News Briefs: First 10-1 election is history, & Volunteers send books to Texas inmates

KLRU News Briefs

On Saturday during PBS NewsHour, we have a rundown of Austin’s new 10-1 City Council. Most of the council races, plus the race for Austin Mayor, were forced to runoffs. Tuesday night was election night. The final makeup of the council will be:

Mayor: Steve Adler
District 1Ora Houston
District 2Delia Garza
District 3: Sabino “Pio” Renteria
District 4Greg Casar
District 5Ann Kitchen
District 6Don Zimmerman
District 7Leslie Pool
District 8: Ellen Troxclair
District 9: Kathie Tovo
District 10Sherri Gallo

Our Sunday story is about the Inside Books Project. Volunteers for Inside Books read letters from Texas inmates, in which the prisoners request certain books to be sent to them. Volunteers send the books back, along with a handwritten letter. There are more than 140,000 people incarcerated in Texas. You can watch that story in the video below.

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour Weekend, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 6:30pm. 

 

Texas Tribune Previews Legislature’s Public School Priorities

EARLY COLLEGE HIGH FOR AIR

This story comes from our partners at The Texas Tribune. As part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative, we are seeking a clearer understanding of factors impacting our region’s dropout rate and convening organizations sharing common goals to increase graduation rates.  

For Public Schools, What to Watch in Next Session

by Morgan Smith, The Texas Tribune

When Texas lawmakers come back to Austin in January, there will be a new governor who touts public schools as a top priority, and plenty of money in the state bank account. But that doesn’t mean everything will go smoothly as the 84th Legislature navigates public education policy.

Here are five things to watch when the legislative session gets underway:

Education Committee Shuffling: Whomever Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick appoints to fill his spot leading the Senate Education Committee — Larry Taylor, Kelly Hancock and Donna Campbell are possible contenders — will wield considerable control over which education bills do and don’t get hearings. Patrick could also opt to combine the chamber’s higher and public education committees, another move that could affect how quickly and easily legislation makes it through the Senate. The House could also take the single education committee approach. With the departure of Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, that would leave current Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, who is expected to continue in that role, to preside over both.

Pre-K Fireworks: There’s widespread and bipartisan energy building behind a push to boost early education in the state. But there’s a catch — a divide exists between those who want to expand half-day programs to a full day and make them better, and others who want to first get a better handle on how the existing programs are working. Count education advocacy group Raise Your Hand Texas in the former camp, and Gov.-elect Greg Abbott in the latter. 

The School Choice Battleground: In the 2013 session, despite a loud drumbeat leading up to January from supporters including Patrick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, legislation that would allow students to receive public money to attend private schools died with barely a whimper. Now, a skirmish over private school vouchers is brewing again, but it’s unclear whether 2015 will see a different outcome. Two areas that may instead become the school choice battleground: a proposal known as an “Achievement School District,” which would create a statewide entity to manage underperforming campuses, and efforts to loosen regulation of virtual education.

How Money Gets Doled Out: With a school finance lawsuit awaiting arguments at the Texas Supreme Court, the Legislature could easily punt on making any changes to the way the state distributes funding to school districts. But that might be too much of a delay for some lawmakers. State Sen. Kirk Watson, an Austin Democrat, has already filed a slate of bills that he told the Houston Chronicle he hoped would get the “conversation started” on school finance. And regardless of how Watson’s bills fare, lawmakers can still tinker around the edges of the school finance system as they make choices in how the budget allocates funding across school districts.

Revisiting the Big Ticket Items of 2013: Last time they were in Austin, lawmakers overhauled high school curriculum and scaled back standardized testing requirements. They also approved the first expansion of charter schools in the state since they were established in 1995. If the interim hearings over the last year on the rollout of those new laws are any indication, expect discussion about improving high school students’ access to guidance counselors, and clarifying the process the state uses to close low-performing charters schools.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/12/18/five-things-watch-public-ed-lawmakers-return/.

