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SD11

What they’re saying about education

The Chron has a couple of stories focusing on area legislators and their priorities for 2013. There will be many new faces in the Lege and the Senate in this session, so the more we know about what these folks have in mind, the better. This story is about Pearland Rep. Ed Thompson (R, HD29) and Sen. Larry Taylor (R, SD11), who was previously the State Rep. in the Friendswood-anchored HD24. The story covers a lot of ground, but I’m primarily interested in their thoughts on education.

Rep. Ed Thompson

District 29 State Rep. Ed Thompson, R-Pearland, said the state’s growing population is an indicator of economic strength.

“People are coming to Texas, because it’s a pro-business state,” Thompson said. “And our unemployment is dropping. It proves that our economy in Texas is improving.”

Thompson hopes these indicators will translate to a higher budget for the next biennium.

“With the economy doing better, revenues are going up. How much there’s going to be and what we’re going to do with it, that’s the question,” he said. “There will be a lot of discussion going back and filling holes in the budget from our last biennium.”

Taylor is optimistic that a stronger economy in the state will prevent the budget shortfall and resulting issues from last session, but he also said there will be several topics of debate in the session.

“Our economy is doing better than it was, but we are still facing a lot of challenges,” he said. “There are a lot of hard decisions ahead.”

Sen. Larry Taylor

Taylor said his second priority after creating a balanced budget is education reform.

“We are in the process of transforming our educational system for the 21st century,” he said.

Among the changes he hopes to see are increased use of technology and more focus on career training.

“We should be reaching out to people with different talents and gifts,” he said. “Not everyone needs to attend a four-year university. We have people gifted with their hands, and we need to reach out to them and help them get good jobs.”

Thompson also wants schools to offer students more career training options.

“Only about 30 percent of jobs in the U.S. require a four-year degree,” he said. “I think we need to allow them to pursue certifications and technical degrees that will allow them to get a job when they finish high school.”

While funding for education remains a hot topic, Thompson believes the issue cannot be fully examined until the court makes a final ruling on multiple lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the state’s school finance system.

“I think the Legislature will probably take a wait-and-see position pending the decisions on the lawsuits in the courts,” he said.

Superintendent John Kelly from Pearland Independent School District and Superintendent Fred Brent of Alvin Independent School District also expect the Legislature to delay decisions until the court case is resolved.

The Pearland district has joined one of the lawsuits.

“I would be the most surprised person in the state if the system is not declared unconstitutional,” Kelly said.

Kelly has worked in education for the past 30 years and said over that time, state regulations have increased, while funding has decreased – a challenging combination.

“If people are going to keep passing laws that increase the burden on school districts, they need to provide the funding,” he said. “If they don’t have the funding, they need to reduce the regulatory burden.”

Kelly hopes to also see a reduction in the amount of required testing, particularly the end-of-course exams. He recommends reducing the average number from 15 to around five.

“These 15 tests are in addition to the PSAT, SAT, ACT, AP and dual-credit tests the students are taking,” Kelly said. “It’s not like we don’t have enough tests.”

Kelly believes legislators are aware of the problem. “I think there’s a strong push to address this,” he said. “I think there’s momentum in that direction. The Legislature has heard from so many parents and school districts. They have to listen to that.”

Brent said, “Indicators show that state revenue is increasing, however, not at the rate of population growth and increasing student enrollment.

“The state needs to account for the increased student population growth and look for opportunities to help schools, and fast-growth districts, address the changing facility needs and instructional dynamics that come along with increasing student enrollment.”

Brent hopes the Legislature will make education funding a priority. “I do believe there will be opportunities to put money back into the school funding system that was pulled out, denied or supplanted with federal funds during the previous biennium,” he added.

In previous sessions, state dollars were replaced with federal funds, Brent noted. “However, the federal funds have ceased and it is critical that this funding is restored from the state level,” he said.

It’s encouraging to hear Thompson talk about growing the budget. We’ll see what that means in practice, but it sure beats talk about artificially restricting the budget for ideological purposes. As for education, it’s unfortunate that neither Thompson nor Taylor had anything substantive to say. At this point, talking about technology and vocational training is practically a shibboleth. Everyone agrees these are Good Things – as do, I, sincerely – and as far as I can tell there’s no actual opposition to these points. That doesn’t mean that there will necessarily be legislation addressing those issues, nor does it mean there won’t be a debate over how much to spend on tech and vocational training versus other things, but at the end of the day no one is lobbying against them. Hearing that Thompson and Taylor support them tells us nothing.

