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January 4th, 2011:

Here come the nukes

Alas.

Texas can import low-level radioactive waste from 36 other states, a commission run jointly by Texas and Vermont decided Tuesday in Andrews County.

The Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission vote was a decisive victory for Waste Control Specialists, a company owned by a politically connected billionaire that has shaken off a series of permitting and court challenges by environmental activists.

The decision is sure to be challenged by the activists, but WCS could bury waste as soon as October at its 1,300-acre disposal site in Andrews County in West Texas.

As we know from when we first heard about this, the “politically connected billionaire” is Rick Perry sugar daddy Harold Simmons. After opponents got an injunction from a state district court judge to temporarily stop the hearing, US District Court Judge Sam Sparks cleared the way for the state to proceed, ruling that neither court had the jurisdiction to stop them. And so here we are. We’ll see what challenges follow. Texas Vox has more.

Still more on class size limits

Real good article in the Press about class size limits and the possible effects of raising them, which I’ve written about before. A couple of points:

A famous education study done in Tennessee in the 1980s shows class size matters. In the four-year Project STAR (Student-Teacher Achievement Ratio) study, kindergarten-through-third-grade classes with 13-17 students in them were compared to those with 22-26 students, and the researchers found out, in fact, that smaller meant better in terms of academic milestones. A followup study showed the effect continues for several years.

But what many administrators now like to say is that class size doesn’t matter till you get down to 15, [State Rep. Scott] Hochberg says. So if you can’t do that, you might as well throw up your hands. Which is not what the study says. The study just compared two groups and said that of these two groups, those with an average of 15 did better.

“It didn’t say until you get to 15 there’s no difference,” Hochberg says. “How you twist that into ‘There’s no difference till you get down to 15’ is pure propaganda.”

And, as it turns out, according to the Tennessee study, smaller class sizes are especially beneficial for kids from low socioeconomic backgrounds — which describes a majority of students in HISD and, in fact, a significant portion of the student population across the Houston area.

“You don’t see successful charter schools operating with 50 kids in a class,” Hochberg says.

First, the person I’ve heard cite that 15 figure the most often is House Public Education Chair Rob Eissler. I’ve come to learn that there’s quite a body of research on class size and its effects – the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association has a bunch of citations, all of which clearly support the idea that smaller class sizes lead to better results. Further, here’s Leonie Haimson with some specific information:

Myth: There is a threshold that has to be reached before class size reduction provides benefits.

Since STAR involved comparing outcomes between students in classes of 22 to 25 students and those in classes of 13 to 17, many critics have argued that classes have to be reduced to a certain level to provide benefits.

Yet Alan Krueger of Princeton University analyzed the STAR results for the control group of students who were in the “larger” classes and found that within this range, the smaller the class, the better the outcome.

Indeed, esteemed researchers such as Peter Blatchford have found that there is no particular threshold that must be reached before students receive benefits from smaller classes, and any reduction in class size increases the probability that they will be on-task and positively engaged in learning.

Haimson runs a blog called Class Size Matters, in case you want more.

Back to the article:

In 2006, Governor Rick Perry ordered school districts to cut local property tax, saying the state would make up the difference.

“The state’s new taxes to make up the difference didn’t made up the difference,” Hochberg says. “And so since that bill was passed in ’06, we haven’t had an internally balanced budget at the state level. We’ve been short every time. We covered it the first time because we had a surplus coming in. We covered it the second time with stimulus money — that nasty, awful stimulus money from Washington that we don’t want to touch.

“We were 4 billion short on the budget last time without the stimulus money, and that’s on a zero-growth budget. State revenues haven’t balanced the budget for the last two cycles since those cuts were made.”

I’ve talked about this a lot, so it’s nothing new to us. Sometimes I wonder how the Governor’s race would have gone in 2010 if there had been no stimulus in 2009, and the Lege had had to deal with a budget deficit that was projected to be in the $8 to $10 billion range back then. Then I get depressed and think happy thoughts instead. The bill for that tax cut is due now, and it will come due again in the future until we fix the underlying problem.

On county jails and treating mental illness

There’s really only one thing that needs to be said about this op-ed, which was co-written by Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and HPD Chief Charles McClelland.

Texas ranks 49th in the nation in per capita spending on mental health services. Only 25 percent of children and 18 percent of adults with severe mental illness and in need of services from the public mental health system in Harris County are able to receive them. Now, Texas lawmakers are looking to cut funding to the already overburdened public mental health system by $134 million for 2012-13.

As the heads of the two largest law enforcement agencies in the Houston area, we are extremely concerned that spending significantly less on mental health services for those most in need will result in far greater ramifications in the long term for state finances as well as the quality of life for all Texans. Funding cuts will directly affect public safety if officers are forced to deal with even more mental health crises rather than address other urgent calls for service. Moreover, many individuals with untreated mental illness who lack access to care end up cycling through the criminal justice system at a cost that is significantly higher to taxpayers than that of providing ongoing, community-based treatment and services.

A prime example of cost shifting has occurred within the Harris County Jail, now the largest mental health facility in Texas. The Harris County Jail treats more individuals with mental health issues on a daily basis than our state’s 10 psychiatric hospitals combined. This is especially worrisome given that the United States Department of Justice reports that it costs 60 percent more to incarcerate inmates with serious mental illnesses than it costs to house typical inmates.

