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August 27, 2015      3:08 PM

ACT participation up in Texas, college readiness remains flat

Texas, unlike many states, has not collected course-level data for students until now, so it has been difficult to track changes in the requirements for a high school diploma

A record number of Texas graduates took the ACT college admissions test last year, but gaps in data make it difficult to assess what is going to keep those students on track for being ready to complete a certification or college degree. 

Just over 40 percent of the Class of 2015, or 124,764 students, took the ACT. Numbers for the SAT, out typically in October, are expected to be larger. Because the SAT and ACT are a component of the state’s indices on college readiness, the majority of students do take one test, or both. For the Class of 2013, it was 66 percent, although the percentage can be as high as 98 or 99 percent for a high school such as Westlake in Eanes or Memorial in Spring Branch.

What hasn’t changed is the overall performance on the exams.

Texas, unlike many states, has not collected course-level data for students until now, so it has been difficult to track changes in the requirements for a high school diploma. For instance, it is not clear whether Texas’ requirement of four years of science and math made a significant impact on the scores on college admission tests.  

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By Kimberly Reeves

August 27, 2015      11:45 AM

Ken Paxton pleads not guilty in Collin county

"I am innocent. ... It is a travesty that some would attempt to hijack our system of justice to achieve political ends."

The Austin American Statesman’s Chuck Lindell has this report.

August 26, 2015      5:55 PM

Update: Plaintiffs against HHSC in Medicaid dispute call the state's courtroom tactics into question

“… before the ink dried on the court order to dismiss the case, the Commission is moving ‘full steam ahead’ with plans to radically cut reimbursement rates."

Following a court hearing Wednesday morning in which advocates for disabled children briefly thought they had won a victory in a fight against deep cuts to Medicaid services in Texas, they learned just hours later that the Health and Human Services Commission plans to continue to move ahead with the cuts as had been originally proposed.

“The Health and Human Services Commission plans to move forward with implementing the full Medicaid therapy rate reductions – a directive that was passed by the legislature,” said HHSC spokesman Bryan Black. “HHSC attempted to reach a settlement with the plaintiffs that would have required Legislative Budget Board approval. Those attempts were rejected by the plaintiffs.”

That statement was made after a Travis County judge dismissed the case because the two sides were said to have reached an agreement. Given what had just happened in court, an attorney for the plaintiffs seemed surprised to hear what the agency is now planning to do.

“The state said in court that it would go through careful methodology to come up with a new rate cut proposal. Apparently that only takes a few hours,” attorney Dan Richards said. “Despite that Herculean effort by the state, the access to care issues remain just as real this afternoon as it was this morning."

The head of a trade association for providers of the medically necessary therapies went further.

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By Scott Braddock

August 26, 2015      5:51 PM

WGU Texas builds success on competency-based education model

"Survey results confirm that access to affordable, flexible higher education options is imperative for today’s students.”

The cost of a postsecondary education – and the and the various obstacles one needs to overcome to achieve it -- do not make the attainment of a degree or certificate any less desirable, according to a higher education poll out today from WGU Texas.

Those findings, culled from a telephone survey commissioned by WGU Texas, are probably not surprising. The era of a lifetime career with a single employer is over. Most Texans recognize, on at least one level, that a career involves multiple jobs with potentially different employers that involve a progression of skills and experience.

Of those surveyed, a third saw their current job as a “stepping stone” on their career path. Two-thirds of those polled recognized it would take training or education to get the kind of career they eventually hope to achieve. And yet 3.7 million Texans have training or education short of a degree or certificate, said WGU Chancellor Veronica Vargas Stidvent on a conference call with reporters this morning.

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By Kimberly Reeves

August 26, 2015      5:50 PM

Press Releases: Appointments, announcements, unredeemed gift cards, and more

August 26, 2015      4:25 PM

Comptroller Hegar asks AG for opinion on controversial Abbott line-item vetoes

“I have a fiduciary duty to Texas taxpayers to ensure their hard-earned dollars are spent in a manner that is consistent with the constitution of the state of Texas," Hegar said.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Wednesday afternoon said he wants the Attorney General to weigh in with an official opinion about controversial line-item vetoes that have been questioned by the Legislative Budget Board and some members of The Legislature.

