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THE STATE OF TEXAS Fatal Crashes by Road Type U.S & STATE HIGWAYS 1,210 FARM TO MARKET 587 CITY STREETS 572 INTERSTATE HIGHWAY 453 Source: Texas Department of Public Safety, 2008 statistics released in July 2010 to public schools. This meeting, unlike the May debates on the state social studies standards, didn’t feature crowds of T-shirt-clad activists or national news cameramen. Nuts-and-bolts financial issues evidently don’t bring the crowds like a culture-war skirmish. But for Texas’ 120,000 charter school students, the board’s discussion had huge implications. On a 7-6 vote, the board approved investing $100 million of the $22 billion Permanent School Fund into charter school facilities. Charter schools have been receiving some state money, but about $1,000 per student below what traditional schools get and charters haven’t previously received any state money for buying or renting facilities. The new plan, proposed by socially conservative Republican David Bradley, would use school-fund dollars to buy buildings and rent them to charters. It could be a great deal for the schools, allowing them access to subsidized facilities and freeing up money to spend on teachers and materials. But the move might be beyond the board’s purview. The Texas Constitution makes the board responsible for the health of the Permanent School Fund, which means it is supposed to grow the fund’s investments, not help the charterschool movement. The board’s investments must have a reasonable rate of return, and charter schools are seen as risky investments at besthence their trouble getting loans in the first place. Those opposing the plana coalition of Democrats, moderate Republicans and the socially conservative Republican chair Gail Lowesay that the investments might hurt the fund and inspire litigation from districts or parents. The attorney general’s office will provide a legal opinion about the plan before it goes into effect, which could take six months. Since the board has yet to make the request, it’s unlikely anything will happen before the 2011 legislative session ends. Most members hope the Legislature will create new programs to help charter schools through guaranteed bonds or allotments, rendering the investments unnecessary. Whatever ultimately happens, the board has proved again that it is eager to extend its power into areas well beyond its mandate. ABBY RAPOPORT BUDGET WATCH Mental LEON EVANS IS USED TO DOING MORE WITH LESS. BUT WITH the state facing an estimated $18 billion budget shortfall, even Evans is dreading the spending cuts to come. Evans runs the Center for Health Care Services, the local mental health authority in San Antonio. The people who operate public mental health clinics in Texas have to be efficient, and Evans has become creative at finding ways to treat as many people as possible. The state provides the Center for Health Care Services enough money to treat about 4,200 patients each month. The center stretches those funds to serve more than 6,000 clients. Still, it’s not even close to meeting demand. Thousands with severe mental illnesses go without treatment. The center has also worked with hospitals and law enforcement to create some of the most innovative jail-diversion programs in the country. Those programs combined keep about 1,000 people a month out of the Bexar County jail, placing them in treatment programs instead. Those innovative programs, which save taxpayer money, are now at risk. “Taxpayers end up paying anyway,” Evans said. “If you can’t deliver services one way, then [people] end up going to emergency rooms and to jails and eventually to prison if they don’t get mental health and substance abuse treatment.” It’s too soon to know how looming budget cuts will affect Evans’ operation. In 2003, the last time there was a large budget gap, the center lost $6 million. Evans’ state funding still hasn’t rebounded to its pre-2003 levels, though he raised money from local government to increase staff. He expects this budget downturn to be even worse. “When there are cuts across the board, the demand for services goes up. I hate to say it, but we’re going to have to prioritize more who we serve. That’s a shame. There aren’t going to be any good choices.” DAVE MANN DEPT. OF IMMIGRATION Locked Up BARACK OBAMA PROMISED HOPE AND CHANGE DURING HIS campaignand, more specifically, “comprehensive immigration reform”but his administration has maintained the status quo of punishing and jailing people for minor immigration offenses instead of simply deporting them. Prosecutions are at historic highs. In April alone, there were 10,119 immigration-related prosecutions, mostly for the petty offense of crossing the border without authorization. That’s a 142 percent increase from just five years ago. Federal courts along the border are “bogged down with those sorts of cases,” said Lee Teran, who teaches at the immigration law clinic at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio. “Federal judges have complained that that’s all they do.” The goal is to deter deported immigrants from immediately trying to re-enter the country, but it may be hurting other law-enforcement efforts; for instance, the number of drug, firearms and trafficking cases is declining. A report by the progressive nonprofit Grassroots Leadership quotes federal public NCE READ more about the Center for Health Care Services at tx1o.comichcs AUGUST 06, 2010 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 1 3