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Energy & Environment
10:16 am
Tue August 12, 2014

During Drought, a Once-Mighty Texas Rice Belt Fades Away

In the floodplain, several inches of fine silty mud sit atop thick, heavy clay. The clay is the finest dust eroded by the river, carried until this point then deposited as the river spreads out across the prairie. The silt is a thick rich mixture of sediment.
Credit DYLAN BADDOUR / STATEIMPACT TEXAS

From StateImpact Texas: 

In 2012, some farming districts on the Lower Colorado River were cut off from water for irrigation for the first time. Reservoirs were too low to flood tens of thousands of rice fields. Some asked, “Why would anyone be farming rice in Texas in the first place?”

The answer is long, and it begins with the fact that parts of Texas haven’t always been dry. For farmers like Ronald Gertson, who remembers driving a tractor through rice fields as a child, recent years have been hard to bear.

“It’s just unbelievable that it’s been so bad that we have had three unprecedented years in a row, and I recognize some experts say we could have a couple of decades like this. I hope and pray that’s not the case,” says Gertson, a rice farmer, chair of numerous water-related committees and, in recent years, unofficial spokesman for the Texas Rice Belt. “If that is the case then yeah, this whole prairie is going to change.”

But it has already changed.

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AISD
9:53 am
Tue August 12, 2014

Despite a Majority of Low-Income Students, 'Robin Hood' Targets AISD's Budget

More than 60 percent of students in the Austin Independent School District come from low-income families.
Photo by KUT News

As the Austin Independent School District gears up to trim the fiscal fat this budget season, the district faces a tough financial future.

Enrollment is flat, and the school board is preparing to lose more than $1 billion to the state's school finance system over the next five years through "recapture," which shares revenue from districts with high property tax revenues with low-income school districts.

The board met last night to discuss the future for the district next year and in the future.

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Medicaid
8:30 am
Tue August 12, 2014

Feds: Texas Responsible for Misspent Medicaid Dollars

A federal audit found the 3,000 percent increase in dental payments from 2003 to 2010 was ultimately Texas' responsibility.
photo illustration by: Peter Skadberg/Todd Wiseman

Texas is “ultimately responsible” for millions of misspent Medicaid dollars, according to a new federal audit, because a state agency failed to properly oversee the contractor that reviewed the medical necessity of Medicaid claims.

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Real Estate
8:02 pm
Mon August 11, 2014

Low Unemployment, Rising Housing Stock Make Austin the Best Market for Millennials

These are the ten best cities in the U.S. for millennials to buy a home, according to the National Association of Realtors.
National Association of Realtors

Austin is the best city in the United States for aspiring homebuyers between 20 and 34 years old, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). It said even though housing prices in Austin have shot up in the last few years, the city's median home value of $252,520 is still about half of what it is in Boston and a third of what it is in San Francisco.

"Which is the reason why we still place Austin as reasonably affordable," NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun says. "This is where the millennial generations are moving into and [where] the job opportunities are available."

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UT Regents
2:53 pm
Mon August 11, 2014

Transparency Committee Votes to Censure UT Regent Hall

State Rep. Dan Flynn (right), R-Van, talks to state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, on Oct. 23, 2013. Van is co-chair of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, whose members include Fischer.
Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

In a 6-1 vote on Monday, the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations approved a motion to admonish and censure University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall for “misconduct, incompetency in the performance of official duties, or behavior unbefitting a nominee for and holder of a state office.”

The focus of the committee's inquiry has been the regent’s behavior since being appointed to the board in 2001, in particular his lengthy personal investigations of the University of Texas at Austin administration and his subsequent handling of private student information.

Some of Hall’s findings, such as his allegations that the flagship university is subject to undue political influence in its admissions processes, have led to formal inquiries and policy changes.

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Arts Eclectic
11:00 am
Mon August 11, 2014

'Octia of the Pink Ocean' Is a Big Screen Cyberopera

 For the better part of the past twenty years, Chad Salvata and the folks at his production company, Ethos, have been creating what they call cyberoperas. These works, set in a fantasy world and all featuring elaborate, colorful costumes and sets, have up to now all been live stage shows. But the newest installment in the Ethos canon, Octia of the Pink Ocean, is something different.

Octia is the first full-length feature film created by Ethos. Like their other works, it's an opera, set in a world of fantastical locations and characters. So why film it rather than staging it? For several reasons, according to Salvata. For one, a film will give him the opportunity to share his work with a larger audience; it'll also let him preserve it for all time. Most importanly, perhaps, creating a film and using green screen technology allows him to include sets and characters that he could never create in a stage setting.

