “put in his two cents” and influenced House Speaker Joe Straus to make Martinez Fischer a chairman. Eissler and Straus are close allies.

“I’d be fixing all these bad bills,” Martinez Fischer said.

“That’s why I love Trey,” Eissler responded.

This morning, Speaker Straus upheld the point of order, saying the bill needed to be reprinted, so it will be Monday at least before it can come back to the floor. Seems like some Republicans must have been expecting this, because many of them didn’t show up on Saturday, enough to endanger the quorum in the House. Despite some frayed tempers, it appears that the House did indeed still have a quorum, and after a motion to stifle debate, the House rammed through the so-called “loser pays” rule, which was the most recent “emergency” declared by Rick Perry, then finally adjourned for the weekend. Monday is going to be a lot of fun.

New map, new opportunities: Outside the urban areas, part 2

More districts to look at for Democratic opportunities outside of the traditional urban areas.

HD45

District: 45

Incumbent: Jason Isaacs (first elected in 2010)

Counties: Blanco, Hays

Best 2008 Dem performance: Barack Obama, 46.78%

Patrick Rose won this district in 2002, the only Democratic takeover of an existing Republican seat that year. Like many other Democratic legislators, he was swamped by the 2010 tide. The new HD45 drops Caldwell County, which was moderately Democratic at the downballot level in 2008; adding it in makes Susan Strawn, at 47.1%, the top Democratic performer. Rose always won with crossover appeal; as that was in short supply last year, he lost. If Hays County gets blue enough, crossover appeal won’t matter much, but until then a candidate will likely need at least a few Republican defectors to win. I don’t know what kind of Democratic organization exists in Hays right now, but there needs to be some for 2012.

HDs 52 and 149

District: 52
District: 149

Incumbent: Larry Gonzales (HD52, first elected in 2010); none (HD149)

Counties: Williamson (part) for each

Best 2008 Dem performance:Barack Obama for each, 46.18% in HD52, 45.92% in HD149.

Unlike a lot of other districts, Obama outperformed the rest of the ticket here, by three to six points in each case. I don’t know how that changes the dynamic, but I thought it was worth noting. Both districts are in the southern end of WilCo, the fastest growing and closest to Austin parts of the district. I don’t know how conducive they’ll be to electing Democratic reps in 2012, though obviously they both need to be strongly challenged, but it’s not hard to imagine them getting more competitive as the decade goes on. I don’t expect there to be too many boring elections in either of them.

HD54

District: 54

Incumbent: Jimmie Don Aycock (first elected in 2006)

Counties: Bell (part), Lampasas

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 49.01% (plurality)

This one was totally not on my radar. It was so unexpected to me that I figured Aycock, who won easily in 2006 and hasn’t faced a Democrat since, must have gotten screwed somehow by the committee. The 2008 numbers for his old district, in which Houston also got a plurality with a hair under 49%, says otherwise. HD54 swaps out Burnet County (now in HD20, one of the three Williamson County districts) for more of Bell but remains about the same electorally. Typically, downballot Democrats did better than the top of the ticket, with only Jim Jordan and JR Molina not holding their opponents under 50% (McCain got 51.20%, Cornyn 53.85%). I figure the 2008 result in HD54 was a surprise, but the 2012 possibilities should not be. One possible wild card: Aycock was a ParentPAC-backed candidate in 2006, and as far as I know he maintained that endorsement in 2008 and 2010. Back then, the main issue was vouchers, which have been dormant in recent years. Will Aycock’s vote for HB1 and its $8 billion cut to public education cost him ParentPAC support? If so, might that result in a primary challenge, or a general election opponent? That will be worth paying attention to, as it could affect other races as well.

Collin and Denton Counties

District: 64
District: 65
District: 66
District: 67

Incumbent, HD64: Myra Crownover (first elected in 2000)
Incumbent, HD65: Burt Solomons (first elected in 1994)
Incumbent, HD66: Van Taylor (first elected in 2010)
Incumbent, HD67: Jerry Madden (first elected in 1992)

Counties: Collin (66 and 67) and Denton (64 and 65)

Best 2008 Dem performance, HD64: Sam Houston, 41.98%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD65: Barack Obama, 43.04%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD66: Barack Obama, 40.21%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD67: Barack Obama, 39.59%

I don’t actually expect any of these districts to be competitive in 2012. However, if the Democrats hope to have any chance to take the House before the next round of redistricting, they’ll need to be by the end of the decade. Collin and Denton have been two of the fastest growing counties in the state – each got a new district in this map – and they have been slowly but surely trending Democratic. They started at a pretty low point, of course, so they can trend for a long time before it becomes relevant, but as more and more non-Anglos move into the traditional suburbs, I expect the trend to continue. The question is how fast, and how much blood and treasure the Democrats will put into hastening it.

HD85

District: 85

Incumbent: None

Counties: Fort Bend (part), Wharton, Jackson

Best 2008 Dem performance: Susan Strawn, 45.29%

This is the new Fort Bend district, comprising territory that had previously been represented by John Zerwas (Wharton and part of Fort Bend) and Geanie Morrison (Jackson). As with the Denton and Collin districts, it’s probably out of reach in 2012, but it’s also likely to see a lot of growth and demographic change over the course of the decade, and as such ought to get more competitive over time. And again, it needs to be, as I don’t see a path to a Democratic majority that doesn’t include districts like this.