News items from around the state

Posted in 81st Legislature, Around The State, Commentary, Election 2010, Insurance Reform, Public Schools, Taxes, Uncategorized at 2:15 pm by wcnews

This week the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) testing started in most public schools around the state. Changes are proposed this session to how we asses public education, Texas lawmakers consider major changes to school testing, rating system.

The proposed accountability plan would base annual school performance ratings on three years of test scores rather than the most recent year, allowing school districts and campuses to make up for one bad year of results. Any plan would be phased in and would not affect this year’s test.

In addition, students in certain grades would no longer have to pass the state achievement test to be promoted.


The proposed accountability plan also would gradually increase standards so that within 10 years Texas will perform among the top 10 states in college and workplace readiness.

In addition, the plan envisions a new state achievement test to replace the TAKS test for elementary and middle school students.

Lawmakers have decided to phase out the high school TAKS, replacing it with a series of 12 end-of-course tests in four subject areas.

Here’s what State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte about the TAKS test on KUT (listen here):

What we’ve done with this test is we’ve destroyed students love of learning and teachers love of teaching. We need to get back to where we measure real progress, not arbitrary standards one day of the year.

Let’s assess whether the students are learning what they’re being taught as opposed to making sure they can get the right grade on one test. I’d still like to see more emphasis put on teaching skills and trades in public schools instead of them just being institutions for college prep.

The DMN reported that a new report came out showing Texas has the highest homeowners insurance premiums in the nation, Texas lawmakers make proposals to stabilize insurance rates.

Several lawmakers Tuesday pitched insurance proposals that they said would better protect consumers and help stabilize rates in the wake of a study affirming Texas’ standing as the most expensive home insurance market in the nation.

During a hearing of the House Insurance Committee, three Democratic House members made their case for Texas to switch to an elected insurance commissioner.

One proposal as put forward in the House Insurance Committee yesterday would be the election statewide of a single insurance commissioner.

The committee also heard from the three House members who have filed bills to switch the state insurance commissioner to an elected official. Currently, the commissioner is appointed by the governor.

Under the proposals, the insurance commissioner would be elected statewide beginning in 2010, along with the governor, lieutenant governor and other statewide officials.

“The person who regulates the insurance industry should be accountable to the citizens who buy insurance policies,” said Rep. Mark Homer, D-Paris, author of one of the bills, citing polls indicating that Texas voters want that authority.

Sen. Van de Putte pointed out that the high premiums for homeowners which have lead to the highest profits for insurance companies must change.

In the Senate, the chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus said the new insurance rate study provides further evidence that Texas needs better control of rates, specifically by requiring companies to get prior state approval before increasing premiums.

“This is an impartial study that validates what many homeowners have been telling us, that they haven’t seen any relief from high insurance rates,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, referring to the report from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

“We are basically paying the highest premiums and providing the biggest profits while other states have their rates more reasonably aligned. Texans want value for their insurance policy, but we are paying more to get less. And that’s not fair for Texans.”

Joe Woods of the Property and Casualty Insurers Association of America, testifying before the House Insurance Committee, questioned the validity of the NAIC study – which has shown Texas having the highest home insurance rates for several years in a row.

Woods said it was unfair to compare Texas rates with other states because of the different types of policies sold in Texas, and also because some states don’t report numbers to the NAIC that would make their average rates higher.

“It is dangerous to use this study to make public policy,” he told the House panel. “There are problems with it.”

Notice he mentioned nothing about the high profits of insurance companies. Here’s what the study found:

A study by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners released Monday showed the average annual premium for common policies in Texas was $1,409 per year, much higher than the nationwide average of $804. Florida was second at $1,386.

The study is based on premiums collected in 2006, the most recent year for which figures are available.

Wow!! $600 more than the national average. Something will get done because, as a recent statewide poll showed, this will end political careers if the legislature doesn’t get this fixed. But what that fix will be will need to be watched like a hawk. Something called “insurance reform” will get passed, whether it actually reforms insurance in a way that helps homeowners is another story.

The latest from TPJ’s “Watch Your Assets” series reminds us of the high cost of Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart Deep Discounts the DFW and Houston Areas.

Slashing prices on the way to becoming the planet’s biggest corporation, Wal-Mart has not skimped on everything. The company is the retail industry’s top spender on Washington and Austin lobbyists, who seek to minimize Wal-Mart’s taxes even as they hustle Wal-Mart subsidies that come courtesy of other taxpayers. The latest “Watch Your Assets” report analyzes Wal-Mart subsidies in Texas’ major metropolitan areas, uncovering $33 million in taxpayer transfers to the retail king.

Reminds us that tax abatements rarely, if ever, pay off.


  1. HeavyDuty said,

    March 5, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    It should be remembered that Wal-Mart is far from alone in seeking, and receiving, tax abatements; all retail and commercial companies get ’em!

  2. Is the TAKS test at the end of the line? « Off the Kuff said,

    March 5, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    […] implementation. But the direction strikes me as the right one, and so I hope this makes it through. EoW has […]

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