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Sue Deigaard

HISD begins prep on a 2019 bond issue

Wait till next year.

Administrators on Thursday recommended Houston ISD seek voter approval for a $1.7 billion capital projects bond in May 2019, charging forward with long-term spending plans even as the district faces uncertainty about its leadership and ability to maintain local control over decision-making.

District leaders said the $1.7 billion bond would finance much-needed rebuilding of 18 existing elementary and middle schools, construction of three new campuses, security upgrades at all 280-plus schools and the purchase of new buses, among other costs. HISD administrators said it was unclear whether the proposed bond package would result in a tax increase, saying they will have a better idea when the Harris County Appraisal District finalizes property values in August.

HISD trustees would have to approve a measure to send the bond referendum to voters, with board members likely making a decision in late 2018 or early 2019. If approved, the bond would be HISD’s first since 2012, when 67 percent of voters backed a $1.89 billion package.

The 2019 proposal, however, could meet more resistance than usual amid ongoing upheaval in the district.

[…]

Houston ISD voters have approved four capital projects bonds since 1998, totaling $4.2 billion. In recent years, residents of school districts throughout the five-county Greater Houston area also have overwhelmingly supported large school bonds, passing 30 out of 31 packages that totaled at least $100 million.

Few districts, however, have sought bonds amid such turbulence.

“Comparing ourselves to surrounding districts, they’re not making national news for negative reasons right now, so we need to remember what the public opinion is of our district overall,” HISD Trustee Sue Deigaard said, referring to media coverage of last month’s school board meeting.

University of Houston political science Professor Richard Murray said the district’s more affluent voters, who turn out in higher numbers during off-year May elections, likely will be key to the referendum. Those voters traditionally have supported school bonds, but they also have seen their local tax bills dramatically rise in recent years as property values have gone up.

The district’s upheaval, Murray said, also makes it more challenging to win support for a bond.

“It’s obviously a loss to have this vacuum of a visible superintendent in place that could be the public face of the effort,” Murray said. “You’ve also got a board that’s made some headlines that are not particularly attractive. It’s not going to be an easy thing.”

HISD’s recommendation Thursday represented a shift from its first presentation about a potential bond in January, before all the tumult. At that time, HISD leaders discussed the possibility of a $500 million bond issue that would result in no tax increase, or a $1.2 billion bond that would come with an increase of 3 cents to 7 cents per $100 in taxable value.

[HISD Chief Operating Officer Brian] Busby said the proposed bond amount has changed as district leaders further assessed campus and maintenance needs.

See here for more on what was presented in January. At that time, it looked like the goal was to get something on the November ballot, but like some other might-have-beens, that’s not what will happen. I don’t mind pushing this off till next year – I agree with everyone who says that a bit more time, as well as things like the hoped-for Harvey waiver, a new Superintendant, and a (hoped-for, again) return to normality will help their chances a lot – but I do object to doing it in May. Have it in November, when people expect to vote. The suggestion that May turnout levels would be better for this than November turnout levels is questionable to me, both as a logical proposition and as a matter of representative government. If we’re going to take the extra time to do this right, then do it all the way right. Campos, who sees a lot of obstacles ahead, has more.

Santos calls on Skillern-Jones to step down as HISD President

This happened last week. I’ve been waiting to see if there will be anything more to it.

Elizabeth Santos

Houston ISD Trustee Elizabeth Santos on Thursday called for school board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones, to “immediately step down” from her position in light of last week’s heated board meeting, which resulted in two arrests and dozens of community members temporarily booted from the district administration building.

In a message shared on Facebook, Santos said Skillern-Jones’s “wholly unjustified” actions at last week’s board meeting have eroded public trust, prompting her call for Skillern-Jones to relinquish her post as board president. Santos did not demand Skillern-Jones resign her position as a trustee. She is the only member of the nine-person board who publicly has called for Skillern-Jones to give up her post, though other trustees have criticized Skillern-Jones’s handling of last week’s meeting.

“Right now, the shame of our actions and inactions at the April 24 board meeting looms over our board,” Santos wrote. “It clouds our decisions and intentions from proper public scrutiny and erodes the trust our community places in us.”

[…]

In a Facebook post the day after last week’s meeting, Skillern-Jones wrote, in part: “I hoped we could calm the tension and return for an orderly meeting. Unfortunately, the situation escalated and subsequently caused many unintended consequences. I’m saddened at this outcome as it was not at all what I wanted. I take responsibility for calling this recess and am regretful it only created more discord.”

Many crowd members who were ordered to leave last week’s meeting have called on Skillern-Jones to step down as board president. Reached by phone Thursday, HISD trustees Wanda Adams, Jolanda Jones and Sue Deigaard did not echo those calls.

“Many may not support her actions and the way it was done, but this doesn’t warrant stepping down as board president,” Adams said. She added that she believes it was “not proper” for Santos to publicly call on Skillern-Jones to step down without talking to the entire board of trustees.

Deigaard said she is listening to many different stakeholders — including parents who have not been vocal at community and board meetings — as she contemplates whether to support Skillern-Jones’ continued leadership of trustees. She called last week’s meeting “a powder keg” that could have been better diffused on all sides.

