Ed Sterling

AUSTIN - The U.S. Department of Education has approved Texas’ plan for spending $3.2 billion in federal stimulus funds.

Of that amount, $2 billion must be used for elementary, secondary, post-secondary, early childhood education and for other services to improve student achievement.

Those funds, along with more than $30 billion from other sources, will finance the non-local portion of funding for about 1,200 school districts and charter schools.

School districts must spend the stabilization funds and other funds in accordance with state and federal law, and they also must provide an $800 across-the-board pay raise to all teachers and professional school district employees.

“The $2 billion Texas will receive today [July 24] is part of the single largest boost in education funding in recent history,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

“Texas can now utilize these funds to save jobs and lay the groundwork for a generation of education reform.”

The $2 billion is in addition to $1.7 billion in federal education stimulus funds already allocated to Texas. In the fall, Texas plans to request another $1 billion in federal stabilization funds for education, Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott said.

Perry opts for ‘no-strings’ money

Gov. Rick Perry on July 24, in explaining his decision to turn down $555 million in federal stimulus dollars that would have buttressed the state’s dwindling unemployment compensation fund, said there is some “no-strings” funding available in the federal stimulus package that he would accept.

He said the funding would provide an additional $25 per week in benefits to qualified unemployed Texans, resulting in an additional $161 million for the program and weeks of extended benefits for Texas workers.

Source sought in tar ball episode

Sludgy balls of tar washed up on a stretch of beach on South Padre Island on July 22, in the height of tourist season.

The General Land Office is using current-tracking buoys, chemical analysis and assistance from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration to identify the origin of an oil spill that likely caused the tar balls.

And, the agencies are working together to determine where the pollution might go next.

State oil spill crews worked with the U.S. Coast Guard on the cleanup, filling 50 fifty-five gallon barrels with tar ball material. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said the cleanup was completed on July 24.

Law: bloodspot destruction OK

Parents of children born in Texas may direct the Texas Department of State Health Services to destroy dried bloodspot samples collected as part of a routine heel-stick screening of newborns.

The department said it began saving all newborn screening samples in July 2002 for quality control purposes and for their potential value in approved research to find ways to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure leukemia, birth defects, brain cancer or other serious medical conditions in children.

Two samples are collected from each newborn, one at birth and the other one to two weeks later.

No resolution on tuition question

Attorney General Greg Abbott released an opinion addressing a legislator’s question as to the legality of offering in-state college tuition rates to undocumented Texas residents.

The opinion, GA-0732, says the fact that the key terms “residence” and “postsecondary education benefit” are not defined in federal law presents a problem, plus, there are no relevant state or federal court rulings for guidance.

So, the question remains.

Senate rejects gun amendment

The U.S. Senate on July 22 voted down legislation that would have allowed state-issued concealed handgun permits to be legal in other states that issue that type of permit.

The legislation by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., was a proposed amendment to S. 1390, the fiscal year 2010 Defense Authorization bill.

The vote was 58-42 in favor, two votes short of the 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster. Texas’ two U.S. senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, voted in favor.

TxDOT pre-applies for rail grants

The Texas Department of Transportation on July 10 submitted 17 grant “pre-applications” to the Federal Railroad Administration for rail projects across the state.

Grants would come through the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which includes $8 billion for high-speed intercity passenger rail projects throughout the nation.