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Early to Rise appeal denied

That pretty much wraps it up, for now at least.

A controversial 1-cent property tax to buoy local preschools will not be on the November ballot following a Houston appeals court ruling.

The 14th Court of Appeals, in an opinion issued late Thursday, rejected the Harris County School Readiness Corp.’s lawsuit to force County Judge Ed Emmett to put the tax before voters this fall. The three-judge panel dismissed the lawsuit.

[…]

“In the petition, relators ask this court to compel the Honorable Ed Emmett, Harris County Judge, to order an election in accordance with the ‘Petition to Authorize a One Cent Tax for Early Childhood Education,'” a three-judge panel wrote in the opinion.

The panel said the group failed to prove it was entitled to a writ of mandamus forcing Emmett to put the measure on the ballot. It did not elaborate in its two-page opinion.

The order is here. It’s pretty much “They asked us to do something, and our answer is No”.

The School Readiness Corp. said in a statement Friday that it “respectfully accepts the opinion,” but is “deeply saddened by the impact this decision will have on thousands of preschool children in Harris County.”

[…]

However, the group’s lawyer, Richard Mithoff, said he has told his clients “it would be very difficult if not impossible to get the matter on the ballot this time for the November election.”

As for future ballots, Mithoff said, the group “will assess all options.”

“What the campaign has clearly learned from this, what the leadership has clearly learned, is that there’s overwhelming support for funding early childhood education,” he said.

A copy of their full statement is beneath the fold. See here for the last update and here for most of my other posts on this. It seems clear to me that they should try again next year. They had no trouble getting the signatures, they got support from school and law enforcement leaders, and even Judge Emmett admitted that if the language on their referendum had been a little different he would have had to put it on the ballot. That’s a fixable problem, and so is the fractious relationship between the School Readiness Corp and the County Judge, who would normally be inclined to support a pre-K expansion effort. If the School Readiness Corp can engage with Judge Emmett to the point where he’s at least neutral on their efforts rather than actively opposed, and they can improve and strengthen their model for oversight, I see no reason why they can’t be successful with this in 2014. I know they aimed for this year because their polling suggested that the electorate would be more favorable to them because the city of Houston and its Mayoral election would be the biggest component of it, but I’m sure they did their poll before the Astrodome referendum was on the radar, and who knows how that might wind up skewing things. The idea behind Early to Rise is compelling and worthwhile. They just need to work on the details. I would like to see them try again next year.

The Early to Rise Campaign respectfully accepts the opinion of the 14th Court of Appeals. As this chapter in our region’s education policy comes to a close, we are deeply saddened by the impact this decision will have on thousands of pre-school children in Harris County.

“In HISD, the largest school district in Harris County, children are assessed upon entry into Pre-Kindergarten. Over half of these students fall below the standard level for basic letter recognition and three-quarters do not know their primary numbers. The challenge is self-evident,” said James Calaway, Chairman of the Early to Rise campaign.

This effort to improve early childhood education enjoyed the support of our civic, business, educational, and religious leadership, as well as more than 150,000 area residents who signed the petition to place this item on the November ballot.

We sincerely appreciate the hard work of the many, many fine individuals and organizations who supported this effort. It is their determination that gives us a sense of hope and we are renewed in our commitment to see improved early childhood education in Harris County.

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8 Comments

  1. John says:

    I think Early to Rise is a good cause but I have a problem with

    1) their business plan (that is generous calling it a plan) was so thin and vague

    2) all of the people on the board have zero experience in education

    Why don’t they use the next few years to raise money from their deep pocketed friends as a non-profit and show they are ready for prime time by actually showing a strategy in action?

  2. Glenn says:

    And they didn’t have 150,000 LEGITIMATE signatures. The voter registrar checked every signature and confirmed only 81,500. That means 46 percent of them were bogus.

  3. Glenn – Actually, it doesn’t mean that. The story didn’t say that all 150,000 signatures were checked, it just said that 81,500 had been found to be legitimate. It seems to me that the registrar would stop checking the signatures, which is a labor-intensive process since they are not allowed to use sampling, once the threshold was reached. There’s nothing more to be gained from continuing to check once enough signatures have been validated.

  4. Joe Stinebaker says:

    Actually, Mike Sullivan’s office did check every signature submitted. They were going to do a random sampling at first, but – to their credit – opted to enlist the manpower to do a complete verification. The final number, I believe, was 80,505 verified voter signatures.

    Joe Stinebaker
    Director of Communications
    Harris County Judge Ed Emmett’s Office

  5. I stand corrected. Thanks, Joe!

  6. Don Whitley says:

    As I have commented in the past when I predicted the court’s action, they statute does not allow them to put to vote a proposition that mentions pre-K education or any other purpose. So all that they can legally do next year is put a bare tax increase to a vote and hope that the board will use it as they want. I hope that the court issued their short order due to need to rule quickly because of time constraints and will issue a full opinion in due time.

  7. Mike Sullivan says:

    Good evening, Charles. As Joe said, we did evaluate every single signature submitted, which was more than 154,000. And, he is also correct that the number found valid was around 80,500 (forgive me for not having immediate access to the exact number right now). It should be noted that the Chronicle’s initial report was that 85,500 were valid, but Judge Emmett did not use that number; therefore, no idea where it came from. Unfortunately, subsequent stories and reports continue to cite the incorrect number.

    I will be happy to respond to any further questions.

    Thank you.

    Mike Sullivan
    Tax Assessor-Collector

  8. […] not being on the ballot. I think that’s a bit misguided – ultimately, it was the 14th Court of Appeals that settled the matter. I think it’s highly likely that we’d be in the same position […]

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