Archives for category: Texas

Two of the reddest states in the nation had the largest numbers of people signing up for Obamacare. This reflects the size of their population but also their needs. Their governors may rant against the federal government and its programs, but actions speak louder than words. The public wants what the politicians deride. Yet the public elects the people who deny their basic needs.

Florida led the way with the highest number of people in the country who signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, with more than 3.2 million people enrolling, or 20 percent of the country’s totals.

A record 16.3 million people nationwide signed up for plans on the federal health insurance exchange during the open enrollment period, which began Nov. 1 and ended on Jan. 15, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reported Wednesday.

In Florida, enrollment ballooned to 3.2 million, a 19% jump over last year’s open enrollment period under the health law, commonly known as Obamacare.

The 3.2 million represents 20 percent of all enrollees nationwide, even though Florida, the third most populous state in the country with 22 million people, accounts for only about 7 percent of the U.S. population…

For University of Miami professor Dr. Olveen Carrasquillo, an expert on the Affordable Care Act, Florida’s enrollment spike is likely an indication ofoutreach efforts, a lack of jobs that provide health coverage, and that Florida is one of 11 states that did not expand Medicaid eligibility through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

About 425,000 adults in Florida don’t have health insurance because they are too poor to qualify for coverage under the ACA and the state hasn’t expanded Medicaid, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. More than half of those adults are Hispanic or Black.

“It shows that there’s a major need for health insurance in our state,” said Carrasquillo, who serves as UM’s dean for Clinical and Translational Research and is also co-director of the Clinical Translational Science Institute.

Almost a million Floridians could lose their Medicaid coverage starting in April once the federal COVID-19 emergency comes to an end, and because Florida didn’t expand its Medicaid eligibility.

Floridians fall into this coverage gap because their incomes fall above the state’s eligibility for Medicaid but below the federal poverty line, making them ineligible for Medicaid, a health insurance program run jointly by the federal government and states.

They would also be ineligible for coverage within the Affordable Care Act marketplace. To qualify for Medicaid in Florida, parents must earn less than 31 percent of the federal poverty line, or less than $6,807 for a family of three, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates.

Texas has the second-highest enrollment in Affordable Care Act plans among states that used the federal marketplace, with 2.4 million enrollees, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Read more at: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/health-care/article271638107.html#storylink=cpy

Republicans in Texas are obsessed with voter fraud. Trump won the state in 2020, as did the Republican Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and other statewide offices. Apparently Republican legislators think it’s suspicious that Democratic candidates won any votes at all. So they are launching a fusillade of bills to make it harder to vote.

Michael Hardy of The Texas Monthly reports:

For decades, Texas has maintained one of the worst voter-turnout rates in the country. Less than 61 percent of eligible Texans voted in the 2020 presidential election, placing us forty-third out of fifty states. (In Minnesota, the highest-turnout state, nearly 80 percent of eligible voters participated.) In November, 42.5 percent of eligible Texans cast ballots in the midterm election, placing us thirty-ninth in the nation. Embarrassed by these dismal figures, Texas political leaders will spend the Eighty-eighth Legislature passing laws to encourage more participation in the democratic process.

Just kidding! Instead of removing obstacles to voting, Republican legislators are introducing a slew of new bills that could disrupt elections and further depress turnout. GOP lawmakers say the bills are designed to prevent fraud and ensure election integrity. But several of the proposals—such as a bill by Republican representative Bryan Slaton, of Royse City, that would shorten the early-voting period from two weeks to one week—have no obvious rationale other than to make voting less convenient. (Slaton did not respond to an interview request.) Indeed, this and many other bills seem to proceed from the assumption that too many Texans are taking advantage of their constitutional right to select their leaders. Narrowing the franchise has long been a national Republican priority, although politicians are seldom as explicit as former president Donald Trump, who warned that 2020 voting reforms proposed by congressional Democrats would lead to “levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Trump’s concern was probably unfounded. There’s no consensus among political scientists on whether higher turnout benefits one party over another. Indeed, rising turnout in recent Texas elections has simply led to more Republican victories. The Texas GOP, it would appear, has little to fear from more election participation. But that doesn’t seem to have dampened the party’s enthusiasm for making it harder to vote. On the contrary: fueled by Trump’s false claims of a stolen election, Texas Republicans have become obsessed with the specter of voter fraud. Attorney General Ken Paxton has spent at least $2.2 million on an Ahab-like quest to find incidents of voter fraud. Between January 2020 and September 2022, he opened nearly four hundred investigations into potential election crimes yet secured only five election-related convictions.

In 2021, Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 1, a far-reaching “election integrity and security” package, into law. The measure prohibited 24-hour voting and drive-through voting, pandemic-inspired innovations in Harris County that drove up turnout in 2020. It also imposed confusing new vote-by-mail requirements, including forcing each voter to write the ID number with which they registered to vote—either their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number—on the ballot. (If they forgot which ID they used to register and picked the wrong one, they were out of luck.) Failure to meet the new requirements led to an unprecedented 12 percent of mail-in ballots being rejected in last year’s primary. (The rejection rate fell for the general election, as Texas voters learned to include both their driver’s license and Social Security numbers.) The bill, Abbott proclaimed in 2021, would “make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.” The same year, Texas secretary of state John Scott launched a “full forensic audit” of the 2020 presidential election in four large Texas counties. The audit, which wrapped up in December 2022, found significant administrative dysfunction in Harris County, but no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Scott, who resigned in December after a little more than a year on the job, has urged “Stop the Steal” activists to accept President Biden’s victory in 2020, blaming their concerns on “a lack of information.”

