Houston Independent School District (HISD) is under threat of having its democratically elected board of trustees replaced with appointed managers…. again.

Only this time instead of getting established charter schools to take over four failing schools — Wheatley High School, Kashmere High School, Henry Middle School and Highland Heights Elementary School — it looks like the the City of Houston has created their own non-profit to be in the ring to take over the four failing schools. It’s called Coalition for Educational Excellence and Equity in Houston, and it has some questionable board members.

RELATED: Houston ISD Avoids Removal of Democratic System, Talks Privatization

The Educational Board Members With a Corporate History

This year, after the board meeting that resulted in arrests, Mayor Sylvester Turner has pitched partnering the city with the failed schools. However, the Texas Education Agency (TEA), said that was not legal under current state laws. To circumvent this issue, Juliet Stipeche, the director of education in Turner’s administration, said a non-profit “seems like the wisest catalyst” for a potential private partnership with HISD per the Houston Chronicle.

The certificate of formation for the  Coalition for Educational Excellence and Equity in Houston was filed on November 21, 2018 with the registered agent as Stipeche, again, the Mayor’s point person on education. The board for this non-profit comprises three wealthy right-wing benefactors: Corbin Robertson Jr, Stephanie Paige, and Trini Mendenhall.

Left to right: Corbin Robertson, Jr., Stephanie Nellons-Paige, Trinidad (Trini) Mendenhall

Robertson is a billionaire coal magnate known for expansive dark money efforts undermining climate research through fake advocacy to protect their bottom line. It was Robertson’s group, Coalition for Responsible Regulation, that sued the EPA for regulating green house gases. He also funds climate change deniers like Greg Abbott.

Paige was the education contact for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing takeover group that disguises the self interest of the wealthy as the advancement of society through philanthropy. She is the wife of Rod Paige, he served as the 7th United States Secretary of Education from 2001 to 2005, and he is the one that spearheaded the No Child Left Behind Act.

Mendenhall was on the executive board for the Village Republican Women Club, and after donating money to Rick Perry (another climate change skeptic), was appointed to his Economic Development Stakeholders Board. She is a Republican who made her fortune from owning Fiesta Mart.

Clues to Why The City’s Non-profit May Run the Four Failing Schools

Shortly after the certificate of formation of the Coalition for Educational Excellence and Equity in Houston, done on November 21, Stipeche attended two HISD workshop meetings on November 27. That’s not even a week between forming the non-profit then showing up to HISD workshop meetings, one where the TEA was present.

Why were they there not even a week after forming the non-profit?

The first workshop meeting started at 3pm regarding transportation, and the second workshop meetings started at 5pm with TEA Deputy Commissioner, AJ Crabhill, concerning SB 1882 and HB 1842.

Quick side note: Mayor Sylvester Turner voted in favor of HB 1842 back in 2015. Learn how two Texas laws, including HB 1842, force school districts into privatization and hold democracy hostage, here.

Is the City’s non-profit really a charter or not?

In emails between Alan Bernstein, Director of Communications for the Mayor’s office, and me, Bernstein did not answer questions about who appointed the board members to this educational non-profit run by corporate interests.

However, Bernstein did say the HISD board of trustees will make the decision on whether or not the non-profit would be used to run the failing schools.

RELATED: Both Parties Are Dismantling Public Education, University of St. Thomas Professor Explains How

There has been no transparency by the HISD board of trustees into who they are considering to run the failed schools. The deadline to get a contract to TEA for approval is February 4.

Not only did Bernstein not answer the original questions, he dodged characterizing the non-profit as a charter.

While this non-profit would not be an open-enrollment charter school, the non-profit still has to apply to have the same rights as a charter. It’s written out in Sec. 97.1075 and 97.1079. Under 97.105, the non-profit would be an “operating partner…eligible entity as defined by TEC, §12.101(a). ”

When you look at TEC, §12.101(a), an “eligible entity” that can apply for a charter application includes a non-profit. Never mind that the whole chapter is titled “charters.” A detail Bernstein missed when dodging calling the non-profit a charter.

After applying to have charter school rights, the TEA, who oversees the Texas Education Code (TEC), defines what type of charter the non-profit will fall under, and the Coalition for Educational Excellence and Equity in Houston would fall under Subchapter C Campus or Campus Program Charters.

Charter schools “partner” with districts to take over failing schools. It common for one to hear the use of “partnerships” in reference to charters.

Upcoming Actions

The activists behind this resistance are HISD Parent Advocates, Black Lives Matter: Houston, Pantsuit Republic: Houston, Houston Rising, Indivisible Houston, and Public Citizen Texas. These groups have called for suing the TEA for discrimination based on race through the accountability system and over failure to comply to state testing laws. This year Texas’ Third Court of Appeals ruled that parents can sue the TEA.

On Tuesday, December 11, they will be at city hall to voice their concerns.

Read more of Sam Oser’s reporting, here.

Recommended Posts