All posts by John Starkey

Texas Legislature Considers New Bill Aimed at Better Preparing Students for Working Life, College

Texas educators, lawmakers, and parents are mulling over a soon to be implemented bill from the Texas State Legislature that would see sweeping reforms of the state’s educational rules. The bill, simply titled House Bill 5, will change regulations and programs offered across the Lone Star State in hopes of making Texas youth more prepared for work or college following their high school education.

HB5 Lays out Numerous New Programs

As outlined by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), HB5 is currently in the midst of a months long process of hearing public discourse and receiving a plan from the Texas Commissioner of Education on the implementation of HB5’s new programs for the 2014 to 2015 academic year. The School Board of Education, along with the Commissioner, reserves the right to cut out or otherwise amend programs included in the bill.

In a nutshell, HB5 works to rehab the number and types of credits each student needs to receive his or her diploma and be suitably “prepared” for professional life or college, “without remediation.” The so-called Foundation High School Program requires students to accrue four credits in English-language arts, three in mathematics, three in science, and three in social studies, with other minor credit requirements for electives and other non-major areas of study. In addition, students can seek out “endorsements” that translate to credits by working with area businesses and educational institutions in a sort of internship arrangement. Advanced versions of the Foundation HS Program, known as the Distinguished Level of Achievement and Performance Acknowledgement, will also be awarded when students go above and beyond the basic requirements for a degree.

HB5 is Noticeably Lax on STEM Requirements

While no one doubts that Texas needs to reform its educational system to make its students more competitive in the current economic landscape, critics of HB5 worry that the bill doesn’t go nearly far enough in ensuring proficiency in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the so-called STEM fields. Overall, the United States ranks only 52nd in quality of STEM education provided, a number the World Economic Forum says is set to plummet over the next few years. Many parts of Texas show some of the worst preparedness for students when it comes to STEM classes in the country. For Irving, the highest ranked institution, MacArthur High School, only ranks 303rd in the state; Irving ISD’s Barbara Caldwell Career Preparatory Center comes in at 1,422nd, only 10 places off the bottom of the list.

In a recent study from Georgetown University, it was revealed that of the top five college majors that offer the best return on investment, four are considered to be part of the STEM group — engineering, computers and mathematics, health, and physical sciences all topped the list. That being the case, it shouldn’t be any wonder why Texas parents are less than impressed by the state’s rule changes, changes that put English-language arts requirements above math and sciences. In a world where professional success and income are tied directly to STEM education, the Texas State Legislature seems willing to go through the motions of reform; unfortunately, those reforms aren’t entirely in-line with reality.

Irving Convention Center to Finally Get Entertainment Center, Hotel After Years of Delays

Plans for the long troubled Irving Convention Center finally seem to be moving ahead. In a 6-3 decision by the City Council at the end of June, it was decided that the $84 million construction project that would bring an entertainment center, city-owned hotel, and tax-free office building to the Las Colinas site would finally move ahead. The project heralded by construction firm ARK Group will be funded almost exclusively by public funds, garnered through taxes, and incentivized with tax breaks for the developers.

Groundbreaking Comes Seven Years After Plans for the Project Began

Some in Irving have been dreaming of this entertainment center for almost a decade. Billy Bob Barnett, businessman and famed creator of Fort Worth’s Billy Bob’s Texas honky tonk restaurant, envisioned the Irving Convention Center as an epicenter for cutting edge multimedia and entertainment, shopping, music, and eating. In its earliest inception, the Irving Convention Center was meant to have five levels, filled to the gills with 14 original restaurants, nightclubs, and shops.

With the support of then mayor Herb Gears and many business minded folks in the Irving community, plans went ahead with the project. The groundbreaking was originally set for Fall 2009, but as would become a reoccuring theme, troubles with funding and the often sudden departure of crucial parties left the project crippled. After a slew of legal battles over public financing for the project, it was finally completed in January of 2011; however, the convention center was only part one of the project. The heart of the entertainment center — the restaurants, the music venues, the shops — remains absent from the space.

Public Funds, Tax Breaks Leave Many in Irving Hesitant

This isn’t the first time the entertainment center has been a step away from getting started, only to have the plug pulled at the last minute. In 2012, it was reported that the $250m project would finally be underway — that is until Standard & Poor’s began dragging its feet over whether or not to grant the project’s investment package status as investment quality. As had been the case for years, interest in the project fell apart.

In reality, S&P’s lack of faith in those behind the Irving Convention Center debacle was really only another drop in the bucket. Many Irving citizens were against putting so many of their tax dollars into an  entertainment complex. The project was thought to be so toxic that it is often credited with Mayor Beth Van Duyne’s ousting of former officeholder Herb Gears in 2011. Poised for a rematch with Gears for the seat this year, it’s no real surprise that Van Duyne voted “no” in the June 2014 motion before the City Council. It was a politically savvy move, but ultimately useless, as the City Council’s affirmative vote finally pushes the entertainment center to a 2014 start.

 

Coppell and Irving Ramblers to become one May 1

With high hopes in August of 2012, the staff of Rambler Newspapers made the bold decision to create the Coppell, Las Colinas Valley Ranch Rambler separate from the Irving Rambler.

Our intention in creating two papers was to better serve the communities and the people who live in them.

After more than a year-and-a-half of production, the Coppell, Las Colinas Valley Ranch Rambler publication has not met expectations. Therefore, as of May 1, the papers will be merged into a single publication: The Irving Rambler.

Despite the merge, the staff of Rambler Newspapers will continue to serve the city of Coppell and surrounding communities with fair and accurate reporting and advertising.

Our staff would like to thank all of our readers for your ongoing support as we work to better serve you.