What we do need to know boils down to two things. How much of the $5.4 billion that was cut from public education last session do you want to see restored, and what do you think about Sen. Patrick’s so-called “school choice” proposal? I will stipulate that the Lege is certain to wait and see what the courts do with the ongoing school finance litigation, and that Sen. Patrick’s proposals are not fully formed yet, and as such I’ll be tolerant of a certain amount of hedging and “wait and see”-ing. But this is where the rubber meets the road, and I want to know what everyone’s general philosophies are, and what they hope to attain or to prevent. Moreover, Thompson is a Parent PAC candidate. The Texas Parent PAC was founded in part to oppose vouchers, and one of their guiding principles is to “ensure that local and state taxes collected to fund preK-12th grade education are used only to fund Texas public schools”. That’s a pretty clear statement. How does Rep. Thompson evaluate Sen. Patrick’s proposal in light of that? It’s important that we know.

A second article about one of the new legislators from Fort Bend does at least partially address these questions.

Rep. Phil Stephenson

For state Rep. Phil Stephenson, freshman Republican for the new District 85, encompassing Rosenberg and Needville, parts of Fort Bend County and Wharton and Jackson counties, education, transportation infrastructure and water are major concerns for him and his constituents.

While public safety, fiscal discipline, economic development and children’s health and education are priorities for seasoned state Sen. Joan Huffman, a Republican representing Senate District 17, comprising Brazoria, Fort Bend and Harris counties.

Having been a trustee on the board of Wharton County Junior College for 16 years until Stephenson took state office, fixing public education from kindergarten through 12th grade is essential.

“We’ve got to do a better job of K-12 education,” he said. “We have to have a properly educated work force.”

He wants to cut the amount of testing under the State of Texas Assessments for Academic Readiness, put more teachers in classrooms, pay them more and bring in more programs for higher education.

A certified public accountant, Stephenson supports restoring some funding to education but not all the $5.3 billion that was cut in the last session. Rather than raise taxes, he said lawmakers must look at areas to cut funding, such as the Texas Education Agency, to spread the money around.

That doesn’t tell us much – how much funding would Rep. Stephenson want to restore, and how would he pay for it? His actual suggestion sounds like funny accounting to me – but it tells us more than the other story did. Favoring any kind of restoration is good to hear, because not everyone favors that.

Finally, this story gives the school district perspective top billing.

Officials from the Cy-Fair Independent School District are hopeful that the new session will result in more funding for education.

“It’s going to be an interesting session, and I think there will be a lot of focus on education,” said Teresa Hull, associate superintendent, governmental relations and communications for CFISD.

Hull believes that state legislators are receptive to the concerns of educators.

“There’s a lot of support across the state from the school districts and the legislators,” she said. “We’re feeling very optimistic about some positive outcomes.”

Hull said the district has several priorities going into the session.

Adopting a school finance system that is adequately funded and equitable is at the top of the district’s wish list – which would include restoring the previous biennium’s funding cuts.

Hull acknowledged, however, that the Legislature may not be able to move forward on the issue until the court makes a final ruling on multiple lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the state’s school finance system.

[…]

Hull said that while the state might put education finance on the back burner, there are other school-related areas that can be addressed.

“The ones I think we’re going to see get the most attention right off the bat will be accountability and testing,” she said.

The district would like to see a reduction in the amount of high-stakes testing, as well as the elimination of the requirement that an end-of-course exam count for 15 percent of a student’s final grade.

Hull said CFISD also wants districts to have more flexibility to manage classroom personnel based on individual school and student needs.

“Let us decide how we want to allocate money into those programs instead of dictating how much and where it will go,” she said.

Hull also hopes to gain more local control for the districts.

This would include the elimination of a standard school start date.

She said that the district plans to oppose legislation that would divert funding from public education, such as voucher programs.

Instead, she prefers policies that expand on public school choice programs that already exist.