Abbott’s line-item vetoes of more than $200 million from the budget came under fire because he sought to rewrite parts of the budget rather than simply nixing the spending of money on certain items.

“I am lapsing the funds for all items objected to by the Governor and will treat the items in question as vetoed,” Hegar said in a written statement. “However, if advised otherwise, those appropriations can be made available immediately.

LBB Director Ursula Parks put it this way after she was asked to look into the matter by both the Lt. Governor's office as well as the office of the Speaker:

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By Scott Braddock

August 26, 2015      2:57 PM

HHSC confirms it will move forward with controversial Medicaid cuts

Following a court hearing in which the agency’s counsel said it was starting anew, HHCS’s spokesman this afternoon says they “attempted to reach a settlement with the plaintiffs that would have required Legislative Budget Board approval. Those attempts were rejected by the plaintiffs.”

Here is the full statement from Health and Human Services Commission Spokesman Bryan Black:

“The Health and Human Services Commission plans to move forward with implementing the full Medicaid therapy rate reductions – a directive that was passed by the legislature.

HHSC attempted to reach a settlement with the plaintiffs that would have required Legislative Budget Board approval. Those attempts were rejected by the plaintiffs.

We will now re-start the process to set reimbursement rates to achieve the full savings as mandated by the legislature. We are working to schedule a public hearing where we will propose new rates and receive feedback.”

August 26, 2015      2:56 PM

A high school in Austin is hailed as an example of success in state intervention at a campus

A reform pushed by retiring Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock puts additional pressure on school boards to turn around failing campuses.

Eastside Memorial High School in Austin, the first high school to be fall under the Texas accountability system, is finally out from under state supervision.

Untangling the status of the former Johnston High School can be difficult. In fact, then-Superintendent Meria Carstarphen pulled the trigger on the school’s performance a year earlier than necessary when she proposed turning the entire high school feeder pattern over to IDEA Public Schools starting in 2012. Eventually, the district signed a contract with Johns Hopkins Talent Development, now in its third year on the Austin ISD campus.

“Our kids are truly where it is. I knew from the day I walked in they could always do it,” Principal Bryan Miller told reporters. “The numbers did not reflect who they were. Now the numbers reflect more of where they are, but only hint to where they’re going to go.”

Eastside Memorial probably reflects the truest form of intervention success, one that will change significantly with the passage of this year's House Bill 1842.

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By Kimberly Reeves

August 26, 2015      1:55 PM

Sen. Konni Burton endorses David Simpson for Texas Senate

"I’ve watched the legislature for years and have always admired David’s willingness to stand up, even against members in his own party," Burton said.

August 26, 2015      12:19 PM

Despite telling a court the agency was starting over, HHSC is said to be moving forward with controversial Medicaid cuts

Sources tell QR that Gov. Abbott has directed HHSC to stick to its guns; no comment from Abbott’s office on that

Opponents of a huge cut to pay rates for therapists who treat disabled Texas children enjoyed a very brief victory this morning when the state told a district judge it would “essentially start over” in designing new rates to comply with a legislative demand to save money.

Eugene Clayborn, of the Texas Attorney General’s Office, told Judge Amy Meachum this morning that the state would abandon both its original rate cuts and new, less severe ones entered into evidence last week. Plaintiffs in the civil suit aimed at preventing the new cuts from taking effect September 1st believed this meant the Health and Human Services Commission would work with stakeholders to design new rates that wouldn’t cost 60,000 disabled children their access to medical care, as they feared the proposed cuts would.

But shortly after, state Rep. Donna Howard and others learned in discussion with persons from HHSC that this is not Texas’ intention.

There was no immediate comment from HHSC.

