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May 8th, 2013:

Senate passes amended HB5

The Senate has passed its version of House Bill 5, which makes sweeping changes to standardized testing and curriculum requirements for high school students.

Texas high school students would have new curriculum requirements under legislation unanimously passed by the Senate on Monday — but they won’t be the ones the House envisioned when it approved its version of the legislation more than a month ago.

The Senate version of House Bill 5, which the upper chamber reached consensus on after weeks of extensive negotiations that continued through Monday afternoon, still drops the number of required state exams for graduation from 15 to five in biology, U.S. history, algebra I, and English I and II. It would still allow students to complete diplomas in specialized areas or “endorsements,” like humanities, science and technology, and business and industry.

But it changes the courses that students must complete to graduate under those endorsements, most significantly requiring four years of math for all of them.

The legislation now goes to conference committee, where representatives from both chambers will meet to work out their differences.

Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said HB 5 provided the structure for “the most rigorous, most flexible” high school graduation plan in the country. He also emphasized the legislation’s commitment to reducing high-stakes testing, which he said had taken the “fun out of teaching.”

Many Senate Democrats, along with Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, favored preserving the current “4×4” curriculum — which includes four years each in science, social studies, English and math — but adding more options for career skills and advanced math courses. Patrick pushed to keep the plan passed out of his committee, which has four years of English but drops to three years of science, math and social studies in certain endorsements to give students chances to take specialized courses.

The proposal that emerged from Senate negotiations, which Patrick called the “flex 4×4,” puts all students on track to completing four years of math and English, with algebra II as a requirement for all endorsements except the business and industry track. The advanced math course, which some education researchers say increases students’ chances at post-secondary success, would be required for automatic admission to state colleges under the top 10 percent rule and to apply for certain state scholarships.

Under the House version, students would opt into a college preparatory curriculum with the additional years of math, science and social studies. That plan has encountered criticism from groups like the Texas Association of Business, La Raza and the Education Trust, who believe it would reverse the state’s progress in improving students’ preparation for post-secondary education and result in fewer low-income and minority students heading to college.

Here’s HB5, and here’s what I wrote about the House passage of it. The main points of contention were about the algebra II requirement and whether the default endorsement was the most rigorous one or not – in other words, whether a student had to opt in or opt out. The person pushing the opt out path was Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, and the Observer reports on her activities.

Under an amendment tacked on by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), students on the foundation plan must complete four years of science and four years of math with Algebra II to qualify for automatic admissions to state universities under the Top Ten Percent Rule.

That means some students who graduate with the career endorsement may not qualify for automatic admissions, depending on which math classes they choose. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), who led Friday’s negotiations, introduced an amendment that would have required Algebra II for all students.

“I tell ya, I find it quite insulting,” Van de Putte said of people who insinuate that some students just can’t succeed in Algebra II, which is considered a college-ready indicator.

Van de Putte said her amendment would reduce the possibility of reverting to an old system that tended to steer minority students into career and technology fields instead of college—a concern that prompted groups like the National Council of La Raza to agitate against the bill. Van de Putte said today’s system already funnels minority students into the lower degree plan.

“I want to make sure with this amendment that we’re not failing our kids because we’re so afraid with failing ourselves,” Van de Putte said.

However, Van de Putte ultimately withdrew her amendment so lawmakers could discuss her idea in conference committee.

In a statement after the bill passed, she explained her lingering concerns with a graduation path that isn’t built for college readiness. ”I worry that some ninth-graders, especially from families without a history of higher education, won’t realize what they can achieve. I fear that choosing the minimum plan will lead to a minimum wage job,” she said.

Van de Putte also tried, unsuccessfully, to require multiple notifications to students reminding them that choosing the career endorsement may disqualify them from automatic college admissions. “If we’re going to let 15-year-olds decide what their endorsements are, we need to let them be fully informed,” Van de Putte said.

Several legislators from both parties said one notice would be enough, and Patrick raised his voice saying that he didn’t want blue collar work to be stigmatized.

Among Van de Putte’s successful amendments was an option for school districts to offer a seal of bi-literacy on qualifying students’ diplomas, and another protecting dropout recovery schools from being penalized for low test scores.

The Texas Association of Business, which continues to veer between being a force for good and a petulant bully, continues to be unhappy with the thrust of this legislation.