“I’m a very pensive person. I’m not a reactive person,” Deigaard said. “I’m looking at, long-term, what is the healthiest thing for the governance of our district so that we can focus on kids.”

See here for some background. Santos’ Facebook post, which had been shared 159 times as of this writing, is here; Skillern-Jones’ statement after the meeting mess is here. There’s no defending what happened at that HISD board meeting, and in fact a couple of trustees – Anne Sung and Jolanda Jones in particular – put out statements following that meeting apologizing for what happened. As far as I can tell from scanning Facebook, however, no other trustees have echoed or supported Santos’ call for Skillern-Jones to cede the role of President to someone else.

I am sure that the bylaws of the HISD Board of Trustees includes a provision for removing someone as Board President. If the goal is to get Rhonda Skillern-Jones to step down from that role, then a trustee could follow that route, or could simply get enough members on board with the idea and then approach her with that information so she could step down voluntarily. It doesn’t appear that anything like that has happened here, so I don’t know what comes next. But if it’s going to involve a change in the officers of the HISD Board, it’s going to need to take more than this.

HISD nixes charter partnership

First there was this.

Houston ISD board members adjourned late Tuesday without voting on a controversial measure to give up control over 10 low-performing schools after the meeting turned physical and police escorted members of the public — nearly all of whom opposed the plan — out of the room.

Chanting “no more sellouts” and shouting at trustees, most of the roughly 100 community members in attendance watched angrily as officers began physically pulling disruptive residents out of the room. The skirmish came after HISD Board of Trustees President Rhonda Skillern-Jones declared a recess in the middle of the meeting and ordered the room cleared due to repeated public outbursts.

If trustees choose to meet again, they likely will not return until Saturday at the earliest. Trustees typically provide at least 72 hours advance notice of any public board meeting. The vote had been expected to be narrow, with several trustees already voicing support or opposition for the proposal.

The uproar reflects the heated nature of HISD’s proposal to allow Energized For STEM Academy Inc., which already runs four in-district charter schools, to take over operations of the 10 campuses for five years. Without the agreement, HISD would likely face forced campus closures or a state takeover of the district’s locally elected school board due to its failure to improve academics at the schools.

HISD Interim Police Chief Paul Cordova said one person was arrested on a misdemeanor criminal trespass charge, one person was arrested on a charge of interfering with duties of a public servant and one person was detained but not arrested.

[…]

In the district’s first public statement since Energized For STEM Academy was named Friday as the potential partner, Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said the organization “will help our students to reach the level of achievement that we know is possible.”

“Data shows Energized for STEM Academy has successfully led students to high levels of academic achievement as well as prepared them for college and careers since first partnering with HISD 10 years ago,” Lathan said in a statement. She has not granted any interview requests in recent days.

The choice, however, faced immediate resistance. Multiple trustees said they lacked enough information to properly evaluate Energized For STEM Academy’s academic and governance history.

Several education advocates and leaders, including the Houston Federation of Teachers, also raised several questions about Energized For STEM Academy’s ethics. They’ve particularly focused on Energized For STEM Academy’s head of schools, Lois Bullock, who serves as both employee and landlord at another in-district HISD charter organization. It’s not immediately clear whether Bullock has improperly profited off the highly unusual arrangement.

All speakers at Tuesday’s school board meeting opposed the district’s plan. Many advocated for suing the state over the 2015 law that imposed sanctions. Several questioned whether Energized For STEM Academy is dedicated to special education students, noting that the organization has a disproportionately low special education population at its current schools. A few students implored trustees to maintain current operations at their schools.

See here for the background. I was going to tell you to go read Stace and Campos before getting into my own thoughts, but then this happened.

Houston ISD leaders will not turn over control of its 10 longest-struggling schools to any outside organizations, the district’s administration announced Wednesday, a decision that puts HISD at risk of forced campus closures or a state takeover of its locally elected school board.

[…]

In a statement Wednesday, HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said the district is “not bringing another partnership proposal to the board, nor will there be another meeting to consider partnerships for the 10 schools.” She said the district will continue to carry out its current plans for improving academic performance at the campuses.

Under a law passed in 2015, known as HB 1842, the Texas Education Agency must close schools or replace HISD’s school board if any of the district’s schools receive a fifth straight “improvement required” rating for poor academic performance this year. The 10 schools all risk triggering the law, and it’s unlikely all 10 will meet state academic standards this year.

With partnerships off the table, attention now will turn to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath, who has yet to announce whether any schools or districts will receive accountability rating waivers due to Hurricane Harvey. Agency officials have not said whether HISD still would be subject to sanctions if the 10 schools receive waivers that assure they are not rated “improvement required” this year.

“Any and all decisions by Commissioner Morath regarding accountability exemptions or waivers for campuses affected by Hurricane Harvey will be announced in June,” TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said in a statement.