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Aging
9:05 am
Mon August 11, 2014

Older Job Seekers in Texas Struggle to Find Jobs, But Find Strength in Numbers

Nancy Ruiz gets her photo taken for her LinkedIn profile at a meeting of the Launch Pad job club in Austin on Aug. 6, 2014.
Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

Baby boomers have dominated the work force for decades, but now they’re fighting to stay in it as they live longer and can’t afford to live off of their savings in retirement.

Older job seekers have a hard time finding jobs – even in Austin.  Experts, however, say the growing aging population is one reason for hope.

Take Bill Hodges – he waited until the age of 57 to move to Austin, with no job prospects and dreams of a new life.

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AISD
8:31 am
Mon August 11, 2014

Austin Schools Begin Pre-K Enrollment, Roll-Out Pilot Programs for 3-Year-Olds

Austin parents can now enroll 4-year-olds in pre-K classes if they are English Language Learners, qualify for reduced or free lunch or are homeless. The district is also testing a pilot program for 3-year-olds.
Robert W. Hart

Today, parents can begin enrolling their 4-year-olds in pre-K classes in the Austin Independent School District, but today also marks the districts roll-out of a pilot program to enroll qualified 3-year-olds in half-day pre-K classes.

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Arts Eclectic
6:00 am
Mon August 11, 2014

Make (and Possibly Read) a 'Texas Confessional'

  Texas Confessional is an unusual art project, in that it's designed primarily to benefit the participants rather than an audience. In its physical form, Texas Confessional is a small black chapbook made up of actual anonymous confessions. These regrets are submitted online and then compiled and printed by editor/publisher Ty Harvey.

Only 100 copies of the books are made, and they're scattered around the state for strangers to find and read. Harvey strives to place the books in places where he believes they'll be read with some consideration rather than just skimmed and set aside. If you seek one out, you're unlikely to find one (there are 100 books and a little over 26 million Texas residents, so the odds aren't in your favor), but that's kind of the point. Harvey hopes that finding a confessional will be like seeing a shooting star or spotting a four leaf clover.

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In Black America
6:47 pm
Sun August 10, 2014

In Black America Podcast: ‘Life Happens’ with Legendary Soul Singer Candi Staton –Part II

This week, John L. Hanson continues his conversation with singer Candi Staton.
Credit flickr.com/guuskrol

 On this edition of "In Black America," producer/host John L. Hanson Jr. speaks with legendary gospel, pop, and R&B recording artist Candi Staton.

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Crime & Justice
7:29 pm
Fri August 8, 2014

Austin Toddler Abducted

2-year-old Cheyenne Johnson and 33-year-old Jesse Thomas
APD

Final update on this story (Saturday 10:00 a.m.): The Austin Police Department and  the Texas Department of Public Safety say this Amber Alert has been canceled. They say two-year-old Cheyenne Johnson is now safe and the suspect, Jesse Thomas, is in custody after a standoff with authorities in northwest Harris County.

UPDATE (10:00 p.m.):  An Amber Alert has now been issued for Cheyenne Johnson. Anyone who may have information about this abduction is asked to call the Austin Police Department at (512) 297-0825 or 9-1-1.

Austin police are asking for help from the public in locating a child who was last seen at 1:54 Friday afternoon on the 1800 block of Anita Drive in South Austin.

Two-year-old Cheyenne Johnson is about two-and-a-half feet tall, weighs 25 pounds and has brown hair and brown eyes.  She was wearing a navy blue shirt with flowers on it and navy blue shorts. She was last seen with 33-year-old Jesse Thomas, 6'01", about 220 pounds. 

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KUT's Summer School
4:10 pm
Fri August 8, 2014

We Took an Acting Class With the Dead Guy From 'Weekend at Bernie's'

Mose Buchele (R) learned Terry Kiser (L) is most famous for playing dead – but the veteran character actor is anything but.
Joe Capraro/KUT

Every Friday this summer, KUT's gone back to class for our Summer School series.  KUT reporters are learning a craft or skill from people around town who are experts in that field.

So when KUT’s Mose Buchele found out that a veteran actor from one of his favorite slapstick comedies of the ‘80s was teaching in Austin – he couldn’t resist setting up a lesson. 

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The Write Up
1:56 pm
Fri August 8, 2014

Who Has Two Thumbs and Dreams of Pulp-Noir Domination?

