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May 12th, 2014:

Interview with David Alameel

David Alameel

David Alameel

As you may recall, I tried to interview Democratic Senate candidate David Alameel prior to the March primary. For one reason or another, the two of us were never quite able to connect up and make it happen. Well, he was in town recently and I got a call from a member of his campaign who asked if we could try again, and here’s the result of that. We’re in a restaurant, so please forgive the background noise, but I think it’s audible. Alameel, who ran for CD33 in 2012, was endorsed early on by both Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, and collected most of the newspaper endorsements as well. A dentist and Army veteran, Alameel immigrated to the US from Lebanon at the age of 20, and currently lives in Dallas. He has faced some questions about past campaign contributions to Republicans, and association with anti-abortion organizations, so these were among the issues we discussed in the interview. He faces LaRouchie wingnut Kesha Rogers in the May 27 runoff. He has my vote in the runoff and I hope he’ll have yours. Here’s the interview:

Please note that I did this interview before the story about allegations of sexual harassment at one of Alameel’s clinics came out. I’d have asked him about that if I’d been aware of it at the time. I will pick up the interview series later in the year as we get closer to November. You can review all of my interviews for the primary on my 2014 Election page.

It was a bad week for the strip clubs

Another adverse court ruling.

A state appeals court on Friday upheld the legality of the state’s so-called “pole tax” on nude entertainment clubs, the latest decision in a six-year battle by Texas officials to collect the $5-per-customer fee from more than 200 strip clubs.

In a 16-page decision, the 3rd Court of Appeals overruled a challenge by the Texas Entertainment Association contending the law violated the Texas Constitution because it is an occupation tax from which 25 percent of the collections must go to public schools. The appeals court ruled that it is an excise tax that could be spent however the Legislature wishes.

[…]

In its decision, written by Justice Scott Field, the appeals court rejected the clubs’ argument that the fee was an occupation tax and, as such, was unconstitutional because it did not allocate a quarter of the revenue collected to public schools as mandated in the Texas Constitution.

The court also dismissed arguments that the tax violated the state Constitution’s “equal and uniform” requirement by covering only nude-entertainment business where there is an audience of two or more, and not other adult businesses, such as lingerie modeling studios or adult movie arcades that cater to single customers.

“We conclude that the sexually oriented business tax’s classification is not unreasonable because limiting the tax’s applicability to businesses with audiences of two or more reasonably relates to adverse secondary effects that the tax is intended to address,” the ruling states. “Given that the (Texas) supreme court has already concluded that the sexually oriented business tax does not violate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, we likewise conclude that it does not violate the free speech clause of the Texas Constitution.”

The decision notes that the Texas Supreme Court upheld the fee because it “was imposed to address the adverse secondary effects of combining nude entertainment with alcohol consumption, both by discouraging the activity through higher taxation and by generating revenue for programs designed to address the social harms that result.”

Businesses offering adult entertainment to one customer at a time do not have the same adverse effects, it states.

First the Comptroller’s demand for payment, now this. The original suit was filed on First Amendment grounds but lost at the Supreme Court. This was a different tack, but so far not any more successful. I’m sure this will be appealed to the Supreme Court, so maybe by 2016 we’ll have a final resolution, assuming the clubs don’t have some other argument in their back pocket in the event this one fails. The Trib has more.

More on Achievement School Districts

Chris Barbic, the founder of YES Prep and the superintendent of Tennessee’s Achievement School District, one of the models for Greg Abbott’s education plan, weighs in on what these things are and are not.

First, by law, the Tennessee ASD charters can’t pick and choose their students; the charters are not open-enrollment schools. When a charter joins the ASD, it replaces an existing low-performing neighborhood school – one ranked in the bottom 5 percent of schools in our state (Tennessee’s “Priority Schools”). Nothing about that school’s attendance zone changes – all zoned kids are guaranteed seats just as before, and the only kids who can transfer in to our schools are those zoned to other Priority Schools. Our ASD charters have special education populations that are larger than the local district averages – in some cases, more than one-quarter of the school’s population.