“It’s not that we’re opposed to choice,” she said. “But the idea of public funds going to private and parochial schools is concerning. It diverts public funds from public education.”

Cy-Fair is of course in SD07, home of “school choice” bill author Sen. Patrick, whom Hull praises as a “good listener”. We’ll see about that. The story does also include quotes from a legislator:

District 132 State Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Houston, said several educators have communicated concerns about the high number of tests required for students to graduate.

“They have to take 15 or more tests to graduate from high school. A lot of people feel that’s just too much emphasis on testing,” he said. “I’ve talked to teachers, parents and superintendents, and they just think it’s overdone.”

Callegari would also like to see more emphasis on career and technical training.

“These are not menial jobs – they are very important jobs,” he said. “We need to bring a stronger advocacy for career and technical training, making sure we provide the opportunity to get training and not precluding anyone from going to college.”

Again with vocational training, which is to say nothing much, plus some concerns about testing, which is both good and the continuation of a theme. But nothing about restoring funds or vouchers. These are the questions we need answered, and if you see any story in which a legislator is quoted on matters relating to education but these questions aren’t addressed, the article is incomplete. We need to know, and we need to know now before the debating and voting begin.

30 day reports, Harris County candidates for state office

We’re now 26 days out from the May 29 primary, which means more campaign finance reports from candidates for state and county offices who are in contested primaries. I’m going to post about all of these, starting today with reports from Harris County candidates for state offices. Here are the Democrats, whose reports are linked from my 2012 Democratic primary election page:

Candidate Office Raised Spent Loans Cash ==================================================== Nilsson SBOE6 1,100 1,267 0 1,092 Jensen SBOE6 8,105 9,462 0 4,699 Scott SBOE6 200 474 0 346 Allen HD131 103,451 52,965 0 60,002 Adams HD131 17,930 70,768 411 24,110 Madden HD137 15,968 12,232 0 13,987 Smith HD137 29,352 24,993 0 6,255 Winkler HD137 15,575 4,170 20,000 35,914 Wu HD137 35,579 30,539 0 73,468 Perez HD144 48,120 20,238 0 40,729 Risner HD144 9,315 15,158 0 4,156 Ybarra HD144 4,650 7,586 0 27 Miles HD146 16,600 27,776 730,000 58,573 Edwards HD146 14,449 13,685 0 764 Coleman HD147 41,525 39,052 0 84,433 Hill HD147

My post on the January reports is here. Some thoughts about these reports:

I think we can say that Rep. Alma Allen has eradicated the early lead Wanda Adams had in cash on hand. The establishment has rallied to Rep. Allen’s side, as is usually the case with an incumbent in good standing. A lot of money has already been spent in this race, and I don’t expect that to change over the next four weeks.

Usually, establishment support and fundraising prowess go hand in hand, but not always. HD137 is one of the exceptions, as Gene Wu has been the strongest fundraiser despite garnering only one endorsement (that I’m aware of) so far – HAR, which is certainly a nice get but not a core Democratic group. Joe Madden and Jamaal Smith have racked up the endorsements but don’t have the financial support to match. Other than there will be a runoff, I have no idea what will happen in this race.

For a variety of reasons, many organizations have not endorsed in HD144. The candidates got off to a late start thanks to the changes made to the district in the second interim map, and no one had much to show in their January finance reports. HCC Trustee Mary Ann Perez, who has the backing of Annie’s List, clearly distinguished herself this cycle, which will undoubtedly help her in a part of town that’s not used to having competitive D primaries for State Rep. The other news of interest in this race has nothing to do with fundraising. Robert Miller reported on candidate Kevin Risner having had three arrests for DUI, a fact that I’m sure was going to come out sooner or later. Miller, who’s a Perez supporter, thinks Risner is in a good position to win the primary. I’m not sure I agree with his analysis, but we’ll see.

Poor Al Edwards. It’s hard running a race without Tom Craddick’s buddies, isn’t it? I think Rep. Miles is going to break the pattern of alternating victories this year. On a side note, the Observer’s Forrest Wilder listened to my interview with Rep. Miles, even if he didn’t link to it. I guess he’s not much of a fan of either candidate in this race.

