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EduLege Tracker 7-23-18

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EduLege Update Volume VI, Number 40
July 23, 2018
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association

What our state elected officials have been up to…

Comptroller Hegar:

State Comptroller Glenn Hegar has increased his revenue estimate for the current two-year state budget cycle by $2.8 billion.

As the state’s chief tax collector and revenue estimator, Comptroller Hegar enjoys special power under the Texas Constitution. His biennial revenue forecast, issued in January of odd-numbered years, determines how much money the Texas Legislature may spend for the two-year state budget.

Early last year, Mr. Hegar told the Legislature it would have $104.9 billion available in general-purpose revenue in the current budget cycle, which began on Sept. 1, 2017.  Then last October, he increased that estimate to $107.3 billion.  Now Comptroller Hegar has pushed the estimate to nearly $110.2 billion—a 2.6 percent increase from October.

Comptroller Hegar based his October projections on $50-a-barrel oil this year and $53-a-barrel next year. The price of sweet crude, known as West Texas Intermediate, is now above $74 a barrel.

"A trade war, a withdrawal from the North American Free Trade Agreement or a significant downturn in the price of oil would reduce our potential economic growth," Comptroller Hegar warned.

As state legislators prepare for a new session to begin next January, though, they're unlikely to be flush with cash.

Last year, they underfunded Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor, by more than $2 billion.

Hurricane Harvey's devastation along the Texas Gulf Coast has imposed on the state a minimum of $500 million of repair costs, with the chance to go as high as $1 billion.

And, if legislators choose to help school districts that have lost chunks of their local property tax base to storm damage, even that figure could be low, the comptroller warned.

Back in October, Comptroller Hegar forecast that the so-called Rainy Day Fund, which is the state's defense against economic downturns, would swell to $11.2 billion by August 31, 2019. Now he expects there to be $11.85 billion, which he called “the largest ending balance in the fund's history.”

Attorney General Paxton:

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has demanded that the Fort Worth school district hand over a copy of its curriculum for its 6th grade course on Human Sexuality, which includes lessons about gender identity and sexual orientation.

Attorney General Paxton claims that school officials have denied parents access to the curriculum or textbooks, which he said are in use on 22 campuses across the district. He alleges that students who asked to take their textbooks home, or take a photo of the curriculum, were denied.

But Clint Bond, a spokesman for Fort Worth schools, says the allegations are overblown. He said the books are kept at schools as a classroom set, and are not allowed to be taken home with students to prevent them from being lost, stolen or damaged.

He said parents were invited to come to their child’s school to view the books in person.

“This wasn’t something anyone was trying to hide,” Mr. Bond said.

Stand for Fort Worth, a parental rights group that is opposed to having their children learn about gender identity, has been calling on school district officials to hand over the textbooks and curriculum for months, arguing that the district should have asked their permission before moving forward with the course.

They argued that although parents were sent a notice allowing them to opt their children out of the course, the notice was not clear about the content.

Public school students in Texas are required to take Health Education classes in middle school, though the curriculum requirements differ among grade levels.

Districts can offer human sexuality courses, so long as the curriculum is approved and recommended both by the local school district’s Health Advisory Council and the district’s board of trustees.

If a district opts to teach sexuality, the Texas Education Code mandates that the curriculum must:

  • Present abstinence for sexual activity as the preferred behavior for all unmarried students
  • Devote more attention to abstinence than any other behavior
  • Emphasize that abstinence is the only method 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and “the emotional trauma associated with adolescent sexual activity.”

Lieutenant Governor Patrick:

Metal detectors will be installed on all four of the Santa Fe school district’s campuses after its Board of Trustees voted recently to accept at least 16 devices that had been donated by two private companies and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.

The 4-2 vote came after weeks of contentious debate that divided the small northern Galveston County community in the wake of a mass shooting, in which a 17-year-old gunman killed 10 and wounded 13 at Santa Fe High School on May 18.

The exact number of metal detectors that will be donated and installed is unknown.

Earlier this month, Lieutenant Governor Patrick pledged 10 devices to the district.  American Guard Services, Inc. pledged six of the devices and Garrett Metal Detectors offered to do a free safety assessment of the high school and also offered to donate detectors.

Santa Fe officials say that elementary school students will not be subject to metal detector scans or bag searches, but visitors to the district's two elementary campuses will be.

Some Santa Fe parents and community members, including Trustee Patrick Kelly, believe the metal detectors will become expensive to operate and maintain, and that they will do little to stop a motivated shooter who does not fear arrest or death.

Meanwhile, if he wins re-election in November, Lieutenant Governor Patrick also says that he will push for legislation that creates a matching fund program to support the installation and operation of metal detectors or security wands in school districts across Texas.

That program will include reimbursements for school districts that purchase such protections before the next session begins in January.

Lieutenant Governor Patrick, who faces Democratic Mike Collier in his race to serve as presiding officer of the State Senate, did not offer any additional details about how the state would fund or operate his proposed grant funding program.

The lieutenant governor also said that, during the upcoming 86th legislative session, he will push to increase funding for existing state programs that arms school personnel.

Governor Abbott:

Governor Greg Abbott is also encouraging more school districts to participate in the four-year-old Texas School Marshal program, in the wake of the shootings at Santa Fe High School.

The number of participating districts has been small so far, but appears to be growing after school shootings in Florida and Texas. The program had just 33 certified school marshals across the state’s more than 1,000 public school districts as of last month.

