State Representative Chris Turner

Still time to get this right

chrishskidsWe have just four weeks to go in this legislative session. However, with nearly $11.8 billion projected to be in the Rainy Day Fund, there is still time for the Legislature to make smart investments in our state’s future. That’s why, alongside many of my colleagues, I have stepped up the pressure to fully restore the $5.4 billion that was cut from our public schools last session.

It should come as no surprise that we are juggling several different priorities as a state. Water and transportation continue to be critical. However, our children and our public schools remain, and should remain, our number one priority.

According to a study conducted by the National Education Association that was released in February 2013, Texas has dropped to 49th in per pupil instructional (classroom) spending as a result of the $5.4 billion in public education cuts, leaving the state roughly $3,000 below the national average. In March of 2013, the Texas Education Agency released school district employment figures.  Over the past year, more than 25,000 school district employees lost their jobs — 11,000 of them teachers.  That is 25,000 families that lost a breadwinner and 11,000 classrooms without an instructor.

The situation faced in our classrooms is no less dire now that it was when we started this session, or when we were on the campaign trail. State legislators made a commitment to their constituents to get this right.

To date, the House has passed proposals that only restore 55 cents on the dollar from what was cut in 2011. Specifically, the House-passed budget restores $2.5 billion for public schools over the next biennium. As you may know, I could not support this version of the budget because it did not fully fund public schools. An additional $500 million was appropriated just last week, but even still, this leaves funding $2.4 billion short. That is just not good enough — not for our kids, their parents or our teachers.

Water is indeed critical and transportation absolutely needs to be addressed. But so do our kids and their future. I have not and will not waver in my belief that our top priority must be to restore funding for public education. There is no reason at all why we can’t make smart investments in our children, who are vital to our state’s future. With four weeks left, there is still time to get this right.

 

April 9, 2013 Comments are off Admin2

A Step in the Right Direction

hb5tHB 5 is a step in the right direction.

I was proud to co-author and support HB 5, which passed in the Texas House of Representatives with nearly unanimous support. This piece of legislation offers meaningful solutions to key issues facing our state’s public high schools and students.

HB 5 reduces the number of end of course assessments from 15 to five, creates one standard diploma that allows every student the opportunity to apply to a four-year university in Texas, encourages students to pursue diploma endorsements in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and business, as well as arts and humanities. It also broadens school ratings so that factors other than standardized tests will contribute to measuring a school’s performance.

I am pleased that three amendments I proposed were added to HB 5. One will give special education teachers more one-on-one time to spend with their students, rather than prepping for tests. Another amendment promotes dual credit for career and technical education students to put towards an associate’s degree or a licensing certification. Finally, I offered an amendment that prohibits individuals connected with or paid by test vendors from serving on Texas Education Agency assessment committees. These are committees responsible for setting testing standards.

While there are many other issues that need to be addressed when it comes to our state public education system, such as fully restoring the $5.4 billion in cuts to public schools, HB 5 is a step in the right direction .

Turner & Van De Putte File Legislation to Address Hazlewood Funding

AUSTIN − State Representative Chris Turner (HD 101 – Grand Prairie) and state Senator Leticia Van de Putte (SD 26 – San Antonio) have filed identical measures aimed at addressing concerns raised by some Texas universities regarding the expense of Hazlewood, the state’s veteran higher education financial aid program. The legislation would allow schools to use “B-On-Time” funds that are not utilized at the institution at which they are collected to offset that school’s Hazlewood and Hazlewood Legacy tuition exemption programs.

“Hazlewood represents a solemn promise from the state of Texas to our veterans and their families and our legislation is aimed at keeping that promise,” Turner said. “By allowing our state’s colleges and universities to utilize unused B-On-Time funds that are currently being transferred back to the state to instead offset Hazlewood costs, we will strengthen our veterans benefits and help our colleges and universities.”

“The first and foremost consideration is that we help the 1% who defend our freedoms and have earned their Hazlewood benefits,” Senator Van de Putte said. “It makes sense to give schools the flexibility to utilize monies already appropriated for their campuses before looking at additional state dollars. This bill will help our universities do the right thing for our veterans and their families.”

