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February, 2012:

Interview with Patty Quintana-Nilsson

Patty Quintana-Nilsson

My final interview with the Democratic hopefuls for State Board of Education District 6 is with Patty Quintana-Nilsson. She is a UH graduate with a degree in Radio & Television Communications, and she is a 15-year employee of the Spring Branch ISD. Currently she teaches Digital Film and Commercial Photography at the Guthrie Center, which is SBISD’s Career and Technical Education center. Here’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

Lampson saddles up

It’s good to have him back.

Nick Lampson

On Monday, former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson told a crowd of about 40 supporters gathered at Texas City’s city hall that he was running in the newly drawn 14th District “because Congress is too polarized to find solutions to our serious problems, and I was there when we could.”

The district has been represented for the past 24 years by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Lake Jackson. Paul is retiring from Congress.

Lampson, 66, a former tax assessor for Jefferson County, served in the House for four terms before being defeated in 2005 in a redrawn House district that favored the GOP. He ran for office again and won a fifth term in 2006 before being defeated two years later by Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land.

Under the redrawn congressional maps, the 14th District will shift eastward into Jefferson County and has a minority population of about 35 percent.

Although the state’s new congressional redistricting plan still is being contested in the courts, the proposed lines for the 14th District are not expected to change. As drawn, it begins at the Louisiana border and follows the coastline past Freeport. It takes in Jefferson and Galveston counties, both areas Lampson has represented in the past, and part of Brazoria County.

Ron Paul may have represented CD14 for 24 years, but they’re not consecutive; he ousted party-switcher Greg Laughlin in the 1994 GOP primary after having been the 1988 Libertarian candidate for President. That story was printed before the new maps were handed down, but as expected CD14 didn’t change.

You know what you’re going to get with Lampson. He’s competent, hard-working, and does great constituent service. He’s also going to run a campaign – and if elected, have a voting record – that will frustrate progressives. That’s partly who he is, and partly what the district is, which is to say competitive but Republican-favored. The gap between President Obama and downballot Democrats in CD14 in 2008 was as much as eight points, so a campaign of measured disagreement with the President is on the menu. You can look at that and see whatever you want, but I see a man who’s been an ally of Planned Parenthood, labor, and education, to name a few. He’s also a heck of a nice guy, and I am very happy to see Nick Lampson out on the trail again.

We have a long history of screwing public schools in this state

I’ve been meaning to post about this Texas Observer story about the current status of school finance, the litigation challenging it, and the story of how we got here. Here’s a little local angle to illustrate one of the many ways in which the system is messed up.

Even one of the state’s most efficient districts, Northwest Houston’s Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District (ISD), is bleeding out slowly after eight years of cuts.

Cy-Fair, the state’s third-largest district, has become a model for doing more with less. It’s consistently a top performer not only in the state comptroller’s rankings of budget efficiency, but also in state test scores. The district hasn’t suffered the massive teacher layoffs some others have, and spokeswoman Kelli Durham says that’s because the district has grown so adept at finding other places to cut. Still, Cy-Fair has scaled back its custodial contracts, cut money for field trips, and skimped on new furniture, trimming $125 million (20 percent of the district’s current budget) in less than a decade. They’ve gotten more waivers than ever before to exceed the state’s 22-student cap in kindergarten-through-4th grade classrooms.

To keep running smoothly through the tight times, Durham says, district leaders cashed in on trust and goodwill they’ve built with their community over time, asking teachers and the whole Cy-Fair community to do more for their schools. But that solution, Durham says, is not sustainable. “In reality, people can’t do double-time for a long period of time.”

Most districts receive more than Cy-Fair’s annual $4,800 per student, but some get even less. The state’s current funding scheme harms them all in different ways. In wealthy districts, parents pay thousands in taxes every month, then watch the state give it to some other school. Their kids sell candy bars and magazines so their school can make ends meet. In poorer districts, students may have to pay to ride the bus to a school that’s more crowded than ever—the sort of environment that makes it easier than ever for students to drop out without being missed.


In 2005, the Texas Supreme Court ruled the school finance system unconstitutional. With so many districts maxing out their property tax rates, the court ruled that the system amounted to a statewide property tax—outlawed by the state constitution. State lawmakers were ordered to reduce property tax rates, which they did in 2006, but not before muddling the whole system even more.

Rather than update the old formulas used to determine how much money a district should get, the Legislature in 2006 invented a new benchmark— “target revenue”— based on each district’s property tax revenues in 2005. The strategy was meant to protect districts from losing money as the state lowered property taxes. But it created its own grave inequities in funding between districts. Target revenue not only doesn’t provide districts enough money, it makes inequalities worse over time.

In an absurd twist, the target revenue system actually punished the school districts that were most efficient with their money. This is why Cy-Fair ISD finds itself at such a severe disadvantage under the current system. It’s a large district that got by for years by pinching pennies. But now the district’s funding is tied to its 2005 levels of property tax revenue and per-student spending.

“If we had not been so efficient, we would’ve come up with a better target revenue [figure],” says Durham, the Cy-Fair spokesperson.

HISD is largely in the same position. Its property tax rate is below the mandated cap, and it could have made up for at least some of the funding cuts by raising its rate, but as primarily argued by Trustee Harvin Moore, it shouldn’t be in the position of having to subsidize the state’s failure. Once again, we wait for the courts to step in and force the Lege to Do Something. Let’s hope this time the effect is positive.

In the meantime, of course, you can get involved locally and at the Capitol. I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s worth showing again (and again):

Here in Houston, in addition to the community grassroots meeting this evening, you can hear Wayne Pierce, the Executive Director of the Equity Center, and David Thompson, the lead litigator on the lawsuit for which HISD is a plaintiff, give a talk on where things stand and what you can do about it. The talk is Monday, March 5, from 10 to 12 at the United Way of Greater Houston, 50 Waugh Drive (map). Here’s a flyer with the details. You can also team up with the Equity Center as they press forward.

If you can’t attend that, you can attend a family fundraiser for the Texas Parent PAC on Sunday the 4th, from 2 to 4 at the Nature Discovery Center, 7112 Newcastle at Evergreen in Bellaire. More details for that are here. If you want to sign on as a sponsor, see here for more. Get informed, get involved, and get out and vote. And don’t forget who’s on your side and who isn’t.

Who uses the white pages these days?

I’m an old fogey. I read the dead tree version of the newspaper. I’ve installed no apps on my cellphone. I drive a minivan. Yet even I couldn’t tell you the last time I used a phone book.

When was the last time you used the white pages? Be honest now. I, for one, can’t remember the last time I used the phone book for anything but propping open a door. And apparently I’m not alone: see these two articles and this comment string for more examples of white-pages fatigue than you can shake a stick at.


[M]ost states still mandate universal white pages delivery.  But the good news is that the tide is turning. The city of Seattle recently allowed residents to opt out of both white pages and yellow pages delivery. And sixteen enlightened states already allow phone companies to spare their customers the annual ritual of discarding an unneeded phone book: Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and most recently, California. And as that mix of states suggests, the appeal of ending mandatory white pages delivery crosses partisan lines; phone book laws make even the conservative Heartland Institute sound like a bunch of tree-huggers.

Did you know that you could opt out of phone book delivery in Texas? I didn’t. I asked Tiffany, who said she remembered seeing some news coverage about it, but didn’t know where to go to actually do it. I’ve tried googling multiple variations on “Texas” “phone book” “white pages” “opt out” “delivery” and so forth with no luck. Anybody have more info about this?

Anyway. Kevin Drum thinks the reason for the decline in white page usage is related to “ubiquitous auto dialers, email, and social media”. I suspect cell phones, which can store a bunch of numbers and which can be synched with one’s email contacts, are a big part of it. Whatever the reason, the environmental case for doing away with white pages is clear: “The EPA reports that only 37 percent of phone directories (by weight) are recycled. The rest are simply landfilled.” People aren’t using them. Let them tell the phone company not to deliver them.

We have maps

From The Trib:

Is this finally the end?

Federal judges in San Antonio unveiled maps for the state’s congressional delegation and for the state House this afternoon, and they did it in time to allow the state to hold its delayed political primaries on May 29. The court also signed off on Senate plans agreed to earlier this month.

Here is a link to the Congressional map on the Texas Legislative Council’s redistricting website.

Here is a link to the House map on TLC’s website.

Here is a link to the Senate map on TLC’s website.

And here (courtesy of are links to the court’s orders on the three maps: Congress,House and Senate.

Barring appeals, these maps will be used for the 2012 elections. Below are the new maps. We’ll fill in details throughout the afternoon.

