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.


10:30 am
Thu November 29, 2012

Texas Posts Top High School Graduation Rates, But Why?

Brian Gurrola for Texas Tribune

With witnesses in a school finance trial testifying daily on the challenges facing public education in the state, and with a chorus of state leaders citing the failings of traditional public schools in calling for reform, some may be surprised to hear that by one measure, Texas schools appear to be doing quite well.

Preliminary data released by the U.S. Department of Education this week shows that Texas — along with five other states — ranks fourth in the nation for its four-year high school graduation rates. With an overall rate of 86 percent in the 2010-11 school year, the state follows Iowa, with 88 percent, and Wisconsin and Vermont, both at 87 percent.

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6:56 am
Wed November 28, 2012

Texas School Districts, Charters Are Finalists in Federal Competition

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

By the end of the year, a few Texas school districts may have access to millions in funding that Gov. Rick Perry had passed on two years ago because of concerns about federal intrusion into Texas classrooms.

Since Texas refused to participate in Race to the Top at the state level in 2010, the Obama administration has rolled out a new version of its signature education program to allow districts to apply individually for a separate pot of about $400 million in federal money. Administration officials announced the new round of competition that would emphasize data-driven personalized student learning plans in 2011, after three phases of the state-based contest.

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11:18 am
Thu October 4, 2012

Lt. Gov. Dewhurst Shuffles Senate Committee Chairs

David Dewhurst in 2011.
Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is making some big leadership changes ahead of the 2013 legislative session.

On Thursday morning, his office announced that he was shuffling committee chairs up for the remainder of the interim, appointing state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, to chair the education committee, and replacing state Sen.Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, with state Sen. Kel Seliger R-Amarillo, as chair of the higher education committee.

Both Seliger and Patrick have pushed to lead the education committee since it was vacated by retiring state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano. 

Dewhurst’s pick indicates his support for school choice legislation, for which Patrick has become an increasingly vocal advocate. The Houston senator recently led an interim committee hearing that focused on the benefits of such reforms, including private school vouchers. In August, he told the Houston Chronicle that "this was the year" to pass laws enacting them, saying it would be "the photo ID bill of this session." At the Republican National Convention, Dewhurst told delegates he looked forward to working with Patrick in passing school choice reform.

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3:36 pm
Thu September 27, 2012

Report Examines How Budget Cuts Affected Texas Schools

Marjorie Kamys Cotera/Texas Tribune

How Texas public schools coped with the $5.4 billion state budget cut in 2011 is sure to dominate the conversation at the Capitol about school funding in 2013.

In advance of the next legislative session, one group aims to provide comprehensive data on exactly what has happened. A coalition of nonprofit foundations and the Houston-based advocacy organization Children At Risk released their initial findings Thursday at a Capitol press conference.

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4:20 pm
Mon September 24, 2012

Texas SAT Scores Drop, But Participation Rates Surge

Shannan Muskop, Texas Tribune

A report from the Texas Education Agency on the state's 2012 SAT scores shows two things about Texas students over the past five years: more students are the taking the test, but they aren't performing as well.

More students are taking the college admissions test — especially Hispanics and blacks, whose participation rates have increased by 65 and 42 percent, respectively, since 2007. Students' scores, though, decreased from 2o11 by about five points across the board in reading, math and writing, continuing the downward trend of the past five years. 

“We are clearly building a college-going culture in Texas. The increased minority participation is important to the health of this state because of our changing demographics,” said Commissioner Michael Williams in a statement.

About 58 percent of 2012's graduating class took the SAT, which was about a 6 percent increase from the year before.

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3:13 pm
Wed August 29, 2012

Dewhurst Declares Support for School Choice Legislation

State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, speaking with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on the floor of the Texas Senate.
Texas Senate

WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, throwing some red meat to conservatives after his bruising defeat at the hands of Tea Party darling Ted Cruz, has put private school vouchers and expanded “parental choice” back on the legislative agenda.

Speaking to delegates at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday, Dewhurst said he would work with state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, to hammer out the details of the proposal.

Dewhurst made it clear that he supports the voucher concept, though he said that is just one of many options to pursue.

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12:52 pm
Wed July 18, 2012

Texas Weighs State-Based Alternative to GED Exam

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Texas may soon add one more item to the list of national education practices it has bucked over the years.  

Because of changes coming to the GED in 2014, the Texas Education Agency is putting out feelers to figure out how much a new state-based high school equivalency exam would cost.

