On-tap at Texas Legislature: Education funding, open carry

Texas Capitol
Texas Capitol
By WILL WEISSERT
Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - New Gov. Greg Abbott is wasting little time rolling back key parts of his predecessor's legacy.

Abbott announced plans last week to have his office take control of a state incentive fund that fellow Republican Rick Perry says helped bring Formula One to Austin - but which critics charge has received too little official oversight. That's the third of three funds meant to spur economic growth and created under Perry that Abbott has promised to overhaul, if not scrap outright.

Perry is gearing up for an expected 2016 presidential run built around his Texas record. And as the state's longest-serving governor, his 14-year footprint isn't going away any time soon. But with Abbott making such changes a top priority, there's likely more where that came from.

Here are some other issues to watch for in the Texas Legislature this week:

EDUCATION FUNDING: The Senate Finance Committee continues to hear from state agencies as it hammers out the upper chamber's version of the 2016-2017 state budget, and on Monday it's the Texas Education Agency's turn. Education Commissioner Michael Williams is seeking $52.5 billion for the two-year budget cycle. Lawmakers cut $5.4 billion from public education in 2011, prompting more than 600 school districts statewide to sue in a case that will be heard by the Texas Supreme Court. Two years later, the Legislature restored about $3.4 billion in school funding. Another cash infusion for classrooms this session is less certain, though. While the House draft budget spends more on education, the Senate version would use those same dollars for tax cuts.

OPEN CARRY: Abbott says "the votes are probably there" in the Legislature for measures allowing open carry of handguns statewide, despite what he called "some heated exchanges." The new governor's comments to a radio station followed a gun rights activist who has been among the most vocal supporters of open carry posting an online video reminding state legislators that "treason is punishable by death." Kory Watkins of Open Carry Tarrant County later pulled down the video and wrote that he didn't mean to threaten anyone. Still, Democratic state Rep. Poncho Nevarez's office forwarded Watkins' video to the Department of Public Safety. That's because, on the first day of the legislative session, Watkins and other activists had a confrontation with Nevarez in his office and DPS has since assigned a security detail to the lawmaker.

BOARD OF EDUCATION: The board's first meeting of 2015 begins Wednesday and features just one new member. Democrat Erika Beltran easily took the Dallas-based seat of long-serving Mavis Knight, who retired last year. The six other board elections in November were all won by incumbents, and the makeup of the 10-Republican, five-Democrat board is unchanged. But there's not likely to be much drama, partisan or otherwise, when board members convene. Unlike recent meetings that featured bitter debates over adoption of new science and social studies textbooks for classrooms statewide and possibly adding a Mexican-American studies course to state curriculums, the board's agenda looks relatively tame this time.

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