Archives for category: Texas

The Houston Chronicle reports that Trump will promote Ted Cruz’s school voucher plan, which aligns nicely with the DeVos “Education Freedom” vouchers.

Texas does not have vouchers, thanks to the concerted efforts of Pastors for Texas Children and a large number of local civic groups. Despite the fervent advocacy of top Republicans, a coalition of rural Republicans and urban Democrats have stopped the voucher push for several legislative sessions.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz visited the White House in December for a public discussion about school choice, and he pitched President Donald Trump face to face on legislation he has pushed for more than a year now with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

If and when we pass this, this will be the most significant federal civil rights victory of modern times,” Cruz said of the Education Freedom Scholarships the bill would create, providing billions of dollars in tax breaks for individuals and companies that donate to private school scholarship funds or help parents home-school their children.

“This is all about millions of kids — millions of inner-city kids, millions of African-American kids, millions of Hispanic kids, trapped right now, desperate for hope — and giving them scholarships,” the Texas Republican told Trump, who nodded in agreement. “There is nothing on the domestic front that I believe will have a longer lasting legacy in your presidency than if and when we get this done together.”

It appears Trump heard him loud and clear.

The president is expected to give the proposal a prime-time shoutout during his State of the Union address Tuesday, as he seeks his second term. Trump is expected to touch on the core planks of his re-election campaign — the economy, immigration and health care among them — with an emphasis on what he has done and wants to do for working families. School choice will be a central piece of that message, as the president plans to urge Congress to expand options for parents and students, administration officials say.

But how that message might be received in Texas is another matter. Despite the GOP majority in Austin, Texas lawmakers spent years battling over various voucher proposals with so little success that advocates gave up in 2019.

Thanks to Pastors for Texas Kids for supporting public schools with certified teachers and adequate resources.

Valerie Strauss writes here about the abject apology by Tom Torkelsen of the IDEA corporate charter chain for his company’s lavish spending.

The head of a Texas-based charter school chain publicly apologized for “really dumb and unhelpful” plans that included leasing a private jet for millions of dollars and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on San Antonio Spurs tickets.

It’s not the first time he has acknowledged errors in the chain’s operations.

Tom Torkelson, chief executive of IDEA Public Schools, issued a letter (see in full below) to the IDEA community saying he has sometimes “pushed us to a place that’s hard to defend” in his effort to be “entrepreneurial and different from traditional education systems.”

“I’m sorry I put IDEA and our friends in that position,” he said.

Charter schools are publicly funded but privately operated. Supporters say they offer valuable alternatives to families that do not like their neighborhood schools. Critics say they drain resources from traditional public school districts that educate the vast majority of students and that they are part of a movement to privatize public education.

IDEA was started in Texas by two alumni from Teach for America and has nearly 100 campuses in that state and Louisiana serving nearly 53,000 students. According to its audit for 2018 and 2019, IDEA has more than $1.13 billion in assets. It has received more than $200 million from the federal Charter Schools Program over the past decade and has plans to expand rapidly in the next few years.

The chain markets itself as having a 100 percent college acceptance rate. It doesn’t mention that acceptance to a four-year college is a requirement for graduation, which would presumably be a disincentive to enroll for students who do not want to attend college.

Torkelson recently backed off a plan to lease a private jet for $2 million a year — for six years — after the Houston Chronicle and a state teachers union raised questions about it. Torkelson had said the lease would allow IDEA executives to fly to states where the network is expanding.

After Torkelsen’s apology, IDEA bought an ad during the SuperBowl, which cost millions. Big spenders gotta spend bigly!

This past year, Betsy DeVos gave IDEA over $100 million from the federal Charter Schools Program (aka, her private slush fund).

How does a chain of schools amass over $1 billion in assets?

If anyone can answer that question, please post it here as a comment.

 

This is a very engaging video interview of Tom Ultican, an expert on corporate education reform, explaining the federal takeover of public schools via No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Ultican goes into detail about the corporate assault on public schools in the Dallas Independent School District. He names names, starting with the misguided superintendency of Mike Miles, a Broadie who managed to drive out large numbers of experienced teachers. He identifies the funders of corporate funders, both billionaires and the Dallas Chamber of Commerce.

He gives a concise analysis of the money behind the “portfolio model,” charters, and privatization in Texas and Dallas.

Domingo Morel is a professor of political science at Rutgers University who has studied school takeovers across the nation. He is the author of Takeover: Race, Education, and American Democracy. 

