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The Brief: Top Texas News for Feb. 25, 2011

School districts, taking a pummeling under current state budget proposals, got to breathe a tiny sigh of relief on Thursday.

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THE BIG CONVERSATION:

School districts, taking a pummeling under current state budget proposals, got to breathe a tiny sigh of relief on Thursday.

Massive layoffs — up to 100,000, by some estimates — expected in public schools this year haven't been averted, but lawmakers may have bought districts some time.

At a Capitol press conference Thursday, a bipartisan group of state senators — Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth; Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock; Florence Shapiro, R-Plano; and Royce West, D-Dallas unveiled a bill that would extend the amount of time laid off teachers have to meet with school boards about their termination.

The legislation, for the current school year only, would give teachers 30 days, rather than the current 15, to request the hearings. And because teachers must be notified of termination in mid-April, that would allow districts to delay layoffs until they see a final version of the budget, before the Legislature leaves town at the end at the end of May.

"They can either say, 'We've got the money, let’s forget the hearing,' or 'We don’t have the money, sorry, goodbye,'" Richard Kouri, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, told The Dallas Morning News.

Shapiro, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said she hoped the effort signaled that lawmakers are working to minimize damage to districts under the $10 billion in proposed cuts. "Teachers are the No. 1 most important element in the classroom," she said. "They come first, and we've got to make absolutely sure that teachers across this state recognize that we are working diligently every single day to help them."

CULLED:

  • Administrative costs have become an easy target as school districts across the state face significant budget constraints, but as the Trib's Morgan Smith reports today, there may be less fat to trim than some would think.
  • Houston may be getting its first private toll road, Dallas style, after the Texas Department of Transportation voted Thursday to advance a $340 million project connecting Interstate 10 and U.S. Highway 290. Funding for the project was found when the department discovered $350 million in unspent money last month, but as The Dallas Morning News notes, the approval comes at an awkward time for such high-profile spending.
  • Texans ranks 13th in number of abortions performed per state, according to new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data released a day after abortion sonogram legislation took an initial step toward passage in the House. In 2007, for every 1,000 Texas women between the ages of 15 and 44, 15.3 had an abortion, according to the data.

"The Texas Legislature can no longer sit idly by while its next generation is born addicted to illegal drugs, born with physical and mental abnormalities, set up for educational hardship, and destined to be on Social Security benefits." — State Rep. Doug Miller, R-New Braunfels, who has filed a bill that would jail women who abuse drugs during pregnancy

MUST-READ:

Programming round-up:

  • Texas Week (KLRN, San Antonio, Friday, 8:30 p.m.): San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro; state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio
  • Session '11 (Austin, KXAN, Sunday, 9:30 a.m.): U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett; state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth
  • Inside Texas Politics (Dallas-Fort Worth, WFAA-TV, Sunday, 9 a.m.): Outgoing Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert

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