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January 29th, 2013:

January finance reports for area legislative offices

Just to complete the tour of semiannual finance reports, here’s a look at the cash on hand totals for area legislators. First up, the Harris County House delegation.

Patricia Harless, HD126 – $308,221

Dan Huberty, HD127 – $69,058

Wayne Smith, HD128 – $218,425

John Davis, HD129 – $99,962

Allen Fletcher, HD130 – $46,559

Alma Allen, HD131 – $33,479

Bill Callegari, HD132 – $315,904

Jim Murphy, HD133 – $103,538

Sarah Davis, HD134 – $59,871

Gary Elkins, HD135 – $337,111

Gene Wu, HD137 – $32,504

Dwayne Bohac, HD138 – $28,286

Sylvester Turner, HD139 – $404,829

Armando Walle, HD140 – $72,571

Senfronia Thompson, HD141 – $345,547

Harold Dutton, HD142 – $85,127

Ana Hernandez Luna, HD143 – $111,652

Mary Ann Perez, HD144 – $118,832

Borris Miles, HD146 – $54,485

Garnet Coleman, HD147 – $173,683

Jessica Farrar, HD148 – $65,005

Hubert Vo, HD149 – $52,341

Debbie Riddle, HD150 – $67,757

I skipped Carol Alvarado in HD145 since we already know about her. Sarah Davis just finished running an expensive race – she got a much tougher challenge for her first re-election than either of her two most recent predecessors, so she didn’t get to build a cushion. I’m sure she’s start rattling the cup as soon as session is over and the moratorium is lifted. Borris Miles and Huber Vo do a fair amount of self-funding. Gary Elkins and Bill Callegari are in the two Republican held seats that were more Democratic in 2012 than their 2008 numbers suggested. Beyond that, nothing really remarkable. Here’s a look at the representatives from neighboring counties:

Cecil Bell, HD03 – $27,712

Steven Toth, HD15 – $25,832

Brandon Creighton, HD16 – $360,842

John Otto, HD18 – $480,066

Craig Eiland, HD23 – $92,623

Greg Bonnen, HD24 – $47,123

Dennis Bonnen, HD25 – $370,909

Rick Miller, HD26 – $30,561

Ron Reynolds, HD27 – $6,654

John Zerwas, HD28 – $470,622

Phil Stephenson, HD85 – $14,209

Ed Thompson, HD29 – $92,008

Bell, Toth, and Creighton represent Montgomery County – Bell in part, Toth and Creighton in full. Bell’s district also covers Waller County. Eiland is parts of Galveston and all of Chambers, while Greg Bonnen has the rest of Galveston. Eiland has two reports, both of which are linked with the sum of the two as his cash total. Dennis Bonnen and Ed Thompson share Brazoria County. Miller, Reynolds, and Zerwas are in Fort Bend, along with a chunk of Stephenson’s district. John Otto represents Liberty County, among others. Bell, Thompson, and Greg Bonnen are all ParentPAC candidates. Until such time as Democrats are in a position to retake, or at least come close to retaking, a majority in the Lege, sanity on public education is going to depend in no small part on people like them. I truly hope they’re up to that, because the ones that were there in 2011 sure weren’t. Of course, the more reasonable they are the more likely they’ll get teabagged by doofus chuckleheads like Steve Toth, who took out the unquestionably conservative but generally fact-based Rob Eissler last year. Not that Eissler distinguished himself last session, but still. You can perhaps see some higher ambitions in Creighton and Zerwas’ numbers – I have a feeling Zerwas will be very interested in Glenn Hegar’s Senate seat if Hegar makes a statewide run as some people think he will. I wouldn’t be surprised if Creighton has his eyes on CD08 someday.

And finally, the Senate:

Tommy Williams, SD04 – $1,164,109

Dan Patrick, SD07 – $1,485,091

Larry Taylor, SD11 – $183,826

Rodney Ellis, SD13 – $2,016,660

John Whitmire, SD15 – $6,167,111

Joan Huffman, SD17 – $707,914

Glenn Hegar, SD18 – $1,617,306

Hegar drew a four year term and can thus scratch his statewide itch without giving up his Senate seat. Dan Patrick was not so lucky, poor thing. As for Whitmire, all I can say is “wow”. As much cash on hand as Rick Perry, and no reason to believe any of it will be used for a significant purpose any time soon. I don’t even know what to say.

What we need is better choice

With all the talk about “school choice” floating around, it’s important to remember that in Houston at least we already have a lot of options from which to choose.

Houston’s urban school leaders vowed Wednesday to continue efforts to expand quality school choices, despite financial and regulatory challenges.

Top charters schools – including KIPP and YES Prep – receive less state funding than their traditional counterparts, and Houston ISD is sometimes handcuffed by state regulations, according to speakers at the seventh annual Children at Risk Children’s Summit.

Regardless of the challenges, Houston parents are hungry for quality choices, leaders said.

“It’s like Jerry Maguire. You have them at hello,” said KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg, who went door-to-door to recruit families for his new campuses in the late 1990s.

Today, more than 36,000 Houston students are on waiting lists for top charter schools. And about 68,000 students transfer from their zoned HISD school to another campus, under the district’s school choice model that includes dozens of popular magnet schools. Another 10,000 students transfer to HISD schools from outside the district.