In this post, he describes the proposed state takeover of the Houston Independent School District as a hoax. 

It is a manufactured crisis. It is a theft of political power, and it is based on race.

If the state of Texas had its way, the state would be in the process of taking overthe Houston Independent School District.

But a judge temporarily blocked the takeover on Jan. 8, with the issue now set to be decided at a trial in June.

The ruling temporarily spares Houston’s public school system from joining a list of over 100 school districts in the nation that have experienced similar state takeovers during the past 30 years.

The list includes New York City, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, Oakland and Newark. Houston is the largest school district in Texas and the seventh largest in the U.S.

While the state of Texas claims the planned takeover is about school improvement, my research on state takeovers of school districts suggests that the Houston takeover, like others, is influenced by racism and political power.

States fail to deliver

State governments have used takeovers since the late 1980s to intervene in school districts they have identified as in need of improvement. While state administrations promise that takeovers will improve school systems, 30 years of evidence shows that state takeovers do not meet the states’ promised expectations. For instance, a recent report called Michigan’s 15-year management of the Detroit schools a “costly mistake” because the takeover was not able to address the school system’s major challenges, which included adequately funding the school district.

But while the takeovers don’t deliver promised results, as I show in my book, they do have significant negative political and economic consequences for communities, which overwhelmingly are communities of color. These negative consequences often include the removal of locally elected school boards. They also involve decreases in teachers and staff and the loss of local control of schools.

Despite the highly problematic history of state takeovers, states have justified the takeovers on the grounds that the entire school district is in need of improvement. However, this is not the case for the Houston takeover because by the state’s own standards, the Houston school system is not failing.

By the state’s own standards, the Houston Independent School District is not failing!

Although the state has given the Houston Independent School District a B rating, it plans to take over the Houston schools because one school, Wheatley High School, has not met state standards for seven years. According to state law, the state can take over a school district or close a school if it fails to meet standards for five years.

The Houston Independent School District has 280 schools. The district serves over 200,000 students. It employs roughly 12,000 teachers. Wheatley High School serves roughly 800 students and has roughly 50 teachers.

So why would a state take over a school district that has earned a B rating from the state? And why base the takeover on the performance of one school that represents fewer than 1% of the district’s student and teaching population?

The takeover is nothing more or less than a bald-faced attempt to strip political power from black and Hispanic communities.

No one believes that software developer Mike Morath (the current state commissioner) has a single idea about how to improve Wheatley or any other school. He has never been a teacher, a principal, or a superintendent. He is there to carry out the rightwing agenda of Governor Gregg Abbott.

Count on it. This is a bald-faced power grab.

A state judge in Texas blocked the state takeover of the Houston Independent School District until she issues a final order in June. 

A state judge Wednesday evening immediately blocked Texas from taking over the Houston Independent School District until she issues a final ruling on the case, complicating the state’s plan to oust the district’s school board by March.

In doing so, Travis County District Judge Catherine Mauzy preliminarily sided with Houston ISD, the state’s largest school district, in a legal battle that will ultimately determine whether Texas can indefinitely seize power from its elected school board.

Calling the injunction a temporary setback, the TEA vowed in a statement to appeal the ruling.

The Texas Education Agency had planned to seize control of the district, oust the elected school board, and replace it with a governing board appointed by State Commissioner Mike Morath in March. Now the state must wait for the judge’s ruling in June.

The takeover was prompted by the persistent low test scores of Wheatley High School, which has a higher proportion of students in need than other schools in the district of 280 schools.

The state has failed to improve other, smaller districts that it has taken over.

Morath is a software developer, not an educator. He thinks that fixing a school district, one of the largest in the nation, is akin to ironing out bugs in a software program.

Critics in Houston think that Morath’s goal is to replace public schools with charter schools. During his single term on the Dallas school board, Morath led a failed effort to turn Dallas into a charter district, a goal he shared with billionaire John Arnold (Ex-Enron).

Mauzy hinted at her decision just before she stood to leave the courtroom Tuesday afternoon.

“Democracy is not always pretty,” she said. “But I am convinced it’s the best system we have. If we applied some of [the state’s arguments] to the Texas Legislature, I don’t know where we’d be.”

Now there is an interesting thought. Judge the members of the Texas legislature by their thoughtfulness, their diligence, and their intelligence, and how many would be ousted?