2008 election results for the State House are here and for Congress are here. See here and here for 2010 data; I am told that there will be more stuff uploaded to the TLC FTP site soon. By all accounts I’ve seen, as well as my own two eyes, the maps are substantially the same as the Abbott maps, though at least in the Lege there are some differences – HD43 is more Republican, HDs 78, 80, 117, and 137 are more Democratic. I have not had the time to do a thorough examination, but if you start with Plan H303 (2008 data here) you’ll be pretty close. The good news is that HDs 137 and 149 in Harris County were restored, with HD136 going away; HD144 remains winnable by a Dem though GOP-leaning. Unfortunately, that means HD26 will retain its bizarre, GOP-friendly shape, modulo anything the DC court may do. As for Congress, Rep. Lloyd Doggett will run in the new CD35, though presumably not against Joaquin Castro, who (again presumably) will stick to the open CD20. What happens to Ciro Rodriguez and Sylvia Romo in CD35 – Rodriguez at one point was running in CD23 – remains to be seen. And all this assumes there are no further appeals. Which is no guarantee given that there’s something for everyone to complain about. But maybe, just maybe, we can now start planning for primaries. Next step is to re-open filing, and we’ll go from there. Hang on, it gets faster from here. BOR has more.

UPDATE: Via Robert Miller, who forwarded this email from Rep. Burt Solomons’ Chief of Staff, Bonnie Bruce:

There was no primary information in the order, which is pretty thin. The parties have until Wednesday at 2:00pm to get primary deadline information to the court, so it will be forthcoming and it looks like a go for May 29th.

The Court adopted the Compromise map for the Congressional districts. Yes, that means that Travis is split five ways and Doggett currently lives in a Republican district or could move to a Hispanic majority Democrat district. It also means that there is a coalition district in the DFW area, however, it leans more toward Hispanics than African Americans. Could be a fight between Veasey and Alonzo – well, and a whole lot of people.

The Senate Map is the legislatively adopted map with the exception that SD 10 is the benchmark (Davis’ old seat) and a couple of precincts were moved to allow SD 9 to wrap around. Welcome Senator Birdwell to Tarrant County.

In the House, The Court went with the Compromise map, except that they did not split Nueces County (meaning Scott/Torres are paired and Hunter and Morrison are not), they accepted MALC’s version of Bexar County making Garza’s district more Hispanic and D, and made some changes to the compromise in Harris County between Murphy, S. Davis, Hochberg which may be to increase Hochberg’s Hispanic numbers, but I have not run those yet.

So there you have it.

UPDATE: One question answered, via the inbox:

Bexar County Tax Assessor Collector Sylvia Romo announced she will continue her campaign for Congress in the newly reconfigured Congressional District 35 following the release of new interim redistricting maps by a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio.

“I am pleased that the Federal Court has concluded its work and am ready to mount an aggressive campaign to bring new leadership to the citizens of Bexar, Travis, Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe, and Hays Counties,” Romo said.

“We need leaders in Congress who will do more to ensure job creation in our area, act on the concerns of our veterans, and fight to protect Social Security and Medicare,” Romo continued. “We need a member of Congress who will go to Washington and do the serious work of the people in this district,” she said.

Your move, Ciro. Here’s the Chron story on the maps, which notes that the DC court could (among other things) put Doggett’s CD25 back together again. It would be for 2014 if that were to happen, and that’s assuming the Lege doesn’t take another bite at the apple in 2013. So yeah, my original predictions that this would all still be in flux through the 2016 election continues to hold.

UPDATE: More from the Lone Star Project.

UPDATE: Here’s the TDP’s statement. And here’s word that the re-filing period will run from Friday through Tuesday. I’ll update my elections pages as we go.

UPDATE: State Rep. Marc Veasey confirms that he’s in for CD33:

Today, State Representative Marc Veasey announced his candidacy in the court ordered North Texas Congressional District 33. The new court-drawn district is heavily Democratic and encompasses nearly all of Veasey’s current state house district. Veasey led the fight to overturn the Republican-controlled redistricting plan and worked hard to make sure a new Congressional district is located North Texas.

“From early in this election cycle it became clear that North Texas should receive an additional Congressional district. I’ve been urged by friends and colleagues to run for the new District 33 to insure that working families have a voice in Congress. The new district overlaps almost all of my current House District and includes neighborhoods where I have many friends and supporters. I will be proud to stand with them and fight for them in the US House,” said Veasey.

The new district encompasses African American and Latino neighborhoods in Fort Worth and Dallas that overall were easily carried by President Obama in both the primary and general elections. Tarrant County voters made up 60 percent of the turnout in the 2008 and 2010 Democratic primaries. More importantly, Veasey’s current state house district (95) forms the Tarrant County base of this new Congressional district and accounts for over 30% of the expected primary turnout giving Veasey a significant edge in the race.

“I am honored to have a coalition of support within many neighborhood and civic associations and will work hard in Congress to fight for good paying jobs, access to healthcare and be an ally for President Obama. He needs strong support from new Members of Congress to help turn back Republicans who will stop at nothing to undermine the President on the key issues most important to us all.” Veasey said.

Here’s a statement from MALC about the interim maps.

Interview with David Scott

David Scott

Next up for State Board of Education District 6 is David Scott. Scott ia an A&M graduate who has a Masters of Library Science from the University of North Texas. He worked a variety of jobs in several industries, including as a reference librarian for the San Francisco Public Library, before becoming a full-time dad. He’s now active in the PTO of his children’s elementary school. Here’s what we talked about:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page. You can also follow my personal blog by liking its Facebook page.

It’s all about Helena

Apparently, we have been living in Helena Brown’s world all this time.

CM Helena Brown

District A Councilwoman Helena Brown has voted against spending money on the renovation of a women’s shelter, a street’s reconstruction, the purchase of a police boat, payment to caregivers for the chronically ill, a study on people at risk for HIV infection, gas cards and the cleaning of public pools.

That was just last week. In almost every case, she was the lone dissenter. Between tags – which delay consideration of items for a week – and no votes, Brown opposed or delayed more than a third of Wednesday’s council business.

The rookie council member declined to be interviewed, but she did respond to written questions in an email.

“I have voted no on items which contradict the conservative ideologies and beliefs that I promised my constituents I would uphold. I have voted no on items which will worsen and not stem the pending financial disaster,” Brown wrote.


Publicly, council members and others say Brown must do what she believes her constituents sent her to do. Privately, she has been called “Dr. No” and “the Jolanda Jones of the right,” in reference to the outspoken councilwoman who so alienated herself from colleagues that several often would leave the dais when it was her turn to speak.

In response to a Houston Chronicle inquiry for a previous story, Brown released a statement that said in part, “By voting me into office this past election, the voters were mandating that the city have a serious dialogue on its spending habits. … My expectations are simple. Balance the budget and end irresponsible spending.”

Even her supporters acknowledged that Brown currently is delivering a monologue.

I realize I’m contributing to the problem as much as anyone, but I confess I’m a little perplexed by the amount of attention being paid to a freshman Council member who isn’t trying to get anything done. I understand the novelty factor here, but really, are our memories that short? She’s Addie Wiseman, the tag-happy no-voting former District E Council member, all over again. (Stace saw that before everyone else did.) The fact that nobody else, not even her current Council colleagues, thought to make that comparison is suggestive of what Wiseman’s legacy was, and what Brown’s is likely to be. I’m sure her anti-spending zeal will have its share of fans, but until she or they advocate for spending less on police, fire, and emergency services, it’s all just meaningless posturing. And sooner or later the next shiny object will come along to distract us.

By the way, if you want a reminder of what exactly is in the city’s budget, here’s that budget-balancing tool that Mayor Parker put out last year. Note that it does not include things like debt service, pension obligations, and health insurance for current employees, none of which can be reduced by fiat. Which of these things would Helena Brown cut or eliminate, and why? I don’t know about you, but I can’t tell from the articles that have been written about her, or the substance-free press statements she puts out instead of answering questions. Being the sole “no” vote based on abstract principles is easy, especially when there’s no consequence to your vote. Having a vision, and convincing other people that vision is the right one, especially when it comes to defining what is “responsible” and “necessary” spending and what is not, that’s hard. Let me know when CM Brown gets around to doing that. Campos has more.

UH moves closer to Tier I status

Good for them.

The University of Houston is on the verge of accessing additional state money that could help catapult the school closer to prestigious Tier 1 status, according to a preliminary report from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Both UH and Texas Tech University have been cleared to access the new National Research University Fund, pending a mandatory review by the state auditor’s office.

UH President Renu Khator said she hopes to use the money – the amount of which still needs to be determined – to recruit faculty, especially those in costly fields like science, technology and engineering.

“We have done a lot, but we have so much more to do,” she said Friday. “I want our city to be nationally and globally competitive. I want our university to be nationally and globally competitive.”

I’m sure that report exists somewhere on the THECB webpage, but if so I can’t find it. In any event, the state auditor will verify the findings then present its own report, and we’ll go from there. Getting to Tier I status will be good for UH, the city, and the state. I wish them the best of luck in the process.

