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EduLege Tracker 12-4-17

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EduLege Update Volume V, Number 83
December 4, 2017
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association

That’s the Christmas spirit…

More than 400,000 Texas children might learn they're losing their health coverage right before Christmas.

The state needs $90 million more in federal funding or else it will terminate the Children’s Health Insurance Program on Jan. 31, and will send notices about the program’s end to affected families on Dec. 22.

CHIP covers more than 400,000 children of the working poor in Texas. Congress—mired in repeal of Obamacare, enactment of massive tax cuts and assorted sexual proclivities of its members—has been unwilling to reauthorize the program, which only has enough money to last through January.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission has asked the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for $90 million, which would allow CHIP to keep running through February. The federal agency has until Dec. 9 to agree to the request. If it doesn’t, then the state commission would have to start making preparations to end the program in January.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, R- San Antonio, has prodded the state commission to find some way for Texas to “continue coverage for children currently enrolled in CHIP as Congress completes the reauthorization process.” Speaker Straus cited a budget provision that calls for the state to transfer funds from other state agencies to avoid CHIP shutdown, but it’s not clear if other Republican state leaders—specifically Governor Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick—are as eager as Speaker Straus to move money around for that purpose.

“Straus spoke out on the issue, but otherwise state leaders have been pretty quiet, hoping things will work out,” said Adriana Kohler with the advocacy group Texans Care for Children. “State leaders need to stress the urgency of CHIP funding to Congress. There’s no time left for the ‘it will probably work out’ approach.  The longer we wait, the closer Texas gets to cutting off health care for these kids.”

The Health and Human Services Commission originally estimated it had enough funding to keep CHIP running until February, but unexpected expenses associated with Hurricane Harvey drained the available funds.

Congress allowed CHIP funding to expire on Sept. 30. The program covers nine million children nationwide.

In Texas, the program covers children whose parents have too high an income to qualify for Medicaid, but make less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Texas’ version of CHIP covered about 402,500 children and almost 35,000 women receiving prenatal care and post-delivery checkups.

She’s gonna stay home…

Geraldine "Tincy" Miller, one of the longest-serving members of the State Board of Education, has announced that she is retiring.

The Dallas Republican said that she'll serve until her term expires in January 2019, but won't seek re-election.

“During my 32 years in office we accomplished a lot and greatly improved the education in our state,” Ms. Miller said in a written statement. “I am especially proud of the law I helped pass to set up the program for dyslexic children, their parents and teachers and for leading the fight to protect the Permanent School Fund from being raided.”

Occasionally, state legislators would tap the constitutional school fund, derived from rents and royalties on state-owned lands, to pay for things other than textbooks and instructional materials.

Ms. Miller, whom former Governor Rick Perry named to head the State Board for four years, carved out a reputation as a conservative—with a fierce independent streak.

In the 1990s, she was in sync with the Christian right in pushing for a return to phonics— teaching students letters and their sounds to develop fundamental reading skills.

But in the late 2000s, she broke with social conservatives to help defeat their attempts to adopt science standards and textbooks that would have raised questions about key principles of the theory of evolution. Existing standards offered students ample opportunity to examine all aspects of Charles Darwin's theory—including those questioned by evolution critics, she said.

First appointed by Democratic Governor Mark White in 1984, Miller did not lose an election until 2010, when Dallas high school educator George Clayton upset her in the Republican primary.

But two years later, Ms. Miller regained the seat, and has held it ever since.

Rewriting the rule book…

Members of the House Republican Caucus have decided to change their procedural rules to better insure that their desired candidate for Speaker of the Texas House is elected when the Legislature convenes again in January 2019.

In a unanimous vote—with most of the 95 House Republicans present—the Caucus decided to meet next December and rally around a single Speaker candidate, before going to the full House for a formal vote, once the 86th legislative session is officially underway.

The rules change comes just weeks after Speaker Straus made a bombshell announcement that he will not run for re-election next year.  

At the time, Representative Phil King, R-Weatherford, had already announced he was running for Speaker for the next legislative session. Representative John Zerwas, R-Richmond, announced a bid shortly after Speaker Straus' retirement news. Several more legislators are expected to enter the race ahead of the 2019 session.

The change in how the next Speaker will be elected was set in motion earlier this year by the conservative House Freedom Caucus, to further minimize any impact that the 55 House Democrats will have on choosing the next Speaker.

“From the Freedom Caucus perspective, this is a huge win, but it’s a huge win for the whole Republican Caucus," said Representative Matt Schaefer of Tyler, who chairs the Freedom Caucus.

Wham, bam! Thank-you ma’am…

On the heels of winning voter approval for a $1.1 billion bond package, and then deciding to sell its district headquarters and other lucrative central-city properties, the Austin School Board now has plans to close several elementary schools by next August.

Half-empty schools dot the district, particularly in East Austin. As some neighborhoods have aged, or as families have been priced out of the city, the number of school-age students has dwindled. Other families have left academically struggling campuses for nearby charter schools that have moved into the neighborhoods.

All six of the East Austin elementary schools that have been targeted for possible closure or consolidation have low enrollment.

Critics of the plan said they feel duped, as district leaders avoided talking about school closures while persuading Austin voters to approve the bonds.

Trustee Ted Gordon, who represents much of East Austin, says the district’s timeline to close several schools by August appears to circumvent the process previously laid out for helping campuses with low enrollments.

The district, in previous years, has also tried to shutter low-enrolled schools, but those efforts always prompted a strong negative backlash from parents and community members, with the Austin school board eventually backing down.

Not the best way to break-up a student fight…

Police are searching for a Fort Worth mother who is accused of firing gunshots into a crowd of teenagers during a fight after a recent Everman High School football game, seriously wounding a 15-year-old girl.

Kontoria Davis, age 39, is wanted for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, according to Everman Police Chief Craig Spencer.

Ms. Davis has fled the Fort Worth area, and authorities believe she is now hiding-out in East Texas.

The shooting happened after about a dozen teenagers gathered in a parking lot after the Everman-Crowley game.

A fight broke out, and Ms. Davis, the mother of one of the teens, pulled out a handgun and began firing. One girl suffered a gunshot wound to her abdomen and was taken to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, where she underwent surgery and was placed in intensive care.

The girl has since been released from the hospital.

EduLege is provided by the Texas School Public Relations Association as a service to its members.

Long-time TSPRA member Andy Welch, the retired Communication Director for the Austin School District, compiles and writes EduLege.  Questions or comments may be directed to him at andywelch1@gmail.com.

For more updates on education news from throughout the state, visit the TSPRA website.