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April 22nd, 2017:

Saturday video break: Pulling Mussels From A Shell

Squeeze, circa 1980:

Such an underrated band. I don’t think I heard any of their music on the radio back in the day – I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it on a “classic rock” station either, though I can’t swear to this. I discovered them the old-fashioned way, by raiding my roommate’s record and CD collection. Now here’s Chris Difford circa 2012:

I don’t know if it counts as a “cover song” when an artist reinterprets his own material, but I love it when it’s done well. Phil Collins’ “Behind The Lines” from Face Value, and Sting’s “Shadows In The Rain” from The Dream Of The Blue Turtles are my other top two in this category. Do you have any examples?

House passes school finance reform bill

Well done.

Rep. Dan Huberty

State Rep. Dan Huberty succeeded at a difficult task Wednesday: getting the Texas House of Representatives to vote for legislation overhauling the funding system for public education, without a court mandate.

After a four-hour discussion of more than 30 proposed amendments, the House voted 134-16 to tentatively accept its top education leader’s plan to inject $1.6 billion into public schools, simplify the complex formulas for allocating that money, and target certain disadvantaged student groups for more funding. The bill must still be approved on a third and final reading in the House.

[…]

The tentative victory comes after senators approved a budget that cuts state funding for public schools by $1.8 billion in general revenue, and uses local property tax revenue to make up the difference.

Huberty’s bill would increase the base per-student funding the state gives to school districts, in part by increasing funding for students who are bilingual and dyslexic. The Legislative Budget Board estimates about 96 percent of districts and 98 percent of students would see more money under the bill.

“This is the first time in over 30 years that we have the opportunity to vote for school finance, to make a holistic change,” Huberty said before Wednesday’s vote.

Throughout the evening, Huberty successfully moved to table many of his colleagues’ proposed amendments to the bill, either because they would add to the bill’s price tag or because he deemed them irrelevant to his legislation.

“This is the school finance bill,” he reminded Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, who unsuccessfully tried to attach a provision to HB 21 that addressed the testing and accountability system.

The House budget allowance for this bill would provide more funding to more school districts for busing, but many legislators expressed concern that the money would be stretched thin because districts that didn’t provide bus service would still receive transportation money. None of the amendments to address transportation funding passed.

Rural legislators banded together to add a provision that would help hundreds of small districts with fewer than 1,600 students. The provision, proposed by Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, would remove an existing financial penalty for school districts smaller than 300 square miles, which was originally intended to encourage them to consolidate.

Darby proposed putting all districts with fewer than 1,600 students at similar levels of funding, which he said would increase funding for more than 400 districts.

“Almost half the school districts in Texas will benefit from these amendments,” he said.

Legislators voted 86-59 to approve Darby’s amendment, despite Huberty’s opposition.

See here for the background. The Darby amendment was about Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction, for which you can get some background here. Getting something through the House is a big accomplishment; as the story notes, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock declined to put a bill forward in 2015 on the grounds that it didn’t stand a chance. Priorities are shifting, and there seems to be a lot of support for finally addressing some of the serious shortcomings in the current system. Which, if it happens, would vindicate the Supreme Court’s decision to not force the issue but leave it up to the Legislature. Assuming that Dan Patrick and the Senate – and Greg Abbott – go along, of course, That’s far from a sure thing, as a brief perusal of the Senate’s budget proposal would show. But it’s a start, and it could happen. That’s more than what we’ve had in a long time. Kudos all around.

Complete Communities

Mayor Turner makes an announcement about a new program for revitalizing some core neighborhoods.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner plans to focus Houston’s community development efforts on five low-income neighborhoods as part of his Complete Communities initiative announced Monday.

The program comes without a price tag or implementation timeline, and the mayor has committed no additional money for housing and community development.

Instead, Turner said the city will redirect 60 percent of its local and federal housing dollars to the five pilot neighborhoods: Acres Homes, Gulfton, Second Ward, Northside Village and Third Ward.

That amounts to roughly $34 million annually, if federal funding remains steady, on top of $28 million in available local housing funds.

“We recognize that this effort will not transform neighborhoods immediately, nor will it be a panacea that eliminates challenges neighborhoods face,” Turner said. “But they will see an intense, concentrated effort by many partners to enhance their quality of life and improve their living conditions.”

The city intends to finalize development plans for each of the five neighborhoods in January, after several months of community engagement. Turner said programs could include additional heavy trash pickup, weed abatement, sidewalk construction or single family home repair – things the city already does in neighborhoods across Houston.

“These short-term projects will generate enthusiasm and serve as a catalyst for support from outside organizations and the local community,” the mayor said.

Asked how he would respond to other disadvantaged neighborhoods eager for investment, Turner said, “We see you and hear you, but when you look at what we will do in these respective pilot communities, I think communities will be willing to wait for the transformation that will take place.”

See here for the Mayor’s press release. Leah Binkovitz the The Urban Edge adds some more detail.

