Ben Hall made his official filing for Mayor on Wednesday, and had a campaign rally after ward. This story is about that and about a new video his campaign released, and it contains three ways in which Hall says he is different than Mayor Parker. One of them is worth highlighting here:
2. Education: “We need to educate and train our kids with the best possible education that any school district or human history can provide. The present mayor believes that’s not her responsibility because she ‘has no statutory authority.’ It’s not about statute, it’s about leadership.” During this comment, the words “Mayor Parker will ignore education. Mayor Hall will expand education” show on the screen.
[Parker campaign spokesperson Sue] Davis responded: ”While Mr. Hall wants to run the schools, Mayor Parker has made sure that city resources are working to strengthen schools and help schoolchildren. She just distributed 25,000 backpacks full of school supplies to children in need. She’s worked to coordinate infrastructure projects near schools and keep our kids safe when they go to school. She’s building new libraries and funding after-school programs. And she’s working with partner organizations to help children stay in school and gain the necessary skills to find good jobs when they graduate.”
As with the other two points Hall noted, having to do with economic opportunity and crime prevention, this is what I find so frustrating about Hall’s candidacy. There’s absolutely no detail in this suggestion – I can hardly call it an “idea” with so little substance to it. There’s nothing to indicate what Hall would do as Mayor to this goal of providing the “best possible education that any school district or human history can provide”. Hall brushes aside the Mayor’s point about lacking any statutory authority, but the fact remains that unlike some cities, the Mayor of Houston doesn’t appoint a school chancellor or superintendent, and we have multiple independent school districts with independently elected school boards that have taxing authority and set their own budgets. Some of these school districts are quite large – HISD, Alief, Spring Branch, Kingwood, Cy-Fair – some are small, they cover turf that includes Houston and not-Houston, and they all have their own identity and governing philosophy. While I’m sure that most of them would be willing to work with the city on certain items, I’m equally sure none of them will cede any of their legal rights and responsibilities without a fight that the city would lose because it has no grounds to assert any authority over them. I truly have no clue what Hall has in mind when he says stuff like this. While it’s possible that he’s such a visionary that I can’t even see the box he thinking outside of, it’s also possible that he’s completely unclear about what office it is he’s running for and what that job entails. In the absence of further information, I have to lean towards the latter interpretation.
With all that said, there are some things that a Mayor can do to abet public education in Houston. Mayor Parker herself discussed some of those things, as well as some of the limitations, back in 2009. If you follow those links, you’ll see a number of those themes echoed in Sue Davis’ comments. It would make for a genuinely interesting conversation if Ben Hall had taken Parker’s words from back then and offered an in depth critique of how she’s done on them. Maybe he can bring it up at one of the candidate-forums-that-aren’t-debates that the two of them will be attending.
Or Hall could take a different path and propose something along the lines of Peter Brown’s “urban school district” idea, which would involve putting statutory authority for education under the Mayor. Needless to say, that conversation would have to begin with the Legislature, and I’d bet a considerable fraction of Hall’s bank account that it would go absolutely nowhere, since every school district, superintendent, and school board trustee in the state would line up to oppose it. But it is an idea that’s consistent with what Hall is saying here, and whatever else it is, it would be bold and visionary. But we’d need for him to say that he has something like this in mind first. And that gets back to my complaint about details.