Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

April 3rd, 2017:

MALDEF files suit over change to recapture

This is a twist.

Texas education officials illegally changed how property taxes are calculated in wealthy school districts, with the effect of substantially reducing the funds available for schools in poorer districts, a lawsuit filed Thursday charged.

The change would cost the state’s poorer schools districts and their students approximately $440 million per year or $880 million for the two-year funding cycle, according to the lawsuit filed by MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and the law firms Gray & Becker, P.C. and Ray & Wood, on behalf of Le Feria and Joaquin Independent School Districts.

The La Feria Independent School District in Cameron County and the Joaquin Independent School District in Shelby County want the court to permanently block the newly amended rule adopted February 1, calling it invalid and unenforceable.

“Breaking the rules to once again benefit property-wealthy districts to the detriment of our property-poor districts is not the fix we need for our broken public school system,” said Marisa Bono, MALDEF Southwest regional counsel. “We look forward to vindicating in court our clients’ efforts to ensure fair funding for all students.”

Texas’ system of “recapture” requires wealthier school districts with more valuable property to send some of their tax funds to the state to help fund poorer districts. Those funds are then administered through the Foundation School Program.

The recapture formula assesses the contributions of wealthier districts based on the full value of each property. But those districts may provide two types of tax deductions to residents. The first is a mandated $25,000 homestead exemption. The second deduction allows districts the option of granting an additional homeowners exemption of up to 20 percent of a home’s value, known as a local optional homestead exemption (“LOHE”).

State law allows some wealthy districts to reduce their contributions to recapture and the Foundation School Program by recognizing the LOHE-reduced property values. However, state law provided clear conditions to ensure that poor districts aren’t underfunded. Those conditions required that either state lawmakers appropriate more funding, or that there be a surplus in the Foundation School Program. Until recently, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) interpreted the law to apply only when those conditions were met.

But in February, state education officials issued a statement changing its longstanding rule. Lawyers for the two plaintiff school districts argue that education officials illegally bypassed the existing rule, allowing certain wealthy districts with LOHE’s to reduce their contribution to recapture, without appropriating funds to fill the gap.

“The Education Code provides that the mission of the public education system of this state is to ensure that all Texas children have access to a quality education,” said Richard Gray of Gray & Becker, P.C. “The recent actions of the Commissioner work squarely against that mission and will result in funding flowing only to students in certain property-wealthy districts of TEA’s choosing while at the same time cutting funding to other districts. It is estimated that the recent actions of the Commissioner could cost close to one billion dollars for the 2018-2019 school year and that cost will only increase in future years.”

Under the new rule, La Feria ISD will lose over $225,000 per year, or $1,435 per classroom a year. Joaquin ISD will lose over $48,000 per year, or $1,548 per classroom. These financial losses are reflective of the financial loss that many property-poor school districts throughout the state will incur as a result of the new rule.

The lawsuit comes as state lawmakers debate how Texas will finance public education for the more than 5 million students currently enrolled in schools across the state. The Texas Supreme Court ruled in May last year that while the state’s school finance system met “minimal constitutional requirements,” it needed comprehensive reform.

Read the lawsuit here.

This would of course affect HISD, though MALDEF did not mention them by name in that release. KUHF has the only news coverage of this I’ve seen so far.

HISD is not a party in the lawsuit, but said in a statement that it believes the commissioner’s decision was legal and will monitor the case and “is prepared to intervene if necessary to protect the interests of our students and taxpayers.”

At the very least, this puts a bit of uncertainty into the May 6 recapture re-vote, which the HISD Board is trying to sell to voters. One possible way to satisfy the conditions MALDEF is suing over is for the Lege to make up the difference to the school districts that are affected by the re-interpretation of the recapture rules. Rep. Dan Huberty’s HB21 might be able to do this, in an amended form if need be. I don’t know how likely that is to happen, but it’s a possibility. There are a lot of ways this can go, so we’ll have to wait to see what the defendants, the Lege, and the courts do.

The kindergarten face of SB6

Meet the Shappley family of Pearland.

Kimberly Shappley’s former self is about as by-the-book right-wing as you can get: a Southern Baptist-identified evangelical, a Republican stalwart, an “ultraconservative” Tea Partier. When she heard of other parents with transgender kids, she remembers derisively thinking, “If my kid wants to be a dinosaur, am I just supposed to let them?”

Then Kai was born and everything changed.

By the time Kai was 2 years old, Kimberly said, she was already noticeably, dramatically feminine for a child being raised as a boy. Members of Shappley’s conservative Christian family speculated on whether the child would turn out to be gay. By age 3, Kai only wanted to play with girls, and had begun telling her parents and teachers that she was a girl.