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By Emily DePrang

August 26, 2015      12:11 PM

Gov. Abbott sets special election for Farias San Antonio House seat

It will be Nov. 3; filing deadline for candidates for HD 118 is next Wednesday

August 26, 2015      9:34 AM

Breaking: The state has altogether withdrawn controversial Medicaid disability rate cuts

HHSC will "essentially start over" on Medicaid rates - full story soon

August 25, 2015      8:31 PM

Austin lawsuit over property values casts a wide net with potential statewide impact

“We’ve never had this situation.” What Austin wants is government access to commercial property sales information. What Austin and the rest of the state got last session was House Bill 2083, which requires “generally accepted appraisal methods and techniques.”

The City of Austin has sued both the Travis Central Appraisal District and Comptroller Glenn Hegar over what it considers to be the use of methods that lead to significant undervaluation of commercial and vacant property.

This will certainly go on the books as one of the Austin’s more ambitious attempts to get what it wants out of state policy – whether it’s mandatory sales price disclosure or adjusted appraisals for $52 billion in property value. The legal challenge also casts a wider net, claiming that the current system of equal and uniform appraisals is unconstitutional. A decision in the city’s favor would most certainly have statewide impact.

“The chief appraiser has testified before the legislature if she had access to more sales data than the law allows her to get, that her conclusions as to market value may be very well more fair,” Mayor Steve Adler said at a press conference. “One of the purposes of this lawsuit is to determine if the chief appraiser is correct.”

Cities have had the ability to sue over the valuation of a class of property, but this is the first time any city has sought to aggressively pursue it, said Ken Nolan, chief appraiser of the Dallas County Appraisal District, who chairs the legislative committee for the Texas Association of Appraisal Districts.

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August 25, 2015      6:44 PM

Medicaid cuts force West Texas firm to cease therapy for disable children

"It's the canary in the coal mine," one Republican told QR tonight. "This tragedy is no longer theoretical. This is happening."

On the eve of a court hearing in which families of disabled Texas children will ask a judge to block the Health and Human Service Commission from moving forward with drastic cuts to a program that provides services for those kids, a West Texas company notified lawmakers it is discontinuing pediatric therapy services.

"I am deeply saddened to announce that our agency can no longer afford to serve over 100 pediatric therapy clients and their families,” wrote Bobby Laughry, the CEO of Nurses Unlimited Inc.

In a letter to Senators Kel Seliger and Charles Perry as well as Representatives Drew Darby, Brooks Landgraf and Tom Craddick, Laughry asked lawmakers to find a way to rescind the latest round of Medicaid cuts.

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By Scott Braddock

August 25, 2015      6:26 PM

AAS: Former CPRIT official found not guilty of felony

The Statesman has the latest on the trial of Jerry Cobbs.

August 24, 2015      5:03 PM

Opponents of Houston Equal Rights Ordinance say they will spend $100K on radio ads about men in women's restrooms

Opponents, including Jared Woodfill with Campaign for Houston PAC, hope to spend as much as about $2 million to roll back the Equal Rights Ordinance that was pushed by Mayor Annise Parker.

Here’s the audio of the radio advertisements being aired by opponents of Houston’s equal rights ordinance.

August 24, 2015      4:53 PM

Press Releases: Appointments, the MIA DA, traffic stop data, school finance, and more

August 24, 2015      3:42 PM

Updated: Temporary restraining order issued against Commissioner Bush in fight with Daughters of the Republic of Texas

Fight over property at the DRT library escalates

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comment from the General Land Office – SB

The Daughters of the Republic of Texas on Monday afternoon obtained a temporary restraining order against the General Land Office and Commissioner George P. Bush after the group claimed it was locked out of its own library on the Alamo grounds in San Antonio.

The Daughters of the Republic of Texas said they filed suit after some of their employees arrived to work at the DRT Library to “find the locks changed, their computer hacked, and access to the DRT Library and the collection they own blocked.”

