- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Dallas Morning News. Dec. 13, 2014.

Texas missed an opportunity to expand pre-K

There might be no greater step Texas can take to improve education than to expand the availability of quality pre-kindergarten programs.

That’s why the Texas Education Agency’s fumbled attempt to obtain up to $120 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education is so frustrating. The lost opportunity could have improved pre-K opportunities throughout the state.

The program was competitive, no doubt. Just 18 states walked away with a share of the $226 million federal investment over four years.

But it’s clear that Texas’ application was flawed. We probably didn’t have any real shot at the money from the time the application left Austin.

What were the problems? Where do we start? Comments from the federal response include a laundry list of issues.

The state failed to include letters of support from key agencies and stakeholders. The state failed to provide the percentage of eligible children served by pre-K programs. The state failed to explain what role it would play in promoting coordination among providers and stakeholders. The state failed to describe how it would convert half-day into full-day programs.

Education advocates also criticized the state’s decision to include a voucher element in its application, something unlikely to be smiled upon under the current administration. No matter what you think of vouchers, this wasn’t the time or place to push them.

There are any number of reasons this application came up short. This was a complicated effort to win federal funding. There are a lot of moving parts. It isn’t simply about getting school districts on the same page; the state also must pull together dozens of other stakeholders, such as Head Start.

But when it comes to something as important as this, anything less than the state’s absolute best isn’t good enough.

Research has established that every dollar invested in quality prekindergarten programs pays off sevenfold down the road.

Gov.-elect Greg Abbott has made expanding pre-K a key plank of his education effort. This isn’t a left-wing or right-wing issue. It’s simply the smartest place to put limited education dollars.

Like most other states, Texas isn’t adequately funding early childhood education programs. Half-day programs are readily available for 4-year-olds, in Dallas ISD and around the state. But they just don’t have the same impact as full-day programs.

We need to not only implement full-day programs for 4-year-olds but begin to put the structures in place to expand that to 3-year-olds. That’s difficult and expensive. There are questions of classroom capacity, transportation and qualified teachers.

The federal funding would have helped us boost that effort.

It’s not all bad news. Through a separate effort, Texas will get $30 million from the Department of Health and Human Services to expand and improve Head Start programs.

But what we need most is for our school districts to make full-day pre-K available to all eligible children so we can begin education earlier.

That will take money. It’s too bad the state missed a prime opportunity.


Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Dec. 10, 2014.

Most, not all, of Abbott’s priorities are on right track

Gov.-elect Greg Abbott has his unexciting priorities straight, and we are excited. The highlights - funding for roads, water supply and early child education - have zero shock value. They’re just an unadorned repeat of his campaign promises. Texans, whether they’re with or against Abbott, should find his consistency reassuring.

The priorities Abbott announced Monday “may be more exciting to policy wonks than his conservative base,” according to The Associated Press. Color us policy wonks.

Abbott said education is his priority. It should be. He stressed kindergarten through fourth grade, a worthy topic. But we hope to see some serious commitment also to the rest of education, all the way to the graduate level.

Abbott said he’s all about keeping the Texas economy humming. Chronic under-funding of the state’s heavily stressed transportation infrastructure can’t continue or else it will undermine the Texas economy. Abbott said he’ll pump $4 billion a year into transportation funding without raising taxes, tolls or fees. It sounds like a tall order. But voters’ overwhelming passage of Proposition 1 gives him nearly a $2 billion head start in the first year.

Abbott also said he wants to cut taxes. We’re skeptical - not about whether he can or will do it, but whether he should. In this time of surplus, the surplus should be invested in all of the aforesaid - roads, water supply and education - but also a pressing matter that Abbott neglected to mention: health care.

Texas still is the state in which one-fourth of the population is uninsured, Obamacare or no Obamacare. The no-Obamacare agenda pursued by Gov. Rick Perry with a heavy assist from Abbott has helped keep 6 million Texans uninsured. The Medicaid expansion prescribed by Obamacare but thwarted by Perry and Abbott would have insured the uninsured.