[…]

In interviews prior to Tuesday’s scheduled vote, trustees Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, Sue Deigaard and Anne Sung said they were uncomfortable with the amount of information and time they had to vet Energized For STEM Academy. Two other board members, [Sergio] Lira and Jolanda Jones, said Wednesday that they would vote against charter partnership agreements. Trustee Elizabeth Santos had earlier said she opposed giving control of schools to charter organizations.

Many of the most vocal community members involved in the partnership debate have advocated litigation over HB 1842. To date, only one HISD trustee, Jones, has voiced support for a lawsuit. Board members have received legal advice surrounding potential litigation, though they’ve been reluctant to divulge details of those conversations because they took place in closed session.

“Suing TEA is more of a longshot at being successful,” Lira said. “From a historical precedent, there have been very few successful cases when the district files against TEA.”

The announcement that HISD would not pursue partnerships came about two hours after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he supports “HISD simply standing down.” Turner, who hinted at getting involved in partnership plans but ultimately opted against it, said he plans to contact Morath to ask for a one-year waiver.

I’m going to say the same thing I would have said if the Energized for STEM proposal had passed: I sure hope this works. It’s certainly possible that Energized for STEM could have been a successful partner, but it’s equally certain that there was precious little time to consider the idea, and not much community input. The community spoke loudly that they didn’t want that arrangement, and now they have gotten what they wanted. They had ample reason to not like that option, and to not give the HISD leadership the benefit of the doubt. Now we all need to send that same message to the Legislature, because that’s where this mess got started. The Press has more.

2017 results: HISD and HCC

There were still precincts to be counted as I was writing this so there are a couple of races where I’ll have to equivocate, but here’s what happened in the local races that had actual candidates in them. Let’s start with the easier one, the HCC races:

– Trustees Carolyn Evans-Shabazz (73%) and Robert Glaser (58%) led from the get go and cruised to easy wins.

– In District 9, Gene Pack (42%) and Pretta VanDible Stallworth (37%) will head into a runoff for the right to succeed Chris Oliver.

In HISD, there are a couple of clear results, and a couple that I’ll have to update in the morning:

– Incumbent Trustees Wanda Adams (68%) and Anne Sung (60%) were easily re-elected.

– Jesse Rodriguez (41%) and Sergio Lira (32%) were going into overtime in Distric III, while Elizabeth Santos (45%) and Gretchen Himsl (33%) were doing the same in I. Given how the District I race has gone so far, I expect it to get a little nasty for the runoff.

– Sue Deigaard (53%) appeared to be headed for a clear win in her four-way race. As of this drafting, 37 of 56 precincts had reported, but Deigaard had 4,502 votes out of 8,446 total. If the remaining 19 precincts have a proportional amount of votes in them as the first 37, a little back-of-the-envelope math suggests she’d need about 43.4% of those votes to stay in the majority and win outright. I’d say those are pretty good odds, but we’ll see.

– The race that will have everyone up way past their bedtimes is in District VI, where with 35 of 40 precincts counted, incumbent Holly Flynn Vilaseca had 50.04% of the vote – she had 3,119 out of 6,233, which puts her five votes into a majority. Either she squeaks out a clean win – she was a pinch over 50% in early and absentee voting and a slightly smaller pinch under it on Tuesday – or she goes into a runoff with a substantial lead. Good position to be in, but boy I know what I’d prefer.

UPDATE: At 12:46 AM, the final results were posted, and Holly Flynn Vilaseca wound up with 50.38% of the vote, putting her back in office without a runoff. Here’s the Chron story.

Endorsement watch: HISD V and VI

Two more HISD endorsements, two more to go.

Sue Deigaard

Houston ISD, Trustee, District V: Sue Deigaard

Four qualified candidates are running for an open seat in this southwest Houston district, which covers West University, Bellaire and Meyerland. Yet Sue Deigaard stands above them all. Her knowledge of this district is so deep and broad that she talks with the authority of a trustee, even though this is her first run for office.

For Deigaard, 48, it is all about HISD, and she said during her meeting with the editorial board that if we found another candidate more qualified, we should support that person. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone more prepared for any election.

The daughter of a high-school drop-out, Deigaard was the first member of her family to graduate from college. After receiving a degree from Rice University, she worked in alumni affairs at her alma mater for more than five years. But volunteer experience sets her apart.

For more than a decade, Deigaard has been an advocate for public education. In addition to being a near fixture at board meetings and other district functions, she serves as a parent representative on HISD’s district advisory committee and chairs the communication committee for the Arts Access Initiative, which has a goal of expanding arts education opportunities to all K-12 students at HISD. She has also organized and facilitated community finance and engagement meetings for education advocacy groups and school districts.

[…]

Holly Flynn Vilaseca

Houston ISD, Trustee, District VI: Holly Flynn Vilaseca

Holly Flynn Vilaseca was appointed to the board in January when long-time trustee Greg Meyers resigned, and she deserves to serve a full term. Vilaseca has gained a reputation for being a steady hand and reasoned voice on the board representing her west Houston district, which includes the Energy Corridor and Sharpstown.