In issuing the order, a state district court judge in Bexar County said “there is a substantial likelihood that the Plaintiff DRT will prevail on the merits of its claims against the Defendant GLO. Unless enjoined, the GLO’s wrongful control and illegal taking of the DRT’s private property…will cause and continue to cause irreparable harm.”

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By Scott Braddock

August 24, 2015      3:34 PM

Iowa chairman for Perry presidential campaign calls it quits

“Sam Clovis, an influential conservative activist and political science professor, left the campaign just days after it stopped paying all of its staff due to fundraising problems.”

Here’s the Houston Chronicle version of the story as reported by Brian Rosenthal.

August 24, 2015      1:40 PM

Patrick releases video endorsements of incumbent Republican senators

“I need these members back,” Patrick said

After at first saying he would not get involved in GOP primaries, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the last few days has said he will endorse incumbent Republicans.

On Monday afternoon, his campaign released video endorsements of Senators Jane Nelson, Brian Birdwell, Larry Taylor, Charles Perry, Lois Kolkhorst, and Brandon Creighton. You can see his video endorsement of Sen. Nelson below and here’s the full release from Patrick’s campaign.

“I need these members back for the 85th Legislative Session that begins in January 2017,” Patrick said. “Each are key members of a team that achieved tremendous success passing conservative legislation during the 84th Session, a Session that most observers believe was one of the most, if not the most, conservative and productive Senate Session in the history of our Great State.”  

By Scott Braddock

August 24, 2015      11:09 AM

Breaking: Austin filing suit challenging Texas property tax appraisal system

Statesman:Radical under-appraisals distort burdens to homeowners; appraisal districts outgunned in courts--don't have resources to fight challenges

From the story: "A city-commissioned study, which found that Travis County commercial and vacant land was under-appraised by 41 percent this year, said that the Travis appraisal district appeared to know of only about 15 percent of the data used in the study"

A copy of the city’s petition is here.

August 23, 2015      10:24 PM

Poll: 62% of likely Republicans say Ken Paxton should resign

Also in the poll, 53% of self-identified Tea Partiers agree Paxton should step down

In part two of a poll commissioned by the Texas Bipartisan Justice Committee, 62% of likely Republican voters said they would like to see embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton resign.

Perhaps surprisingly, 53% of self-identified Tea Party voters agreed that Paxton should step down following his indictment in Collin County on felony charges related to securities fraud.

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August 21, 2015      5:54 PM

A business leader and Army General emerges as third candidate for Eltife Senate Seat

“Red” Brown is exploring a run. Of Bryan Hughes and David Simpson, he said “I don't think either one of them is the person to be the senator for Senate District 1. I'm that guy.”

As some leaders in East Texas get ever-more nervous about their choices for representation in the Texas Senate, a possible third choice may be on the ballot in addition to Rep. Bryan Hughes and Rep. David Simpson.

Major General James K. "Red" Brown told Quorum Report late Friday that he is actively exploring a run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler.

“I'm excited about the opportunity," Brown said. "I know Bryan but I don't know David very well. I respect their service in representing their House districts,” Brown said. “But I don't think either one of them is the person to be the senator for Senate District 1. I'm that guy," Brown said.

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By Scott Braddock

August 21, 2015      4:54 PM

Press Releases: Endorsements, language pointers, conservatism awards, and more

August 21, 2015      2:50 PM

Smith: Cheap, Powerless Labor and the real consequences of Texas GOP Policies

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that income inequality and low wages in Texas are the intentional result of GOP policies. The GOP believes income inequality is the solution, not the problem.

Hard working Texans are justified in wondering why they have such a hard time making ends meet. Most feel they are underpaid for the work they do. They feel that way because they are underpaid.  

In 2014, 27.8 percent of Texans worked in jobs that don’t pay enough to keep a family of four out of poverty, according to SMU political scientist Cal Jillson, in his book Lone Star Tarnished. These workers have little chance of getting ahead, no matter how many jobs and hours they work every day.