As of this writing, Ray Hill had not filed a 30 Day report. He finally did file a January report that listed no money raised or spent.

Here are the Republicans:

Candidate Office Raised Spent Loans Cash ==================================================== Cargill SBOE8 4,474 10,059 0 18,626 Ellis SBOE8 6,614 2,795 0 5,224 McCool SD11 5,957 4,959 0 997 Norman SD11 6,200 44,086 30,000 1,007 Taylor SD11 344,708 330,586 0 169,468 Huberty HD127 77,536 44,423 0 64,691 Jordan HD127 791 1,731 0 0 Davis HD129 49,816 42,193 0 70,317 Huls HD129 1,482 1,314 0 167 Callegari HD132 67,385 27,632 0 258,286 Brown HD132 2,275 2,380 0 93 Murphy HD133 110,665 89,167 0 211,004 Witt HD133 9,043 139,943 240,100 34,207 Bohac HD138 38,975 18,931 0 44,094 Smith HD138 22,998 13,562 100,000 105,504 Salazar HD143 Weiskopf HD143 Pineda HD144 28,100 6,591 0 19,613 Pena HD144 3,968 1,368 0 0 Lee HD149 Williams HD149 Mullins HD149 Riddle HD150 8,175 24,461 0 92,216 Wilson HD150 11,900 8,520 1,100 4,272

Note that there are differences from the last time. In January, there was a four-way race for HD136, which was eliminated by the San Antonio court in each of the interim maps. Ann Witt, who had been one of the candidates in HD136, moved over to HD133 and replaced the previous challenger, who apparently un-filed during the second period. In that second period, HD144 incumbent Ken Legler decided to drop out, and incumbent Dwayne Bohac picked up an opponent, and multiple people filed in HDs 143, 144, and 149.

Candidates Frank Salazar in HD143 and Jack Lee in HD149 did not have reports filed as of posting time. Their opponents did have reports filed, but those reports are not viewable until each candidate in the race has filed.

Witt had loaned herself $100K as of January; she has since more than doubled that amount. Whet Smith dropped $100K on himself in his challenge against Bohac. Why he’d do that and not have spent any of it as of the reporting deadline is a question I can’t answer. His $23K raised is a decent amount for the time period, but having more cash on hand with 30 days to go than the amount you loaned yourself makes no sense to me.

I’m surprised there hasn’t been more money raised in HD144. That’s a key pickup opportunity for Dems. Gilbert Pena has run for office twice before – HD143 in 2010, and SD06 in 2008 – and I had assumed he’d be the frontrunner in this primary because of that. Am I missing something here?

That’s all I’ve got. I’ll work on the other Dem primaries in Texas and the Harris County races next.

January finance reports: Harris County state races

In addition to county candidates, my 2012 Democratic primary election page has information about state and federal candidates who will be on the ballot in Harris County. There are numerous contested primaries, and while I’m not tracking information about Republican races on that page, I thought it would be useful to check on the finance reports for all races of interest. Here’s the relevant data for candidates that have submitted reports, with my comments at the end. Candidates without a party affiliation listed are Democrats, and incumbents are noted as such.

Candidate Office Raised Spent Cash on hand ===================================================== Nilsson SBOE6 1,600 431 1,552 Jensen SBOE6 0 1,088 0 Scott SBOE6 1,010 362 647 Bahorich (R) SBOE6 325 669 50,320 Cargill (R, I) SBOE8 38,586 18,710 25,626 Ellis (R) SBOE8 2,195 7,019 1,163 McCool (R) SD11 10,047 8,515 31 Taylor (R) SD11 329,124 154,172 169,778 Norman (R) SD11 9,981 6,512 11,534 Huberty (R, I) HD127 58,075 37,575 36,811 Jordan (R) HD127 1,763 967 0 Davis (R,I) HD129 20,475 45,286 62,852 Huls (R) HD129 1,684 1,501 182 Allen (I) HD131 5,565 14,542 18,764 Adams HD131 0 4,697 59,572 Callegari (R,I) HD132 8,250 28,593 222,340 Brown (R) HD132 975 779 195 Murphy (R,I) HD133 72,015 38,365 182,682 Johnston (R) HD133 6,244 6,015 6,244 Johnson HD134 7,347 0 7,347 Davis (R, I) HD134 83,035 61,807 102,570 Witt (R) HD136 4,821 85,139 25,218 Schofield (R) HD136 67,203 34,899 29,245 Holm (R) HD136 142,997 98,594 44,402 DeAyala (R) HD136 144,860 39,105 106,253 Smith HD137 2,500 750 2,500 Madden HD137 11,002 750 10,252 Wu HD137 71,700 831 70,869 Winkler HD137 850 750 1,378 Khan (R) HD137 Risner HD144 0 0 0 Perez HD144 1,300 2,569 14,547 Ybarra HD144 Legner (R,I) HD144 27,475 57,949 34,040 Miles (I) HD146 15,900 2,750 6,800 Edwards HD146 0 0 1,199 Coleman (I) HD147 158,474 106,581 106,823 Hill HD147 Riddle (R,I) HD150 89,401 54,384 108,874 Wilson (R) HD150 4,160 4,366 893

