Lisa Falkenberg does some fact checking.
Houston Mayoral Candidate Ben Hall seems to have done his homework before he began claiming that, if elected, he’d have statutory authority over local schools.
But he apparently didn’t check his interpretation of the statute with the Texas Education Agency.
In an interview last week, Hall criticized Mayor Annise Parker for continuing “to remain silent” on education, and he took issue with Parker’s assertion that although her office is engaged in education-related activities, she doesn’t have statutory oversight.
“Well, one, she’s legally wrong on that,” Hall told me. “There is statutory authority for cities to take over even school districts or assets of school districts that are independent.”
I checked that statement with TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe, who researched the issue and found “the candidate is wrong.”
“Cities can regulate school districts in limited ways through general provisions like fire and safety codes,” Ratcliffe said, but the state ultimately regulates education and only the state education commissioner has the ability to “take over” or close a district.
One exception to the state’s power, Ratcliffe said, is something called a “municipal school district,” which has a hybrid governance that requires city council approval of the district budget. Ratcliffe said she believes the Stafford district is the only such hybrid left.
“But that is an anachronism,” Ratcliffe said. “Cities can’t run school districts any more than districts could cities.”
See here for the background. Now to be fair, this response isn’t the final word. I don’t know if Debbie Ratcliffe is a lawyer, but whether she is one or she just consulted with one, this is all just someone’s opinion, and in the absence of a court case one can reasonably dispute that particular interpretation of Texas’ education code. But ask yourself this question: What do you think would happen if Ben Hall were to try to exert some kind of authority over the schools to “expand education” according to his vision, whatever that vision may be? Do you think the two dozen or so school districts that overlap Houston will respond by saying “Sure, Mayor Hall! Whatever you want!”? Or do you think they will tell him, in polite but precise legal terminology, to go pound sand?
Again, if we had more details about what Hall has in mind, we could better judge whether his vision is realistic and/or worthwhile. As Falkenberg has documented, what he has said so far won’t fly. I really would be interested in hearing any ideas Hall might have to use the Mayor’s office to improve schools. But first he has to come up with something that he could actually do.