How you can help support policies and funding for public schools

From the inbox, sent by Sue Dimenn Deigaard:

Over the past week I have heard several legislators make the misleading claim that they increased funding for public education this past session.  As a parent with a child that is in a classroom with 29 other students this year, and as a parent that regularly attends local school board meetings where I witness their laborious and stressful discussions about where they can attempt to cut even more from our school district without further harm to our classrooms, I continue to be reminded why it is so imperative that we collaborate as a community to spread honest facts about the challenges confronting our public schools and engage others in support of effective policies and funding for public education in Texas.

Last session we all worked hard to minimize the impact of the legislature’s cuts on Texas students.  The result was a $5 billion reduction in funding as opposed to the nearly $10 billion that was originally proposed.  Through our letters, petitions, meetings with legislators, community outreach, and rallies, WE made that difference.

But there is still work to be done if we want public education to be a priority in Texas. In addition to the second round of cuts that most Texas school districts will experience this fall, the structural budget deficit that was not addressed by this legislature, coupled with the creative accounting that was utilized to balance the current budget with things like deferred payments, will set the stage for the potential of even more funding cuts again next year.

Over the past year, you have all expressed interest or have engaged in supporting public education in Texas.  Below are 3 upcoming events where you can connect with other parents and community members to build a collaboration of support for Texas schools, learn how you can effectively advocate for public education, and hear updates on the issues.

I will also leave you with this gem of video from the House Appropriations Committee meeting earlier this week where you can hear directly from legislators that they did, in fact, cut funding to public education in Texas.  As if our crowded classrooms and reduced resources had left us with any doubt.

Upcoming Events

Wednesday, February 29 – 6-8 p.m.
Grassroots Community Meeting and Advocacy Workshop
McGovern Stella Link Library, 7405 Stella Link
Connect with other community members, learn updates on the issue, and learn tools for effectively advocating in the community.

Sunday, March 4 – 2-4 p.m.
Family Fundraiser benefitting Texas Parent PAC
Bellaire Nature Discovery Center, 7112 Evergreen
Bring the kids for an afternoon of school carnival-like fun, frolic and fundraising so Texas Parent PAC can continue to support pro-education candidates.  Since 2006, Texas Parent PAC has helped elect 23 new legislators to stand up for our kids and education.
For more information about Texas Parent PAC, or to be a sponsor, please visit
(Donors who contribute $250 or more by February 29 will be acknowledged on a banner at the event.)
If you would like to volunteer to help with the event, please email

Monday, March 5 – 10 a.m.-noon
“Public Education: Where Things Stand and What You Can Do About It” 
United Way of Greater Houston, 50 Waugh Drive
Learn the basics of public school finance and an updated analysis from experts on the Texas public education lawsuits.
Keynote Speakers:   J.David Thompson, Partner, Thompson & Horton, LLP and Dr. Wayne Pierce, Executive Director, Equity Center
Sponsored by All Kids Alliance, CHILDREN AT RISK, Collaborative for Children, Houston A+ Challenge, One Voice Texas, Project GRAD Houston, Save Texas Schools, Stand for Children Leadership Center, and United Way of Greater Houston


Texas Ed Funding is a grassroots, non-partisan collaboration of individuals creating a community of support for Texas public schools.  We are not a formal organization, non-profit or PAC. (We just needed to call ourselves something to have an email address and website.) And while our initial purpose was to support the issue of funding during the crisis last spring, we have evolved to collaborate to support other efforts that affect public education in Texas.  Join us on Facebook at

The claim that the Lege actually increased funding is as we know a bald-faced lie. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to hear Republicans make those claims, since it strongly suggests that they do in fact fear there may be electoral consequences for what they did. Which is why it’s important to emphasize that the $5 billion in cuts that we got would have been twice as bad if the House budget had held sway. They’re vulnerable on this and they know it.

More on uniform start times and other options HISD is considering

As we know, HISD is contemplating uniform start times as a way to save a few bucks for the next fiscal year. They do have some other ideas going, as well as a possible property tax rate hike, and they would like some input from you. From the inbox, from HISD Trustee Paula Harris:

Paula Harris

Implementing uniform schedules across the Houston Independent School District’s 279 campuses would free up $1.2 million while giving the average student an extra 19 minutes in the classroom, according to a budget-cutting option presented to the HISD Board of Education today.

HISD is looking for more ways to reduce spending as the district seeks to address a projected $34 million deficit for the 2012-2013 school year. The loss in revenue is a result of last year’s decision by the Texas Legislature to reduce public education funding by $5.3 billion.

Streamlining HISD’s bell schedule was among many potential spending reduction options discussed during Thursday’s Board of Education meeting. Under this plan, every HISD school would have an instructional day that is 7 ½ hours long. This represents a 19-minute increase for the average HISD school, or a total of seven full days of extra instruction time over the course of the year.

Currently, HISD schools have about 20 different start and end times. Under the option presented today, schools would operate on the following bell schedule:

  •          Approximately half of all elementary schools would operate from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  •          Approximately half of all elementary schools would operate from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  •          All middle schools would operate from 7:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.
  •          All high schools would operate from 8:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

The cost savings in this plan would come from a much more efficient school bus operation that would allow each bus to drive more routes than is currently possible.

Starting high school classes later in the day is supported by scientific research that shows teens learn better when they’re able to sleep later in the morning. The 19 HISD schools that currently operate for more than 7 ½ hours per day would be allowed to continue offering the same amount of instructional time, said Chief Operating Officer Leo Bobadilla.

In the coming weeks, HISD will be gathering community input on the streamlined bell schedule option. A detailed description of the plan and a survey will be posted to the district’s website, A series of community meetings will be held in locations throughout the district, and principals will be asked to meet with their communities to gather even more input. HISD administration plans to analyze all of this feedback before making a formal proposal for the Board of Education’s consideration by May 17.

Other options considered for addressing $34 million deficit

HISD Chief Financial Officer Melinda Garrett so far has identified about $12 million in possible budget cuts for addressing the anticipated $34 million deficit. Those options include:

  •          A $5 million reduction in the amount of ASPIRE Awards paid to teachers and other campus employees for raising student achievement
  •          A $1.5 million cut in general departmental spending
  •          A $1.3 million reduction in special education spending that corresponds with a decline in the number of special education students in HISD
  •          A $615,000 savings by closing these three HISD administrative offices currently housed in old school buildings and relocating staff elsewhere:

o   The Langston facility

o   The Chatham facility

o   The Holden facility

  •          A $600,000 savings from the removal of 153 under-utilized temporary buildings located at schools through HISD

Garrett said her staff will continue searching for potential budget cuts. She also briefed the Board of Education on the possibility of addressing some of the funding shortfall with a property tax rate increase. HISD currently offers the lowest tax rate of any school district in Harris County, plus an additional 20 percent homestead exemption that is rare among Texas school districts.

Texas’ current school finance formula penalizes school districts such as HISD with low tax rates. That penalty currently costs HISD schools about $5 million per year. Raising HISD’s tax rate by 1.5 cents per $100 of a property’s taxable value would restore that $5 million in state funding and generate a approximately $15 million in local tax revenue, Garrett said. A 1.5-cent tax rate increase would cost the owner of the average HISD home valued at $197,408 about $21.44 per year.

HISD has posted an online survey to gauge opinion on the possibility of adopting a new bus schedule that increases the average school’s class time by 19 minutes per day. You can find the link here:

Whatever you think about the different choices, or if you think there are other choices that should be on the table, here’s your chance to tell them about it.

Interview with Traci Jensen

Traci Jensen

We now move on to the State Board of Education, the one entity affected by legislative redistricting that is not at issue in the current litigation, as the new SBOE map was precleared. I don’t think I need to explain to this audience why the SBOE is and has been a hot mess and why these elections are as important as any other on the ballot. SBOE District 6 is entirely within Harris County, mostly to the north and west. The Republican incumbent, Terri Leo, is not running for another term. Three Democrats are vying to replace her, and the first one I present to you is Traci Jensen. Jensen was a classroom teacher in Aldine ISD before getting a Masters degree in Social Studies Education and then a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction from UH. She was a Visiting Assistant Professor at UH in their Quality Urban Education for Students and Teachers program until last year. Here’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

Who cares about women, anyway?

The state of Texas certainly doesn’t.

If there was any hope that the state was seeking a compromise with the federal government over Texas’ Women’s Health Program, it’s fading fast. At the direction of lawmakers and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Texas Health and Human Services commissioner signed a rule on Thursday that formally bans Planned Parenthood clinics and other “affiliates of abortion providers” from participating in the program — something the Obama administration has said is a deal-breaker for the nearly $40 million-per-year state-federal Medicaid program.

“The Obama administration is trying to force Texas to violate our own state laws or they will end a program that provides preventative health care to more than 100,000 Texas women,” said Allison Castle, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry. “This boils down to the rule of law — which the state of Texas respects and the Obama administration does not.

The rule, signed by Commissioner Tom Suehs on Thursday, takes effect March 14. Unless some last-minute agreement is brokered, the program, which receives $9 in federal funds for every $1 in state funds, will be either phased out or cut off by the end of March. At least 130,000 poor Texas women will lose access to cancer screenings, well-woman exams and contraception.

