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Dissatisfied with that first draft, the board appointed another panel to review the standards, and this time the lineup was stacked: Three of the six reviewers were well-known creationists, including two who work for the Discovery Institute, the Seattle think tank that promotes intelligent design. And wouldn’t you know it, they reinserted similar language, this time with the word “limitations!’ For Ken Mercer, a board member from San Antonio, it was an issue of academic freedom. “There’s no religious connotation there,” he said. “I took weaknesses to mean academic freedomquestion this, question that.” When another witness, paleontologist Steven Schafersman, pointed out that high school students lack the expertise to critique scientific theory, Mercer was incredulous. “You think students have no business critiquing scientific theories?” he said. “What about academic freedom? What about classroom freedom?” Schafersman, delicately parsing Mercer’s rhetoric, explained there’s a difference between students asking questions in class and students trying to critique evolutionary theory. The board has scheduled a final vote for next March on the science standards that textbook publishers must use for Texas schools. Because the state is the second-largest buyer of textbooks in the nation, publishers use the Texas version in many other states. That means whatever curriculum the board decides to impose will likely be taught all over the country. Dave Mann Baby Steps AFTER HARSH CUTS, CHIP BOUNCES BACK In 2003, the newly elected Republican majority in the Texas Legislature decided to exercise its newfound power by attacking one of state government’s most popular initiatives, the move on that year’s budget deficit, though the reductions didn’t save much money. Still, the GOP leadership instituted cuts that dropped more than 200,000 kids-40 percentfrom the CHIP rolls. This wasn’t exactly farsighted legislating in Texas, where about 20 percent of children lack health insurance, by far the highest percentage in the nation. Now, more than five years later, the program is almost whole again. In October, CHIP enrollment swelled to 465,094, according to figures from the state Health and Human Service Commission. That’s getting close to the 500,000 kids enrolled in September 2003, when the first round of cuts took effect and enrollment began a three-year decline. \(CHIP uses state and federal tax dollars to provide low-cost health insurance to children of working families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private coverCHIP enrollment has spiked sharply in the past 14 months, growing by 165,000 since September 2007, when the program insured just 300,000 children. State officials say the growth is largely due to a bill passed in 2007 by state Rep. Sylvester Turner, a Houston Democrat, that reversed the harshest cuts from 2003. Democrats had been fighting to restore CHIP for years, but the GOP majority had stymied those efforts. In 2007, Turner and a handful of renegade Democrats abandoned their party to support Midland Republican Tom Craddick. The votes of the 15 so-called Craddick Ds handed the Republican a third term as speaker. Craddick then pledged to pass Turner’s CHIP bill. The legislation removed a handful of bureaucratic barriers that the GOP had erected to siphon kids off CHIP. The most influential of these required families to re-enroll in the program every six months. Turner’s bill returned CHIP to yearly renewals. That change has kept many more kids insured. The increase in CHIP enrollment has leveled off in the past three months, though state health officials believe the program will continue to grow steadilybarring any further cuts. Texas still has long way to go: More than 1.7 million children in the state lack health insurance, and more than half of those are eligible for either Medicaid or CHIP, according to state officials, if their parents would simply sign them up. Democrats would like to expand CHIP even more. With a new legislative session starting in January, they will soon get their chance. Dave Mann YOU DON’T SAY: “I understand how Dr. Kevorkian feels at an AARP convention.” GOP pollster and strategist Frank Luntz, as quoted in The New York Times, on presenting his bleak polling data at the recent Republican Governors Association meeting in Miami. 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER NOVEMBER 28, 2008