Senator Zaffirini Files Bilingual Education Reform Legislation

(AUSTIN) — Responding to several recent court rulings highlighting the urgent need for bilingual education reform, Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed today (Monday) filed Senate Bill 548, relating to public school accountability for bilingual education and English as a second language and other special language programs.

On July 25 U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice reversed his previous ruling and cited the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for not reporting accurately test scores and dropout rates for secondary English Language Learner (ELL) students. Noting that TEA lacked a trained program monitor, he said it was likely that eligible students were not being identified for certain bilingual programs.

Judge Justice also stressed that Texas has failed its secondary ELL students. He gave TEA until Jan. 31 to propose plans to remedy the state’s bilingual program. The plan must be implemented by the 2009-10 school year.

TEA appealed the decision and requested a Motion to Stay Proceedings Pending Appeal to avoid the Jan. 31 deadline. On Dec. 19 the federal district court denied TEA’s request, emphasizing that now is the time to address the failed secondary ESL program and monitoring system.

“I am very pleased that the court focused attention on this special group of learners,” Senator Zaffirini said. “We must maintain the highest standards in educating all students and in precluding drop outs.”

Senator Zaffirini’s legislation not only will address specific problems regarding bilingual program monitoring, but also will focus on district and agency accountability for ELL students.

SB 548 would require TEA to disaggregate all data regarding ELL students to campus levels; report the high school dropout rate separately from the middle school dropout rate; and analyze data relating to waivers, referral and retention rates, and discrepancies in achievement among ELL and non-ELL students. The bill also would direct districts found in noncompliance in these areas to submit a detailed improvement plan to ensure that the needs of ELL students are met.

“Ensuring that achievement levels of all ELL students are being accounted for and reported properly must be our first goal,” Senator Zaffirini said. “We cannot adequately address their needs if we do not have a clear picture of the achievement gap among ELL and non-ELL students.”

SB 548 will be considered by the 81st Texas Legislature, which convened on Jan. 13.

Senator Zaffirini Hosts Local Superintendents at Capitol

(AUSTIN) — Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, hosted more than 25 school superintendents and administrators from 13 counties in Senate District 21 and representatives from regional education service centers at the Texas Capitol Tuesday (Jan. 20).

Sponsored by the South Texas Association of Schools, the forum focused on public school finance and other issues that impact the 50 independent school districts she represents.

“One of the best ways to serve my constituents,” Senator Zaffirini said, “is to work hand in hand with local school officials in addressing and protecting the interests of our district.”

The meeting allowed SD 21 superintendents to communicate their legislative priorities and hear from statewide experts regarding priority issues facing the 81st Legislative Session, which convened on Tuesday (Jan. 13).

Speakers included Senator Zaffirini; Dr. Wayne Pierce, executive director, Equity Center; Lynn M. Moak, education finance consultant, Moak, Casey and Associates; F. Scott McCown, executive director, Center for Public Policy Priorities; and Jason Sabo, senior vice president, United Ways of Texas.

Senator Zaffirini presided at the meeting and assured the attendees that she will continue to champion adequate funding for public schools, including returning to equitable formula funding; supporting additional funds for students with greater needs; assisting districts with declining enrollment; seeking solutions for fast-growth districts; and providing funding for high-quality, full-day pre-kindergarten as part of the Foundation School Program.

Also attending were representatives of Senator Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville; Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Corpus Christi; and Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City.

In addition to hearing from leading education authorities, participants offered suggestions and opinions about proposed plans. Speakers and attendees agreed that any plan the Texas Legislature implements should provide more funding for schools and equal access to an excellent education for all Texas children.

“Providing an excellent education is the best investment for our children and future generations,” Senator Zaffirini said. “We need to find a way to do so that is not only fair and permanent, but also increases state revenues for public education.”

SENATOR JUDITH ZAFFIRINI hosts superintendents from Senate District 21 at the State Capitol. Superintendents joining her are (standing, L-R) Eddie Ramirez, La Pryor ISD; Frances Penland, Karnes City ISD; Mario Sotelo, Pearsall ISD; Romeo Rodriguez, Zapata ISD; Elizabeth Saenz, Cotulla ISD; Michelle Carroll Smith, Lytle ISD; Maria Rodriguez-Casas, Mathis ISD; Senator Judith Zaffirini, host; Paul Clore, Gregory-Portland ISD; John Hardwick Jr, Beeville ISD; Rey Villarreal, Crystal City ISD; Jan LaCour, Kenedy ISD; Randy Ewing, Runge ISD; David Jones, Webb ISD; Rita Polen, Randolph Field ISD; and (seated, L-R) Frank Franklin, McMullen ISD; Jack Seals, Dilley ISD; Richard Middleton, Northeast ISD; and Saul Hinojosa, Somerset ISD.