Vilaseca, 36, is the daughter of immigrants and was the first in her family to attend college. She began her career in education as a Teach for America Corp. member and went on to teach bilingual and dual language early childhood classes for six years. She earned a master’s degree from Columbia University in social and organizational psychology and currently works for a nonprofit in the education space.

Her opponent, Robert Lundin, has an outstanding resume as well. He has served as long-time educator and former HISD employee who resigned to run in this race. Not only does he hold a doctorate from Vanderbilt University in educational leadership, but he also serves as a faculty member at Rice University. In addition, Lundin has an impressive list of endorsements, including former U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Rod Paige. Lundin and Vilaseca are fluent in both English and Spanish.

Interviews:

Sue Deigaard
Kara DeRocha
Sean Cheben

Holly Flynn Vilaseca
Robert Lundin

The Chron was complimentary to all the candidates I interviewed, which I suppose validates in some way my reason for interviewing them. Mostly it speaks to the level of candidate we have running this time around. That is very much not always the case. Districts VII and IX remain to be evaluated.

Interview with Sue Deigaard

Sue Deigaard

We continue with interviews of candidates who seek to win the HISD Trustee seat held by the retiring Mike Lunceford. Sue Deigaard was the first member of her family to go to college, receiving two degrees from Rice University. She has a long record of volunteer service as a parent representative on HISD’s District Advisory Committee, a board member on the Houston Center for Literacy, and a founding board member of the Braeswood Super Neighborhood Council, among others. She is a frequent contributor to the Chronicle op-ed pages and has testified multiple times before the Legislature on education and school finance issue. I should note that I knew Sue at Rice, when we were both in the MOB. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

Endorsement watch: HGLBT Political Caucus, CVPE, and GPS

From the inbox:

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus PAC met on September 9, 2017. At the meeting the membership voted to endorse the following candidates:

Kara DeRocha for HISD School Board Trustee – District V

Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca for HISD School Board Trustee – District VI

Anne Sung for HISD School Board Trustee – District VII

Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz for HCC Trustee – District IV

Pretta Vandible Stallworth for HCC Trustee – District IX

We also voted to endorse the following propositions:

Propositions A, B, C, D and E

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus PAC will hold a public forum on September 22, 2017 at 7pm at Bering Memorial United Methodist Church in Montrose, Room 217A & B. (Enter through the North Entrance on Hawthorne Street where the parking lot is located.) The public forum will highlight Elizabeth Santos, Gretchen Himsl and Monica Flores Richart, candidates for HISD School Board Trustee – District I. The membership will take an endorsement vote at the end of the public forum. The Membership will also vote on the recommendation of the screening committee in the HISD School Board race for District III.

I was just saying that we are only now beginning to see campaign activity again post-Harvey, and a part of that is the group endorsement process. The GLBT Caucus endorsements hit my mailbox late on Sunday, and on Monday I found out about a couple of others that have come out. Here’s Community Voices for Public Education:

Elizabeth Santos in HISD District 1
Kara DeRocha in HISD District 5
Holly Flynn Vilaseca in HISD District 6
Anne Sung in HISD District 7

CVPE members voted to not endorse in District 9 and will screen HISD District 3 candidates in the near future.

Yes, everyone is going to have to go over this again once the filing deadline comes for District III, which was extended to allow people enough time to make the decision to run following Manuel Rodriguez’s death. I am aware of one candidate in District III so far, and I am sure there will be others.

One more set of endorsements, from Houstonians for Great Public Schools:

District I – Gretchen Himsl

District V – Sue Deigaard

District VI – Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca

District VII – Anne Sung

District IX – Wanda Adams

I’ll post more as I see them. I suppose it’s well past time for me to create an Election 2017 page to track all this, too.

July 2017 campaign finance reports – HISD

We still don’t know what’s happening with city of Houston elections this fall, but there’s plenty of action with HISD Trustee races. You can see all of the candidates who have filed so far and their July finance reports here. I’ve got links to individual reports and summaries of them, so join me below for some highlights.

Elizabeth Santos
Gretchen Himsl
Monica Richart

Kara DeRocha
Sue Deigaard

Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca
Daniel Albert
Robert Lundin

Anne Sung
John Luman

Wanda Adams
Gerry Monroe
Karla Brown
Susan Schafer


Name        Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
==============================================
Santos      13,161    2,037        0     7,845
Himsl       17,685      832      500    17,352
Richart      5,565    5,996    6,197     5,765

DeRocha     17,676    2,006      355    15,669
Deigaard    22,716      769        0    20,381

Vilaseca    14,043      157        0    13,613
Albert           0        0   30,000         0
Lundin      13,480    1,565        0    11,915

Sung        31,660    1,673        0    29,208
Luman            0        0        0       456

Adams            0    6,484        0       421
Monroe           0        0        0         0
Brown            0        0        0         0
Schafer      4,690    2,543        0     2,026

So we have two open seats, in Districts I and V as Anna Eastman and Mike Lunceford are stepping down, one appointed incumbent running for a full term (Flynn Vilaseca), one incumbent who won a 2016 special election running for a full term (Sung), and one regular incumbent running for re-election (Adams). We could have a very different Board next year, or just a slightly different one. That includes all three of the traditionally Republican districts – V, VI, and VII. Interestingly, there is no Republican candidate in District V as yet, and the Republican runnerup in last year’s special election in District VII has apparently been idle so far this year. Daniel Albert is Chief of Staff for District F City Council member Steve Le, so I think it’s safe to say that he’s a Republican. Robert Lundin is a Rice faculty member who has been an HISD teacher and administrator and also opened YES Prep Southwest. I don’t have a guess as to what his politics may be. Whatever the case, I have to assume there will be more of a Republican presence in these races, but it’s starting to get a little late in the cycle.

