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August 13th, 2012:

San Antonio’s pre-k referendum

Houston is chock full of ballot referenda this fall, but the most interesting and potentially consequential one in the state is San Antonio.

Mayor Julian Castro

An initiative from San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro that would direct a portion of sales tax revenue to fund full-day pre-kindergarten unanimously passed the City Council, leaving it for voters to approve in November.

The pre-K funding initiative, which has the support of the education community and prominent business leaders in the city like Charles Butt of H-E-B and Joe Robles of USAA, is a major policy proposal for the San Antonio mayor, who was thrust into the national spotlight last week when he was chosen to keynote this year’s Democratic National Convention on Sept. 4.

The state currently covers half-day pre-K for children from low-income, English-language-learning, military and foster families. Many districts opt to offer a full-day program, which they did with the help of additional state grants before the Legislature in 2011 slashed more than $200 million allocated for that purpose.

Districts have tried various methods, including charging tuition, to keep full-day pre-K programs alive since the state funding was eliminated. But San Antonio’s is the first such effort initiated at the city level.

A coalition of business and education leaders, led by Castro, presented a proposal in June that would raise the sales tax in San Antonio by one-eighth of a cent to fund full-day kindergarten for about 4,000 children per year who aren’t currently served. The tax would raise an estimated $29 million annually, with an additional state match of at least $10 million. It is estimated to cost the average San Antonio household $7.81 per year.

The reason why this could be so consequential is that good pre-k programs give you a lot of bang for your buck. Mayor Castro’s proposal would not only fill the void left by the Lege with its irresponsible and destructive budget cuts, it would go further and perhaps set a template for the rest of the state to follow. Of course, what he’s proposing is something that should be funded by the state rather than localities, and as much as I applaud his vision and leadership I deplore seeing cities be forced to deal with the Lege’s abdication of its responsibilities. It’s like cleaning up after your kids instead of making them do it themselves; it just rewards bad behavior. But someone’s got to do something, and perhaps the success of this program will be part of the basis for a future run at the Governor’s mansion for Castro. Got to get it passed first, however, and that’s no sure thing. State Rep. Mike Villarreal has more.

Some children left behind


Nearly half the public schools across Texas failed to meet tougher federal academic standards this year, according to preliminary data released Wednesday.

The failures spiked sharply from last year, when a quarter of the state’s schools missed the mark.

Nearly all the districts in the Houston area earned failing grades under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, prompting increased calls from educators to change the law.

Those that fell short include the largest in the area: Alief, Aldine, Clear Creek, Conroe, Cypress-Fairbanks, Houston, Humble, Fort Bend, Katy, Klein, Spring and Spring Branch.

The local districts that met the standard – called “adequate yearly progress,” or AYP – include Friendswood, Lamar Consolidated, Sheldon, Tomball and Waller.

Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, urged parents not to panic.

“Parents need to think about all the other information they know about their schools when they judge the quality of them,” she said. “This year to meet AYP schools had to be performing at the equivalent of about a B-plus level, and that’s a long way from failing.”

In one sense, this doesn’t mean much of anything, since Congressional dysfunction has prevented the passage of needed updates to the original law. In another sense, this is a glimpse of what’s about to happen as the state’s tougher accountability measures kick in. I picked a great time to have school-age kids, didn’t I? The Trib has more, and a statement from the Texas AFT is beneath the fold.


More DeLay trial news

Some other action on the Tom DeLay front this week.

I'm pointing at YOU!

The Tom DeLay legal marathon inched forward Wednesday on two separate fronts.

John Colyandro, a DeLay co-defendant who has been under investigation since 2003, found out his trial won’t start until next year.

Meanwhile, DeLay, who is fighting his conviction and three-year prison sentence, finally knows which three justices on the 3rd Court of Appeals will hear his appeal.


Pre-trial motions in Colyandro’s case will be heard Oct. 9, but the Austin district court’s schedule won’t allow time for a trial before 2013.


On Wednesday, Texas Supreme Court Justice Wallace Jefferson named Justice David Gaultney, a Beaumont Republican on the Ninth Court of Appeals.
Gaultney, who’s been an appellate justice since 2001, joins 3rd Court Chief Justice Woody Jones, a Democrat, and Justice Melissa Goodwin,a Republican, on the DeLay appeal.

Judge Gaultney replaces Judge Diane Henson, who was removed from the case after DeLay challenged her impartiality. Colyandro is the last of the DeLay cronies to learn his fate after Jim Ellis took a plea earlier this year. By the time Colyandro’s trial actually begins, the crimes of which he has been accused will be more than ten years old. Well, you can’t rush these things.

Pothole app

Harris County now has an app for reporting potholes and other problems.

Users must download the app and set up a profile. After that, one can take a photo of the problem, point to its spot on the map or let GPS technology mark the location, label the report with a category – say, “dead animal” – and submit it.

The app launched for Android devices in late April, and had been downloaded 54 times as of last week, resulting in five service requests. The software, a “Best of Texas” winner this year in the mobile or wireless category from the Center for Digital Government, is expected to launch on Apple devices in mid-August.

“Lots of times things are written and said about county government being behind the times, and that’s just not true in Harris County,” County Judge Ed Emmett said. “This is just another example of being on the cutting edge.”

As technology improves, more constituents are demanding such conveniences, said the county’s chief information officer, Bruce High, whose department developed the app.

“The nice thing is, it’s not just a mobile app that gives you information. It’s a mobile app that allows you to interact and transact with your commissioner’s office,” High said.

You can download the Harris County mobile service request app for your Android device here. I’ve been beating this drum for awhile now, and so my first thought upon reading this story was “When will the city of Houston do this?” An email sent from the office of my Council member, Ed Gonzalez, answered that question:

Imagine a mobile phone application (aka ‘app’), that would allow Houstonians to snap a photo and simply submit a 3-1-1 service request directly from their smartphone. Thanks to City Council approval this week, that app will soon be a reality!

The new City of Houston 3-1-1 app will utilize the GPS data from your smartphone to accurately pinpoint the location of your issue. Once a service request has been submitted, users will be able to track the progress of any open requests. The app will integrate with Facebook and Twitter.

The app is set to launch in a few weeks and will be available to download free of charge from the iTunes App Store and Android Marketplace.

Awesome. I haven’t seen a mention of this in the Chron yet, but will keep my eyes open and will post more when further information is available. Kudos to Harris County and the city for making this happen.