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Tapping Reserves Won't Do Much To Avoid Cuts & Midday Roundup

By KERA News & Wire Services

Dallas, TX – Texas lawmakers this week freed up $4 billion to spend over the next two years, to help ease a projected budget shortfall, by using the state's Rainy Day Fund.

The fund would still have a projected $6.3 billion in it by 2013.

Under the new budget proposal: Schools would still be underfunded by almost $8 billion - or about $800 per student. Lawmakers would cut full-day pre-kindergarten, teacher incentive pay, arts education and numerous other school programs.

The new plan would reinstate funding to four community colleges that had been set to have their state money cut. Those cuts would instead be evenly distributed among all community colleges in Texas.

Texas prison schools face cuts

The $128 million school system for state inmates could be replaced with online programs to save money.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro of Plano said Thursday that lawmakers will have to be convinced why the Windham School District, which serves 90 prisons, should be funded.

Shapiro suggested online instruction could be substituted as part of rehabilitation programs in the Department of Criminal Justice.

The Austin American-Statesman reports the district, with 1,300 employees, is funded through the Texas Education Agency. Inmates can earn GED and vocational certificates.

Superintendent Debbie Roberts defended the system, noting that professional educators are working in a "correctional environment."

Prison system spokeswoman Michelle Lyons says TDCJ is ready to work with legislators. Lyons says providing an education to offenders is an important part of rehabilitation.

UT Regents vote on tuition hike for med students

University of Texas System regents are scheduled to meet Friday to vote on raising tuition for medical students.

University leaders say the tuition increase is needed to help offset deep spending cuts expected in the next state budget. Annual rates at UT system medical schools in Dallas, Galveston, Houston and San Antonio could jump between 6 percent and 16 percent next fall if the plan is approved. Tuition rates for dentists, nurses and other medical fields also would go up.

State lawmakers are grappling with a shortfall estimated to be at least $15 billion for the next two-year budget. Early spending plans have included deep cuts to higher education, putting pressure on administrators to find money elsewhere.

Fish kill at Lake Granbury, part of Brazos River

Experts say a golden algae bloom has killed more than a quarter of a million fish in Lake Granbury and in the Brazos River.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Friday that the bloom was noticed in early January on Lake Granbury and on March 7 on the Brazos River. The bloom, blamed for killing an estimated 260,000 fish, has now been confirmed on the Brazos River, 65 miles downstream of the Lake Granbury dam at Ham Creek Park.

Jennifer Bronson, who's a Texas Parks and Wildlife regional biologist in Waco, advises not to eat dead or dying fish.

Golden algae are naturally occurring and typically flourish in brackish water.