Senator Zaffirini Invites Local Educators, Public to Educational Excellence Conference in Laredo

(LAREDO) — Senator Judith Zaffirini today (Monday) invited local leaders, educators and the public to join the Council for Educational Excellence at Texas A&M International University’s (TAMIU) Student Center ballroom on Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 9:30 a.m.

As Council Honorary Chair and Presiding Officer, she will lead a conference that features keynote speakers Dr. Raymund A. Paredes, Commissioner of Higher Education, and Robert Scott, Commissioner of Public Education.

Registration and a reception will begin at 9:30 a.m., with the program starting at 10:30 a.m. Participation is free, and the public is invited.

“Our goal,” Senator Zaffirini explained, “is to initiate the formation of the P-16 Councils in South Texas and the South Texas Council for Educational Excellence.”

Statewide, P-16 activities and the P-16 Councils are coordinated by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). “P-16” refers to an integrated system of education spanning from preschool (“P”) to a four-year college degree (“16”).

TEA’s web site indicates the system “is dedicated to improving student achievement by getting children off to a good start, raising academic standards, conducting appropriate assessments, improving teacher quality and generally smoothing student transitions from one level of learning to the next. It also focuses on helping all children meet the proficiency levels needed to succeed at the next education level and in the workforce.”

“We invite everyone who cares about education, ranging from early childhood to higher education to attend this important conference,” said Senator Zaffirini, who also chairs the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee and is Vice Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. “It is an opportunity to hear Commissioner Paredes and Commissioner Scott articulate their vision of collaboration among educators at all levels. Community college and school trustees, presidents, superintendents and residents interested in education especially are encouraged to attend.”

Dr. Ray Keck, Council member and TAMIU president, said the meeting affords all South Texans a rare opportunity to join in a much-needed discussion.

“I would say that we are at one of the most critical junctures in public education history in Texas. Much has been done. Much needs to be done. All communities need to join with Councils to advance an education that is laser-focused on the best possible futures for all the children of Texas,” he said.

In addition to TAMIU, local Host Council members include AVANCE, the City of Laredo, Laredo Chamber of Commerce, Laredo Community College, Laredo Development Foundation, Laredo Hotel and Lodging Association, Laredo Independent School District, Logistics and Manufacturing Association – Port Laredo and Hank and Elizabeth Sames.

Also, South Texas Tech Prep, South Texas Workforce Development Board, Texas Migrant Council, The Laredo Morning Times, Guillermo and Tammy Treviño, United Independent School District and The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Laredo Campus Extension.

Educators at all levels, including trustees, and elected officials from throughout South Texas are invited.

“Our success depends on collaboration,” Senator Zaffirini said. “I strongly encourage educational leaders at all levels to prioritize participating in this important conference. We cannot afford to fail.”

According to the TEA website, the P-16 collaborative began in Texas in 1998 as an informal network called the Public Education/Higher Education Coordinating Group.

That group was formed by the Commissioners of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), along with the executive director of the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). Representatives from the Legislature, the Governor’s office, university systems and other state agencies, as well as education associations and business coalitions were invited to the meetings.

In 2003 the Texas Legislature formalized the system by passing Senate Bill 286, which created the P-16 Council.

For additional event information, contact Dr. Warren von Eschenbach, Director of the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee, 512/463-4788; Senator Zaffirini’s Capitol office, 512/463-0121, or District office, 956/722-2293; or TAMIU’s Office for Institutional Advancement, 956/326-2175.

For more information about the Council for Educational Excellence, contact any Council member.

Information about the P-16 Councils in South Texas can be accessed via the TEA website, located at

Senator Judith Zaffirini, Higher Education Leaders Conduct Telephone Town Hall Meeting with SD 21 Families

(AUSTIN) — Combining modern technology, expertise of leaders and a passion for increasing access to, participation in and affordability of higher education, Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, Thursday (Oct. 25) conducted the first in a series of Telephone Town Hall Meetings for SD 21 families. More than 3,000 persons participated in the conference that included the opportunity to have their questions answered by the senator and higher education leaders.