[…]

Continuing to increase our reliance on emergency responders to deal with the chronic mentally ill strains our already limited resources.

It also continues to criminalize mental illness, something that benefits no one and negatively affects all of us, whether we are the individuals living with a mental illness, their loved ones, or the taxpayers footing the increasing bill to provide expensive and repeated crisis treatment in our local emergency rooms, jails and state prisons.

The significant cuts the Legislature made in 2003 to this same system are very much part of why we find ourselves in such a precarious situation. We hope our legislators keep this in mind as they decide how to address this important public safety issue in the coming months. Spending less in the short run will only lead to higher costs later, not only in money but also in peace of mind.

The only thing that’s lacking in this piece is the co-signature of County Judge Ed Emmett. The truth of the matter is that the Republican Lege and our Governor don’t care what a Democratic Sheriff and a city police chief think. They’re going to make whatever cuts to the budget they see fit to make, and if it has negative effects on someone else, that’s not their problem. There’s at least a chance that they might give a little bit of weight to what a Republican County Judge has to say, however. I don’t expect much – they’re still going to screw us, they just might feel a teensy twinge of regret about it – but it’s all we’ve got.

Warning: Speed trap ahead

Fascinating story about a guy who likes telling people they’re about to encounter a speed trap.

Three years ago, when Lakeway resident Lance Mitchell launched his website, SpeedTrap-Ahead.org, he didn’t hide his intentions.

“Not a lot of people flash their lights to warn others nowadays,” he wrote. “But, I DO! And when I see a speed trap, I go back up the road a bit, and stand on the sidewalk, wearing my SpeedTrapAhead T-shirt.”

The site was soon hosting discussions on topics useful to a certain type of driver: Was crossing over a white line technically illegal or merely not recommended? Does state law require that you produce a driver’s license if detained?

Mitchell also started chronicling his own occasional acts of civil disruption, often accompanied by self-produced video.

“I saw a cop pull up in the parking lot of the old Lake Travis Elementary,” he wrote in March 2008. “About 1,000 feet up the road, there was a perfect spot for me to set up. So, there I stood, holding my 2 x 2 hand held sign, waving my other hand and pointing at the sign.”

With the determination of a superhero, he vowed to continue his crusade. “I’ll be out again soon! Any time, any place I see a cop blasting out radar, I’ll be not too far away, blasting out my message.”

Read the whole thing, it’s a great exercise in gray areas, technicalities, and overreactions. Personally, I don’t have any philosophical objections to speed traps. There are some stretches of road where I think the announced speed limit is too low, and that setting up a speed trap there is basically shooting fish in a barrel, but just because you disagree with a law doesn’t mean you get to avoid the consequences if you’re caught breaking it. As for warning people about them, it turns out to be legal, but I have mixed feelings about it. Better for people to not speed, or at least not speed too much, as a matter of habit than just to avoid getting caught for it. On the other hand, given how many red light camera tickets were dispensed in their lifetime here, it’s not clear that knowing where the speed traps are would necessarily cause a drop in the number of speeding tickets written. The location of the cameras in Houston was well-publicized, and every intersection that had a camera also had a warning sign alerting you to its presence, yet thousands of people kept running red lights. So I say to Lance Mitchell, knock yourself out. The people who really need to get ticketed will likely continue to do so, and everyone else can get a break.

Texas blog roundup for the week of January 3

The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes everyone a happy and prosperous New Year as it brings you the first blog roundup of 2011.

Off the Kuff took another look at the coming fight over class size limits.

Who decides who suffers in the Barnett Shale? TXsharon ponders this question at Bluedaze: DRILLING REFORM FOR TEXAS. Unless you are a decider, you will eventually suffer.

With “Death Panels” being resurrected in 2011, Bay Area Houston has posted An Idiots Guide to Surviving Obama’s Death Panels”.

Reverend Manny at BlueBloggin takes an in depth look at Bankster Privilege and the Threat of Right Wing Terrorism in 2011-2012. Since the Bush Cabal was thrown out after 25 years of bankster profiteering and warmongering, and the centrist Obama put in his place to preside over a bankster-collapsed economy, there has been over a 250% increase in bankster-sponsored racist and/or separatist right wing groups that openly brandish their capability and willingness for violence. There is a convenience of more than just happenstance for the large corporations that dominate our society. For every “tea party” stance they support, for example, smaller school budgets, there is a huge profit margin for the large corporations. Those same corporations fund most of the paranoid right-wing politicians, who in turn cater to both their violent racist base AND to their banker sponsors.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme notes that the republicans will use any excuse to kill public education in Texas.

An update on the Keystone XL pipeline, the proposed nuclear waste dump in west Texas, and the prospects for DREAM in the next Congress are all part of this aggre-post by PDiddie at Brains and Eggs.

Neil at Texas Liberal marked the 165th anniversary of Texas statehood. This post includes links to a number of good reference sources so we may learn more about our state. Also included in this post is a picture of President Obama meant to indicate that Texas is just one state of 50 in our federal union. Let’s all get it through our heads—The federal government in Washington is the supreme governmental authority of the the land.