Category Archives: Education – K12

Recap: Pre-K, Anchor Babies, and Polls

wendyletiselfTuesday was a significant day for Democrats. First, State Senator Wendy Davis continued her onslaught against Greg Abbott’s plan to test toddlers. Abbott’s mouthpiece then complained that Davis wants to invest more in education, while defending Abbot’s plan which provides pre-K to a few chosen kids, and not all Texas kids.

Of course, there’s that matter of Greg Abbott being consulted on education matters by a white nationalist. Why Abbott hasn’t distanced himself from Charles Murray says a lot more about him than his pre-k plan.

Tuesday evening provided the opportunity to call-out candidate for Lt. Governor, Dan Patrick, who basically stated that he wants “anchor babies” to be born here, but not be citizens. And he stated this in the context of abortion, as if the mother who is crossing the border is even thinking of birthing and health care options that Patrick wouldn’t want available to her in the first place. And Patrick certainly doesn’t want to educate them or provide them with access to a college education because he’s saving the “last seat” for whomever he chooses, apparently.

At least that’s what I got out of it.

Mayor Julian Castro did more than just hold his own, defending the Texas DREAM Act (in-state tuition rates for undocumented students brought here as children and graduated from Texas schools). From the right-wing commentary on Twitter that I could stomach, it seems their main whine was that Castro came across as arrogant, so, it seems they would prefer a Mexican American kid who comes hat-in-hand to ask permission to speak? At least that’s how those comments came across.

The outcomes, ultimately, were a debate that has been avoided in Washington DC, where it should be occurring; some face-time for an up and coming Democrat; a free 1-hour ad for Dan Patrick that mostly confused his supporters (he was against anchor babies before he was for them); and an opposition video chock full of statements like, “I’m not tough” and Patrick’s favorite descriptor, “anchor babies,” for Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor, Leticia Van de Putte. (Texpate has more.)

So, while the Democratic base got some continued energy from the webcast, it did also get dealt some reality with the latest Public Policy Polling results. Davis and Van de Putte and the Democrats have a lot of work to do statewide, but they knew that already. This past weekend, the Davis campaign hit over 55,000 doors statewide and continues a multi-faceted calling campaign to prospective voters. The campaigns a quite active at different fronts, and that’s a good thing. The uphill battle is not necessarily that Republicans outnumber Democrats, it’s that people don’t vote because they’ve become indifferent. And these prospective voters will not appear on a polling call list either. No doubt an uptick in energy is needed to excite voters, and that is achieved with a message that matches up to the voters that Democrats need showing up in November. I see it coming together.

 

 

 

 

 

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Victory of Sorts on MAS

My initial reaction.

My initial reaction.

Well, the tweets and the chisme will tell you that the State Board of Education voted to add courses in Mexican American and other U.S. ethnic group studies by a score of 11 to 3. Sounds pretty huge, right?

I started watching the debate this afternoon and found out there had been a change to the proposal and much was being said about that dreaded term of which I am not a fan, “local control.” After a little and not so contentious debate, it passed easily, but I couldn’t help but ask:  What just passed? Bottom line:  It’s a step, but far from what is needed, which is full inclusion in the overall curriculum.

Nonetheless, a big DC tip of the Sombrero to the #LibrotraficanteNation, el Librotraficante Tony Diaz, and the entire crew for doing all of the leg work. It’s not easy to convince such a contentious board to move forward on something like Mexican American studies, and the work and hours they put in is to be respected and commended.

Although NBC had some of the story, The Trib had a better description of the events.

Instead of making Mexican-American studies an official high school course, the Texas State Board of Education has settled on a tentative compromise that would allow school districts to decide whether to offer the course.

“It wasn’t necessarily what we were hoping, with a stand-alone course for Mexican-American studies,” member Marisa Perez, a San Antonio Democrat, said in an interview after the meeting. “But it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

In an 11-3 vote, board members added the class — along with African-American studies, Native American studies and Asian-American studies — to the list of instructional materials that publishers will develop for Texas social studies standards in the 2016-17 school year. That means schools will have a list of state-approved textbooks and other resources to choose from if they opt to give the class.