The next most remarkable thing is Wanda Adams’ report. I’m not sure if it was filled out incorrectly or if she really did raise no money while spending her account almost empty. I don’t know what to make of that.

Otherwise, and putting the weirdness of the Sung/Luman situation aside, it looks like we have some competitive races shaping up. If you didn’t know anything but what is in this table, you might be hard-pressed to tell who’s an incumbent. I know there’s a lot of activity already for 2018, and I feel like we’re in a bit of a holding pattern until we know for sure what the deal is with city races. I suspect there’s a lot more to come in these races. Maybe we’ll see it in the 30-day reports.

Mike Lunceford announces he is not running for re-election

Two-term HISD Trustee in District V Mike Lunceford posted the following on Facebook yesterday:

Sometimes when you are passionate about something it is very hard to walk away from it. After 8 years on the Houston ISD School Board and over 25 years as an active participant in education in Houston I have decided not to run for a third term. I greatly appreciate all of those who have supported me in this, especially my wife Erin Lunceford, but I feel it is time for me to let someone else represent District V. I will really miss all of the great people in HISD that I have grown to know and care about while serving the past 8 years.

It’s been a somewhat confusing journey to this point. Lunceford announced his resignation from the Board last October, then changed his mind and said instead he would serve out his term but not run for re-election. Two candidates emerged early in the year to run in District V, Kara DeRocha and Sue Deigaard. At the same time, rumors started to circulate that Lunceford was not actually stepping down but was instead seeking to run for a third term. That may have kept other Republican types from getting in the race in this traditionally Republican district. I feel confident that at least one such candidate will now come forward.

In the meantime, I join with many people in thanking Lunceford for his service. He did a fine job, and I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about him. Enjoy your retirement from the Board, sir.

Two for HISD V

Mike Lunceford

In the past week or so, I have become aware of two candidates for HISD Board of Trustees, District V, which is the seat that is now held by Trustee Mike Lunceford but will be open in November as Lunceford will be stepping down at the end of his term. Both of them are Democrats. The first candidate I heard about is Kara DeRocha, whose website identifies her as an engineer and mother of three kids who attend HISD schools. I didn’t find a whole lot on her in Google, but she’s quoted in this news story about the January 21 Women’s March on Washington. She has a campaign kickoff event planned for this weekend, if you want to know more about her.

The other candidate, who announced via Facebook post on Sunday, is Sue Deigaard, who has been a vocal public education advocate for some time now. She was a 2015 New Leadership Council fellow who has multiple Chron op-ed credits to her name. She was a finalist to replace Jim Henley on the HCDE Board after his resignation in 2013, and has been discussed as a Democratic candidate for HD134 in recent years. She also has two kids in HISD schools. I’ve known Sue for awhile – I actually knew her a million years ago in my first in the MOB at Rice, but got to know her better more recently – and I know she’ll have a lot of support.

This is of course a Republican seat – I unfortunately don’t have any precinct data for it, but it is a Republican seat. I’d bet good money that Hillary Clinton carried HISD V in 2016, but other than maybe Kim Ogg it was Republican elsewhere. Basically, like HD134, which I believe has some overlap with it. For certain there will be one or more Republican candidates running for HISD V as well, though if any have already declared I don’t know who they are yet. As with Anne Sung in District VII and Holly Flynn Vilaseca in VI, this will be a race worth watching.

Where the education reform bills stand

As we know, the attempt to take a first stab at school finance reform did not make it to the House floor. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t some action on school-related issues. This Chron story from the weekend recapped a couple of the major bills that did make it through.

Jimmie Don Aycock

Lawmakers likely could have killed House Bill 2804, the A-F and accountability legislation, by delaying debate until midnight Thursday, the deadline for passing House bills out of that chamber. Instead, out of respect for [Rep. Jimmie Don] Aycock, the bill’s opponents chose to allow a vote even though they knew it would win approval.

On Friday, Aycock said he would be proud if the bill is the last piece of legislation he helps shepherd to passage.

“I was pleased and surprised that some people who opposed the bill, had every right to oppose the bill, chose not to kill it on the clock,” said Aycock, who is mulling whether to retire from politics. He was elected in 2007 and quickly rose to become chairman, but at nearly 70, says he wants to return to his central Texas ranch life.

[…]

Originally, House Bill 2804 sought solely to revamp the way schools are held accountable by placing less emphasis on state standardized test performance in grading campuses.

