Reblogged: HISD won’t tolerate a hostile takeover of brown and black schools
Other than the situation in Los Angeles USD. I believe that Houston is currently our most pressing urban district situation. The Republicans in Texas Legislature would like to take over the democratically-elected majority minority school board and turn Houston ISD into a charter district. I have a special place in my heart for Houston ISD as my career began there in 1999-2001. This op-ed was originally posted here in the Houston Chronicle.
Last month the Houston Independent School District Board of Trustees made a difficult decision. At risk of losing the elected positions for which we all campaigned passionately, we rejected an ultimatum created by state law: Privatize four historically black and brown schools or face a hostile state takeover of the entire district. We were elected to see to it that our public schools thrive, not facilitate their transfer to charter managers who can make money off our students.
Now the state is in a position to remove us from office because four schools have been on the “improvement required” list for at least five years.
Some of us reasonably felt that turning these four schools — Wheatley High School, Kashmere High School, Henry Middle School and Highland Heights Elementary — into charter schools would prevent even worse sanctions from the state. While that may have been true for this year, there was no guarantee that we would not face the same dilemma next year and each year after that for different campuses until our district became segregated into two different communities — those that have direct electoral control over their school leaders and those that do not. Such a system of haves and have-nots is simply unacceptable.
This board was divided on some high-profile issues last year. The two of us have been on opposite sides on some of those fights. But we are united in a vision for a school district where neighborhood schools are cornerstones of their communities, equity is a guiding principle of resource allocation and all students receive educations that are tailored to their individual learning needs.
To achieve that vision, all levels of government involved in making education policy must take a long-term approach that addresses the costs of educating students living in poverty, English language learners and students with special needs. Unfortunately, state funding formulas — which have not changed in 30 years — woefully underestimate these costs.
While steadily shrinking the state’s share of education funding, lawmakers in Austin have ratcheted up the stakes of a flawed standardized test. Under the new rating system, which relies heavily on STAAR test results, 82 percent of students in schools graded “F” are economically disadvantaged. The result of this misguided accountability model is a segregated school system, where affluent schools can offer a wide array of opportunities in academics, sports, career preparation and the arts, while schools with high concentrations of low-income students are forced to focus on test prep.
As if that were not enough, state officials have crafted a system in which an entire district can be subject to the loss of its democratic representation almost entirely based on the STAAR test outcomes of a single school. Such proposals, along with those that seek to dilute minority representation with the addition of at-large members to the HISD board, are thinly veiled attempts to diminish the voting power of black and brown communities in our city.
Ours is not an isolated case. In fact, according to Domingo Morel, assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University, “Nearly 85 percent of takeovers occur in districts where blacks and Latinos make up the majority of the student population.”
Despite all of this, HISD has fared well under the flawed STAAR regime. The district earned an 84 percent rating with 91 percent of schools meeting standard. We reduced the number of schools that could trigger automatic state sanctions from 52 to 4, and we have maintained a recognized financial rating of 90 percent and a high bond rating.
It is baffling that HISD taxpayers are required to foot the entire bill for their district and also forfeit $100 million in “recaptured” dollars — and growing — to supplement the state’s obligation to other districts, while at the same time facing the risk of being stripped of their right to elect their own governing board. That hardly seems democratic or just.
Apparently “no taxation without representation” is just something we teach in our history classes.
We are thrilled that so many local stakeholders — including Mayor Sylvester Turner — are willing to partner with HISD to improve our schools, but we will not willingly abdicate our responsibility to govern them. Instead, we hope that local leaders will commit to supporting public education in Houston by bolstering its transportation networks, providing strong health care options, committing to protect our immigrant communities and building safe walking paths to make our schools accessible on foot.
We are not perfect and have had missteps, but we are making milestones and progress in a consistent fashion. Our students need citywide support. We look forward to having conversations on ways our local governments can come together to ensure a bright future for them.
Skillern-Jones is district II trustee and president of the HISD board. Santos is district I trustee.