Last year, the American Council on Education, a national organization of higher-education institutions that develops the exams, partnered with Pearson, a London-based testing company. They formed a jointly owned entity called GED Testing Services, which has since overhauled the exam in an effort to better test the skills needed in the workplace.

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4:59 pm
Sat June 9, 2012

After Afternoon With Cruz, Santorum Addresses Texas GOP

Rick Santorum tells stories from his failed presidential campaign June 8, 2012 at the Texas Republican Convention.
Bob Daemmrich for Texas Tribune

FORT WORTH — Rick Santorum wooed a friendly audience with tales of campaign misadventures while avoiding aggravating divisions among his fellow Republicans on Friday night when he addressed a room full of state party leaders at a Texas GOP gala fundraiser.  

The former Pennsylvania senator has endorsed Ted Cruz in his bid against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to become the state's next U.S. senator and replace Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, but Santorum made no mention of it during his speech.

Cruz and Dewhurst are pitted in a heated runoff that has exposed the division between the grassroots and establishment wings of the GOP — a division that has been on display at the convention. On Thursday, when Gov. Rick Perry praised Dewhurst as the best candidate to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate, members of the crowd loudly booed. When Dewhurst took the stage today, some greeted him with jeers and shouts of "Cruz!" but the noise was quickly shushed by others in the audience. 

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4:56 pm
Sat June 9, 2012

For Texas GOP, A New Position On Immigration Reform

The group Hispanic Republicans of Texas at a news conference Nov. 3, 2010.
Marjorie Kamys Cotera for Texas Tribune

Late Friday night, Texas Republicans approved an unprecedented change to their official party platform: a call for a national guest-worker program.

The more moderate language is a welcoming gesture to Hispanics who have avoided the GOP because of what they view as its hardline position on immigration issues. 

"It takes away a tool that Democrats have used for years to drive a wedge between conservative Hispanics and Republicans," said's Bob Price, who is also a delegate at the Republican Party's state convention.

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University of Texas
9:55 am
Fri May 18, 2012

UT's Reform-Minded Chairman at Center of Controversy

UT Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell asks the Board to support Chancellor Dr. Franciso Cigarroa at their Austin meeting on May 12, 2011.
Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

SAN ANTONIO — When Gene Powell first arrived at the University of Texas at Austin in 1964, it was on a scholarship to play offensive guard and defensive linebacker for the legendary coach Darrell K Royal.

“I was a very average to mediocre football player, and that’s probably being generous,” Powell, a real estate developer and South Texas native, recalled during an interview at his San Antonio office this week.

More than four decades later, Powell was asked to return to Austin — this time by Gov.Rick Perry, who needed a staunch ally and strong leader to support his reforms on the University of Texas System’s board of regents.

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4:38 pm
Tue May 1, 2012

Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott Stepping Down

Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott speaks at the TASA midwinter conference in Austin, Texas February 1st, 2011.
Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott is leaving the post Gov. Rick Perry appointed him to in 2007. 

When Scott steps down on July 2 from the agency that oversees the public education of Texas' nearly 5 million students, he will be the longest serving education commissioner of the past two decades. 

Scott said in a statement that it had been a "privilege" to serve at the agency and noted that he began his career there in 1994 — when his son was one and his daughter was three months old — and they have both now gone on to graduate from Texas public schools. 

"It's time," he said.

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10:06 am
Fri March 16, 2012

Texas Schools Cope as Classes Expand and Staffs Shrink

Alex Train's first grade classroom only had 22 students at the beginning of the year, but has added two more since at Wanke Elementary School in north San Antonio, Friday, March 9, 2012.
Photo by Jennifer Whitney/Texas Tribune

SAN ANTONIO — Ask Phyllis Causey what time she goes to lunch, and the third-grade teacher will give a very specific answer: 11:55 a.m.

“I live on a timer,” she said.

Every minute is accounted for in her meticulously planned workdays. To some extent, that is true every school year. But last fall, for the first time in her 12 years of teaching, 23 students were enrolled in her San Antonio elementary school class — making those minutes even more precious.

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3:40 pm
Tue March 13, 2012

Texas Elected Officials Who Didn't File For Re-election

Dropouts guarantee new faces at the Capitol in 2013
Lizzie Chen, for KUT News

With the filing deadline passed and the electoral maps finalized at last, we've updated the 2012 quit list.

