Profiting Off Our Kids: A look at Houston ISD's In-District Charter Schools

One of the schools on the list of contracts scheduled to be approved on Thursday is Texas Connections Academy (TCA). Texas Connections Academy is an online school that is run by the testing industrial complex’s darling, Pearson, the publicly traded company that made $782 million in profit last year. Their model is to get parents, who they call “learning coaches”, to do the hard work of motivating their children on a daily basis to complete their online coursework while the shareholders of Pearson reap the financial windfall from collecting annual revenue similar to the allotment a traditional school gets from the state, but without having to pay for the expenses of running a traditional school.

Why would Houston ISD involve itself in such a scheme?

Essentially, HISD is getting a cut of the profit. The state pays HISD the same amount of money for each student enrolled at Texas Connections Academy as they receive for a student sitting in a brick and mortar school, despite the extremely reduced costs.

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Houston Independent School District v. The State of Texas: We're all in this together now.

The bravery of the parents of Ruby Bridges and Sylvia Mendez and others are the reason the community was able to stand before Houston ISD trustees earlier this week and remind them that "separate is never equal” and demand they not take a step backward in the history of school equality. 

The testing-based school accountability movement got its start just after schools were forced by the courts to integrate, and that wasn’t an accident. The country somehow did just fine without “school accountability” when white kids went to school with only white kids. 

For decades, there has been a need to continually justify less investment in all public schools while bolstering the investment in just some schools—specialty schools, suburban schools, private schools. That justification needed a plausible basis other than race, and standardized testing—with its appearance of science and fact while behind the scenes only being correlated with race and class, not teaching—is just what that movement needed to get the job done.


So, now that the cases are laid out and the battle lines are drawn, who will fight against the movement that is hell-bent on destroying the right to a quality education for everyone?

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8 Reasons Why the Houston ISD Should Not Charter Its Schools

Ultimately, the move to charter these four schools represents the district abandoning its commitment to children. It is an admission by district leaders that they cannot teach the Black and Brown children in these high-poverty schools.

We should reject that idea. The voters of Houston ISD are capable of electing our own leaders who are able to govern our schools.

Democracy matters. Our voices at local school board meetings matter. The policy work we have done as a community over decades matters. Students of color and students living in extreme concentrations of poverty shouldn’t have to give up democracy in order for their schools to be receive adequate funding. 

Don’t be fooled. No true change in schools comes without community engagement, and sustainable, true change comes when people affected by the change lead the way. It doesn’t come from the top down, from a mandate by state government or the mayor’s political backroom. 

It comes from the bottom up. It comes from students, parents and the community. 

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To Charter or Not To Charter: Decision to charter historic schools or face state takeover looms again over HISD

The threat to local, community control of our schools—particularly those in historic Black & Latinx neighborhoods—will continue as long as HB1842 and SB1882 are in effect, and if you watched that fight last year, you also know that we warned that the battles in HISD were not over. Now, the fight has returned. So let’s look back on where we’ve been and take a look at where we stand today. 

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How Long is Too Long?

How long is too long for any community to be neglected for as long as ours? And when I say “ours,” I mean “We The People.” We all have the same problems—some just worse than others. An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.

All taxing authorities and ELECTED officials should be held accountable for overtaxation without any representation. As I evaluate the conditions of my neighborhood, I still see un-driveable city streets, ditches filled with trash and water (some up to 10 ft deep), so-called “affordable” housing surrounded by drug houses, high concentrations of halfway housing, no sidewalks, no zoning, school closures, a high concentration of sex offenders, an increasing crime rate, with a steadily decreasing police presence. I think all areas should receive superior services from our local government and beyond, regardless of the economic, geographic, or demographic makeup of the community. Even though we continue to be neglected, some of us still don’t VOTE for our best interests and keep electing the same people.

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Houston ISD Special Education Audit: Full Report

Houston Independent School District (HISD) contracted with American Institutes for Research® (AIR®) to conduct a third-party, independent “Special Education Program Review.” AIR conducted this review over a 10-month period between May 2017 and February 2018. This report describes our assessment of HISD’s strengths and areas in need of improvement with respect to its special education program, and identifies recommendations for HISD to consider as it continues its efforts to improve services for students with disabilities in the district
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Waco ISD: Will you help save public education?

Good evening. My name is Ben Becker. I am a father of three and a public school parent in Houston ISD.

I have come 200 miles today, because I am concerned about the fate of public education in Texas. Waco is also a special place for me. My wife and I met at Baylor and married here. I lived in Waco a total of 10 years—many of them as a member of the business community.

As a matter of fact, the beginning of my advocacy in public education started as a volunteer for three years at Alta Vista Elementary School—one of the schools whose fate hangs in the balance of the state’s threats of closure and the decision to begin privatization in Waco ISD before you tonight.

Let me be clear—the possibility of even one more school anywhere in Texas being closed is a grim concern. But my wife and I, along with friends in Houston and Dallas and Austin, come to you today to caution you—caution you to look at the bigger picture of what’s at stake.

Your decision to charter or partner with a third party to manage Waco ISD schools has implications far beyond these five campuses. To outsource your management of these schools is an acceptance of the state’s power to force local school boards to give up democratic control. It’s an acceptance that the state’s accountability system and its chronic underfunding of K-12 public education is acceptable.

I have followed news of this board and its new superintendent closely. I know many of you have reservations about the state’s so-called Lonestar Governance program and whether the ever-increasing focus on standardized test scores is a positive evolution for public education. 

Closing schools is bad. No one wants to see that. But savings democratically-controlled public education is vital. 

