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T HE TEXAS server FEBRUARY 24, 1995 VOLUME 87, No. 4 FEATURES Arsenic and Old Lakes By Carol Countryman 6 Access through the Lobby By Robert Bryce 14 DEPARTMENTS Editorial Tort Deform; School Fight 23 Jim Hightower NAFTA line; Nukes & Nevada Bad Dog; Big Thieves Molly Ivins Bananas, Bullock and. Bailout 5 Legislative Observer 13 Las Americas Quixotic Revolution By Barbara Belejack 18 Books and the Culture Llory Wilson’s lush mechanique Dance review by Ann Daly 20 Afterword Beware the Internewt By Alessandra Lipucci 22 Political Intelligence 24 Cover art by Valerie Fowler STATE EDUCATION CODE faces massive rewrite this spring, and legislators are working to write Governor George W. Bush’s call for home rule and private school vouchers into the new law. Also, three religious-right Republicans were elected to the,State Board of Education on a platform of ridding the public schools of homosexuals, social workers and other secular humanists, and they will test the conservative ideology of the new Republican majority on the 15-member board. The Texas Education Code is repealed as of September as part of the Sunset process. That means educators will have to fight to maintain every progressive program that has been wrestled through the Legislature in the past 20 years. Nothing is taken for granted, from teacher certification .to whether schools should have “frills” such as health offices or art classes. Bill Ratliff, RMount Pleasant and chair of the Senate Education Committee, unveiled a 1,088-page bill that, among other things, sets up “free schools” that would accept vouchers from disadvantaged students. Three House members have filed a separate bill to allow as many as 60 school districts to offer vouchers for disadvantaged students to attend private schools. Bush also has called for home rule, which would reduce the role of the Texas Education Agency and give local school boards more leeway in setting their own standards. Ratliff’s SB 1 would strip the central agency of much of its authority, including selection of public school textbooks and teacher certification. The TEA and the state board would administer standardized tests, intervene in school districts where students do not measure up and oversee the distribution of state and federal funds. Local districts would make their own textbook choices. The Legislative Budget Board already has asked the TEA to cut its staff by 30 percent, although lame-duck Education Commissioner Lionel “Skip” Meno said such a reduction would put the state out of compliance with federal regulations. The new Republican majority on the board is due to re., place Meno in March, with the pick subject to Governor Bush’s approval. John Cole, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers, said his organization will have its hands full working to keep education programs such as the 22:1 studentteacher ratio in early grades, kindergarten and limited English proficiency programs. “We’re going to be obsessed with trying to get back the parts of the education code that are vitally important and at the same time prevent the dismantling of the public school system with things like the voucher program,” he said. STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION showed some independence February 10 after conservative Republicans on the Committee on Students called a rump meeting while moderate members waited for Chairman Jack Christie, R-Houston, to decide on a committee membership question. Donna Ballard, R-Woodlands, had been elected chair of the Committee on Students while Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, and Geraldine Miller, a moderate Dallas Republican and incumbent chair of the Committee on Students, were down the hall awaiting a decision on a request by Rosie Sorrells, D-Dallas, to transfer from the Committee on Personnel to Studentg. Only later did Berlanga find out that Christie had told the Republicans who were in a temporary majority on the students’ committee to proceed with their organizational meeting while Berlanga and Miller were diverted. When Berlanga later challenged the election of Ballard, since the committee meeting was not called to order by the committee chair, Christie affirmed Ballard’s election but the full board voted 8-7 to set it aside because it took place in an unofficial meeting. Christie later denied he was aligned with any faction and he said he was still undecided on whether he would let Sorrells switch committees. Berlanga said the vote to overturn the Students Committee chair election shows a majority of board members are independent. “I think everybody’s going to be pleasantly surprised that the majority of board members have minds of their own and are not going to be dictated to. It’s not going to be a one-sided agenda.” ECENTLY SEVERAL organizations at are interested in countering the far right movement in Texas announced the for mation of the Texas Freedom Alliance \(call in Austin, Michael Hudson, western regional director of People For the American Way, warned that the religious right was building its grassroots base across Texas. After practi cally taking over the Republican Party in the past few years the religious right is setting its sights on integrating the Democratic Party, Hudson said. Using wedge issues such as gay and lesbian and reproductive rights, school choice and prayer, the Christian Coalition and allied groups are building a grassroots movement and Hudson warned moderates and progressives not to believe that the movement would self-destruct. Activists were divided over how to deal with the right-wing movement. A Colorado campaign consultant outlined successful campaigns that tied religious-right legislative candidates in a Denver suburb to televangelist Pat Robertson and the Texas Democratic Party has started an effort to debunk right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh. Mary Perkins, a moderate Lufkin Democrat, lost a State Board of Education election to Ballard after Perkins was depicted as a liberal who supported handing out condoms and teaching kids about homosexuality. Perkins said identifying the religious right with Robertson and Limbaugh would backfire in East Texas. “Pat Robertson is the most popular person in East Texas and Rush Limbaugh is the second most popular, as far as I can tell,” Perkins said. J.C. School Fights THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3