My notes:

– Donna Bahorich loaned herself $50,000, which is where her cash on hand figure comes from.

– Despite having the opportunity to support a “Senator McCool”, it seems clear that Republicans prefer State Rep. Larry Taylor in SD11.

– As noted before, Wanda Adams’ money comes from her Council campaign coffers. I will be interested to see who gives to her between now and the primary. Rep. Allen unsurprisingly has the support of her legislative colleagues, at least if a recent notice about a fundraiser for her is any indication.

– Given that HD134 is likely to be the highest profile legislative race in November regardless of what the next map looks like, I was curious how Rep. Sarah Davis’ efforts stacked up against her predecessors as they headed into their first re-election campaign. In 2008, Ellen Cohen reported $188K raised, $45K spent, and $203K on hand. None of Martha Wong’s 2004 included cash on hand information, so I can’t get an exact comparison with her. Her January 2004 report showed only $7K raised and $18K spent, but I doubt that indicates that she was cash-poor, as she was a generally strong fundraiser. Her July 2005 report is the first to include cash on hand, and she had $250K at that time. For January 2006 her numbers were $127K raised, $24K spent, and $349K on hand. All this is to say that Davis is not starting out in any better shape than either Cohen or Wong, at least financially.

– I have to say, that’s an impressive amount of fundraising in HD136, which currently does not exist in Harris County. As Greg noted, the one guy with no electoral experience had quite a strong showing, and Ann Witt’s burn rate is almost as impressive. Witt also has $100K in loans to herself outstanding.

– Not much action in HD137 so far. It’s the opposite of HD136 in the sense that it was originally obliterated by the Lege but restored by the court. My guess is that if it gets folded back into HD149, none of the Dems will remain in the race. Gene Wu’s money came primarily from himself ($50K) and a relative ($20K). MJ Khan had not filed a report at the time of this publication.

– Also not much action in HD144, which is currently a Dem-favorable district, but was originally made a stronger Republican district. Legler may be feeling the effect of the uncertainty, though he surely had plenty of time before the court got involved to raise a few bucks. Ybarra had not filed a report at publication time, and Risner reported no money raised or spent.

– Don’t be fooled by Rep. Borris Miles’ numbers. He’s perfectly capable of self-funding; he has $655K in loans to himself outstanding. This is Al Edwards’ first run as a non-incumbent in the post-Craddick era. Will his old buddies still support him?

– Ray Hill had not filed a report as of publication time. I don’t really expect him to get much financial support, but you never know.

That’s about all I’ve got. As the Trib had reported earlier, uncertainty over the map for 2012 has made fundraising more of a challenge for many candidates. We can see some of that here, but I daresay things will be clearer in the next reports, which would now be due in early March but presumably will get pushed back along with the primary date, if need be. On a related note, for a look at cash on hand among Senators, see Robert Miller.

Jackson to run for Congress, Anderson to primary Harris

State Sen. Mike Jackson makes official what had been speculated.

As expected, state Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, will run for Congress next year instead of for re-election to the Texas Senate.

He’ll be running in the newly created CD-36. Jackson, the Senate’s president pro tempore, has been in that body since 1999, and served in the Texas House for ten years before that. He’ll turn 58 this weekend.