The glaring omission of health care notwithstanding, Abbott’s agenda appears refreshingly more committed to governing Texas than politicking. That’s a welcome departure from his predecessor. But there’s one big, expensive, unnecessary political distraction in Abbott’s agenda - a “continuous surge” of law enforcement on the border with Mexico, including 500 new Department of Public Safety troopers.

Texas has been spending millions of dollars on border security in recent months - an estimated $500 million since the border crisis of the summer caused by mostly unaccompanied children from south of Mexico fleeing violence in their countries. Perry, Abbott and other far-right politicians used the influx of thousands of nonthreatening children to play up fears of drug cartel traffic and terrorism. They are wasting state resources under the pretext of securing the border, which Texas is as incapable as the federal government of achieving, if not more so.

Last week Abbott was in Washington, D.C., with other new governors-elect. He made a point of asking Obama administration officials to reimburse Texas for its border security expenses - and got no answer. They shouldn’t give him one. It is a pointless expense, save for the mere opportunity it affords him and Perry to ask that question - and be seen and heard asking it.

Actually, the border surge has another valuable purpose - it creates government-funded jobs whose occupants will know whom to thank come election time. This is an expensive Democrat style of expanding government and creating dependencies. Abbott should recognize it for the trap that it is and abandon it on good Republican principle. He could bank the savings - or spend it on the more worthy priorities he identified (kindergarten, roads, water) and the ones he either glossed over (higher education) or overlooked (health care).


Longview News-Journal. Dec. 14, 2014.

House botches chance for much-needed FOIA reform

It’s difficult to find enough consensuses in Congress these days to wish someone a happy birthday, much less get a unanimous vote on any issue.

And yet the U.S. Senate, split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans, recently had a unanimous vote on a matter of real importance. It was not just a resolution wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, either. It was about the Freedom of Information Act Improvement Act, a bill critical to changing the federal government’s culture of resistance to openness.

In better times, when Congress was a more reasonable and productive place, perhaps such a vote would not be so surprising. Now, any time Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren agree we should all sit up and take notice.

We wish the House of Representatives had, and followed through to send the badly needed measure to the president’s desk.

Alas, that unanimous vote in the Senate was in vain. The House, which had several days to take up the matter, adjourned without considering the bill.

What was the House doing that was so all-important it could not take up a bill improving the public’s access to government? You may have heard: They were dickering over a budget plan to keep the government working for the next fiscal year.

We’re not saying that was unimportant. A federal budget is always important. But the outcome was a foregone conclusion, a deal already forged. Those who opposed the plan - from both the right and the left - were not going to get what they wanted. The best they could do was make the vote close, which they did.

Ultimately, public access to its government will have a more long-lasting effect than the budget for one fiscal year.

As it stands, getting records from the federal government can be more of a challenge than untying the Gordian Knot. Not only is it difficult to get records certified as open to the public, it then can take years to actually receive them. Then, too, they may be subject to heavy redaction.

The Freedom of Information Act improvement law proposed by our own Sen. John Cornyn and supported by Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont would have changed the playing field. With the law’s passage, federal records all would be presumed open unless making them public would be harmful to national security or negotiations between agencies. It also would have closed loopholes on records custodians who try to deny requests and would waive search and copy fees in some instances.

All that would be a huge step toward better government - or could have been.

Leahy blamed House Speaker John Boehner for allowing the bill to die. Because those two are of different parties we aren’t sure of the accuracy of that but it would not surprise us. Boehner’s ham-handed leadership has drawn the considerable ire of those in both major parties.

Open government is not a partisan issue, but considering the Republican House’s frustrations with the White House’s consistent lack of responsiveness, voting for the FOIA Improvement Act should have been a no-brainer.

We’re disappointed the bill didn’t pass. It could have been a rare victory for congressional unity in our politically polarized environment. And it would have been a step toward better government.


Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Dec. 12, 2014.

Texas open carry is shooting itself in the foot: Uncompromising guns rights advocates weaken movement

“Could Texans soon walk around carrying loaded handguns in plain sight?”

So began a Star-Telegram article published in June 2008.

More than six years later, that question remains open.

It’s also top-of-mind for many Texans, including a number of incoming policymakers who have prefiled open-carry bills for consideration during the legislative session that begins in January.

