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David Theis Rio Ganges “In languid rich prose …RIO GANGES reminds us how great literature deals with birth, death, and, most importantly, everything in between.” —Austin Chronicle Reading Friday, April 11 7 PM BookPeo s le 111\( i CtillloV’S /7/P-is tolgriNtautu “Powerful….a well-crafted tale of…the short distances between life and death, sanity and madness, in a violent world.” –Dallas Morning News 1-800-853-9757 Capitol Offenses, continued from page 9 also increase. For retirees, not only is the future of their plan imperiled unless a steady flow of increased revenue is forthcoming, the poor actuarial assessment means that the state is forbidden by statute from providing any cost-of-living increases.The TRS actuary has cautioned that retirees might not see increases in pension benefits for the rest of the decade. The week after the appropriations committee approved the recommended cuts teachers and retirees massed at the Capitol to let their feelings be known. In a Monday afternoon rally by the Texas Federation of Teachers, energized educators from around the state gathered to voice their disapproval and vow retribution. Democratic legislators lined up to speak to the boisterous crowd which carried signs that read “no cuts for kids” and “health insurance like the governor has.” Rep. Garnet Coleman bus drivers in attendance for the important work of shepherding kids safely between school and home. But it who, echoing many of his colleagues, had a simple message for the gathered teachers: “For those who are not with you, put them out of office.” Bad Bills, continued from page 12 alone contributed $738,026,000 net to the state economy, according to a recent UT study. Wilson is having none of this. He rejects evidence that Texans don’t want these slots and that foreign students generate revenue for the state. “I can think,” he says. “I know how things are. We ought to be trying to educate our own. We need to open up more spaces for Texans and put an end to subsidizing foreigners.” Home Rule = No Rules HB 859 While school reformers in the Lege tout the wonders of “accountability,” Rep. Jerry Madden’s HB 859 would allow districts to free themselves of state oversight at will. Madden’s bill is a twofer: It streamlines the process by which districts declare themselves “homerule,” while exempting home-rule districts from state education standards on class-size limits, curriculum, and graduation requirements. And teacher certification. And special education. And gifted and talented programs. The bill’s defenders invoke the familiar rhetoric of local controlthe districts know what is best for their own kids, gosh darn it. But with the state’s crushing testing system still dictating what teachers teach and students learn, the only ones reaping the benefits of newfound freedom would be school boardsfreedom to save money by expanding class sizes, freezing teacher pay, hiring unqualified staff, and slashing enriched curriculum. The original home-rule legislation passed with other charter school legislation in 1995 but the process put in place for obtaining a home-rule charter was tortuous enough that none have ever been granted. A bill pushed at the time by Rep. Kent Grusendorf, current chair of the Public Education Committee, would have made the charters easier to obtain. Grusendorf’s bill died in committee. Madden’s bill is a reincarnation of this. Madden says he believes administrators will do what is best for students and teachers without state oversight. “There’s some people who do not have the reliance on their local school boards that I have,” Madden says. “I trust that they will do the right thing.” His faith may be misplaced. Non-home-rule charter schools have a poor record in Texas. On average, teachers at campus-level charter schools get paid $10,000 less than public school teachers, and turnover rates are nearly three times as high. Standardized test scores for charter school students hover about thirty points lower than public school students’ scores. 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3/28/03