Texas Tribune: New Statewide Bid to End Texting Behind the Wheel

Our Saturday story during PBS NewsHour comes from our partners at The Texas Tribune. It discusses whether this will finally be the year when a ban on texting while driving becomes law statewide. You can watch it in the video above.

Jennifer Smith lost her mother in a 2008 car crash in Oklahoma when a distracted driver using his cell phone T-boned her vehicle. Smith advocates for stopdistractions.org, a grassroots organization that raises awareness of the dangers of distracted driving.

“And from that moment on – a phone call, a text message, nothing is worth a life,” Smith said.

This will be the fifth legislative session when Texas lawmakers will propose a bill for a statewide ban on texting while driving. A 2011 bill by Republican state representative Tom Craddick passed in favor of a ban but was vetoed by governor Rick Perry who said the law would “micromanage the behavior of adults.”

So far, 44 states have a ban regarding texting while driving and many local communities in Texas have bans in place. Austin’s new distracted driving law went into effect January 1, 2015.

Alva Ferdinand, a public health researcher at Texas A&M University completed a study on such laws. Her findings prove that these laws are “having an impact on roadway fatalities.”

“Not only will this initiative saves lives, it will save the state medical expenses as well as loss of time and work wages,” Smith said.

Smith will be among the 25 families at the state capitol on Feb. 3 to discuss the bill. You can find an extended version of this story here.

Our Sunday story is from KLRU’s Arts in Context Shorts series. It is about Roots & Rhythms, an after-school drumming program. You can watch that story here.

Following State of the Union, the Price of Higher Ed in Austin

During the State of the Union Tuesday evening, President Obama focused part of his address on the price of higher education. This weekend during PBS NewsHour, we take a closer look at his proposals.

“By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require some higher education. Two in three. And yet, we still live in a country where too many bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need. It’s not fair to them, and it’s not smart for our future,” President Obama said.

In our Saturday story, we speak with Dr. David Laude, Senior Vice Provost for Enrollment and Graduation Management at the University of Texas. Dr. Laude is tasked with increasing UT’s 4 year graduation rate to 70%. To reach that goal, the school is focusing on low-income students.

“There was an article that had a pretty blunt headline that said ‘rich kids graduate, poor kids often do not.’ If you take a look at whether or not a student’s going to graduate, the most important indicator if they will struggle is if they come from an under-resourced background,” Laude said. “They don’t really have the money to be able to hang in there and to graduate in 5 years or 6 years. Yes, it’s possible, some of them will do it, but every time they do it they’re taking out more loans. Every time they’re doing it, they’re running up more debt.”

We also spoke to Jeff Webster, Assistant VP for Research and Analytical Services at TG. TG is a nonprofit corporation which “offers resources to help students and families plan and prepare for college, learn the basics of money management, and repay their federal student loans.”

You can see our Saturday story in the video above.

On Sunday, our story looks at President Obama’s other higher education proposal: free community college. Webster told us about a TG study that found graduates with a four-year degree, if they started at a community college, “tend to have no less debt than someone who started at a four year school, and sometimes they have even more debt.”

We spoke with Neil Vickers, Austin Community College’s VP of Finance & Budget, about that survey and about President Obama’s proposal.

“We’re very interested in affordability for our students. It’s actually in our mission, to provide affordable higher education,” Vickers said. “When you just focus on tuition, to what extent does that really get to the root of the problem? I think part of the conversation is that a community college student can take out a similar sized loan as though they were at the university. I think there needs to be other discussions about loan programs and maybe this will serve as a good catalyst for those.”

The Texas Association of Community Colleges released this statement in response to President Obama’s plan for free community college:

“TACC has not yet voted to take a position, but, as a whole, the community college presidents in Texas appreciate that President Obama has recognized the importance of community colleges and the importance he has put on providing students with pathways to the workforce and to continue their education.”

You can see that story in the video below.

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour weekend, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 6:30. Both of these stories are part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative, which is aimed at increasing awareness around the dropout crisis in Central Texas. 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. 

News Briefs: Enrollment opens for UT informal classes, 84th Legislature convenes

Since 1971 The University of Texas at Austin has offered evening, non-credit, classes to the public. The Informal Classes Program offers something for everyone, from the Beginner’s Guide to Novel Writing to Jiu-Jitsu or Swing Dance. Many of the classes are taught by UT professors, or members of the public can submit course proposals. Our Saturday story during PBS NewsHour Weekend goes inside their Spring Preview Night. You can see it online in the video above.

Our Sunday story comes from our partners at The Texas Tribune. The Weekly Political Roundup, from Multimedia Reporter Alana Rocha, is a rundown of news from the opening week of the 84th Legislative Session. You can watch it in the video below.

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

AISD Interim Superintendent answers questions in Civic Summit

Civic Summit

Austin ISD Interim Superintendent, Dr. Paul Cruz, is the sole finalist to become the permanent superintendent. Until the school board officially confirms him, AISD is hosting 5 community forums around the district. KLRU hosted one of those forums Tuesday evening in Studio 6A. Civic Summit: Student & Teacher Townhall will air Thursday, January 22, at 9pm.

During the hour-long discussion, hosted by Judy Maggio, Dr. Cruz spoke about a variety of issues facing the district including the school finance lawsuit, expanding pre-K, working with the newly elected City Council, equity among students, and so much more. PBS Student Reporting Labs All-Star and local high school senior Kennedy Huff fielded questions from our studio audience, made up of students, educators, parents, and community members.

The full show will be posted online on January 22. Until then, you can watch excerpts in the YouTube playlist below.

This Civic Summit was part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative. As an American Graduate station, KLRU is seeking a clearer understanding of the nature and impact of the dropout problem in our region, and is partnering with organizations working to increase graduation rates. You can find more information about the initiative by visiting: klru.org/americangraduate.

News Briefs: Cyclo-Cross Championship, First 10-1 Council Sworn In


Cyclo-Cross is a hybrid sport that’s gaining popularity around the world. This weekend, Zilker Park is hosting the 2015 USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships. The event is free and open to the public and runs through Sunday. You can see our story about the event on Saturday during PBS NewsHour.

On Sunday evening, our story is about the historic swearing-in of Austin’s first 10-1 City Council.

“The excitement in this city and in this room is palpable, and the expectations are high.  And on this dias, the sense of responsibility is felt and it is real,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler told the crowd.

“Today is not about the 11 of us being sworn in before you. It’s about the community throughout Austin that, after suffering decades of under-representation and neglect in this building, will finally have a voice,” District 3 Council Member Sabino Renteria said.

All 11 members took the oath of office Tuesday evening.

You can see both stories this weekend during PBS NewsHour Weekend, Saturday and Sunday at 6:30pm. 



The Story of Storybook

The Women’s Storybook Project of Texas is a non-profit connecting incarcerated women with their children through books. Volunteers bring children’s books to the inmates. The women pick out a story and volunteers record their voices reading it to their child. The women can earn the chance to participate in the program with good behavior for 90 days.

The video above, titled The Story of Storybook, shows the impact the program has on the women and their families.

The Story of Storybook was produced by Jeff Bowden, Brandon Dickerson and Karen Bernstein. It was directed by Jeff Bowden and Brandon Dickerson and edited by Mike Saen.The piece aired in two parts during PBS NewsHour Weekend on December 27 & 28.

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


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.