AUSTIN, Texas – When the 78th Legislature Policy Orientation opens and closes, education will be on everyone's mind. In fact, the two most important – and controversial – educational topics facing Texas will be tackled the first day, according to the Foundation's director of education policy.

"Two questions must be answered by state legislators – How will we pay for public education? And, how can school choice improve education for all Texans? How the legislature answers these questions will dramatically change education in Texas, as well as the nation," said Chris Patterson. "We have an unprecedented collection of experts from around the nation and state on both topics. We have the leading researchers on school finance systems and choice from around the state and nations in one place."

The 78th Legislature Policy Orientation will be held over four days – Jan. 29 and 30 and Feb. 3 and 4 – and will examine, in addition to K-12 and higher education, the most important issues of this legislative session – state taxes and spending, border affairs, water, school finance, insurance, transportation, health care and tort reform.

The first panel of the Orientation will focus on school finance. It will be moderated by Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano), and include Eric Hanushek of Hoover Institution, Caroline Hoxby of Harvard University, Herbert Walberg of the University of Chicago, Harrison Keller of Speaker Craddick's office, and Dick Lavine of the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

"Our second topic on Jan. 29 will focus on parental freedom and school choice. The discussion will begin with a parent who uses a privately-funded voucher to educate her daughter. Our discussion that day will feature input from Rep. Ron Wilson (D-Houston) and Rep. Glenn Lewis (D-Fort Worth), who have both long advocated for school choice as a way to increase educational opportunities."

The school choice discussion will be moderated by Rep. Kent Grusendorf (R-Arlingon). Panelists will include Patrick Wolf of Harvard University, John Gardner of the Milwaukee Public School Board, and Richard Kouri of the Texas State Teachers Association.

On Feb. 4, the Orientation will conclude with a discussion of higher education issues. The panel will feature former US Secretary of Education, the Honorable William Bennett, an accomplished author who received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas. The higher education panel will be moderated by Jeff Sandefer, founder of the Foundation for Entrepreneurial Excellence and a member of the TPPF Board of Directors. Also serving on the panel will be the recently-named vice-chair of the Senate Higher Education subcommittee, Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), as well as Rep. Geanie W. Morrison (R-Victoria).