Sensing he didn’t have the political support to pass the bill as it was, however, Aycock amended it to mandate schools be given A-F grades, a proposal popular with many Republicans. Educators and many Democrats oppose the A-F scale, saying it stigmatizes low-performing schools.

Aycock says having an A-F system won’t be an issue if the grades are determined fairly: “It’s not the horrible deal that everybody thinks it will be if you have an accountability system on which to base it. If you have the present accountability model, then it’s just totally unacceptable.”

Schools are graded now either as “met standard” or “improvement required,” based largely on student performance measures. Under House Bill 2804, 35 percent of a school’s grade would be determined by measures like completion and dropout rates, and by how many students take AP and international baccalaureate classes. Ten percent would be based on how well the school engages with its community, and 55 percent on state test scores with a particular emphasis on closing the gap between the top- and bottom-performing students.

[…]

House Bill 1842, which would force districts to improve failing schools or face tough consequences, passed the House the day before with little of the discussion Aycock’s other legislation generated. Aycock called the bill “one of the most far-reaching bills of the session,” and said while he carried it, Dutton was the architect.

“I think House Bill 1842 is the best bill on public education that helps students more than any bill that I’ve seen in this Legislature, and I’ve been here 30 years,” [Rep. Harold] Dutton said Friday. “We have never pressured districts to do something about (low-performing schools). This does that. This says to the school district, ‘Either you do it, or we’ll get someone who can.’ ”

The legislation would require any school that has received a failing grade for two straight years to create an improvement plan to take effect by the third year. If the school has not improved by the end of the fifth year, the commissioner of education would have to order the school’s closure or assign an emergency board of managers to oversee the school district.

Schools that have received consistently failing grades, such as Kashmere and Jones High Schools in the Houston Independent School District, would have one less year to implement a turnaround plan.

“Kashmere is what started me down this road,” Dutton said.

Kashmere earned the state’s “academically acceptable” rating in 2007 and 2008, but it has failed to meet standards every other year over the last decade. Its enrollment has fallen to about 500 students, most of whom come from poor families. Last school year, more than a quarter were in special education and 2 percent were designated as gifted, state data show.

“We’re just going to wait and see what the state does,” HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said about Aycock’s legislation. “If the state gives us the option of trying to manage it, we would implement some of the same strategies we have found to be successful in North Forest.”

I don’t care for the A-F grading system. I tend to agree with the critics that say it will stigmatize some schools. Not just the schools that get a D where they might have gotten a “meets standards”, but perhaps also the ones that get a B instead of an “academically recognized”. Who wants to send their kids to a B school if an A school is available? As for HB 1842, I don’t have any problem with the concept, but I’d like to know there’s some empirical evidence to suggest something like this can work, and has worked before. We haven’t done much to track the progress of students that were taken from failing school districts that the state shut down, so there’s not much of a track record here. What happens if we try this and it doesn’t work? What comes next?

The Observer updates us on some other education bills.

“Parent Empowerment”

Under a measure passed in 2011, parents can petition the state to turn schools with five consecutive years of poor state ratings into charter schools, to have the staff replaced, or even to close the school. It’s a tactic known as a “parent trigger,” and Taylor’s Senate Bill 14 would reduce that period to three years.

“This is about parent empowerment,” Taylor said when he introduced his bill in March. “[Five years] is too long to have young children stuck in a school and to have people defending that failing school district.”

California adopted the nation’s first parent trigger law, and its use there has prompted controversy. Critics say the few instances when the law has been invoked led to community conflict, teacher attrition, and dubious results. Nevertheless, reform advocates hope to spread and strengthen such laws across the country.

SB 14 easily passed the Senate in April but has less support in the House. The measure will also be heard in the House Public Education Committee on Tuesday.

Virtual Schools

Texas law allows public school students in grades 3-12 to take up to three online courses, paid for by the student’s school district at up to $400 per course. Senate Bill 894, by Taylor, would lift the three-course cap and extend online courses to students in kindergarten through second grade.

Texas needs to remove existing barriers and provide greater opportunity for students to access online courses, Taylor said as he introduced his bill in March.

David Anthony, CEO of Raise Your Hand Texas, a nonprofit education advocacy organization, has called SB 894 a “virtual voucher” that would drain funds from public schools and direct them to for-profit virtual school providers.

Research has shown that student performance lags in corporate-run virtual schools compared to their traditional brick-and-mortar counterparts. “There is little high-quality research to call for expanding [virtual schools],” according to a 2014 report from the National Education Policy Center.

SB 894 was voted out of committee in April but has yet to be brought up on the Senate floor for a vote.

Vouchers

After numerous defeats by a coalition of rural Republicans and big-city Democrats during past sessions, the fight for school vouchers returned to the Capitol this session.

Senate Bill 4, by Taylor, would create scholarships to enable mostly low- and middle-income students to attend private and religious schools. Under the measure, private businesses would receive a tax credit for funding the scholarships.

Students from families with an income of not greater than 250 percent of the national free and reduced-price lunch guideline would qualify—for a family of five that means an annual income of about $130,000. Patrick proposed a very similar measure in 2013.

Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) memorably used a hearing on this measure to denigrate public education.

The bill passed the Senate, but several representatives told the Observer vouchers will be easily defeated in the House. SB 4 is currently stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Dan Bonnen (R-Angleton). Bonnen has emerged as a fierce foe to Patrick this session, and it is not clear if he will even bring the bill up for a vote.

Here’s Raise Your Hand Texas testifying against the “parent trigger” bill. I can’t say I’ll be sad to see any of these die.

And finally, there’s still the budget, which as always has an effect on schools. Here’s some information of interest for anyone who lives in HISD from local activist Sue Deigaard:

HB1759, that would have made structural modifications to school finance and added $800 million more to the $2.2 the House added in their budget for public education, was pulled from the floor on Thursday. Basically, there were so many amendments it was unlikely there was time left to get it to a vote and the time spent on a HB1759 vote would have preempted other bills from being discussed. It also sounds like the vote in the Senate for HB1759 would have been especially steep even if it had been approved by the House.

So, HISD will go into “recapture.” That means that per Ch 41 of the Texas education code, because HISD is a “property rich, student poor” district, instead of HISD receiving money from the state we will have to send local tax revenue TO the state to redistribute to other districts. We are projected to lose as much as $200 million over the coming biennium. Here’s the fun part…the electorate in HISD gets to decide whether or not to send that money back to the state. Yet, not really. First, the HISD board will have to vote on whether or not to even have such an election. If they don’t hold an election, the state comes and chooses properties within HISD and annexes them on paper to other school districts. If they do hold an election and voters do not approve to give money to the state (which is the likely outcome), then the state comes and chooses properties within HISD and annexes them on paper to other school districts. The “ask” now is for the budget conferees, which include a few members of the HISD legislative delegation, to approve the House pub ed allocation that increases basic allotment for pub ed by $2.2 billion instead of the Senate version that increases it by $1.2 billion. Also, at least as I understand it, that “increase” still does not restore the per pupil allocation that was cut back in 2011, and like last session mostly just funds enrollment growth. As logic would dictate, adding the extra $1 billion in the House version over the Senate version infuses the system with more money so HISD has to send less back to the state through recapture. Basically….House budget = better for HISD.

Unfortunately, the Senate won this skirmish.

The budget conference committee — made up of five senators and five House members — approved a $1.5 billion boost to public education beyond enrollment growth, according to the LBB. The figure matches what the Senate had requested. The House had pushed for a $2.2 billion increase, and had briefly considered an additional $800 million on top of that tied to reforms in the state’s convoluted school finance system.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, was the lone “no” vote on the committee’s decisions to set the level of public education funding, in large part because he felt the amount was too little compared to how much the state was putting toward tax cuts and border security, he said.

“Conservatives spend money like they’re printing money,” Turner said, except on education.

Budget conferees included Rep. Sarah Davis and Sen. Joan Huffman. When HISD has to raise taxes or cut programs to cover this loss, you can thank them for it.

Here are the HCDE hopefuls

JimHenley

Via Stace, here are the six finalists to succeed HCDE Trustee Jim Henley, who is resigning his position as of when a replacement is chosen:

  • Davetta Daniels, who ran for HISD Trustee against Paula Harris in 2007 and 2011
  • Sue Deigaard, who has been active in matters relating to public education funding
  • Louis Evans, UH-D Executive Director, Distance Learning and former HCDE Board member in Position 4, Precinct 3
  • Rey Guerra, engineer, community activist, and guest blogger
  • Traci Jensen, 2012 candidate for SBOE 6
  • Mubeen Khumawala, a former teacher at YES Prep who is now a project analyst for Deloitte

I know Sue, Rey, and Traci, and think any of them would be fine. Stace is supporting Rey Guerra; as he notes, the current Board lacks Latino representation. According to the Board Vacancy FAQ, the successor will be chosen at the next HCDE Board meeting on May 21. If you have a preference, you might want to contact your precinct Board member and the two remaining At Large members (Diane Trautman and Debby Kerner) and let them know.

How you can help support policies and funding for public schools

From the inbox, sent by Sue Dimenn Deigaard:

Over the past week I have heard several legislators make the misleading claim that they increased funding for public education this past session.  As a parent with a child that is in a classroom with 29 other students this year, and as a parent that regularly attends local school board meetings where I witness their laborious and stressful discussions about where they can attempt to cut even more from our school district without further harm to our classrooms, I continue to be reminded why it is so imperative that we collaborate as a community to spread honest facts about the challenges confronting our public schools and engage others in support of effective policies and funding for public education in Texas.

Last session we all worked hard to minimize the impact of the legislature’s cuts on Texas students.  The result was a $5 billion reduction in funding as opposed to the nearly $10 billion that was originally proposed.  Through our letters, petitions, meetings with legislators, community outreach, and rallies, WE made that difference.

But there is still work to be done if we want public education to be a priority in Texas. In addition to the second round of cuts that most Texas school districts will experience this fall, the structural budget deficit that was not addressed by this legislature, coupled with the creative accounting that was utilized to balance the current budget with things like deferred payments, will set the stage for the potential of even more funding cuts again next year.

