BY ED STERLING, TEXAS PRESS ASSOCIATION
AUSTIN â€” Texasâ€™ 160-year-old Permanent School Fund had grown to $29 billion, a record high value, in December 2013, the Texas Education Agency reported Feb. 6.
The fund was created by the state in 1854 with a $2 million investment. Last year was a good one. In fiscal year 2013, which ended Aug. 31, the fund earned a return of 10.16 percent â€” the highest return earned by any major state of Texas investment fund. Recent strong returns also made the Permanent School Fund the best performing major state fund over a three-year period ending on Aug. 31, 2013, with a return of 11.07 percent.
How the fund helps at the local level:
* A distribution from the fund is made every year to help pay a portion of education costs in each school district. During the 2012-2013 biennium, the fund distributed more than $2 billion to Texas public primary and secondary schools.
* The fund provides a guarantee for bonds issued by local school districts and this important support will soon be extended to charter schools, according to the education agency.
As a result of the fund maintaining the AAA bond rating through the global financial crisis, qualified districts are able to pay lower interest rates when issuing bonds.
At the end of 2013, the fundâ€™s assets guaranteed $55.2 billion in school district bonds, providing a cost savings to 810 public school districts, the education agency stated.
Primary inches closer
Voters take to the polls to participate in the 2014 Primary Election on March 4, with early voting to be conducted Feb. 18 through Feb. 28.
Political action committees of every stripe are publicizing the names of candidates they support in the various races and campaign advertising pouring forth through various media in most markets. A convenient way to find lists of candidates and a 2014 Primary Election Voters Guide is through local offices of the League of Women Voters of Texas offices or at www.lwvtexas.org; also, voter information may be found at sos.state.tx.us, web home of Secretary of State Nandita Berry, the stateâ€™s chief elections officer.
CVS policy lauded
Texas Medical Association President Stephen L. Brotherton, M.D., responded to CVS Caremarkâ€™s decision Feb. 5 to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in its stores by Oct. 1, 2014.
“Texas physicians are thrilled by CVS Caremarkâ€™s decision today to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in its stores. We applaud CVS for taking such a bold and courageous step. We agree with CVS that preventing tobacco use will improve the health of Texans.
“Tobacco is directly responsible for the death of 24,000 Texans each year, more than homicide, HIV, suicide, influenza and pneumonia, accidents, and diabetes â€” combined. As physicians we see the short- and long-term consequences of tobacco for our patients and their families. Make no mistake about it â€” tobacco is harmful.
“Texas Medical Association now challenges Walgreens and other large pharmacies in Texas to follow the healthy example of CVS. Itâ€™s the right thing to do.â€
Degree program lifts off
On Feb. 5, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board announced the launch of the Texas Affordable Baccalaureate Degree Program the governorâ€™s office described as “a low-cost, competency-based bachelorâ€™s degree for college students.â€
Last week the degree program was started at South Texas College and Texas A&M University-Commerce, institutions that collaborated with the Board to develop the program.
“In 2011, Gov. Perry called on Texas higher education to develop low-cost alternatives for earning a college degree,â€ Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner Raymund Paredes said. “The launch of this program answers that call and demonstrates to institutions around Texas and the nation that faculty-driven collaboration and the adoption of game-changing innovations in higher education delivery can create new, affordable pathways to degree attainment.â€
“Texas attracts world-class companies across a variety of industries, and todayâ€™s evolving economy requires a skilled workforce prepared to meet the diverse needs of our employers,â€ Perry said in a Feb. 5 statement.
Texas gets top ranking
For the year 2013, Texas was ranked as the top exporting state in the nation by the U.S. Census Bureau, making it the 12th consecutive year Texas has held this position, the governorâ€™s office announced.
Texasâ€™ export revenues for 2013.