The Texas House approved a $302 billion budget last week that included an amendment prohibiting the use of state money on private school tuition — a major setback to Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to establish a school voucher system. The Austin American-Statesman reported that more than 20 Republicans joined nearly all House Democrats to pass the amendment, while 11 lawmakers voted present.
The amendment is seen as a rebuke to Abbott, who has traveled the state pushing what he calls “school choice.”
The amendment’s sponsor, state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, said his proposal to block using public money for private schools boiled down to “public money for public schools.”
The House’s budget now heads to the Senate, which has passed an education reform bill calling for $8,000 in state funding a year for a student who attends a private school. Since that funding is not included in the House budget, the issue could lead to tense conference committee negotiations between the two chambers. Some lawmakers have speculated the conflict could lead to a special called legislative session after the regular term ends on Memorial Day.
Among the highlights of the House budget are record funding increases for public schools and highway construction, as well as raises for state employees.
CONTROVERSIAL ELECTRIC GRID PLAN PASSES SENATE The Texas Senate has passed a controversial plan to build
EDITORIAL DISCLAIMER: more natural gas- powered plants in the state, despite widespread opposition from critics who say the two bills could lead to billions in added costs to customers. The goal of the bills, according to its sponsors, is to avoid another massive power outage such as the one in the winter of 2021 that killed more than 200 people, the Texas Tribune reported.
Houston Chronicle columnist Chris Tomlinson reported that 22 out of 24 people who testified on Senate Bill 6 voiced opposition. The plants would sit idle at least 97% of the time.
“The Association of Electric Companies of Texas found common ground with the Sierra Club. Texas Competitive Power Advocates agreed with the South Texas Electric Cooperative. Energy giant NRG joined the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen in declaring SB 6 a lousy idea,” Tomlinson wrote.
S t a t e S e n . C h a r l e s Schwertner, R-Georgetown, the lead sponsor of both bills, said the measures were “in memory of the hundreds of Texans that died and the millions of Texans that suffered.”
COURT RULES DEGREES CAN BE REVOKED FOR MISCONDUCT The Texas Supreme Court reversed previous lowercourt rulings and ruled last week that Texas universities can revoke previously awarded degrees for academic misconduct, the Statesman reported. The University of Texas at Austin and Texas State University, in separate cases that were consolidated, argued they should be able to revoke doctorate degrees from students who committed academic misconduct to “ protect their reputations and the value of degrees conferred upon their students.”
Both cases involved students accused of fabricating data that was discovered after the degrees had been conferred. Both students sued their respective universities after their degrees were revoked.
“ The only difference between expelling a current student for academic misconduct and revoking the degree of a former student for the exact same academic misconduct is one of timing,” Justice Debra Lehrmann wrote.
TEMPS TOPPED 100 DEGREES IN TEXAS PRISONS The indoor temperature inside at least 15 stateoperated jails and prisons exceeded 100 degrees last summer, according to a report by The Dallas Morning News. The data indicates that both inmates and staff are exposed to dangerous levels of heat in the state’s facilities that do not have air conditioning.
A lack of climate control has contributed to the deaths of nearly two dozen inmates between 1998 and 2012, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, as well as the heatrelated illnesses of dozens of prison guards.
The News reported that state standards say county jails and animal shelters should get no hotter than 85 degrees, but Texas prisons are not required to have air conditioning.
While previous attempts to fund air conditioning for the state’s prisons have failed, the House budget passed last week sets aside more than a half- billion dollars for that purpose. In addition, two bills to install cooling systems in the prison system were approved in committee.
LAND OFFICE AWARDS $ 6 MI L L ION FOR COASTAL COUNTIES The Texas General Land Office has awarded $ 6 million for projects across seven coastal counties with a combination of federal and state funding.
The projects are intended in part to improve amenities for greater beach access in a number of locations, as well as developing early warning systems for coastal flooding.
“ As a Texan who grew up near the coast and lived in Galveston for more than a decade, preserving our state’s precious shorelines and their communities is a top priority of mine,” said Land Commissioner Dawn Buckingham.
TENTATIVE SETTLEMENT IN TEXAS CHURCH SHOOTING The Justice Department last week announced a tentative $ 144 million settlement with the families and victims of a 2017 mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, the Associated Press reported. More than two dozen people were killed when a former U. S. airman opened fire during a church service. It was later determined that the gunman had been able to purchase firearms despite a criminal history. Three years earlier, while in the Air Force, he was convicted of assaulting an exwife and stepson, cracking the child’s skull. He was discharged for bad conduct.
The Air Force had previously acknowledged it was remiss in not putting the felony conviction for domestic violence in into the FBI database, which could have prevented the shooter from buying guns from a licensed firearms dealer.
The settlement is still subject to court approval.
“ No words or amount of money can diminish the immense tragedy of the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs,” Vanita Gupta, associate attorney general for the Justice Department, said in a statement. “ Today’s announcement brings the litigation to a close, ending a painful chapter for the victims of this unthinkable crime.”
Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.