As we know, the Mayor has basically no direct influence on HISD, but it’s an issue people care about and the Mayor can certainly make it a point of focus. So what do our two Mayoral runoff candidates have to say about HISD?
Mayoral candidates state Sen. John Whitmire and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee have struck different tones on how to approach relations with state-appointed Superintendent Mike Miles and the Board of Managers that replaced the democratically elected Board of Trustees. Both, however, said they would like to use their office to improve schools and return HISD to local control and would be willing to work with district leaders to achieve those goals.
Here’s more on what the candidates had to say on the HISD takeover and how they would use their office to impact public schools.
Whitmire, the leading vote-getter in the general mayoral election earlier this month, has offered fewer public comments about HISD since filing an eleventh-hour bill, which ultimately failed, in March to stave off the takeover. But the longtime state senator said he has been active behind the scenes, meeting separately with both Miles and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to offer his opinions and lend his assistance.
Opening clear lines of communication between the mayor’s office and HISD would be the first step in establishing a partnership with the district, Whitmire said. If elected mayor, he said he would appoint an education adviser to brief him regularly on the school district and its impact on the city.
He characterized Mayor Sylvester Turner’s reluctance to work with Miles as unproductive and promised that he would communicate directly with school leaders rather than “shout from a distance.” Turner’s office declined to respond to that accusation.
“The bottom line is the takeover has taken place, and it’s shameful to politicize that, politicize children’s education,” Whitmire said. “Let’s support the students, support the administration that has got the children’s best interests at heart, and go forward.”
In addition to appointing an education adviser to his staff, Whitmire also said he would “assist (HISD) where possible with resources, talent and community input.”
“As HISD goes is how Houston goes. We have too many citizens that work in Houston and live in the suburbs, often driven by schools. I want people to work and live in Houston and have education choices that include strong public schools,” Whitmire said.
See here for more on the aforementioned bill; as I expected, neither it nor any of the similar bills got as much as a committee hearing. All of this is on brand for Whitmire, who has leaned into his connections and legislative record throughout the campaign, which as noted has its pros and cons as a strategy. It’s as likely to work as any other approach might, which is the polite way of restating the fact that the Mayor has basically no direct influence here. To the extent that it is viable, Whitmire is as good as it gets at giving it a go.
(I do not hold Whitmire’s vote on the original bill that led to the takeover against him. As the article notes, plenty of other Dems also voted for it, on the now obviously naive view that it wouldn’t come to this. I blame Harold Dutton, who no doubt helped sell this bill to his colleagues. Let that be a very painful lesson for a lot of people.)
Jackson Lee, given her capacity as a federal representative rather than a state legislator, was not directly involved with the takeover but has been one of its strongest critics, speaking at TEA forums and leading rallies against the takeover. In March, the congresswoman said she filed a federal complaint to halt the takeover, though it has not resulted in any action thus far. The education bureau did not respond to a request for an update on the status of the complaint. The congresswoman said it is still under review.
Jackson Lee’s outspokenness has earned her the endorsement of the Houston Federation of Teachers, which has emerged as one of Miles’ fiercest opponents since he was appointed to his post. The congresswoman said she would use the “bully pulpit” afforded to the mayor to advocate for a return to local control, higher teacher salaries and public-private partnerships for tutoring and internet access.
“In order to be an ‘education mayor,’ you have to be attentive. I think it’s important that I work with parents, collaborate with PTOs … listen to what parents are saying and find ways for the city to be collaborative,” Jackson Lee said.
Jackson Lee has also promised to hire at least one full-time staffer to handle issues related to education. She said she would use her position to lobby for philanthropic involvement in schools and improve public safety, parks and recreation and housing opportunities for public school students and their families.
Jackson Lee has criticized some aspects of Miles’ leadership, including the decision to convert libraries in dozens of schools with mostly Black and brown students into “Team Centers” used partially for discipline. But the congresswoman said she would “reserve judgment” on his performance until he has been given more time to show results.
Like Whitmire, Jackson Lee said she would be willing to work with Miles and the HISD administration if elected mayor. She has also already spoken with Miles about the direction of HISD and described the conversations as “professional.”
“I’m opposed to the takeover. I’m not opposed to the success of our children,” Jackson Lee said.
See here and here for more on the federal complaint and SJL’s actions regarding it. All this is also on brand for her. If the platonic ideal outcome of the Whitmire approach is for the Mikes Morath and Miles to see reason and dial some stuff back and give HISD stakeholders more of a direct say in what happens while the state is still in charge, the same for the SJL approach is the Mikes getting whipsawed into backing down, and a riled-up electorate voting at least some of their current enablers out of office. One’s view of the odds of success for each approach is likely correlated with one’s own view of the approach. The choices are clear enough.