“No one’s politics should interfere with a woman’s access to health care,” said Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast President and CEO Peter J. Durkin. “It is shameful that Governor Perry and Commissioner Suehs continue to politicize lifesaving breast cancer screenings and birth control access for low-income women.”

Republican lawmakers worked overtime last legislative session to design language that would keep any Planned Parenthood-affiliated clinics from receiving state family planning and women’s health dollars, despite the fact that taxpayer-funded clinics may not perform abortions. They got the backing of Abbott, who said their efforts were legal, and gave the state’s health commissioner the go-ahead to implement the new language.

But when Texas was faced with renewing the Women’s Health Program this year, officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the state’s plans violated the Social Security Act. They gave the program a three-month extension, but said they had no intention of renewing if Planned Parenthood, which provides 44 percent of the program’s services, was blacklisted.

The stalemate appears unbreakable — Republican lawmakers have made clear they’d rather forgo the program and the federal money than allow Planned Parenthood to participate.

I don’t know how much more evidence you need to conclude that the state’s jihad against Planned Parenthood is about much more than abortion. It’s rich to see Perry and Abbott try to direct what the feds can do with their money, since they get their noses so far out of joint when it’s the other way around. Ironically, this happened on the same day that the state joined a lawsuit challenging the rule that would require all employers to include coverage for contraceptives in employees’ health care benefits. That charge is being led by the Catholic bishops, all of whom as far as I could tell were silent on the prospect of 130,000 women losing access to health care in Texas. As State Rep. Garnet Coleman points out, nearly half of all births in Texas are paid for with Medicaid. What will happen to these women and their babies? The state of Texas and the Catholic bishops don’t care. They have an ideology to pursue.

In related news, a number of people suddenly noticed last week that Texas’ sonogram law is pretty much the same as the one in Virginia that got derailed after drawing national attention. Texas’ law, on the other hand, got little to no national notice despite fierce resistance here from those who saw this law as the degradation and humiliation of women that it is. We can stare at our navels all day trying to figure out why that is, but it’s really not so hard to understand. It’s about winning elections. Until Democrats start winning more of them, and in particular until they win a high profile one because of an issue like this, this is what we’re going to get. As with every other issue we talk about here, nothing changes until the people we elect to our government change. Neil, Rachel, and Burka have more. Be sure to read through the comments for a pained defense of his legislation by Sen. Dan Patrick and some good responses to him.

HISD to contemplate uniform start times again

They’re back.

This is already my life

Bleary-eyed teenagers in Houston ISD could sleep later, but not everyone is cheering a budget-cutting proposal that would change school hours and bus schedules next year.

The school board last year rejected a plan to tinker with the times after parents complained. But with the Houston Independent School District facing another multimillion-dollar deficit, Superintendent Terry Grier’s administration said Thursday it was trying again with a revised plan that addresses some concerns while fueling others.

High schools would start at 8:45 a.m. – an hour later than what was proposed last year – and end at 4:15 p.m.


The proposal last year failed by one vote, with trustees influenced by parents and skeptical of the cost savings. Grier plans to make a formal recommendation to the board in May after holding several community meetings.

Under the new plan, middle schools would run from 7:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. The proposal last year started them an hour later.

Elementary schools would run from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., or 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Several other Houston area districts already have standardized school hours.

An upside of the proposal, [HISD Chief Operating Officer Leo] Bobadilla said, is that students would be in school for seven hours and 30 minutes a day – an increase on average of 19 minutes daily, or seven days per year.

See here, here, and here for some background. This proposal is somewhat better from my perspective, in that elementary and middle schools would no longer have start times more than an hour apart, but it’s still not desirable. Getting out the door for an 8 AM start is enough of a challenge. Adjusting to a 7:30 start would mean getting up a half hour earlier. I get up early enough already, thanks. If we got an 8:30 start time instead, that would be even worse, especially when Olivia goes to middle school. Our work day won’t start any later, so the kids would spend that much more time at school waiting to get into their classes. I realize HISD has to do something about the continued underfunding of public education in Texas, since Rick Perry and the Republicans won’t, but this is still not an idea I support.

All things considered, I’d prefer this:

HISD officials estimate a shortfall of $34.7 million next school year after the Legislature reduced education funding statewide.

To balance the budget, Grier’s staff offered the board several options Thursday: raising the tax rate, dipping into savings, and cutting programs and costs such as busing.

“I’m considering everything this year because we’re in a bind,” said board president Mike Lunceford, who opposed the schedule change last year.

Raising the tax rate by 1.5 cents, to $1.17 per $100 of assessed value, would net the district an extra $20 million next year, according to the chief financial officer, Melinda Garrett. The owner of an average-priced home (about $200,000) would pay an extra $21 a year.

You can only cut so much. HISD’s rate is low enough that it can do this without a public vote. I’d go all the way to a 2 cent hike, which would generate nearly $27 million, thus making the remaining shortfall a lot more manageable. HISD can always reduce the rate later, after Texas either regains its decency or is forced to do so by the courts. Until then, I say enough is enough with the cuts. Hair Balls has more.

School finance lawsuit #5

The plaintiffs keep on coming.

A lawsuit by a small group of parents claims Texas is not getting enough bang for its educational buck, and asks the state’s courts to address inefficiencies in how education funding is spent.

Attorneys plan to file their litigation Friday in Austin on behalf of five families who say Texas schools aren’t meeting their children’s needs, as well as Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education, a new group formed by three entrepreneurs. The plaintiffs made a copy of the filing available to The Associated Press before submitting it to the court.


[Lead attorney Chris] Diamond said the latest suit had nothing to do with the Legislature’s budget. He said it is about parents who “feel as if their children are trapped in an unproductive system.”

Going to court to settle school finance questions has been a staple in Texas for more than 40 years. Diamond said that in past rulings, the state high court has issued opinions that “all-but invited” a legal challenge to the overall way Texas pays for its schools.

“We’ve been challenging this funding issue, but we need to hear about the basic, fundamental issues in the system,” he said.

Diamond said the idea would be to have the courts force the Legislature’s hand, and rule the system unconstitutional so as to compel lawmakers to overhaul school finance.

I couldn’t find a website for “Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education” when I first googled them, which is always a bit suspicious. There was just something about what they were saying in this story that gave me an odd feeling. This confirmed it.

TREE’s founder, James Jones, said in a statement that Waiting for Superman, a documentary that highly praises charter schools, inspired him to “dedicate his personal time and resources to the cause of saving children who are trapped in dysfunctional and inefficient public schools in Texas.”

“Imagine if a parent didn’t think their child’s physician was meeting their kid’s needs and the law made it nearly impossible for them to change doctors. We owe it to our kids to do better than this,” said Jones, who runs a mineral royalty firm.

The lawsuit has high-profile supporters: Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Craig Enoch is a co-counsel, and former House Public Education Chairman Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, who left the Legislature in 2006, is the executive director of TREE.

In a statement, lead attorney Chris Diamond said the Texas Supreme Court has ruled that the question of funding is secondary to the question of efficiency. He said court has “issued a wide invitation for structural, qualitative reform that extends beyond the singular question of adequate funding” which the current system has not met.

Yeah, any group that has Kent Grusendorf on board is not to be trusted. I love how the story says that Grusendorf “left” the Lege in 2006. He left by getting beaten in the primary by Rep. Diane Patrick, who was backed by Parent PAC and who successfully attacked Grusendorf for his relentless hostility to public education. Subsequent googling found this press release for TREE, which in turn contained this website link. I presume Google’s indexing hadn’t caught up when I first went looking. There’s not much there, but at least they do have a website and it does contain their intervention pleading. Any lawyers want to comment on that?

The Statesman has some reactions to this effort.

Lonnie Hollingsworth, director of legal services and governmental relations for the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, said there is scant evidence that charter schools are more efficient since many of them get substantial private investments to supplement the public dollars they receive.

“It’s clearly an attempt to tag a policy agenda on a school finance lawsuit,” Hollingsworth said. “These are policy issues and they’ve been rejected by the Legislature.”

The group did not file a separate lawsuit but sought to join one of the existing suits.

Lawyers representing the school districts in the original lawsuit have the right to object to including the new plaintiffs. A judge will have the final say.

David Thompson, the lead lawyer on that suit, said no decision has been made on whether to do so. He welcomed some of the group’s arguments while disputing others.

“To the extent that there are allegations that school districts are being wasteful with funds, we strongly disagree and we believe the facts will show that school districts are being good stewards of public money,” Thompson said.

Thompson added that school districts are not afraid of competition from charter schools and are offering parents and children many new options. For example, the Austin school district recently hired IDEA Public Schools, a South Texas charter operator, to run a program out of an East Austin elementary school.

“We need to remember that 90 percent of the school-aged kids of Texas are in our (traditional) public schools, and any competition must be fair and on a level playing field,” Thompson said.