The following statement was released on New Year’s Day by Community Voices for Public Education, a coalition of parents and students in Houston. As their statement demonstrates, the state takeover is a fraud intended to strip the school district of its elected school board and to replace it with a hand-picked governing board selected by a non-educator who wants to privatize public education.

 

It is New Years’ Day and public education is on our minds.

Will you make a commitment to fight the immoral, unAmerican and racist takeover of HISD?  Call your elected officials and then bring five friends with you to the January 9 rally opposing this takeover. 

Recently, the Houston Chronicle editorial board used misleading facts and misrepresentation to misinform its readers. The Chronicle seems mission-driven to legitimize the state takeover of HISD no matter the cost to its journalistic integrity or actual facts.

When they do this over three editorials, it is no longer an accident; it is propaganda. 

Here are some examples from the most recent editorials.

HISD at a crossroads: Looming State Takeover: The editorial compared HISD’s 81% graduation rate to Dallas’ 88% and Fort Worth’s 87% leaving the reader with the impression that they were better school districts.  The reality is Fort Worth has a TEA 2019 Accountability Rating of “C”(79) and only 53% of their graduates are college, career or military ready versus HISD’s “B”(88) and 63% graduate readiness. Dallas ISD has a “B” (86) rating and only 57% of their graduates are college, career or military ready. By the TEA’s own standards HISD is the better district. How did the Houston Chronicle and Mr. Morath manage to come to a completely different conclusion? Didn’t any of them bother to check the Texas Schools website? https://txschools.gov 

HISD must learn from others and our own past:  This editorial starts with the statistic of 56% of HISD students not meeting grade level expectations as measured by the STAAR test but it never mentions that Dallas ISD has the exact same STAAR performance rating as HISD. Once again, the Chronicle incorrectly leaves readers with the impression that Dallas is a better school district. (Source https://txschools.gov

HISD needs improvement, but where to start? How could the Chron fail to mention the Superintendent? The person who actually runs the district. The person who hires and places the all important principals. The person who would have to actually implement the LBB recommendations. This piece misleads the reader into thinking the Board of Trustees run the district. They don’t! They are a governing body elected by us and accountable to us. If the state takeover proceeds, our democratically elected school board members, four just elected, will be replaced with a board of managers serving at the pleasure of the governor and the TEA.

A call to all Houstonians to participate: In its final editorial in the series, the Chronicle asks us to put blind faith in TEA Commissioner Mike Morath as our unelected torchbearer. His educational experience is one term as Dallas ISD Trustee in which he unsuccessfully tried to turn Dallas ISD into a “home rule” giant charter using the same tactics he is now employing in Houston ISD. Truly, his resume is thinner than most substitute teachers. 

Throughout the series, the Houston Chronicle disregards overwhelming evidence that state takeovers harm students and communities. They also turn a blind eye to the fact that takeovers have been used disproportionately against school districts of color. Furthermore, they have ignored a preponderance of evidence that high stakes testing is a flawed method for evaluating students, teachers and schools. 

And the series pays the barest lip service to poverty/inequity and the effect on children and families. When seven children share one mattress, they do not need a state takeover to do better in school; they need six more mattresses.

If the Editorial Board wanted to facilitate meaningful change in HISD, their editorials should have been grounded in complete facts and they should have used data to inform, not obfuscate. There is no such thing as problem solving through propaganda.

Community Voices for Public Education
http://www.houstoncvpe.org/

 

The public schools of Houston are going to be taken over by the incompetent State Education Department, which has never run a school district of any size and which has failed in its previous takeover efforts.

The Houston Chronicle hailed the pending takeover, while noting that the Houston Independent School District has been acknowledged in the recent past as the best urban school district in the nation (by the disreputable Broad Institute or Academy). Its editorial saluting the takeover by the state notes that 21 of HISD’s 280 campuses received “failing grades” from the state, and one (1) school–Wheatley High School–has a persistent record of low test scores. The failure of Wheatley–which has an even higher proportion of the neediest students than the rest of the district–triggered the state takeover.  This is a district where 80% of the students are “economically disadvantaged” and many are English learners. So, of course, the state commissioner and the editorial board of the newspaper blame low test scores on the elected school board. Apparently, they believe that democracy is the culprit, not poverty.

The citizens of Houston should rise up in protest. I am a graduate of the Houston public schools. The teachers are not the same. The schools are now majority-minority. The state would not dare to pull a stunt like this in one of its majority white districts.