But as noted philosopher Donald Rumsfeld liked to say, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Just as Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction was an article of faith in the Bush White House, the existence of widespread election fraud has become an article of faith for many in the Texas GOP. To cite just one example, Republican representative Steve Toth, of the Woodlands, author of a bill requiring unique electronic codes for absentee ballots, has accused Democrats of using paper ballots to commit voter fraud and defended MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell’s crusade to prove that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. At its summer convention, the Texas GOP adopted a platform calling President Joe Biden’s victory illegitimate and urging politicians to focus on “election integrity.” To this end, Republican lawmakers have filed more than a dozen bills designed to root out supposed electoral chicanery. To be sure, Democrats have filed plenty of their own election bills, most of them intended to encourage voter registration and make it easier to cast a ballot. But with Republicans controlling the House, Senate, and Governor’s Mansion, there is little chance of the Democratic bills becoming law. Nor will every Republican-authored bill ultimately pass.

With those caveats out of the way, here’s a preview of the major voting bills filed so far in the Eighty-eighth Legislature.

HB 52 & HB 1243 / SB 166

Authors: Representatives David Spiller (R-Jacksboro) and Cole Hefner (R-Mount Pleasant) / Senator Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola)

Purpose: Increases penalty for voter fraud from a Class A misdemeanor to a felony.

Background: In 2021, Governor Abbott signed SB 1, the controversial voting bill that Democrats attempted to block by fleeing to Washington, D.C. The bill eventually passed, but not before a conference committee added a provision lowering the offense of voting illegally from a second-degree felony to a Class A misdemeanor. Less than a month later, after receiving blowback from fellow Republicans, Abbott called on lawmakers to make voter fraud a felony again. These bills answer his call. Class A misdemeanors are punishable by up to a year in jail, while a second-degree felony is punishable by up to twenty years in prison.

HB 125

Author: Representative Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City)

Purpose: Requires district attorneys, under penalty of removal from office, to enforce state election laws.

Background: Republicans have accused the Democratic district attorneys in large cities such as Dallas and Austin of failing to pursue election fraud with sufficient vigor. Attorney General Ken Paxton has sought to prosecute election cases himself, but in September, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that he must receive permission from local prosecutors to pursue such cases.

HB 161

Author: Representative Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands)

Purpose: Requires each absentee ballot to include a unique electronic code to verify its authenticity.

Background: For years, right-wing activists have claimed that voting by mail is uniquely vulnerable to election fraud. Former president Trump urged his supporters to vote in person, and he cast efforts to encourage voting by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way for Democrats to steal the election. This bill appears designed to prevent voters from photocopying absentee ballots—a phenomenon for which there is no evidence.

HB 549 / SB 220

Authors: Representative Valoree Swanson (R-Spring) / Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston)

Purpose: Establishes a cadre of “election marshals”—law enforcement officers appointed by the Secretary of State to investigate election fraud. Calls for regional task forces of judges to adjudicate allegations of election fraud on and before Election Day.

Background: This bill is one of numerous GOP proposals in the current Legislature inspired by Florida governor Ron DeSantis. In this case, the new office of election marshal appears modeled after Florida’s Office of Election Crimes and Security, which has charged 20 Floridians (out of 11 million voters in 2020) with voting illegally since it was established last year. The Texas bill prohibits judges from overseeing election challenges in their own counties, apparently under the assumption that these judges would be biased against the candidates challenging the election.

Open the link and read about more bills that are supposedly necessary to protect “election integrity” but whose actual result will suppress the vote by confusing voters and making the process of voting more complicated than at present.

Independent researchers have demonstrated repeatedly that charter schools in Texas do not get better academic outcomes than public schools. The average charter school ranks below the average public school. Yet charter schools continue to proliferate, for two reasons: one, the governor, lieutenant governor and legislature firmly believe that the private sector is better than anything public; two, charter schools are a honey pot for entrepreneurs, who see a chance to get public money with minimal accountability or oversight.

Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer reported in 2016:

We estimate the impact of charter schools on early-life labor market outcomes using administrative data from Texas. We find that, at the mean, charter schools have no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings. No Excuses charter schools increase test scores and four-year college enrollment, but have a small and statistically insignificant impact on earnings, while other types of charter schools decrease test scores, four-year college enrollment, and earnings. Moving to school-level estimates, we find that charter schools that decrease test scores also tend to decrease earnings, while charter schools that increase test scores have no discernible impact on earnings.

This article appeared in the San Antonio Express-News. The business community in San Antonio has been very supportive of turning public money over to private-managed charter schools.

Just over two years ago, Universal Academy, a Texas charter school with two campuses in the Dallas area, made a surprising move.

In November 2020, a nonprofit foundation formed to support the school bought a luxury horse ranch and equestrian center from former ExxonMobil Chairman Rex Tillerson. The 12-building complex features a show barn “designed with Normandy-style cathedral ceilings,” a 120,000 square foot climate-controlled riding arena and a viewing pavilion with kitchen and bathrooms.

RELATED: IDEA Public Schools signed $15M lease for luxury jet despite being under state investigation

Last summer the Texas Education Agency granted Universal Academy permission to create a new elementary campus on the horse property’s manicured grounds. It will offer students riding lessons, according to a brochure, for $9,500.

Sales prices aren’t public in Texas, but the 100-acre property had been listed for $12 million when Tillerson, who also served as secretary of state under former President Donald Trump, bought it in 2009. Because of the foundation’s nonprofit status and its plans to offer equine therapy, the parcel has been removed from the tax rolls.

School board President Janice Blackmon said Universal hopes to use the facility to start a 4H chapter and Western-style horsemanship training, among other programs that take advantage of its rural location. “We’re trying to broaden the students and connect them to their Texas roots,” she said.