American Graduate: Alternatives and opportunities starting in Pre-K

During PBS NewsHour this weekend, our stories are both part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative, which is aimed at increasing awareness around the dropout crisis in Central Texas.

On Saturday, we spoke with Austin Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and AISD’s Director of Early Childhood Jacquie Porter about free all day Pre-K for qualified families. The two entities are teaming up to enroll more qualified four year olds in prekindergarten. Pre-K is free for children who have limited-English proficiency, are economically disadvantaged, those whose parents are active military or were killed in action, for children who are homeless, or who have ever been in CPS care.

“Pre-k benefits kids in a number of ways. We think academically, but pre-k also benefits children socially, getting along, taking turns. And it’s the best time for learning, so we want to make sure we capitalize on that and make sure kids are where they’re supposed to be when they start kindergarten,” Porter says.

For our Sunday story we traveled to Bastrop to hear about Colorado River Collegiate Academy – the district’s early college high school. The school opened this year and offers students the opportunity to earn their associates degree from Austin Community College before they graduate high school. The degree is free for families. The district is targeting students who are low-income or who will be the first in their family to attend college.

You can see an extended version that story in the video above.

Both stories will air locally as a KLRU News Briefs during PBS NewsHour Weekend at 6:30pm. Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx. 

 

Civic Summit: Austin Mayoral Debate 2014 – Submit your questions!

KLRU is hosting one more debate before runoff election day between Mike Martinez and Steve Adler on December 7 at noon, in partnership with KUT Radio and the Austin Monitor. It will be broadcast live on KLRU.

We’d love to hear what questions you’d like us to ask the candidates. Or, tell us topics you’d like us to drill down on. You can post a comment below, tweet @klru using #atxmayor, email us: CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment on the KLRU Facebook page, or call and leave a voicemail: (512) 475-9073.

This isn’t the first time we’ve produced a debate in the 2014 race for Austin Mayor. You can see our August 27 forum here, and our conversation about leadership with Adler and Martinez from November 13 here.

As always, this Civic Summit is free and open to the public. You can RSVP to join our studio audience here.

American Graduate: Goodwill School Puts Adult Drop-outs Back on Track

The Goodwill Excel Center, which opened its doors in August, is a regular charter high school – except its students are adults, aged 19-50, who dropped out of high school. They teach all of the traditional high school courses, with students picking up where they left off.

Many people who drop out of high school eventually earn their GED, but Head of School Dr. Billy Harden says there is a big difference in earning potential between a GED and a regular high school diploma.

“We’re looking at possibly anywhere in the range of a $2,000 to $9,000 difference if a student gets their high school diploma,” Dr. Harden said. “I’m already seeing it changing their lives. I’m seeing more of our students coming each day and the learning is becoming more intrinsic. It’s starting to look and feel like a way to empower themselves. So, they not only have the ability to say ‘I have my high school diploma, but I’m a little smarter than I was when I got here,’ and I think that’s very important.”

We spoke to Matilda Zamarripa, who dropped out her senior year of high school. Matilda has worked successfully in the beauty industry for almost 20 years but has always wanted to earn her high school diploma.

“You kind of carry that little secret around. Like oh, I’ve never finished,” Matilda said. “My daughter definitely inspired me when she was graduating high school. Going to her graduation two years ago reminded me like ‘wow, I never got to experience this’ but I got to experience it through her. She’s now on her second year at Texas State University and that really inspired me you know, I really want[ed] to go back to school.”

You can hear more about Matilda and the Goodwill Excel Center in the video above.

A shortened version of this story will air locally as a KLRU News Briefs during PBS NewsHour Weekend, Sunday, November 23 at 6:30pm. Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx. 

