- Associated Press - Sunday, April 12, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The House’s top education leader is focused on school finance, promoting a $3 billion plan to overhaul the way Texas distributes classroom funding.

In the Senate, it’s all about “school choice,” with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick pushing a school voucher plan to let parents get state money to remove students from struggling public schools and send them to private alternatives.

Something will have to give.

House Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock’s proposed school finance fix comes amid a lawsuit during which Texas’ classroom funding was declared unconstitutionally inadequate and unfairly distributed. The case is now before the state Supreme Court on appeal.

Aycock says he can nonetheless steer the plan through the House. But the Senate may be wary given the ongoing case - especially with the June 1 end of the legislative session only seven weeks away.



Meanwhile, a major school voucher plan sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor should hit the floor and easily pass this week. It’ll face a far rockier road in the House, though, where Democrats and moderate Republicans have traditionally teamed up to keep public funding exclusively with public schools.

Could a swap be in the works that lets the House get school finance and the Senate see vouchers? Elders in both chambers insist the issues are too big to bargain with and that it’s too early to even begin whispering about doing so. For now, at least.

Here are other key things to look for this week at the Texas Capitol:

HIGH SCHOOL HEART SCREENINGS: A bipartisan bill requiring that high school athletes have electrocardiogram heart screenings as part of the physicals they undergo to participate in sports is up for debate on the House floor Monday. The proposal is designed to prevent sudden cardiac arrest from heart abnormalities that can occur in young people on the field but often aren’t detected in traditional physicals.

FRACKING BAN BACKLASH: Set to hit the House floor Tuesday is a much-watched bill prohibiting cities from banning hydraulic fracturing - though it would still allow ordinances related to some surface oil and natural gas exploration operations. The bill’s author, Energy Resources Committee Chairman Drew Darby, softened an original, stricter proposal amid staunch opposition from major municipal lobbies. Still, the bill would wipe out an ordinance in the North Texas city of Denton, where residents approved a fracking ban in November. Opponents of the proposal say it’s hypocritical for top Republicans to decry federal government overreach, only to use the Legislature to override local voters’ wishes. Darby’s measure is expected to pass, though.

SANCTUARY CITIES: A GOP-backed immigration plan may hit the Senate floor this week, and should be approved despite staunch opposition from Democrats and Hispanic advocacy groups. The term “sanctuary city” has no legal meaning but typically describes local governments that forbid police from asking about a person’s immigration status. Lubbock Republican Sen. Charles Perry’s bill would ban local governments from implementing such policies.

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