Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Early To Rise

Use that mandate in Harris County

Jay Aiyer pens an agenda for Harris County and its Democratic government.

First and foremost, flood mitigation has to be at the top of any list. Harris County has taken good initial steps to improve flood control infrastructure, and the passage of flood control bonds was badly needed. Those steps however, are only the beginning of what needs to be done. Development changes that prohibit growth and expansion in the floodplain, and ideas from experts like Rice University’s Raj Makand to impose a moratorium on new municipal utility districts until the region has a comprehensive plan for flood mitigation should be considered. Infrastructure development in Harris County — everything from toll road expansion to affordable housing construction should be factored into flood control efforts. Flood mitigation needs to be the county’s top priority.

[…]

The need for ethics and transparency is also required at the Commissioner’s Court itself. Unlike Houston City Council or the Texas Legislature, Harris County government remains largely shrouded in secrecy. The lack of broad transparency and pro-forma meetings results in a policy process that is largely kept behind closed doors. Commissioners have wide latitude in how business is conducted within their precinct, but that should be governed by a strong ethics policy that requires lobbyists to register and places limits on campaign contributions. A strong government requires one grounded in ethics and transparency.

Access to the ballot box and the integrity of voting process remains a major concern to all voters. Harris County needs a transparent and error-free voter registration process that works to actively register voters. Texas is eliminating straight ticket voting in 2020 and Harris County needs to start preparing for the longer lines and logistical strains that surround the longest electoral ballot in the country. This means expanding the number early voting locations throughout the county, as well as extending the hours of operation. Harris County also needs to follow other Texas counties and create election day voting centers that allow voters to cast a vote at location throughout the county — not just at a precinct.

Part of the improving voting means replacing the outdated machines. The current click-wheel electronic voting system is outdated and slow in handling our long ballot. Harris County needs to invest in modern, verifiable voting machines that can provide confidence in the electoral process while allowing voters to exercise their vote quickly and efficiently. County government has historically worked to make voting more difficult and cumbersome, and these reforms would be a good first step in reversing that.

Finally, Harris County should also revisit initiatives around the expansion of early childcare. In 2013, the well-meaning pre-K training initiative “Early to Rise,” which called for a ballot initiative to expand pre-K training programs, was strongly opposed by outgoing County Judge Ed Emmett and the Republican majority of Commissioner’s Court. While that initial plan was limited in scope, the idea of a regional approach to expanding early child care is one that needs to be explored. Research indicates that investing in early education initiatives are the best way to mitigate the effects of poverty and improve long term educational outcomes. A countywide program may be the smartest long term investment that Harris County could make.

I endorse all of Jay’s idea, which he proposes as a first-100-days plan, and I’d add a few things of my own, none of which need to be done immediately. One is for Harris County to be a more active partner with Metro, and to be fully engaged in the forthcoming transit plan and referendum. There are a lot of ways the county can contribute to better transit, and with everything Metro has going on now, this is the time. Two, continue the work Ed Emmett started in consolidating services with Houston and other cities, and make non-MUD governance a part of that development reform Aiyer outlines. Three, figure out what the office of the Treasurer can and should be doing. Incoming Treasurer Dylan Osborne has his own ideas, of course, but my point is that back in the 90s Commissioners Court basically neutered the office during Don Sumners’ term. Maybe now the time has come to restore some actual power to that office. Other counties have Treasurers, perhaps we should look to them to see if there’s a good model to follow.

I’m sure there are plenty of other ideas. (The parts that I cut out for this excerpt talked about criminal justice and bail reform, some of which have been going on.) Reviving the pre-K proposal is especially something we should all get behind. The point is, there is much that can be done, and no reason to feel restrained by “we’ve always done it that way” thinking. If it’s a good idea, let’s talk about it and figure out if we can make it work. It’s a new era in Harris County.

More on Early Matters

Scott McClelland, president of H-E-B Houston and also the chair of the Greater Houston Partnership Education Advisory Committee, pens an op-ed about the importance of pre-kindergarten and the latest effort to provide for it.

It’s hard to believe, but more than 60 percent of children in Houston start kindergarten lacking basic letter identification skills and almost 80 percent are challenged with number recognition. Additional research shows that a student who can’t read at grade level by the end of the third grade is four times more likely to drop out of school.

Those facts are concerning in and of themselves. But here’s why we all need to pay attention: Our job market is booming. But 60 percent of new jobs coming to Texas will require education beyond a high school diploma, and our state ranks last in high school graduation rates. Only 1 in 5 Texas children will earn a post-high school credential.

Quite simply, our region’s growth and expansion will be stifled if we cannot supply quality candidates to fill these jobs over the longterm.

Because the challenge is so great, local business leaders, educators and nonprofit organizations formed a broad-based coalition called “Early Matters.” The group has a singular focus: ensuring that our children are reading at grade level by the end of the third grade.

The group has set a 10-year vision that is predicated on being collaborative and inclusive – both of people and ideas.

Our approach is necessarily broad – all phases of child development leading to third grade need to be addressed. And while some of our plan calls for innovation that could pool existing resources, or make them work more efficiently, yes, achieving the goal will take money. A good plan that can’t be funded won’t make a difference.

See here for the background. Early Matters doesn’t appear to have its own webpage yet, but there is this page off the Greater Houston Partnership website, which contains a fact sheet and the press release of their announcement that they exist. I’m sure there will be more to come. This is all still very much at the high level stage, with most of what they’re talking about being the need for early childhood education solutions and not much yet about what those solutions will be. I’m glad they’re making the need to pay for something that will be effective and make a difference a key component of their early push, because that will be the greatest challenge. But how bug that challenge ultimately will be is not set in stone.

In the 2011 legislative session, $200 million was cut from pre-K programs. $30 million in funding was restored in 2013, but full restoration of these cuts is needed.

The ultimate goal of the Early Matters coalition is expanding to statewide, full-day pre-K. However, we know this will require substantial funding and additional time to ensure effective planning and implementation.

Just as a reminder, Greg Abbott’s big idea for pre-k comes with a $118 million price tag, which is to say that his fully funded plan for the 2016-2017 biennium would represent at most sixty percent of what the Legislature cut from pre-k spending in 2011. Wendy Davis, on the other hand, is proposing that school districts across the state offer full-day pre-K programs, which is to say exactly what this effort is pushing for. I recognize that an effort like Early Matters needs to be bipartisan, and I recognize that there are plenty of Republicans that support fully funded, quality pre-kindergarten programs. I just hope that the people that support Early Matters recognize that they can make their jobs easier if they want to or they can make their jobs harder. It’s their choice.

Trying again with pre-K

Different approach, hopefully a different result will follow.

On the first day of school for most Houston-area children, a coalition called “Early Matters” organized by the Greater Houston Partnership announced Monday it would release a 10-year “game plan” at a summit next month to expand pre-kindergarten and child care programs and assist parents so they can “become the best parents they can be for their growing child.”

Coalition members, including Chair Jim Postl, the retired president and CEO of Pennzoil-Quaker State Co., also made clear they would be looking to the Texas Legislature, which gutted state funding for full-day pre-K in 2011, saying restoring that money would be “a very important first step” to carrying out a plan they say will increase the likelihood that kids will stay in school and be prepared to join the workforce or go to college when they graduate.

[…]

The Partnership, Houston’s most influential chamber of commerce group, helped commission a study in 2012 that found that the vast majority of brain development occurs before age five and that greater investment in early childhood programs would be crucial to the region’s future economic success. The resulting report inspired the formation of another coalition of local business and community leaders called Early to Rise that launched a petition drive last year to place a 1-cent property tax hike on the November ballot to generate funding for these types of programs. The effort was based on an obscure, decades-old law that said the county judge must call an election to raise the tax rate of the Harris County Department of Education if enough valid signatures are gathered.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett refused to place on the item on the ballot, however, saying he supported improving early childhood education but that the petition language the group had used did not comply with the law. He and others also did not like that the proposal would have diverted the tax dollars to the coffers of a private group.

The group sued, but an appeals court backed Emmett’s decision.

Harvey said he and other GHP committee members convened a few months later and decided to launch another effort with “more active involvement of the business community” and “a much broader coalition.” In addition to business leaders, the coalition was joined Monday by a half-dozen local school superintendents, including Houston ISD’s Terry Grier.

“I think there was a lot of answered questions in a lot of people’s minds” about last year’s proposal, including “how you raise the money and how you have a countywide tax rate, who is going to be in charge of those dollars,” Grier said. “I think that this has the full support of the Greater Houston Partnership and it’s a wide coalition, a much broader coalition than it was a year ago. I’ve seen both programs. This is not the same program repackaged. This is totally different.”

Clearly, going for a statewide plan is the optimal path, but it’s also the heavier lift politically since it would involve spending money. I know the GHP and their partners in this effort would like to be nice and bipartisan and all, but there are some fairly significant differences between the two major candidates on the issue of pre-K. If you don’t feel like clicking those links, just ask yourself who as the next Governor will be more amenable to fully funding a statewide pre-K program. The question answers itself. The Early Matters coalition, who have County Judge Ed Emmett on board with the idea, haven’t zeroed in on how they would fund this, and still have a lot of blanks to fill in policy-wise, but it’s the goal that matters. I personally would have no problems with the Lege doing this via appropriation, but we should certainly take advantage of whatever federal and private grants exist, too. Let’s make this happen, and let’s make it happen in a lot less than that ten-year time frame.

One point of perspective on the repeal petitions

Here’s the Chron story about the HERO-haters turning in their repeal petitions.

Opponents of Houston’s new non-discrimination ordinance Thursday turned in well more than the minimum number of signatures needed to trigger a November vote on whether to repeal the measure.

Staff in the City Secretary’s office will have 30 days to verify that the names – 50,000 of them, opponents said – cross the minimum threshold of 17,269 signatures from registered Houston voters that foes needed to gather in the month following the measure’s passage in an 11-6 vote of the City Council.

Most of the divisiveness around the ordinance stems from the protections it extends to gay and transgender residents, groups not already protected under federal laws barring discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as well as family, marital or military status.

Mayor Annise Parker pledged to fight the effort to overturn the ordinance should it make the November ballot, a task she acknowledged city rules make fairly easy.

“This was not a narrowly-focused, special-interest ordinance,” said Parker, the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city. “This is something that the business and civic community of Houston was firmly behind, and we fully expect if there is a campaign that it will be a spirited campaign, but we’ll have the same outcome in November as we had around the council table.

“Houston does not discriminate, Houston will not discriminate and Houston will not be fooled by misinformation, hyperbole – I would use the word ‘lies’ but I’m going to back off from that – and people who are just simply unwilling to read the ordinance for themselves.”

See my post from Thursday evening for the background. As we know, the haters were busy collecting petitions last weekend, and my presumption was that if they weren’t scrambling to clear the bar, they were aiming for a show of force. It would actually have been enough to force a recall election against Mayor Parker, if they largely prove to be valid. The haters claim to have verified 30,000 of the sigs themselves, but we’ll see about that. As I said on Thursday, the petitions will be very closely scrutinized, and I expect the final number to be a lot lower.

One thing to keep in mind when we talk about that number. Via Facebook, I understand that the haters are referring to it as “two-thirds of the total vote against Mayor Parker in 2013”. That’s true enough as it goes – remember, that 50,000 is likely to be an illusion – but we’re not in a low-turnout odd-numbered election year. We’re in an even-numbered partisan election year. We had a situation much like this in 2010, with the red light camera and Renew Houston items on the ballot. That year, there were 389,428 votes cast in the Houston part of Harris County – a smidge less than half the total county turnout – plus another 8,492 votes in Fort Bend County, with between 320,000 and 350,000 votes cast in each of the three propositions. Even if all 50,000 signatures represents a valid Houston voter that will show up in November, that’s still less than 1/3 of the total that will likely be needed for the haters to win.

Let me provide one more number, as long as I’m on the subject. Last year, the Early to Rise group submitted 150,000 signatures to put an item for raising HCDE’s tax assessment to fund pre-K in Harris County. Of those signatures, 80,505 were verified. If the haters have the same level of accuracy, their total number of valid sigs will be around 27,000. Still plenty to qualify for the ballot, but a lot less than 50,000. They may well be more accurate than that, but I do know they were using paid canvassers as the Early to Rise proponents were, so I expect they’ll have a fair amount of slop in their work. Again, we’ll see how much.

I don’t post any of this to encourage complacence in HERO supporters. We’ve definitely got our work cut out for us. But if we put our heads down and do the work, I feel confident we will win. As Greg highlights, the city of Houston is Democratic, and we’ve got more voters to reach out to than they do. Register voters, talk to voters, and make sure everyone who should be voting does so. That’s the winning formula. PDiddie, John Coby, Texas Leftist, Lone Star Q, and Hair Balls have more.

AG opines against Early To Rise

This kind of snuck in there.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an opinion Monday saying a court would likely have found a petition effort last year to send a 1-cent property tax hike to voters to buoy local preschools to be illegal.

[…]

On Monday, Abbott wrote in a 4-page opinion addressed to state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who requested it, saying: “Because the Legislature has not authorized an election for the purpose of increasing a tax rate of a (countywide school district), a court would likely conclude that” the law does “not authorize a CSD to hold a petition-initiative election to increase the county equalization tax.”

Read the opinion here.

“I am grateful for the attorney general’s clear opinion today confirming the illegality of the Early To Rise initiative,” Emmett said in a statement. “Despite numerous threats of lawsuits, it was clear to me that this bizarre proposal was illegal and wrong-headed. It’s gratifying to have the confirmation of both the appellate court and the state of Texas.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Basically, the Early To Rise campaign submitted petition signatures on behalf of the Harris County School Readiness Corp, but County Judge Ed Emmett refused to put the measure on the ballot, a decision that was allowed to stand when the 14th Court of Appeals declined to hear HCSRC’s appeal. County Attorney Vince Ryan also submitted a request for an opinion on Emmett’s behalf, not that it makes much difference. As we know, AG opinions aren’t binding but they do have an effect, and as such I don’t see how the same process, with a differently worded petition, would be viable again. I do think we haven’t heard the last of this, however. The question is where they go from here. Neither the webpage nor the Facebook page has any reaction to the AG opinion. I sure hope there is a way forward of some kind, because there are lots of benefits to universal pre-K. Judge Emmett opposed the petition process but supports the idea. Surely there is a way to work this out and have another go in a way everyone agrees is legally acceptable.

Early To Rise referendum probably would have passed

For what it’s worth.

It’s one of those questions we always ask ourselves in love, life and politics: What if?

In this case, what if the Early to Rise campaign had gotten its one penny tax increase for early education on the ballot?

“The good news for them is it was support for this. The bad news, of course, is they’re not on the ballot.”

That’s Bob Stein at Rice University. He conducted the poll. He found about 49 percent of likely voters said they would support it.

“When you tell people would you like to spend money on early childhood, particularly for training the parents and childcare providers skill sets that would help children get ready for first grade, you can probably get close to 50 percent. This would have been a real battle.”

Stein says 35 percent of voters said they opposed it. About 15 percent weren’t sure.

Jonathan Day with the Early to Rise campaign says those numbers are very encouraging.

“There’s no such thing as an inevitable election result. But surely the numbers confirm that the support is available and with strong public support and a strong campaign, we could have won this election.”

But there will be no election.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett refused to put the measure on the ballot.

“When this all came to me, you know, it kind of ties my stomach in a knot because I’m trying to sort all this out and you have people, you know, chewing on you from all sides. But at the end it became just a question of what does the law say.”

Emmett says the campaign was trying to use an outdated law to get it on the ballot.

BOR prints a guest post from Fred Lewis of Texans Together that blames Emmett for the Early To Rise initiative 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 had Emmett accepted the petitions and Early To Rise had been the defendant in the lawsuit that would have certainly followed. Judge Emmett did give a blueprint for what to do next time, and it seems for sure that there will be a next time.

[United Way Bright Beginnings] program manager Mitzi Bartlett says ten years of data show children who come here do better in school later on.

“We’re learning about consequences. We are learning so that when we go into the workplace, we can work well with others, we can problem solve and we know to try again. We’re all right if we make a mistake.”

She says it’s all right to try again.

And that is what early education advocates say they will do.

I see no reason why this wouldn’t pass next year, if the poll from this year is accurate. If you look at the poll data – click “Early Education” to see the details for this question – and you’ll see that Anglos disapproved by a modest amount, Hispanic approved by a larger amount, and African Americans approved by an overwhelming amount. I believe that would make for a successful effort in 2014, and with some potential tailwinds from Wendy Davis at the top of the Democratic ticket, prospects could be even brighter. I hope they work out some of the bugs that should have been worked out this year, get the wording right on the referendum, and take another crack at it next year.

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.

(more…)

No Early To Rise on the ballot

Place your bets on the outcome of the litigation.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said Monday he would not place a 1-cent property tax on the November ballot intended to buoy area pre-schools, prompting a lawsuit by a local nonprofit that suppliedtens of thousands of signatures on a petition asking him to do so.

Emmett, a critic of the effort since it launched at the beginning of summer, said the ballot language on the petition does not comply with a certain chapter of the Texas Education Code.

[…]

Citing a seven-page legal opinion by a private lawyer, Emmett conceded that the antiquated law still is applicable, because a section of the education code says it is, but said that the ballot language on the petition is too specific about both the nature of the proposed tax – specifically, that it says the tax would be “additional,” on top of the education department’s current 1-cent taxing authority – and how it would be used.

“Describing the requested tax as ‘additional’ is a significant departure from the statute because there is no authority in Chapter 18 for more than one tax,” Emmett said at a news conference on Monday, the last day items could be placed on the Nov. 5 ballot. “If early childhood expenditures can be controlled by the general public through a tax election, then why not vocational educational, agricultural education, adult education, special education or any other source of educational programs that the public imagination might run to?”

Emmett said he could not change the ballot language because it would be different than the language on the petition that people had signed.

His lawyer, William Bednar, who drafted the opinion, confirmed that if the language had been different – meaning less restrictive – Emmett would have had to order the election.

See here for more on the dispute over the law. Judge Emmett’s decision is not a surprise, though honestly neither direction would have been a surprise. One reason why Judge Emmett received legal advice from a private lawyer is that he did not receive an opinion from the AG’s office prior to the announcement. You can search the Attorney General’s opinions and see for yourself if you want. You can get a little peek at the legal advice Judge Emmett got on Chron reporter Kiah Collier’s Twitter feed. It won’t tell you much, but it’s more than what the AG had to say. This too is not a big surprise, since the opinion process is usually measured in months, but in this case it meant Emmett had to go out on his own. For the third non-surprise of the day, the Early To Rise folks announced immediately afterward that they were filing suit. Here’s their press release.

“Because we believe the law requires the county judge to place this issue before the voters, we will be filing a petition for a writ of mandamus in behalf of the registered voters who signed the petition requesting relief from the Court of Appeals,” said attorneys Richard Mithoff and Russell Post, who are representing Jonathan Day in behalf of registered voters who signed the petition seeking to put the issue on the ballot.

“This is not about Judge Emmett. He is a committed and conscientious public official,” Mithoff said. “This is not about the wisdom of the early childhood initiative: voters may disagree about whether revenue should be raised for this project.”

“This is about the law,” he said.

The Texas Legislature has authorized voters to petition for an election to authorize their government to levy and collect taxes for educational purposes. The requirement to invoke this procedure represents a high hurdle–requiring the support of 10% of voters from the last gubernatorial election. We have now validated more than twice that number.

Under these circumstances, the Texas Legislature has mandated that a county judge has no discretion to second-guess the will of the people. Rather, “the county judge . . . shall immediately order an election.” This command is unambiguous and unequivocal; it must be enforced.

Therefore, this initiative should be put before the voters to decide if early childhood education is something they want to invest in.

Emmett is quoted in that Chron story saying he expected to get sued no matter what he decided. As I’ve been saying that this will ultimately be decided in court, I believe him. I will note that I received an advisory about Mithoff’s press conference an hour before Emmett’s presser was scheduled to begin, so I’d say it’s a fair conclusion that Early To Rise knew which way the wind was blowing.

[The lawsuit] implores Emmett to order the election immediately, and requests the court make a decision by Sept. 16 “assuring sufficient time to satisfy the printing deadline for” the election.

I have no idea which way the courts will go. I’m not sure this will be truly settled in time for the election – I suspect that no matter what happens, there will be more to come afterward. What do you think will happen?

The law and the Early To Rise petition process

Much has been made about the obscurity of the state law that allows for the petition process that the Early To Rise folks have followed to put an item on the ballot that would raise money for pre-K education in Harris County. The Chron takes a closer look at the statutes in question and the requests for clarification on them from the Attorney General.

When the campaign first launched earlier this summer, Emmett said he believed the law was not applicable because it no longer was on the books, saying the state “didn’t recodify these sections and you can’t find these anywhere in state statutes today.”

The state law stipulating the petition process – two sections of the Texas Education Code, specifically – was repealed in 1995 when the Legislature reorganized the education code, according to campaign and county lawyers.

The law, which dates to the 1920s, gave county education departments in the state authority to levy a so-called “equalization tax” to raise revenue for “the support of the public schools of the county.” Unlike school districts, whose governing bodies can raise taxes by a vote, the equalization tax can be authorized only by an election called via citizen petition.

Under the education code, a county education department operating under those repealed sections “may continue to operate under” them, meaning those sections stipulating the petition process still apply.

That fact is conceded in two separate requests for a legal opinion sent to the state attorney general this month on the applicability of the law, one from County Attorney Vince Ryan on behalf of [County Judge Ed] Emmett and another by state Sen. Dan Patrick.

However, Patrick wrote, whether the education department could operate under those repealed laws if its tax rate is increased still is in question.

Emmett’s objections recently have come down to whether the ballot language proposed on the petitions is consistent with the repealed sections.

The petition language says the revenue generated is “to be used solely and exclusively for early childhood education purposes,” which does not appear to fit the definition of an equalization tax “to be distributed equally among all school districts” in the county.

One of the leaders of the petition group, Jonathan Day, a former city of Houston attorney, said the law does not say exactly what the ballot language must be. He also pointed to other sections of the law that stipulate broad uses for equalization tax revenue, including “for the advancement of public free schools in such counties.”

The education department is “already spending money on early childhood,” Day noted.

I’m not even going to try to guess what AG Greg Abbott will write in his opinion. I do know that county education departments used to be common in Texas, but as of today there are only two left, in Harris and Dallas, and this is undoubtedly why those statutes were modified or repealed back in 1995. It’s just a muddle, and I will say again, it will ultimately be settled in court. The story also notes that Emmett will announce his decision about whether or not to put this on the ballot on Monday, which is the deadline for making such a decision in time for the election. I presume we will have AG Abbott’s opinion by then as well, but I’m just guessing.

Finally, the Early To Rise plan

This is what we’ve got after their presentation to the HCDE Board of Trustees on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the Harris County School Readiness Corp. pitched its plan to expand early education at a five-hour gathering with wary trustees for the Harris County Department of Education. The corporation’s proposal suggests that if voters approve a ballot initiative expanding the education department’s taxing authority by 1 cent per $100 of assessed value, the public agency should contract with the nonprofit to administer the estimated $25 million collected each year.

“Help is not on the way,” said Jonathan Day, a member of the corporation’s board, about the need to improve early childhood education programs in Harris County. “We’re not going to get help from the federal government, or the state government. We believe this needs to start here on a local level.”

Responding to public and trustee concerns about accountability, the proposed 10-year contract would allow the department to appoint half of the agency’s governing board, to approve rules for spending tax dollars and to review 14 areas of performance.

A three-member staff of the corporation would contract with existing education groups to expand training for teachers and buy school supplies for child care centers serving children up to age 5.

See here for the previous update. The bit about allowing HCDE to appoint half of the governing board is a step in the right direction. Even better news is that at long last we have some firm details. Here’s a draft services agreement, and the Harris County School Readiness Corporation policies on accountability and conflicts of interests. Both came in late Wednesday via Houston Politics. I haven’t had the chance to read through them, but there they are.

There’s another wrinkle in all this, as noted by this story from before the presentation.

Before the department’s board can vote on any agreement, it must go through a state-mandated request for proposals, according to education department officials.

“We presume we’ll get at least one,” chuckled Superintendent John Sawyer, who represented the department in initial negotiations.

Jonathan Day, a member of the corporation’s board and a former Houston city attorney, said he is confident the request for proposals will not slow down the group’s reaching an agreement in the narrow window before the November election.

“We think this kind of structure we have proposed is the right one. We hope the board will agree,” he said. “But look, we’d be happy if somebody else could do this better than we can.”

I rather doubt there’s another group out there in position to submit a bid, but you never know. It’s not clear what happens if the measure passes but the Harris County School Readiness Corporation fails to reach an agreement with the HCDE. Does that mean that the HCDE board can choose not to implement the tax increase, thus essentially nullifying the election, or does it mean another round of RFPs?

Of course, first this has to make it to the ballot.

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan has until Monday to verify at least 78,000 of the 150,000 petitions submitted by the group, which could trigger the proposal’s appearance on the ballot. The county attorney and state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, have asked the attorney general’s office to clarify what Judge Ed Emmett must do if the minimum level of signatures are verified, arguing the initiative process used may not still be in effect.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that enough petition signatures were collected. The AG opinion is still the big unknown, but as I’ve said all along, I expect this to eventually be settled in court. How long that might take, and whether it affects the ballot this year or not, I have no clue. KUHF has more.

Time for more information about Early To Rise

What Lisa Falkenberg says.

They’ve turned over more than 150,000 signatures in favor of putting an early education tax on the Harris County ballot in November. Now the folks behind the Early to Rise campaign need to turn over the details.

Actually, they should have turned them over a while ago. The well-meaning folks who signed the petition did so with only the vaguest notion that, somehow, they’d be helping kids, and our community. But some of us need a little more information.

The petition said only that it was authorizing the Harris County Department of Education to levy a tax of one penny per $100 of assessed home value “for early childhood education purposes to improve success of children in kindergarten and beyond.”

A fact sheet called the effort a “public/private partnership” that will provide training, assistance and equipment to preschool programs and parents. Clicking on “take a deeper look at the Early to Rise Plan” on the group’s website won’t get you any deeper. It gives the basics and a list of board members who would lead a newly formed nonprofit to administer the tax funds.

Those board members include respected community leaders such as James Calaway of the Center for Houston’s Future, former Houston first lady Andrea White and the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell. But their good names aren’t enough. We need a detailed proposal, in writing, that spells out how money will be distributed, to what kinds of operations, under what criteria? How many families will be helped? How many children? At what age?

Not to mention how will the board members be chosen, what kind of oversight will they be subject to, what kind of disclosures will they have to make to ensure that any conflicts of interest can come to light, what is the process to remove a board member that needs to be removed, etc etc etc. We know these answers for elected officials, and we know these answers for boards and whatnot that are appointed by elected officials. We know none of that for Early To Rise and the Harris County School Readiness Corporation. The American Prospect, which has a nice overview of Early To Rise and the story so far, suggests that they don’t really have a good answer to these questions.

The obvious concerns over handing the revenues to an unelected nonprofit board are not lost on the leaders of Early to Rise. However Jonathan Day, a former city councilman and one of the Early to Rise board members, argues this is much better than the alternative of letting the Harris County Department of Education administer the program, which would politicize the process. The Department of Education has had its share of political drama, including hiring a former county commissioner and convicted felon as its lobbyist. Day worries that by giving the Department of Education control over the process, childcare centers would get selected for the program based on political advantage rather than need. He says that’s already become a problem with charter schools. “We have some bad charter schools. Are we able to close ‘em down?” he says. “Every one of those charter schools has a bunch of defenders, [including] the state representative.” By putting the money in the hands of an unelected body, Day believes the program will avoid many of the same political problems. “You can to a very significant extent, avoid those kinds of results which are very damaging,” he says, and notes that the Department of Education would still have oversight.

Day was a City Attorney, not a City Council member, but never mind that. I don’t get making HCDE out to be nefarious, especially since this proposal isn’t going to go anywhere without HCDE’s support. I agree that the hiring of Jerry Eversole was a forehead-slapping move, but he was hired for the purpose of lobbying Commissioners Court to back off its efforts to get a bill passed to kill the HCDE. I personally wouldn’t touch Eversole with a ten-foot pole, but that is a role for which he is qualified. Most of the actual political drama on HCDE had to do with a faction that never numbered more than one or two that was on board with the kill-HCDE agenda. The biggest, and possibly sole, protagonist of this was Michael Wolfe, who was defeated in 2012. Outside of Wolfe, the drama level at HCDE has been remarkably low. Bringing up charter schools is a distraction, since they have nothing to do with any of this, and besides, the Lege passed a bill this past session that among other things will – in theory, at least – make it easier to shut down substandard charters. Finally, I can’t believe that Jonathan Day is naive enough to think that an unelected and not-selected-by-electeds board would be less subject to political pressure or less tempted by favoritism than any other board. This goes right back to the question of oversight and what the consequences are for misbehavior. We need to have some assurances that our tax dollars are being used appropriately. That is not too much to ask.

Back to Falkenberg:

Bob Sanborn, CEO of the nonprofit watchdog organization Children at Risk, says he shares many of [County Judge Ed] Emmett’s worries: “I don’t really trust the governing structure. I don’t trust the taxing entity it’s going through, and that becomes a little problematic. This whole idea of unelected boards – what happens when they change membership?”

At the same time, he said he told Emmett in a conversation a while back, “you know, in the end, if this is on the ballot, it’s pro-children and I have to support it.”

I think that’s where many of our hearts are. Now the folks at Early to Rise just have to persuade our minds.

Yeah, that’s where I am, too. But it’s a huge leap of faith, and it’s one none of us should have to make. We’ll know on Tuesday what the plan is for HCDE. I sure hope these concerns get addressed.

Early To Rise submits its petitions

From here it gets real.

The Harris County School Readiness Corp., a new nonprofit led by business and civic leaders, is calling for a ballot intiative to levy a 1-cent-per-$100 tax through the Harris County Department of Education to generate about $25 million a year for training teachers and buying school supplies for child care centers serving children up to age 5.

Chairman James Calaway touted the proposal Tuesday as he stood ready to roll a dolly stacked with five boxes filled with more than 150,000 signatures into the office of one of the plan’s most vocal critics, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

“Let’s deliver these to the county judge so he can begin his five days of verification to get it on the ballot,” he said.

Here’s their press release. There’s already a dispute over how quickly the signatures must be certified. Calaway says Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan has five days to randomly verify a subsample of the signatures. Sullivan and County Judge Ed Emmett say he has until the deadline for putting items on the ballot, which is August 26. That’s also the deadline for the Attorney General to render an opinion that would be relevant and timely. At the behest of Judge Emmett, County Attorney Vince Ryan has submitted a request for an AG opinion that asks “whether the Harris County Judge is authorized to deny a petition to order an election to levy and collect an equalization tax for the Harris County Department of Education and related questions”. (Sen. Dan Patrick has also requested an opinion.) You can hear all the attorneys limbering up in the background as they prepare for the inevitable lawsuit. I presume the fact that Ryan submitted the request means that Judge Emmett was told he couldn’t do it himself, a fact that Lisa Falkenberg pointed out awhile back. So at least this is known to be kosher.

I don’t know what will happen next, but if I had to guess I’d say this makes it to the ballot. Barring a ruling that the law being used is invalid, I’m not sure what the pretext would be for stopping it. Doesn’t mean Abbott couldn’t come up with a reason if he wants to, of course. But let’s say it does make it onto the ballot. I’m wondering now if the Harris County School Readiness Corporation has had any second thoughts about its reasons for pushing this in 2013 instead of waiting till 2014. As I understand it, they thought that they’d have a better shot in 2013, when voters from the city would be a disproportionately large share of the electorate. While I don’t think that support or opposition to the Early To Rise plan will cleave exactly along partisan lines, I do think it’s reasonable to think the Democrats are more likely to support it and Republicans are more likely to oppose it, and given that, you’d like for the mostly-Democratic city to be the bulk of the voters. Of course, in our generally low-turnout city elections, the voters who show up aren’t necessarily representative of what a high-turnout electorate would be. With the addition of the Astrodome referendum, it’s impossible to say what the county electorate will look like, and it’s no longer a guarantee that city of Houston voters will be the bulk of it. If the key to getting this passed is a Democratic electorate, then maybe it would have been better to wait till next year and the hoped-for Wendy Davis Express to serve as a tailwind. Of course, no one could have known all this six months ago, or whenever the Harris County School Readiness Corporation first geared up. They picked their target, now we’ll see how wise they were to do so.

That’s getting ahead of ourselves, because we still don’t quite know exactly what we’d be voting for.

For months, corporation members have been negotiating with the Harris County Department of Education on a governance agreement.

“We’ve been working to find the right balance of public oversight,” Calaway said, declining to talk specifically about details until the proposal is presented publicly to the department’s board of trustees Tuesday.

Wishing to dispel myths that the nonprofit simply would be cut a check for the tax dollars and left free to spend it on its own operations, Calaway said much of the finance and accounting work would be handled by the Department of Education.

The nonprofit’s three-person staff would coordinate with existing early education providers to spend the money, he said.

The challenge is sorting out how much public oversight to mandate for a private entity spending public dollars, Calaway and education department Superintendent John Sawyer agreed.

Sawyer said the proposal is unlike any other private-public partnership he has seen.

“Elected officials would allow the operations to be overseen by a board different from themselves,” he said. “My board has got to come to grips with that. Or not.”

The suggestion of having HCDE name a board member has been dropped by agreement. I suspect they’ll get the details hammered out, but I’m wondering what happens if they don’t. Does it make sense for the Harris County School Readiness Corporation to push a proposal that the HCDE hates? The whole reason why the Harris County School Readiness Corporation was able to mount this petition drive is because the HCDE still exists, unlike most other county school boards. It’s HCDE’s tax rate that we’re being asked to increase. Being harmonious with them would seem to be the first order of business. We’ll see what they come up with by Tuesday. Campos, who thinks the “right balance of public oversight” is “100%”, has more.

Endorsement watch: Chron for Early To Rise

Technically, this isn’t an endorsement, since there isn’t anything to endorse just yet. Nonetheless, it is clear that the Chron supports the Early To Rise campaign.

It looks like Harris County will vote on the future of the Astrodome this November. If we can get $200 million on the ballot for a convention center, we should be able to get a vote on $25 million for children’s education.

[…]

This petition mechanism is admittedly obscure. It relies on sections of the Texas Education Code that were removed in a 1995 overhaul but still govern how the Harris County Department of Education operates. It may not be the best way to expand early childhood education, but it is likely the only way.

We hope County Judge Ed Emmett will work to get this on the ballot. The debate over Early To Rise should be about policy, not procedure.

Strictly speaking, this isn’t the only way to expand early childhood education. There’s nothing stopping the Legislature from funding an expansion of pre-K everywhere in the state. No question that would be an excellent investment in the state and would do more to increase test scores and boost graduation rates in the short term while reducing crime and improving the economy in the longer term. Of course, this is the Legislature we’re talking about – you may recall that they slashed the state’s already meager spending on pre-K in 2011 – so yeah, this is the only likely way to make this happen. If you don’t like the mechanism being used here, go yell at a legislator that doesn’t support increased spending on pre-K statewide.

In the meantime, the Early To Rise campaign sent out a press release announcing that they are turning in 150,000 signatures to County Judge Ed Emmett. Seventy-nine thousand are needed to get the item on the ballot. As we have been made to understand this process, Commissioners Court doesn’t get to vote whether or not to put the item on the ballot, though the exact process and timing remain unclear. I’m not quite sure how this will play out, but we’ll find out soon enough. One thing that the Court will be dealing with is the Astrodome referendum, which they are expected to approve. I’ll have more on both stories tomorrow.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story about the petition signatures.

Last week, the county attorney asked the state attorney general on behalf of Emmett to clarify whether the initiative process used by the campaign still is on the books and whether having those signatures verified means anything at all.

“My job is to make sure that I do what is legal and right,” Emmett said, calling the process, never before used in Harris County, “truly bizarre.”

“Somebody’s got to tell me if I’ve got to put it on the ballot and then what it has to say,” he said.

[…]

Despite his legal questions and concerns about the governance structure that would funnel tax dollars to the nonprofit without government oversight, Emmett said his office will forward the signatures to Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan for verification.

Early to Rise and Emmett disagree about the timeline Sullivan must follow.

[James Calaway, chair of the Harris County School Readiness Corp.’s Early to Rise Campaign] said the county has five business days to meet a critical ballot deadline. Emmett said his advice from the county attorney differs.

Sullivan said Monday he had not yet received direction from the county attorney, nor talked to Emmett, about whether he has a deadline or when that may be. He said his staff is, nonetheless, ready to begin verification while it is sorted out.

The stage is set. We’ll see how it goes from here.

School superintendents for Early To Rise

From the press release:

(Houston, TX) Today Harris County Superintendents participated in a press conference for the Early to Rise campaign, which is seeking to create a dedicated funding stream to improve the quality of early childhood education through a ballot measure in November. Representing over 400,000 students and their families, the superintendents gave comments on the program. In attendance were Dr. Terry Grier Superintendent of Houston Independent School District, and Dr. Wanda Bamberg Superintendent of Aldine Independent School District. Dr. Mark Henry Superintendent of Cypress Fairbanks Independent School District, Dr. Guy Sconzo Superintendent of Humble Independent School District and Dr. Duncan Klussman of Spring Branch Independent School District, were unable to attend but provided comments.

This campaign has garnered the approval of over 145,000 of our fellow Harris County citizens who have signed a petition to place this important initiative on the November ballot, making it the largest petition drive in the history of Harris County. The Early to Rise campaign will help to raise the standards, training and educational outcomes for young children up to age 5 so that they can begin Kindergarten excited, curious and ready for school.

All representatives felt that making this kind of investment in early childhood education is absolutely critical to the region’s social progress and economic vitality. The first steps toward prosperity begin in the early years and this innovative effort is supported by extensive research.

That’s an impressive number of signatures. I presume they will turn in the petitions next week, to be followed by someone filing a lawsuit, because that’s what I’ve expected all along. As with Sheriff Garcia, it makes sense for school supers to support this. It’s very much in their interest for kids to show up for kinder as prepared for it as possible.

Sheriff Garcia endorses the Early To Rise campaign

It makes sense that he would.

The group attempting to get a 1-cent tax hike on the November ballot to bolster early childhood education programs got a hearty endorsement from Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia on Wednesday, and announced it had cleared the first major hurdle in putting its initiative to voters this fall.

James Calaway, chairman of the so-called Early to Rise campaign, said the group – using volunteer and also paid canvassers, according to its campaign finance report – has collected more than 140,000 signatures on its petition, nearly twice the 78,000 signatures it says it needs to force County Judge Ed Emmett to place the initiative on the ballot. The group will turn the petition in early next week, and promised that a sufficient number of the signatures will be valid as they are from registered voters.

Calaway made the announcement on Wednesday across the street from the main county jail at 1200 Baker Street, where the county’s top lawman hosted a news conference to endorse the program, saying it would help keep kids out of trouble with his deputies and is “far cheaper” than incarceration.

“This is truly an issue of investing now,” Garcia said.

The 1-cent tax hike, which would be levied by the Harris County Department of Education and administered by the private non-profit School Readiness Corporation, would generate $25 million a year for teacher training, school supplies and other supplements at low-performing childcare centers in the county serving children up to age 5.

While several members of the Department of Education board of trustees said recently they would not support the plan unless they are able to have more immediate oversight – including appointing a member to the School Readiness Corporation board – Calaway said the group is working up a “multi-page agreement” with the agency and expects it to endorse the plan.

See here, here, and here for the background. I’m glad to see that Early To Rise is working out an agreement with the HCDE on oversight, because that was the biggest concern I had with this. HCDE should have some direct responsibility here. I look forward to seeing what that agreement has to say.

A press release announcing the Sheriff’s endorsement is here. The reason why I say that it makes sense for Sheriff Garcia to endorse this can be summed up in the following comment he made in that release:

“This is truly an issue of pay me now, or pay me later. We either need to pay for better early childhood education now, or we will end up paying for more inmates later, we either help our youngsters succeed when they’re 4 or we have to pay for the consequences when they’re 24”.

Surely no reasonable person disputes that. The main dispute over this campaign has been an existential one of process.

The third hurdle may not be so easy to clear, though: County Judge Emmett is still saying he thinks the law dictating the petition process does not apply, and has asked for opinions from the county attorney’s office and the state attorney general.

“I’ve said from the beginning I don’t think this law is really applicable,” Emmett said this week. “I’ve always assumed they’re going to turn in signatures.”

Lisa Falkenberg, who has explored this disagreement before, continues that exploration.

On Monday, Emmett requested an opinion on the petition from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. He asked if the old law under which the petition was devised is still in effect and, if so, whether Emmett has the authority to reject the petition if it doesn’t “substantially follow” the language of the statute. Of course, Emmett has already decided that the petition’s language doesn’t follow the statute closely enough.

There’s only one problem with Emmett’s request. As county judge, he is not one of the officials authorized by Texas statute to request an opinion from the attorney general.

A technicality? Yes. But shouldn’t a guy holding others accountable to the sometimes inane technicalities of Texas law be holding himself to the same standard?

[…]

Jonathan Day, former Houston city attorney and an Early to Rise board member, said he doesn’t understand Emmett’s focus on hyper-technical aspects of the petition.

