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The Brief: March 16, 2012

As expected, the federal government will soon halt funding for Texas' Women's Health Program. But the money for the embattled program won't disappear immediately.

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The Big Conversation:

As expected, the federal government will soon halt funding for Texas' Women's Health Program. But the money for the embattled program won't disappear immediately.

As the Tribune's Emily Ramshaw and Thanh Tan report, Cindy Mann, director of the federal Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services, said Thursday that the government will gradually begin to phase out funding for the Texas program, which has been caught in a crossfire between Texas and the Obama administration over state support for Planned Parenthood.

"We have no choice but to not renew their program," Mann said, adding "We very much regret that the state of Texas has taken this course."

Texas Republicans, including Gov. Rick Perry, have attempted to exclude Planned Parenthood from the health program, which currently provides reproductive screenings and services for about 130,000 low-income Texas women — though no clinics receiving funds from the program may perform abortions. The Obama administration has called Republicans' effort illegal and indicated that it would not renew funding for the program.

With criticism mounting, Perry announced last week that the state would continue to fund the $30 million program without federal help. But the source of the funding remains unclear.

Mann said that if the state takes over the program and no women lose services within three months, federal funding will be pulled. Otherwise, support may be extended.

The state must submit a plan outlining the funding transition to the federal government by April 16.

Culled:

  • Ted Cruz went after an absent David Dewhurst at a U.S. Senate candidate forum Thursday night in Dallas, telling an audience of about 50, "This race presents a simple, clear choice between a timid career politician in David Dewhurst and a strong conservative fighter." The candidates in attendance — Glenn Addison, Cruz, Tom Leppert, Craig James and Lela Pittenger — otherwise reserved most of their criticism for President Barack Obama and Democrats, as The Dallas Morning News reports. Dewhurst's campaign said this week that the candidate may only make one more appearance with his GOP rivals — at a Dallas debate next month — before the May 29 primary.
  • As state cut public school spending in the 2011-12 school year, classroom sizes soared: The number of elementary classes across the state with more than 22 students — the state cap — grew from 2,238 last year to 8,479. And as the Tribune's Morgan Smith reports, the fastest-growing school districts have been hit the hardest by larger classes.
  • Apple went before the Austin City Council on Thursday in hopes of winning the company incentives for a proposal that would add 3,600 jobs in Northwest Austin, as the Austin American-Statesman reports. The agreement would pay Apple $8.6 million in incentives over 10 years, in addition to the $21 million that Rick Perry has said the state would kick in to woo the company. The council will vote on the deal Thursday.

"Nobody’s calling them out for how they treated Michele Bachmann, Nikki Haley, Sarah Palin, Susana Martinez."Lela Pittenger, a GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, when asked at Thursday night's candidate forum about accusations from Democrats that Republicans have recently waged "a war against women"

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