AUSTIN — Texas is suffering through the most severe one-year drought on record and experienced the hottest July in state history, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples announced on Aug. 4.
Drought-caused damage to the Texas economy “is already measured in billions of dollars and continues to mount,” Staples said.
“I cannot stress enough the critical need for forage to sustain the largest cattle herd in the nation. The suffering and desperate need for relief grows with the rising temperatures and record-breaking heat that continue to scorch Texas with each passing day.”
The commissioner’s words came after Texas A&M-based State Climatologist Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon confirmed Texas was in a worst-on-record drought situation. The state began to collect weather information in the 1890s. To those who remember the drought of 1950-57, this one is “shorter and sharper” Nielsen-Gammon said.
To help with cattle feeding, Gov. Rick Perry extended a hay transportation waiver at Staples’ request toSept. 1 with the possibility of further extensions every 30 days as long as the drought continues.
With weeks of daily high temperatures topping 100 degrees, Texans have been using unusually elevated levels of electricity to cool their homes and businesses. Extreme temperatures resulting in extraordinary power usage prompted the Public Utility Commission, power grid-managing entity ERCOT and the governor, who said himself there is no relief in sight, to ask citizens to switch off unnecessary appliances and turn up air conditioning settings in order to avoid rolling blackouts.
Furthermore, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has in the works new rules that may allow the agency’s executive director to suspend or adjust water rights during times of drought or emergency water shortages.
An Aug. 11 hearing at TCEQ headquarters in Austin was scheduled to include public input in advance of rulemaking on drought procedures and to define “drought” and “emergency shortage of water.”
Perry takes part in ‘Response’
More than 30,000 people attended The Response, a Christian prayer meeting initiated, promoted and led by Gov. Perry and evangelical groups in Houston on Aug. 6. Also, more than 80,000 web viewers watched the daylong event from their homes, organizers said. Billed as an opportunity to pray publicly “for a historic breakthrough for our country and a renewed sense of moral purpose,” the event was held at 75,000-seat Reliant Stadium.
In Houston and Austin, small groups of protesters criticized the governor’s official connection and personal participation in The Response.
The Response was monitored by political commentators, some of whom expressed the notion that the event might be seen as an indicator or serve as a trigger for the governor’s pending decision over whether to run for the presidency in 2012.
Online college is promoted
Texans now have what state leaders call “an affordable and flexible path to a higher education degree” through the accredited web-based Western Governors University-Texas.
Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in “key workforce areas” including nursing, education and information technology are offered, the governor’s office announced.
Self-sustaining WGU-Texas does not collect money from the state. Tuition reportedly costs about $5,780 per 12-month year. Visit http://texas.wgu.edu/ for more information.
The first paragraph of Gov. Perry’s Aug. 3 executive order establishing WGU-Texas says, “although enrollment in all Texas institutions of higher education has increased 47 percent since 2000, there is still a significant need to provide adult learners with greater access to opportunities to obtain higher education degrees.”
AYP report is released
Some 5,597 Texas schools met the Adequate Yearly Progress standards for the federal school rating system this year, the Texas Education Agency announced. This represents 66 percent of all Texas campuses.
Schools and districts must have 80 percent or more of their students in grades 3-8 and 10 pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills reading or English language arts test and 75 percent must pass the TAKS mathematics test to meet AYP standards.
They also must achieve a 90 percent attendance rate or a 75 percent graduation rate, depending on the grade levels they serve.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, the standards must reach 100 percent passing on both reading and mathematics assessments by 2014 which requires a substantial increase in ratings standards each year in order to meet this requirement, the state education agency noted.