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With just two months remaining in the 81st session, (l-r) state Senators Kel Seliger, Florence Shapiro, Royce West, Tommy Williams, and Robert Duncan get down to brass tacks on the Senate floor March 30.
With just two months remaining in the 81st session, (l-r) state Senators Kel Seliger, Florence Shapiro, Royce West, Tommy Williams, and Robert Duncan get down to brass tacks on the Senate floor March 30. (Photo by John Anderson)

Bad Plan For Bad Kids

The Austin Independent School District board of trustees kicked back a draft proposal from staff to privatize the teaching of children with the worst disciplinary and attendance records. At the March 30 board meeting, district staff laid out a proposal that the board use economic stabilization funds, if available, to hire Tennessee-based Community Education Part­ners to open a new alternative learning center for roughly 700 students. Superintendent Pat Forgione said, "We've got to face the fact that there's a group of kids that we have to think differently about." But while the board as a whole agreed that serious changes may be needed, there was open antipathy toward subcontracting public education. Summing up the mood, board Vice President Vince Torres said, "Going outside to have someone come in and take the problem off our hands is basically saying, 'We're relinquishing our primary mission for the public school children of our district.'" – Richard Whittaker

Hello and Goodbye

Mayoral aide Matt Watson bid adios to City Hall last Friday, after accepting a job in the Washington, D.C., office of the Environmental Defense Fund. He'll be working on energy policy in the fund's Climate & Air Program, helping to get climate-protection legislation – such as the new draft just advanced by U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman – passed by Congress. Watson earned his green credentials working tirelessly on the nuts-and-bolts implementation of the Austin Climate Protec­tion Plan for Mayor Will Wynn. With the Wynn-Watson duo departing City Hall, municipal leadership on the Climate Protection Plan is now in question. Meanwhile, over at Austin Energy on Monday, former fund Energy Program manager Karl Rábago started work in the "green leader" position originally held by Roger Duncan, who is now general manager. Rábago is a nationally recognized leader in renewable energy, green power, tradable carbon credits, and new energy market development. He's a strong hire to head up AE's efforts on the Austin Climate Protection Plan, energy efficiency, green building, plug-in hybrids, and other efforts. – Katherine Gregor

The God Phrase Stays

On March 26, a federal judge in Dallas upheld as constitutional the inclusion of the phrase "one state, under God" in the Texas Pledge of Allegiance. Written in 1933, the Texas pledge was amended in 2007 by a bill written by Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, and carried in the Senate by Dan Patrick, R-Houston. David and Shannon Croft (with another set of unnamed parents) sued on behalf of their kids, all public school students, arguing that the phrase's addition violates the First Amendment's establishment clause. Attorney General Greg Abbott argued that the addition was about "patriotism and citizenship," not the endorsement of a particular religion. Indeed, in 2007, Riddle told colleagues that the phrase was a way to bring the Texas pledge in line with the national pledge, which includes similar wording. The Crofts disagreed, pointing out that Riddle had not also sought to add "with liberty and justice for all," which appears in the national pledge. But District Judge Ed Kinkeade ruled that the language could stand, and Abbott said the ruling "protects young Texans'" right to pledge to the state and to God. "Texans can rest assured," he said, "that we will continue defending their children's ability to recite the state Pledge of Allegiance each morning." – Jordan Smith

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