My friend and fellow Bobcat Joe Cardenas passed this statement along from HOPE:

Texas HOPE (Hispanics Organized for Political Education) welcomes the opportunity to implement a greater understanding and exposure of the contributions made by Mexican Americans in the establishment and development of Texas through the fostering of Mexican American Studies in public schools throughout the state. Texas HOPE and its sister organizations have long called for the inclusion of the role of Mexican Americans in the History of Texas so that a comprehensive and accurate accounting of the impact of the Mexican American community may be better appreciated by all Texans especially the millions of students throughout the classrooms of the state. Organizations such as MALDEF, the Hector P. Garcia American GI Forum Org. of Texas, Texas LULAC, and Texas HOPE have actively advocated in the past before the SBOE and its committees as well as the Senate and House Education committees for a more “truthful” History of Texas in the state’s adoption process of textbooks and development of curriculum. These organizations have been successful in their advocacy leading to the inclusion in Texas’ Social Studies books of Dr. Hector P. Garcia, the Green Flag Republic, Jose, Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara, and the Battle of Medina, as well as preserving the inclusion of Cesar Chavez and Dr. King.

However, Texas HOPE will not minimize the contributions of Mexican Americans, Tejanos/as, or other Latin Americans by relegating the teaching of those contributions to an optional elective course that the state may or may not develop and/or school districts may or may not adopt. Texas HOPE and its members will continue to advocate for the comprehensive inclusion of the contributions of Mexican Americans throughout the core curriculum that all Texas public school children must take! In light of the tremendous contributions made by Mexican Americans to all facets of Texas culture, cuisine, music, vocabulary, laws, and art, and given that Hispanics today make-up 38% of the population of the state and that 52% of all students in public education are Hispanics, it is increasingly vital and necessary that the state of Texas recognize the full implementation of the Mexican American experience into the lore of the state for all Texans to learn and appreciate so that the future of Texas and her children may be rooted in the truth and the knowledge that Texas is truly exceptional.

Texas HOPE clearly understands that the task before the State, TEA, SBEC, the SBOE, the school districts, and the Mexican American community is that of developing curriculum standards that reflect the inclusion of these contributions in the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) across the curriculum taught today in public schools. However, in order for that to begin to happen, all parties must agree that a changing paradigm in developing curriculum is necessary in order to have these contributions infused into the whole curriculum. It is disingenuous for any party to feign sincere progress in this regard without actively seeking the necessary inclusion of Mexican American experts in this process. It has been the habit of the State and its institutions to develop bills, standards, policies, and statutes without the input of Mexican American stake-holders.

Texas HOPE welcomes a sincere discourse that will move the contributions of Mexican Americans beyond an optional elective course to one that is inclusive of these contributions across the curriculum in consultation with Mexican American experts and stake-holders who will be decision-makers in the process rather than by-standers. The probability of Texas’ 1,028 school districts opting to provide Mexican American Studies as an elective is low; especially when one takes into account that approximately 800 of these school districts are rural school districts who neither have the funds nor the capacity to develop or implement the course; the issue is further compounded by the fact that 64% of all teachers in Texas are non-minority and not likely able to effectively teach such a course. We as stake-holders will also be taking a risk if students don’t sign-up for the course or if only Hispanics are attracted to the course. The danger is that the State will say that there was no interest or that it is the only place in which to teach Mexican American contributions. Clearly, the Latino organizations of Texas view education as the centerpiece of their agendas because the future of Texas and of our community is increasingly in the hands of those persons who have walked the halls of Texas public education classrooms.

 

Note to SBOE Member: You Sound Ignorant

So, there is an article in the Chron (behind paywall) about the upcoming vote on Mexican American Studies at the Texas State Board of Education. It’s no secret that, although there is one Republican who supports the measure, the entire opposition is made up of Republicans. I’m hoping a few more can be convinced to support the measure, but these folks seem to be against it.

