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AM Update: Back to School, Isaac Dogs GOP, Texas Counties and Medicaid Expansion

Expect a high of 94 today with a chance of thunderstorms. Here's some of the stories making news this morning. 

Back to School Monday

Close to 90,000 students return to school in the Austin Independent School District this morning. Superintendent Meria Carstarphen has a lot on her plate as she begins her fourth year as school district chief. You can hear our interview with her here.

An interview with Carstarphen also appears in this morning’s Austin American-Statesman. KXAN reports on how doctors in Central Texas are bracing for “a spike in illnesses that spread more rapidly as children gather in classrooms.”

The Austin ISD board holds a regular meeting tomorrow night, which is to say they will take votes on several items, including adoption of the 2012-13 budget.

If you want to learn more about AISD or any school district in Texas, don’t forget to check out the recently updated Texas Tribune’s Public Schools Explorer App. It allows you to easily access academic, enrollment, and financial records for all of Texas’ 1,300 districts and 8,500 public schools.

Isaac Delays Ted Cruz’s Convention Speech

The Republican National Convention was scheduled to kick off today in Tampa, Florida, but is being pushed back because of Tropical Storm Isaac, which could hit New Orleans near the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The New York Times and others have pointed out the “risk of creating an uncomfortable split-screen image” if Republicans are celebrating their party while storms are hammering New Orleans seven years to the week after Katrina left it in ruins.

Ted Cruz, the candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in Texas, has the most prominent role of any Texas Republican at the convention. His speaking slot was originally scheduled for today but has been moved to the 9 p.m. block on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, supporters of Texas Congressman Ron Paul are not happy about how their candidate is being snubbed by convention organizers. “They’re trying to change the rules to make a grassroots challenge more difficult,” Matt Stringer of Odessa, a Texas delegate told the Texas Tribune.

Texas Counties Could Go Alone on Medicaid Expansion

Governor Rick Perry has signaled he has no interest in accepting federal money for the expansion of Medicaid – the public health insurance program for the poor  – because he believes it would tie the state to an unsustainable program. “To expand this program is not unlike adding a thousand people to the Titanic,” Perry said on Fox News in July.

But according to this story in the Washington Post, Texas’ six largest counties, which include Travis, could seek to go it alone on the expansion of Medicaid.

George Hernandez Jr., CEO of University Health System in San Antonio, came up with the idea of the alternative, county-run Medicaid expansion, and said he has been discussing it with other officials in his county, Bexar. “They are all willing,” he said. He added that he has also been talking up the proposal with officials in other big counties, such as those including Houston and Dallas, and is optimistic they’ll support the idea.

The end run, however, would require approval from the White House and the state legislature, the Post reports.

Can Armstrong’s Marketing Appeal Endure?

After the bombshell announcement last week that Austin cycling legend Lance Armstrong will no longer contest the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s allegations he used performance-enhancing drugs, people over the weekend started asking if athlete’s brand could survive being stripped of his seven Tour de France wins.

A Reuters piece says yes, pointing to his heroic battle over cancer and the almost $500 million he has raised for cancer research. Armstrong’s sponsors such as Nike, Oakley and Anheuser-Busch InBev have stuck by him.

"I think if we talked in five years, he'll still be making speeches, he'll still have his sponsors, and his foundation will have made over a billion dollars," Armstrong’s agent Bill Stapleton told Reuters.

Armstrong also received support from at least one member of Austin’s city council. Cycling enthusiast Chris Riley told In Fact Daily, “As far as I’m concerned Lance Armstrong will always be a hero and this doesn’t change that.” 

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.