Turner cited a slew of private entities involved in the effort including the Greater Houston Builders Association, Commonwealth Funding, Wulfe & Co. and Midway Companies. He didn’t elaborate on the exact nature of those partnerships.

Though the city’s investment period was open-ended, the mayor said his administration will focus on short-term projects, like heavy trash sweeps, park and community center repairs, enhanced weed abatement and improved sidewalks and street lighting, as well as home repairs and public art to highlight the transformations underway.

Turner also promised longer-term gains like improved educational outcomes, access to quality grocery stores, better drainage and the creation and preservation of affordable housing.

“I’m not placing any limit on it,” said Turner. “We stay until we reach that benchmark.” Specific benchmarks for each neighborhoods have not yet been identified.

The city will finalize its plans for each neighborhood by January 2018, after a community engagement process, according to the city. “This not a one-size fits all approach,” the mayor said.

[…]

Monday’s announcement came after Turner faced criticism earlier this year for city decisions that effectively barred low-income housing from wealthy Houston neighborhoods, according to a federal investigation. Citing his decision to table the low-income housing tax credit project proposed at 2640 Fountain View in a census tract that was almost 90 percent white, the federal housing department said that decision and others were based, in part, on racially-motivated opposition from community groups. But instead of crafting a corrective plan, the city has vehemently denied the findings, and Turner has asked the agency to rescind it.

Simultaneously, Turner has moved forward on his Complete Communities initiative, arguing that low-income Houstonians should not have to move from largely low-income communities to reap the benefits often associated with wealthier neighborhoods, often labeled as “high opportunity” communities.

“I vowed that we cannot allow Houston to be two cities in one, a city of haves and have-nots,” Turner said.

There are still a lot of details to work out, and a number of similar neighborhoods that would presumably be next on the list after these five. The goal here is to upgrade the infrastructure in these neighborhoods, making them better for existing residents, who haven’t seen a lot of investment from the city, while also making them more attractive to the kind of businesses that thriving neighborhoods need, all while (hopefully) not causing appraisals to soar or the kind of developers who would raze everything in order to build luxury condos to swoop in. Easier said than done, but the goal is a good one. All parts of the city need maintenance and new investments, and there’s a lot of room for infill development to ensure the city remains a vibrant alternative to outward sprawl. I look forward to seeing how this goes.

Progressives in East Texas

Yes, they exist, and they are coming out of the woodwork these days.

“It was remarkable,” says Lee Hancock, a Tyler resident of over 20 years who formerly covered East Texas for the Dallas Morning News. Hancock is now a lead organizer with Indivisible of Smith County, one of several new progressive grassroots groups in the region, including Indivisible chapters in Lufkin, Marshall, and Nagodoches. Her group organized the showdown with Gohmert and a mid-March rally at senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn’s offices against the Republican health care bill. Nearly 400 people follow the group’s public Facebook feed. “There’s so many options to be with people who share your values and concerns and feel like, hey, maybe I’m not the only one,” says Hancock.

The grassroots groups behind such events, some formed since the election, some much earlier, reflect a diversity of causes. There’s the local chapter of Our Revolution, “the next step of the Bernie Sanders movement,” which has a member in Nagodoches running for a county commissioner seat. The Snowflakes, a Longview-based coalition of young folks who lean socialist, galvanized after white supremacist posters popped up in Tyler. Voices of East Texas, a nonpartisan group, has organized informational panels on the local impacts of national policy proposals, including a repeal of Obamacare.

A month before the election, My African-American Mothers’ Alliance co-organized a voter registration drive at the Foundry aimed at black women. The event doubled as a screening of Beyonce’s Lemonade — they called it Slay the Vote. Pineywoods Voice, an LGBTQ advocacy group formed after the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting last summer, has organized against SB6, the anti-transgender “bathroom bill.”

And, of course, there’s the local Democratic Party, which recently held a summit on “turning East Texas blue” that invited leaders of the new groups in town to introduce themselves to the party faithful. A new subgroup, Democratic Women of East Texas, organized a bus to Austin for the Women’s March.

[…]

So what are newly emboldened progressive East Texans fighting for? The bucket list varies widely: the demise of Louie Gohmert’s political career, the stamping out of white supremacy, capturing local school boards and council seats, keeping undocumented loved ones out of detention centers, protecting transgender school kids, desegregating housing in Tyler, safeguarding East Texas mosques and synagogues, defending the Affordable Care Act, bringing back manufacturing jobs, and a dozen other items.

In a way, that progressive-palooza weekend in early March — the multitude of events to choose from, some at the same time and drawing notably different crowds by age and race — points to the biggest challenge: achieving the local unity it’ll take to move the needle on any one of these issues, even by a hair.

The goals are all laudable. I’d focus on the capturing local school boards and council seats myself, but this doesn’t have to be either/or. The important thing is to get everyone on the same page, register as many voters as possible, and remember that this is a process that will take time. Good luck, y’all.