Austin
8:21 am
Fri March 16, 2012

AM Update: Texas Women's Health Program Update, State Class Sizes Increasing, St. Patty's Day

Federal Funding for Texas's Women's Health Program to be Phased Out

Texas officials got the letter they expected from the federal government Thursday: federal funding for the state’s Women’s Health Program will be phased out in the near future. The program provides basic health screenings and contraceptive coverage to more than a 100,000 low-income women in Texas.

The dispute stems from a state rule that would exclude Planned Parenthood clinics from providing services under the program. Cindy Mann directs the federal Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services.

“We don’t have a choice. Medicaid law is clear: patients, not the state government officials, are able to choose the doctor and health care providers that are best for them and their families,” she said.

In a statement on his website, Governor Rick Perry criticized the Federal decision.

"It is the height of political posturing for the Obama Administration to put the interests of abortion providers and their affiliates, like Planned Parenthood, over the well-being of more than 100,000 low-income Texas women. I will not stand by and let this Administration abandon these Texas women to advance its political agenda; Texas will fund these services with or without the federal government."

Ninety percent of the program is currently paid for by the federal government. The feds have told Texas to draw up a plan to phase out the use of federal dollars by April 16th.

Texas Class Sizes Increasing

KUT's reporting partner The Texas Tribune, reports that number of K-4 Texas classrooms exceeding the 22-student cap for the 2011-2012 school year more than tripled from its total last year, according to figures from the Texas Education Agency. Many now stand at 24 students or more.

Texas has had the 22-student cap for kindergarten through fourth-grade classes since 1984, and districts can apply for exemptions for financial reasons. But during the 2011 legislative session, to ease the pain of a roughly $5.4 billion reduction in state financing that did not account for the estimated influx of 170,000 new students over the next two years — and after an attempt to do away with the cap failed — lawmakers made those exemptions easier to obtain. Texas schools, which have shed approximately 25,000 employees this school year, including more than 10,000 teachers, have jumped at the chance to trim costs.

Some areas of Texas have been hit harder than others.

Budget cuts have affected all of the state’s 1,200-plus school districts and charters, but the 102 fastest-growing districts, which have absorbed 92 percent of the growth in student population since 2007, have been hit the hardest by increasing class sizes. About 46 percent of these fast-growth districts have campuses with waivers, compared with 28 percent of non-fast-growth districts, according to an analysis of TEA data by the Fast Growth School Coalition. The coalition advocates for districts that have an enrollment of at least 2,500 and have grown by at least 10 percent or 3,500 students over the past five years. Those districts educate about 40 percent of the state’s students.

Research is mixed on the effects of bigger class sizes on students' learning, but many educators agree that adding just two students to a classroom makes teaching more difficult for teachers.

St. Patrick's Day

This weekend isn't just about SXSW: St. Patrick's Day will add to Austin's raucous party atmosphere, with cloggers, Irish-inflected film screenings, and Guinness to spare.

The Celtic Cultural Center of Texas will host two events in north central Austin and Westlake, featuring Irish musical group Téada. They will be joined by sean nos-style dancer Brian Cunningham, in a lineup that includes local groups such as Silver Thistle Pipes and Drums and The Austin Brass Band.

The documentary Growin' A Beard, about an annual St. Patrick's Day Donegal beard-growing contest in Shamrock, Texas, will screen at Cover 3.

At the same location, the Gaelic League of Austin will host children's storytelling in Irish, and teach Irish language classes to attendees of all ages.

Fans of Riverdance will enjoy the Inishfree Austin Dance troupe, who will perform at both Cover 3 and in Westlake, at the Lion & Rose Pub.

For more information on these events, check out St. Patrick's Day Austin.