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Houston: Beware of a Post-Harvey Charter Conversion of Your Schools

August 29, 2017

Today is the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Harvey is wreaking havoc on Houston, Texas.

My heart is with Houston.

Twelve years ago today, my sister called me in a panic. She had just spoken with my mother who refused to evacuate for Katrina. My mother told my sister, “I have to go. The house is filling with water.”

And so it did– right into the attic.

For a week, we did not hear from my mother. I will spare readers of the visions tormenting my mind.

As it turns out, by the grace of God (and I do not write that lightly), my mother escaped the house; ended up in the flood waters; was rescued by a local man with a boat, and eventually ended up… in Houston.

A multitude of family and friends lost everything in a prolonged chaos.

I was teaching in Indiana at the time, at Ball State. For a while I started each class by crying. My students waited patiently for me to collect my bearings.

Louis Armstrong’s song, “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” still chokes me up.

So, I understand, Houston. I understand. I do not want to appear callous to your loss.

But Houston, you will need to watch your schools.

On August 28, 2017, education blogger Steven Singer posted a piece entitled, “After Hurricane Harvey, Will Houston Public Schools be Charterized?”

It’s a critical question.

As is true in numerous states, Texas has enacted legislation allowing state takeover of either entire school districts or individual schools. And the site, Strategic Partnerships, Inc., a site which advertises “leading the way in the rapidly expanding area of public-private partnerships,” includes this April 2017 article on Texas school district “turn-around, takeover, or transfer.”

As one might expect, the article does not cover the “what if” of the likes of Hurricane Harvey wiping out Houston Independent School District (HISD).

Strategic Partnerships does not appear to be waiting to pull the rug out from under HISD in the name of an all-charter conversion. As of this writing, Strategic Partnerships has written about school choice and has included criticisms of school choice in its writing.

Still, Houston, there are outside forces who love privatization, including the Walton Family Foundation (WFF), which targets specific school districts within specific states for charter school start-up grants.

And HISD is on the WFF targeted districts list.

WFF is a major funder of charter school start-ups. According to its 2015 strategic plan, WFF is responsible for funding 1 in 4 charter school start-ups.

I do not put it past WFF to try to use its influence to “help” post-Harvey HISD, uh, get back on its feet by waving substantial WFF conditional dollars either before HISD or before state legislators in an effort to capitalize on an all-charter HISD conversion.

I know you are suffering right now, Houston, and will be for a while. However, if one takes a lesson from Louisiana, the state legislature pounced only a few months following Katrina (in November 2005) with state-takeover legislation designed to hand most of New Orleans’ public schools over to those who would convert those schools into charters.

In short, the Louisiana legislature purposely chose to enact a more powerful version of state-takeover legislation before the New Orleans public had a chance to gain its bearings following Katrina.

So, I suggest that in the upcoming weeks, those who value the traditional public schools in HISD begin asking their elected officials questions about restoring HISD and ferreting out any secretive intentions to make HISD yet another all-charter “experiment.”

I realize as I write this that Houstonians are currently in profound crisis and may not have their minds on their traditional public schools. But this is exactly the time that those who would pull your public schools right out from under you could be formulating plans to seize their moment.

A good place to start would be by contacting the HISD superintendent and the HISD board, as well as state senators and representatives for Harris County (Houston).

God bless you, Houston.



Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.


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