The state commissioner, Mike Morath, is a software developer who was never a teacher or an administrator in a public school or any school. He served on the Dallas school board, which presumably makes him an expert. Despite the high rate of poverty in HISD, the graduation rate is 81%, but in Dallas it is 88%. This is considered a disgrace for Houston, but who knows how those graduation rates were manipulated? How many were the result of a one-week online credit recovery program?

It is understandable that the rightwing governor Greg Abbott would enjoy stripping democracy from the people of Houston, who don’t vote the way he likes. It is incomprehensible that the Houston Chronicle salutes this blatant removal of democracy from the people of Houston.

Don’t they know that the most important mission of public education is to teach democracy and the skills of citizenship, not to manufacture test scores?

What lesson do they think they are teaching the students of Houston?

I hereby name Governor Greg Abbott and Commissioner Morath to this blog’s Wall of Shame. People whose names are on the Wall of Shame have trouble looking at themselves in the mirror.

HISD at a crossroads: A four-part series by the Editorial Board

Thursday Dec. 26: Time for radical improvement
Friday Dec. 27: Learning from others, and our own past
Sunday Dec. 29: Road map to transformation
Monday Dec. 30: A call to action
Tell us what you think about HISD: What works? What doesn’t? What needs to change? Please use this online form to send letters to the editor. To access the form, point your browser to https://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/submit.
https://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/editorials/article/HISD-in-crisis-Looming-state-takeover-presents-14929858.php

HISD at a crossroads: Looming state takeover presents rare opportunity [Editorial]

The Editorial Board

 

A dark cloud has loomed over Houston ISD almost as long as Naomi Doyle-Madrid’s children have been enrolled in the district.
The nonprofit director despaired over the elimination of the arts program at the elementary school her oldest son attended — part of a round of “devastating” cuts to HISD’s magnet programs about seven years ago.
She had to slash through layers of bureaucracy to get special education services for her third-grader. She has seen school safety funds held up by red tape and shaken her head in frustration at school board squabbling and mismanagement that have brought the district to the brink of a total takeover by state education officials.
Now, as the Texas Education Agency prepares to appoint a board of managers to replace HISD’s elected trustees, Doyle-Madrid hopes crisis will turn into opportunity — and that the state intervention will serve as a wake-up call for district leaders and for everyone who cares about educating Houston’s children.
“We have to really shake up the structure in order to have any kind of relevant, effective long-term change,” she told the editorial board.
This is a defining moment for HISD which, at about 209,000 students, is the largest public school system in Texas and the seventh-largest in the country. Once regarded nationally as a leader in education reform, HISD has failed to end a cycle of low performance that has paved the way for state takeover. Among its challenges are a cluster of perpetually struggling schools, a dysfunctional board of trustees that has often placed petty politics above the needs of students, and the abrupt resignation of a superintendent.
Add to that the destructive legacy of segregation and racism, a student population where about 80 percent are economically disadvantaged and many are immigrants with limited English skills, and high teacher and principal turnover at low-performing schools.
It is a recipe for a school district sorely in need of repair. Or, as TEA Commissioner Mike Morath told the editorial board recently, “It is a story, essentially, of chronic neglect.”
HISD’s boosters, and we certain count ourselves among them, may flinch at that description of their district — still home to some of the nation’s best schools. For those in the right school zone or with the know-how to navigate magnets, HISD can deliver an excellent education. The district has an overall B rating and by some measures has improved year over year. But 21 of HISD’s 280 campuses received failing grades from the state this year, including Wheatley High School, whose seventh consecutive failure triggered a state law requiring TEA to either close the school or install a board of managers.
