Texas Senate leaders offer education reforms

David Dewhurst

Credit: WFAA

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst during an interview for "Inside Texas Politics," .

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Associated Press

Posted on December 19, 2012 at 3:31 PM

AUSTIN (AP) — Texas Senate leaders unveiled a package of education reforms that includes an effort to help some public school children attend private schools.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick outlined the proposals Wednesday at a Roman Catholic elementary school in Austin.

The Austin-American Statesman reports that Patrick, a Republican from Houston who became chairman of the education committee in the fall, backs a "tax credit scholarship" for low-income students. His plan provides businesses that donate to private school scholarship programs a credit on what they owe the state in franchise or insurance taxes.

Specifics about the size and cost of the program were still being discussed. Dewhurst said the program would begin potentially as a modest pilot program to prove that it is effective. He added that the program won't take money away from public schools.

Patrick said, "At the end of the day, with a $50 million program or a $100 million program in a $91 billion budget, it is life-changing money for those families. Let's not lose sight of the goal of the mission: that is to make sure that students in poverty in low-performing schools have the same right as any other Texas family."

Bill Hammond, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business, issued a statement applauding the "efforts to increase opportunities for parents to choose the appropriate school for their children."

The Texas State Teachers Association, though, said in a statement that it opposes Patrick's tax credit plan for scholarships to private schools.

"He can call it vouchers or choice or tax credits, but any scheme that diverts state tax dollars to private schools will cost taxpayers money while undermining our public schools," said Rita Haecker, president of the Texas State Teachers Association.

Dewhurst has previously said education will be the "hallmark issue" confronting lawmakers when they reconvene next month in the Capitol.

The Legislature slashed more than $5 billion from public schools to balance the budget in 2011. A better economy and likely surplus has education leaders calling for a reversal of those cuts.

Patrick is also calling for raising the cap on new charter schools and allowing students to transfer to any public school or district.

Addressing school accountability and testing, he is proposing a system of letter grades for measuring school and district performance.

"If you're an F-rated school after two years, you need to be closed down," Patrick said.

Patrick and Dewhurst both endorsed reducing the number of standardized tests a student must pass to graduate, but did not offer any specifics. They also backed giving students more flexibility to pursue career and technology courses.

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