HISD does some partnering with charter schools as well. Go back and listen to my interview with Chris Barbic, the founder and now-former CEO of the YES Prep schools, in which he describes the relationship between charters and school districts as both cooperative and competitive. I will be very interested to see how the existing plaintiffs react to this. I don’t see it as a friendly intervention, but perhaps there’s more to it than I’m currently perceiving. The Texas Observer has more.

Weekend link dump for February 26

I hope your Valentine’s Day was not as exciting as theirs was.

A proper apology for an honest screwup is never a bad idea.

I guess investing in North Korea could be a good idea. Seems awfully risky to me, though.

You go right ahead and keep alienating unmarried women, Republicans. Some more of this should help, too.

I wish I could do literary criticism like that.

Negative campaigning is universal.

“In 1979, McDonald’s introduced the Happy Meal. Sometime after that, it was decided that the Bible teaches that human life begins at conception.”

Since I’ve mentioned Pinterest, I should also mention that there are potentially serious copyright issues with it.

Why libraries are vitally necessary.

Presidential campaigns are not as expensive as you might think, at least historically speaking.

Rick Santorum stopped being funny a long time ago, if you ask me.

If you have to ask how much it costs to build a Death Star, you can’t afford it.

The panel to discuss Viagra distribution will meet tomorrow afternoon.

One reason why piracy happens.

Money in and of itself does not corrupt the political process. But it’s awfully hard to say there’s insufficient evidence of unlimited, unregulated money having a pernicious effect.

Mars, baby.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation is being dishonest? Heaven forfend.

In a just world, every misogynistic moron who ranted about the evils of birth control and feminism would die without ever knowing the touch of a woman.

More like this from Occupy Wall Street, please.

The guy responsible for the greatest headline ever has been denied parole.

Sandra Fluke is my new hero.

Dry, not drought


It’s official: According to the latest iteration of the U.S. Drought Monitor just released, the drought is over for most of eastern Harris County.

Here’s the picture:

Compare that to where we were at the beginning of the year and be amazed. But don’t get too cocky. Look at the chart accompanying the current picture and note that as of this time last year, 12.52% of the state – slightly more than double what is the case now – was in no drought, and none of the state was in an Exceptional drought; only 7.78% was in Extreme drought. Then it stopped raining for nearly a year, and you saw what happened. We’re still in a La Nina situation, and though we have bucked the odds so far, there’s no guarantee that will continue. Another dry spell and we’ll all be cooked.

Another way of saying we still have a way to go to catch up is to look at lake levels, especially in Central and West Texas.

There simply hasn’t been enough rain—and, more critically, not enough runoff—to recover from brutally dry and hot 2011. In the case of West Texas, there hasn’t been enough rain in years to bring up key reservoirs. And the outlook for 2012, given the lingering La Nina pattern, is not great.

Midland, Odessa and San Angelo, in fact, find themselves in precisely the same position they were in last year: two of their three drinking-water lakes are dry and the third, O.H. Ivie, is declining rapidly. At current usage levels, the cities could run out of Ivie water by January 2013. New watering restrictions will buy the cities another 90 to 120 days, enough time to build a pipeline to groundwater in Ward County.

Odessa does have some other options, but they’re not cheap and they may have unknown long term effects. Conservation, which includes encouraging people to use less water by pricing it appropriately, is never a bad idea.

More than five million trees lost in the cities

More depressing numbers from the drought.

Aerial view of Memorial Park

It was a sight more common than usual this past summer: a tree too thirsty to live became another casualty to the drought. City workers would either remove the tree, or, if they were too late, it would fall, possibly on power lines, cars or a house.

On Wednesday, Texas Forest Service researchers said the current drought claimed the lives of about 5.6 million trees in cities, or roughly 10 percent of the state’s urban forests, in the agency’s first attempt at counting urban tree loss.

Those trees will cost at least $560 million to remove and provided about $280 million annually in environmental and economic benefits, a study released Wednesday said.


The death toll is likely to continue to tick upward as already-dead trees become more obvious when they don’t grow leaves in the spring and more trees die from diseases, said the study’s leader, Pete Smith.

“The damage is widespread, but it varies widely from really heavy amounts of loss to not really heavy amounts of loss,” Smith said.

The state’s urban areas, including large metropolitan areas like Houston or Austin, as well as smaller cities like Killeen, have a total of about 60 million trees, Smith said. One of the most dramatic changes came in Houston’s Memorial Park, where thousands of pine trees were lost.

That picture tells the story. Estimates for the number of trees lost in the state range up to 500 million. We’re going to feel the effect of this drought long after it ends.

Snorting caffeine

The next frontier in caffeination: Caffeinated air.

Breathe in the buzz

U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials plan to investigate whether inhalable caffeine sold in lipstick-sized canisters is safe for consumers and if its manufacturer was right to brand it as a dietary supplement.

AeroShot went on the market late last month in Massachusetts and New York, and it’s also available in France. Consumers put one end of the canister in their mouths and breathe in, releasing a fine powder that dissolves almost instantly.

Each grey-and-yellow plastic canister contains B vitamins, plus 100 milligrams of caffeine powder, about the equivalent of the caffeine in a large cup of coffee.

AeroShot inventor, Harvard biomedical engineering professor David Edwards, says the product is safe and doesn’t contain taurine and other common additives used to enhance the caffeine effect in energy drinks.

It was bound to happen. I mean, after caffeinating beer, soap, doughnuts, and potato chips, where else was there to go?

One good thing will come out of Craig James’ Senate campaign

He apparently won’t be brought back by ESPN. Sportwriters and fans alike rejoice.

Saturday video break: We Can Work It Out

Song #80 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is “We Can Work It Out”, by The Beatles, and covered by Stevie Wonder. Here’s the original:

I trust everyone is familiar with that song. Here’s Stevie’s version:

Pretty cool to see Paul McCartney sing along in the audience, sitting next to the President, no? I find the early Beatles stuff to be a little boring, but Stevie certainly makes the most of it. What did you think?

Property tax revenues still a year away

Getting better, but not quite there yet.

Local governments should not expect an influx of property taxes to solve their budget woes this year, Harris County Appraisal District officials said Tuesday.

Assistant Chief Appraiser Guy Griscom estimated the countywide tax base, based on a Jan. 1 snapshot that will be finalized this summer, will see values increase by 2.23 percent over last year. Though the economy is strengthening, he said, the resulting increase in property values will not show up until values are gauged again on Jan. 1, 2013.

“Despite all the positive news on the horizon, we haven’t gotten there yet,” Griscom said. “You’re not going to get that turnover in one year. Markets just don’t move that fast.”


Jackson said he does not anticipate further layoffs in the county, adding that his office is attempting to restore employment in various departments to their levels before last year’s budget, such as by ending furloughs, restoring pay cuts or returning some employees from 32-hour work weeks to 40.

The county is expected to adopt a budget for the fiscal year that begins March 1 on March 13.

The city, which does not adopt a budget until late June, has not compiled a preliminary budget yet, so city officials had no comment Tuesday. In addition, property tax revenues account for 44 percent of the city’s general fund revenue, a lower percentage than its share of the county’s income.

The uptick in property values will not have a significant impact on local school districts under the state’s current school funding system.

Sales tax revenues, which are 27% of the city’s income, continue to do well as well. For all the gloom and doom w’ve been hearing lately, things are getting better. We’ll know more in a few months. I don’t want to sound too optimistic – we are in for another rough budget, and the pension fight is going to be ugly and contentious – but we’re pointing in the right direction. I just hope we can hold on until we get there.


For the three of you reading this who know who Buddy Roemer is and were aware that he was running for President (other than Greg, who of course already knew), this announcement from his campaign may possibly be of interest to you.

Not Buddy Roemer

Tomorrow, I will formally end my bid for the GOP nomination for President of the United States. As the GOP and the networks host debate number twenty-something this evening, they have once again turned their backs on the democratic process by choosing to exclude a former Governor and Congressman. I have decided to take my campaign directly to the American people by declaring my candidacy for Americans Elect. Also, after many discussions with The Reform Party, I am excited to announce my intentions of seeking their nomination. It is time to heal our nation and build a coalition of Americans who are fed up with the status quo and the partisan gridlock that infects Washington. Together, we will take on the special-interests that control our leaders and end the corruptive influence of money in politics so we can focus on America’s top priority – jobs.

That was sent out on Wednesday, so his Republican campaign has been formally ended. Apparently, Roemer has been talking about this for over a month; why it’s just now being formalized is unclear to me. But then, so is the purpose of Americans Elect, which is apparently hosting some kind of wankfest panel discussion at the UT Center for Politics and Governance on Wednesday. Anyway, you may now resume your blissful ignorance about what Buddy Roemer is up to these days.

Corpus Christi discusses plastic bags

Add another city to the list of those seeking to reduce plastic bag usage and litter.

Skip the Plastic

[Corpus Christi] Mayor Joe Adame wants the community to work together on a solution within the next two to three months.