Joining Senator Zaffirini in discussing higher education with her constituents from her 17-county district were Dr. Raymund Paredes, Commissioner of Higher Education; Dr. Rey Garcia, President of the Texas Association of Community Colleges; Dr. Ray Keck, President of Texas A&M International University in Laredo; Dr. Juan Maldonado, President of Laredo Community College; Dr. Thomas B. Baynum, President of Coastal Bend Community College in Beeville; and William Serrata, Vice President for Student Services and Development at South Texas College.

They were assisted by her staff, including Dr. Warren von Eschenbach, Director of the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee, and Brent Whitaker, Budget Director.

“Participants were mostly students, parents and educators who were eager to learn more about higher education,” Senator Zaffirini said. “They could ask any question, but most focused on access and affordability. I appreciate greatly the higher education leaders who took the time to interact freely with my constituents.”

A recorded message by Senator Zaffirini was sent simultaneously to callers across the district. Persons reached were invited to join the Telephone Town Hall Meeting in progress and to press “0” to ask a question.

“We talked for an hour and 20 minutes and answered every question raised,” Senator Zaffirini said. “It was highly informative for my constituents, and they truly appreciated interacting with higher education leaders.”

Callers posed questions and received comprehensive answers about topics including tuition, financial aid, internships and admissions. Senator Zaffirini will conduct additional Telephone Town Hall Meetings regarding significant legislative issues.

To be added to the call list, please call 956/722-2293 or 512/463-0121.

SENATOR JUDITH ZAFFIRINI, D-LAREDO, conducts a Telephone Town Hall Meeting about Higher Education at her Capitol office. Also participating are (L-R) Brent Whitaker, Budget Director; Dr. Warren von Eschenbach, Director of the Senate Higher Education Committee; and Dr. Rey Garcia, President of the Texas Association of Community Colleges.

Statement from Senator Judith Zaffirini Regarding the Community College Funding Consensus

(AUSTIN) — “I applaud Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Tom Craddick for reaching an equitable agreement regarding the restoration of $154 million in state resources for community colleges. I also am pleased that after addressing publicly my concerns regarding the governor’s veto and holding a productive and successful hearing of the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee, that our state leadership reached a consensus that benefits Texas students and families.

“I am pleased that community college employees will receive a hold-harmless payment of $55 million to transition to a temporary definition of proportionality for health insurance benefits. These funds are critical in keeping community colleges affordable and accessible, especially to low- and middle-income students. What’s more, as Chair of the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee, I look forward to continue working with the governor, lieutenant governor and the speaker, as well as representatives of our 50 community college districts in developing a long-term solution to this problem and a definition of proportionality that is fair.

“Finally, I am especially pleased that the agreement includes a compromise that will rescind those increases of tuition, taxes and fees adopted by community colleges because of the vetoed funds. I will continue to work with my colleagues, state leaders, and community college officials to ensure that community colleges and higher education remain accessible and affordable for all students.”


(AUSTIN) — Senators Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, today (Friday) announced that the Lower Rio Grande Valley Workforce Development Board (Workforce Solutions) received a $125,000 grant from the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities. The grant is for the first year of a three-year project to increase employment opportunities for students with developmental disabilities.

Funds will be used to develop partnerships and integrate resources between the workforce development board, local school districts and adult service agencies, including Easter Seals, local One-Stop Career Centers and the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services.

During the first year the project will work with 30 students from high schools in Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties. “This is an important grant that will help us find employment for so many special education graduates,” Senator Zaffirini said. “Project RISE will help provide services and supports that students with severe disabilities need to explore their employment options, develop job hunting skills and prepare for positions that match their skills and interests.”

Senator Lucio added that the project also will work with local businesses to identify employment opportunities for students. “Workforce Solutions plans to work with major employers in the fastest-growing industry sectors in this area, such as healthcare and banking,” Senator Lucio said.

The Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities is a 27-member board dedicated to improving the lives of the 411,500 Texans with developmental disabilities. The Council uses a variety of activities – such as grant projects, technical assistance, public awareness and leadership training – to enable people with disabilities to live, grow up, attend classes and work in the community. Developmental disabilities are severe, chronic disabilities that occur before the age of 22, such as autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, mental illness, traumatic brain injury and epilepsy.

