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July 12th, 2010:

Nightly News Update: Monday Edition

More up-to-date linkage while Kuff sings Kumbaya in the wood goes on a snipe hunt.

» Chron: Kids’ failure is adult’s ‘success’ (Rick Casey)
Maybe it’s just me, but the immediacy of this column seems a bit like an afterthought since TEA chief Robert Scott has already announced sent a non-descript email to nervous school admins that he’s thinking about modifying or possibly kinda dropping the whole Texas Projection Measure nonsense. If he’s looking for a rug to sweep the thing under, I guess someone should tell him that politics is a tough business in that regard.

» Chron: Museum to stay open 24 hours for ‘corpse flower’
I’m all for expanding the museum experience, but a 24hr vigil for the stinkiest flower known to mankind strikes me as one tough draw. That said, it beats what the zoo has going on.

» Two words: Coach Bagwell. I’d consider it one of life’s great ironies if the player with the weirdest batting stance turned this team around.

And in news that Kuff wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole: Carrie Underwood is now married and Paul Gilbert has a new instrumental CD coming out. The first pretty much balances out the fact that Sandra Bullock is once again on the market. The latter is payback (in the form of career longevity) for the fact that Mr. Big never had a #1 hit for one of their heavier tunes.

Gambling and the deficit

I’ve said before that regardless of what you hear from gambling proponents about the potential for expanded gambling to help with the current budget deficit, you should not expect anything this biennium. I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one saying such things.

John Heleman of the state comptroller’s office said the most popular gambling options being discussed in the Legislature would not provide much revenue over the next two to three years because of the time that would be required to put them in place and start generating revenue.

Proposals to legalize resort casinos and allow slot machines at horse and dog racetracks have been gaining momentum in Texas as projections on the state’s budget shortfall next year continue to climb, with some experts predicting the deficit may reach $18 billion.

But Heleman told the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee that increased gaming shouldn’t be seen as a quick cure.

“You won’t get any money the first year, and it is very likely you will get a small amount the second year,” he said, noting that lawmakers would first have to pass gambling legislation next year and then have voters approve a constitutional amendment in November of 2011.

Next would come rules and regulations for whatever gambling options are approved, and then the state would have to issue licenses to racetrack operators installing slot machines or corporations building resort casinos. Two Indian tribes in Texas also want authority to operate casinos in the state.

“It could be a couple of years before any money comes in,” Heleman said.

None of this is an argument against gambling per se. Expanded gambling does not need to bring in short term returns to be a good investment for Texas, if you believe it to be so. But a big part of the pitch for more gambling is that exactly that it can help close the budget gap, and that’s simply not going to happen. (That message has not sunk in yet. I have an email in my box from Friday that State Rep. Solomon Ortiz, Jr sent to his constituents about attending that House Committee on Licensing & Administrative Procedures that talks about the deficit and the need to “look at new ways of providing revenue to the state”, without mentioning the fact that these revenues are unlikely to be there this biennium.) Let’s be honest about this so that when and if there is a constitutional amendment on the ballot for it, we know just what it is we’re voting on.

Charter schools

There’s good and there’s bad, and if we’re smart about it we can maximize the former while minimizing the latter.

Fifteen years into the Texas charter school experiment, some charters have brought impressive innovation to public education, saved dropouts and posted enviable test scores. But on other campuses, kids have languished in poorly run classrooms and taxpayer money has been squandered on shady operations.

Despite the wildly varied results, the national charter school movement has gained serious steam over the past year. The forces include strong local political support, backing from philanthropic giants like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ambitious charter school management groups, private investors, fed-up urban parents – and even President Barack Obama.

“We’re not an experiment anymore,” said David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association. “We’re a small but crucial piece of the overall public education system in this state.”

[…]

“You’ve got to have quality-control mechanisms in place before you charge forward with greater quantity,” said Nancy Van Meter, a deputy director with AFT in Washington, D.C. “It’s clear to us that the quality-control mechanisms are not in place in many states, including Texas, based not only on the mixed student achievement, but on the questionable financial and business operations that have surfaced.”

As a group, charter schools in Texas are more likely to have low state ratings. Last year, 7 percent of Texas charter schools were rated “unacceptable,” compared with 3 percent of traditional schools. Among schools designed for students at risk of dropping out, 17 percent of charters and 7 percent of traditional schools were rated “unacceptable.”

Despite a flurry of studies, there is no agreement on whether charter schools outperform traditional public schools.

The latest national study, released last week by Mathematica Policy Research, examined 36 charter middle schools in 15 states and found that they did no better or worse on average than traditional schools. The quality of individual charter schools varied widely, with the most successful charters in large urban areas and serving disadvantaged kids. But the study did not find specific strategies that brought success.

I like the way Yglesias puts it:

I think it’s essential that jurisdictions—especially jurisdictions like Washington, DC where the public schools are far below average—allow new charters to start up and successful ones to franchise and expand. But it’s equally essential for charters that persistently underperform to be shut down. You let a 1,000 flowers bloom, and the average flower turns out pretty average. But if you cull the bottom 200 flowers, let the top 100 flowers replicate themselves, and then plant 100 new seeds you’ll be making progress over time.

We may never really know why some charters do better than others, but we sure as heck know which ones are doing better. If we’re aggressive about terminating those schools while helping the successful ones grow, we’ll be moving in the right direction. There are many things about education policy that are hard, but this shouldn’t be one of them.

Report from the West End Civic Club meeting about the “Heights” Wal-Mart

A new blog with the descriptive name They Are Building A Wal-Mart On My Street has a report from a meeting last week of the West End Civic Club about the possible “Heights” Wal-Mart. Representatives from the offices of City Council Member Ed Gonzalez and State Rep. Jessica Farrar, plus developer Ainbinder, were present to provide information and answer questions.

-WalMart intends to speak to the community, but as there is not yet an agreement in place, it is not the intention of WalMart to speak to the community until they ‘have a project’.

-The Developer insists that they (Ainbinder):
-Want to speak to the community
-Want to obtain community feedback
-Want a positive development for the community
-Wants any retail development to fit within the community

-The councilman’s office made it clear that they do not desire to have a ‘Suburban Style WalMart’ plopped down in the middle of the West End.

-Both Ainbinder, and the Councilman’s office agreed that they desire a ‘different kind’ of big box store. A WalMart built in the West End must be a ‘different’ kind of WalMart.

-Whether the WalMart is intended to be a 24hour a day operation has not been decided yet.

-Ainbinder understands that there would need to be a significant infrastructure improvement in the surrounding area.

-The Goal of any new development would be to have a less impermeable footprint for drainage than what presently exists

There’s a lot more, so go check it out. So far, everyone is saying all the right things, but who knows what will eventually happen. Note that the site in question will be more than just a Wal-Mart; according to this Chron story, linked from this post, the Wal-Mart would be on the west side of the property, which is to say on the Bonner Street side, with other shops on the Yale side. We should get more information soon, so we’ll see what that might look like.