Over the past year, you have all expressed interest or have engaged in supporting public education in Texas.  Below are 3 upcoming events where you can connect with other parents and community members to build a collaboration of support for Texas schools, learn how you can effectively advocate for public education, and hear updates on the issues.

I will also leave you with this gem of video from the House Appropriations Committee meeting earlier this week where you can hear directly from legislators that they did, in fact, cut funding to public education in Texas.  As if our crowded classrooms and reduced resources had left us with any doubt.

Upcoming Events

Wednesday, February 29 – 6-8 p.m.
Grassroots Community Meeting and Advocacy Workshop
McGovern Stella Link Library, 7405 Stella Link
Connect with other community members, learn updates on the issue, and learn tools for effectively advocating in the community.

Sunday, March 4 – 2-4 p.m.
Family Fundraiser benefitting Texas Parent PAC
Bellaire Nature Discovery Center, 7112 Evergreen
Bring the kids for an afternoon of school carnival-like fun, frolic and fundraising so Texas Parent PAC can continue to support pro-education candidates.  Since 2006, Texas Parent PAC has helped elect 23 new legislators to stand up for our kids and education.
For more information about Texas Parent PAC, or to be a sponsor, please visit texasparentpac.com
(Donors who contribute $250 or more by February 29 will be acknowledged on a banner at the event.)
If you would like to volunteer to help with the event, please email texasedfunding@gmail.com

Monday, March 5 – 10 a.m.-noon
“Public Education: Where Things Stand and What You Can Do About It” 
United Way of Greater Houston, 50 Waugh Drive
Learn the basics of public school finance and an updated analysis from experts on the Texas public education lawsuits.
Keynote Speakers:   J.David Thompson, Partner, Thompson & Horton, LLP and Dr. Wayne Pierce, Executive Director, Equity Center
Sponsored by All Kids Alliance, CHILDREN AT RISK, Collaborative for Children, Houston A+ Challenge, One Voice Texas, Project GRAD Houston, Save Texas Schools, Stand for Children Leadership Center, and United Way of Greater Houston

RSVP to cirsvp@unitedwayhouston.org

Texas Ed Funding is a grassroots, non-partisan collaboration of individuals creating a community of support for Texas public schools.  We are not a formal organization, non-profit or PAC. (We just needed to call ourselves something to have an email address and website.) And while our initial purpose was to support the issue of funding during the crisis last spring, we have evolved to collaborate to support other efforts that affect public education in Texas.  Join us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TexasEdFunding.

The claim that the Lege actually increased funding is as we know a bald-faced lie. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to hear Republicans make those claims, since it strongly suggests that they do in fact fear there may be electoral consequences for what they did. Which is why it’s important to emphasize that the $5 billion in cuts that we got would have been twice as bad if the House budget had held sway. They’re vulnerable on this and they know it.

HISD contemplates a tax increase

They’re not saying it explicitly yet, but the inference is clear.

Houston ISD board president Paula Harris said today that raising property taxes, dipping into the district’s savings account and suing the state over school finance inequities are all possibilities.

Harris noted twice that HISD has the lowest tax rate of all school districts in Harris County ($1.1567 per $100 of assessed value). The district also offers a special tax break known as an optional homestead exemption, which reduces the taxable value of homes by 20 percent.

Under a legislative budget proposal, districts with lower tax efforts get cut the deepest.

During a news conference at Pin Oak Middle School this morning, Harris echoed comments she made in February that a local tax increase was a possibility.

“Everything is still on the table,” said Harris, who spoke at the news conference with Houston Federation of Teachers President Gayle Fallon and an HISD parent activist, Sue Deigaard.

Hair Balls noted this as well. Of course, this is what Rick Perry wants the school districts to do. If they all raise their tax rates – quite a few are already at the maximum level, but many of them are like HISD and still have room for a hike – the end result will be that the state will be on the hook for less money. HISD Trustee Harvin Moore has been writing about this and other aspects of the legislative shortchanging of public education, and it’s worth your time to read what he’s been saying. You should also read this op-ed by parent/activist Sue Deigaard.

There’s one other thing that’s on the table as well: Litigation.

Under the legislative budget proposal, HISD officials say the district faces a loss of $78 million in the upcoming school year and $126 million in 2012-13.

HISD officials had been planning for a state funding shortfall of $160 million in the upcoming year, so the proposal is better than expected. Still, Harris said, that’s no reason to celebrate.

“That’s like someone punching you in the face twice and saying, ‘Be glad we didn’t punch you three times.’”

Asked if HISD would consider joining an expected lawsuit against the state over the school finance system, Harris noted that the district participated in a similar suit years ago.

“I cannot say we would sit this one out,” Harris said.

Pretty much everyone expects there to be a lawsuit. Rick Casey’s column, linked in the excerpt above, spells it out. The only question at this point is how long till the suit is filed. The question of what the State Supreme Court will do with it this time is another matter. I don’t know how much having the facts on our side will count for.