There aren't likely to be any flurries or drifts when the Snowball Express hits Fort Worth Sunday, but a mild December morning would be all the more welcoming for more than 1,700 members of military families scheduled to visit the Stockyards.More than 40 buses will transport the visitors into downtown Fort Worth and roll up Commerce Street, then North Main Street to Stockyards Boulevard, where the police department's Mounted Patrol will lead the families along East Exchange Avenue on a "Walk of Gratitude" to Stockyards Station.The highlight of the day could well be the private concert at Billy Bob's Texas with actor Gary Sinise (of Forrest Gump and CSI: NY fame) and his Lt. Dan Band.Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price has been putting out the word for residents to treat the event like a parade and line North Main Street and East Exchange Avenue to show appreciation for the families' sacrifices.Snowball Express was started in 2006 to help the thousands of children who have lost a parent on active military duty since Sept. 11, 2001. American Airlines and American Eagle provide free travel for the families, and the all-volunteer nonprofit organization behind the project pays the other expenses, with assistance from groups like the USO.This year's trip is scheduled to include a tree-lighting at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas and time at Six Flags Over Texas.The Stockyards visit is expected to take place around 10 a.m. Sunday.The route map and more information about the event are available on the Fort Worth city website, fortworthtexas.gov. (bit.ly/QJKGpE).Graduation-rate progressThink Texas public schools are doing a terrible job keeping kids in school?Not so much, according to data released this week by the U.S. Education Department.For the 2010-11 school year, Texas was near the top among the states and the District of Columbia for graduation rates, according to the preliminary report, which is here: 1.usa.gov/UOCTEE.Not long ago, the department started requiring states to report their graduation rates using a uniform measure. Previously, states used varying ways of counting, and some rates looked inflated. This is the first time the agency pulled the more standardized numbers together for comparison purposes.The rates are based on the number of students who graduated with a regular high school diploma four years after starting, adjusted for those who transferred in or out during that time.Iowa had the highest overall rate, 88 percent, followed by Vermont and Wisconsin (both 87 percent). At 86 percent, Texas was tied at third with Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Tennessee.D.C. (59 percent) and Nevada (62 percent) were at the bottom. Idaho, Kentucky and Oklahoma weren't listed.Texas ranks first or second in most individual categories: Asian/Pacific Islander, 95 percent; white, 92 percent; multiracial, 92 percent; American Indian, 87 percent; economically disadvantaged, 84 percent; Hispanic, 82 percent; African American, 81 percent; and children with disabilities, 77 percent. The 58 percent rate for Limited English Proficiency students ranked 26th.Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams pointed to the results as showing that "our public schools are delivering a high-quality education and our students are having great success."But let's not go overboard.The state accountability system has helped boost graduation rates by including that as a rating factor. But colleges and employers fret that too many students still graduate unprepared or underprepared for advanced coursework or available jobs.And making sure a diploma means what it ought to still requires putting adequate resources into the public schools -- an issue that's being contested in the courts and will be a key focus during the 2013 legislative session.While graduation rates are improving, there's no room for resting on laurels.