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Texas Press Association State Capital Highlights
Education Commissioner criticizes federal standards initiative
Wednesday, December 9, 2009 • Posted December 8, 2009

AUSTIN — Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott, in an Austin American-Statesman interview December 2, suggested the White House is moving toward a federal takeover of public schools.

Scott said the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” initiative to develop common math and English standards for the nation’s public schools is evidence of a takeover effort.

He expressed fear that some day federal education funding for Texas could rely on the state’s participation in common standards.

The Race to the Top program, authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, is a competitive grant program to encourage and reward states that implement education reforms in four areas:

• Enhancing standards and assessments;

• Improving the collection and use of data;

• Increasing teacher effectiveness and achieving equity in teacher distribution; and

• Turning around struggling schools.

The U.S. Department of Education will award $4.35 billion in Race to the Top funding in two phases, with Phase 1 funding awarded in spring 2010 and Phase 2 funding awarded by Sept. 30, 2010. Texas’ share could be as much as $700 million.

White joins race for governor

Houston Mayor Bill White, a Democrat, announced his candidacy for governor on December 4.

White’s last day as mayor will be January 2. He has served six years at the post and cannot run for a third term because of term limits.

The San Antonio native is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Texas School of Law. President Bill Clinton appointed White Deputy Secretary of Energy in 1993 and he served in that capacity until 1995.

Upon White’s announcement, rancher Hank Gilbert of Tyler ended his candidacy for governor and instead will run for agriculture commissioner on the Democratic ticket.

Financial openness is recognized

The Texas Comptroller’s office has launched a new “Leadership Circle” program to spotlight local governmental bodies that have opened their financial records to the public.

The state agency set gold, silver and bronze achievement standards to rate governmental bodies on their level of transparency.

A score sheet checks for financial transparency features including budgets posted online for the current fiscal year; details within the check register; ease of access to the documents; creative use of charts or visual images to make data more understandable; instructions on how to submit a public information request; and the availability of contact information for current locally elected officials.

And, Combs’ agency is collaborating with graduate students from the University of Texas’ LBJ School of Public Affairs, the Texas Municipal League and Texas Association of Counties to develop a template that will allow local governments to more easily add financial documents to a Web site.

TxDOT toll violation program ends

November 30 marked the end of an opportunity for toll road users to reduce violation fees for unpaid tolls.

TxDOT offered to waive 90 percent of administrative and collection fees accrued in return for payment of all outstanding tolls.

Late-payers also were required to open a “TxTag” account and keep it in good standing to receive the fee reduction.

About $3 million in late tolls remain owed by roughly 140,000 toll road users, TxDOT said.

Abbott defends Texas pledge words

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on December 1 filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit defending the constitutionality of the Texas Pledge of Allegiance.

A pending case claims the use of the words “under God” in the pledge violate the separation clause in the First Amendment.

Lottery discourages tickets for kids

The Texas Lottery on December 3 announced it has joined with the National Council on Problem Gambling and McGill University in discouraging adults from purchasing lottery tickets for children.

“Holiday tickets with festive artwork and winter themes are always popular as stocking stuffers, but the games are designed with adults in mind. You must be at least 18 years old to purchase a Texas Lottery ticket,” said Texas Lottery Commission Deputy Executive Director Gary Grief.

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