Although the number is supposed to be confidential, Texas Department of Public Safety Commissioner Steve McCraw revealed the total at a recent hearing with state legislators. The Houston Chronicle reported that more than 50 districts have been approved to appoint a marshal, with another 40 waiting for the go-ahead from the state.

The School Marshal program is voluntary. Applicants must first be approved by their school districts, pass a psychological exam and receive 80 hours of training, including live-shooter scenarios. One of the three approved School Marshall training sites in the state is the Alamo Area Council of Governments Regional Law Enforcement Training Academy at San Antonio.

One recent trainee in San Antonio, who identified himself as a principal at a Central Texas campus, said that he has no previous military or law enforcement training, and that his district already had its own police force.

“I'm doing this for the kids,” he said, sweat still pouring down his face, 20 minutes after an active shooter drill.

“I'm not going to hide under a desk,” he said. “If someone is coming after my students, I'm going toward them. It's like a firefighter. You have to have that mindset that I'm going to put myself in harm's way to protect somebody else.”

No change…

The University of Texas at Austin says that it will not back away from its affirmative action policies, even though the Trump Administration has officially renounced the use of race in college admissions.

“The U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 affirmed the University of Texas’ efforts to enroll a diverse student body that provides educational benefits for all students,” UT-Austin President Gregory L. Fenves says. “The University of Texas seeks to provide the highest quality education for our students, and diversity is essential to those efforts.”

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinded several policy guidelines that shaped the Obama administration’s embrace of affirmative action in elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools and laid out a legal framework for universities to consider race in admissions to bolster campus diversity.  The move by the Trump administration—which is not binding and doesn't require schools to alter their existing admissions practices—appears to restore a Bush-era position that urged “race-neutral methods” in admissions.

About 75 percent of UT-Austin students currently receive automatic admission to the school through the state’s Top 10 Percent Rule, which offers college admission to Texas students near the very top of their high school class.

UT-Austin has factored race and ethnicity into its admissions decisions for the remaining applicants since 2003, when a different U.S. Supreme Court ruling declared race-based affirmative action to be constitutional.

Other public universities in Texas, including those in the Texas A&M University System, already leave race out of its admission process. A&M administrators have defended that approach, arguing that the Top 10 Percent Rule—and targeted recruiting efforts—are enough to increase student diversity.

The proportion of black and Hispanic students at A&M’s College Station campus more than doubled from 2003 to 2015—though, at 23.1 percent, it remained below UT-Austin’s black and Hispanic enrollment.

One winner. One loser…

Due to a programming error affecting the grade for one of her Advanced Placement course, Naomi Lands didn’t learn that she is, in fact, the 2018 valedictorian of Reagan High School in Austin until nearly two months after graduation.

Reagan officials just recently notified Ms. Lands and her parents of the error, and how it occurred.

“I was really shocked and surprised. It took me by surprise,” Ms. Lands said. “I’m still a bit shocked about it. It hasn’t hit me fully yet.”

District officials decided not to strip the student who was initially named the Reagan valedictorian of the honor, and instead decided to call both students valedictorians.  Both will enjoy two semesters of free tuition at a Texas public college, a perk under Texas law for the highest-ranking graduate at each high school.

Initially, Ms. Lands had planned to attend college out of state to pursue architectural engineering, but now is considering Texas Tech University.

* * *

Meanwhile, the former DeSoto High School student who was crowned 2018 valedictorian, is furious with the district after she was informed that her honor, in fact, belongs to another student.

Destiny Brannon addressed her peers as valedictorian before they walked the stage and graduated in May.

But DeSoto officials now concede that the district miscalculated the student rankings, and has bestowed the title of valedictorian to another student.

Ms. Brannon believes her class ranking was re-calculated, because her graduation speech was critical of the school district for supporting athletics over academics.  District officials say it was a mathematical error.

Even though she’s no longer valedictorian, Ms. Brannon will still be able to cover her first-year tuition costs at the University of Texas at Austin—thanks to the generosity of others.

A GoFundMe account created to “Get Destiny to UT” raised nearly $40,000 in just 10 days, receiving donations from more than 300 people, some as far away as Ireland.

More charges…

A 25-year-old man who has been accused of posing as a 17-year-old student and Hurricane Harvey evacuee so he could play basketball at a Dallas high school, is now facing a new charge in his case.

Sidney Bouvier Gilstrap-Portley has been charged with indecency with a child.  Authorities allege he was dating a 14-year-old girl while pretending to be a student.

Dallas school district officials say Gilstrap-Portley first enrolled at Skyline High School and later moved to Hillcrest High School, where he joined the basketball team.

A fresh start…

Ten months after Hurricane Harvey struck, the students and teachers in the small, rural coastal town of Refugio are still dealing with the ramifications of destroyed homes, schools and businesses.

The Region 12 Education Service Center has launched a campaign to replenish Refugio school district libraries and classrooms with new books and instructional materials.

If you’re so inclined, here’s how to help. 

Coming up…

  • The Texas Education Agency is looking for help in overhauling its Special Education programs.
  • The number of Texas students who have been arrested on charges of making terroristic threats and firearms violations has soared.
  • An historic 33-year high school coaching career has come to an end.

Those stories—and more—in the Thursday, July 28, edition of EduLege.

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.