Kimberly turned to a DIY form of conversion therapy. She dressed Kai in camouflage and held her down to cut her blond hair into a flattop. Since most of the family’s seven children are boys—Kimberly has one adult daughter—there were no “girl toys” at home, but Kimberly asked the Christian daycare Kai attended to hide any baby dolls from her as well. When Kai turned her T-shirts into skirts or insisted she was a girl, Kimberly spanked her. When Kai asked for a Minnie Mouse birthday cake, Kimberly bought her one with Mickey.

“No matter how much punishment this kid got, you couldn’t beat it out of her,” Kimberly said. “You couldn’t pray it out, I couldn’t cast it out.” Indeed, Kai was having none of it. Sometimes she would wait until Kimberly was on the toilet to taunt her from just out of striking range: “You know I’m a girl.” Other times, she began praying within her mother’s earshot that God would “let Joseph” (Kai’s former name) “go home and be with Jesus.”

Kai’s prayer was Kimberly’s breaking point. That, and learning about the sky-high suicide rate for trans kids; according to one study, 41% of trans youth had attempted suicide—a rate almost ten times higher than their cisgender counterparts.

“There are so many trans kids who don’t have her persevering, persistent spirit,” Kimberly said. “And if Kai didn’t have that spirit, I would have succeeded in breaking her, into conforming into what I was trying to make her be. And we would have all been ok with that until she killed herself, at 14, or 13, or 11, or 20, or 50.”


Trans advocates often say “everyone loses someone” when they transition; Kimberly’s family lost almost everyone. While one of Kai’s uncles helped his niece pick out new outfits, most of her extended family distanced themselves. One aunt threatened to call CPS on Kimberly. Other relatives shared a Facebook post from a Houston-area preacher, proposing a training day where the church would teach children how to spot and report trans kids at their schools. A cousin sent Kimberly a Facebook message warning if he ever saw Kai in a bathroom with his 22-year-old daughter, Kai would “need a stretcher.”

A best friend from the family’s church, where Kimberly served in ministry for years, stopped their years-long 5 AM prayer phone calls. When Kimberly attended a school board meeting last June to discuss the accommodation of trans students, she said one pastor from her church showed up to speak out against them.

Kimberly had begun to panic whenever she saw “Jesus fish” bumper stickers in the parking lot outside school board meetings or at a press conference with Equality Texas, the state’s largest LGBTQ group. “My stomach would sink, and I’d just feel sick,” she said, “because I knew they were the enemy that day.” On the day of the press conference, the sinking feeling prompted Kimberly to tearfully apologize to the LGBTQ community for things she’d said or done in the name of her faith.

Kai’s school life isn’t a respite from hate, either. Already this year, a boy has walked in on Kai in the classroom’s bathroom and threatened her, saying she was disgusting and he was going to punch her in the face. Next year, in the first grade, there will be no in-classroom bathroom, and Kai won’t be allowed to use the girls’ room or, Kimberly worries, the boys’ room either. Pearland ISD spokesperson Kim Hocott said the district is waiting to hear what will happen to state and federal law as it considers what accommodations will be available to Kai and other trans students.

But as it stands, every time Kai seeks out the bathroom she’ll be permitted to use, she’ll be reminded just how different she is from everyone else.

I have made note of the Shappleys before, so you may already know of their story. Whether you do or you don’t, you should read the whole article, as there’s a lot more in there. Here’s a bit about someone I’d not known of before:

Ian Finch

SB6 doesn’t just threaten K-12 schools, nor is it happening in a vacuum. In 2016 alone, at least three Texan trans women of color were murdered, and Ian Finch, a local state attorney who finished transitioning in November 2015, says that in the weeks following the election he learned of several Houston trans women who’d been violently attacked—including one who was assaulted and raped the day after she and Finch had gone on a date. Notably, he said, none had felt safe enough to report their assaults to the police.

Finch, a senior staff attorney at Texas’ Fourteenth Court of Appeals, is the picture of straight-laced tradition: a man given to suits and conservative haircuts, a former Republican precinct chair and delegate to the state GOP convention. In part that’s just who he is—he’s so idealistic about the law that Finch named one of his sons “Atticus.” But he also wants to demonstrate how trans people are no longer relegated to marginalized and dangerous lifestyles and professions.

Of course, he was still nervous about telling his Republican boss and colleagues about his transition. And yet, the morning after he discreetly told the judge he worked for, he began to receive congratulatory emails, found his office nameplate and personnel records updated with his new name before he’d legally changed it himself, and learned that a former boss, another Republican judge, had cited him in an awards acceptance speech, using his new name.

