TribWeek: Top Texas News for the Week of Apr 26, 2010

We've built a searchable database of public school rankings based on data collected by the Houston-based nonprofit Children at Risk. In contrast to the Texas Education Agency's "ratings," which rely almost entirely on the percentage of students passing the TAKS test, the rankings blend 12 different measures for elementary schools, 10 for middle schools and 14 for high schools — including TAKS results, ACT and SAT scores, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams, attendance rates, graduation rates and the percentage of economically disadvantaged students on every campus. How does your school stack up?

In that new statewide ranking of public schools, the Dallas Independent School District boasts seven of the top 25 high schools but also 18 in the bottom quartile. Not surprisingly, the best ones have a small student population, while the worst ones are megacampuses — an example of a larger trend in school rankings data.

Even as violence near the border rages and security becomes a more pressing issue, discussions about unifying Big Bend National Park with Mexico may be gaining momentum.

Just as in 2006, some Democrats are clamoring for immigration reforms, including easing pathways to citizenship, while Republicans are insisting more border security must come first. Policy experts, meanwhile, say the outcome this year will likely be the same as back then: nothing.

Every Friday since a blast at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia killed 29 miners, graduate students at UT's LBJ School of Public Affairs have been treated to an insider briefing. The name of their course is Managing Crises, and their professor, Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, is dealing with a big one.

Republican lawmakers in Texas may despise the federal health care overhaul, but it's politically opportunitistic: They get to blame the staggering budget shortfall to come on the anticipated state share of the cost of reform.

On May 8, voters in Senate District 22 will choose one of these candidates as Kip Averitt's successor: a veteran lawmaker-turned-lobbyist in a bad year for that kind of hyphenate, a 9/11 Pentagon survivor with residency questions dangling over his campaign, a Tea-steeped nullification fan and ... a Democrat.

There's been plenty of intense reaction across the country to new immigration laws passed in the Grand Canyon State. Ben Philpott, who covers public policy for KUT News and the Tribune, reports on how both sides are already looking ahead to future battlegrounds.

The anticipated rush on primary care physicians — the likely result of federal health care reform’s insurance expansion — could drive well-heeled, convenience-seeking Texans into private medical clubs.

The Port of Houston Authority is poised to make the Lone Star State the top U.S. trade partner with communist Cuba after gaining permission for its container vessels to sail there.

Our latest interactive database has records on each of the more than 160,000 inmates in Texas prisons, including their names, crimes, hometowns, height, weight and gender, the counties in which they were convicted and their sentencing dates.

Texas has more unfilled U.S. attorney positions than any other state — and that isn’t going to change soon. Currently, none of the four Texas districts have "presidentially confirmed" federal prosecutors, who are responsible for enforcing federal laws. Last week, John B. Stevens, a state district judge in Beaumont who was Barack Obama's only nominee in Texas, withdrew his name from consideration, citing the protracted confirmation process. And that means we risk being left out of the administration’s inner circle on criminal and civil justice issues.

For the seventh event in our TribLive series, Evan Smith interviewed Deirdre Delisi, the chair of the Texas Transportation Commission, on the size of the road funding hole, the toll-versus-tax debate and whether the governor she once served as chief of staff is really not running for president.

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