Additional information on the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities can be found via or 1-800-262-0334.

Senator Judith Zaffirini Announces Arts Grants

(LAREDO) — Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, announced today (Wednesday) that the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) awarded $32,450 to arts organizations in Senate District 21 for fiscal year 2008.

“I appreciate TCA’s commitment to championing the arts and preserving Texas culture,” Senator Zaffirini said. “The funding awarded by the Commission greatly will support the arts and arts organizations within my senatorial district. I share TCA’s passion for the arts and am grateful for its leadership and assistance.”

SD 21 organizations that will receive the awards include Art’s for Everyone/Hecho en Encinal, George West Storyfest Association and Laredo Center for the Arts.

Throughout 2008 TCA will award more than 500 additional grants through its mini-grants process. Funding sources include state general revenue, National Endowment for the Arts, interest earnings on the Texas Cultural Endowment Fund, support from the Texas Cultural Trust Council and revenue earned by TCA through sales of State of the Arts specialty license plates. Additional funds for music education are provided via TCA’s participation in the Texas Music Project.

TCA was organized in 1965 by the Texas Legislature to develop a receptive climate for the arts in Texas. It provides funding and other supportive measures, such as arts education and cultural tourism programs, for a variety of arts-related activities, including visual and literary arts, film and multi-media, music, dance and theater. For more information about TCA and its programs, please visit

Editor’s note: A full list of the organizations and cities where TCA distributed grants is currently available on the TCA Web site at

Senator Judith Zaffirini Dedicates UTHSCSA-Laredo Campus Extension Academic Building

(LAREDO) — Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA) President Francisco G. Cigarroa M.D., today (Wednesday) dedicated the newest building of UTHSCSA’s Laredo Campus Extension (LCE). The 20,600 square-foot Academic Building is the second constructed at the LCE and will provide additional classroom space, laboratories and faculty offices to support the expanding health and medical educational programs at the university’s auxiliary campus in Laredo.

“The expansion of the Health Science Center in Laredo provides our families and community with greater access to health resources by creating educational opportunities for physicians, dentists, nurses and allied health professionals who not only are from this area, but also wish to stay and practice in this area,” Senator Zaffirini said. “Because of these efforts and this new building, more students will be familiar with the health problems that are unique to the South Texas Border Region. As a state senator, I was proud to author and pass legislation allowing the Health Science Center to establish and operate the LCE, and I will continue to support its growth by securing state funding and resources.”

In 1999 Senator Zaffirini authored and passed Senate Bill 1288, which established UTHSCSA’s Laredo campus. Construction of the LCE’s second building was made possible by Zaffirini’s leadership in securing $12.7 million in state resources. What’s more, during the 2007 legislative session she secured an additional $3 million for LCE faculty, staff, educational programs, joint degrees, facilities and student support services, which are needed for the Dental Regional Campus that serves the Mid Rio Grande Border Area. Senator Zaffirini has provided a total of $33 million in state funding for the LCE.

The new Academic Building also will include a virtual community health library for health practitioners, students and the general public. What’s more, the Texas Cancer Registry South Texas/Laredo Partnership, which serves the Laredo area by collecting and analyzing cancer data, will be located in the new building.

Immediately following the Academic Building dedication, Senator Zaffirini joined Dr. Cigarroa and Dr. Ray Keck, President of Texas A&M International University, in announcing an agreement between the institutions to offer a joint bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. The program will provide students with educational opportunities that will benefit communities with increased access to and awareness of nutritional guidance. Senator Zaffirini has encouraged and supported both institutions in creating joint educational programs that increase public health and the quality of life for families in South Texas.

Zaffirini Receives 2007 Communicator of the Year Award

(AUSTIN) — Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, Friday (Oct. 5) received the 2007 Communicator of the Year award from the Texas Speech Communication Association (TSCA) at its annual conference in San Antonio. TSCA is a professional and academic association committed to excellence in communication, increasing awareness of political dialogue and the use of proper communication skills in the classroom and work environment. Its membership includes educators, students, consultants and others interested in speech communication. Senator Zaffirini is among their lifetime members.

