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TribYear: (Some of) Our Best Stories of 2012

For the last week of the year, we picked a sampling of our best of 2012: Hamilton on four-year graduation rates from Texas colleges, Ryan and Galbraith map the troubling levels of the state’s water reservoirs, Galbraith on groundwater fights in the Panhandle, Aaronson on the state insurance commissioner’s turbulent first year, Grissom, Ryan and Dehn on prosecutorial errors in Texas, M. Smith on what to do with failing school districts, E. Smith’s “Satan” interview with Gov. Rick Perry at TribFest, excerpts from “Oops!” — Root’s book on the governor’s presidential campaign, Rocha on the tussle over the Women’s Health Program, Ramshaw on a controversial effort to control Medicaid costs, Batheja examines the boom in toll roads, and Aguilar on “restorative justice” on the Texas-Mexico border.

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Only two of the state’s 38 public four-year universities can graduate half of their students within four years — and even then, just barely. At the University of Texas at Austin, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board reports, 53 percent of incoming freshmen graduate in four years. Texas A&M University graduates 51 percent.

Texas endured the most intense drought in recorded state history in 2011, and it has yet to bounce back. Water levels at a number of reservoirs remain significantly low, particularly in West Texas, which is drier than East Texas.

J.O. Dawdy, who has been a farmer for 36 years, is so worried about getting enough groundwater that he is considering a lawsuit to protect his right to it.

Eleanor Kitzman has only been Texas’ insurance commissioner for a year, but her tenure in a usually obscure political post has already been marked by headline-grabbing controversies.

The Texas Tribune analyzed 86 overturned convictions, finding that in nearly one quarter of those cases courts ruled that prosecutors made mistakes that often contributed to the wrong outcome. This multipart series explores the causes and consequences of prosecutorial errors and whether reforms might prevent future wrongful convictions.

In July, two Texas school districts received what amounted to notices of execution: letters from the state education commissioner saying that the Texas Education Agency was shutting them down.

At the opening session of the 2012 Texas Tribune Festival, we interviewed Gov. Rick Perry about the impact of cuts to public education, the cost of college tuition, how to insure more Texans, the state's controversial policy on family planning funding, whether he plans to run for governor again and, yes, Satan.

Though Perry had expressed a preference for peace among his warring campaign advisers, Allbaugh is the one who had the governor’s ear. He had the power. And he was told to use all means necessary to rescue Perry’s sinking ship.

Women's health providers in Texas have had Nov. 1 marked on their calendars for months. It was supposed to be the day the state-funded Women's Health Program would launch. But it hasn't. And it won't until, according to Texas Health and Human Services Commission officials, the federal government stops funding it or a final court decision is rendered.

When it comes to finding cost savings in the state’s unwieldy Medicaid program, the Health and Human Services Commission’s Office of Inspector General gets high marks. But OIG’s dollar-recovery strategy — which includes an increased reliance on a rule that allows investigators to freeze financing for any health provider accused of overbilling — has enraged doctors, dentists and other providers who treat Medicaid patients.

The first major toll road in Texas, which opened in 1957, was a 30-mile, six-lane stretch of highway between Dallas and Fort Worth. A drive from one end to the other cost 50 cents. There are now billions of dollars in road projects across the state featuring toll roads or lanes.

Freddie knows he is lucky. If he were six months older, he could be in a state prison. Or he could have been labeled a snitch and treated as such by Mexican cartel operatives. Or he could be dead. Instead, Freddie will be free in December after finishing a year of court-ordered juvenile probation in his drug smuggling case.

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