“The easy decision is to ban plastic bags,” he said. “We have got to figure out a unique way to change people’s behavior in the community.”

Some City Council members supported the idea of a plastic bag fee, while others said it’s not the government’s place to tell businesses what to do.

There was some consensus among the council, including an idea for public anti-litter campaign to put more teeth behind the city’s litter ordinance, and ramping up litter enforcement. Some council members said it might be effective to embarrass those caught littering by putting their faces in the newspaper or on TV.


Many who spoke during public comment supported the Coastal Bend Surfrider Foundation proposal for a city ordinance to assess a plastic shopping bag fee. The fee would encourage retail customers to bring their owns bags or pay $1 per transaction to use plastic bags.

Most of the money collected would pay for litter cleanups, education and more code enforcement officers. Some would go to retail stores to cover administrative costs.

The discussion about a plastic bag ban, which for the past two years remained at city committee level, recently gained momentum after the local Surfriders chapter took up a national initiative called Skip the Plastic. The initiative encourages people to bring reusable bags for shopping.

Here’s Skip the Plastic. Take a look at this picture for an idea of the scope of the issue. Of the ideas that various cities have come up with to deal with this issue, I like charging a fee for plastic bag usage the most. The $1 per transaction fee proposed for Corpus is higher than what I’ve seen elsewhere – a fee of five or ten cents per bag – but that’s OK. If nothing else, it would give some data about how elastic the demand for plastic bags is. If and when it takes action, Corpus Christi would join Austin, Midland, Pecos, Brownsville, South Padre Island, Fort Stockton, and possibly others by now – Eating Our Words mentions San Antonio and McAllen as possibilities. Sooner or later, I hope Houston will be on that list as well.

Friday random ten: Tongue twisters

Somehow I got to thinking this week about songs that are challenging to sing because of lyrical density and/or complexity. Tongue-twisting songs, in other words. I came up with ten from my collection:

1. Mari Mac – Flying Fish Sailors

Here’s the refrain:

Mari Mac’s father wants Mari Mac to marry me
My father’s making me marry Mari Mac
I’m going to marry Mari to get Mari to take care of me
We’ll all be making merry when I marry Mari Mac

Like many songs of this type, it’s sung once at a modest tempo, then again at about twice the speed. You need loose lips to make it through the second time around. Here’s a Great Big Sea version, with slightly different lyrics, which is another feature of songs like this.

2. What I Want Is A Proper Cup Of Coffee – Trout Fishing In America
The refrain:

All I want is a proper cup of coffee, made in a proper copper coffee pot
I may be off my dot, but I want a proper coffee in a proper copper pot
Iron coffee pots and tin coffee pots, they are no use to me
If I can’t have a proper cup of coffee in a proper copper coffee pot I’ll have a cup of tea

Another song that starts slow, then speeds up for the ending. All those Ps will get you eventually.

3. It’s The End Of The World As We Know It – Great Big Sea

Originally by REM, of course. Once again, my favorite Pearls Before Swine cartoon:

4. The Elements – Tom Lehrer

Lots of good videos for this one, all utilizing the periodic table of course. Here’s one:

5. One Week – Barenaked Ladies

Now that I think about it, this was the song that got me contemplating the matter. I made some kid-friendly CDs for the car to give me some relief from hearing the same ones over and over again, and I included this on one of them. The official video doesn’t allow embedding, so click to see it.

6. Garden State Stomp – Dave Van Ronk

Does for the many oddly-named towns of New Jersey what “The Elements” does for, well, the elements. Couldn’t find a good video, so go listen to a small sample of it here. I prefer the version from the Laugh Tracks Volume 2 CD, where Van Ronk lets loose with his gravelly baritone.

7. Horoscope – Weird Al Yankovic

Mostly for the bridge, which demonstrates another aspect of songs like this – the need to sing long passages without taking a breath.

8. Beer – Asylum Street Spankers

This one’s a bit of a stretch, but I figure any song whose lyrics I can’t quite master after that many listenings should qualify. Note that the song and especially the intro are NFSW:

9. Quartet (A Model Of Decorum And Tranquility) – from the Chess soundtrack

Nothing like a little counterpoint to allow for verbal gymnastics.

I suppose it’s more of an ear-twister, trying to hear everything they’re saying. Of course, you have to be careful not to use too many notes when trying this.

10. All For The Best – from the Godspell soundtrack

One of my two favorite songs (the other being “Turn Back, O Man”) from my favorite musical when I was a kid.

I haven’t seen the movie version of this since the 70s, so I had quite forgotten where the end of that scene was filmed. Be prepared to get choked up if you watch all the way through.

Well, that was fun. What would you add to this list?

Who’s on the Perry 2014 bandwagon?

Maybe not so many people.

39 percent should be a familiar number for him

If he really wants to run for another term as governor — as he told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday — Rick Perry has some work ahead of him. While 39 percent of Texas voters said they would be likely to support him in 2014, 51 percent said they wouldn’t, according to the new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll.

The supporters are less intense than the opponents: 21 percent said they would be “very likely” to support another term for the governor, while 42 percent said they would be “very unlikely.” One in 10 voters were undecided on the re-election question.

“It’s not that Perry is dead,” said Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. “But the notion that he’s invulnerable is dead.”

Like I said, I hope he does run. No guarantees of course, and the old saying about being careful what you wish for is hanging over my head right now, but I see a number of positive possible outcomes if he saddles up yet again. Burka thinks Perry is just posturing with an eye on 2016 and that he wont run again because he can’t risk losing, but I’m not sure I credit him with that much forethought. Frankly, there’s one person who can settle this quickly, and that’s AG Greg Abbott. If tomorrow he calls up a reporter and says something like “Well, I don’t know what Governor Perry’s plans are for the future, but I know what mine are, and they include a gubernatorial campaign in 2014”, I daresay we’d know shortly thereafter if Perry is bluffing or not.

Two other things about the poll. One is that Perry’s approval rating is essentially unchanged from three months ago when he was still a viable Presidential candidate. Here’s the current accounting, which you can see in the poll details:

1. Approve strongly 13% 2. Approve somewhat 25% 3. Neither approve nor disapprove 15% 4. Disapprove somewhat 15% 5. Disapprove strongly 30% 6. Don’t know 2%

And here’s the same data from the October poll:

1. Approve strongly 14% 2. Approve somewhat 25% 3. Neither approve nor disapprove 14% 4. Disapprove somewhat 13% 5. Disapprove strongly 31% 6. Don’t know 2%

Hard to believe there could be someone without an opinion on Rick Perry, isn’t it? The other point has to do with that Presidential poll I discussed previously. It doesn’t say till the end of the story, but the sample is made up entirely of registered voters. I finally figured out what their “Likely voter” screen was – here it is, in the description before Question 14, the first question about their preferred candidate for the GOP nomination:

“Likely Voters” were defined as those who indicated that they were either “Extremely” or “Somewhat” interested in politics in Q2 AND either voted in “Every” or “Almost every” election in Q3.

I think that’s too tight a screen. Twenty-two percent of respondents claimed to have voted in “about half” or “one or two” elections in the “past two or three years”. Both of those answers strike me as being about the same thing, but it doesn’t really matter. How many people do you think who actually do vote in off-year elections skip the Presidential year? Not too many, I daresay. I will note again that the same number of people in the sample – 89% – claimed to be either “Extremely” or “Somewhat” interested in politics and also were able to say they voted for someone in 2008. I don’t see any good reason to shrink the sample beyond that. I strongly suspect that by doing so, the “likely voter” sample skews Republican, as we see here in Houston during our odd-numbered-year elections. As Steve Singiser noted, it’s uncommon to see that wide a disparity between “registered voters” and “likely voters” for a Presidential poll. If nothing else, I think the story should have noted this distinction more clearly, ideally by citing the alternate results that one must otherwise hunt down on one’s own. The fact that not a single mainstream media outlet that I saw that picked up the Trib’s poll result mentioned the full sample result demonstrates how well that was obscured.

UPDATE: The Trib wonders what Abbott will do, too.

More fun with Helena

When I saw the headline about a clash between Mayor Parker and an unnamed Council member, I was pretty sure I knew before I clicked the link which Council member it was. I was right.

CM Helena Brown

District A Councilwoman Brown tried to replace one of the mayor’s appointees to the Spring Branch Management District, accusing him of “negative communications” that she did not detail. The board is appointed by the mayor and only confirmed by council. The mayor ruled Brown’s request out of order.


Brown acknowledged that appointments of volunteers should not be hashed out in public and that she did so only because she could not get the delay she sought.

“I’ve been attempting to schedule a meeting with you for about two and a half weeks now,” Parker told Brown. “I’ve made multiple requests and I have resorted to communicating with you by email in order to discuss a range of items. You have consistently refused to meet with me, and had you had the opportunity to meet with me we may have been able to deal with this privately.”

