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TX Sens. Shapiro and Staples Tangle Over Amendment in Education Committee

By J. Lyn Carl, GalleryWatch.com

Austin, TX –

If the circus atmosphere of Friday's Senate Education Committee meeting is any indication of what to expect when - and IF - HB 2 comes to the Senate floor, go ahead and put out a call for the ringmaster, the clowns and the animal acts.

Tempers flared between two Republican members of the committee Friday as the panel discussed dozens of amendments to Chair Sen. Florence Shapiro's committee substitute to the public education reform bill.

The committee met and laid out amendments, then recessed at the behest of Shapiro so that officials of the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) could assess the fiscal impact and costs of many of the amendments laid before the committee.

At one point, Sen. Todd Staples (R-Palestine) laid out an amendment increasing the yield for equalized enrichment, shifting away from the bill draft which increased the rate of enrichment from the 90th to the 94th percentile. His amendment would increase the rate of enrichment from the 94th to the 98th percentile. LBB officials said the cost would be approximately $50 million per penny increase. They said that could result in costs to the state of $125 million per year.

After the explanation by LBB officials, and over protests from a visibly miffed Shapiro, Vice Chair Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) asked if there was a motion on the amendment.

"I have to speak up and tell you that we don't have this money," said Shapiro. "I don't know where you're going to get 125 million dollars in '07. It's not in the budget. It's not in HB 3. You're going to have to find some place to cut 125 MILLION dollars." She told members that before they voted on the amendment, they better think of what programs would have to be cut to make up the funds.

"Is recapture eliminated in this bill?" Staples asked the LBB officials, with Shapiro responding a resounding, "Yes."

"So I guess you could say the $125 million is the cost of recapture," said Staples.

"What has that got to do with anything?" asked Shapiro.

"I think it has everything to do with it," said Staples. "You're asking to change the system for educating our kids and remove recapture." He said to the extent that the equity level is higher, "You have the opportunity to have more schools and more children inside an equalized system."

"One hundred twenty-five million is not in the bill," said Shapiro again. "Show me where you want to get the money. We'll have to cut programs. You can't just say we need $125 million more dollars. We don't have it."

Shapiro pointed out that the state's schools are at 85 percent equalization now and HB 2 brings that figure to 94 percent. "That is a huge leap," she said. But she again warned her fellow committee members, "We don't have 125 million dollars. Period."

Staples held out that there are still inequities in the system proposed in Shapiro's committee substitute.

"No there's not," replied Shapiro.

Staples and Shapiro bantered back and forth with each other, getting louder and louder and talking over each other to the point that West finally banged the gavel and intoned, "Order, order, order, order..."

Shapiro said there are currently only 134 districts under the Robin Hood plan out of more than 1,000 in the state, which she said is "a very small number."

Of his amendment, Staples concluded, "I think it's the fair thing to do. I think it's the right thing to do." He said it would say to every school district in the state that "We want to ensure that you have the access and tools that you need to educate your children, and I move adoption..."

Among muffled tones, West noted, "There's a motion on the floor..."

And barely audible, Shapiro was heard to say, "And I can adjourn at any time."

"It's your committee..." muttered West.

And just that quickly and with these words, "The committee will stand in recess until the call of the chair," Shapiro ended the hearing before a vote could be taken.

Expect the lieutenant governor's woodshed to be occupied tomorrow.