Some, like the head of the board, attempt to explain it away.

“I think it is up to the local school districts whether or not to offer a Mexican-American studies course,” board chairman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands

Some attempt to play “divide and conquer”:

“I’m Irish,” says board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont. “So I’d like to propose an amendment to create an Irish-American Studies class.”

Then, others are downright ignorant and just plain racist, if that was her intent. I hope it wasn’t.

“We’re citizens of the United States, not citizens of Mexico.” Patricia Hardy R-Weatherford.

Let me explain to Ms. Hardy:  Mexican Americans ARE Americans!!! The social, political, and cultural history of Mexican Americans and their impact on Texas is often left out of textbooks and the classrooms for various reason. What kind of an ignorant comment is that?

And to David Bradley:  Really? Well, If there is a group of activists knocking on your door with a viable and sincere request for Irish American Studies, let them in. Otherwise, your little game is a tad immature.

And Ms. Cargill and the rest:  What are you afraid of?

I’ll let my friend, HISD Board President Juliet Stipeche explain it:

“We want to have a culturally and historically relevant high school course that aligns to the TEKS,” she says, referring to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, curriculum standards that the state creates for various classes. “We want the course to be well developed and well defined. If we don’t develop the TEKS, it can get lost in the shuffle.”

Some say we are wasting our breath because the Republicans are hell-bent on being anti-Latino, no matter what the issue may be. That may be so. But if they think that voting down the measure will end the conversation, they are wrong.

It is much simpler to vote to support Mexican American Studies and move forward. Moving backwards certainly shouldn’t be an option. It wasn’t an option for Texas’ heroes that are in our textbooks, and moving backwards was not an option for Mexican Americans who fought to move forward despite the opposition and the odds.

 

Houston ISD Backs Mexican American Studies

Kudos to HISD Board President Juliet Stipeche for calling on the board to consider a resolution favoring Mexican American Studies be added to curriculum offerings–an issue to be voted on by the Texas State Board of Education on April 9. As reported by Ericka Mellon:

The 9-0 vote followed some debate over whether the district would appear to be favoring one culture over another.

HISD board president Juliet Stipeche, who brought the resolution to the board for consideration, asked her colleagues whether they could name five Mexican-American leaders in history.

“It’s not that we don’t care. It’s that we don’t know,” she said.

As I’ve mentioned previously:

The Texas State Board of Education is set to vote in early April on including Mexican American Studies in the state curriculum. Unfortunately, those who are iffy or possibly against the proposal are all Republicans and at least three more are needed to pass the proposal. Let’s give them a call and ask them to support Mexican American Studies at their next meeting on April 9.

At least one Republican on the SBOE, however, appears to support the idea. Vice chairman Thomas Ratliff told The Texas Tribune in February: “Some of [the board members] are trying to say that they don’t want to start creating a whole bunch of other studies for every other ethnic group. I don’t understand that concern because there aren’t any other ethnic groups that make up a significant portion of the state’s population like the Hispanics do.”

Houston: Call Donna Bahorich at 832.303.9091
Woodlands: Call Barbara Cargill at 512.463.9007
San Antonio: Call Ken Mercer at 512.463.9007
Ft. Worth: Call Patricia Hardy at 817.598.2968
Dallas: Call Geraldine Miller at 972.419.4000 or qtince@aol.com
Waco: Call Sue Melton-Melone at 254.749.0415 or smelton51@gmail.com
Amarillo: Call Marty Rowley at 806.373.6278 or  martyforeducation@gmail.com

General e-mails in support of the proposal may also be sent to:  sboesupport@tea.state.tx.us

Pinche Ronald Reagan and Other Reactions to Cesar Chavez

Thanks to the good folks at AARP-Texas, I had the opportunity to enjoy an advanced screening of Cesar Chavez, the biopic about the late Labor and Civil Rights organizer and leader.

