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January 24th, 2013:

The state begins preparing its excuses for its WHP screwup

The fail is strong in this one.

Right there with them

State health officials continue to insist that they have signed up more than enough providers to replace Planned Parenthood across most of Texas. Areas of limited coverage — including San Angelo, Corsicana and Paris — are being scoured to find health care providers willing to join the Women’s Health Project, they said.

In the meantime, the provider information that was pulled from the Health and Human Services Commission’s website is undergoing a belated check for accuracy to remove doctors and clinics that were mistakenly listed as participants in the Women’s Health Program or that provided only limited services, such as surgical contraception.

New information will not be posted online until a state contractor verifies that every listed health care provider is a participant in the Women’s Health Program — and state health agency employees double-check the revised list, said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the state Health and Human Services Commission.

What went wrong?

Originally, the list was generated by the contractor, the Texas Medicaid and Healthcare Partnership, by using provider numbers for practices that had joined the health program, Goodman said. That shortcut, however, captured all locations of a provider group, even those that were not participating — including pediatric clinics, labs and surgeons.

“Obviously, on something this high-profile, that’s going to be this scrutinized, this is an area where we should have done a better job,” she said.

“Our mistake, honestly, was not calling on our own” to verify the contractor’s work, Goodman said. “On paper, picking up all those providers that could legitimately bill under the program made sense. We should have realized that pulling from billing records would make it difficult for women to use” the list.

Goodman said she expects the revised list to be published online this week.

That’s what you said last week, Stephanie. I guess one of these weeks you’ll be correct about that.

The mistakes were unfortunate, Goodman said, because they overshadowed a lot of hard work that has been done to launch the state program, particularly in signing up enough new providers to meet the need left by Planned Parenthood’s ouster.

“That’s one of the sad parts of this. I’d hate for women to see these stories and think, ‘There’s no help for me,’ ” she said. “There are clinics all over the state that said they have the ability to serve more women.”

The real mistake, of course, was believing that in Rick Perry’s Texas, where the 2011 Legislature slashed spending on family planning by two-thirds, there would be any incentive for this to be done right. Forget the scapegoating of the contractor, whose work was apparently never supervised or verified by anyone at the HHSC – we don’t need no stinkin’ project management! – and focus for a minute on the statement above on how “areas of limited coverage” – that is, places where only Planned Parenthood had done this kind of work before – are still “being scoured” to find providers more than three weeks after the state WHP was supposed to go live. No one could have seen this coming, because the Perry administration has such an admirable record of caring about women and children, especially poor women and children. If these women have received a message that there’s no help for them, there’s a good reason for it.

More STAAR changes proposed

Everyone’s least favorite standardized test is a fat target these days.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, the Amarillo Republican who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, filed a bill Tuesday offering broad changes to student assessment and high school graduation requirements in Texas.

Senate Bill 225 would significantly reduce the number of state standardized tests students must pass to graduate — from 15 to five in reading, writing, biology, Algebra I and U.S. history. It would also leave whether to count the state exams toward anything besides graduation requirements up to local school boards. A rule that requires state end-of-course exams to count toward 15 percent of students’ final grade is currently suspended, but it would take effect again next year if lawmakers do not change it.

Seliger’s bill would restructure high school graduation plans so that the current requirement of four years each in math, science, English and social studies, known as the “4X4,” would be replaced by a 26 credit “Foundation High School Program.” That program would require students to earn 16 credits in core subject areas — four in English, three in math, three in social studies, two in science, two in foreign language, and one in each physical education and fine arts — plus 10 elective credits. The program would allow students to earn diploma “endorsements” by completing five credits across areas of studies like humanities, science, engineering, technology and math, or business and industry.

Here’s SB 225, which has quite a lot to it. Rep. Mike Villarreal filed similar legislation in the House on Tuesday as well. You never know how these sweeping efforts will fare, but if there’s ever a session for this sort of thing, it’s this one, with public support aligned and the biggest booster of the STAAR standing down.

