Texas Government

The Bureaucracy
However, these individuals might or might not be highly qualified for their particular job—depending entirely on whether they received employment based on a patronage system or a merit system. The reality is that there is probably some point in between these two extremes that gets many people employed by the state in some form or fashion. So, what areas do these bureaucrats primarily work in then? Well, bureaucrats work in a variety of capacities and environments, but the two big sectors are education and health care.

So, who actually runs the government? Many individuals think of the legislature, the judges, or even the governor, when asked who runs the government. Technically, this is correct. But, in reality, the day-to-day affairs of public administration of the government are carried out by thousands of bureaucrats each and every day. Therefore, the state bureaucracy is the face of public policy, more so than the legislators, judges, and the governor. In fact, over ¼ million people (~290,000) work full-time for the state of Texas {peruse links at your leisure for further clarification}. However, in terms of relative distribution per capita, this ranks near the bottom in the United States.

Education
Primary and Secondary Education

As you should know by now from earlier in the semester, Texas has over 1,000 independent school districts in the state. As a result, Texas has a large primary and secondary education system. Two bodies oversee this portion of Texas education—the State Board of Education (SBOE) and the Texas Education Agency (TEA), which is overseen by the commissioner of education, who is appointed by the governor. One of their most important jobs is textbook and curriculum approval. However, the TEA has many other duties.

However, the big contention with primary and secondary education is how to properly assess students in public schools. Texas relies heavily on standardized testing, as a result. In 1990, the state established a standardized test known as the Texas Academic Assessment of Skills (TAAS) test to assess student performance. But, in 2003, the TAAS test was replaced by the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test, a tougher version of the TAAS test based primarily on mastery of mandated core curriculum, known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), in major subjects. One of the biggest criticisms of the TAKS test is that a student must pass all components of the exam before he or she is allowed to graduate from a public high school in Texas. Now, the state of Texas is moving towards the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) which is designed to include 12 end-of-course examinations, but these are geared towards “college readiness standards and preparation for the workplace,” according to Brown. {peruse link at your leisure}

Post-Secondary Education

At the post-secondary level, Texas has many two-year colleges and four-year universities. However, most of the state’s budget for this portion of the education system goes to its two “flagship” universities—the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University. However, all of these institutions are overseen by their own Board of Regents (similar to the SBOE) and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, usually known as the THECB (similar to the TEA).

However, the big issue at the post-secondary level has been the issue of affirmative action, primarily in university admissions. These are issues designed to attract women and minorities so that they can have an equal opportunity, in this case—in the admissions process. Affirmative action grew out of the Supreme Court case known as Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), which ruled that race could be considered as a factor in the admissions process in order to achieve a diverse student population. Using the same logic, the University of Texas Law School created a separate admissions pool based on race and ethnicity, which was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (one level below the U.S. Supreme Court) in the Hopwood v. Texas decision.

Two more rulings by the United States Supreme Court in 2003 based on issues at the University of Michigan brought this issue to the forefront even further: Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz and Hamacher v. Bollinger. In Grutter, the University of Michigan was admitting law school students with race being one factor of others used to help select qualified students (similar to Bakke—which was based on undergraduate students). The Supreme Court upheld this practice. However, in Gratz, the Court ruled that using a points system where under-represented groups (such as minorities and women) were given “extra points” in order to be admitted to an undergraduate institution was unconstitutional. So, if you are a minority, you were given more “opportunities” to be selected under this system, since you were given “additional points” based on your race and ethnicity. As a result, this represented a type of reverse discrimination against whites in an anti-affirmative action ruling. {These cases are very issue-specific. I’m not worried about the specifics, just the results. If you are confused and/or would like more information about the cases, let me know.}

After the Hopwood decision, Texas post-secondary schools have been trying to keep minority enrollment as high as possible. As a result, all Texas post-secondary education institutions began offering automatic admission if a student graduated in the Top 10% of his or her graduating high school class, more formally known as the top ten percent rule. Each legislative session since has seen the legislature attempt to modify this rule in some way or another, but none have been successful this far. With major universities increasing to record levels each year, this process will eventually have to be changed or the institutions will continue to grow out of hand. So, it will be interesting to see how this issue unfolds in the near future. Or has it already? The University of Texas-Austin has already recently changed the policy on its campus as of a decision made in 2009.

Health Care
Texas has a stigma for being a rich state—primarily because of its oil dominance, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the truth is that Texas has a large proportion of its population near or below what is known as the “poverty line” (classified in 2008 as a yearly income of $21,200 for a family of four). As a result, a large sector of the bureaucracy in Texas deals with low-income individuals.

One of the programs designed to help these individuals is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. This program is designed to help individuals move towards the workplace and find unemployment. Another program, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), informally called the “food stamps” program, helps to provide food for low-income individuals and families. In order to prevent fraud, Texas has switched from using actual food stamps to a plastic card (similar to a debit card or credit card) called the “Lone Star Card.” This allows the user to create a unique PIN number so that only they should have access to its benefits.

However, one of the biggest programs under this sector of the bureaucracy deals with the Medicaid program, which is funded in large part by the national government. Medicaid helps to provide medical care to low-income individuals and families. This remains in contrast to the similar program known as Medicare, which helps provide medical care for the elderly. (This should be easy to help remember the difference: We want to use medicAID to aid the poor and use mediCARE to care for the elderly). However, there are differences in what options are available. Medicare recipients have two options to choose from and are given better coverage options, whereas Medicaid recipients only have one choice of coverage, which remains relatively limited.

Lastly, the state has also begun offering assistance to poor and unemployed individuals who are unemployed (due to being laid off primarily) to find employment with the creation of the Texas Workforce Commission in 1995 {peruse link at your leisure}. This bureaucratic agency is relatively new, but is growing in size and the number of people who utilize its services.

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