Ed Sterling

AUSTIN - In 1984, the 68th Texas Legislature passed HB 72, a groundbreaking attempt to increase the quality of public education with accountability standards.

HB 72 put the greatest weight in rating public schools on student academic performance and also created the no-pass no-play rule, lowered the students-to-teacher ratio, ended social promotion of students and initiated a teacher career ladder.

In the quarter century since passage of HB 72, lawmakers have reworked the school accountability puzzle a few times. For example, in 1994, lawmakers made school accountability hinge on high-stakes academic testing. In 2003, the Legislature made changes to put accountability standards in synch with the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Two bills filed March 5 would revise in 2011 the current system of rating schools that is based on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills or "TAKS," the standardized test that evaluates students' skills in reading, writing, math, science and social studies at various grade levels.

SB 3, authored by state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and its twin,HB 3 by state Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, would employ a two-tiered method that values more than TAKS.

The first tier, accreditation, would judge schools on student achievement, the growth of post-secondary readiness and graduation rates. The second tier, called the distinction tier, would reward school districts and campuses for excellence in other areas, including growth in student achievement, fine arts and second language skills.

College readiness under SB 3 and HB 3 is based on student performance in English and algebra end-of-course exams. Skilled workforce readiness factors in English and algebra scores and rates those against success in training and certification programs at technical or community colleges.

Shapiro, chair of the Senate Education Committee, called the legislation "dramatic" and credited a 15-member select committee that met over the legislative interim for its efforts.

Eissler, chair of the House Public Education Committee, said "we recognize the need for more flexibility for students to pursue an academic path that allows them to nurture their individual interests and talents."

Senate and House education committees will soon consider the bills.

Web page tracks stimulus money

Comptroller Susan Combs' office announced it is reviewing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

And while the Legislature wrestles with how to deal with the sudden influx of $16 billion in federal funding, citizens who have Web access can keep informed by visiting "Tracking the Texas Stimulus," a page linked to the comptroller's Web site. The page will help state and local officials, business leaders, economic developers, human service providers and taxpayers track what Texas may receive from the estimated $787 billion in federal economic stimulus funds, Combs said.

Those who visit the page will find a spreadsheet listing the provisions of the federal bill, preliminary estimates of federal spending and the amounts Texas might expect to see.

Perry renews disaster


Gov. Rick Perry on March 5 officially renewed his Hurricane Ike disaster declaration, effective March 7.

The declaration, in effect until April 5, "suspends all rules and regulations that may inhibit or prevent prompt response" to the hurricane that hit Galveston Sept. 13, 2008, and ravaged a long list counties in South and East Texas.

In other news, on March 6, Perry asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide disaster relief assistance for farms and ranches suffering from severe drought.

Drought conditions and high winds have exacerbated wildfires. Since Jan. 1, 3,685 wildfires have burned 118,061 acres of land across the state.

Bill toughens tanning


State Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, filed HB 1310, legislation to limit minors' access to tanning salons.

"There are multiple studies which show that excessive exposure to tanning leads to melanoma which is the deadliest form of skin cancer," he said.

HB 1310 would require a minor to get parental permission and supervision and a doctor's note to use electromagnetic radiation exposure commonly offered by indoor tanning salons.