Are growing income inequality and wage suppression accidents, unavoidable consequences of market economics beyond anyone and everyone’s control? Are Texans being slapped by the Invisible Hand, or are they held back by the all-too-visible hands of oligarchs who enrich themselves on the backs of the underpaid?

Michael Lind, a 5th generation Texan and a national political writer of some note, believes it’s the latter. He has written more than once that the goal of Southern politicians is to enforce laws that guarantee “cheap, powerless labor.”

The complete column by Glenn W. Smith is in the R&D Department.

By Glenn W. Smith

August 20, 2015      7:56 PM

Updated: Document shows new proposed Medicaid cuts would be wider but not as deep

The cuts described would be much shallower and distributed more broadly than originally proposed, but there is a catch

Editor’s note: A copy of the documentation can be found toward the end of this story – SB

New documentation has surfaced showing that controversial Medicaid cuts in a program for poor children would now be less severe than had been originally proposed, Quorum Report has learned tonight.

During depositions for a lawsuit filed against the Health and Human Services Commission to stop the controversial cuts to a therapy program for disabled kids, HHSC entered into evidence a new draft copy of Medicaid reimbursement rates, a source connected with the suit told QR.

Accompanying the revised rate schedule was an apparent explanatory memo, though neither document has been confirmed by HHSC as the agency’s work product.

The cuts described would be much shallower and distributed more broadly than originally proposed, according to the documents. The accompanying memo also says the the new rates, which impose a flat 15 percent cut on most Medicaid programs, were based on an external group’s analysis of 11 other states’ Medicaid pay schedules.

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By Emily DePrang

August 20, 2015      6:24 PM

After backlash, HHSC proposes new Medicaid therapy rates that cut less deep but more wide

Full story coming soon

August 20, 2015      5:34 PM

Updated: DPS dismisses criminal complaint against Sen. Nelson filed by horse racing interests

Horse racing interests say they'll explore other legal options

Here’s a copy of the letter from the Texas Department of Public Safety to the president of the Texas Thoroughbred HBPA.

In response to the letter, Jan Haynes of the Texas Thoroughbred HBPA said “I find it difficult to believe that what Senator Nelson has engaged it isn’t abuse of power.   Behind-the-scenes threats to withhold lawfully appropriated funds without clear legislative directive smacks of improper, backroom cronyism and abuse. Senator Nelson is not the legislature.  She doesn’t get to say what the law is. The legislature never tied these funds to any action of the Racing Commission, much less repealing important rules that are the subject of a court appeal. If the DPS won’t investigate, we will look at our other legal options.”

August 20, 2015      4:42 PM

SB: Trump leads in Texas but does not likely have the staying power of Patrick or Cruz

Trump’s bluster is clearly what Texas Republicans prefer for the moment, but the durability of that is up for debate

Some were surprised this morning to find out that a poll of likely Republican Texas voters puts real estate magnate and provocateur Donald Trump ahead of Sen. Ted Cruz in the Junior Senator’s home state by a significant margin. In the poll, Trump is the choice of 24% of likely GOP voters here. Cruz is second, winning the support of 16% of Republicans questioned in the survey conducted by Gravis Marketing and commissioned by the Texas Bipartisan Justice Committee.

Committing the sin of reading too much into one poll is not something I’m about to do. But it is worth nothing at this point in the 2016 cycle that, at least anecdotally, the over-the-top rhetoric offered by Trump on the campaign trail is the same kind of vitriol rewarded by GOP voters across Texas in the 2014 election cycle.

Reporting on Texas House and Senate races – as well as the statewide contests in 2014 – presented the eye-opening opportunity to travel thousands of miles and engage with GOP voters at town halls, forums, and other events throughout the grueling primary. The folks who attended those events are the same kind of voters who regularly drive around their neighborhoods looking for “Vote Here signs to make sure they don’t miss an election. The most active of the active.