Second, it is important to put our first-year results – the entire ASD operation in Tennessee is only 2 ½ years old – in proper context. Prior to any ASD intervention, conditions in Priority Schools were dire – fewer than one in six students could read on grade level and the average ACT score was a 14. In our first year, we earned Level 5 growth as a district (the highest-possible growth rating in Tennessee) and our Memphis schools grew faster than the state average in math and science. Where our kids struggled in reading – many of them are years behind their peers – our school communities were fast learners, going into the summer with major adjustments and plans for improvement. We worked hard to create a new culture and conditions for success, earning high marks from teachers and parents.

This is what year one in a school turnaround effort is really about – changing the vision of what is possible and setting schools up for rapid growth in student achievement. It has taken many years for the Priority Schools to get where they are, and it will take more than one year to get them where they need to be.

Over the past two years, we have learned a great deal about what it takes to make an achievement school district work. A nimble and responsive governance structure is most important. In Tennessee, the ASD superintendent reports directly to the state’s commissioner of education. If an achievement school district is created to exist in a bureaucracy more cumbersome than the district and schools it is trying to fix, it will never work.

Next, it is critical that an achievement school district have charter-authorizing power. The ability to authorize charters leverages the great public charters already in Texas and provides them an opportunity to serve the highest-need kids.

And finally, an achievement school district will need adequate startup funding. We were fortunate to use federal “Race to the Top” dollars as startup capital. Texas will need to identify when, where and how this money will flow.

See here and here for the background. Barbic was responding to Lisa Falkenberg’s column from a couple of weeks ago. A few points:

– The issue of who the students are is very important. A big criticism of charter schools is that they get to cherry pick their students, which includes the ability to dump students they don’t want to deal with. If they have to take all comers and they can succeed, that’s a huge point in their favor.

– We should definitely be cautious about short term gains. As with sports teams hiring new coaches after bad seasons, there’s almost always an immediate boost in performance for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with actual improvements in quality. I know we all want quick fixes, but until we get some long-term studies that show (for example) an increase in graduation rates and college completion, we can’t say if this model is any better or worse than what we already have.

– Note the bit about the need for adequate startup funding at the end there. Rick Perry thumbed his nose at Race To The Top funds; if Greg Abbott had any problems with that, he kept them to himself. Abbott has studiously avoided any mention of school finance throughout the Governor’s race, while he continues to defend the $5.4 billion cuts to the education budget in court. (Those budget cuts had a negative effect on charter schools, too, according to Chris Barbic.) I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing in Greg Abbott’s record or his current rhetoric that suggests to me that he’s interested in fighting for the resources that an Achievement School District would need. If I had to bet, I’d guess he’s hoping that could be a way to cut costs in the budget.

– But let’s say that Abbott would fight to ensure sufficient funding for Achievement School Districts, even to the point of going hat in hand to the dreaded federal government. If that is the case, then one has to wonder why he wouldn’t fight for adequate funding for the existing school districts. Why not fully fund them and see what they can do before you go reinventing the wheel? I know it’s crazy but hey, it just might work.

SD04 special election results

It’s Creighton versus Toth in the runoff, as expected.

Preliminary voting results show that Montgomery County state representatives Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, will face off in a June runoff for the District 4 seat. Creighton earned about 45 percent of the vote, while Toth received nearly 24 percent. Businessman Gordy Bunch took 22 percent of the vote, according to the Secretary of State website.

“We’re excited,” said Toth, a freshman tea party favorite. “This is how we thought this was going to turn out. The people of Senate District 4 want to continue this conversation.”

Creighton, who has held his current office for four terms, could not be reached for comment late Saturday.

The victor will take the place of former Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who unexpectedly resigned last October after a decade representing the district.

Experts had predicted that Creighton and Toth would be the front-runners to represent the right-leaning district, which represents nearly 816,000 residents spanning Jefferson and Chambers counties and portions of Harris, Montgomery and Galveston counties.

The fourth contender for the seat was former District 4 Sen. Michael Galloway, a businessman who served one term from 1994 to 1998.

Here are the results. Toth actually trailed Bunch by 65 votes after Early Voting but wound up ahead of him by 531. Creighton ought to be the heavy favorite in the runoff, but in low-turnout elections you can never be sure. Neither Creighton nor Toth is on the ballot for their State House seats, so the loser will stay home next year.