HB 3265 (Turner) and SB 1543 (Van de Putte) would permit state institutions to retain unused tuition funds designated for the “B-On-Time” loan program. The unused funds will be used to cover the cost of Hazlewood and Hazlewood Legacy exemptions, as well as other financial aid programs at that university. These measures would ensure that leftover funds stay with the institution at which they were collected, rather than be sent to other institutions, as is the current practice.

March 5, 2013 Comments are off Admin2

One-time Use

It’s no secret that our public schools face a lot of challenges right now.

The Legislature cut $5.4 billion in education funding last session, and even though a state judge has recently ruled our school finance system unconstitutional, the Republican leadership isn’t exactly rushing to put more money into education.

While the debate about school funding goes unresolved, there are some other education-related issues getting quite a bit of attention right now. For example, school security has been in the news since the tragedy at Sandy Hook — unfortunately, most of the ideas proposed in Austin so far have to do with getting more guns in schools.

There is also a renewed emphasis on providing students more options in school, so that there are sound career and technology offerings, as well. Good idea, but good programs don’t come for free — they take an investment in infrastructure and equipment that many schools simply don’t have the money for.

So that’s why  I introduced two bills last week that would allocate a small portion of the Rainy Day Fund for one-time grants for school security upgrades and career and technology education equipment, for a total of $500 million. This is just over four percent of the $12 billion that is projected to be in the Rainy Day Fund at the end of the next biennium.

These bills would give schools some of the resources they so badly need to protect their students and better train and educate our future workforce.

Two years ago, Democrats called for using the Rainy Day Fund to lessen the impact of school budget cuts. Governor Perry and other Republican leaders said that was not an option — the Rainy Day Fund was only for “one-time use,” not recurring expenses. Now, this is a novel theory that is highly debatable, but assuming we accept it for argument’s sake, here are a couple of relatively small “one-time” expenditures from the Rainy Day Fund to help our schools.

Governor Perry and others have lately been promoting the “one-time use” of $2 billion of the Rainy Day Fund to pay for water infrastructure projects. That’s an important issue, and we’ll see what kind of proposal eventually comes up in the House. But if we can spend billions on new pipelines and reservoirs, surely we can spend millions on keeping our kids safe at school and broadening their educational opportunities.

As I told the Star-Telegram last week, what better one-time expense would there be than to make our schools safer?

 

State Representative Chris Turner

Chris Turner Seeks Funds to Boost School Security, Improve Technical Training

BY DAVE MONTGOMERY | Star-Telegram

AUSTIN — Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie is proposing a half-billion-dollar drawdown from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help school districts beef up security and bolster technical training.

The Tarrant County Democrat introduced HB 1770 that would authorize spending $250 million from the Rainy Day Fund to establish a grant program that school districts would use to improve security. HB1771 proposes an identical amount from the fund to help schools buy equipment for career and technology education courses.

School security has emerged as a high priority in the 2013 Legislature after the slaying of 20 children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Conn., in mid-December.

While some lawmakers have advocated placing armed guards in schools, Turner said his measure would be aimed at “equipment and infrastructure,” such as installing security cameras or strengthening door locks. In school districts that have campus police departments, it could also be used for purchases such as additional vehicles or two-way radios, Turner said.

Turner said both of his measures fully comply with Gov. Rick Perry’s admonition that drawdowns from the Rainy Day Fund should be used only for one-time expenditures, rather than recurring expenses.

“What better one-time expenses would there be than to help our school districts upgrade their security and make our schools safer,” said Turner, who represents House District 101 in eastern Tarrant County.

Turner said his second bill is designed to expand technical training at a time when businesses are calling for more emphasis on educational programs to help fill what they say is a critical shortage of skilled workers.

The intent of HB 1771, Turner said, would be to nurture programs such as those at Mansfield’s Ben Barber Career Tech Academy, which offers training in diverse fields such as auto mechanics, culinary arts, drafting, electronics, health and agriculture.

“We’ll be working this hard over the next couple of months,” Turner said after introducing the measures.

RAINY DAY FUNDING

Perry has traditionally been resistant to drawing money from the Rainy Day Fund, also known as the Economic Stabilization Fund, saying that the pool of money should be used only for one-time investments and emergency expenditures, and not for helping offset budget shortages.