Senator Zaffirini Files Bills Spanning System Benefit Fund, Children’s Immunization, Airport Funding, Emergency Service District Boards

(AUSTIN) — Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed legislation on Tuesday (Jan.13) to reconstitute the system benefit fund as a trust fund, give parents options for immunizing their children, secure aviation facilities development and establish the title of members of boards of emergency services districts.

“These bills focus on the priorities of District 21, balanced with those of the families of our great state,” Senator Zaffirini said. “Each is simply a starting point and will evolve through constructive negotiation that is the hallmark of the legislative process.

“Accordingly, I urge anyone interested in any of my bills to contact me or my staff immediately so that we can consider any suggestions for improvement.”

Senate Bill (SB) 464 would ensure that the System Benefit Fund, created in 1999 with electricity deregulation, will be used for its intended purposes of providing electric rate discounts and home weatherization upgrades to reduce electric bills of low-income customers. Since 2003 funds received through the System Benefit Fund have been diverted from these programs and applied to other state budget needs.

SB 465 would change the title of members of emergency service district boards from “commissioner” to “director” to alleviate public confusion between the roles and responsibilities of Emergency Service Districts and the County Commissioners Courts.

SB 466 would protect voluntary exclusion rights of those who do not want to participate in the Texas Immunization Registry, while increasing the number of persons who are vaccinated fully. This is responsible public health policy that will decrease societal risk and exposure to increasing outbreaks of preventable diseases and their long-term impact. What’s more, this measure will require persons to demonstrate personal responsibility for ensuring their exclusion from the system.

SB 467 would take any sales tax revenue generated from aviation or air traffic-related sales and place it in a special airport development fund. If passed, the bill would provide up to $50 million for airports statewide, more than three times the amount that the Texas Department of Transportation provides currently for airport funding.

Senator Zaffirini has passed 587 bills since 1987, including 72 during the 2007 session and 13 local bills in collaboration with constituents. She also has sponsored and passed 51 substantive resolutions and co-sponsored and passed another 278 bills.

“I look forward to working with Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and my colleagues in the legislature to enact these and other bills that will address priority issues such as health, human services, economic development and the economy,” Senator Zaffirini said. “The well-being of families and communities of Senate District 21 and Texas is my main focus.”

Zaffirini Sworn-In as 2nd-Highest Ranking Senator

(AUSTIN) — Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, the second highest-ranking Texas state senator, today (Tuesday) was sworn in for another four-year term representing SD 21. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst presided during Opening Day Ceremonies, officially gaveling to order the 81st Texas Legislative Session.

“I truly am delighted to renew my unwavering support for all families in our district,” Senator Zaffirini said. “I especially look forward to prioritizing education and health and human services and to ensuring the health and welfare of Texans, especially those whom I represent.” She returns as the highest-ranking senator for Bexar County and the border region.

First elected in 1986, Senator Zaffirini has received more than 600 awards and honors for her legislative, public service and professional work, including more than 100 awards for excellence in communications.

Her legendary work ethic is reflected in her 100 percent voting record in the Texas Senate, having cast more than 38,530 consecutive votes since 1987. She has sponsored and passed 581 bills and 51 substantive resolutions and co-sponsored and passed another 278 bills.

Her 2007 legislative successes include sponsoring and passing Senate Bill (SB) 6, which protects Texas children and families from sexual Communication and solicitation via the internet; SB 99, which supports persons living in Texas’ most impoverished communities by increasing the number of state agencies required to submit data about projects that serve colonias; SB 1050, which creates new work-study opportunities for college students by developing a program through which students could serve as peer mentors and tutors as part of their work-study financial aid program; and SB 1051, which provides waivers to the core curriculum for foreign students enrolled in international institutions in a joint-degree program with Texas colleges and universities.

Senator Zaffirini pre-filed 49 bills before the 2009 session began, including many relating to higher education, public education, health and human services, juvenile and criminal justice, agriculture, transportation, judiciary and technology.

“I look forward to working with Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and my Senate colleagues to pass legislation that places families first, improves public and higher education and increases access and availability of quality health services,” she said.

The lieutenant governor is expected to appoint new Senate committees this month.