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December 23rd, 2019:

Morath’s big talk

But can he back it up?

In his first public comments about plans to strip power from Houston ISD’s elected trustees, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said Tuesday that the district’s leaders have engaged in “chronic neglect” of children in long-struggling schools, requiring the appointment of a replacement governing board that will better direct resources to HISD’s neediest students.

In an hourlong interview with the Houston Chronicle’s editorial board, Morath said he wants the replacement governing board to close achievement gaps by improving the district’s pre-kindergarten offerings, placing more high-performing staff at low-rated campuses and re-establishing strong leadership practices during its temporary stay in power. He faulted the district’s elected trustees for failing to address achievement issues in HISD’s longest-struggling campuses, several of which have received multiple consecutive failing grades in the past decade.

“This is how you make real inroads on the achievement gap: you get very serious about resource allocation,” Morath said. “It’s about money and talent. This is, in fact, an underlying root cause as to why you have some of the highest-performing schools in the state and some chronically under-performing schools, all in the same district. It’s a tale of two cities.”

[…]

In his comments Tuesday, Morath made clear that he expects the appointed board to address a few key areas, including “a systemic investment in early childhood education” and “how we properly support teachers and incent them” to work at chronically low-performing campuses. However, Morath said he will allow appointed board members and the superintendent to craft plans for meeting those goals.

“I would expect the board to use its judgment and proceed in a strategic direction that they think, given the intel that’s coming to them, makes the most sense for the kids and taxpayers of Houston,” Morath said.

I mean, if Mike Morath thinks that his appointed trustees can make significant improvements without screwing anything up, blowing a hole in the budget, or taking action that significantly contravenes popular will, then more power to them. As the story notes, HISD already offers pre-K (even though the state has historically not paid for it) and also already offers bonuses for teachers who work at underperforming campuses. It’s not that no one has thought of this stuff before, it’s that doing it right costs money, and I don’t see any plans for the state to address that. But hey, if they really can move the ball forward and leave the district in better shape than they found it, then that would be great. I’ll need to see it happen first.

On a side note:

Morath added that the district’s four newly elected trustees, who will be seated in January, cannot join the appointed board. Three of the four election victors say they have applied or plan to apply, believing they were eligible.

I kind of figured this would be the case, since the word from the TEA all along has been that it will be two years or so before they start reinstating the elected trustees, but a whole lot is up in the air now, so who knows what could have been. I remain sympathetic to the argument that the newly-elected Board members have already solved part of the problem that the takeover is supposed to fix, but clearly Mike Morath is not. This is perhaps another aspect of the law in question that should be reviewed by the next Legislature.

Trib profile of Sima Ladjevardian

CD02 gets a boost in profile.

Sima Ladjevardian

In the final hours before the filing deadline on Dec. 9, Sima Ladjevardian arrived at the Harris County Democratic Party office in Houston to make a little bit of news: She was running for Congress.

The prominent Houston lawyer, Democratic activist and fundraiser, and former Beto O’Rourke adviser had been thinking about running for a while but had thrown herself into O’Rourke’s presidential campaign, which did not wind down until mid-November.

“It really wasn’t much time,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “I just went in and did it then.”

Now Ladjevardian’s candidacy is shaking up the primary for a seat that Democrats consider more flippable than some think — and held by a high-profile target no less: rising star and former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston. About an hour and a half after Ladjevardian announced she was running, O’Rourke endorsed her. The next morning, the 2018 nominee for the seat, Todd Litton, made clear he was supporting her. And 48 hours after filing, she announced she had already raised over $200,000.

In making the last-minute entry, Ladjevardian charged into a primary that already featured two candidates, including one who has been running since February, Navy veteran Elisa Cardnell.

“It wasn’t a complete surprise,” Cardnell said of Ladjevardian’s entrance. “I welcome her to the field, but since day one, this has been about how we hold Dan Crenshaw accountable for his voting record. Honestly, I’m just glad more folks are seeing what we knew back when we launched — that Dan Crenshaw is not safe in Texas 2 and this is a winnable race.”

The 2nd District is not among the six seats that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has prioritized flipping this cycle in Texas, but Democrats have ample reason to believe it is within reach. Litton lost by 7 percentage points in 2018, despite no significant national investment on his behalf and Crenshaw rocketing on to the national stage a few days before the election after “Saturday Night Live” star Pete Davidson mocked his war wound. At the same time, the U.S. Senate nominee, Beto O’Rourke, lost the district by just a point.

The DCCC is nonetheless paying some attention to Crenshaw, targeting him in a statement for this story over his vote last week against a prescription drug price bill.

Sima has a webpage now, which she didn’t have when she entered the race. The fact that didn’t have that kind of basic campaign material readily available, and that there was no pre-filing announcement, leads me to believe this was a late-breaking decision on her part. Which is fine, and she’s done quite well since entering, in terms of attention, endorsements, and fundraising. Her experience with the Beto campaign suggests she can roll out her campaign quickly. The “but” that I’m leading up to is that there’s such a short runway for the primary – hello, early voting starts in less than two months – and there are going to be a lot of people participating in the primary, many of whom will not be plugged-in, habitual Democratic primary voters. That adds a level of randomness to any race, especially for candidates without much name ID.

Elisa Cardnell has the advantage of being in this race for most of the year. She’s been quite active. Weirdly, the fact that she had the field all to herself for most of that time is not an advantage, because a lack of competition for the nomination means a lack of news about the race. This race should get a lot more attention now, which will be good for all three of the candidates in it. It should be on the national Dems’ radar, and I think over time it will be more prominent. For now, the three people running need all the attention this race can get.

From South Texas to the moon

That’s the plan, anyway.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk expects to one day launch people from South Texas to the moon, Mars or beyond — with an update late Saturday that confirmed the company’s long-term presence in a remote area outside of Brownsville where SpaceX this year started testing a prototype of its Starship vehicle.

Founder Elon Musk said SpaceX is planning to launch its latest prototype 12 miles into the sky within the next month or two. And, ultimately, the Starship vehicle would be paired with the Super Heavy Rocket to escape Earth’s gravity and help make humans a multi-planetary species, Musk said.

“This is the most inspiring thing that I’ve ever seen,” Musk said, standing by the 165-foot-tall Starship prototype that was just assembled Friday.

[…]

To better watch the tests and launches in Texas, Cameron County officials built a new amphitheater on the southernmost tip of South Padre Island. The venue, which will also host concerts and other events, was slated to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday, though that was delayed by the SpaceX event, said Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr.

The county thought SpaceX would bring tourism dollars as people came to watch its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rocket launches. But now that SpaceX has switched its focus, Treviño is waiting to see what the economic impact could be for the region. He’s hopeful that SpaceX can attract other space companies and help develop a local aerospace workforce.

Musk on Saturday said he expects the area will be built up more by the time SpaceX is launching people into space. He would also like to see local propellant production.

“I grew up here,” Treviño said. “I don’t think anybody in their wildest dreams would have thought we’d have potential rocket launches taking place in our backyard. So the fact we’ve gotten to this point … it’s really a heck of an opportunity for us.”

See here for some background. This is a post I’d drafted some time ago, so please overlook the references to recent dates. The relationship between SpaceX and South Texas has been a bit strained at times, but perhaps now things are better. It’s always reasonable to be a bit skeptical of Elon Musk, but we’ll see how this goes. KUT has more.