Splashy purchases like the horse arena are receiving increasing public scrutiny as charter schools continue to expand aggressively across Texas. Under state law, charter schools are public schools — just owned and managed privately, unlike traditional school districts.

An analysis by Hearst Newspapers found cases in which charter schools collected valuable real estate at great cost to taxpayers but with a tenuous connection to student learning. In others, administrators own the school facilities and have collected millions from charging rent to the same schools they run.

In Houston, the superintendent and founder of Diversity, Roots and Wings Academy, or DRAW, owns or controls four facilities used by the school, allowing him to bill millions to schools he oversees. DRAW’s most recent financial report shows signed lease agreements to pay Fernando Donatti, the superintendent, and his companies more than $6.5 million through 2031.

In an email, superintendent Donetti at DRAW said the property transactions were ethical, in the best interest of DRAW’s students and properly reported to state regulators. He said his school was “lucky” he was able to purchase the property because of challenges charters can face finding proper facilities.

Also in the Houston area, at ComQuest Academy Charter High School, the superintendent and her husband also own the company to which the school pays rent.

And Accelerated Learning Academy, a charter school based in Houston, is still trying to get a tax exemption on one of the two condominiums it bought just over a decade ago in upscale neighborhoods in Houston and Dallas. The school claims it has used the condos for storage, despite a nearby 9,600 square foot facility.

The battles between school districts and charter networks have become increasingly pitched, as they are locked in a zero-sum battle for public dollars.

Last year in Houston, about 45,000 students transferred from the ISD to charter schools, resulting in a loss to the district of a minimum of $276 million. That figure includes only the basic allotment received by the districts, excluding special education funding or other allotments.

In San Antonio, the two largest school districts are Northside ISD and North East ISD. More than 12,000 Northside students transferred to charter schools in the 2021-2022 school year, as did just under 8,000 from North East ISD. That means Northside lost at least $75 million, while North East lost $50 million, using the same basic allotment figures.

Each side cries foul about the other’s perceived advantages: charters are able to operate with less government and public scrutiny, while school districts benefit from zoning boards and can lean on a local tax base for financing.

Georgina Perez, who served on the State Board of Education from 2017 until this year, noted arrangements such as these would never be permitted at traditional school districts.

“If it can’t be done in (school districts), they probably had a good reason to disallow it,” she said. “So why can it be done with privately managed charter franchises?”

Lawmaker: ‘Sunshine’ is best cure

The largest charter network in Texas was a catalyst for the increased public scrutiny of charter school spending.

IDEA Public Schools faces state investigation for its spending habits, including purchases of luxury boxes at San Antonio Spurs games, lavish travel expenditures for executives, the acquisition of a boutique hotel in Cameron County for more than $1 million, plans to buy a $15 million private jet and other allegations of irresponsible or improper use of funds. The allegations date back to 2015 and led to the departure of top executives — including CEO and founder Tom Torkelson, who received a $900,000 severance payment.

Over the years lawmakers have steadily tightened rules for charter governance. A 2013 bill included provisions to strengthen nepotism rules; a 2021 law outlawed large severance payments. That bill was sponsored by Rep. Terry Canales, a South Texas Democrat whose district has some of the highest rates of charter school enrollment in the state.

“There’s a lot of work to be done for the people of Texas when it comes to charter schools,” Canales said. “Sunshine is the best cure for corruption. And the reality is it seems to be sanctioned corruption in charter schools.”

Considering the increased scrutiny, “It’s a myth that charter schools today are unregulated,” said Joe Hoffer, a San Antonio attorney who works on behalf of many charter schools. “Every session, more and more laws get passed.” If anything, he said, charter schools often have to jump through more regulatory hoops than local schools.

Yet acquiring property remains a gray area.

Charter schools that can’t purchase their own property typically must lease it and pay taxes. A 2021 state law authored by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, a San Antonio Democrat who operates a charter, made such arrangements tax-free. But the Texas Supreme Court later blocked parts of the law, and it has been applied differently by counties across the state.

It’s unusual for school districts to lease their facilities; typically they are publicly owned or constructed. Local school districts are governed by nonpartisan elected boards, and when the board decides to purchase real estate, it must notify the public of the contract and voters can petition the district to block it. If a project requires bonding or new taxes, it must be put on the ballot.

At charters, by comparison, the governing board is appointed, not elected, so it does not answer to local voters. The main public scrutiny comes later, when the information about the sale must be disclosed in annual required filings with the Texas Education Agency.

The state education agency has the authority to review charter real estate transactions and sometimes does. In Dallas, Golden Rule Charter School is under state investigation for a real estate deal and possible nepotism. The school declined to release details because the investigation is pending.

But such reviews are often cursory, if they happen at all.

When charters report a real estate transaction to the education agency, Hoffer said, they typically just receive a letter back saying it has been recorded, with a clause reminding the schools that state regulators have the authority to return for an audit or demand the deal be re-done.

Critics say it isn’t enough. “The problem that a lot of us have had with charters is that they are considered public schools and they are taxpayer-funded, but they don’t have taxpayer scrutiny,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat and former trustee at Eanes ISD. “It’s a real lack of accountability.”

Some deals benefit administrators

According to its website, Horizon Montessori Public School operates four campuses in the Rio Grande Valley, one on Sugar Cane Drive in Weslaco. Until recently, records show, the property and its two commercial buildings were owned by Superintendent Alim Ansari.

Hidalgo County appraisal records show Ansari also apparently lived in a 4,800-square-foot home at the back of the 2.85-acre parcel, a portion of which was granted a homestead limitation on its taxes.