I urge you—do not acquiesce to the TEA. Do not let them hold your schools hostage and only give you bad options. The TEA is bullying you and bullying other high-poverty districts around the state like mine. 

And the only way to answer a bully is to stand together and stand up. No one district, no one board can fight the TEA alone. 

I urge you—before you do one more thing, rally with other under-funded and over-regulated districts and challenge the TEA in court.

I urge you—before you make such high-stakes turn over your schools under duress, make the TEA prove that the STAAR test complies with laws like HB743—if you do, you’ll find as parents who sued the TEA two years ago, that it doesn’t. 

Make the TEA prove STAAR results actually reflect differences in teaching and curriculum as opposed to being simply correlated with socio-economic status—if you do, you’ll find as UT professor Dr. Walter Stroup did—that STAAR scores are statistically insensitive to instruction.

The end game of both state accountability and the slow suffocation of underfunding Texas public education is PRIVATIZATION. Partnering with third parties to run your schools via the charter expansions in SB1882 and doing so under the school board death threat in HB1842 is a clear. path. to that. privatization. end.

I ask you… Will Waco ISD play TEA’s game and lose its schools? Will Waco ISD accept sanction after sanction and abdicate its voter’s democratic control of their schools? Or will you, as trustees, as stewards of Waco’s schools, as advocates for public education, will you be a part of the resistance to state overreach and defend our schools? Will you defend our children? Will you help save public education?

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Tale of Two Districts: Analysis of the two cheapest trustee races in Houston ISD.

Houston ISD has nine trustees that represent nine separate geographic districts. These nine districts are different in so many ways. Among them, resources is certainly a major one. Resources in the community. Resources in their schools. And apparently, resources spent on school board races.

Of the nine districts, six have trustees up for election, and so far this year, campaign contributions to 19 candidates in those six elections have totaled almost $300,000. $294,127.37 through September 30th, to be exact.

But each of the districts don’t have the same kind of money flowing through their campaigns. 

District 5 (Cheben, Deigaard, DeRocha, Shafer) has raised the most overall: $67,555. However, District 7 (Luman, Sung) has raised the most money per candidate with $61,383 being split by just two candidates.

When you compare these six districts by campaign contributions, you see there are really two distinct kinds: expensive ones and cheap ones.

Districts 1, 5, 6 and 7 have garnered between $60,000 and $70,000 per race (so far) making up almost 90% of the campaign contributions districtwide while only representing about 65% of the candidates running.

On the other hand, Districts 3 and 9 have garnered a mere $36,272 total across seven candidates. And one of those candidates, incumbent Board President Wanda Adams, is responsible for two-thirds of that amount ($23,075) by herself. The other six candidates in those races have only raised about $2200 each on average.

In the District 3 race, which is a special election called to fill the two-year vacancy created by the passing of Trustee Manuel Rodriguez, we have four candidates (Lira, Perrett, Reyes, Rodriguez). Even though there are four candidates, District 3 has the lowest total amount of contributions in any district: $9,147. That’s about $2300 per candidate. Of course, the special election was only recently announced, and so theoretically these candidates have had less time to fundraise than others. But even when comparing these contributions to the contributions made to other campaigns in just the last two months, they are still shockingly low.

What does this mean? It means that in these districts, it is much easier to win favor and influence. It costs less money to be more important to a given trustee’s win or re-election. It means that it’s easier for influences outside the local communities (such as vendors or political groups) to get the attention and loyalty of the trustee.

So as we did in District 1 already here and here. Let’s take a look for notable contributions in Districts 3 and 9.

In District 3, we only found one notable contribution among all candidates, and that contribution was to Jesse Rodriguez. Arturo Chavez, an architect at Page which is a large architecture firm that does a significant amount of business with HISD, gave Mr. Rodriguez $1900. In the last year alone, Page has been paid over $750,000 by HISD. Mr. Chavez’s contribution to Rodriguez is just $100 less than the $2000 threshold at which board policy would require a trustee to recuse themselves from a vote due to conflict of interest. This $1900 is large but not huge relative to many donations across HISD. However, for District 3, it’s massive. This single $1900 donation represents 20% of all the money given to all candidates in the District 3 race so far. Certainly notable.

First, they were all disclosed as being received on the same day—October 9th, the last day of the reporting period. Second, there are only 11 contributions that total $23,075.  No other candidate has such a high average donation amount. And just 5 of those donations amount to over $20,000. $15,000 came from Houstonians for Great Public Schools and one of its major backers. $4,000 came from two major law firms that do business with HISD and $2500 came from the Realtor lobby. All of these donations represent significant interests outside of District 9—the high-stakes testing and charter schools lobby, HISD vendors and lower property tax lobby. To understand more about how these donations were shocking, watch this video that compares them with her own statements about ethics and campaign donations.

That wraps up analysis of Districts 3 and 9. Outside of the significant vendor contributions to Adams and Rodriguez, the most notable thing about these campaign finances is their size. A close watch on the 8-day and after election reports will be important to see what additional influences might capitalize on the opportunity these inexpensive races present.

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Why Your Vote on HISD Prop 1 Doesn’t Matter

Where did all that money go? I don’t know. And you don’t either. Your vote doesn’t matter, because whether HISD has more or less money next year won’t make a bit of difference to our kids as long as parents don’t pay attention to how that money gets used. And they have to pay attention longer than one or two months to know whether anyone is telling the truth or just saying the right buzz words to get us to all calm down and go home. Who cares about who’s recapture projections are right if no one is going to pay attention long enough to find out?
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