 

KLRU News Brief: Adler, Martinez Debate Leadership Qualities

On Thursday Austin Mayoral runoff candidates Steve Adler and Mike Martinez recorded Civic Summit: Mayoral Runoff Conversation, an hour-long discussion about the leadership qualities each would employ if they are elected on December 16. Our Sunday News Brief includes excerpts from that debate. The entire debate is online and will air on KLRU on Friday, November 21 at 8pm.

A point of discussion in this election has been what the mayor’s role will be in wrangling discussion and debate among the ten new city council members.

“Whether you’re a district council member from east or west Austin, your issues are going to be the same,” explained Martinez.  ”As mayor, you find that common ground, and you build on that common ground.”

“We have one city here,” said Adler.  ”And we either move together as a whole city or none of us are going to be moving together.

You can watch the entire debate online here.

KLRU News Briefs air locally every Saturday and Sunday evening during PBS NewsHour Weekend. 

AISD Awards Belated Diplomas to War Veterans

It’s a graduation that’s been years in the making.  On Veterans Day, the Austin Independent School District awarded 11 veterans with diplomas from their respective high schools.  It’s a ceremony that AISD has held since 2002, offering veterans who did not finish high school and who served in any formally declared war or military engagement a chance to don the cap and gown.  For some, it’s a chance they’ve waited years to take.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted,” said Air Force veteran Doyle Hobbs.  ”It seemed like a gift from heaven.”

“I completed my G.E.D.,” recalled U.S. Military veteran Eugenio Gaona.  ”But I always wished I could get it converted so I could have a diploma from my hometown.  Now I’m happy. I have a high school diploma from my high school.”

Click here for more information on the AISD Diploma Award Ceremony and eligibility requirements.

KLRU News Briefs air locally every Saturday and Sunday evening during PBS NewsHour Weekend. 

 

KLRU News Brief: Austin Transportation Bond Fails…Now What?

On Election Day Austin voters rejected a $600M transportation bond by a wide margin. For our Saturday News Brief we spoke to Capital Metro to find out if they have a plan B.

“We’re chipping away where we can,” Capital Metro President and CEO Linda Watson told us. “We have recently received federal funds and TXDOT funds to increase capacity on the current red line commuter rail line [and] within three years we will be able to offer 15 minute service. We’re also looking at operating express buses on express lanes on MoPac. You want to get the most bang for your buck, especially when you’re using taxpayer’s money.”

The City of Austin Demographer published a map this week showing how the vote broke down by precinct. It was supported by many in the urban core, but got very little support in the outlying areas.

Watson told us she does not blame the people who didn’t support paying property taxes for a system they wouldn’t use.

We also spoke to Dr. Kara Kockelman, Professor of Transportation Engineering at the University of Texas. Watch the video above to hear her thoughts on why rail might not be the best solution for Austin.

KLRU News Briefs air locally every Saturday and Sunday evening during PBS NewsHour Weekend. 

 

 

American Graduate: TX Veterans Commission Kicks Off ‘Drop Your Rucksack, Grab a Backpack’ Campaign

Sunday during PBS NewsHour, KLRU’s News Brief is part of American Graduate, a focus on the Central Texas dropout crisis. This week we spoke to the Texas Veterans Commission about their new campaign “Drop Your Rucksack, Grab a Backpack,” which launches on Veteran’s Day. It is aimed at encouraging Texas veterans to use the education benefits available to them.

“Sometimes veterans coming out of the service feel like they don’t have time to go back to school and get an education but fortunately the military has set up the post 9/11 G.I. Bill that pays for their college education and gives them a stipend on top of that,” Bonnie Fletcher, Education Specialist at the Texas Veterans Commission said. “The State of Texas also has a state benefit, the Hazelwood Act. We offer up to a 150 credit hours of tuition paid at any public school in Texas. These are benefits that you’ve earned and they’re there for you to utilize.”

We spoke to Dan Hamilton, a Junior at the University of Texas, who served in the Marine Corps after high school and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. You can hear more about his story, and about the program, in the video above.

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour Weekend, Saturday and Sunday at 6:30pm. Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx.