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.