A pattern of inequity that harms low-income, black and Hispanic students persists across the district — as evidenced by wide achievement gaps and schools that underperform on standardized tests year after year. About one-third of elementary and middle school campuses have received at least one failing grade in the past five years under the state’s academic accountability system.
More than half of HISD students — about 117,000 — are not meeting grade-level expectations, Morath told the editorial board. Of those, the vast majority — about 104,000 — are low-income students.
In 2018, the district had an 81 percent four-year graduation rate, which is up from 64.3 percent in 2007 but still not where it should be. In Dallas, which also contends with many of the same challenges facing HISD, 88 percent of students graduated; in Fort Worth, 87 percent did. Houston cannot be OK with a system that sees 1 out of every 5 students fail to even complete high school.
Of those who do graduate, far too many HISD students are unprepared for college and the workforce. Only one-fourth of graduates enroll in college and earn an associates or bachelor’s degree within six years. Many needed remedial courses once they got to college.
The status quo simply cannot be allowed to continue. Not if we care about children. Not if we care about the future of Houston, a city hoping to produce a workforce and citizenry capable of powering one of the nation’s largest cities through the 21st century.
Not everyone agrees that a state-appointed board is the solution. At a series of community meetings in November, hundreds of parents, residents and educators spoke out in opposition to the move, saying it disenfranchises voters in mostly black and Latino district and puts a Republican-led state bureaucracy in control of local schools.
Those concerns are valid and must be taken into account by Morath. He has pledged to appoint a board that is representative of the city and to select members who “believe every child can learn.” That’s a good start, but he must also accept that even good ideas imposed by Austin without significant buy-in from the voters who pay for, and depend on, HISD will be doomed to fail. In our meeting with him earlier this month, he did not seem to have fully embraced the need to leaven with humility the extraordinary authority state lawmakers have vested in him, a sweeping power triggered by Wheatley’s failure.
But for all that, Doyle-Madrid’s optimism is well-founded. Finally, with so much at stake, the takeover will provide a means for great changes for the good. State takeovers of local districts have had a poor track record in the U.S., but we believe in Houston’s case a board of managers can serve as a springboard to revamp ineffective practices and initiate bold, innovative reforms.
If done correctly, and through close dialogue with stakeholders, nothing should be off the table. Regardless of who runs the district — a state-appointed board or an elected one — the main focus should be on meeting the needs of students by drawing from established best practices and turnaround models from other districts around the country.
District leaders should also make use of a scathing but detailed performance review of HISD conducted by the state Legislative Budget Board, which found dozens of flaws in operations, governance, education delivery and oversight, and issued 94 recommendations for change. The audit could serve as a road map for improvement.
The need for improvement is clear. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t also a lot that works well in HISD. Those programs — from wrap-around services to full-day pre-K to the district’s magnet program — should be targets for investment and expansion. Their success and the district’s overall B rating are why parents like Doyle-Madrid stick by the district. Her youngest child is in kindergarten, which she says gives her a vested interest in the long-term success of the district.
For far too long, district leaders have failed the children and parents of our community. It’s time for even HISD’s strongest defenders to recognize how urgently it must change. The state takeover presents challenges all its own, but it is also the best chance in years for the district to reinvent itself.