One of the most striking characteristics of that voter is their palpable desire to see candidates really duke it out, loudly proclaim their conservatism, and “not be afraid to stand up for what they believe in.” Then-Sen. Dan Patrick excelled at this in a way that could not be overcome by three other qualified candidates vying to hold the gavel in the Texas Senate.

When Patrick clashed with incumbent David Dewhurst in a debate in Kerrville during the runoff, for example, voters who preferred the senator from Houston said his best attributes were fearlessness and full-throated conservatism.

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By Scott Braddock

August 20, 2015      4:41 PM

Pastors of some of the largest congregations in Texas weigh in on school finance

It puts elected officials in the odd position of defending the current school finance system against members of one of its strongest base of support.

Pastors of some of the largest congregations in the state have urged the Texas Supreme Court to add private school vouchers to the mix to address inefficiency in the state’s school finance system.

Texas leadership of the U.S. Council of Pastors includes Ed Young of Second Baptist in Houston and Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas, among others. Membership in both congregations exceeds 10,000, and each congregation supports its own affiliated private school.

That puts the elected officials of the state in the odd position of defending the current school finance system against members of its strongest base of support. Most of the elected officials are on record supporting vouchers and tax credits that could send students out of public schools into private and parochial schools.  

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By Kimberly Reeves

August 20, 2015      4:40 PM

Press Releases: EPA outrage, investing in workers, unclaimed property returns, and more

August 20, 2015      3:47 PM

CPRIT board wrestles with measures of efficiency in grants

“We want to find out what it is that you did, what did you discover and what is the relevance….and put it in taxpayer/legislator terms in order to pass around to legislators and media.”

The Cancer Research Policy Institute of Texas’ oversight committee has signed off on $25 million in competitive grants to bring high-profile research cancer researchers to various universities in the state.

The oversight committee is charged with administration of the Texas Cancer Plan, which gives direction to $3 billion in bonds approved by voters in 2007. The quasi-agency has been under fire for conflicts of interest in some grant awards, with CPRIT’s former commercialization officer Jerry Cobb on trial in Austin this week for approving grants without proper business or scientific scrutiny.

Back at the Capitol, the jury appears to still be out on what methods might be effective measures of CPRIT’s progress on its mission to prevent and cure cancer. Board members appeared keenly aware of the scrutiny of the state’s media on CPRIT, with board member Craig Rosenfeld asking CEO Wayne Roberts directly how success could be explained to media.

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By Kimberly Reeves

August 20, 2015      11:38 AM

Linn departs as president of Texans for Education Reform

Takes on new job but will join board in September

Julie Linn will leave the high-profile Texans for Education Reform to take a job with the expanding Great Hearts Texas charter school network.

Great Hearts joins the list of charter providers, often from out of state, that have launched a wide-ranging rollout of charter school campuses in Texas, often supported by San Antonio-based Choose to Succeed. Critics saw Great Hearts as exclusive, and the State Board of Education chose to veto an application last year.  

Great Hearts is in the exclusive position of being the one charter application in which Commissioner Michael Williams clashed with the SBOE after charter approvals were moved to the commissioner’s office. When SBOE disagreed with Williams’ recommendation to grant a second charter to Great Hearts – and more expansion money – the charter provider used a charter amendment to expand.

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By Kimberly Reeves

August 20, 2015      11:23 AM

Corrected: Trump-24%, Cruz 16%, Bush 9%, Walker and Perry 4% in poll of Texas likely Republican voters

Random survey of 976 random likely Republican voters suggests Texas Republicans in step with national polls

Corrected: The original posting indicated 76% of registered Republicans considered themselves members of the Tea Party. A key word was omitted. Actually, 76% of likely Republican voters tested in the poll do NOT consider themselves members of the Tea Party.

The Texas Bipartisan Justice Committee formed by occasional QR contributor John Coppedge commissioned the poll of Texas Republicans by non-partisan Gravis Marketing to test Texas attitudes among registered Republicans.

The results would seem to correlate with national polling in the GOP presidential nomination horse-race.

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