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Jimmie Don Aycock, beloved Texas legislator, hangs up his hat

In August 2005, Jimmie Don Aycock had been retired for seven years and was relaxing at a vacation home in Colorado when some of his buddies back home called and asked him to pursue an open seat in the Texas House of Representatives.

The next year, the soft-spoken former veterinarian and rancher — also a former Killeen school district trustee and chamber of commerce leader — handily won a contested race and has since become one of the most esteemed members of the Texas Legislature, particularly for his work over the past two legislative sessions as the lower chamber’s lead public education policymaker.

But after nine years, the Republican announced on Monday — the last day of the 84th legislative session — that he would not seek re-election next year. The 68-year-old chairman of the House Public Education Committee said he is more than ready to get back to retirement.

“We had a really good life until I did this,” Aycock said in an interview at the Capitol, chuckling.

The Texas A&M University graduate had just given a tearful farewell address on the House floor — surrounded by beaming colleagues — in which he urged them not to think “about the extremes to the right or left but think about good policy” to benefit the state’s more than 5 million public school students.

Several of his House colleagues, Republican and Democrat, heartily praised him after the speech for the thoughtfulness and care he had brought to the job, including a grand attempt this session to overhaul the state’s long-embattled school finance system.

“I don’t think there’s anybody in this body who has garnered the respect you have,” said Austin state Rep. Donna Howard, a Democrat.

Aycock said the biggest regret of his legislative career was the ultimate failure this session of his $3 billion plan to change the way public schools are funded — a reaction to a court ruling last year that found the state’s current system was inequitable and insufficient. The case, brought by more than 600 districts, is pending before the Texas Supreme Court.

Amid a lack of support from the Senate — and school officials — Aycock ended up pulling the proposal last month ahead of a looming deadline so that other legislation would have a better chance of passing. But the effort won him a standing ovation in the House.

“That’s probably one of the hardest parts about leaving is leaving without that accomplished,” Aycock said of a school finance fix. “But there will always be something left to accomplish in education — it’s not a static deal, it will never be truly fixed. It requires ongoing work regardless of what we do.”

But among his legislative accomplishments this year was a new performance rating system for public schools — greatly reducing the emphasis on standardized test scores — and another measure designed to more swiftly force changes at chronically failing public schools. In 2013, the Legislature overwhelmingly approved a major education reform bill Aycock authored that reduced the number of end-of-course exams Texas high schoolers must pass from 15 to five and requires incoming high schoolers to think about possible career paths.

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