HISD at a crossroads: Learning from others, and our own past [Editorial]

While Houston has some of the highest performing public schools in the state and the country, the system overall is failing too many children. About 56 percent of students are not meeting grade-level expectations. That’s about 117,000 students who with each passing grade they are left further and further behind.
Even with a state takeover and the best intentions to improve the district, there is no magic formula that can work overnight. In some ways it’s the toughest job in Houston.
“It’s about getting the right teachers in front of kids,” former HISD trustee Cathy Mincberg, president of the Center for Reform of School Systems, told the editorial board. “Sounds simple, but it islike brain surgery, it is like rocket science, to learn what works with what kid.”
But as big a challenge as turning HISD around is, it’s certainly possible. In fact, school districts and states around the country have recovered from far worse positions than HISD finds itself in, and proof of that, with lessons for HISD, is as close as Texas’ second-largest district four hours to the north, and in HISD’s own storied past.
The Dallas model
The Dallas Independent School District’s improvement strategy, known as Accelerating Campus Excellence, or ACE, is based on strong leadership, incentives for highly effective teachers and a data-driven approach to education.
Under the ACE model, targeted schools were given an experienced principal with a track record of improving struggling schools. Those principals could then replace their entire staffs, if need be, with teachers who scored high on the district’s educator evaluation. Top-rated teachers could receive bonuses ranging from $6,000 to $12,000 if they worked at an ACE school.
While HISD has tried something similar to attract talent to poorly performing schools through its Apollo 20 and Achieve 180 program, it hasn’t had the success yet that Dallas has found with its ACE approach. Instead of very large investments in a small number of schools each year, Achieve 180 makes smaller investments in dozens of campuses. And while it has steered $5,000 bonus to teachers in the program, HISD does not require strong performance ratings from teachers, has seen high turnover, and failed to attract enough highly-rated educators to make an impact.
Dallas also renovated ACE campuses, invested in additional social services and extended the school day. The results: In just two years after it launched for the 2015-2016 school year, ACE students had made double-digit gains in reading and math scores and the achievement gap between minority and other students virtually disappeared.
Titche Elementary, for instance, had consistently failed state standards for more than a decade. It went from an ‘F’ rating to a ‘B’ by 2018, jumping from one of the worst campuses in the district for student progress to one of the best under Dallas’ internal School Effectiveness Indices.
All of this takes money — each ACE school costs an extra $1 million a year, and early data shows that some of the improvements fall out when the extra money was redirected. To sustain these and other reforms, Dallas-area voters approved an 13-cent tax rate increase in 2018.
But even more than additional funds, turning the district around required leadership. Though many of the reforms began under a predecessor, many credit Dallas ISD’s success to veteran superintendent Michael Hinojosa, a savvy leader and zealous advocate for the district in the community and in Austin.
“Offering reforms is one thing, implementing them is another — and you’ve got to have both,” DISD trustee Ben Mackey told The Dallas Morning News in September, when the board extended Hinojosa’s contract to 2024. “If leadership doesn’t say this is what we’re going to move forward on, it doesn’t happen.”
The kind of momentum Dallas is experiencing is something HISD has found before.
Best urban district in America
In 2002, HISD won the first-ever Broad Prize for Urban Education. The national award, which came with a $1 million prize to give scholarships to district students, recognized Houston for its student achievement and reduction in the achievement gap.
The award capped a decade of work by the trustees and superintendents to turn around a struggling district, even in the throes of political infighting, scandal and initial public disappointment. In his book, “Fighting to Save Our Urban Schools… and Winning! — Lessons from Houston,” former trustee Donald McAdams details this decade of growth and renewal.
As McAdams recounts, the district improved through reforms such as decentralization, school-improvement plans, school-based budgeting, changes in school attendance boundaries, management audits, employee performance evaluations, performance contracts for administrators, district charter schools and incentive pay for teachers.
“We once made a list of all the things we were working on, and it was, like, 99 things — and all 99 things had to happen in order for us to turn around,” said Mincberg, who was on the board from 1982 to 1995.
The leadership the district needed flowed from a joint belief by the board and the superintendent that student success had to be at the center of every decision they made
.
“There were mistakes all along the way, nothing was perfect,” Mincberg said. “But the board supported the superintendent and the superintendent supported student achievement.”
The changes made and continued efforts by stakeholders eventually netted HISD another Broad Prize in 2013, the only district to repeat the honor.
Even TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, who will hold ultimate authority over the district for several years, says HISD has plenty of strengths on which to build.
“This was an award-wining urban school system that had seen massive improvement and much of those bones are still in existence,” Morath said.
Whether HISD learns from other urban districts or finds the lost spirit that once propelled its highly praised successes, the district has turned itself around before. It can do it again.

It has not been a good year for vouchers. The research continues to show that they don’t “save poor kids from failing schools.” They are in fact more likely to cause their academic performance to decline.

Pastors for Texas Children has led the effort to block vouchers in Texas and SOS Arizona led the effort to block voucher expansion in Arizona.

Voucher advocates (Koch-funded) are coming back with new legislation for 2020, and Arizona SOS has pledged to beat them again.

There are heroes among us.

 

