The Brief: Top Texas News for Feb. 2, 2011

THE BIG CONVERSATION:

In a sign of the tough budgetary times, Texas school districts turned their focus to harsh realities on Tuesday.

Recently, those realities has come in the form of acceptance that layoffs are inevitable, given that early budget drafts have slashed funding for public education by a staggering $10 billion. An oft-cited consultant has said that number could amount to 100,000 job losses statewide.

That's why school districts want more freedom to do things like cut employee pay, implement furloughs and decide their own class sizes — all of which, they say, would help avert those huge layoffs. And all of which state law currently prohibits.

On Tuesday, state Sen. Florence Shapiro, the Plano Republican who chairs the chamber's education committee, filed a bill that would allow districts to take such action. "If we could vote right now on whether [districts] will fire teachers or have flexibility to reduce their salaries, even teachers would agree with us it is better to reduce salaries," Shapiro said, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Shaprio said the bill, which would also make it easier for districts to fire poorly performing teachers, was in the earliest stages at this point and would be revised to accommodate districts' needs.

Education Commissioner Robert Scott echoed those same calls for reality while speaking to more than 6,000 school leaders at the Texas Association of School Administrators annual conference on Tuesday. "I don't stand here in fear. I stand here looking at a problem," he said. "Now is not the time to lose our heads. Now is not the time to point fingers and scream and yell. Now is the time to solve the problem."

CULLED:

  • Testimony will continue today in the election-contest hearing called to settle the disputed race between Republican Dan Neil and state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin. On Tuesday, the first day of the proceedings, several House District 48 voters took the stand to testify about how they voted in the November election.  
  • Members of the newly formed Hispanic Republican Conference, many of whom are still searching for a toehold between their party's views on immigration and the concerns of their own constituents, will meet with Attorney General Greg Abbott today amid much talk over this session's proposed immigration legislation, which looks likely to stir controversy (to say the least).
  • It's a tall order for Texas doctors: Perform better, for which the state will reward you, but do so with less money. The Tribune's Emily Ramshaw reports on the primary care conundrum emerging in the debate over the state budget and health care, about which Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has something to say.

"It allows people to treat other people like animals, and it invites chaos." — State Rep. Aaron Peña to The Associated Press on fellow House Republican Leo Berman's proposed legislation that would deny illegal immigrants the right to sue legal residents of the state of Texas

MUST-READ:

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