“I’m just perplexed that he filed the request himself,” Day said. “I think the statute is very straightforward. It doesn’t require a law degree to determine that he’s not an official who under the law is authorized to ask for an opinion.”

Day maintained that the petition is on firm legal ground and called Emmett’s nit-picking arguments “illogical.”

I’m nowhere near qualified to arbitrate this one, so go read Falkenberg’s column and see what you think. I don’t have a big problem with Judge Emmett asking for the AG’s opinion, even if he’s technically not supposed to, but if he really is technically not supposed to then I fully expect that the AG will reply by telling him to follow the rules as written. That is the “conservative” thing to do, right? Be that as it may, I fully expect this to wind up in court one way or another, and I won’t be surprised if the issue surfaces again in 2015 when the Lege reconvenes and another bill to abolish the HCDE gets filed. As Judge Emmett is a supporter of that effort, that could be an issue in his re-election campaign as well. We’ll see what happens with this election first.

Petitioning for Early To Rise

This arrived in my inbox a couple of days ago:

With only two weeks to go, we really need your help! We are working to get an initiative on the ballot in November 2013 to fund the Early to Rise Program.

The Early to Rise is a program designed to help young children up to age 5 get ready for Kindergarten through increasing the quality of early childhood education in Harris County. Here’s how you can help:

1. Get the petition, sign it, complete it and MAIL it back or CALL US (713-614-8812) and we’ll pick it up!

–OR–

2. Get the petition, sign it, complete it and pass it around among your friends and coworkers who are registered voters in Harris County. Then  MAIL it back or CALL US (713-614-8812) and we’ll pick it up!

3  Vote for the program on November 5th, 2013.

Early to Rise Flyer (more Information on the program)

Early to Rise Petition (the Petition itself)

Petition Instructions (more instructions on the petition)

Please call Eva Calvillo at Texans Together at 713-782-8833 or email Eva Calvillo If you have any questions about these materials or need help in getting started.

You can mail signed petitions to:

Texans Together Educational Fund
P.O. Box 1296
Houston, Texas    77251

It’s time to stand up for toddlers in Harris County and we can on the November ballot!

See here and here for the background, and here for more on the petition effort. Lisa Falkenberg notes the rather convoluted politics of all this.

Ed Emmett should have been one of the first people to find out about a petition drive seeking to put a penny tax on the November ballot to improve early childhood education and teacher training in Harris County.

After all, as county judge, he’s the guy the petition directs to place the tax increase generating $25 million a year on the ballot.

But Emmett got the news from another source: “Gwen, my wife, comes in and says ‘I just got an e-mail asking me to sign a petition to the county judge.’ And I’m going ‘what?’ Obviously, I didn’t know anything about it.”

While the lack of heads-up signaled disorganization to Emmett, it was the petition’s reliance on an antiquated state law, the unchecked administrative role of a private nonprofit, and the requirement that the tax be collected by the politically controversial Harris County Department of Education that led Emmett to brand the initiative a “fiasco.”

“This has been handled politically about as poorly as any issue I’ve ever seen in my life,” he told me a few weeks ago in a phone interview.

I followed up this week to see if this thinking had “evolved” since he’s been able to talk with interested parties.

Yes, he told me. He’d gone from being “bemused and bewildered” to a point where he now says unflinchingly: “What they’re trying to do is just nutty. I can’t put it any other way. And I totally support doing everything we can for early childhood education. It’s put me in a real awkward situation.”

Falkenberg noted that there was going to be an open house by Early To Rise, the group behind this effort, on Friday. The Chron covered that as well, including an appearance by Judge Emmett, attending on his own.

The newly formed nonprofit Harris County School Readiness Corp., with the help of a variety of organizations and paid canvassers, has gathered about 40,000 of the 78,000 petition signatures it says it needs to require Emmett to put a 1-cent property tax hike on the upcoming election ballot. The increase would generate $25 million a year for a program called “Early to Rise,” designed to improve child-care centers in the county serving children up to age 5 by training teachers and buying school supplies.

“There’s been an outpouring of support,” said Jonathan Day, a member of the corporation’s board and a former Houston city attorney, expressing optimism the group will meet its mid-August deadline.

[…]

The statutes say Emmett would have to call an election to increase the property tax rate of the Harris County Department of Education if he receives a petition with a sufficient number of signatures.

Emmett said he has asked the county attorney’s office for an opinion on the petitioning laws and plans to ask the state attorney general for the same. First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said his office has concluded that the laws are “still applicable” but that the final opinion may not reflect that “in light of a whole lot of statutes that apply to this situation.”

Day conceded the laws no longer are codified but says they still apply.

“We hope that he’ll reconsider,” said Day, who criticized Emmett for not offering an alternative to the proposal on Friday when his group, whose membership includes former Houston first lady Andrea White, held its first formal information session at the United Way of Greater Houston, which co-hosted the event with the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University and the Center for Houston’s Future.

“I think we have to come up with a better answer,” said Emmett, who went to the session to share his position with the dozens of attendees.

I really don’t know what to make of all this. I support doing everything we can for early childhood education, too, but I understand Judge Emmett’s concerns. The likelihood of a lawsuit, whatever County Attorney Vince Ryan and AG Greg Abbott say about the law in question, is basically 100%. There are still questions about governance of this program, if it comes to be; HCDE Board of Trustees Chair Angie Chesnut has said she can’t support it if HCDE doesn’t get to name at least one member of the corporation. Judge Emmett has pointed out that the one penny tax increase in the plan would make what HCDE levies exceed its statutory maximum, which will likely be another lawsuit magnet. There’s just so many questions to be answered. The goal of universal early learning programs is laudable and worthwhile. The path to get there has been strange, to say the least.

All questions about this aside, the fact remains that as with the New Dome Experience plan, petitions would have to be collected and certified in time for the item to be placed on the November ballot. They have a bit more time since Commissioners Court won’t be involved, but the signatures still need to be verified, and that takes time. The information is there if you want to participate, or go to the Early To Rise Facebook page for more. If this gets to the ballot, will you vote for it? Leave a comment and let me know.