December 2019
PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHERS: AN UNSUCCESSFUL EFFORT TO OVERTURN THE WILL OF VOTERS IN ARIZONA AND GROWING SUBURBAN OPPOSITION IN TEXAS
This is the third in our series, Private School Vouchers: Analysis of 2019 State Legislative Sessions. Read the first and second parts.
In 2017, the Arizona Legislature passed, and the Republican Governor, Doug Ducey, signed, a bill expanding the state’s existing Education Savings Account (ESA) voucher program. The legislation created one of the most expansive voucher programs in the nation, opening the existing ESA voucher, first established in 2011, to all students statewide. The program had been limited to students with disabilities, several Native American Tribes, and students in “low-performing” public schools.
Shortly after the bill’s passage, public school advocates collected more than 111,000 signatures to put an initiative on the ballot to overturn the ESA voucher expansion. In November 2018, Arizonans voted against the voucher expansionby an overwhelming margin: 65% to 35%. Following the vote, Beth Lewis, co-founder of Save our Schools Arizona, the grassroots group that led the effort to collect signatures, said, ”This result sends a message to the state and the nation that Arizona supports public education, not privatization schemes that hurt our children and our communities.”
However, just a few months after the public referendum, during the 2019 legislative session, Republican lawmakers introduced a number of bills to again expand the ESA voucher program. These bills would have added new student eligibility categories, including families below a certain income threshold and students who are victims of crimes or harassment. Two of these bills passed the relevant committees but were not considered by the full House or Senate. The remaining bills were not taken up at all.
While the proposed private school voucher bills did not pass in 2019, Arizona demonstrates that public school supporters can never assume their work is done, even when the public has resoundingly spoken against privatization. A day after the defeat of the expanded voucher program at the ballot box, voucher advocates publicly redoubled their efforts to expand the ESA program.
In Texas, where a Democrat has not been elected statewide since 1994, every bill introduced in the Legislature to establish a private school voucher program has failed to become law. As in several other conservative states, a bipartisan coalition of Democrats and rural Republican legislators in Texas has consistently opposed these bills. However, unlike many of these other states, more suburban Republican legislators are joining the opposition to vouchers, preferring to focus on funding for public schools.
In the 2018 election, Democrats picked up a number of seats in the suburbs of the state’s large cities, including those previously held by several strong voucher proponents. Additionally, during primary elections, several pro-voucher legislators lost to candidates who were more supportive of public education. As the head of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, Louis Malfaro, said, “….almost categorically the Republicans who ran as friends of public education prevailed over those who said we need more school choice, we need more vouchers, so I don’t see appetite on either side of the aisle.”
During the 2019 legislative session, Republican leaders, including the governor, notably did not include private school vouchers among their education priorities. Perhaps in response to electoral losses in the suburbs and a lack of support for vouchers, legislative leaders emphasized improving the state’s public school financing system instead.
Read Parts 1 and 2.
Acknowledgements
Many thanks to Jason Unger for compiling the research and drafting this series on 2019 legislative sessions.
Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
Education Law Center
60 Park Place, Suite 300
Newark, NJ 07102
973-624-1815, ext. 24

Zeph Capo, president of the Texas AFT,  writes here about the state’s determination to take over the Houston Independent School District because ONE SCHOOL HAS LOW TEST SCORES.

The State has failed in other takeovers, and its only plan in Houston is to usurp the elected school board. Capo believes that the goal is to allow charter operators a free hand in the state’s biggest school district.

He writes:

“In a profoundly unbelievable decision, the state announced last month it will take over the entire Houston school district, the largest district in Texas, even though the schools have been showing remarkable progress. Either the TEA doesn’t know what’s actually happening on the ground hundreds of miles away or, more likely, it doesn’t care because it is anxious to deliver Houston’s 284 public schools to charter operators. If the state succeeds, other Texas school districts could be its next target.

”The TEA has a poor track record on state takeovers and other interventions. Take the Marlin Independent School District, about 100 miles from Austin. In late 2016, the TEA replaced the district’s board of trustees with state-appointed managers, who basically rubber-stamped the desires of the TEA. It’s been nothing but failure ever since, including a revolving door of managers, the suspension of the latest superintendent and the revocation of Marlin’s accreditation status for the 2018-19 year after failing state academic accountability standards. It could be TEA’s next takeover target.

”When the state’s takeover of North Forest ISD didn’t succeed, the district was folded into the Houston ISD, at a time when the Houston district had a higher number of “improvement-required” schools than it does now.

“The state wants to take over two other small districts now — Shepherd ISD in East Texas and Snyder ISD in West Texas — and we’re very concerned that it’s not the right solution, especially given the state’s inability to put in place an effective improvement plan.

”The state’s move is especially baffling because the state itself — not some outside group — just awarded the Houston public schools an academic accountability rating of 88: nearly an A. But to justify its long-held ideological desire to hand over the entire Houston district to charter and other private groups, the TEA is using the fact that one school was chronically underperforming as an excuse to take over the whole district.

”The takeover is a deliberate attempt to silence the voices of Houstonians, who, just two days before the takeover announcement, acknowledged problems with the local school board and voted for new members who could better address the needs of the district’s black and brown students. The seizure of the Houston ISD and school board violates democratic principles.

“From the very beginning, the Houston takeover has been about a political, not an educational, agenda. Charter schools and other forms of privatized schools often are foisted on takeover districts. However, research shows that over the past 30 years and after more than 100 takeovers in districts across the country, state takeovers have failed to deliver in places such as Detroit, Newark (N.J.), Philadelphia and New Orleans. Millions of students and thousands of communities around the country have been victimized by aggressive state and federal intrusion into their local public education.”

