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OPINION: State Capital Highlights: Class of 2013 achieves highest graduation rate

AUSTIN — The class of 2013 Texas high school on-time graduation rate was 88 percent, the highest on record and 0.3 percentage points higher than the previous record set by the class of 2012, Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams announced on Aug. 5. The figures are included in the Texas Education Agency report, Secondary School Completion and Dropouts in Texas Public Schools, 2012-13. 

“We’ve set the bar high for Texas students to ensure every graduate is ready for college or career, and they have consistently demonstrated that they are up to the challenge,” commented Gov. Rick Perry.

Williams pointed out that graduation rates for African-American, Hispanic and white students have increased steadily since the class of 2007. 
Out of 2,189,442 students who attended grades 7-12 in Texas public schools during the 2012-13 school year, 1.6 percent were reported to have dropped out that year, a decrease of 0.1 percentage points from 2011-12, Williams said.

In other news, the Texas Education Agency on Aug. 8 released the 2014 state school accountability ratings for more than 1,200 school districts and charters, and more than 8,500 campuses. Ninety percent of school districts and charters across Texas achieved the rating of “Met Standard.”

Sales Tax Revenue Increases

State sales tax revenue in July was $2.34 billion, up 6.3 percent compared to July 2013, state Comptroller Susan Combs reported Aug. 6.

“The growth in sales tax revenues reflected strength in both business and consumer spending,” Combs said. “The increase was led by remittances from the construction, services, and oil and natural gas-related sectors, as well as from retail trade and restaurants. Fiscal year-to-date, state sales tax collections are now up 5.3 percent.”

Cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts will receive August local sales tax allocations totaling $706.9 million, up 5.3 percent compared to August 2013, Combs said.

Many New Businesses Open

Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry on July 30 released numbers charting new Texas businesses in the first half of 2014.

“Texas continues to show strong economic performance month after month,” Berry said. “That performance can be seen in the high number of businesses formations filed with my office since the beginning of this year.”

From Jan. 1 through June 30, Berry’s office received filings for 80,039 new businesses, an 11 percent increase compared to the same time period in 2013.

Spacex To Receive Incentive

Gov. Rick Perry on Aug. 4 announced the state is offering $2.3 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund to lure a SpaceX commercial rocket launch facility to a site near Brownsville in Cameron County. Contingent upon final approval of local agreements and receipt of additional required permits, this facility will create 300 jobs and pump $85 million in capital investment into the local economy, Perry said. 
Perry has met with SpaceX founder Elon Musk and provided letters in support of SpaceX in efforts to get Federal Aviation Administration clearance for the site. 
Since 2003, SpaceX has operated a rocket development facility in McGregor that currently employs more than 250 people.

Spill Recovery Gets Boost

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on July 30 posted, a dedicated online resource for recovery efforts in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. The site features links and background information on the three funding sources available and gives details on the state’s recovery efforts. Federal RESTORE Act funding will be made available to Texas and the other states with coastline along the Gulf of Mexico. President Obama signed the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2012 in July 2012. The Act established a new Trust Fund in the U.S Treasury known as the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. 
TCEQ Commissioner Toby Baker is planning “listening sessions” later this year in Corpus Christi, Galveston, South Padre Island and Beaumont where participants can provide information on projects they want funded.

States Settle With Wyeth

Texas and 41 other states on Aug. 6 secured a $35 million agreement with drug maker Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Pfizer Inc.
 The agreement resolves a multistate investigation against Wyeth for unlawfully promoting its immunosuppressive drug Rapamune, said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who worked on the agreement with other state attorneys general.
 Under the settlement agreement, Pfizer must pay the State of Texas a total of $2.387 million, Abbott said.

Enforcement Totals Are In

Texas Department of Public Safety on Aug. 5 reported that highway patrol troopers made 1,051 DWI arrests during a special enforcement period that spanned 11 days from June 27 to July 7. Also, 15,000 speeding citations were given, plus more than 2,500 seat belt/child safety seat citations, 626 fugitive arrests and 564 felony arrests.

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