And here’s an alternate proposal that has some merit.

When Texas debuted its much-maligned STAAR test last school year, some of the harshest criticisms came from teachers, who complained they’d been given little guidance about what sorts of questions the test would include. In fact, Texas keeps the tests under wraps for three years so it can reuse them.

A bill from state Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) would change that, to release STAAR questions and answer keys every year. Texas would pay the testmaker, Pearson, $2.1 million annually to develop new questions every year, according to the Texas Education Agency.

[…]

Dineen Majcher, president of the board for Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, agrees it’s a problem that teachers have to wait up to three years to see old tests. But she said Strama’s bill still doesn’t go far enough.

“While he’s going in the right direction, that still doesn’t give us diagnostic data,” Majcher said. “Diagnostic data shows in detail where the student made errors or did well and you can use that information to help that student improve.”

Unlike the STAAR test, Majcher said, her daughter brings home class tests that allow her to see what concepts she didn’t understand and better understand any mistake she originally made. Major changes to standardized testing must be implemented for students to better learn from the questions they’ve missed, Majcher said.

“Seeing the test itself is the best way to do that…in everyday school life that’s how students learn,” Majcher said. “I appreciate what Mark is trying to do, but if we’re going to do this, let’s do it right.”

Strama’s bill is HB554. I think what Majcher is saying is that being able to take practice tests and get feedback on what you got wrong is best. I agree with that but it seems to me that if you have the tests you can do the rest. Maybe I’m not fully understanding her concern. In any event, keep an eye on this one as well. It’ll be interesting to look back and see how the STAAR has been changed. If it somehow survives mostly intact, it won’t be from lack of effort and ideas. For a good discussion on the issues with STAAR and some proposed solutions, see this Texas Principal post from September.

Pushing for equality in Waco

Glad to hear it.

A group of Waco residents is seeking a city ordinance to bar public and private employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

Advocates of the measure plan to propose it Thursday to the city’s Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee and hope to get Waco City Council to consider it in coming months.

The as-yet-unnamed group wants the city to follow the lead of cities including Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin, which have passed citywide policies against sexual orientation discrimination.

Spokeswoman Susan Duty said she was disturbed to learn recently that state and federal laws do not bar discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender candidates, unless they are federal employees.

“It’s perfectly legal for an employer in the state of Texas to fire someone just because they are gay,” said Duty, who described herself as a “straight ally” to gays and lesbians. “Other cities have created ordinances to protect workers, and we wanted a way for responsible LGBT citizens to feel safe in their employment, no matter what it is.”

[…]

Equality Texas executive director Chuck Smith said cities such as Houston, San Antonio and El Paso have policies against sexual orientation discrimination within city government.

But Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin go further, with “human rights commissions” that hear complaints against workplace and housing discrimination, including discrimination against LGBT residents. The commissions are allowed to impose fines of up to $500 for discrimination.

Smith said he thinks such fines are infrequent, but the committees also can resolve employment discrimination claims without resorting to fines.

Smith said most corporations already forbid discrimination against LGBT workers by their own internal policies.

“None of these cities saw a huge wave of activity,” he said.

He said ordinances can be written to exempt religious institutions such as schools and universities.

Here’s a copy of the letter that was sent to Waco’s Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee. What’s extra cool about this is that one of the signers, Carmen Saenz, was a high school classmate of mine. She’s the one who tipped me off about this. The EEOAC’s agenda is here. My understanding is that this item isn’t on there now but will be discussed at a subsequent meeting. Here’s more from the Dallas Voice:

Duty, a straight ally, attended an Equality Texas event a few months ago, learning that the state doesn’t offer protections against anti-LGBT job discrimination. Legislation has been filed for the current legislative session to add the statewide protections.

“When I found out that it was legal to discriminate against LGBT people in employment, I was like, that’s ridiculous,” Duty said. “We can’t change it in the state, but we can change it in our city. We can change it in our community.”