Given the various stories about Chavez, I didn’t know what to expect from Director Diego Luna and his crew. What I got was a fast-paced journey through the beginnings of Chavez’s organizing of farmworkers in the California fields, including coalition building with Filipino farmworkers, the founding of the United Farm Workers,  and on through the five-year boycott of grape growing companies. The film portrays Chavez, as he was, rather than as some superhero–always humble, always working, and always risking, yet flawed like anyone else.

Michael Peña gives a strong performance as the title character, as does America Ferrera as Chavez’s wife, Helen. While Chavez is portrayed as the leader, it is Helen, among others, who are portrayed as the foundation on which Chavez stood up against the growers. Overall, it was a good ensemble, with good performances by John Malkovich, Jacob Vargas, Yancey Arias, and, of course, Rosario Dawson. Much credit should go to Luna for some good attempts at recreating important aspects of the movement.

What was not recreated was actual film of Ronald Reagan, governor of California at the time, doing his part to break the strike through a public relations campaign which included calling the strikers “immoral” and eating grapes while being filmed by news outlets. I still don’t understand that 80s “Decade of the Hispanic” bull that was promoted by the Reaganites. The devil is always the devil.

As much as the film is about Chavez, some strong political statements are made about those in charge at the time who would want to destroy the farmworker movement. Also given his due on the positive side is Bobby Kennedy.

The film also lightly covers a topic some use to darken the legacy of Cesar Chavez–his feelings toward undocumented labor. Low-wage immigrant workers who weren’t demanding worker rights back then were easy to exploit and industries of today have learned much from farmers and growers of that time. Chavez was fighting to protect all workers at the time, which made him an easy target in the right-wing “divide and conquer” strategy.

 

Unfortunately, the film said little about the fact that these movements still continue today. While  some actual Chavez footage at the end of the film is utilized in which he speaks to the plight of the poor, a strong message could have been delivered that these struggles still continue in the form of health care reform, minimum wage increases, college for everyone, etc. We are left to figure it out on our own, or, perhaps that was the intent.

Then again, I’m not Diego Luna working on deadlines and a time frame in which to make a biography as sincere as possible. There will be criticism from activists who were there or folks wanting more, but the bottom line, there is only so much one can put into a movie before it loses an audience. The actual story is saved for textbooks and biographies. Otherwise, I truly enjoyed the film.

Chavez also serves as a reminder that this stuff isn’t being taught to our K-12 kids here in Texas, along with other aspects of Mexican American Studies.

The Texas State Board of Education is set to vote in early April on including Mexican American Studies in the state curriculum. Unfortunately, those who are iffy or possibly against the proposal are all Republicans and at least three more are needed to pass the proposal. Let’s give them a call and ask them to support Mexican American Studies at their next meeting on April 9.

At least one Republican on the SBOE, however, appears to support the idea. Vice chairman Thomas Ratliff told The Texas Tribune in February: “Some of [the board members] are trying to say that they don’t want to start creating a whole bunch of other studies for every other ethnic group. I don’t understand that concern because there aren’t any other ethnic groups that make up a significant portion of the state’s population like the Hispanics do.”

Houston: Call Donna Bahorich at 832.303.9091
Woodlands: Call Barbara Cargill at 512.463.9007
San Antonio: Call Ken Mercer at 512.463.9007
Ft. Worth: Call Patricia Hardy at 817.598.2968
Dallas: Call Geraldine Miller at 972.419.4000 or qtince@aol.com
Waco: Call Sue Melton-Melone at 254.749.0415 or smelton51@gmail.com
Amarillo: Call Marty Rowley at 806.373.6278 or  martyforeducation@gmail.com

General e-mails in support of the proposal may also be sent to:  sboesupport@tea.state.tx.us

 

 

 

