Next up for review we have Annise Parker’s education plan. I should note that while the press release about this plan came out last week, a lot of the ideas within the plan have been on the table for awhile. This statement from May that Parker put out in response to comments Peter Brown had made previously about forming an urban school district heavily influenced by the mayor through board appointments contains a number of the points raised in the issues paper. This revision has more specific ideas and goes into some more detail, which is always good to see. A few highlights:
It’s About Working Together to Help Our Kids
There are 17 school districts within the borders of the City of Houston. Let’s stop the bickering about taking over these schools and start working together to support them.
I take this as a shot across Brown’s bow. For what it’s worth, where there’s divergence among the top three candidates on a specific issue, it seems to be Brown who goes his own way. Make of that what you will.
Most of the meat of Parker’s plan is here:
Strong Schools Partnership. As Mayor, I will reach out to school districts and create a partnership for strong schools that will be a vehicle for communication, coordination and cooperation between the city and school districts.
I will lead regular partnership meetings to make sure our city initiatives make sense for the districts and our neighborhoods and to make sure there is a strong voice to hold our school districts and the city accountable.
Working as partners, we can leverage and focus existing city resources to strengthen our schools. For example:
• Public Works. Identify and expedite infrastructure projects such as streetlights and sidewalks around schools and make the pathways safe that students use to walk to school.
• Public Safety. Target anti-gang and other public safety resources on problem schools. Establish direct coordination between HPD and HISD police to work together on safety in and around schools. Gangs don’t stop at the schoolyard gate, yet our police departments too often see that as a boundary. My proposals (below) to expand after-school programs, work/study programs and apprenticeship programs will also provide productive alternatives to gangs and drugs.
• Resource Sharing. Work together to share facilities – from multi-service centers to athletic facilities to idle school buildings that can be used for Express Libraries or after-school programs. Spark Parks – founded by the late Councilmember Eleanor Tinsley to develop public school grounds into neighborhood parks – is the model. The city is already building and remodeling our libraries – why not use them as community centers in areas that aren’t served by a multi-service center?
• Joint Purchasing. Negotiate interlocal agreements between the city and school districts to jointly purchase fuel and energy – such as wind power currently used by the city – as well as supplies. Purchasing in higher quantities will reduce costs for both the city and our school districts.
• Student Health. Coordinate school clinics and the health department mobile clinics to boost immunizations. Houston has one of the worst rates in the country.
• School modernization and neighborhood renewal. Coordinate school reconstruction and improvement projects with city parks and infrastructure improvement projects and public safety initiatives to develop a coordinated neighborhood renewal program.
I think these are all good ideas, though my first reaction was to wonder why we’re not already doing some of them. As it happens, Parker acknowledges at the end of her paper that much of it is indeed already happening; her idea is that by clearly articulating these goals, we can help them along. I wonder a bit about the possibility of duplicating effort, or causing a turf battle. For instance, the Harris County Department of Education already has a purchasing cooperative. Would Parker’s plan complement that, or compete with it? I suppose that would be one of the tasks her Chief Education Officer would be responsible for. I should note that Parker recently received the endorsement of HCDE Trustee Jim Henley, so one presumes there’s no inherent conflict in her vision and HCDE’s mission. As always, more information would be helpful.
Other thoughts that I have from reading this plan: I wonder what overlap there would be between Parker’s vision and the role of the various independent school districts, especially HISD. As always, there’s the question of how some of these initiatives would be funded. I’m a little surprised Parker didn’t reference her crimefighting plan when she talked about facilitating better coordination between HPD and HISD’s police force, since she’s made a tag line out of her statement that when you’re a victim of crime you don’t care which agency responds as long as it’s someone with a badge and a gun. Finally, I’m curious how the public works stuff would relate to the CIP process, which everyone agrees is glacially slow. Like I said, I think these are good ideas, but they lead to many questions.
The rest is mostly statements of principles rather than policy prescriptions. I continue to find it interesting that education has been such a high profile issue in this election, but I do think the discussion about it has been good, and I think Parker’s plan highlights some places where the city can have a positive effect, which is something I hadn’t really considered before.
UPDATE: Clarified the penultimate paragraph regarding Parker’s crimefighting plan.