“We’re a pretty good choice option,” Superintendent Terry Grier said.

Both Grier and charter school leaders agreed that educating the overwhelmingly low-income, minority populations that they serve takes extra time, effort and money.

We all know about the money part of that equation, so I won’t belabor it here. To the extent that Sen. Dan Patrick is talking about letting other school districts have the kind of choice model that HISD has, I’m all fine with it. I don’t know how much of a panacea that will be in less populated areas, and let’s not kid ourselves about the increased costs associated with sending kids off to non-neighborhood schools, but as a matter of principle there’s no good reason why parents and kids shouldn’t have as many viable options open to them as possible.

But as we know, this is just a side dish, with vouchers as the entree. Again, I’m not going to belabor that here, but instead want to talk a bit more about charter schools.

Charter school leaders said they will continue to look for ways to expand, which is challenging without the ability to ask for school bonds like the $1.9 billion one that HISD voters passed in November. They launched a partnership with the neighboring Spring Branch ISD last year to operate schools inside existing campuses, further lowering costs.

“We’re not going to build a $25 million building when we can get great results with less than that,” said Jason Bernal, YES Prep Public Schools president.

[…]

“High-performing charters like YES Prep and KIPP are scalable,” Bernal said. “It just validates we can continue doing what we’re doing.”

I hope he’s right about that, because we’d all benefit if schools like YES and KIPP can extend their reach. As the chart above shows, there’s probably only so far that they can be extended. It’s important to remember, however, that most charter schools aren’t KIPP or YES. In fact, the percentage of charter schools rated Academically Unacceptable by the Texas Education Agency is nearly double that of traditional public schools, and it’s very difficult to shut down a failing charter school. Somehow, that sort of thing never seems to be part of the discussion. If we’re going to expand access to charter schools by raising the state limit on charters, then we need to increase oversight and accountability on charter schools as well. I got a press release from Texans Deserve Great Schools, which is funded in part by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, whose report on school funding was the basis of this Chron story, that includes policy recommendations to address charter school oversight. I’m not sure I agree with everything they say – in particular, I remain skeptical of the cult of online learning and the belief that technology will solve all our problems; again, this is a separate issue – but aside from that they do make a number of good suggestions. You can read their release here and see for yourself. For extra credit, read the issue briefs and policy papers from Raise Your Hand Texas. There’s no shortage of education policy and reform out there. As with charter schools, the goal is to get as much of the good and as little of the bad as possible.

Zack Kopplin

Remember the name Zack Kopplin.

Zack Kopplin

Rice University sophomore Zack Kopplin says he has been called the Antichrist, a godless liberal and, bizarrely, the cause of Hurricane Katrina.

Kopplin, 19, has gained notoriety for championing the fight against his home state of Louisiana’s 2008 law that made it easier for teachers to introduce creationist textbooks into classrooms.

“It’s incredible that a young man is prepared to stand up for the truth,” said Sir Harold Walter Kroto, a British chemist who shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in chemistry and is a professor at Florida State University. He helped Kopplin connect with the 78 Nobel laureates who backed an unsuccessful attempt to repeal the law in 2011.

At a time when conventional wisdom has it that teenagers are disinterested in public policy, Kopplin is anything but apathetic and seems to relish a fight. The student activist has faced off against Louisiana state lawmakers and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, and has appeared on national news networks leading the charge against the of use religion in public school classrooms.

“Science has nothing to do with religion; they operate on different planes,” contended Kopplin.

Now Kopplin, a history major who is taking a full course load this semester, is preparing to fight state Sen. Dan Patrick’s effort to allow school vouchers in Texas. Patrick, R-Houston, is a strong supporter of school vouchers, which would allow tax money to flow to private and religious schools.

IO9 had a nice feature story on Kopplin and his fight against creationism in Louisiana a little while ago that you ought to read as well. He also has a blog that exhaustively documents creationist voucher schools around the country. This is why public funds should be for public schools and private schools should pay for themselves. He’s got his work cut out for him, but speaking as someone who wasn’t doing anything nearly that productive as a college sophomore, I’m deeply impressed with what he’s done already. Give ’em hell, Zack.

Another setback for open beaches

At this rate, the concept of “open beaches” is on its way to becoming an anachronism.

The Texas Supreme Court dealt another blow Friday to the Texas Open Beaches Act in a case pitting beachfront property owners against the city of Surfside.

The court overturned an appeals court ruling upholding Surfside’s refusal to permit repairs or extend utilities to houses that the Texas General Land Office determined were in the public right-of-way as a result of beach erosion. It asked the lower court to reconsider its decision in light of the state Supreme Court ruling last year in the Severance case, which weakened the Open Beaches Act.

Angela Brannan and 12 other beachfront home-owners had argued that efforts to force them to remove their houses from the public right-of-way amounted to an unconstitutional taking of their property.

Voting to overturn the appeals court decision siding with the city were justices Nathan L. Hecht, Paul W. Green, Phil Johnson, Don R. Willett, Eva Guzman and John Phillip Devine. Not participating were justices Debra Lehr-mann, Jeffrey S. Boyd and Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson.

One bad ruling leads to another. Where will it end?