Thu June 26, 2014 2:10 pm By Erica Grieder

[Editor's note: The July issue of Texas Monthly features a long interview with outgoing governor Rick Perry, as well as a "Report Card" in which we graded the governor's record in eight areas of public policy. One of those was public education. The governor earned a D. Earlier today we received the following letter from Michael Williams, the Texas Commissioner of Education, arguing that Perry deserves more credit. We thought it would be good to give you his take, too, and we encourage commenters to weigh in too. As for me, I'll just say that from my perspective, the appropriate question isn't whether Texas's schools are better than California's, etc. The appropriate question is this: are our public schools good enough for the great state of Texas? --EG]

Over the past decade, Texas has raised academic standards to unprecedented levels, had more minority students taking the steps they need to prepare for college, and seen our graduation rate bloom to one of the highest in the nation.

As Commissioner of Education, I’ve seen firsthand the hard work of students and educators across our state – efforts that are now bearing considerable fruit and boding well for the future of Texas. Far from the dire landscape portrayed by Texas Monthly in its July 2014 issue, public education is flourishing under Governor Perry’s leadership, and the steps we’ve taken will enable a generation of young Texans to acquire the skills they will need in our evolving economy.

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Tue June 24, 2014 1:23 pm By Paul Burka

Yesterday brought a small setback for Greg Abbott, who is, as attorney general, tasked with defending Texas’s current system for funding public schools: a visiting judge has decided that John Dietz, the district judge who has been presiding over the school finance lawsuits that have been inching their way through the courts for two and a half years, can remain on the case.

 Abbott had sought to have Dietz removed from the case on grounds of favoritism toward the plaintiffs, but I don’t think he ever had a prayer of succeeding. The attorney general had pointed to emails Dietz exchanged with lawyers working on the case in recent months. Those emails did make it clear that the judge agreed with the school districts on many matters. But that was also clear from his verbal ruling, in February, that the system is unconstitutional, from the fact that he has explained his reasoning to lawyers on both sides since then, and from the fact that the state’s case, after the $5 billion budget cut enacted in 2011, is clearly tenuous. In any event, this clears the way for the case to proceed, inch by inch. 

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Tue June 24, 2014 7:03 am By Paul Burka

The list of recipients of Emerging Technology Fund grants in particular is replete with Perry's longtime friends and campaign contributors. The Dallas Morning News has reported on who received some of these grants, and have contributed large sums to his campaigns. The list includes:

•$2.75 million to Terrabon Inc., a Houston company. Its backers have included Phil Adams, a college friend of Perry's who has given his campaign at least $314,000.

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Mon June 23, 2014 6:01 pm By Erica Grieder

Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Brownsville, Texas. 

On June 2nd Barack Obama issued a memorandum announcing the creation of an interagency task force in response to what he called “an urgent humanitarian situation” on America’s southern border--a sudden influx in unaccompanied alien children. Law enforcement officials have apprehended almost 52,000 such children since October of last year. Some 38,000 of them, or about two-thirds, have entered the country in the Rio Grande Valley.

A few days later, the story got a boost when Breitbart Texas published a batch of leaked photos showing hundreds of people, most of them children, who are being held in federal facilities while awaiting legal proceedings—or as Breitbart’s Brandon Darby put it, reasonably enough, a batch of leaked photos showing hundreds of children “warehoused in crowded U.S. cells.” The images hit a nerve, and over the past two weeks the unaccompanied alien children have gained more attention as state and federal officials have been arguing over the causes of the crisis and the appropriate response.

The influx is, by any standard, a complex and rapidly evolving situation. It’s also an emotionally charged and politically contentious one. Thousands of extremely vulnerable children are involved. But so too are many more controversial people: a president whose policies may have spurred this crisis; the saber-rattling Republicans who have been fulminating about our porous border for years; the transnational drug-trafficking organizations that are helping these immigrants cross the border, and are surely aware of the disruption that the influx has caused; the constellation of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies working in the Valley; and, of course, the parents of the children arriving recently, who are surely vulnerable in their own ways but who have either endangered the children in question—or accompanied them as regular, adult aliens.

All of that adds up to a pretty bewildering picture. But after spending the weekend reporting in the Valley, I came away with several conclusions. First of all, the influx of unaccompanied alien children makes a lot more sense if you think about it as part of a surge in illegal immigration from Central America. That surge began a couple of years ago and is due (at least in part) to widespread reports in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador that the United States is not going to enforce immigration law against minors—that’s why so many of the immigrants in question are children. The more lurid and ominous reports about the migrants themselves are exaggerated. The influx is real, though, and markedly different from the illegal immigration that the United States has experienced in recent decades.

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Fri June 20, 2014 4:10 pm By Happy Carlock

[Editor's note: As mentioned, we're going to feature some posts from our talented interns--including the author of this one--on BurkaBlog this summer. --EG]

“Conocer a tus suegros--nunca es fácil." Attorney General Greg Abbott’s first statewide television ad for the general election opens with a close-up of his sister-in-law, Rosie Phalen, discussing a challenge that countless Texas voters have faced: meeting the in-laws.

Nerve-wracking, no doubt. But Abbott apparently made a good impression; he has been married to his wife Cecilia for more than thirty years. And in retrospect, meeting the in-laws might have been easy compared to the assignment Abbott has set for himself this year—winning over Hispanic voters as the Republican gubernatorial nominee. He has made that a concerted effort to do so since launching his campaign last year, and the new ad is part of that effort; it is completely in Spanish, and premiered on Univision on Tuesday, during the World Cup match between Brazil and Mexico.

The goal makes sense. Although Hispanic voters in Texas generally favor Democrats, they have, historically, been more receptive to Republican candidates than Hispanic voters nationwide. And this year’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, state senator Wendy Davis, was surprisingly weak in south Texas during the primaries, in March; she lost a number of counties in the Rio Grande Valley to a little-known opponent.

The problem for Abbott is that his outreach comes at a moment when a number of Texas Democrats are accusing Republicans of alienating Hispanic voters with overheated rhetoric on immigration and border security. Both subjects were fiercely discussed during this year’s Republican primaries, and earlier this month, delegates to the Republican Party convention approved significant changes to the immigration plank of the platform. The new version calls for an end to sanctuary cities and in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, and no longer endorses any kind of guest worker program. Even some Republicans are worried that their party may be going too far. Jason Villalba, a Republican state representative from Dallas, registered his concern in an open letter published last week. "Divisive rhetoric and nativist domestic policy might excite the 5.5%," he wrote, "but the remaining 95% of us understand that we have to do something thoughtful and pragmatic about this complex issue."

Abbott himself has not used such hardline language, and he has quietly pushed back against more divisive attitudes by pointing out that if he is elected his wife, Cecilia, will be the first Latina first lady of Texas. But he has also seemed reluctant to chime in on the contentious policy debates about immigration and border security. His website’s “Issues” section includes no mention of either. At some point, though, he may have to confront them. In a new poll from the University of Texas/Texas Tribune, respondents named immigration and border security as the most important issues facing the state--and with more and more attention being paid to the recent spike in migration from Central American to the Rio Grande Valley, that is unlikely to change. 

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