Vol 30, Issue 2 Print Issue

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

In a study released by the Texas Freedom Network, a religious watchdog group, some Texas school districts’ high school Bible courses failed to make the grade. The group accused districts of bias toward conservative Protestantism and presenting courses that are weak in their overview and not academically rigorous. The report was also critical of the presentation of Judaism. Texas districts have been allowed to offer Bible courses as electives since 2007, but they’re not required to. 

An annual report that assesses traffic safety laws nationwide ranks Texas in the bottom tier of states. Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety rated states based on 15 traffic safety laws, including seat beat and booster seat requirements, distracted driving laws, restrictions and regulations on teen drivers and tougher drunk driving laws. Texas lacked eight of the 15 laws recommended. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported a 7 percent rise in fatalities in the first nine months of 2012, the biggest increase since 1975. A spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation who responded to the report cited awareness campaigns conducted by state officials, and a corresponding uptick in the percentage of travelers wearing seat belts.

Freshman Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Houston, weighed in on President Obama’s newly unveiled gun control push, vowing to file impeachment papers if the president tries to issue any executive orders that Stockman feels violate the Second Amendment. Since the Sandy Hook shooting last month, debate has raged about additional regulations on guns.

Since filing in November to run for office in Texas, George P. Bush, son of Jeb and nephew of George W., has raised well over a million dollars for his campaign. Just which office he’s campaigning for is unclear, although he’s traveled extensively across Texas and the nation raising money for his war chest and has expressed interest in the land office. The Bush family got the ball rolling with dad Jeb contributing $50,000 and uncle George matching that. But Bush also got donations from 29 states, and the average donation was more than $3,000. 

The debate over gun violence was front and center in Plano this week, as school officials proposed installing private security guards at all of the district’s campuses. Guards previously patrolled all of Plano’s secondary schools but were eliminated during previous budget cuts. The new proposal would put guards at elementary and secondary schools and had the community buzzing with differing opinions on the idea. Some parents found comfort in the idea, while others expressed dismay at exposing their elementary-age children to armed guards at their schools. Others also expressed concern about the cost, estimated to be $2.7 million.

At the ongoing school finance trial, education economist Eric Hanushek testified that more money in schools doesn’t always translate to improved results. The Stanford-based Hanushek was recruited to testify in the trial by Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education to help make the argument that school funding has led to inefficiencies and is therefore unconstitutional. Hanushek pointed out that districts he analyzed in Texas spent roughly the same amount per student but had varying outcomes. He suggested that teacher performance is the key to improving student performance, and recommended replacing the bottom 5 to 8 percent of teachers, measured by multiple factors, including student achievement on standardized tests.

Political People and their Moves

Robert Jones, after several years heading Annie’s List, joins Be One Texas as CEO, replacing Michael Li, who helped start up the Democratic organization, ran it during the 2012 political cycle, and helped recruit Jones. Jones will oversee Progress Texas, a communications arm of BOT.

Former state Rep. Suzanna Gratia Hupp joins the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to head a cross-agency initiative on veterans’ benefits.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Carol “Missy” Rainey of Keller to the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners. She’s a social worker and assistant court investigator for the Denton County Probate Court.

Perry named Troy Allen of Edcouch, general manager of the Delta Lake Irrigation District, and Lance Neuhaus of Mercedes, president of Neuhaus & Co., to the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority.

Press corps moves: Longtime government reporter Gary Scharrer is now the communications director for Sen. Tommy Williams, leaving his job at Hearst, where he reported for the San Antonio Express-News and the Houston Chronicle. Scharrer was in the Capitol press corps for 26 years and in the newspaper business for 43.