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  • TEA suspends letter-grading system

    TEA GraphicFILE PHOTO TEA Graphic

    STAAR test will still commence, according to agency

    By Chris Edwards

    AUSTIN – The Texas Education Agency announced on Thursday, Dec. 10, that it will pause its A-F accountability ratings for the current school year.

    The ratings system, which has been in place since 2018, is being paused due to the ongoing disruptions associated with COVID-19, according to a news release from the agency. On the other hand, the STARR test will proceed for the school year “In order to provide critically important information about individual student learning that teachers and parents can use to help students grow,” according to TEA.

    The letter grade accountability system, which was adopted statewide after being passed into law by the 85th Texas Legislature, gives each school district a letter grade based on a number of criteria. The practice came with controversy from many educators and officials, but proponents argued that the system makes for a simple, transparent way for the public to understand how effective schools are.

    “The issuance of A-F ratings for schools has proven to be a valuable tool to support continuous improvement for our students,” said TEA Commissioner Mike Morath.

    Morath said that the past nine months have been “some of the most disruptive of our lives,” as educators and administrators have struggled to find ways to keep students learning while continuing to try and curb the spread of the coronavirus. “The challenges have been especially pronounced for our parents, teachers and students. We continue to prioritize the health and safety of students, teachers and staff in our schools this year, while working to ensure students grow academically,” Morath said.

    Although the letter grades will be paused this year and the STAAR testing will continue, Morath said the STAAR will not be used toward accountability purposes for this school year.

    Morath said the test will serve as a comprehensive picture to demonstrate what might be sweeping impacts of the pandemic upon student learning, and to help policymakers craft solutions for the coming years ahead.

    Morath said in the news release that the test will be administered on school campuses statewide, or at other secure alternative testing sites.

    During the summer, a large group of state lawmakers asked Gov. Greg Abbott and TEA to suspend STAAR testing to some degree. One of the lawmakers who spoke out was State Rep. James White (R-Hillister.)

    White, a former educator, said that the first concern for educators should be for the students’ safety and health, and that any rating based on STAAR testing during the current school year would provide questionable results.

    “The Legislature did not devise the current accountability system in the paradigm of a pandemic that has created a bifurcated instructional delivery system…with vast swathes of rural Texas disconnected from the 21st century means of global connectivity,” White wrote in a letter to Morath dated July 16, 2020.

  • White bills address firearms, ballots, and cannabis

    Jas WhiteFILE PHOTO State Representative James White (R-Hillister)

    By Chris Edwards

    AUSTIN – It has been a week of legislative triumphs for State Rep. James White (R-Hillister.) A bill that White had a hand in writing pertaining to Constitutional Carry of firearms passed out of the House of Representatives. Another White bill, which would require electronic voting machines to produce a traceable paper ballot also passed to go to the Committee on Calendars.

    White’s House Bill 1927, if passed into law, will allow Texans to carry handguns without requiring a license to carry. That bill gained initial approval from the House on Thursday with a vote of 84-56, with most of the House GOP voting in favor and seven Democrats voting for it.

    White issued a joint statement with the bill’s co-author Rep. Matt Schaefer on HB 1927, which featured comments from several LTC instructors in support of the bill. According to White’s statement, opponents of the bill “are pushing a false narrative that these bills would ‘dismantle’ Texas’ License to Carry law,” which White says is untrue.

    “Experience shows that residents will continue to voluntarily seek out training and licenses in permitless carry states, recognizing the benefits of instruction as well as acquiring and maintaining a license,” White said.

    The bill will allow Texas residents, aged 21 and up, to carry without a permit as long as they are not otherwise prohibited by state or federal law from possessing a firearm.

    HB 1708, which is the bill White penned pertaining to electronic voting machines, passed out of a House Committee on Elections with a vote of 8-1 on Wednesday. If the bill is passed into law, starting on Sept. 1 of this year, electronic voting machines that do not produce a paper ballot record cannot be purchased in Texas.

    Another bill that White had a hand in writing would reduce the penalties for the possession of cannabis. HB 3772 is scheduled for a hearing on Monday, April 19 before the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

    The bill would reduce criminal penalties for low-level possession of cannabis flower and THC concentrates. It would classify the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana as a Class C misdemeanor and allow for the expunction of a paraphernalia charge if it is dismissed.

  • White makes statement on light rail project

    JasWhite 102220BETH FAIRCLOTH | TCB State Representative James White (R-Hillister) speaksto the Tyler County Republican Women group last Thursday at the group’s monthly meeting. Terri Simpson (left) and Kathy Hodges-Spoon (middle) of TCRW listen to White.