Brown responded, “Mayor, I will not be bullied. You have made a request via one of your assistants for a meeting two weeks ago for which I specifically asked for specifics so I can decide whether the meeting is to be merited. And I don’t appreciate you announcing what is supposed to be our business before the whole city of Houston.” Brown said Parker mentioned “possible legal issues” in her request. “I’m a duly elected council member, and I will not be bullied,” she said.

“I certainly apologize if you feel in any way bullied by my request that you meet with me privately in my office,” Parker told Brown, before moving on to the vote that confirmed all of the mayor’s appointees. Brown alone voted against them.

The volunteer in question had provided space for a campaign headquarters for former CM Brenda Stardig, whom Brown defeated in November, so I can understand why she might be unhappy about this. I’m sure there’s a lot more to this story than what is reported here, but come on. For Brown to say that she wouldn’t meet with the Mayor to discuss the issue because the Mayor hadn’t specified enough specifics to assure Brown that the meeting merited her time is just plain insulting. What exactly did Brown think was going to happen? Doing stuff like that in the private sector would not win you any friends, either.

I had some sympathy for Brown in her dustup with CM Rodriguez. I have some sympathy for her here. But this is why stuff like this needs to be discussed in private. As CM Noriega pointed out, it’s just rude to the people who are volunteering their time to be talked about like this in a public forum. I also note that what these two kerfuffles have in common is that neither was about a matter of policy, or about how something might affect District A. They were both about Helena Brown and how she doesn’t like the way the city’s business is being done. Last I checked, CM Brown only represented one-eleventh of the city. If she wants things to be run differently, it’s on her to convince a majority of her colleagues on Council that she’s right and her way is better. Until then, we’re going to have more of these incidents.

The “Moneyball” approach to public education

Via Lisa Falkenberg on Facebook, SBOE member Thomas Ratliff uses the philosophy from Moneyball to analyze the accountability system for Texas public schools.

The poster boy for the book

The book says, “One absolutely cannot tell, by watching, the difference between a .300 hitter and a .275 hitter. The difference is one hit every two weeks.”

In Texas public schools, you absolutely cannot tell the difference between an exemplary school district, a recognized district or an acceptable district simply by watching. The difference can be the performance of a small subset of students on one test on one day in the 180-day school year. This is a byproduct of our accountability system.

The book says, “The problem is that baseball statistics are not pure accomplishments of men against other men, which is what we are in the habit of seeing them as. They are accomplishments of men in combination with their circumstances.”

The accountability system doesn’t care about circumstances. It generates a report that shows how students did on a test, period. This is measuring the accomplishments of students against other students. We must change our accountability system to measure student performance in combination with their circumstances. Not all children enter or exit public schools with the same circumstances. We absolutely cannot have the same expectations for all of them, nor should we measure them all in the same manner. There are different definitions of success that involve academics, athletics, career and technology, community service, the arts, and the list goes on and on.

The book says, “I am a mechanic with numbers, tinkering with the records of baseball games to see how the machinery of the baseball offense works. I do not start with the numbers any more than a mechanic starts with a monkey wrench. I start with the game, with the things that I can see and the things people say, and I ask: Is it true?”

Our accountability system is designed to measure career and college readiness. The question is, “Is it true?” Does it predict career and college readiness? I believe it does not. My proof? To my knowledge, there are very few, if any, colleges or universities in the United States that look at TAKS test scores as part of a student’s application. If the accountability system and the state’s standardized test measured college readiness, wouldn’t you think colleges would look at it? Similarly, I’m not aware of a single business in the state of Texas that asks for TAKS test scores as part of the job application process. Again, if the system predicted career readiness, wouldn’t Texas employers use this as a part of evaluating prospective employees? We need an accountability system that takes a broader look at a student’s K-12 education and provides a measurement that will be useful to colleges, universities and employers.

Just for the record, it was the movie Bull Durham that first made the observation about being a .300 hitter. Be that as it may, a couple of points. One, while everyone talks about the statistics when discussing “Moneyball”, the central insight that Billy Beane had wasn’t just that on-base percentage and slugging average correlated better to winning than batting average does, it’s that (at the time, at least) those skills were valued less in the marketplace than batting average was. As a low-budget team, the A’s needed to take advantage of market inefficiencies like that to overcome their financial disadvantage. That’s beyond the scope of Ratliff’s analogy, but as this was the most misunderstood part of the book, it needs to be said.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I think Ratliff is on to something here. Is it true that TAKS scores correlate to success in college? More to the point, do TAKS scores correlate better than other available measures to success in college? I don’t know, and it’s not clear to me that anyone else does, or at least that anyone in a position of authority does. This is an easy enough question to answer, if we’re tracking how students ultimately fare in college. Let’s crunch the numbers and see what we get. Maybe TAKS scores are a good metric. Maybe there’s something else, like writing ability or extracurricular participation, that correlates better. Maybe we’ll find that external factors like a family’s income level and prior educational attainment are better predictors than any standardized test we can come up with. We won’t know until we hold our accountability systems accountable.

Petition for safer walking and biking

From Marty Hajovsky:

Stephanie Riceman with the Heights Kids Group, a 900-strong (at least) group of families in and around the greater Houston Heights, has put together an interesting online petition that says as much about how many new families there are in the Heights as it does about the need to make streets safer for bike riders and  pedestrians.

The petition, entitled Safe Walking and Biking in The Heights, is aimed at Houston Mayor Annise Parker and District C Houston City Council Member Ellen Cohen and hopes to gather momentum to have intersections more safely managed throughout the neighborhood.  Here’s the very well-crafted preamble to the petition:

The Heights neighborhood is known for its small-town feel close to the heart of Houston. This community has cherished its tree-lined streets and preservation of walking and biking trails. These amenities sustain relationships among neighbors, make it easy to walk, jog, and bike to local businesses, or simply exercise.

Urban density is rising and a recent investment in roadway repaving has resulted in a greater volume of commuter traffic traversing our neighborhood at alarming speeds. In 2011, a young mother and wife was killed on our neighborhood’s walking trail while out for a jog because the signalized intersection at 11th Street and Heights Boulevard had not been properly managed for active pedestrian use.

Safety and mobility are a priority for our historic neighborhood. Heights residents want safe crossings for all pedestrians: fitness enthusiasts, dog walkers, parents with infants in strollers, children on bikes, senior citizens and others with mobility challenges that require greater consideration.

It is time for the City of Houston to invest in traffic management measures that provide for pedestrian, not just vehicular, movement and put the safety of our residents first.

And here’s the text to which organizers are asking people to affix their names:

We, the undersigned, call on the Mayor and Council for the City of Houston to perform these traffic calming measures:

1.    Installation of Pedestrian-Operated Signalized Crossings {Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon (PHB), HAWK System or equivalent} where the Bike Trail intersects with 11th, Yale and White Oak Streets.

2.    Implementation of a Barnes Dance (Pedestrian Scramble) intersection management plan at 11th Street and Heights Boulevard to ensure that no cars enter and idle in the four-lane boulevard and allow for the safe passage of pedestrians.

3.    Installation of a Pedestrian-Operated Signalized Crossing at Studewood and Bayland Streets.

We furthermore ask the City of Houston to make these pedestrian safety installations a priority to ensure the protection of our children and all pedestrians.

As someone who frequently crosses with his kids on bikes at the Nicholson/SP Bike Trail, I am proud to say that I have signed this petition and hope you all consider to so at well.   Crossing West 11th as an adult pedestrian at any point can be scary enough, but doing it with my kids, who are 12 and 15 and thus somewhat older, is downright terrifying.  If I imagine that my kids are younger and on bikes, I start to get extremely nervous at the mere thought.

I’ve signed it as well. Marty also plumps for a signal on 19th at the bike trail. I’d ask for the addition of a protected left turn from White Oak onto Studewood as well, as was finally done at West Dallas and Studemont. A side effect of the boom on White Oak has been the increasing difficulty of making that turn onto Studewood, even in the morning. There’s a lot of pedestrian traffic at this intersection now as well, as many people have to park east of Studewood to get to Fitzgerald’s or wherever, and having that would help. If you live or play in the area, please sign the petition as well. Thanks very much.

Still no voter registration cards yet

I’ve written about this before, but apparently there are some rumors running around regarding voter registration cards.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The only voter ID anyone should need

Central Texas elections officials are warning against a rash of emails spreading false information about voter registration — an already confusing issue for many because of an ongoing battle over redistricting that has delayed every step in the election process.

The emails claim that voter registration certificates expired at the end of last year and that residents hoping to have a say in the election need to get registered quickly.

“Probably just incompetence, to allow this change without public notification,” one email says. “Until this year voter registration cards were automatically mailed to arrive before expiration, but that did NOT happen this year. That means you will have to go in and apply for a new one.”

Whoever wrote the emails is clearly misinformed, said Williamson County Voter Registration Supervisor Julie Seippel. New voter registration certificates have not been printed yet, because a date for the primary election has not been set. An ongoing court fight over redistricting affects voting precincts and where registered voters may cast ballots, hence the delayed primaries and the lack of new registration cards.