In addition to serving as Ansari’s home, records from the Texas Education Agency show that between 2015 and 2020, the superintendent leased his Weslaco property to Horizon for classroom and office space, collecting $118,000 a year in rent during the period. In 2020, Ansari-the-landlord signed a new five-year contract with his school for the property, for $168,000 annually, according to education agency records.

A home can be seen on the same piece of property as the Horizon Montessori Public School on Sugarcane Drive in Weslaco on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. The home belonged to the superintendent of the public charter school who leased his Weslaco property to Horizon for classroom and office space, collecting $118,000 a year in rent from 2015-2020. State and local records show Ansari sold the campus and residence last June. The buyer was a nonprofit organization called South Texas Educational Technologies, which according to its tax records conducts business as Horizon Montessori. Ansari is its chairman. State and local records show the foundation purchased the property from Ansari for $1.9 million, or more than twice the $840,000 at which Hidalgo County appraised it. Records show the foundation used a private appraiser to value the parcel.James Hord/Contributor

State and local records show Ansari sold the campus and residence last June. The buyer was a nonprofit organization called South Texas Educational Technologies, which conducts business as Horizon Montessori, according to its tax records. Ansari is its chairman.

State and local records show Ansari’s foundation purchased the property from Ansari for $1.9 million — or more than twice the $840,000 at which Hidalgo County appraised it. The foundation used a private appraiser to value the parcel.

Ansari did not respond to multiple phone and email messages. James Hayes, a CPA who sits on Horizon’s board and who also is paid $48,000 a year by the charter for accounting services, declined to comment.

Related-party arrangements are rare among modern charters, said Hoffer, the attorney who represents some of them. In some cases, he said, new schools might be forced to make such deals temporarily because they did not have the creditworthiness to borrow money to purchase facilities.

Pioneer Technology and Arts Academy, which has several campuses in the Dallas area, paid about $5 million in rent in the 2021 fiscal year to two companies, one a nonprofit and one a for-profit. Records show Superintendent Shubham Pandey has stakes in both.

Just under $3.5 million went to the nonprofit controlled by two board members of Pioneer, including Pandey. Another $1,296,418 went to Pandey’s for-profit business, PNC Partners, with more than $3 million total reported in the previous three years.

In an email, Pandey said that Pioneer’s goal all along was to transfer the school buildings from his for-profit ownership to a nonprofit. Three campuses were taken over by the nonprofit in 2019, while three others were transferred last year. Future campuses will be owned by the nonprofit, he said, and he no longer collects rent checks from the school.

But the nonprofit did not exist when Pioneer was given its charter, and its initial application did not mention future plans to transfer assets to a nonprofit.

At ComQuest Academy Charter High School, the Houston-area charter, Superintendent Tanis Stanfield and her husband, Glenn, said they don’t earn a profit from the rent it pays their company, Peachwood Station LLC

Peachwood collected $91,000 in rent in 2021. Documents also say the company provided an additional $117,000-worth of rent for free.

Tanis Stanfield said the couple followed the law and provided the needed space at a steep discount to the school she ran. “State charter funding for facilities was not available for the campus acquisition,” the superintendent wrote in an email.

School-owned condos?

In 2017, the Chronicle reported on Accelerated Learning Academy’s purchase of a 1,119-square-foot condo unit in the 22-story Cosmopolitan, a glassy high rise near Memorial Park, for $427,000. The school then bought a 1,340-square-foot condo in downtown Dallas’s Metropolitan Club the same year, appraisal records show.

The school claimed both of the residential units were needed for storage space. The Dallas Appraisal District accepted that explanation, though the school already had a 9,600-square-foot, nearly empty campus in nearby Lancaster, and granted the condo a full property tax exemption. Records show Accelerated sold the condo in 2021.

The Cosmopolitan condominium building at 1600 Post Oak Blvd where Accelerated Learning Academy purchased a 1,119-square-foot condo unit, claiming they needed the space for storage, photographed Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, in Houston.

Harris County appraisal officials have been more skeptical about the school’s use of the unit for educational purposes: “Personally, I cannot imagine that the state of Texas would allow the use of state funds to purchase this property,” the agency’s exemptions coordinator wrote in 2013, noting the Cosmopolitan’s deed restrictions prohibited condos from being used for businesses.

Accelerated has continued to seek a tax exemption. The appraisal district’s 2018 field inspection showed some plastic totes scattered throughout the unit.

“Very nice condo with granite and hardwoods,” the inspector noted. The exemption was again denied because the property did “not meet the tests prescribed by the tax code.” Records show Accelerated paid about $9,000 in property taxes on the unit last year.

Another example is the A.W. Brown Leadership Academy, which has two campuses in the Dallas area that serve about 1,000 students. Property records show it owns eight properties, several worth millions that have sat unused — even as taxpayer money has gone to repay the loans used to buy them.

Records show A.W. Brown’s real estate holdings include nearly 50,000 of commercial office space purchased with bonds in 2017. Appraised at more than $4 million, the property has been tax-free since 2018 and is vacant. Taxpayers pay for the bonds. A.W. Brown spokesman Charles Roberts said the school is still deciding how to use it.

The charter also owns a 3,400-square-foot house with an in-ground pool on 6 acres in Duncanville, identified as an office and valued at $630,000, plus 99 acres next to it, valued at more than $4 million by the appraisal district. Those were purchased more than a decade ago from professional basketball player Larry Demetric Johnson, records show.

The school has paid no taxes on either since 2014, according to appraisal records. In the fall of 2022, the school announced its plan to turn the more-than 100 acres of land into a community garden and farm for students “to learn more about agriculture and entrepreneurship,” said Roberts, the school spokesman.