Texas Association of Business president Bill Hammond criticized the Senate bill, saying the weaker requirements will “doom generations of students to a mediocre education and low-wage jobs.”

He noted that only about 25 percent of Texas high school graduates are college- or career-ready.

The requirements are “meant to increase that number and put in place [higher] standards,” he said.

The bill now goes to conference committee to get the differences worked out. I doubt what emerges will be any more to Bill Hammond’s liking than the Senate version is now, but perhaps the final bill will resemble the Senate version more than the House version. It’s mostly been parent groups like TAMSA that have pushed for limits on end of course exams, and they have proven to be a fairly loud voice in this process as well. I’m really not sure what to make of all of this. I do think we test too much, but I also think algebra II should be taught, and I’m a little concerned about weakening curriculum requirements. I have a hard time sorting out all the data on this. If there’s one thing I am sure of it’s that we will revisit this subject again in 2015, and probably 2017 and 2019 and who knows how many future sessions. I don’t think this will ever be anything but a work in progress.

Medicaid “expansion” likely dead

The calendar is a harsh mistress.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The House’s lead health care budget writer says his bill to force Gov. Rick Perry’s administration to explore the potential for a “Texas solution” on Medicaid expansion is dead.

Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, said Tuesday that his bill outlining an expansion of coverage for poor adults using private insurance, health savings accounts and cost sharing by the beneficiaries “got hung up in Calendars.”

He was referring to the House Calendars Committee, which is the traffic cop deciding which bills go to the House floor — and in what order.

“Wasn’t anybody there to rescue it,” Zerwas said of Calendars and his measure.

Although the Calendars Committee is expected to meet Tuesday, Zerwas said the only way his bill could avoid Thursday’s midnight deadline for passing House bills would be if it were placed on Thursday’s major state calendar. That would bump it ahead of scores of bills.

“I don’t think that’s in the cards at all,” said Zerwas, chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on health and human services.

I can’t claim to be surprised. It just wasn’t a priority for the powers that be. The Trib notes that even though Zerwas bent over backwards to try to accommodate Rick Perry and the slash-and-burn crowd at the TPPF, they were still agin’ it, and that was enough to bottle it up. Yes, Calendars could still schedule it ahead of a bunch of other bills, which would endanger them all since HB3791 would surely take all day to debate, and yes it could get attached as an amendment to a so-called “Christmas tree” bill, but I wouldn’t count on either of those things happening, and even if they could they probably shouldn’t. Whatever you think about this – and to me, this bill barely rates a D minus – it deserved a real hearing, with everyone having the opportunity to amend it. It shouldn’t be tacked on to something else, and it shouldn’t get its time on the floor at the expense of everything else. Let’s start talking now about how our tax dollars will now go to help expand Medicaid in New York and California, and how we won’t even get that much money to enroll people in subsidized coverage through the exchanges in large part because Rick Perry didn’t give a crap about that, either. This was always about politics, so let’s make the failure to take action be about politics, too. Texas Politics has more.

Hotze sues Obamacare

You would think that once the Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional that that would settle things, but then you would not be Steve Hotze.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Steve Hotze, a Houston-area physician and major Republican campaign donor who has built his career around alternative medicine, says he is filing suit against the federal government to try to prevent the enforcement of the Affordable Care Act in Texas.

He’ll announce the suit, to be filed against U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, on Tuesday morning in a press conference hosted by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Hotze, the president of Conservative Republicans of Texas, said his suit will address “new and unconstitutional problems that stem from Obamacare.”

“It is imperative that Texas challenge this unwarranted federal overreach and ensure that Texans maintain the most innovative and economically viable health care system in the country,” he wrote in a statement.

Hotze has built a lucrative practice in suburban Houston around nontraditional therapies and treatments for allergies, thyroid problems and yeast infections. He’s best known for promoting natural progesterone replacement therapy for women, a treatment the FDA has questioned the effectiveness of. As recently as 2011, he had a daily health and wellness show on Republican Sen. Dan Patrick’s Houston radio station, KSEV.