Counties, including Williamson, Travis, Hays and Burnet, have tried to get the word out about the confusion, sending out press releases and talking to the Statesman about the issue.

The Secretary of State’s office sent out a press release trying to clear up the confusion yesterday. Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the office, said they have received several calls and emails from confused Texans.

“All previously-issued voter registration certificates expired on December 31, 2011, but only the cards expired, voter registrations remain valid,” the release said.

Here’s a press release from the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office:

Revised Feb. 22, 2012 — Normally, in mid January of every even-numbered year, persons registered to vote in Harris County get their new voter certificate in the mail.

Not this year. The 2012 redistricting maps drawn by the Texas Legislature are in dispute and the matter is in the hands of the federal courts.

“My office cannot prepare and mail the new certificates until the court has approved the redistricting maps. Only after that can voters be assigned to the correct voting precinct,” said Don Sumners,
the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar. “Once the court has approved the redistricting maps, we will mail new voter registration certificates at the earliest possible date.”

The Democratic and Republican party primaries have been delayed by the same dispute. Now it appears the primaries will be held no earlier than May 29.

“The delay in mailing the registration certificates will not interfere with anyone’s right to vote. I and my Voter Registration Department will support and protect the rights of every qualified voter. We will prepare and mail every certificate as soon as we can after the federal courts decide this case,” Sumners said.

“Look for a new certificate — yellow and white this year – soon after the decision is final,” Sumners said.

You know how I feel about Sumners, but he’s right. They can’t mail the cards until they know what the precinct boundaries are and what the maps look like. After we get maps, if you don’t get your card, feel free to call and raise hell. Until then, please be patient.

No, there won’t be a special session to help the public schools

Someone managed to catch Rick Perry during the few minutes he was in the office this week to ask about about having a special session to appropriate some of the extra Rainy Day funds to mitigate the cuts to public education. His answer was exactly what you’d expect.

Perry said Tuesday that Texas is spending plenty on public education.

“We’re still spending approximately $10,000 per student in Texas, and I will suggest to you the issue is not ‘are we spending enough money?’ The issue is, ‘are we spending enough money in the right places; are we getting a good return on our investment? ‘” Perry said in an interview with the American-Statesman.

The state is sitting on $1.1 billion in unanticipated revenue, as well as $6.1 billion in the rainy day fund. Democrats say some of that money should be used to avoid the second year of budget reductions.

“We made those cuts on the belief that the money was not available … and our kids have paid the price for it,” state Rep. Sylvester Turner , D-Houston, said during an Appropriations Committee hearing Tuesday. It was the first meeting of the budget-writing committee since the 2011 legislative session.

But there is no appetite among Republicans “to go back in and undo what we did in the session,” said Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts , R-Waxahachie . The GOP controls both chambers of the Legislature.

Seriously, what did you expect? This was what they wanted to do. Why would Perry and the Republicans want to undo what they wanted to do in the first place? They like what they did so much they may go back and do some more of it:

Last year, lawmakers across the ideological spectrum openly acknowledged that they would need to use the rainy day fund in 2013 to cover the Medicaid cost. But on Tuesday, Pitts raised the specter that support for using the reserve fund has possibly dwindled.

Under federal law, Texas has no choice but to pay the $3.9 billion Medicaid bill. To do so without the rainy day fund, the state would need to start cutting expenses elsewhere this year, Pitts said.

Those cuts would be on top of the $17.6 billion in spending reductions that were enacted last year as part of the two-year, $173 billion state budget.

Remember, that’s with $7.3 billion currently in the Rainy Day Fund, and more likely to come in as the economy improves. This is what they do. You want something different, you need a different Legislature.

By the way, Perry’s claim that we spend $10,000 per student is a flatout lie. Perry’s not the only one who’s been lying about how much we spend on public education. They may be proud of what they’ve done, but that doesn’t mean they want you to think too much about it. EoW has more.

Harris County GOP to harass Mayor Parker about gay marriage

Bring it.

On the right side of history

The Harris County Republican Party is calling on its members to tell the mayor to back off on same-sex marriage.

In an email blast sent out Monday, Chairman Jared Woodfill asks recipients to call or email the mayor “and tell her to support the Constitution and stand up for traditional marriage.”

Parker recently was among the leaders of a group of 78 mayors who announced at a conference in Washington, D.C., that they had launched Mayors for the Freedom to Marry.

I’m sure the Mayor will be delighted to hear from a bunch of crabs who think she’s a second-class citizen. I’m not sure how much of this is aimed at the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry movement and how much of it is a pre-emptive strike against the forthcoming non-discrimination ballot referendum, but it doesn’t really matter. That sound you hear is a death rattle. It will take awhile, likely longer than we’d like, and there will be losses along the way, but it’s clear which way the arc is bending, and it ain’t towards Jared Woodfill.

Let’s party like it’s 2007!

Good news: The improving economy and steadily increasing sales tax receipts may mean that we won’t have another budget apocalypse in 2013. Bad news: The Republicans in the Lege will use this as an excuse to avoid fixing the state’s underlying revenue problems.

What, me worry?

The state’s rebounding economy should help Texas avoid another draconian budget session and could help state lawmakers to begin investing in education, transportation and a water plan, state officials told a group of manufacturers on Wednesday.

While it might not be easy to meet the state’s needs, given some of the stopgaps the 2011 Legislature used to pass its budget, new taxes don’t appear to be on the table.

Texas Speaker Joe Straus and state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, struck an optimistic tone during a meeting of the Texas Association of Manufacturers without committing to new revenues beyond what an expanding economy provides.

Hilderbran, chairman of the House tax-writing committee, said he is “leaning against” a complete overhaul of the state’s primary business tax.

“I’d prefer to grow the economy rather than grow government,” Straus said in his prepared remarks. He said the Legislature must address a few key issues: improving public and higher education, financing water and transportation projects, and growing the economy.

There are two ways to deal with the structural deficit caused by the imbalance between the property tax cut and the underperforming business margins tax. You can actually fix the problem by adjusting either or both taxes and/or finding other revenue sources to make up the difference, or you can hope that the economy improves to the point where overall revenue is enough to patch it over. That’s what the Lege did in the 2006, 2007, and 2009 sessions, with the latter being possible thanks to federal stimulus funds. No one would like to see the economy back on that kind of track than I, but if we keep having to divert several billion dollars from general revenue to plug this hole, it makes it harder to meet needs elsewhere. You know, like those water and transportation projects you say you want to fund. Where’s that money going to come from?

Another speaker at the convention, state Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, offered a more somber look at state budget issues.

Otto, who serves on both the appropriations and the tax-writing committees, agreed with Straus about water and transportation projects. “They have to be funded somehow. I don’t know how yet,” he said.

Otto noted the large turnover in the Legislature and the election of many tea party-backed lawmakers who campaigned against more state spending.

“You better count your votes before you go down that road,” he said.

Good luck with that, in other words. Ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away. And remember, while you guys are fiddling, the Supreme Court will eventually hand down yet another directive to Do Something about public education funding. Sooner or later, those bills come due.

Texas blog roundup for the week of February 20

The Texas Progressive Alliance will never be able to say the word “surging” again with a straight face as it brings you this week’s roundup.



Congrats to Ernie Manouse for reaching this milestone:

Houston-(February 15, 2012) Over the past 10 seasons, the nationally syndicated award-winning series,  InnerVIEWS with Ernie Manouse hasentertained and informed audiences with interesting, intimate, and revealing conversations with some of today’s most captivating notables. Now,InnerVIEWS, and Emmy winner Ernie Manouse, get ready to celebrate their 150th episode with multi-award winning journalist Bill Moyers.

The 150th episode featuring Bill Moyers will air in the Greater Houston Area on Thursday, February 23 at 10:30pm on Channel 8, HoustonPBS.

Other upcoming InnerVIEWS guests this season include:  Publisher and First Amendment crusader Larry Flynt, Oscar winner Marsha Mason, author Charlaine Harris, actress & documentarian Alana Stewart, soap star Kim Zimmer and gospel great Yolanda Adams.

Since its debut in January 2004, the program has spawned a legion of fans across the county, airing on over 100 PBS stations.  InnerVIEWS… guests have ranged in age from the youngest at 16 (Singer Angel Faith) to the oldest at 95 (TV Presenter Art Linkletter).  Through the years the program has won four Dallas Press Club Regional KATIE Awards; three Videographer Awards; two Bronze Telly Awards; and the Communicator Awards Award of Distinction. InnerVIEWS was also nominated for the Emmy for Best Interview/Discussion Program/Series.

InnerVIEWS with Ernie Manouse airs on HoustonPBS every Thursday night at 10:30pm, with re-broadcasts Fridays at 11:00pm and Sundays at 3:30pm.  For national airdates and times, check with your local PBS stations.

I’ve been a guest a couple of times on his Houston 8 show, and Ernie is a engaging and affable host. Here’s to the next 150 shows.