In response to questions from Hearst, Roberts said the charter would be starting “an internal audit of facility purchases.” He declined to comment further.

edward.mckinley@chron.com

eric.dexheimer@chron.com

Dr. Charles Foster Johnson, founder of Pastors for Texas Children, is a dear and beloved friend. I can’t give him enough praise for the work he does every day to protect the public schools of Texas and the five million children enrolled in them. He shared the following message today.

Dr. King and the Work for Justice

Dear PTC Pastor and Friend,

 

It is good to set aside a day as a nation to remember the world-changing life, ministry, and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The prophetic vision he cast for our nation is far from realized.

 

As a 65-year-old white man from Alabama, I remember very well how Dr. King was vilified by the white power structure of this nation. What the Hebrew prophet Isaiah said about the suffering servant was true for Dr. King: he was “despised and rejected.” He was assassinated not because he was popular but because he was hated. Indeed, God has used his death and martyrdom as means to bring our nation into a “more perfect union.”

 

In 2008, I was privileged to be inducted into the Martin Luther King, Jr. Board of Preachers at Morehouse College. I knelt with other ministers before the full congregation in the King Chapel that day, vowing before God that I too would dedicate my life and ministry to the justice of Christ. It was one of the most moving moments of worship Jana and I have ever experienced.

 

The Rev. Dr. Billy Kyles, Pastor of the Monumental Baptist Church of Memphis, was the day’s keynote speaker.

Rev. Kyles was on the balcony when Dr. King was murdered. They were on the way to the Kyles’ home for supper. He retold the story that day, moment by moment, building to the awful instant when the shot rang out.

 

Rev. Kyles began musing to himself in his sermon why God placed him on that Lorraine Motel balcony that day, at that historic moment, standing beside Dr. King. Then he paused, with the perfect timing of a great preacher, and said, “Now I know. I know why the Lord had me right there. Because every crucifixion has to have a witness.”

 

We dishonor Rev. Martin Luther King’s life and legacy with easy platitudes or historical whitewashing. We honor him– and our Lord who led him– only with the painful, painstaking work of justice-making.

 

That is why we stand strong for quality public education for all children. We have a long way to go in delivering this promise of justice. But, no private model of education will ever ensure this provision of God. Only the public trust can and will do this.

 

Thank you for bearing witness so faithfully to this call!

 

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, Executive Director

DONATE TO PTC

 

PO Box 471155, Fort Worth, Texas, 76147

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The Texas State Supreme Court gave the green light yesterday to a state takeover of the Houston Independent School District, based on the low performance of one school, which has high proportions of the neediest students. This will allow State Superintent Mike Morath (not an educator) to appoint a “board of managers.” Will the board reflect the anti-public school bias of Governor Abbott? Will HISD be purged of imaginary CRT and other fantasies of the far-right? It doesn’t matter to the Court or to Morath that state takeovers have a very poor record. See Domingo Morel’s book Takeover: Race, Education, and American Democracy.

Houston Public Media reports:

State-appointed managers can replace elected school board members in the largest district in Texas, according to a decision released by the state’s Supreme Court Friday morning.

Justices overruled an appellate court’s decision that had blocked TEA from taking over the district. The case isn’t over, though. A lower court will hear further arguments.

“No basis exists to continue the trial court’s temporary injunction against the Commissioner’s appointment of a board of managers,” the opinion read.

It is not clear if TEA will use the decision to replace the Houston ISD board.

“TEA is currently reviewing the decision,” a spokesperson wrote.

The Texas Education Agency first attempted to seize control of the Houston Independent School District in 2019. The agency pointed to dysfunction at the school board, as well as years of what TEA deemed unacceptable academic performance at Houston ISD’s Wheatley High School.

Invoking a 2015 state law, TEA argued the circumstances allowed education commissioner Mike Morath to appoint a group of managers in place of the elected school board trustees.

While the takeover was stalled, all but two of the elected Houston ISD board members departed, the board hired a new superintendent, and Wheatley High School received a passing grade from TEA.

The Houston Chronicle wrote:

The takeover issue has been simmering for years. Education Commissioner Mike Morath first made moves to take over the district’s school board in 2019 after allegations of misconduct by trustees and after Phillis Wheatley High School received failing accountability grades….

Advocates and education researchers have called into question the effectiveness of takeovers, and even the process can upend a district and create distraction.

“The back and forth over this issue has created significant chaos in HISD,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at University of Houston. “That’s problematic from a governing perspective and the ability to right the ship and move forward.”

The looming possibility of a takeover makes Mary Hendricks, a third-grade HISD teacher, a little nervous.

“I’m concerned for the students because I’ve been teaching for 16 years, and they’ve been through a lot of changes, like Hurricane Harvey and COVID,” Hendricks said. “I don’t think another catastrophic change would be what’s best for our kids.”

Some students have become aware of the possibility of a takeover. Elizabeth Rodriguez, a senior at Northside High School heard about it at an after-school club she is in called Panthers for Change, a teen advocacy group.

Rodriguez is skeptical of using test scores as a measure of school success and thinks they should not be a major deciding factor in whether the district is taken over.

“There are some students who are really smart and do well in classes, but don’t do well on the STAAR,” Rodriguez said. “Not everyone is the same, and everyone works differently.”

A Brown University study from 2021 looked at 35 school districts from across the country that were taken over by states between 2011 and 2016. It found takeovers typically affected districts where the vast majority of affected students were Black or Hispanic and from low-income families.

Ruth Kravetz, co-founder of Community Voices for Education, a Houston-based advocacy group that focuses on education, said the state should focus its energy on investing in public education, especially for at-risk students in the state’s largest school system.

