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The Best and Worst Legislators 2009

THE BEST: Representative Rob Eissler

The Woodlands

This was the best session for the public schools in years, and he was the main reason. Even though his modus operandi is “When in doubt, pun”—the nickname he coined for Representative Cook, whose first name is Byron, is “Get One Free”—don’t think he isn’t a serious legislator. The chair of the Public Education Committee shows a lot of class. He takes his critics to school. He’s been tested. And he sticks to his, er, principals.

The Legislature passes hundreds of bills every biennium, but those that actually make a difference are rare. Eissler’s reform of the state’s public school accountability system will have a significant impact on the lives of countless families. It lessens the consequences for third-graders who perform poorly on the high-stakes TAKS test. It allows all students to take career and technology courses, which Eissler hopes will reduce the dropout rate. And it loosens the course requirements so that students can choose electives tailored to their interests.

Underlying Eissler’s success is his close relationship with Scott Hochberg, of Houston, his Democratic vice chair. It was the model for the nonpartisan approach to lawmaking that characterized much of the session, and it allowed his committee members to produce a flurry of good legislation, including a $1.9 billion school finance bill—which passed without controversy, something that is almost unheard of—and the first steps toward a statewide prekindergarten program. If you were to ask Eissler about their joint efforts on education policy, he might respond with the groaner he offered to reporters before presenting a bill dealing with dyslexia: “[We] know it backward and forward.”

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