Mayor Parker Announces FAFSA Day

Let me tell you, growing up poor yet with the knowledge that college was not an option but a necessity, was a challenge. Not because the schoolwork would be hard, but because all of the applications would certainly want to make one give up–especially the financial aid apps. Here in Houston, Mayor Annise Parker announced a bit of a solution for kids who need extra help with all of those forms.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker invites Houston area parents and students to participate in “Houston FAFSA Day” events scheduled for February 20, 2014, with additional workshops to continue through March.  The citywide events are designed to assist students and parents with the completion of applications for federal and state college financial assistance.  Hosted by five area school districts and numerous community organizations, the sessions will focus on the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the Texas Application for Student Financial Aid (TASFA).

Research shows that students who complete government financial aid applications are more likely to pursue college studies.  While Houston ranks as the fourth largest city in the country, its student financial aid application completion rate is very low.

“The City of Houston is proud to join community partners in this effort to help students obtain the financial assistance they need to go to college,” said Mayor Parker.  “Our goal is simple—to increase the financial aid application completion rate so that our students gain access to and complete college.  A college education is essential for our students as members of Houston’s future workforce.”

“Houston FAFSA Day” sponsors include Alief ISD, Galveston ISD, Houston ISD, Spring ISD and Spring Branch ISD.  Community partners include the City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Education Initiatives, Center for Houston’s Future, Chinese Community Center, College Community Career, Houston A+ Challenge, Memorial Assistance Ministries, Project GRAD and United Way of Greater Houston.

The “Houston FAFSA Day” websiteoffers helpful tips and resources for students and parents as well as opportunities for prospective community partners and volunteers.  While “Houston FAFSA Day” will take place on February 20, additional financial aid application workshops are scheduled.  A complete list of event dates and sites can be accessed on the website.

For information about the Mayor’s Office of Education Initiatives, a division of the Department of Neighborhoods, visit www.houstontx.gov/education.

www.HoustonFAFSAday.org

Thanks to Mayor Annise Parker and all of those partnering with her to get this done.

3rd Centavo ~ Acuña – The Illusion That Education is a Stairway to Whiteness

Waiting for the Next Sputnik Moment

by Rodolfo F. Acuña

From the beginning, there has been the illusion that America was exceptional; it was not like Europe — America was the land of opportunity. Generally, the right to read was limited to the exceptional that were taught to read by their parents or a minister or later in private schools.

Access to education was limited to a chosen few who deserved the right to read the bible. Africans, Indians and poor women were considered unfit to study it.

It was not until the 1840s that an organized system came about through the leadership of education reformers such as Horace Mann and Henry Barnard, who operated in Massachusetts and Connecticut respectively. They helped create statewide common-school systems accessible to everyone and financed by public funds. These reformers believed that all children had the right to learn. They argued that education would improve society and prevent crime and poverty.

These progressives met resistance. The landowners and many of the elite and the wannabes did not want to pay for educating other people’s children especially if undeserving.

The flame of universal accessibility flickered until it was almost suffocated by the arrival of waves of new immigrants. Industrialists did not want thinkers but human robots. Moreover, child labor was an important pool of labor.

Nevertheless, reformers took up the cause of compulsory school attendance for the children of the new immigrants. The concept of compulsory education dates back to Plato in western civilization, and it was common to most early civilizations including Mesoamerica.

The motives varied, ranging from humanitarian and communitarian, to those who wanted to evangelize and Americanize the new immigrants who they correctly surmised were not going away.

The battle for compulsory school attendance lasted into the 1920s; however, urban and rural employers avoided compliance. Child labor was an important source of cheap labor, and it cost too much to educate children with lower intelligence.

Even so, the myth that everyone in the United States had an equal opportunity persisted – it was part of the myth of American exceptionalism.

By the 1920s, African Americans lived in an apartheid society, and the immigrants contained in ethnic ghettoes. During the decade, Congress passed strict immigration laws based on a policy of National origins that gave preference to Northern Europeans and drastically limited immigration from eastern and southern Europe. Through this form of genetic engineering over time Nordic and Germanic types would overwhelm the swarthy newcomers. The Mexican was considered a temporary nuisance while Puerto Ricans were citizens and thus endured.