In what seemed like a softening of his stance, Perry this year has proposed spending a total of $4.7 billion from the fund, including $3.7 billion for transportation and water. Part of his proposed withdrawal would also help pay for $1.8 billion in tax relief.

State Comptroller Susan Combs has projected that fund will have nearly $12 billion at the end of the next two-year budget cycle as a result of the state’s rebound from the national recession. The fund is supported by oil and gas revenue.

Turner said his bill on school security is “very broadly written” and would give districts plenty of flexibility in proposing how to use the money. The Dallas Independent School District, for example, has recently proposed spending $4.6 million to install cameras, buzzers and electronic readers at elementary schools.

Under the bills, districts would apply for the grants with the Texas Education Agency. The agency would then make the awards based on a district’s need, financial condition and likely effectiveness of the proposed plan.

State Representative Chris Turner

Public Education

public_ed

Politicians in Austin talk a lot about education, but they have repeatedly failed students, parents and teachers. Texas ranks last in the country in the percentage of population over the age of 25 with a high school diploma and 47th in SAT scores, while our dedicated public school teachers are paid well below the national average.

Chris will fight to change this and make public education a top priority for Texas.

The last legislative session cut public education funding by more than $5 billion last year – a staggering cut that harms millions of school children across Texas. Chris will work to reverse these cuts and implement a more fair and better financed public education system for all Texas children.

Chris also believes we must reform the school accountability system that has become entirely too dependent on standardized tests. There is entirely too much “teaching to the test” in Texas and we need to lessen the emphasis on standardized testing in the classroom.

 

State Representative Chris Turner

Higher Education

collegeMaking college more affordable and accessible to every Texan is one of Chris’s top priorities. Rising tuition costs and reduced financial aid opportunities have closed the door of opportunity to too many Texans. Chris will work to increase the Texas Grant program, which made college financial aid available for an additional 24,000 middle-class Texas families in 2010-2011.

Chris co-authored legislation that opens the door for “emerging research universities,” such as the University of Texas at Arlington, to become a “Top Tier” research university. Chris wrote and passed the law requiring all Texas colleges and universities to have a financial aid specialist trained on the GI Bill and the Hazlewood Act.

In the last five years, tuition rates at Texas colleges and universities have risen over 40% because of the actions of the state legislature. The result has been that the dream of a college education has been priced out of the reach of many deserving, middle class students. Chris will work to open the doors of Texas colleges to all students who have worked hard and proven themselves.

Vouchers

After the Legislature slashed $5.4 billion from public schools last year, a reasonable person might have thought, “Well, at least it can’t get any worse.”

Guess what? Apparently, it can.

Republicans in Austin, including Governor Perry and Lt. Governor Dewhurst, have declared that “school choice” is a top priority for them next session. Let’s be clear what so-called school choice is: it’s stealing precious tax dollars from cash-starved public schools and diverting them to private schools, which get to pick and choose which students they educate.

Public dollars should be for public schools. Period.

It’s hard to fathom why Republican leaders think vouchers are a good idea, especially in the aftermath of the devastating budget cuts in the last session. Saturday, I participated in Arlington ISD’s Operation Graduation for the third year in a row. I spent the morning with two AISD teachers and one counselor. I asked them what the Legislature’s top education priority should be next session. Unanimously, it was more funding – funding so they can hire more teachers and reduce class size. One of the teachers taught junior high – she has about 35 kids in her classes. The other taught sixth grade; she has about 32 students.

That’s simply unacceptable. And we’re not going to be able to do much about it if we don’t reverse the budget cuts, get more teachers into the classrooms and keep up with our state’s continued enrollment growth. And we won’t accomplish that by taking money out of public schools to fund private school vouchers.

As I have said throughout the last 14 months of this campaign, I am running for the Legislature to make our public schools a priority in our state budget. That includes standing up against private school vouchers, and that’s exactly what I will do in Austin.

Texas-OU Kickoff/Birthday Event Coming Up!

Click the image to RSVP

Our big fundraiser to kick off Texas/OU weekend and yes, mark my 40th birthday, is coming up on October 11th. If you haven’t yet, please take a minute to contribute and join our host committee. It will be a fun evening with good friends, and I hope you can be there. Your support will help us get out the vote in this critical election. Hope to see you on October 11th!

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