House OKs $302 billion budget
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The Texas House approved a $302 billion budget last week that included an amendment prohibiting the use of state money on private school tuition — a major setback to Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to establish a school voucher system. The Austin American-Statesman reported that more than 20 Republicans joined nearly all House Democrats to pass the amendment, while 11 lawmakers voted present.
The amendment is seen as a rebuke to Abbott, who has traveled the state pushing what he calls “school choice.”
The amendment’s sponsor, state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, said his proposal to block using public money for private schools boiled down to “public money for public schools.”
The House’s budget now heads to the Senate, which has passed an education reform bill calling for $8,000 in state funding a year for a student who attends a private school. Since that funding is not included in the House budget, the issue could lead to tense conference committee negotiations between the two chambers. Some lawmakers have speculated the conflict could lead to a special called legislative session after the regular term ends on Memorial Day.
Among the highlights of the House budget are record funding increases for public schools and highway construction, as well as raises for state employees.
Controversial electric grid plan passes Senate
The Texas Senate has passed a controversial plan to build more natural gas-powered plants in the state, despite widespread opposition from critics who say the two bills could lead to billions in added costs to customers. The goal of the bills, according to its sponsors, is to avoid another massive power outage such as the one in the winter of 2021 that killed more than 200 people, the Texas Tribune reported.
Houston Chronicle columnist Chris Tomlinson reported that 22 out of 24 people who testified on Senate Bill 6 voiced opposition. The plants would sit idle at least 97% of the time.
“The Association of Electric Companies of Texas found common ground with the Sierra Club. Texas Competitive Power Advocates agreed with the South Texas Electric Cooperative. Energy giant NRG joined the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen in declaring SB 6 a lousy idea,” Tomlinson wrote.
State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, the lead sponsor of both bills, said the measures were “in memory of the hundreds of Texans that died and the millions of Texans that suffered.”
Court rules degrees can be revoked for misconduct
The Texas Supreme Court reversed previous lower-court rulings and ruled last week that Texas universities can revoke previously awarded degrees for academic misconduct, the Statesman reported. The University of Texas at Austin and Texas State University, in separate cases that were consolidated, argued they should be able to revoke doctorate degrees from students who committed academic misconduct to “protect their reputations and the value of degrees conferred upon their students.”
Both cases involved students accused of fabricating data that was discovered after the degrees had been conferred. Both students sued their respective universities after their degrees were revoked.
“The only difference between expelling a current student for academic misconduct and revoking the degree of a former student for the exact same academic misconduct is one of timing,” Justice Debra Lehrmann wrote.