During the 1930s, organized labor fought back and gained concessions. However, for the most part minorities were cheated. More opportunities opened for them during World War II, but at a price; many Mexican Americans and the poor paid with their lives. Mexicans numbered about a million and a half, and some say that close to a third served in the armed forces.

The war also brought the realization that Americans were under educated, and that if America was to remain a world power, it had to have a better educated work force. The median years of school completed for Americans, 25 years old and over, had only risen from 8.1 to 8.6 years from 1910 to 1940. By the forties, a bare 24 percent of Americans had completed high school. Because of federal aid to education, by 1970 53 percent had a high school diploma (by 2012, 86 percent).

What brought about this transformation was the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, known as the GI Bill of Rights. It was controversial and many legislators objected that paying veterans to go to school lessened their incentive to look for work while others believed that only for the privileged deserved a higher education.

The GI Bill proved a boon to education, and in the end it subsidized corporate America, supplying an educated workforce. By 1947, veterans were 49 percent of college admissions, and when the WW II GI Bill ended on July 25, 1956, 7.8 million of 16 million World War II veterans had attended school or training program.

According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, “More than half of the young adults of the 1940s and 1950s completed high school, and the median educational attainment of 25- to 29-years-olds rose to 12 years.” Then as now a high school diploma was the gateway to a higher education.

There is no denying that the GI Bill helped some Mexican Americans; however, the overwhelming number in 1960 did not meet college entrance requirements. In the Southwest where Mexican Americans were concentrated, the median years completed by whites was 11.2 in 1950, ten years later it was 12.1 years. For Mexican Americans, it was 5.4 in 1950 and 7.1 in 1960. In Texas the median for Mexican Americans was 3.5 and 4.8 years.

It must be noted that success in college depends on the family pocketbook, and the quality of K-12 schools. As a general rule Mexican American schools were markedly inferior to white schools. Moreover, the quality of the high school determined admittance to Tier 1 universities.

The next boon to higher education was the so-called Sputnik crisis of 1957. Educators had already been mobilized in 1955 by Russian detonation of the hydrogen bomb that shook feelings of American exceptionalism. In 1958 a reform minded Congress passed the National Defense Education Act, which increased funding for education at all levels. This included low-interest student loans to college students. It focused on scientific and technical education. The NDEA poured billions into the U.S. education system.

California got into the act and passed The California Master Plan for Higher Education of 1960, which was supposed to reform California public higher education, coordinating the University of California (UC), the California State College (CSC), and the California Community Colleges system (CCC). It was supposed to make higher education “available to all regardless of their economic means.”

To set the record straight educational reform for Mexican Americans did not take place in earnest until they took to the streets. In California and Texas as elsewhere the Sputnik moment came with school walkouts and campus turmoil of the late 1960. However, as in the case of the GI Bill and federal aid to education, the boom years of reform were over, and there were dark clouds in the horizon.

The ruling elite by the 1960s as in the case of the 1920s came back with renewed vigor.

Americans were getting older, more conservative electing mouthpieces such as California Governor Ronald Reagan, who launched a campaign to dismantle educational reform, privatizing the cost of higher education, increasing tuition, and lowering taxes for the elite. The public good was replaced with the corporate good.

By the 1980s, the stairway to the American middle-class heaven was dismantled, and the illusion of equality was dead for all but the dreamers.

Coasting light on this is a recent article in Mother Jones Magazine. From 2000-2012, Public spending on public education has dropped 30 percent even as enrollment at public colleges increased 34 percent. “[The] Consumer Price Index increased 33 percent; the median household income (adjusted for inflation) dropped 9 percent; the average four-year college tuition increased 44 percent…; [and] public college tuition increased 71 percent.”*

My reading of history tells me that American exceptionalism does not respond to reason; it does not respond to facts or appeals to the common good. So I am resigned to wait for the next Sputnik or for an implosion.