Thirty-one members — that’s about 20 percent — of the Texas House have said they won't seek re-election. That includes seven Democrats and 24 Republicans. Looked at another way, it includes 17 members who are leaving to run for other offices including district attorney, state Senate, Congress and the Railroad Commission. Thirteen of the members are leaving with no announced plans for public office. 

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12:45 pm
Tue March 13, 2012

Rusty Hardin Picked For Prosecutor In Morton Case

Michael Morton hearing on February 10, 2012 at the Williamson Co. Courthouse.
Photo by: Spencer Selvidge/Texas Tribune

Houston criminal defense lawyer Rusty Hardin will be the special prosecutor in the court of inquiry looking into possible misconduct in the case of Michael Morton, who was wrongfully convicted in 1987 of bludgeoning his wife to death. 

This won't be Hardin's first high-profile case. The former Harris County prosecutor has represented Roger Clemens, J. Howard Marshall's estate in the Anna Nicole Smith lawsuit, and, during the Enron scandal, accounting firm Arthur Andersen. 

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3:09 pm
Wed February 1, 2012

Texas Schools Chief's Remarks On Testing Draw Backlash

Robert Scott in July 2011
Photo by Jessie Wang for KUT News

Some high profile members of the education community aren't pleased with Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott's speech yesterday criticizing the role of testing in Texas public schools. 

Speaking to 4,000 school officials at the Texas Association of School Administrators' annual midwinter conference, Scott received a standing ovation when he called for an accountability system that measured "what happens on every single day in the life of a school besides testing day." He also said that he would not certify a ban on social promotion next year unless schools received more money from the state to offer remedial classes to students. 

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10:55 am
Mon January 9, 2012

Texas Museums Hit as Schools Take Fewer Field Trips

Sophia Lara and her father Ricardo look at a display in the dairy processing plant at the Austin Children's Museum.
Photo by Callie Richmond for the Texas Tribune

As Texas schools whittle their budgets in response to the state’s multibillion dollar education cuts, they are eyeing every expenditure, from athletics to busing and even field trips.

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9:00 am
Fri December 16, 2011

UT President Ends Tough Year With Another Battle

University of Texas at Austin President, William Powers - Dec. 14, 2011
Photo by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

For Bill Powers, 2011 has been a year full of upheavals.

Certain issues were foreseeable for the president of the University of Texas at Austin, the state’s largest and arguably most prestigious public university. State lawmakers were heading into a legislative session with budget axes at the ready, and nationally there were questions about the value of higher education.

Then, in early February, when he should have been testifying at the Capitol about the university’s financial needs, Powers suffered a pulmonary embolism. He was in the hospital for a week.

It was the first struggle in a year marked by high-profile battles involving Powers — to some, the university’s very own Dumbledore; to others, a particularly large bee in the bonnet of higher education reformers.

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5:35 pm
Fri December 2, 2011

Hochberg, House Public Ed Expert, Won't Run Again

State Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, speaks to the press about two school finance measures filed on March 8, 2011
Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

The Legislature's foremost expert on school finance and one of its top public education advocates, state Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, confirmed this afternoon that he won't seek re-election next year.

Hochberg, who took office in 1993 and is now the vice chairman of the House Education Committee and the chairman of the education subcommittee on the House Appropriations Committee, said the time had come for him to pursue something new.

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2012 Presidential Election
2:04 pm
Fri October 14, 2011

In Pennsylvania, Perry Calls To Energize America

Gov. Rick Perry tours a steel mill in West Mifflin, Pa. before giving a speech there on Oct. 14.
Photo by Ben Philpott, KUT News

At a steel mill outside Pittsburgh this morning, the Texas governor called for "a 'made in America' energy revolution." 

Looking to turn the corner after a series of flat performances at debates where he was attacked for offering little substance but many sound bites, he delivered the first major economic policy speech of his campaign.

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2012 Presidential Election
3:55 pm
Tue October 11, 2011

In Blow to Perry, Romney Gets Christie Endorsement

Mitt Romney and Gov. Chris Christie shake hands after Romney introduces him at event in Lebanon New Hampshire.
Photo by Ben Philpott/KUT News

LEBANON, New Hampshire —  Gov. Rick Perry's chief rival for the GOP presidential nomination picked up a key endorsement from popular New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. 

The announcement that Christie will support former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came just hours before a debate that will be crucial for Perry, who saw his poll numbers drop after poor showings in the previous rounds. 

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