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December 13th, 2012:

SD06 special election date set

Very glad to her it.

Gov. Rick Perry today set Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, as the special election date to fill the Texas State Senate District 6 seat formerly held by the late Sen. Mario Gallegos.

Candidates for this special election must file applications with the Secretary of State no later than 5:00 p.m. on Dec. 27, 2012. The early voting period runs from Wednesday, January 9 to Tuesday, January 22.

The winner will serve a four year term beginning in 2013.

The proclamation is here, for those of you who need your whereases and whereofs to make it all real; Trailblazers and the Trib are now reporting it. I was sure that Perry would drag things out as long as he could, so I’m happy to have been proven wrong. If my interpretation of Robert Miller’s timeline is accurate, we can expect a runoff (if one is needed) four to six weeks after that, so we ought to have a new Senator in SD06 no later than early to mid March. That’s still a little late for my taste, but it’s at least two weeks earlier than the late-case scenario, so it’s better than it could have been. A statement from Carol Alvarado about the election date is here.

UPDATE: And here’s Sylvia Garcia’s statement.

Planned Parenthood files another lawsuit

Keeping the heat on the state.

Right there with them

As a tumultuous year in women’s health draws to a close, Planned Parenthood is turning up the heat on Texas, today filing a new lawsuit that challenge the state’s move to ban the nonprofit from participation in a state-run and funded Texas Women’s Health Program.

While previous lawsuits have focused on the state’s move to ban Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid-waiver Women’s Health Program, the suit filed this week focuses on the state’s efforts to ban the provider from a proposed state-run Texas WHP – meant to replace the successful and federally-funded program that the state has voluntarily sought to end solely to exclude Planned Parenthood from participation.

[Tuesday] in state court Marcela “Marcy” Balquinta joined Planned Parenthood family-planning providers from across the state to sue Texas in Travis County district court, arguing that she will effectively be left without access to health care if the state goes through with excluding Planned Parenthood from providing women’s health care in the revamped TWHP. “Without the affordable care I receive through Planned Parenthood and WHP, I would have to make tough decisions between paying for my cancer screenings and birth control, or buying groceries or gas for my car,” Balquinta said in a statement. “If I couldn’t go to Planned Parenthood, I don’t know where I’d turn. And there are tens of thousands of Texas women like me.”

Indeed, Balquinta lives in the Valley, one of the areas of the state that will be hardest hit if state officials make good on a promise to ban Planned Parenthood from participation in the new TWHP. Balquinta, a 26-year-old graduate student at University of Texas–Pan American who works part-time teaching students about preventing sexual violence, will continue to try to pay for services at Planned Parenthood, because that is her “trusted provider where she feels comfortable seeking reproductive health services,” though “because of her limited means, she believes it would be highly unlikely that she could pay for the same range of services that has been covered by WHP and would be covered by TWHP,” reads the lawsuit.

See Trail Blazers and POstcards for more on this story, and here and here for more on the other state lawsuit, which is on hold as Texas appeals the temporary injunction that halts it from keeping Planned Parenthood out of its replacement Women’s Health Program. As this story notes, it is far from clear that the state really has a functioning replacement program ready to go when the federal funds are scheduled to cease, given its inability to meet its own deadline in rolling it out. A hearing on this new suit will happen sometime before the end of the year. A statement from Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast about this is here.

What can you get for $10,000?

You can now get a college degree – at some colleges, in some programs, if you’re lucky.

Many were skeptical when Gov. Rick Perry last year challenged Texas public colleges and universities to offer degrees costing no more than $10,000.

Now 14 institutions have embraced the concept, which Perry sees as a promising way to rein in college costs and increase access.

Several schools began offering bargain degrees this fall, and others are scheduled to start programs next year, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, a cheerleader for the concept.

“We’ve really been a bully pulpit to look at ways to bend the cost curve in terms of tuition and fees,” board spokesman Dominic Chavez said. “We articulate it as a challenge. Ten thousand dollars is a goal. Let’s see how many programs we can get for affordable pathways.”

In-state tuition and fees in Texas have increased by 90 percent in eight years.

The average cost was about $7,300 per year in 2011-12.

[…]

“Our concern is that the idea of the $10,000 degree is diverting attention from the very real conversation about rising costs that must happen among all the members of the higher-education community,” said Ann McGlashan, an associate professor of German and Russian at Baylor University and president of the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors.