*Not a direct but configured quote.

Rodolfo Acuña, Ph.D., is an historian, professor emeritus, and one of various scholars of Chicano studies, which he teaches at California State University, Northridge. He is the author of Occupied America: A History of ChicanosDr. Acuña writes various opinions and essays on his Facebook page and allows sites to share his thoughts.

Parker Outlines Education Accomplishments

Back in 2009, one issue that came up in the Mayoral election was the City’s involvement in our local schools. It seems folks immediately gravitate toward issues involving Houston ISD (we are the big district, no doubt), but there are a lot more school districts within the City of Houston limits, so, any talk of a candidate for Mayor wanting to take over a school district disturbs me, but up to a point–the point being that it cannot happen and voters in suburban areas wouldn’t stand for it.  But these candidates will tell you it can happen, anyway, but they aren’t being honest. Mayor Annise Parker seems to be schooling her opponents on that fact.

In 2009, I said I would make education a priority – and today, on the first day of school in 2013, I wanted to let you know I’ve kept my promise.

Let me be clear: City government is not a school district and should not be in the business of running our schools.

Yet, strong cities cannot exist without strong schools. And that’s why I’ve worked to make sure that our city resources are helping to strengthen schools and help schoolchildren wherever appropriate.

This was definitely the smart approach to take on public education, and the bottom line, the City still affects our local school districts, but it doesn’t necessarily need to run it. Opponents can talk all they want about how it is a priority for them, but actions speak louder. And Mayor Parker, along with members of Council who support these efforts, have every reason to boast about these accomplishments.

That hard work and sacrifice is paying off:

  • Today, we’re rebuilding libraries and funding $7 million in after-school programs.
  • We’ve funded a new summer youth jobs program and restored Saturday library hours that were cut during the recession.
  • Our Safe Sidewalks program is building new sidewalks around elementary and middle schools and helping parents organize “walking school buses” to keep kids safe as they walk to school.
  • HISD is rebuilding, upgrading and/or modernizing neighborhood schools in every corner of our city – I endorsed and supported that bond measure because it will help both schools and neighborhoods.
  • We’re working with labor unions incentivize apprenticeship programs on many city-funded projects, including projects funded by last year’s successful bond referendum.
  • And we’ve stepped up our efforts to incentivize the development of workforce housing that is affordable for teachers, police officers, firefighters and middle-class Houstonians.

I’ve appointed Marc Cueva as my chief education officer and he’s doing a great job overseeing the many innovative ways that our city is working to help kids succeed.

I had originally proposed a formal partnership between the city and school districts. But since I’ve become mayor, we’re actively partnering with school districts, nonprofits and the business community to strengthen schools, help schoolchildren and prepare our youth to enter the workforce – and we’re doing all this without the additional cost and layer of bureaucracy of a formal partnership.

Granted, I’m more in support of raising taxes so that we can put this commitment on steroids; but, that said, I’m also a reasonable voter who prefers specifics, rather than just words, . The Mayor’s website provides a whole bunch of actions taken by the City during her tenure in support of public education.

As far as it being a “promise kept” by the Mayor, I would have to agree.

Emmett Says No to Early to Rise Ballot Item

County Judge Ed Emmett decided to take the undemocratic approach and say “no” to the folks from Early to Rise, who did the democratic thing and collected over 80K signatures to place on the November ballot a one-cent tax increase which would pay for an early childhood education initiative.

Early to Rise released this statement:

Earlier today Harris County Judge Ed Emmett announced that he would not order an election to approve a one-cent property tax to support early childhood education.

            “Because we believe the law requires the county judge to place this issue before the voters, we will be filing a petition for a writ of mandamus in behalf of the registered voters who signed the petition requesting relief from the Court of Appeals,” said attorneys Richard Mithoff and Russell Post, who are representing Jonathan Day in behalf of registered voters who signed the petition seeking to put the issue on the ballot.