Credit nerdlocker.com

In this edition of "The Write Up," host Owen Egerton talks with the creator, writer and director of The Intergalactic Nemesis, Jason Neulander. Plus, Dr. Brett Sherman reviews The Foundations of Arithmetic by Gottlob Frege.

Jason Neulander moved to Austin in the early 1990s with nothing but a dream and motorbike. He founded The Salvage Vanguard Theater upon his arrival and went on to create theatrical experiences, not only on the stage but throughout the city.

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AISD
12:09 pm
Fri August 8, 2014

Nine Austin ISD Schools Fail State Standards

A sample question on a STAAR test.
Nathan Bernier/KUT

90 percent of school districts in Texas met state standards, according to results released Friday by the Texas Education Agency.

Under a new rating system that began last year, schools are rated as Met Standard, Met Alternative Standard or Improvement Required.

“Texans should be pleased to see the vast majority of districts, charters, and campuses are meeting the standards set in the second year of the state accountability system,” Education Commissioner Michael Williams said in a statement. “While the 2014 numbers are positive, the work continues in districts across our state to meet and exceed increasing state standards and the expectations of their local communities.”

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Patrick & Van de Putte
10:11 am
Fri August 8, 2014

Lt. Gov. Candidates Appeal to Media at Broadcasters Meeting

State Sens. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and Dan Patrick, R-Houston, will face off against each other in the general election for lieutenant governor.
Jennifer Whitney / Michael Stravato / Texas Tribune

State Senators Dan Patrick and Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic and Republican  candidates for Lieutenant Governor, spoke yesterday at the Texas Association of Broadcasters' annual convention here in Austin.

The two had similar talking points – both touted their business-friendly credentials. But they didn’t meet, and one candidate implored media leaders to push the other into agreeing to debates ahead of the November election.

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Two Guys on Your Head
8:06 am
Fri August 8, 2014

Why Failure Can Make You a More Successful Person

stockmonkeys.com

Failure is a word that carries a lot of baggage, arousing emotional responses that we’d usually rather avoid. 

What about success? Why does the thought of success conjure images and feelings of comfort and satisfaction. This week, "Two Guys on Your Head" examine how the heights of success and the "training wheels" of failure impact our everyday lives.

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Transportation
7:13 am
Fri August 8, 2014

Urban Rail and Road Improvement Plan Will Go to Austin Voters in November

Supporters of urban rail hope it will relieve traffic congestion, but some transit advocates aren't convinced it will work.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrlaugh/6705429685

A major transportation plan took a significant step forward Thursday when the Austin City Council voted unanimously to put it on the November ballot.

It’s a billion-dollar proposition. Voters would agree to a $600 million bond for a 9.5-mile urban rail line, contingent upon two conditions: matching funds from the Federal Transit Administration or another federal or state source, and a future city council securing $400 million dollars for road projects. The ordinance does not specify a source for the additional $400 million.

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HB2
5:12 pm
Thu August 7, 2014

Texas Abortion Law Trial Almost Over, But Both Sides Ready For Step Two

A federal trial against Texas’ newest abortion law, HB2, wraps up on Aug. 7, 2014.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

Update (5:07 p.m.): U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel has scheduled closing arguments in a federal trial against the state's newest abortion law for next Wednesday, Aug. 13, in the morning, after witness testimony concluded today.

The plaintiffs hope Judge Yeakel will strike down a provision that requires abortions only take place at ambulatory surgical centers. And that the provision requiring doctors to receive admitting privileges at  hospitals within 30 miles of the clinic where they perform the procedure will be struck down for physicians in El Paso and McAllen.

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Education
2:11 pm
Thu August 7, 2014

Charters Push Back Against Measure on School Closures

Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune

In 2013, when Texas passed its first overhaul of charter school policy since 1995 — the year the publicly funded but privately operated schools were first established in the state — lawmakers included a provision intended to speed the shuttering of poor-performing schools.

But nearly 10 months after the Texas Education Agency marked six operators for closure under the new measure, three of those schools remain open. As those charters prepare to open their doors this month for a new school year, they say they are fighting a process that does not account for the full picture of a charter’s financial or academic health.  

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Austin City Council
9:20 am
Thu August 7, 2014

Austin Could Create a Municipal ID Program

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole says the municipally issued identification cards would allow undocumented immigrants to report crimes without fear of deportation.
Daniel Reese/KUT

Today, the Austin City Council could decide whether or not to move forward on municipal identification cards – cards which would allow undocumented immigrants to identify themselves without the fear of deportation.

The item on the council's agenda (PDF) would permit the city manager to conduct a study of the ID program to be delivered to council later this year.

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