Tribune Today

Analysis: Texas budget writers treasure that school tax you hate
In the midst of all the week’s gloomy state budget news, this stuck out like a gold nugget in a cow patty: Rising property values in the state’s school districts translate into higher local tax revenue, cutting the state's obligation to education.

Attorney General Ken Paxton's trial on fraud charges to begin May 1
Paxton is accused of misleading investors in a company from before his time as Texas’ top law enforcement official. His trial is scheduled to start on May 1, according to a recent court order. Jury selection will be held in late April.

U.S. halts Cuban immigration program
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday it was ending the "wet foot/dry foot" policy, in place since the mid-1990s, that had allowed Cubans who arrived at U.S land ports to be given immediate legal status.

Greg Abbott builds big war chest ahead of 2018
In his biggest six-month fundraising haul since he took office two years ago, Abbott raised $9 million in the second half of last year, according to his team.

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Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott asks religious groups to help foster families
In a joint letter released Thursday, Abbott and the Department of Family and Protective Services urged congregations to rally a “network of nurture” to support foster families with donations and other activities.

Top House Republican says dark money debate won't kill ethics reform
Rep. Charlie Geren, the powerful Fort Worth Republican pushing ethics reform in the Texas House this year, is determined not to let a fight over so-called "dark money" torpedo the effort as it did in 2015. 

$25 million proposal would fund bulletproof vests for patrol officers in Texas
A bill in the Texas Legislature would institute a $25 million grant program to pay for bulletproof vests for all patrol officers in Texas.

Texas legislators driving bid for uniform rules on ride hailing (video)
Texas is one of about a dozen states without uniform ride-hailing standards. That could change after the 85th Legislative Session. This is part of our "State of Mind" video series looking at community concerns coming to the Capitol.

Renu Khator on higher ed funding, graduation rates and the bathroom bill (video)
Full video of Evan Smith's 1/12 conversation with University of Houston Chancellor Renu Khator.

The Big Story

While state lawmakers weighed a tight budget against a school finance system sorely in need of repairs, educators across the state balked at the Texas Education Agency's new rating system for schools. Here's the story:

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• The current school finance system is held together by a number of short-term fixes that have not been updated or reformed in decades. The Texas Supreme Court upheld the funding system as constitutional in May, and at the same time put the onus on state lawmakers to reform it — but few believe a major overhaul will come without a court order.

• Even if legislators decided to tackle an overhaul of the whole system, experts say there is not enough money in state coffers to increase state spending, lower local spending and relieve Texans upset about rising property taxes. For now, some lawmakers are backing a simple plan to increase money to all school districts through the general appropriations bill, instead of taking apart the complex school finance system.

• Meanwhile, after public schools and districts received preliminary grades from the Texas Education Agency, educators are arguing the ratings are not representative of their work in schools, are based on math too complex for parents to understand and often contradict previous school ratings. "It doesn't give us a clear picture at all of the college readiness of our kids," said McGregor ISD Superintendent Kevin Houchin. "That's a natural outcome of a very poorly designed system. It's confusing. It's complex, and it doesn't give an accurate portrayal of our campuses."

• The preliminary grades are for four categories: student performance on the STAAR state test, student progress on STAAR, closing the achievement gap and college and career readiness. Educators have criticized STAAR as limited in scope and not a good indicator of students' future success.

• This legislative session, lawmakers have introduced a pair of bills that would extend a program that allows students to still graduate after failing the STAAR as long as they meet the requirements of an "individual graduation committee." Graduation committees were enacted during the previous legislative session, but a provision of the bill that created them will end the program in September.

New in TribTalk

"Rather than punishing only the worst of the worst, the death penalty has disproportionately singled out poor, mentally handicapped, and minority defendants."

— Thomas Johnson of Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty

News from Home

Are you a Texan going to Washington, D.C., for Donald Trump's inauguration? The Texas Tribune is working on a story about the inauguration and would like to hear from Texans traveling to Washington for the event. Tell us about your plans here, and a reporter may contact you.

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What We're Reading

(Links below lead to outside websites; content might be behind paywall)

Higher ed leaders muted in response to Texas bathroom bill, Inside Higher Ed

Tweeting Texas justice, a potential Supreme Court pick, calls for more civic education, Dallas Morning News

Texas leaders appear unable to find a new state auditor, Houston Chronicle

Air Force picks Fort Worth reserve base for F-35 squadron, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Trib Events for the Calendar

•   A Symposium on Race and Public Policy on Jan. 13 at Huston-Tillotson University

•   A Conversation with Reps. Dustin Burrows & Drew Darby on Jan. 19 at Howard College – West Texas Training Center

•   A Conversation on Mental Health on Jan. 26 at The Austin Club

•   A Conversation on Ethics, Transparency & Open Government, Jan. 31 at The Austin Club

•   A Conversation with Bill Frist, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader, Feb. 1 at The Austin Club

•   A Conversation with Sen. Kel Seliger & Rep. Brooks Landgraf on Feb. 17 at Odessa College – Saulsbury Campus Center

•   A Conversation with Reps. Senfronia Thompson & James White on March 31 at Prairie View A&M University – W.A. Tempton Memorial Student Center