Morgan Smith, Texas Tribune

Reporter with The Texas Tribune

Morgan Smith was an editorial intern and columnist at Slate in Washington, D.C., before moving to Austin to enter law school at the University of Texas in 2008. (She has put her degree on hold to join the Tribune's staff.) A native of San Antonio, she has a bachelor's degree in English from Wellesley College.

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From the Texas Tribune

FORT WORTH — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's first courtroom appearance as a criminal defendant was a 30-minute affair in which Paxton's lead lawyer quit for unspecified reasons, the attorney general requested that no cameras be allowed at his trial and the judge admonished everyone to limit public statements about the case.

Marjorie Kamys Cotera/Texas Tribune

After more than six hours — and a testy debate that escalated dramatically when unusual alliances formed between a few Democrats and a group of Tea Party-backed Republicans — the Texas Senate approved a measure loosening state restrictions on handguns Friday.

The legislation allowing Texans with licenses to carry handguns openly eventually passed on a final 20 to 11 vote along party lines.

via Texas Tribune

From the Texas Tribune:

Second Amendment advocates plan to manufacture guns at the Texas Capitol during an armed rally set for the opening day of the 2015 legislative session. 

Bob Daemmrich via Texas Tribune

As momentum grows behind a push to let Texans carry handguns openly, the biggest fight may be among Second Amendment advocates themselves.

A conflict is emerging over how far changes to the current state law should go, and some gun-rights supporters fear that the divide may sink efforts to lift handgun restrictions during the legislative session that begins in January.

Martin do Nascimento/Texas Tribune

A conservative grassroots group formed by a San Antonio man with ties to a national anti-Muslim organization has made a late entry into debate over new social studies textbooks for Texas schools, which are set to gain final approval from the state Board of Education this week. 

Tamir Kalifa via Texas Tribune

Texas school districts dominate the list of those receiving military equipment — including firearms and armored vehicles — through a federal initiative, according to a letter sent by a coalition of civil rights and education advocacy groups to the U.S. Department of Defense on Monday.

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.  

Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

Federal officials along the border have scrambled in the last few months to house and care for tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America crossing the border into the United States.

Bob Daemmrich for Texas Tribune

Studying technology's impact on higher education and evaluating public school students' writing scores on state assessments are among the tasks Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst gave lawmakers in education-related interim charges Thursday.

Dewhurst announced the charges, which are expected to increase in the coming weeks, at a benefit for the United Negro College Fund in Dallas.

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

SAN ANTONIO — Long rumored to be a contender, state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte has now made it official: She is running for lieutenant governor.

"I want to be your lieutenant governor because Mama ain't happy — because Texas, we can do better," Van de Putte said Saturday in a fiery announcement speech in front of about 200 supporters at the San Antonio college gymnasium.

Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

State district court Judge John Dietz likened the state's school finance case to the soap opera As The World Turns when he opened Wednesday's hearing on whether to reconsider evidence in the trial that concluded in February.

He drew the comparison not because of the trial's drama but because of its longevity.

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

The state’s charter school system could move closer to its first expansion in nearly two decades on Thursday, as the House is set to take up an education reform measure that passed through the Senate earlier this session.

Senate Bill 2, authored by Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, would increase the number of available state contracts for the schools that are publicly funded but privately operated by nonprofit organizations. 

Eric Kayne for Texas Tribune

Cheerleaders at an East Texas high school who were told to stop displaying Bible verses on banners at school athletic events can resume such displays, after a state district judge ruled in their favor Wednesday.

The national headline-grabbing lawsuit arose last fall when Kountze Independent School District administrators ordered its high school cheerleaders to stop displaying religious messages during athletic events after a group advocating for the separation of church and state threatened to sue. 

Tamir Kalifa/Texas Tribune

As Texas re-examines what students should learn in order to earn a high school diploma, no part of the state’s curriculum has attracted more attention than a single advanced math course.

In response to calls from educators and employers for graduation standards that allow more opportunities for career-training courses, the state Legislature is considering more flexible diploma requirements that do not include algebra II as a core credit for all students.

Marjorie Kamys Cotera via Texas Tribune

A panel of senators voted to put $1.5 billion in additional funding for public education in the two-year state budget on Thursday — including $40 million for pre-kindergarten programs, $20 million for the state's Virtual School Network and $4 million to support Teach for America.

Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

Broad changes to the state's charter school system, including the creation of a new state board to oversee the state contract process, would result from legislation filed Monday by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston.

The State Board of Education currently oversees applications for charter school contracts, which state law caps at 215. Patrick's Senate Bill 2 would create a new state entity to authorize the contracts and lift that cap, allowing for an unlimited number of charter school operators in the state.

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

Former House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler has taken on publishing and testing giant Pearson as a client, according to recent Ethics Commission filings.

The Republican from The Woodlands, who lost his seat in the 2012 Republican primary, is now an Austin lobbyist whose clients include the Harris County Department of Education and the Barbers Hill Independent School District.

Todd Wiseman via Texas Tribune

In a decision certain to be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, state district Judge John Dietz ruled Monday in favor of more than 600 school districts on all of their major claims against the state's school finance system.  With a swift ruling issued from the bench shortly after the state finished its closing arguments, Dietz said the state does not adequately or efficiently fund public schools — and that it has created an unconstitutional de-facto property tax in shifting the burden of paying for them to the local level.

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

A Texas lawmaker has filed legislation that would require the state to study the effects of cutting financial ties with the federal government.

Rep. James White, R-Hillister, said he filed HB 568 because the state needed to be prepared for the possibility that the federal government could not meet its financial obligations because of "fiscal dysfunction" in Washington, D.C.

Callie Richmond for Texas Tribune

The School Land Board voted Tuesday to release $300 million into the Available School Fund for public schools.

The money will be released in two $150 million installments, one in February and the other on June. The funds had been caught in a standoff between the Legislature and the School Land Board, which operates out of the General Land Office and oversees the state’s public school land. 

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