Thursday, December 13, 2018

Put down the non-profit and back away, Mayor *updated*

*See update at bottom.

News item:

Months ago in May, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that he wanted the city to get directly involved in local schools.

Now that desire has evolved into a new nonprofit, created by Turner’s education office.


The city-related nonprofit is called the Coalition for Educational Excellence and Equity in Houston. News 88.7 obtained state records that show Turner’s education chief Juliet Stipeche and three civic leaders are heading up the coalition.

Under the state law known as SB 1882, the Houston Independent School District could give the nonprofit temporary control of some Houston schools. That in turn would give the district a two-year pause on steep sanctions, including a potential state takeover.

The board has to decide by early February if it wants to pursue this effort or any other partnership for struggling schools. This week, the HISD board added a new agenda item for its meeting Thursday to decide if they want to request any outside partnerships.

On Tuesday, Turner issued new details on the objectives of the coalition and defended it at City Hall.

He outlined in a statement that the nonprofit aims to administer 15 HISD schools. They would include struggling schools that could trigger state sanctions and their related schools in their neighborhoods, or feeder patterns. Turner also said that he plans to appoint six more board members to the nonprofit. So far, three business executives are the only voting members: Corbin J. Robertson Jr.; Trinidad “Trini” Vasquez-Mendenhall; and Stephanie Nellons-Paige.

The reveal:

More from HPM.

About half a dozen people protested the idea at City Hall. Bobbie Cohen called it an effort to privatize public education.

“I don’t know why the city has decided to involve itself in a nonprofit coalition with three board members none of whom seem to have any real expertise in education, unless, of course, you count lobbying for ALEC which is an organization that has never met a government entity it did not want to privatize,” Cohen said.

Still, Turner defended the effort: “It is an offer, it is up to HISD. No one here is trying to force HISD to do anything. No one.”

HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones told News 88.7 that the board will vote on issuing an RfP (meaning a Request for Proposal) on Thursday. “After then we will know how to move forward,” said Skillern-Jones.

Earlier this year, when the HISD board considered approving an outside partnership for struggling schools, the controversial measure sparked protests and arrests at the public meeting.

Durrel Douglas at Houston Justice has mentioned this topic but his most recent post is from June.   Ashton P. Woods re-Tweeted the link to Jacob Carpenter's Chronic story; Sam Oser has been all over it, with this last week at KPFT and this primer from April.  Excerpt from Oser's first, skipping what we already know above.  It gets a little deep in the policy weeds.

In emails between Alan Bernstein, Director of Communications for the Mayor’s office, and me, Bernstein did not answer questions about who appointed the board members to this educational non-profit run by corporate interests.

However, Bernstein did say the HISD board of trustees will make the decision on whether or not the non-profit would be used to run the failing schools.

There has been no transparency by the HISD board of trustees into who they are considering to run the failed schools. The deadline to get a contract to TEA for approval is February 4.

Not only did Bernstein not answer the original questions, he dodged characterizing the non-profit as a charter.

While this non-profit would not be an open-enrollment charter school, the non-profit still has to apply to have the same rights as a charter. It’s written out in Sec. 97.1075 and 97.1079. Under 97.105, the non-profit would be an “operating partner… eligible entity as defined by TEC, §12.101(a). ”

When you look at TEC, §12.101(a), an “eligible entity” that can apply for a charter application includes a non-profit. Never mind that the whole chapter is titled “charters.” A detail Bernstein missed when dodging calling the non-profit a charter.

After applying to have charter school rights, the TEA, who oversees the Texas Education Code (TEC), defines what type of charter the non-profit will fall under, and the Coalition for Educational Excellence and Equity in Houston would fall under Subchapter C Campus or Campus Program Charters.

Charter schools 'partner' with districts to take over failing schools. It's common for one to hear the use of 'partnerships' in reference to charters.

One more thing.

The activists behind this resistance are HISD Parent Advocates, Black Lives Matter: Houston, Pantsuit Republic: Houston, Houston Rising, Indivisible Houston, and Public Citizen Texas. These groups have called for suing the TEA for discrimination based on race through the accountability system and over failure to comply to state testing laws. This year Texas’ Third Court of Appeals ruled that parents can sue the TEA.

Let's overlook Sylvester Turner's festering neoliberalism rupturing like an infected boil.  Let's disregard the fact he's waded into a policy area in which the city has no business being by "offering" to award a handful of wealthy Republicans control of HISD's legacy black high schools (Turner, a product of Acres Homes, was valedictorian of his class at Klein High School.  But don't hold this against him; he came of age during America's forced integration/bussing period.)

What's difficult to believe is that the mayor would do this in (what everyone expects the Texas Supreme Court is eventually going to tell us is) an election year already made difficult by various other questionable decisions.  It looks like he's "reaching across the aisle" with both hands for big-dollar campaign contributions, quid pro quo style.

Maybe he just doesn't care how it looks, of course.

You know what the problem in running as a centrist in a non-partisan election is?  You're going to take shots from both the left and the right.  I thought the mayor would have been smart enough not to touch this hot potato, leaving it to the out-of-favor Republicans in Austin, election year or no.

No matter who he names to the rest of his board now in order to try to salvage it -- I'd expect a few African American Democratic faces; a pastor like Bill Lawson or someone with political and education background, maybe Carroll Robinson -- this proposal is going to fly like a lead Zeppelin.

Everybody understands you'll need a shitpile of money running against Tony Buzbee, but this isn't the way to earn it.  Put down the non-profit and back away, Mayor Blue Dog.


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