At first I thought this was just another example of wingnut rage against the machine, another desperate act by another impotent Obama hater who doesn’t care about the millions of people that lack access to health care. But then I remembered that Hotze is not a traditional doctor as we tend to think of them, and as a commenter on that Trib story suggests this may simply be about reforms in Obamacare affecting his own bottom line. It’s not clear to me how or why that might be the case, however, since alternate medicine is largely included in the Affordable Care Act, and as that Press story notes, insurance companies had already refused to pay for Hotze’s drugs, supplements, and what have you that you could only get at his in-house pharmacy. The Trib story is now updated, and it fills in some details:

The lawsuit presents two constitutional challenges: First, it argues that the ACA violates the rule that requires revenue-raising bills to begin the U.S. House, because the original bill began as a tax credit bill for veterans —not a revenue-raising bill. Second, the lawsuit argues that the ACA violates the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution by essentially requiring citizens to pay money to other citizens by compelling employers to pay private insurance companies for health coverage.

Because Hotze’s business, Braidwood Management, has more than 50 employees, the law requires him to purchase employee health insurance or pay a $2,000 penalty for every full-time employee above a 30-employee threshold.

“This is going to be a huge expense. I’m grateful that Dr. Hotze is stepping forward,” state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said at the press conference. “I think he’ll have the support of many business owners and people around the state.”

Hotze said Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott were made aware of his intention to file a lawsuit, and none objected. Dewhurst was originally scheduled to speak at the press conference but did not attend.

The state of Texas will not be involved in pursuing or paying for the lawsuit. Hotze plans to cover the costs of the suit and has established a legal defense fund for other individuals and businesses to donate to his cause.

I’m not a lawyer, and having read numerous analyses when the first lawsuit was filed about how it was going to get slamdunked by SCOTUS I’m not going to say that it’s bogus and doomed to fail. But I will note that none of Perry, Dewhurst, or Abbott bothered to show up to Hotze’s press conference, and none will be helping out with it. I mean, if Greg “I sue the Obama administration for fun” Abbott isn’t right there holding Hotze’s hand, that suggests to me that maybe he’s not all that high on the merits of the suit. Indeed, Texas Politics adds on about that:

Phillip Martin of the progressive activist group Progress Texas said: “Hotze’s lawsuit appears to be a copy-cat lawsuit of one already filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation. As the Department of Justice has already stated, the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act actually began as House Resolution 3590. It went through a ‘gut and amend’ process in the Senate, and became the law as it is today. In the history of the Supreme Court, only 8 “Origination Clause” cases – like the one presented by the Pacific Legal Foundation and copied, months after the fact, by Hotze – have been heard, and not once has the court invalidated an act of Congress because of it.”

The Progress Texas blog cites that same Houston Press story I linked to above, which includes a summary of some of Hotze’s wacko beliefs. I haven’t seen a copy of the lawsuit itself so I can’t tell you any more about it, but hopefully it will appear online eventually. The Observer has more.

The Washington Avenue parking benefit district is now operational

From CultureMap:

Meet the meter

It took a while, but nearly five months after Houston City Council approved the first citywide Parking Benefit District for the Washington Avenue corridor, the meters started charging at 7 a.m. on Wednesday.

The City of Houston’s Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department hopes to solve a handful of issues with the new parking system, including a lack of curbside parking and congested neighborhood streets, while promoting alternate means of transportation like walking, cycling and public transit

By defining the bar-studded thoroughfare as a PBD, approximately 60 percent of the proceeds from the meters — which stretches from Westcott Street to Houston Avenue and charges $1 per hour during daytime hours and $2 per hour at night Monday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. — will fund neighborhood improvement projects like landscaping, street maintenance, public safety, lighting, sidewalk and pedestrian improvements.

Visitors can pay to park with credit card or via the Parkmobile App (one that will allow you to add time via smartphone if you get caught up at happy hour); neighborhood residents and business owners will have designated permit parking areas Thursday through Sunday from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Here’s the official city webpage on the PBD; I blogged about it before here, here, and here. Council will review the district and its results in 18 months. I hope it works as advertised. It’s a straightforward solution that recognizes parking is a scarce resource in some parts of town, and scarce resources should be valued appropriately. It would be great if the PBD provides enough funds to make some infrastructure improvements to Washington Avenue, which has some of the worst sidewalks for what should be a very walkable area anywhere. Via Swamplot, which has some good maps.