            “This is not about Judge Emmett.  He is a committed and conscientious public official,” Mithoff said. “This is not about the wisdom of the early childhood initiative: voters may disagree about whether revenue should be raised for this project.”

            “This is about the law,” he said.

            The Texas Legislature has authorized voters to petition for an election to authorize their government to levy and collect taxes for educational purposes.  The requirement to invoke this procedure represents a high hurdle–requiring the support of 10% of voters from the last gubernatorial election.  We have now validated more than twice that number.

          Under these circumstances, the Texas Legislature has mandated that a county judge has no discretion to second-guess the will of the people.  Rather, “the county judge . . . shall immediately order an election.”  This command is unambiguous and unequivocal; it must be enforced.

            Therefore, this initiative should be put before the voters to decide if early childhood education is something they want to invest in.

            The Early to Rise program, to be operated under the auspices of the elected Harris County Board of Education, will strive to improve daycare centers, early childhood education, teacher training and educational opportunities for the more than 400,000 pre-school children in our community.

            Funding will be derived via a one penny per $100 valuation of property, subject to voter approval in November 2013.  Given that the average Harris County home is valued at $192,000, this would be a $19.20 annual tax to homeowners; homeowners over 65 would pay roughly $3.20 a year because of their exemptions.

Frankly, I think that’s too nice a statement on the Judge after all that work Early to Rise put into the effort.

Kuff has more on the Early to Rise plan and its management and oversight, particularly the political accountability. According to the plan, the HCDE board would get to pick some board members to serve, pretty much like other entities in town, like the Sports Authority and Port Authority get appointees. I’m still thinking about whether this is good enough, but at least there is some say. Still, things are in limbo at the moment.

The plot has definitely thickened on this one. Let’s see what the Court of Appeals will say about this one.

Voters Will Decide on Tax Increases in November

Credit: KUHF

At least that’s what might happen, now that the County Commissioner’s of Harris County have voted to place a $217 million bond to fix the Dome funded by a half-cent increase to the County property tax rate on the November ballot.

Meanwhile, Pre-K activists who successfully collected over 150,000 signatures to place a one-penny Harris County Department of Education tax increase on the ballot to fund a pre-K training program await their fate as the signatures get approved and the County finds out from Greg Abbott whether the people are allowed to ask for a referendum. Sheriff Adrian Garcia has made the strongest case yet to support Early to Rise.

“We have to decide as a society, do we want to spend money helping little kids start on the right path, or do we want to pay for putting them in these orange jumpsuits and in these shackles?”

Will county voters be in the mood for tax hikes this November? Obviously, we have some major choices to make. The fate of a local icon and the fate of thousands of kids are up to the voters (at least if Emmett does the right thing and just lets the vote happen).

Of course, we cannot forget that we will also vote (again) on a $70 million bond to go toward a city-county joint inmate processing center. Obviously, the local Sheriff is for it since it might make life easier for his staff and programs. FYI:  This project doesn’t come with a tax increase.

The voices against the Early to Rise initiative usually don’t support public education, so, it seems easy to gravitate toward supporting it. I still have questions about political accountability, but the voices against this bill are usually calling for more money to be thrown at unaccountable items like corporate charter schools, private school vouchers, and the like, yet use the accountability argument against Early to Rise. Hypocrisy never gets my support.

Meanwhile, the Dome initiative is all about saving an icon. It’s a huge icon. And one County Commissioner stated the choice voters supposedly have.

“If it does not pass in November, then that should be the death knell for the Dome,” Jack Morman said.

Others think they’ll just bring it up again later if it loses.

And just FYI.

County engineers and consultants, who estimated it would cost $217 million to repurpose the Dome, also determined it would cost $20 million to demolish it, not including the $8 million (for upkeep).

There will be plenty more discussion in the near future, but this is how things seem to be shaping up.