Jackson’s main claim to fame is his valiant attempt to protect the right of manufacturing plants to pollute the city of Houston. Other than that, to the best of my recollection, he hasn’t done much; certainly, he’s done very little that was constructive. He’ll fit right in with the other Republicans in Washington. State Rep. Larry Taylor has announced his interest in Jackson’s seat. The names may change but that’s about it – there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two. The new Senate map doesn’t make SD11 any more competitive than it was, so I would not expect much of a fight for this open seat next November.

Moving up north, there’s a primary battle brewing for a different Senate seat.

Freshman state Rep. Rodney Anderson, R-Grand Prairie, plans to challenge state Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, in the March Republican primary, according to a source familiar with Anderson’s plans.

In this year’s state House redistricting, Anderson was drawn into a district that would have had him running in 2012 against fellow GOP Rep. Linda Harper Brown of Irving.

Anderson lives in Harris’ Senate district, and much of his current House district is within that seat.

I guess he figured Harris was the easier target. SD09 was drawn to be about eight points more competitive than SD11, but that means Sam Houston lost it by ten in 2008 instead of 18. Still, the Democrats might have won that seat in 2008 had they run a real candidate, and if there are any changes made to Sen. Wendy Davis’ SD10 as a result of current litigation, there will be an effect in SD09 as well. Whether that would make it any more or less competitive, I couldn’t say. Nonetheless, this is a seat that really ought to be fought for, just as Davis fights to retain hers.

Interview with Joe Jaworski

Joe Jaworski

Joe Jaworski

Today is the start of early voting for the May 8 uniform election date in Texas. There’s not a whole lot happening in Harris County, but down in Galveston they will be electing a new Mayor to succeed the term-limited Lida Ann Thomas. One of the candidates running, the one I would be voting for if I lived in Galveston, is Joe Jaworski, who served three terms on Galveston’s City Council from 2000 to 2006 and made a spirited but unsuccessful run against State Sen. Mike Jackson in 2008. I’m obviously not following Galveston’s elections very closely, but I wanted to interview Jaworski about his candidacy, and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do so:

Download the MP3 file

I have one more Galveston election interview lined up and will present it later this week. Early voting runs through next Tuesday. You can find early voting locations and hours here.

Joe for Galveston

From my inbox, some good news from Joe Jaworski:

Galveston matters, and the Island’s next Mayor must ensure this message is clearly understood: Galveston is more than a storm ravaged Island with a history; it is an iconic Texas coastal community with a future!

It’s time to make it official: I announce my candidacy to become Galveston’s next Mayor. The election is one year away on May 8, 2010, and I’m looking forward to leading a robust, positive campaign for Galveston’s future.

The Joe Jaworski for Galveston Mayor Campaign believes that Galveston matters, and it’s our intention to broadcast that message positively and often. We begin by announcing the launch of our campaign website www.JoeForGalveston.com. Please visit our website, review the issues, email me your views, sign up to volunteer, add your name to our list of supporters and help us raise the money we need to reach every voter by making a secure contribution online via credit card. The www.JoeForGalveston.com website will be our primary communication tool, and we’ll maximize our campaign’s presence on social networking sites such as Facebook, Youtube and the like, so stay tuned.

Our campaign proudly acknowledges support from both on and off the Island; that’s one of our strengths. Galveston is coming back, and whatever your zipcode – especially after Ike – we are all Galvestonians! So join our campaign to show your support for Galveston’s brightest future.

Ultimately, this campaign is about Galveston’s future and the Galveston voters who will step up and make this campaign something we can all be proud of. Here’s my pledge to you: We’ll campaign the same way we’ll lead: expect a clear, positive and thoughtful campaign where we will adress issues, determine priorities and draft an action plan. The election is a year away, but Galveston’s future begins now.

I’m asking for your vote and your support. I’m running to be Galveston’s next Mayor because I’m ready to work for you every day to show the world that Galveston’s best days are ahead.

Jaworski is a heck of a guy who ran a strong campaign for SD11 under some tough circumstances last year and who recently helped force a settlement with UTMB over the faculty and staff it laid off after Hurricane Ike. He’ll make an excellent Mayor for Galveston, and I heartily support his candidacy.