    By Chris Edwards

    AUSTIN – Rep. James White (R-Hillister) is one of several Texas lawmakers who are urging Gov. Greg Abbott to ignore “misinformation” about a proposed high-speed rail project.

    The project, which would be under the oversight of the Federal Railroad Administration, if brought to fruition, is a proposed 240-mile high-speed railway system to travel between the Dallas and Houston metropolitan areas, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. In a TxDOT news release, a private entity, Texas Central Railway (TCR) is funding and developing an environmental study for the project.

    White said that the project does not have any permits, at present, to begin construction, and also lacks public support.

    White and several other members of the Texas House of Representatives sent a letter to Abbott last week with their concerns about the project. The letter claims that information available about the project features “inaccurate talking points and promotion of ideas consistent with the liberal Green New Deal.”

    The Green New Deal, which White referenced, is a proposed package of federal legislation aiming to address climate change and economic inequality.

    Another concern White addressed, which constituents have shared with him, is that eminent domain might be used to strip them from their land and homes. “Judges have already blocked the use of eminent domain and county elected officials have publicly denounced the project,” White said.

    “We don’t need Japan building our infrastructure, or taxpayer-funded boondoggles such as the Green New Deal on Texas soil,” he said.

    Opponents of the proposed high-speed rail have also referenced a letter Abbott wrote to the Japanese Prime Minister praising the project and offering his full support as governor. “I am hopeful that final negotiations of this project with Japan can be concluded so that construction can begin,” Abbott wrote.

    A group calling itself Texans Against High-Speed Rail cited both Abbott’s letter to the Prime Minister of Japan and the legislators’ letter to Abbott in a Facebook post, and stated that the legislators who signed the letter “will be strong advocates” for transparency with regard to the project.

    White said the governor is reviewing the accuracy and legitimacy of the project. “I urge the governor to listen to my fellow legislators and hear our concerns about protecting Texans’ private property rights from foreign governments,” White said.

    According to TxDOT the project, as well as the Dallas-Fort Worth Core Express and Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study may provide alternative methods of transportation within corridors that are experiencing increased congestion due to continued population growth.

  • White takes proposed bills to task

    Jas White 110719CHRIS EDWARDS | PCPC State Rep. James White (R-Hillister) is shown speaking before the Woodville Rotary Club in November 2019.

    By Chris Edwards

    State Representative James White (R-Hillister) recently spoke out about some bill proposals up for consideration in the next legislation.

    The 87th Texas Legislature will not gavel in until January of 2021, but state lawmakers have had the opportunity to file bills since November. White recently took three of the proposed bills to task and called them “assaults on liberty.”

    The bills in question, House Bill 238, HB 185 and HB 196, all filed by Rep. Terry Meza (D-Irving) primarily deal with firearms-related issues, and White, in a news release, said the bills are “disrespectful, immoral and unconstitutional to freedom-loving and law-abiding Texans from the Sabine to the trans-Pecos; from the Texas Panhandle to the South Texas Plain.”

    HB 238, looks to repeal the state firearms pre-emption law and allow local governments to restrict guns as they please. HB 185, seeks to mandate firearms to be stored in locked gun cases, safes or cabinets, and would make failure to do so a criminal act.

    HB 196 was filed to modify the “castle doctrine,” which gives residents the right to use deadly force to protect their “land or tangible, movable property,” according to the Texas Penal Code. The bill looks to modify the requirement that homeowners not be able to safely retreat before deploying deadly force. It also seeks to remove robbery and aggravated robbery as crimes that can be legally stopped with deadly force.

    Meza’s bill to modify “castle doctrine” has already caused a stir. She claimed on Twitter that the bill has been misrepresented in news outlets. “While theft is obviously wrong, we have laws to address that. I don’t believe that stealing someone’s lawn ornament should be an offense punishable by death” she posted in a Nov. 19 tweet.

    Gov. Greg Abbott responded to Meza’s tweet by stating that “We won’t force Texas homeowners to retreat…homeowners need to protect themselves now more than ever.”

    White said that many of his constituents have expressed concern about firearms-related legislation. “None of these bills address any concerns with mass shootings,” White said. “The put more law-abiding citizens in danger, subject them to civil litigation and criminal prosecution.”

    Although thousands of bills typically get filed during a legislative year, only a fraction of them usually make it through the state House and Senate to find their way to Abbott in order to be signed into law.

    White, who serves as chair of the corrections committee in the state legislature, and also serves as part of the redistricting and judiciary and civil jurisprudence committees, has authored or sponsored several bills in advance of the coming session.

    One bill that has White’s authorship is a property tax reform bill, HB 529, which would cap year-to-year appraisal increases at 2.5%. Currently the limit on increases is 10%.