“It is a tremendous honor to be recognized by my colleagues as the 2007 Communicator of the Year, and I thank TSCA for uniting us in our commitment and dedication to advancing speech, communication and leadership skills,” Senator Zaffirini said. “As an undergraduate and graduate communication student, I worked hard and learned to discuss, listen and negotiate successfully. As a senator, I use these skills to discover problems and work effectively to develop solutions through dialogue and consensus.”

Senator Zaffirini is a communication specialist with 13 years of teaching experience, including at the college and university levels. Through her business, Zaffirini Communications, she provides communication services, including consulting, workshops and seminars, one-on-one coaching, keynote addresses and writing. A distinguished communicator, educator, and leader, she holds B.S., M.A., and PhD degrees from The University of Texas at Austin, each with a 3.9 grade-point average.

Senator Zaffirini has received more than 585 awards for her professional, leadership and public service work, including more than 100 for communication projects. This year she received a gavel from Lt. Governor David Dewhurst for casting her 38,530th consecutive vote in the Senate.

Senator Zaffirini Announces $1,159,400 for San Patricio County Schools

(AUSTIN) — Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, announced today (Wednesday) that the City of Gregory’s Stephen F. Austin Elementary and Ingleside ISD will receive $1,159,400 through the Safe Routes to School Program, which is administered by the Texas Department of Transportation. Stephen F. Austin Elementary in the City of Gregory was awarded $580,000 and Ingleside ISD $579,400 for building sidewalks that surround their respective campuses.

“I am delighted that Stephen F. Austin Elementary in the City of Gregory and Ingleside ISD will receive these important grants that not only will help schools maintain safety standards, but also help students maintain healthy lifestyles,” Senator Zaffirini said. “I also am proud of the other deserving academic institutions that demonstrated a strong commitment to educational excellence and improving school-area infrastructure.”

The Safe Routes to School program enables and encourages children, including those with disabilities, to walk and ride bicycles to school and helps make these activities safer and more appealing. Its projects and activities improve safety and reduce traffic, fuel consumption and air pollution in the vicinity of primary and middle schools (grades K-8). Communities also can use the funds to address hazards and slow traffic on roads that serve schools and to build pathways, bike lanes and sidewalks near schools.

Op-Ed: Help Keep College Affordable: Vote Yes on Proposition 2


I do not know a single student or family who believes a college degree is too cheap. If you agree that higher education should be accessible and affordable for Texas families, please join me in voting for Proposition 2 on Nov. 6.

Many of us have worked for years to make a college education a reality for all students, and it will take you only a minute to help. By supporting Proposition 2, we can make the dream of attending college a reality for thousands of low- and middle-income students. As Chair of the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee, I believe it is critical that citizens voteyes on this important measure that will provide millions of dollars for the education of our children without requiring an increase in local or state taxes.

More than 40 years ago Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to use general obligation bonds to help finance low-interest, affordable loans for college education. Since then, these bonds have helped generations of Texans by providing more than $1 billion in affordable student loans.

This program, which predates many federal financial aid programs and private college loan opportunities, has been a tremendous boon for thousands of students. In the last 10 years alone, more than 58,000 Texans cumulatively received approximately $659 million in low-interest loans to help pay for college expenses.

Proposition 2 will extend the Coordinating Board’s bonding authority to continue this important program. Because the rising costs of attending college and the increasing number of college-bound students are quickly diminishing the program’s financial reserves, this is critical. If Texas voters fail to approve the measure, funding for these student loans could run out by 2009, according to the Coordinating Board. As a result, many of today’s high school sophomores would not have this critical financial assistance to pay for their future college expenses.

At a time when having a higher education degree is more important than ever, we can make no better investment for our students or for our future than providing access to low-interest loans approved by Texans, administered by Texans, for the benefit of Texans. What’s more, because the bonds used to finance these loans are repaid by those who borrow the money, Proposition 2 will have no impact on our local property taxes, sales taxes or any other tax collected by the state.

For the sake of our students and the future of higher education in Texas, I strongly and respectfully urge Texas voters to vote yes on Proposition 2.