• IDRA Newsletter • May 1997

For educators, part of keeping up-to-date with the fast-paced and ever changing world of legislative policy is tracking legislative proposals being debated before a legislative body. Public participation and awareness concerning the complex state and congressional legislative systems and the proposals before them are now made easier because of the Internet. In the past, most people relied on a direct connection with a legislative office to receive insight or updates on any political issue. Now access to the legislative process has been simplified thanks to the Internet.

In the state of Texas, the 75th legislative session is in full swing with such major educational issues as property tax changes and school finance, the use of public money for private schools, language policy issues and limiting minority access to higher education. To see where such issues are in the legislative process, you can easily access this information through your computer. The following web sites can be very useful.

Texas Legislature On-line (www.capitol.state.tx.us) offers information on many aspects of the state legislature. This includes information on the following:

  • how to identify your incumbent,
  • where your incumbent can be reached,
  • how to search for bills (an analysis and the fiscal note) by subject and keywords,
  • how to search for bills by where they are in the legislative process or by the bill’s author,
  • legislative committee membership,
  • committee schedules,
  • updated versions of the Texas statutes,
  • information about legislative districts,
  • information on the legislative process,
  • news releases from the office of the lieutenant governor, and
  • how the legislative process works.

Specific to the needs of educators is TASB On-line (www.tasb.org), a service from the Texas Association of School Boards. The site has a governmental relations section that includes the following:

  • all education-related bills introduced for the current legislative session (with a link to Texas Legislature On-line),
  • a glossary of legislative terms,
  • members of committees,
  • issue papers,
  • TASB legislative newsletter information, and
  • information on the State Board of Education.

Gallery Watch (www.gallerywatch.com) is another resource on the Internet that is especially tailored for advocates who are tracking specific issues. There is a subscription fee for this source. While Gallery Watch has a few unique options – like a paging service that alerts clients when a bill is being considered by a committee and a statewide clipping service – it has much of the same information as Texas Legislature On-line.

Accessing information about national legislative issues is possible through Thomas (http://thomas.loc.gov), a web site operated by the Library of Congress. Here, you can:

  • search for bills from the current and previous two congressional sessions,
  • search for bills by subject or by author,
  • find committee information,
  • find historical documents,
  • learn about the legislative process,
  • access recorded floor debates, and
  • access members’ E-mail addresses.

There is also the web site for the Intercultural Development Research Association (www.idra.org), which includes positions on important policy issues at the national and state levels. This web site allows you to find statistical data and position papers related to education issues being debated. Among the wealth of data available is a series of informational updates on restrictive language policy measures (English Only), the rights of immigrant students to have access to public education, and on the latest state plan to change property taxes and the effects on school finance. The ClassNotes link takes you to a series of IDRA papers that pose the myths against the realities in the debate over the effectiveness of bilingual education. Thus, the IDRA web site provides a ruler on education equity to measure legislative policies. This site also links to a variety of other resources both in Texas and at the national level (including Thomas).

Similarly, the STAR Center, the comprehensive regional assistance center funded by the U.S. Department of Education to serve Texas, is an additional help in putting the latest acts of Congress and the Texas legislature into perspective. The STAR Center is a collaboration of IDRA, the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin and RMC Research Corporation.

Of course electronic access to issues within the legislative process is no substitute for direct participation in the legislative process. Only through active and direct participation can anyone effectively impact the education issues that will affect teachers, students, public education funding and the way learning is measured. It should be noted that these Internet services are available as resources to help you remain informed about the issues facing our public education system.

[©1997, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 1997 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]