Milton Rister, the commission's executive director, announced last month he had invited the SMU researchers to brief agency staff. Commissioner Ryan Sitton, who said during his campaign last year that he would vote to suspend disposal operations in an area if the science merited doing so, has called for a public hearing on the issue. And on April 24, the commission announced plans to review and possibly rescind the licenses given to two disposal well operators.
Oklahoma has started a website, earthquakes.ok.gov, that it promotes as "a one-stop source for information" about what is known about earthquakes in the state and what the state is doing to try to prevent them. The website would serve as an excellent example for Texas to follow, as would some of the recent steps Oklahoma has taken to try to minimize the number of earthquakes, such as the introduction of a "traffic light" well-permitting system and the adoption of new monitoring rules.
As more studies of wastewater disposal and earthquakes are done and new insights are gained, it's important that the state's regulations evolve along with the science.
Corpus Christi Caller-Times. May 1, 2015.
An honest definition of school choice
Our state leaders are misusing a lot of words and phrases to push dubious education policies — "school choice" and "civil rights" chief among them.
Gov. Greg Abbott calls "school choice" a "civil rights issue" and a nonpartisan one at that. Actually, school choice by its true definition isn't an issue at all. To our knowledge, parents have the right to home-school or to send their children to private school, charter school or a traditional public school outside their neighborhood school's attendance zone. Or they can pack up and move into a high-performing school district. Those are all school choices that parents make regularly and with little to no interference from the state.
However, there are limits to choice. High-performing public schools in neighboring districts can say no to parents who want to transfer their children. So can private schools. They can refuse to admit a child who has special needs, a record for bad behavior, or low test scores. Saying no to those children while cherry-picking academically gifted students helps a school raise its ranking and enhance its reputation as a school of choice.
But Abbott isn't objecting to those impediments to school choice. He doesn't even bother to point out how downright crummy it is that religious-affiliated private schools, which should be sanctuaries for problem students, can and do exclude them.
Instead, he and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick want to come to the rescue of charter schools — public schools that operate independently, either for profit or as nonprofits whose operators might decide to pay themselves lavishly.
Abbott, Patrick and others extol charter schools for their flexibility. Charter schools make their own rules so long as they meet state academic benchmarks. Many don't. Yet their political backers persist in their support, because they are invested in vilifying traditional public school.
Supporting expansion of charter schools means giving them more money. The state pays charter schools based on attendance, as it does traditional public schools. One bill under consideration would raise the reimbursement. We're puzzled as to why that would be necessary. The current reimbursement already is big enough that there are 629 charter schools pirating students from neighborhood schools in Texas. (That's not a fair description of all charter schools, least of all Seashore Learning Center on Padre Island, which was started because Flour Bluff ISD wouldn't build a school on the island.)
The more our state leaders give to charter schools, the less they'll figure they have to give to traditional public schools. Operating with less money usually hurts performance, which makes parents want to exercise the choice to send their children elsewhere. Funny how that works. The architects of this outcome will reap nothing but gratitude from the aforesaid parents.
How's this for school choice: The governor, lieutenant governor and Legislature commit themselves and the state's ample resources to providing top-quality neighborhood public schools, no matter the neighborhood. Parents who aren't satisfied with their neighborhood school can exercise their choice to home-school or pay to send their children elsewhere. If parents in Corpus Christi want to send their children to Plano ISD, the state isn't stopping them. Just don't expect the state to provide a bus, helicopter or jet for the long commute. If private school tuition is out of reach, parents can exercise their civil right to take second or third jobs, or find better-paying primary jobs, or have the foresight to choose richer parents and grandparents from whom to inherit wealth.
High-performing charter schools can fund expansions and pay raises via attendance growth. Low-performing ones should be weeded out.
That recipe for school choice would be, like Abbott said in support of charter schools, neither Republican nor Democrat. Nor would it infringe on anyone's civil rights. In contrast, aiding charter and private schools sounds suspiciously like a forced redistribution of wealth.
Longview News-Journal. May 3, 2015.
Texas can't keep ignoring facts about health care
Stories in the News-Journal about the challenges facing hospitals in Texas and across this nation will come as no surprise to those who have been paying attention to the facts.
Health care in rural America is in serious jeopardy. And the trouble is hitting hard in Northeast Texas.
Just in the past year, our region has seen the closing of four hospitals. Clinics also have closed, merged and changed hands.
And the changes are far from over.
At a strategic planning session Friday for Good Shepherd Health System, attendees were told that virtually every health care provider in the nation will have to change its business model over the next few years to survive.
And our state is at the fulcrum of the activity.
If you're among those paying attention, this is a statistic you've heard before: Texas has the nation's highest percentage of adults without health insurance. That's not exactly the kind of "achievement" that would lead us to chant "We're No. 1!"
It's a grim fact that's been true for years, and, according to a new study, remains true today despite the fact the needle has finally been nudged upward.
According to findings issued last week by the Episcopal Health Foundation and Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has had a dramatic and positive impact on our state.
From September 2013 to March 2015, the study found, the percentage of uninsured Texans dropped to 17 percent from 25 percent, a reduction of nearly a third.
That represents a huge benefit not only for those who finally have insurance coverage but for health care providers who will more often be paid for performing services.
Unfortunately, even with the gains, Texas still leads the nation in the percentage of uninsured adults. And for the first time, the raw number of those without insurance is higher in Texas than any other state.
As also might be expected, the gains were not across all socio-economic levels, with the poorest Texans seeing the least improvement. The study found that among those who make $16,000 or more per year, rates of insurance increased by 45 percent. Those who made less than that had an increase of just 20 percent.
None of this is a huge surprise, given that our state's leaders have done as much as they can to fight the Affordable Care Act.
Any increases are positive, however, and we're pleased to see them. But think how much better the Texas health care scene might be if our state's political leadership voted to expand Medicaid to allow more Texans to be covered under the act. We aren't counting on that happening, though.
Our state's failure to do the right thing is having a much greater impact right here than you might realize.
According to figures calculated by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and compiled by the Center for Public Policy Priorities, Gregg County health care providers are losing $43.3 million each year because of the state's refusal to expand federal programs.
If you're worried about our recent economic slowdown, you should be aware that amount of money could keep a great deal more people working. In fact, the report says it would fund more than 2,600 jobs in Gregg County alone. Not all of those would be new jobs, of course. A great many would be those eliminated by problems caused by our nation's long failure to address health care.
None of this is to argue the Affordable Care Act is the cure for all that ails American health care. But there is proof it's already part of the solution and that refusing it is exacerbating the problems.
These facts should be ample reason for our state legislators to drop the politics and do the right thing for Texans, their doctors and hospitals, and begin putting in place a Texas plan to expand Medicaid.