Duty then began her research on how to add the employment protections to the city of Waco’s nondiscrimination policy.

[…]

Duty said she’s prepared for opposition and has already prepared to take the issue to City Council, where she expects to have a harder fight. She’s talked to council members who have agreed to sponsor the changes and bring the issue before the council, which would likely happen in February.

Good on you, Susan Duty. We could use many more people like you. Be sure to read that linked article in the excerpt, it’s a great overview of what equality advocates hope to achieve and aim to oppose this session.

One more thing from that Waco Trib story:

Paul Derrick, a supporter of the LGBT advocacy group, said an anti-discrimination policy at least would send the message to gays and lesbians that they are welcome members of the community and workforce.

“It seems to me this is just another civil rights issue,” said Derrick, who was involved in civil rights ordinances and legal battles in Waco in the 1960s and ’70s.

“I think outside Waco, it would have a positive image. It would show that Waco is not stuck in yesteryear, but is moving along with the currents of the larger society.”

I think that’s exactly right. Remember how much positive press the city of Houston got around the world for the election of Mayor Parker? It wasn’t that big a deal to us, but there were an awful lot of people whose reaction was basically “Wait, HOUSTON did that??” They had an image of Houston that wasn’t consistent with who we are, and the news of that election made them rethink it. I doubt Waco will get coverage of that magnitude when they get this done, but it will be noticed and it will be good for them. I wish the people pursuing this the very best of luck with their effort.

Final SD06 early voting turnout

Here’s the final daily record of early voting in SD06. Tuesday was the strongest day as expected, with a bit over 1,000 ballots being cast, but that just got the total to 8,245. With four more days for mail ballots to arrive, I’d guess the number will ultimately be about 8,500 when the first results are posted Saturday evening. As such, my official guess for total turnout is between 17,000 and 22,000. Not terribly inspiring, but what are you gonna do? PDiddie has more.

If you live in SD06 and have waited to vote till Saturday, you can find your Election Day polling place here – I’ve got it as a Google spreadsheet as well. Remember that for low-turnout elections some precincts will be consolidated, so don’t assume your regular November ballot location will be open. Check before you go, and call the County Clerk’s office at 713 755 6965 if you have any questions or see any problems.

I should note that like the special election in District H from 2009, I think this could be one of those elections where turnout in the runoff meets or exceeds turnout from the first round of voting. The stakes are higher in the runoff, obviously, but as that is the time when both Team Sylvia and Team Carol will throw out whatever remaining bad stuff they have on each other, it’s likely there will be more news coverage of the race. That’s not a very pleasant thought either, but we already knew there wasn’t a correlation between the civility of a campaign and the size of the electorate.

Finally, on a side note, the Chron took a look at the January finance reports for Carol Alvarado and Sylvia Garcia. All I can say to that is what took them so long? Not that it really matters all that much at this point, because as of yesterday the 8 day reports were finally posted. Here’s the skinny:

Carol Alvarado

Raised $185,016
Spent $314,904
Cash $109,742

Sylvia Garcia

Raised $163,822
Spent $299,841
Cash $228,408

RW Bray

Raised $345
Spent $360
Cash $345

Maria Selva

Raised $410
Spent $0
Cash $197

Susan DelgadoJanuary semiannual report posted, but the only item in it was the $1250 filing fee.

Joaquin Martinez

Raised $5,558
Spent $1,957
Cash $0

Rodolfo Reyes

Raised $0
Spent $2,966
Cash $0
Loan $16,607

Dorothy Olmos did not have an 8 day report available. To their credit, the Chron did report on the 8 days yesterday, so good on them for that. I didn’t have the time to wade through these reports, so I will leave that to you. At the very least, it looks like Sylvia Garcia may head into the runoff with more cash on hand, though we won’t know till later how much both she and Carol Alvarado will spend between the 18th and the 26th. We’ll see how they stand on Saturday and go from there. Stace has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of January 21

The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes President Obama all the best at the start of his second term as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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