This was from before Christmas but I didn’t have a chance to write about it until now.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund sent a letter Tuesday to Katy ISD accusing the district of disenfranchising Black and Latino voters by adhering to an at-large voting system in violation of federal civil rights law.
The letter, addressed to Katy ISD board of trustees President Greg Schulte, says the at-large system — in which board members are elected to represent the entire district, by voters across the entire district — “dilutes the votes of Katy ISD’s voters of color and may violate the Voting Rights Act because it prevents Black and Latinx voters from electing their preferred candidates to the Board of Trustees and from participating in the electoral process on an equal footing.”
The Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or LDF, filed the letter after being approached by a group of Katy ISD parents concerned with the lack of diversity on the district’s seven-member board. Currently, the letter says, all seven trustees “reside in a concentrated area of the district south of Interstate 10 and do not reflect the geographic or racial and ethnic diversity of the district,” where Black and Latino children make up nearly half of the student body, according to the Texas Tribune.
The letter was first reported by NBC News.
Cameron Campbell, a former Democratic candidate for state legislature and a Katy ISD parent, said debates over book bans and other “microagressions” and “dog whistles” led the parents group to think critically about the makeup of the school board and who it serves.
“We can all agree on keeping our kids safe, learning and prospering, but if there’s not equal representation, it is absolutely impossible for our school boards to serve our kids adequately,” Campbell said. “I’m a proud Katy ISD parent and the teachers do a fantastic job, but the school board is broken and it’s an embarrassment.”
You can see a copy of the letter and a proposed district map at that NBC News tweet. The district had no comment in the story and I didn’t see any followup news since this ran in the Chron, but there are some more details given by the Katy Times.
According to its website, Katy ISD has an enrollment of 92,914 students as of Dec. 26. Here is a breakdown of students by ethnicity:
Asian: 15,542, or 16.7%.
Black: 13,204, or 14.2%.
Hispanic, 33,766, or 36.3%.
Native American: 208, or 0.2%.
Pacific Islander: 108, or 0.1%.
Two or more races: 3,963, or 4.3%.
White: 26,123, or 28.1%.
Much of the growth is taking place in the north and northwest areas of the district. The district’s northernmost high school, Paetow, 23111 Stockdick School Road, opened in 2017. It has a student population breakdown that is 49% Hispanic, 23% Asian, 17% White, 6% Black, and 3% two or more races, according to the district.
[NAACP assistant counsel Antonio Ingram II] provided an example figure that illustrated how a single-district representation map might look. Under this plan, Ingram wrote that four of the districts would be majority-minority districts.
Ingram wrote that the example was one of several versions of a seven-single-member school board map that can be drawn with multiple majority-Black and Latinx districts in northern Katy.
While most school districts in Texas have at-large representation exclusively, not all of them do. Richardson ISD, near Dallas, recently adopted single-member districts. According to its website, five of the seven trustees on the Richardson ISD board are elected from single-member districts. The other two trustees are elected at-large.
The single-member district issue has been raised in at least one previous Katy ISD trustee campaign. Local attorney Scott Martin called for single-member districts in an unsuccessful 2018 trustee campaign.
Not immediately clear now is whether the NAACP is approaching only Katy ISD for such changes, or whether it is approaching other school districts in a similar fashion.
But other options are available to trustees, Ingram wrote. Among these are:
Cumulative voting in at-large elections.
Requirements for more diverse representation on the board, such as a requirement that all board members reside in different school attendance zones. According to the map Ingram provided, all seven trustees live south of Interstate 10.
Moving the election date to November, when other significant races are on the ballot, therefore increasing voter turnout.
“Whatever method or methods the Katy ISD Board of Trustees chooses to ensure a more fair and equitable electoral process for choosing its members, we urge the board to act with all deliberate speed, as failure to act could expose the Katy ISD to liability under the VRA (Voting Rights Act),” Ingram wrote.
This caught my eye for a number of reasons, including of course because of the LULAC lawsuit over Houston City Council at large districts. There’s no indication at this time that the NAACP LDF might file a lawsuit, but that is certainly a possible outcome if there’s no movement from Katy ISD. A similar lawsuit was filed against Spring Branch ISD in 2021. There hasn’t been much news about that since then – the law firm representing Spring Branch ISD withdrew from the case a few months after the suit was filed, and there’s a Fairly comprehensive update on the SBISD website, the short version of which is that there was not one but two changes in who the presiding judge was and as a result there hasn’t been a hearing yet – one for October was cancelled – and nothing has been set yet. Federal lawsuits move at their own pace, y’all.
Anyway. I’ll keep an eye on this. I don’t have a lot of optimism about any use of the Voting Rights Act these days, but you never know. Katy ISD will have its next election this May, and the filing deadline is January 18.