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State Gets High Marks for Most Fun to Travel Through

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TEA annual report just released

The Texas Education Agency’s annual report was released last week. It indicates per-student funding in the 2021-2022 school year averaged $14,928 per student, up 42% since 2011. However, state funding has only risen slightly in the past decade, while local funding has increased substantially.

Texas public schools educate 5.518 million students while employing 371,778 teachers on 9,054 campuses, according to the report.

Compared to other states, Texas ranked 33rd in reading among fourth graders, and 41st among eighth grade readers, which were improvements over previous years. Texas public school students ranked 14th in math for fourth graders, down two slots, and 25th among eighth graders, up seven slots.

Border standoff continues in Eagle Pass

Despite a 5-4 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that U.S. Border Patrol agents can cut razor wire placed along the Texas-Mexico border to deter migrants from crossing the Rio Grande, Texas National Guard members and state troopers continue to lay down wire as a convoy of protestors from across the country heads to Eagle Pass. The Texas Tribune reported Gov. Greg Abbott has been joined by 25 Republican governors who support his claim the state has the right to supersede the federal government’s constitutionally mandated rights to control the nation’s border because of the migrant “invasion.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also defended ignoring the high court ruling.

“We believe, constitutionally, we are right. We have a right to defend our citizens. We have a right to defend this country,” he said on Fox News.

Immigration rights groups say that claims that immigrants are part of an invasion could lead to increased border vigilantism and violence.

Whistleblower lawsuit against Paxton can continue

The legal saga of a whistleblower lawsuit filed against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will continue despite his efforts to have it thrown out, even though the Texas Supreme Court issued an emergency ruling to delay his testimony temporarily, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

Travis County state District Court Judge Catherine Mauzy ruled that the case, brought by four former top aides to Paxton who allege wrongdoing on the part of the attorney general, can move forward despite Paxton saying he will not contest the suit and will comply with any settlement agreement issued by the court.

TJ Turner, an attorney for the whistleblowers, said Paxton is attempting to avoid taking the stand.

“This is just the latest parlor trick in OAG’s quiver that they’ve deployed to avoid what the Attorney General fears most, and that’s testifying under oath,” Turner said, referring to the Office of the Attorney General.

Mauzy noted Paxton has been willing to concede the whistleblowers’ case but simultaneously maintain his innocence.

“Those seem to me to be contradictory positions,” she said.

Criminals impersonate state in asset seizure attempts

Some taxpayers are receiving fraudulent letters warning the state will seize their assets and property for unpaid taxes unless payment is received within seven days, the state comptroller’s office said. The letters did not come from the Comptroller’s office, which said in a news release that criminals have been running these types of scams for years. The letters demand immediate payment and often provide a false link for such payment.

“Be incredibly wary whenever you receive unexpected messages like these, as they can be a trap. The criminals’ threats are designed to get you to react by calling the criminals’ phone number or clicking on a fake link to solve the problem. The consequences can be catastrophic,” the news release said.

Victims can not only lose money but can become victims of identity theft or have malware installed on their computers simply by clicking on a scam link.

If you receive an unexpected message of this type, do not respond in any fashion. Instead, call the Comptroller’s Collection Team at 800-252-8880.

Courthouse arsonist found guilty

A man accused of setting fires at the historic Mason County Courthouse and an occupied home was found guilty last week. Nicholas Miller was accused of starting both fires almost three years ago, according to investigators with the state fire marshal’s office. 

“I want to thank our investigators and the local public safety authorities for their exemplary work in this case,” said Debra Knight, state fire marshal. “By coordinating evidence, communication and resources, we worked together to achieve justice and further enhance the safety of Texans.”

The building was being prepared for restoration at the time of the fire, and all county records and documents had been relocated just weeks before the blaze.

Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 28.

High court questions 2021 storm power prices

The Texas Supreme Court heard arguments last week in a case questioning a government order that sent electric rates soaring during 2021’s Winter Storm Uri. The case was brought by Luminant, a subsidiary of Vistra Corp., which argues the Public Utility Commission exceeded its authority with the emergency pricing order, according to The Dallas Morning News.

The emergency order was put in place during a widespread blackout that resulted in $16 billion in overcharges, The News reported. The high prices led to a number of bankruptcies among utilities, including Brazos Electric Power Cooperative.

Luminant argued that the PUC is prohibited by law from overruling the competitive market to set prices.

“This is as clear a case as we believe … of an agency not staying within its lane and busting through the rails, the guardian rails that the Legislature has put in place,” Luminant’s attorney Allyson Ho said.

Texas is third-deadliest state to drive through

Texas trails only California and Florida as the most dangerous state to drive through, according to a recent study reported by the Statesman. The state averages 15.4 fatal crashes per 100 miles. Of the 10 most dangerous interstates in the country on which to drive, two of them come through the Lone Star State – I-35E and I-45.

I-35E, which runs northbound through the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, had nearly 30 fatal crashes per 100 miles, while I-45, from Galveston to Dallas, averaged 24.6 fatal crashes per 100 miles.

Be careful out there!

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches, Lufkin and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.

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