It was an astonishing moment of affirmation: “Nobody I know professionally batted an eye.” Not only did he not find himself having to prove he was as smart as he’d been before, but his colleagues acted as though there “was no before—that this is who I am.”

Now he’s counting the days before he loses his job. He works in a public building, and as the only out trans person in that court, he says his workplace will have to create a policy that will apply only to him. It might not happen the first time someone complains about the bathroom he uses—there’s an initial $1,000 to $1,500 fine for schools or public agencies that have not created a bathroom policy—but perhaps after the second, when penalties climb to $10,000. (Texas, like 29 other states, has no law that protects employees from being fired because they’re trans.)

Finch is the only attorney among his colleagues certified to work in some areas of appellate law; he chairs certain subcommittees; in January he was accepted to the bar for the U.S. Supreme Court. His ouster would, by any standard, be a loss for the state.

But, he argues, it’d also be a confirmation that SB6 isn’t so much about bathrooms as an effort to purge trans people from public life. If trans kids can’t go to public schools, Finch reasoned, they’ll be home-schooled. That means public school kids won’t have contact with trans kids. And if trans people don’t have full access to public buildings, from schools to libraries to courthouses, they’ll also lose full access to justice and education.

“They are trying to condemn a generation of a marginalized population to a permanent underclass,” Finch said. “And if we all disappear from public life, what then?”

Again, I urge you to read the whole thing, and ask yourself why Dan Patrick wants Ian Finch to be required to use the ladies’ room while Kai Shappley is forced to use the men’s room. And if you think what Ian Finch is saying about the real goal of SB6 being erasure of transgender people from public life, then consider who Dan Patrick is enlisting to help him push SB6 through. These are people who would gladly eradicate gays and lesbians from public life if they could, and the only reason why they have stopped trying to do so openly is because public opinion has finally and forcefully turned against them. Make no mistake, this is still their goal, and if they are constrained to picking on the trans folks these days, they’ll do that. We can argue about the economic impact studies of SB6 and North Carolina’s HB2 till the sun fizzles out, it’s the human cost of these laws that really matters.

The Rodeo and the immigrants

Interesting story about who’s working the carnival midway.

Why, you might wonder, is a South African working at the Houston rodeo’s midway?

“The American workforce is not interested in this kind of work,” said Chris Lopez, vice president of carnival provider Ray Cammack Shows (RCS). “We couldn’t do it without these folks.”

Condon is one of the 300 foreign workers RCS employs to run midways for fairs across the U.S. (The crew also includes a few U.S.-born workers, but they are significantly outnumbered.)

For 18 years, RCS has relied on the H2B visa program for non-agricultural temporary workers. Visa holders from countries including Mexico, Costa Rica, Australia and Russia handle everything from building and running carnival rides to cooking and selling carnival food.

To get those visas, employers must satisfy the U.S. Department of Labor that the work can’t be filled by U.S. workers, and that foreign workers won’t have adverse effects on the wages and working conditions of their U.S.-born counterparts.

As required by those rules, Lopez pays to advertise carnival jobs in the U.S., and he keeps phone logs and certified receipts for email and letters that show he’s reached out to local communities and followed through with all work inquiries from U.S. citizens.

But the responses he gets from U.S. citizens aren’t enough, he says. Too many people shun nine months of work requiring heavy lifting, living in mobile homes and frequent travel.

Lopez is hardly alone. A 2013 study by the nonprofit ImmigrationWorks USA found that as more American-born workers attain higher levels of education, more foreign workers are needed to perform less-skilled labor.

There’s stiff competition for the 66,000 H2B visas available each year. (The visa is distinct from its H2A counterpart which is meant for seasonal agricultural work and has even stricter requirements for employers.) The last of the visas available for fiscal year 2017 were awarded this earlier this month, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Would-be workers face tough screening, Lopez said: “Anything as little as a jaywalking ticket could disqualify them.”

From fiscal year 2012 to 2015, Texas had the highest number of H2B jobs certified by the Department of Labor. The largest number of those was for landscaping.

Industries such as outdoor entertainment account for 10 percent of total H2B visas issued to U.S. employers each year.

I don’t have a specific point to make here. This sort of thing is invisible to most of us – be honest, you didn’t know this, right? If all these H2B visas were to disappear – which they won’t, since Dear Leader Trump makes heavy use of them to staff his golf courses – RCS and other firms that supply H2B laborers would find a solution. Maybe they’d pay American workers more, maybe they’d rely more on temps, maybe the businesses they support would scale back, maybe something else. One way or another, things would be different. I just thought it was worth pointing that out.