“Takeovers have historically had horrible outcomes and are used overwhelmingly for students of color,” Kravetz said. “What the state is doing is starving are schools of money and narrowing the curriculum by spending so much money on testing. If the governor really wanted to improve the state of schools he would spend the money on all the schools in the state of Texas better.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott took pride in sending three bus loads of Venezuelan immigrants from Texas to Washington, D.C. on Christmas Eve. They were sent to the home of Vice-President Harris, where they arrived in bitter cold weather without proper clothing. Men, women, and children.

Is this the spirit of Christmas? Was there no room at the inn in Texas? What was the message of Jesus? What kind of a Christian is Governor Abbott and his buddy Florida Governor Ron DeSantis? Where in the New Testament does it say you should treat the hungry and homeless with contempt and use them as political pawns?

NPR reported:

Several busloads of migrants were dropped off at the Washington, D.C., residence of Vice President Kamala Harris on Christmas Eveapparently the latest in an escalating battle between state officials and the Biden administration over the country’s immigration policy.

A total of three busloads of migrants arrived at the Naval Observatory, where Harris lives, on Saturday evening. The Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network, a local grassroots organization, met the migrants, who were inadequately dressed for the freezing temperature, according to the station.

Earlier this year, some state governors began sending buses of migrants to the nation’s capital, after the Biden administration attempted to lift a pandemic-era policy that let the U.S. deny entry to immigrants.

At least one governor from these states, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, said his state is purposefully busing migrants to sanctuary cities, where law enforcement are discouraged from deporting immigrants.

Amy Fischer, an organizer with the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network, told NPR’s All Things Considered on Sunday that Abbott’s actions were “rooted in racism and xenophobia.”

“At the end of the day, everybody who arrived here last night was able to get free transportation, on a charter bus, that got them closer to their final destination,” she said.

Fortunately there are people in the sanctuary cities who are feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and caring for the stranger.

In Abbott’s Texas and DeSantis’ Florida, Christian values have been warped into talking points for rightwing frauds.

WWJD?

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is determined to pass a voucher bill in the upcoming legislative session, along with voucher zealot Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. They hope to use the culture war nonsense about public schools “indoctrinating” students on race and gender issues. They pay no attention to the research showing that students who use vouchers are likely to lose ground, academically, and learn less than in public school. Does the legislature really want to harm the state’s public schools while sending kids off to religious and private schools where they are likely to get a worse education than in public schools?

Edward McKinley of the Houston Chronicle wrote recently:

Private school vouchers were within a handful of votes of becoming Texas law in May 2005. Former Rep. Carter Casteel still remembers the constituent who confronted her in her office that day.

“He kind of threatened me, not to harm me, but that I wouldn’t be reelected if I didn’t vote for the vouchers,” Casteel, a New Braunfels Republican, said in an interview. A public school teacher and school board member before she served in the Legislature, Casteel is and was a staunch opponent of private school vouchers.

“I explained to him my position, and he wasn’t very happy, I remember that,” she said. “If you want your child to go to a private school, then that’s your choice and you spend your money, but you don’t take taxpayer dollars away.”

Debate on the floor of the Texas House stretched on for hours, and the voucher bill was gutted following a series of back-and-forth, close votes. Casteel voted no, saying publicly that she was willing to lose her House seat over it.

In a dramatic capstone to the proceedings, Rep. Senfronia Thompson ran across the floor and yanked the microphone out of the bill author’s hand, yelling for attention to a procedural mistake in the bill that led to its death.

That day was the high-water mark in efforts to pass private school vouchers in Texas.

They have been blocked by a powerful coalition of Democrats and rural Republicans in the House. In fact, the House has routinely and overwhelmingly supported a statement policy that outright bans taxpayer funds from going to private schools in sessions since.

But advocates for vouchers believe that those legislative dynamics that have been frozen for the last 17 years may finally be thawing.

As Republicans for the past year have raised alarms over what they see as liberal indoctrination in the public school curriculum — especially in the way racism and LGBT issues are taught — they’ve chalked up victories in statehouses across the country. Texas parents have carried that same fight to school board meetings, their local libraries and trustee elections. Now, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are calling for more of the same in the upcoming legislative session, with pledges to back ‘parents matter’ initiatives that include another voucher push.

“Families started to see there’s another dimension to school quality that’s arguably more important, which is whether the school’s curriculum aligns with their values,” said Corey DeAngelis, senior fellow with the American Federation for Children, which advocates for vouchers. “And I think that’s sparked a wave of support for school choice around the country.”

Abbott earlier this year announced his support for a policy that would allow public funds to follow students, regardless of whether they attend public schools or private schools. Shortly after, DeAngelis posted a photo of himself meeting with the governor, and “it’s happening, Texas,” has become a refrain on his popular Twitter account.

“With all the national momentum, I think a lot of people are looking toward Texas as the next step,” DeAngelis said. “It’s going to be all eyes on Texas coming up this session. And people are going to be watching.”

Eyes on Arizona, Virginia

The argument for vouchers has traditionally been that children, particularly in urban areas, are forced to attend struggling schools, when the state could instead subsidize them attending private schools nearby. One problem with this argument is that polling has often found that while people have critical views of public schools generally, they often like their own public schools just fine.

“In the past, they’ve tried to get vouchers by saying we’ve got to do something about kids trapped in failing schools. And so we’d say we’ve got all these failing schools. And then you’d look at the data and you have about 80 campuses out of about 8,500 or so that were ‘improvement required.’ So you’re looking at 1 percent,” said Charles Luke, head of the Coalition for Public Schools, which represents education groups opposing voucher policies.

