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. 

Read More

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. 

Read More

Our Children Deserve the Best

Education is the neutralizer. It does not change the thoughts of a racist, and it does not render one bulletproof. Education does not automatically afford a person privileges nor does it correct the wrongs that have been done in this country. Education applies an opposition to the force of oppression. Education is energy.

The power of education is no secret, and it is coveted.  This power is so magnificent that billionaires and corporations are trying to buy and sell it. When you control the information a population receives, you control the population. Period.

Before we take another dive into the intrinsic flaws of our school board; acknowledge the importance of your education or at least acknowledge the difference an education would have made in your life. Now, apply that feeling to the children you love the most. Throughout this piece, refer back to that feeling. In this fight for educational equity, refer back to our children because this is all about them.

On April 24, 2018, I walked into the school board meeting…

Read More

What We Stand For

Privatization is a way to justify less government funding in public education. Privatization is a way to justify the new-era segregation of our schools with a legal separate-but-equal system. And privatization is a way to distract from the social justice questions of our day like the root causes of poverty, the need for universal healthcare and systemic discrimination in our criminal justice system, to name just a few
Read More

Donors, Vendors & Expectations: HISD District 1 Campaign Finance Analysis Continued...

In part two of our District 1 coverage, we have Monica Richart and Elizabeth Santos. (We covered the pro-testing, ed reform candidate, Gretchen Himsl, last week.)

Monica was first to announce her candidacy for District 1 back in the spring after a lengthy period of exploring support for a run over the prior year. Though Santos has received more endorsements, Richart received an early endorsement and campaign contribution from Texas Latina List. 

Texas Latina List is a Fort Worth-based political action committee focused on getting progressive Latina candidates into office in Texas. Its activity this year has been focused in DFW with only two endorsements outside of the Metroplex: one in San Antonio and Richart in Houston. All of Texas Latina List’s contributors this year are from the DFW area except one: Houston ISD board member Anne Sung.

Richart has two other institutional donors of significance disclosed so far. 

The first is Theron Strategies which is a newly formed company run by Adrian Garcia. Garcia is the former Harris County Sheriff who resigned to run for Mayor and then later ran and lost against Congressman Gene Green in the Democratic primary. In addition to Theron Strategies, Garcia recently formed Latino Democrat PAC which also endorsed Monica. No donations from this PAC have been registered yet.

The second institutional donation to the Richart campaign is from Perdue, Brandon, Fielder, Collins & Mott which is a large law firm and main competitor to Linebarger, Goggan Blair & Sampson. Linebarger has massive contracts with both Houston ISD and the City of Houston for collection of delinquent property taxes. Linebarger is a ubiquitous campaign contributor throughout the district, city and state and often subcontracts "services" to politically friendly firms such as Mayor Turner's law firm and Marc Campos (campaign consultant to other District 1 candidate, Gretchen Himsl).

Linebarger and Perdue are the two main firms that provide this property tax service in Texas. We’ve seen Perdue lawyers in attendance at Houston ISD board meetings recently, and trustee Manuel Rodriguez attempted to get the board to review and consider changes to Linebarger as its sole vendor when it was up for renewal this past year.

The final notable contribution on Monica Richart’s early campaign finance filing was a personal donation from Jason Spencer. Spencer and his wife live in Houston ISD District 2 and both held at various times the positions of Communications Chief and Chief of Staff under HISD’s last superintendent, Terry Grier. Both Spencers left HISD shortly after Richard Carranza began as superintendent. Jason Spencer now handles communications and government relations for Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzales. Helen Spencer is Chief Information Officer for the Harris County Department of Education which is a major partner and vendor for Houston ISD. In the last year, Houston ISD paid Harris County DOE over $3 million for various services.

During the first half of 2017 (the period for which campaign finance contributions are on record), Elizabeth Santos raised significantly more money than Monica Richart, approximately $11,000 versus a little under $6,000. Even while taking in twice as much money, we have found little to note in the contributions to Santos' campaign.

We consider campaign contributions notable when they are from people or institutions with vendor or political connections, as these contributions suggest potential influence in the future by someone seeking to do business with or seeking to influence the policy decisions of the school board. The size of a donation is notable to us when it's $1000 or more from someone other than family. So far, Elizabeth Santos has no contributions from anyone tied to a current or potential Houston ISD vendor, and she has only one non-family individual who has contributed $1000 or more, a parent in District 1 and a Santos campaign volunteer.

In the interest of transparency, we’ll write about one donation that has yet to be disclosed in public filings—ours.

After all of our research and after Elizabeth Santos made public commitments early on to refuse money from HISD vendors, we were compelled to donate and support such an independent campaign. We live in District 1 and have been disappointed in our representation these past few years. After attending almost every board meeting for the last three years, one thing is clear to us—there are significant influences on this board other than parents and students and the average voter. The HISD board has relaxed its campaign finance ethics standards, fired its independent auditor, spent millions of dollars defending a corrupt former trustee and fought endlessly with bond contractors who assert that HISD has a pay-to-play culture. We cannot sit by while trustees and their votes are clearly bought and sold to the highest bidder; we must seize the opportunity to support someone actively pushing back against that influence.

So, when new fundraising disclosures are filed next week, Ben & Sarah Becker will show up as a $1,000 contributor to the Elizabeth Santos campaign. Indeed, we hope that will register as a notable contribution.

This isn’t an accident. This isn’t unrelated to our research and the facts we’ve written about the other two candidates. Anyone can read the public campaign reports and find the same connections that we have found. On the contrary, our contribution is the direct result of what we’ve uncovered. If change in HISD ever had a chance, it will be when we can elect trustees that we can actually trust. And to that end, we’ve put our money where we think that trust lies—in Elizabeth Santos.

To conclude, here’s the District 1 candidates in their own words answering a question about whether they think taking money from HISD vendors is right or wrong. Spoiler alert: only one candidate commits to a higher standard.

Read More

National testing vendor isn’t the solution to HISD’s special education crisis.

Thus far, this special education crisis has been a failure of the administration. That same administration just picked this vendor. If the board authorizes this contract and expects to rely on the output of this vendor as a material part of its response, the board will be a part of the problem rather than the beginning of the solution.
I suggest that the board table this vote, finish listening to parents, and then work out how, who and what will give them the independent information the need to put new policy and new expectations for the administration in place to end the crisis.
Read More

Houston ISD: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

In the end, I pray 1) that our school leaders see that repeating the past will only produce more of what we already have, 2) that Houston ISD gets the opportunity to evolve from the soul-crushing metrics of raising standardized test scores by a few points and 3) that all HISD stakeholders become invested in delivering the holistic environment and enriched curriculum that maximizes the individual potential of each and every child.
We must think bigger. Our children deserve better. 
Read More

Every Day Discrimination

Ultimately, if your family has the wrong combination of members or doesn’t conform to certain gender roles, you are excluded at these GOMM events. This exclusion is hard to reconcile in a public school setting, particularly one such as ours where our district and campus have committed to be free from discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, religion and other manner of diversity.
This example of exclusion and bias is not what we want for our kids.
Read More

Rushed & Confused, HISD Trustees Bend to TEA Demands with STAAR-Centered Goals for District

The children of Houston need a school district less focused on the STAAR. Less focused on what the TEA wants to hear and more focused on what our kids actually need. For the first time in many years, we have a progressive Board of Trustees who trust teachers to do their jobs, who want to invest in the arts and other evidence-based programs to educate the whole child and rely less on standardized testing as the primary measure of success. However, it seems that many of those values walked out the door last Saturday when the TEA consultant walked in. 
Read More