Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Senate Select Committee Met Today

Did you know the Senate Select Committee on Education Reform & Public School Finance met for the first time today? Did you know there was such a beast? Well they did and here is what the Chair had to say:
With a deadline looming, attempts this time will likely be more narrowly focused than the sweeping overhaul proposals of the past, said Republican Sen. Florence Shapiro of Plano, chairwoman of the Senate Education Reform and Public School Finance Select Committee.

The scope of reform efforts must be limited to areas defined by Perry when he calls for the special session.

"I believe that one of the problems that plagued our efforts the last time and many times since ... I think we tried to do too much," Shapiro said Tuesday.

This time, she hopes the Legislature will focus on "a few things and doing a few things well."

Number one on the list will be finding a new tax structure to replace _ or relieve _ the state's dependence on property taxes. The property tax, which is levied by school districts, has become a statewide tax because districts don't have discretion to decide their own rates, the court ruled.

Simply lowering the property tax cap, as previous plans proposed, would not satisfy the court's mandate, Solicitor General Ted Cruz told the panel Tuesday. The final plan must allow tax rates to be set by the school districts, not the state, said Cruz, who represented the state in court.

The tax issue is the only measure that lawmakers must address to avoid school closures.

In addition to a new tax structure, Shapiro asked her committee to focus efforts on teacher pay initiatives, college readiness and reducing high school dropouts.

"The statistics ... prove to me that our high schools collectively are broken," Shapiro said, noting that a third of students who enter high school do not graduate and almost 30 percent of Texas students who go to college require remedial courses.

"That's unacceptable."
What about her House counterpart?
The House education committee has not scheduled meetings.

"We've spent almost ... the last two years full time on this issue. There's not a lot of new ideas," said Arlington Republican Rep. Kent Grusendorf, who has led House education overhaul efforts. "What we need is to get a consensus and move forward, I think that's possible."
What a ray of sunshine that was. You can read more from Sen. Shapiro in a interview she did with the Dallas Business Journal, DBJ Q&A: State Sen. Florence Shapiro:
DBJ: You recently were selected to lead a nine-member committee that will make recommedations to the full Senate. What will your committee do?

SHAPIRO: We will look at not only the taxing structure, but education reform.

DBJ: The Texas Supreme Court only mandated a change on the property tax issue by June 1, but it also mentioned other potential problems with the system. How do you interpret those comments?

SHAPIRO: They put up a real big yellow light.

DBJ: What do you expect to happen this spring?

SHAPIRO: Obviously we need a special session. I believe a decision must be made by the first of June.

DBJ: What happens if that deadline is not met?

SHAPIRO: Otherwise we shut down the schools.

DBJ: Do you think a decision will be reached in time?

SHAPIRO: Absolutely.

DBJ: Do you think you can accomplish these goals during the probable upcoming special session?

SHAPIRO: I'd like to do them before June.


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