“So when you’re talking about how horrible the public school system is, 99 percent of them are doing fine,” he said. “A kid takes a test and he gets a 99 on it, you wouldn’t say ‘he’s failing, I’m failing him, The system is failing him.’ You’d say, he’s doing great!”

But instead of school budgets or test scores, this time it’s culture war issues with spinoffs that include whether teachings on racism damage the self-esteem of white kids, and if it’s OK for young children to see a drag show or discuss gender identity.

“There’s this misalignment to what parents thought was going on in their schools and now their eyes have been opened, and now they say hey, hey lets fix this,” said Mandy Drogin, with the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “No more of this social justice warrior, whatever the teacher or administrator feels about pushing into our classrooms. I think that’s where you see so much momentum, and everybody feels and sees that momentum.”

The issue of private school vouchers has historically hewn closely to the culture war issues of the day. The modern voucher advocacy movement has roots connecting to efforts to resist racial integrationafter the Brown v Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1954.

In the 1950s and ‘60s, supporters of vouchers wanted to leave “government schools” because they argued such schools were experimenting with “social engineering” and radical ideologies, education historian Jon Hale has noted, particularly desegregation. The debates from yesterday over leaving public schools because of their values mirror contemporary political arguments over how LGBTQ+ issues are discussed or the children who are undocumented immigrants attending American public schools.

One question legislative observers have had is whether those pushing vouchers will attempt to pass a universal program or a more limited one.

Teachers unions, Democrats and other public school advocates have traditionally opposed any voucher program, no matter how small, but voucher advocates have seen success in other states starting small and building out from there.

This year, however, Arizona passed a universal program, and advocates say that should be the goal in Texas.

Mayes Middleton, who served in the House in the 2019 and 2021 sessions and was elected this year to the state Senate, has filed one such bill. His would create education savings accounts, a form of vouchers, that could be used by anyone to send their kids to public school, private school, community college classes, virtual schools or home school.

This approach is the best way to maximize “parental empowerment,” he said in a Friday interview, and to capitalize on the momentum behind that movement that helped carry Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin to victory last year. There were also Republicans unseated in the primaries earlier this year across the state who were less supportive of voucher policies, Middleton said, which could help win additional support.

He says his bill could be particularly helpful for rural Texans who want their kids to access more flexible, hybrid home school models, as well as for people who want to send their kids to private Catholic schools but cannot afford it, many of whom he said are Hispanic. Those are groups who would need to support voucher policies for them to win passage in the Legislature.

“Look in Arizona what they did it with one-seat GOP majority in their house and senate,” DeAngelis said. “If every Republican in Arizona can show up for their platform issue, other red states should be able to follow suit as well.”

Vouchers fell far short in 2021

Public school advocates and opponents of vouchers acknowledge that the fight is going to be tighter and more intense than it has been in many years, but they feel that even with intense lobbying in support, the policies will ultimately fall short.

“These are the same issues that raised their ugly head in past sessions,” said Rep. Harold Dutton, a Houston Democrat who chaired the House Public Education Committee last session, noting that more than 100 of the 150 House members voted in favor of an amendment last year barring the state from spending public funds on private schools. “I don’t see that changing a whole lot, and certainly not being able to get a majority.”

Members of the GOP’s right wing have called for House Speaker Dade Phelan to end the practice of naming Democrats to head a limited number of committees. Some have named Dutton in particular as an obstacle last session to school choice legislation.

Dutton said he hadn’t thought about whether or not he’ll be chair again, but noted: “When vouchers failed before, the person in the chair of public education was a Republican, so what does that tell you?”

Several Republican members of Public Education, who might be in line for the chairmanship if Dutton is not selected again, have also expressed skepticism or opposition to voucher proposals. Rep. Ken King from Canadian has said, “If I have anything to say about it, it’s dead on arrival. It’s horrible for rural Texas. It’s horrible for all of Texas,” while Rep. Gary VanDeaver has said, “This sense of community is what makes Texas great, and I would hate to see anything like a voucher program destroy this community spirit.”

As promised, after Casteel’s role in the demise of the voucher bill in 2005, she lost her seat in 2006.

She noted that a prominent San Antonio businessman and GOP donor who was present in the House the day of the vote and advocated strongly for vouchers donated more than $1 million to her opponent, as the donor did for other Republicans who opposed the voucher bill that day.

“I’ve got a great family, I’ve got a great law profession, and whether I’m (there) or I go home it doesn’t make a bit of difference to me. I didn’t go there to do nothing but what’s right,” Casteel said.

“And I did. I went home. And it never came back up — until this year.”

edward.mckinley@chron.com

The Texas Public Policy Foundation was established in 1989 by wealthy Texans to promote charter schools. The charter lobby in Texas has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams in writing laws that favor the expansion of charter chains and shield them from accountability. Although it still pushes charter schools, the TPPF has turned its attention to fighting anything that threatens the dominance of the fossil fuel industry. The New York Times published a major exposé of the organization, its goals, and its funders: the oil and gas industry

When a lawsuit was filed to block the nation’s first major offshore wind farm off the Massachusetts coast, it appeared to be a straightforward clash between those who earn their living from the sea and others who would install turbines and underwater cables that could interfere with the harvesting of squid, fluke and other fish.

The fishing companies challenging federal permits for the Vineyard Wind project were from the Bay State as well as Rhode Island and New York, and a video made by the opponents featured a bearded fisherman with a distinct New England accent.

But the financial muscle behind the fight originated thousands of miles from the Atlantic Ocean, in dusty oil country. The group bankrolling the lawsuit filed last year was the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based nonprofit organization backed by oil and gas companies and Republican donors.