The open carry movement has a particularly strong voice in Tarrant County. In Arlington, members of the group Open Carry Texas have been fighting a city ordinance - with some success so far - that prohibits them from distributing literature at major intersections.

But the group also earned national, albeit negative, publicity when earlier this year several of its members entered fast food restaurants with their long guns, prompting some customers to call police and eventually spurring businesses to adopt policies that prevent patrons from bringing such firearms on the premises.

The fast food incidents also revealed a growing rift in the movement. The National Rifle Association denounced Open Carry Texas’ tactics, calling the display of firearms as a means to attract attention to their cause “downright scary.”

That’s a perspective shared by some of the more moderate Second Amendment groups in Texas that have for years lobbied to allow licensed handgun owners to carry their firearms in public.

Lobbying is less confrontational and usually better-received, although in this case it’s been equally ineffective.

Still, in what is a naked attempt to appeal to the extreme elements of the movement, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, has filed his own legislation to allow the open carry of handguns without a license.

No surprise, that position has the support of Open Carry’s leadership, which also believes that anything less than full, unlicensed open carry significantly compromises constitutional rights.

The all-or-nothing approach is splintering the movement - good news for its opponents.

Even without the movement’s self-destruction, garnering enough support to pass an open-carry bill seems unlikely.

But it doesn’t hurt that its proponents are shooting themselves in the foot.


Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Dec. 14, 2014.

A good case can be made for an honorary degree for Timothy Cole

Timothy Cole was a Texas Tech student in the early 1980s whose bright future turned into a nightmare.

He never had the opportunity to complete his education at Tech. He was arrested and convicted of a sexual assault he didn’t commit and died in prison of complications of asthma.

An online petition has been started requesting Tech posthumously grant him an honorary degree. The idea has merit, but it’s Tech’s call to make, and it may not fall under the guidelines for honorary degrees.

To begin with, the name of the petition - “Demand that Texas Tech University grant a posthumous honorary degree to Timothy Brian Cole” - is unacceptable. Tech wasn’t responsible for Cole’s misfortunes, and no one has a right to demand anything from the university.

A more appropriate way to address it would be: “A respectful request for Texas Tech to grant a posthumous honorary degree.”

The tragic story of Cole is one most Avalanche-Journal readers are familiar with because we covered it first. He was convicted of a crime committed by another man and repeatedly denied his guilt in vain for years.

Even after the true offender admitted he was the rapist, justice was slow in coming.

Cole eventually was cleared by DNA evidence and pardoned for rape, but the exoneration didn’t occur until long after he died in prison.

The Legislature passed a Timothy Cole Exoneration Act and a Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions. The city of Lubbock created a memorial park for him with a bronze statue.

Justice finally came to Timothy Cole. It was too late for him, but his family received it graciously, and the injustice he suffered resulted in improvements to our state’s criminal justice system.

Nonetheless, his once- bright future ended in the bitterness of a prison incarceration, and he never had a chance to prove he deserved a college degree.

Consider this question: If Tim Cole’s college education had not crashed after the arrest and the aftermath that unraveled his life, would he have completed his degree at Tech?

There’s no way to answer such a question for certain, but we think he would have.

Consider it from another perspective: If he had not died in prison and had been justly released after his pardon, would he have returned to college?

He knew the value of an education, and we believe he would have returned and gotten a degree.

That in itself isn’t a reason Tech should honor him. But the university has guidelines for honorary degrees that include these:

- They may be conferred for public service, scholarship or other contributions in the public’s interest.

- They may be given to recognize those persons whose lives serve as examples of the aspirations of TTUS for its students.

Cole was put in a situation almost unimaginable to most people, but he persevered in the ordeal with dignity and grace. He didn’t become bitter but remained positive. That’s a positive example.

And although he wasn’t strictly working in a public service capacity, he inspired state lawmakers to establish legislation providing compensation for exonerees and an advisory panel on wrongful convictions - a contribution in the public’s interest.

His extraordinary circumstances brought about positive change in Texas. They warrant an interpretation of the guidelines that confers him the honor.

We respectfully request Tech grant him a posthumous honorary degree.

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