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Senate Republicans Back Patrick on Defying Transgender Directive

Also, Susan Combs launches a smart schools initiative funded from her leftover campaign funds and another round of strategic fiscal reviews is announced.

Empty Senate chamber on June 1, 2015

Senate Republicans officially closed ranks on Monday behind the chamber’s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, on the topic of transgender students in school bathrooms.

The Texas Senate Republican Caucus sent an open letter to the leadership of the state’s school districts, calling on them to ignore the recent guidelines issued by the Obama administration on allowing students to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender they identify with.

The senators close by writing, “We believe this issue should be addressed by using common sense and the best judgment on the part of the parties involved in a specific case, respecting the rights and privacy of ALL the children who might be affected.

“The Texas Senate Republican Caucus calls on you to stand up for common sense, basic decency, and the rule of law in your school facilities.”

The letter was signed by every member of the caucus with the exception of Tyler Republican Kevin Eltife, who is not running for re-election. The other member of the caucus who has chosen to retire, Troy Fraser, did sign the letter.

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The Legislative Budget Board has released a list of 16 state agencies that will be up for Strategic Fiscal Review in the 2018-19 budget cycle.

House Speaker Joe Straus instituted these reviews in 2014 as a way of taking a deep dive into agencies’ finances and to investigate how well they are using their resources in serving the state.

Institutes of higher education and affiliated entities take up fully half the list of agencies under review. The heavy hitters among this group are the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University at College Station.

Other agencies of note undergoing review: the Department of Agriculture, the Lottery Commission, the Facilities Commission and a couple of departments in the Health and Human Services enterprise — State Health Services and Family and Protective Services.

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Former Texas Comptroller Susan Combs launched her Texas Smart Schools Initiative on Wednesday, an online platform that compares spending data from schools with student performance.

“Public education is one of the largest items in the state budget, so Texans need to know where their dollars are getting the highest return in terms of student performance,” Combs said in a statement. “With this platform, parents can find out which schools are beating expectations and educators can find peers whose success makes them worth emulating. It’s truly an initiative that lends itself to the common good.”

Combs spearheaded an earlier effort to track this data as comptroller, after the Texas Legislature directed her to create such a program in 2009.  Then called the Financial Allocation Study for Texas, the program produced a "FAST Tracker" tool for Texans to use to look through the data for school districts and specific campuses. The state no longer funds "FAST."

The Smart Schools Initiative launched Wednesday is being funded by money remaining from Combs' previous political campaigns and she is making the information free for public consumption, according to a press release.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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