With influence campaigns, legal action and model legislation, the group is promoting fossil fuels and trying to stall the American economy’s transition toward renewable energy. It is upfront about its opposition to Vineyard Wind and other renewable energy projects, making no apologies for its advocacy work….

In Arizona, the Texas Public Policy Foundation campaigned to keep open one of the biggest coal-fired power plants in the West. In Colorado, it called for looser restrictions on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. And in Texas, the group crafted the first so-called “energy boycott” law to punish financial institutions that want to scale back their investments in fossil fuel projects, legislation adopted by four other states.

At the same time, the Texas Public Policy Foundation has spread misinformation about climate science. With YouTube videos, regular appearances on Fox and Friends, and social media campaigns, the group’s executives have sought to convince lawmakers and the public that a transition away from oil, gas and coal would harm Americans.

They have frequently seized on current events to promote dubious narratives, pinning high gasoline prices on President Biden’s climate policies (economists say that’s not the driver) or claiming the 2021 winter blackout in Texas was the result of unreliable wind energy (it wasn’t).

They travel the nation encouraging state lawmakers to punish companies that try to reduce carbon emissions. And through an initiative called Life:Powered, the group makes what it calls “the moral case for fossil fuels,” which holds that American prosperity is rooted in an economy based on oil, gas and coal and that poor communities and developing nations deserve the same opportunities to grow….

James Leininger, who earned a fortune selling medical beds, founded Texas Public Policy Foundation in 1989 to promote charter schools. As it evolved, the organization embraced other causes including criminal justice, immigration, border security, taxes, and energy.

Mr. Leininger bankrolled Rick Perry’s successful gubernatorial campaign in 2000, and Mr. Perry reciprocated by donating the proceeds of his 2010 book, “Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington,” to the group. Other wealthy conservative donors began writing checks, including Tim Dunn, an oilman who is the vice chairman of the board.

Billionaire Tim Dunn is a major supporter of charters and vouchers. He is an evangelical Christian who wants students to have a Christian education. According to CNN, Dunn and his pal, fellow billionaire Farris Wilks, are focused on transforming education: “their ultimate goal is to replace public education with private, Christian schooling.”

When President Donald J. Trump tapped Mr. Perry in 2017 to serve as energy secretary, the group followed him to Washington, opening an office there and placing several senior officials inside the administration.

Mr. Trump nominated Kathleen Hartnett White, a fellow at the foundation, to lead the Council on Environmental Quality. Ms. White, who had once described believing in global warming as “a kind of paganism,” stumbled at a confirmation hearing, and the White House withdrew her nomination.

Susan Combs, another fellow at the group, became acting assistant secretary of fish, wildlife and parks at the Department of the Interior. Brooke Rollins, chief executive of the foundation, went to work at the White House.

Bernard McNamee, a onetime policy adviser to Senator Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican, joined the Department of Energy under Mr. Perry, then left for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, only to return to the Trump administration after a few months. Mr. McNamee is now a lawyerwho advises fossil fuel companies.

Douglas W. Domenech, who ran the foundation’s efforts to block the Obama administration from regulating emissions from power plants, became assistant secretary at the interior department. He was later found to have violated federal ethics rules by meeting with foundation officials, creating the appearance that he was working on behalf of a former employer.

As the organization’s profile grew, donations ballooned from $4.7 million in 2010 to $25.6 million in 2021, the most recent year for which records are available. That allowed the group to expand its mandate far beyond the Lone Star state.

The story says that the TPPF is not required to reveal the names of its donors.

But publicly available tax filings show that the group has received money from fossil fuel companies including the coal giant Peabody Energy, Exxon Mobil and Chevron.

The foundation has also received at least $4 million from conservative donors including Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch, according to public filings. Koch Industries owns oil refineries, petrochemical plants and thousands of miles of oil and gas pipelines, and the brothers have a long history of funding efforts to block climate action.

The Texas Tribune reports that conservative school board candidates in some suburban districts failed with culture war issues.

School board elections: Even though school board races are nonpartisan, the Nov. 8 elections for Round Rock and Wylie independent school sistrict trustees drew high-profile endorsements from the Republican Party of Texas.

But in both districts, every candidate endorsed by the Republican Party of Texas, a total of nine, lost. In Round Rock, the races weren’t even close, with one candidate, Tiffanie Harrison, beating her opponent by 25 percentage points.

While Texas Republicans largely swept Tuesday’s elections and GOP-backed school board trustees made gains elsewhere in the state, the results in Round Rock and Wylie raise questions about the current conservative strategy in suburban school districts and the appeal of an agenda built on culture war issues.

One of the primary targets for conservatives running for school board seats has been critical race theory, a college-level discipline that examines racism within social and legal structures within the United States. It is not taught in elementary or secondary public schools in Texas, but Republicans have used the term to target how students are taught about race in schools.

Republicans leaned on a strategy modeled after one used in Tarrant County, where in May, a slate of 11 conservative, anti-CRT candidates won races in school boards. But the GOP was unable to mimic the occurrence in the midterm elections cycle.

Jill Farris, a Round Rock school board candidate endorsed by the Texas GOP who lost her race, attributed the results to a changing electorate that is more liberal than in previous years.

“Maybe we were all kind of relying a little bit on this red wave and thought that parents were just as angry as we were,” Farris said. “At least now, we know where the community stands and we can move forward.”

A tweet by Mark Wiggins, a pro-public education lobbyist in Texas, spread the news that the Republican-dominated State Board of Education came out against vouchers.

*NO VOUCHERS*

As one of its 2023 legislative priorities, majority Republican @TXSBOE urges #txlege to reject vouchers in all their forms. #txed

@MarkWigginsTX