Say what you will about the Harris County GOP, they’ve got a lot of money and they’re not afraid to spend it.
The Harris County Republican Party took a marketing strategy successfully used by Coca-Cola and Nike to the East End on Tuesday in hopes of building inroads with Houston’s Hispanic voters.
Local GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill and two Hispanic Republican judges handed out about 246 bicycles to students of J.R. Harris Elementary School.
The bicycles were awarded to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders who passed all portions of this year’s Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.
“We hope this will encourage them to study hard and improve themselves,” Woodfill said. “Of course, we would also like to see them vote Republican when the time comes.”
That the Republican Party chose J.R. Harris is no coincidence. Both major parties are wooing the growing Hispanic population, and J.R. Harris is in the middle of one of the city’s most heavily Hispanic neighborhoods.
Many residents are first- and second-generation immigrants who have not built the same party allegiance that often passes down from parent to child in white, black and longer-established Hispanic families.
J.R. Harris Principal Jaime Casteñeda said whatever the political implications may be, the reward spurred students to work harder with hopes of getting one of the free bicycles. Many prepared for the test after regular classes and on Saturdays.
“These kids work hard all year,” Casteñeda said, “but the bikes made them work harder.”
He said 78.4 percent of the 301 students who took the TAKS passed all portions.
That is a remarkable achievement, he said, since two-thirds of students who start kindergarten at the school speak only Spanish. By the time they reach fifth grade, all students take TAKS and other standardized tests only in English.
The school’s population is 96 percent Hispanic, and three of every four students is considered at-risk to fail or drop out. Ninety-eight percent of the students receive free or reduced-price meals.
Woodfill said he expects to expand the program, called “Christmas in May,” to five other schools in minority neighborhoods that historically have voted Democratic. The party worked out a deal with Wal-Mart to get the bicycles awarded this year for $30 each.
Later this year, the party plans to open a second headquarters in a Hispanic neighborhood.