Texas and other states have dramatically cut higher-education money over the years, forcing tuition up. Now political leaders want to put pressure on universities to reverse the trend while ignoring cost-cutting measures they have already taken, said Dan Hurley, director of state relations for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

“While we support the idea, the $10,000 mark is an artificially set figure,” Hurley said. “To deliver a college education at or below that mark is a little too elementary, given all the dynamics at play. It gets folks excited, but it’s not a sophisticated approach to encouraging system performance.”

[…]

Baylor’s McGlashan said students eligible for $10,000 degrees often have attended well-funded high-schools that offer many dual-credit and Advanced Placement classes that give them a head start.

“It also targets those who know very early on what they want to do with their lives,” she said.

“We need to be talking about the students who don’t have these advantages and what can be done to bring down costs for them. It’s time to put everything on the table and think outside the box.”

I have not paid close attention to this piece of policy from Rick Perry, partly because I don’t take policy ideas from him seriously, and partly because there’s only so many things I can pay close attention to at one time. If this becomes a viable option for a significant number of students, then I will give him credit for it, however grudgingly. I just want to point out that getting a degree at any of the flagship public universities in Texas used to be a pretty affordable proposition, back before tuition was deregulated by Perry and Tom Craddick and the rest of the Republican legislature in 2003, in response to the first budget crisis faced during Perry’s tenure. A Google search for “University of Texas tuition 2003” led me to this page, which told me that the Undergraduate Flat-Rate Tuition Fall 2002 / Spring 2003 (per semester) at UT was $2,357.00 for College of Liberal Arts, and $2,504.00 for College of Natural Sciences. That’s per semester, so you’d be looking at about $20K in tuition over four years, and of course there’s still room and board and books and transportation, all of which students in the $10K Degree program would need to pay for as well. In return you’d have gotten a degree in the program of your choice at UT, not too shabby a deal if you ask me. The reason in-state tuition has increased so much in the past eight years – that is, since tuition deregulation became the law of the land – is because eight years ago the state greatly scaled back its financial support for public universities, and gave those universities the burden and the freedom to make up the difference by charging more. Point being, if we’d never deregulated in the first place but instead continued the long tradition of supporting public higher education in Texas, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. Let’s not lose sight of that.

Are vouchers unconstitutional?

Attorney Kelly Frels makes the case that private school vouchers will not pass constitutional muster in Texas.

State Sen. Dan Patrick has proposed that the state of Texas provide vouchers to help parents pay for private school tuition. Vouchers are bad public policy, and they are not permitted by the Texas Constitution.

[…]

From a public policy perspective, assume that Texas adopts a voucher system. Will all private schools that benefit from state voucher money be required to accept any child who appears at the school’s door or will the private school be able to continue to pick and choose from those who apply? Will such private schools be required to offer bilingual education and to provide an appropriate, free education for students with disabilities? Or will the private school be able to take the state’s money for its chosen students and deny admission to those with educational challenges or those who misbehave, leaving them to the public schools to educate?

[…]

Constitutionally, vouchers are dead before they start. The Texas Constitution, Article VII, Section 1, recognizes the importance of “a general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people …” Article VII, Section 1 mandates that “… it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.” Given this constitutional mandate, how can the state’s money be used to fund private schools, even if the money follows the child to a private school?

Private schools that are sponsored by a church or a religious group face another constitutional roadblock in Section 7 of the Texas Constitution’s Bill of Rights. “No money shall be appropriated or drawn from the Treasury for the benefit of any sect, or religious society, theological or religious seminary, nor shall property belonging to the State be appropriated for any such purpose.” Can anyone in good conscience argue that vouchers do not benefit the private school, even if the voucher is given to the child’s parents?

You don’t have to convince me that vouchers are bad public policy. Frels references prior op-eds by Ronald Trowbridge in making that case. The constitutional question I’m not qualified to evaluate, but I feel certain that Dan Patrick has consulted with an attorney or two, and that they have a differing opinion. I’m sure we’ll see a response from someone on Patrick’s team in the near future. For what it’s worth, Louisiana’s voucher program was ruled unconstitutional in state court last week, though the ruling is not seen as an insurmountable obstacle to the program. Personally, I’d rather win by defeating any legislation before it ever gets to the Governor, and not have to depend on the whims of the judiciary. Any lawyers out there want to weigh in on this?

Texas blog roundup for the week of December 10

The Texas Progressive Alliance is waiting for Rick Perry to call the special election in SD06 as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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