 

 

This is one reason why unions are valuable for teachers and public schools. Unions have the resources to go to the courts to fight capricious actions, like the pending takeover of the Houston Independent School District based on the low test scores of one school.

 

HFT_release_VOCUS 2018 new.jpg

For Immediate Release
November 19, 2019

 

CONTACT:
Zeph Capo
713-670-4348

Zcapo@hft2415.org
   
HFT Files Federal Lawsuit over Proposed State Takeover of School District
HOUSTON—The Houston Federation of Teachers filed a federal lawsuit in Austin today, stating the proposed state takeover of the Houston Independent School District is unconstitutional under U.S. and Texas law because it disenfranchises and discriminates against people based on race and national origin.   

Gov. Greg Abbott and Education Commissioner Mike Morath claim the state takeover of the entire Houston school district, which earned an 88 (out of 100) academic accountability rating, was triggered due to one chronically failing school, Wheatley High School, which is attended by predominantly black and brown students. The takeover decision was made just days after voters elected new school board members in Houston, who would not be able to take their seats under the takeover, effectively silencing the democratic electoral process.

“The state’s action to take over the HISD is flagrantly unconstitutional and has nothing to do with giving kids a strong public education,” said Zeph Capo, president of HFT and Texas AFT.

“Gov. Abbott and Education Commissioner Mike Morath will do just about anything to give private charter operators a chance to get their hands on our schools—even violate the state and U.S. constitutions. We can’t allow our government officials to unconstitutionally marginalize black and brown children, deny them their right to a quality public education, or defy the voice of voters who have just elected new school board members,” he said.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin.

The suit, which seeks injunctive relief, alleges that the proposed takeover violates the 14th and 15th amendments of the U.S. Constitution because it disenfranchises minority voters and discriminates against the plaintiffs (three educators, one of whom is a parent of children in the district) on the basis of race and national origin and deprives people, no matter their race, color or ethnicity, of participating in the political process or electing representatives of their own choice. Further, the suit states the proposed takeover violates Texas’ Equal Rights Amendment, which states: “Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of sex, race, color, creed or national origin.”

The educator plaintiffs explained why they are participating in the lawsuit:

Jackie Anderson, a special education teacher at Ortiz Middle School, said the takeover would erase citizens’ legitimate votes. “Growing up, my parents instilled the value of civic responsibility. I voted for the first time with my mother. I was taught the value of my vote. Voting is something that you have an obligation to do. Everyone’s vote should count. My choice should be respected. To say that it doesn’t matter is a violation of my right as a citizen,” Anderson said.

Maxie Hollingsworth, a math teacher at Red Elementary and parent of HISD students, said her experience growing up in Little Rock, Ark., cemented her strong feelings about the sanctity of voting rights. “I was raised with the idea of the importance of equitable education and every person’s right to vote. It offends me to my core that people of privilege and power truly don’t care about communities of color and poor people. This takeover is a very targeted and intentional process and amounts to illegal disenfranchisement. It would take away my vote and everyone else’s who voted in the school board election. I can’t look at myself in the mirror and say this is OK. It’s not OK,” Hollingsworth said.

She added that she believes a takeover would result in fewer resources available to students and a greater turnover of educators. “All the progress HISD has made will all be for naught,” Hollingsworth said.

Daniel Santos, a social studies teacher at Navarro Middle School, said he became a naturalized citizen in 2008, when he voted for the first time in his life. “Through voting, I am holding policymakers accountable and making sure that minorities are not disenfranchised. I view the takeover of our recently elected school board as unconstitutional. It’s a serious violation of my civil rights that prevents me as a citizen from holding our policymakers accountable,” Santos said.

Following a state takeover, Santos predicted, “We will see market-based reforms that have failed to improve student achievement in other cities. We cannot let that happen.”

The HFT believes the state’s clear goal is to convert Houston’s public schools to privately operated charter schools, which the previously elected Houston school board had refused to do. However, Capo noted, several Houston charter schools are doing worse than Wheatley but are still being allowed to continue operating and are not being singled out in the takeover. Morath is justifying the takeover using a rule he enacted in 2018 that allows the Texas Education Agency to downgrade a school’s rating if it did not pass three of four measures, even if it would have passed otherwise. Wheatley had a passing 63 grade, or a D, but was curved down to a 59, or an F.

“The real shame is that the focus is on a scheme to charterize the district, not to get Wheatley the resources it needs to improve student achievement. Experience shows that charters do not produce the improvements their supporters claim,” Capo said.

 

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