OPINION

Capital highlights: Deadline nears to register for elections

GARY BORDERS

Eligible Texas voters who have not done so already have until April 7 to register to vote in the May 7 statewide constitutional amendment election, as well as any local elections for city, school districts and other local entities. 

Gary Borders

“In the upcoming May 7 election, every Texas voter will have the opportunity to vote on two proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution concerning property taxes, and many Texas voters will also be voting on mayoral, city council and school board candidates, as well as local propositions,” John Scott, secretary of state, said.

Both propositions deal with property taxes. The first reduces the total amount of property tax imposed on elderly or disable persons. The second increases the homestead exemption on school taxes from $25,000 to $40,000.

Early voting begins on April 25 and runs through May 3.

Texans also will have the opportunity to return to the polls on May 24 for the primary runoff election. Early voting begins on May 16 and ends May 20.

Runoffs are slated in the GOP race for attorney general and railroad commission, the Democratic contest for lieutenant governor and land commissioner, and county and district races.

Voters who participated in one party’s primary in March can’t cross over and vote in the other party’s runoff election. However, persons who did not vote in the March 1 primary can vote in either party’s runoff.

Anyone with questions about voting eligibility should contact their county’s election administrator or the secretary of state’s office.

Wildfire danger continues in much of state

The risk of wildfire across the state continues through this week. During the last week of March, state, federal and local firefighters responded to 192 wildfires that burned more than 173,000 acres, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. 

More than 500 firefighters from the service and through the Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System have been deployed across Texas, as well as personnel from 28 states.

We want to ensure that the state has adequate resources to protect Texas' citizens and natural resources from wildfire,” Wes Moorehead, forest service chief, said. “We are working with other states to mobilize additional fire resources to Texas for assistance.”

The highest risk of fire danger continues to be in West Texas and the Panhandle, according to the forest service.

Schools saved from funding cuts due to attendance

Public school districts will not lose funding because of low attendance rates caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Texas Education Agency and Gov. Greg Abbott announced last week. Funding will be made available to school systems in Texas who normally would have had funding cut, since it is based on attendance rates. 

“Providing this adjustment to the 2021-22 school year will ensure school systems have the funding they need to retain the best and brightest teachers and provide quality education to all public-school students across Texas,” Abbott said. “We have made tremendous strides to return more of our students back to the classroom and will continue in our efforts to do so.”

Texas public schools are funded based on the number of students enrolled and their daily attendance. Currently, schools get a base allotment of $6,160 per student annually. The average daily attendance is calculated by total students present divided the required days of instruction.

During the pandemic, attendance dipped. The state will once again allow district to toss out low attendance days to increase the average daily attendance and not lose funding.

Texas teachers protest unpaid training requirements

Texas teachers are rebelling against a new law that requires those who teach grades K-3 to complete unpaid a 60- to 120-hour course known as Reading Academies in order to keep their jobs next year.

The law, originally passed in 2019, set a deadline for completing the course by the end of the 2022-2023 school year, according to a report in the Houston Chronicle. Most teachers aren’t compensated for their time taking the course, though some districts offer stipends.

The added pressures of teaching online during the pandemic have exacerbated a teacher shortage that spurred the Texas Education Agency to recently form a task force to address the situation. From 2010 to 2019, the number of certified teachers in the state fell by about 20%, according to a study by the University of Houston.

“I just feel like a lemon just squeezing, squeezing, squeezing,” said Christina Guerra, a special education teacher in La Joya Independent School District. “But there's no more, there's nothing that you squeeze out anymore. There's no more juice.”

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations drop again

The number of new cases of COVID-19 reported in Texas during the past week dropped to 17,991, with 447 deaths reported, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. Hospitalizations also continue to decrease, with 1,001 lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations reported by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.