Texas District Court Rules 2011 Education Cuts UNCONSTITUTIONAL

Today Greg Abbott was dealt yet another significant blow in his fight to defend draconian, Republican-led education cuts.  Here’s the story from Lauren McGaughy of the Houston Chronicle

AUSTIN — A judge on Thursday again declared Texas’ school finance system unconstitutional, reaffirming his 2013 ruling that struck down the current mode of funding public education as inefficient and inadequate.

“The court finds that the Legislature has failed to meet its constitutional duty to suitably provide for Texas public schools because the school finance system is structured, operated and funded so that it cannot provide a constitutionally adequate education for all Texas schoolchildren,” state District Judge John Dietz wrote in his ruling.

He also ruled the system “constitutionally inadequate” and “financially inefficient.” Finally, he said it effectively imposes a state property tax in violation of the state Constitution.


The 400-page ruling issued Thursday was the latest salvo in nearly two years of litigation, and marked another major victory for the plaintiffs representing nearly three in four Texas schoolchildren. They challenged the adequacy and equality of the Texas’ public education funding, suing the state after lawmakers cut $5.4 billion from the budget in 2011.

This judge’s ruling once again shines the spotlight on the heinous actions of Republicans in the 2011 State Legislature.  Even 3 years later, these cuts are just not going away for the Texas GOP.

State Senator Rodney Ellis issued a statement after today’s court decision, urging the legislature to correct the gross under-funding of our schools…

Now that our school finance system has once again been ruled unconstitutional, you may hear some elected officials claim that the legislature cannot act until after the case has been appealed to the Texas Supreme Court and the nine justices have had an opportunity to rule. I firmly disagree.

The legislature should treat the under-funding of our children’s schools like what it is: an emergency that must be solved immediately. In fact, there’s ample precedent for us working to solve this issue prior to the Texas Supreme Court weighing in. In 2004 and 2005, the last time the constitutionality of Texas’ school finance system was in court, the legislature worked on school finance for three special sessions and one regular session – all before the Supreme Court finally ruled the system was unconstitutional.

Even if one is not a lawyer, this case seems simple enough.  While its true that some of the education funding was restored in 2013 (thanks in no small part to Wendy Davis threatening another filibuster), the restoration isn’t enough to adequately care for state school districts. Texas is still allocating $1.5 billion fewer dollars to educate our kids than the state did in 2010.  But that reduced amount of money has to service a bigger state, as Texas has grown by nearly 1.5 million people in just four short years.  Less money needed for more kids equals a greater burden placed on our local schools, and LOCAL tax payers.

Take Katy Independent School District as an example.  Thanks to a massive population boom in the city, Katy ISD’s school board has an ambitious plan to build new schools.  But to fund that plan, the district is asking voters to approve a $748 million bond referendum.  Could that bond request be reduced if state funding levels were adequate?  School districts are being asked to make the same sacrifices, with little or no state support.

After today’s ruling, Abbott will likely try to kick the case up to the Texas Supreme Court.  Hopefully they will find the same result.

The ‘Parkstrodome’? Emmett’s New Astrodome Vision

The flaming hot discussion surrounding Houston’s best known and most neglected landmark was re-kindled today, with Harris County Judge Ed Emmett wielding both match and poker.  Speaking from within the world-famous structure, Emmett unveiled his thoughts on how to utilize the site.  Here’s an excerpt from the ‘proposal’…

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett announced a proposal this afternoon to convert the Harris County Domed Stadium- known worldwide as The Astrodome- into the world’s largest indoor park and recreation center.  Emmett unveiled his proposal from the floor of the Dome, which he described as a realization of Judge Roy Hofheinz’s “vision of the future”.

I believe it is time to put forth a new vision for the future of the Dome.” Emmett said.  “With that in mind, I am suggesting that we explore the concept of creating an indoor park and recreation area inside the Dome for the people of Harris County.”

Kiah Collier of the Houston Chronicle attended Judge Emmet’s press conference, and has a few more details…

Among potential attractions Emmett said he could envision at the domed stadium were a large open green for festivals and other community gatherings, general exercise facilities, an amphitheater, a pavilion for music and other events, and special educational facilities for children, even museums. The Dome also could house permanent or temporary sports facilities, such as an archery range or horseshoe pits, he said.

The term envision here is especially apt, as Judge Emmett offered little in the way of monetary support or statistics for today’s press conference– only that he is exploring the idea with all stakeholders.  Basically, this is nowhere near the level of an actual proposal yet.  We’re still a very long way from creating a ‘Parkstrodome‘ here.

But as ideas go, this one has merit and seems well worth exploration. If Harris County could turn the Astrodome into the world’s largest indoor park, it has potential to become not only a great resource for area citizens, but a fantastic hub for tourists as well.  Still, the eternal question remains… who is willing to pay for it?  Will Houston-area business leaders step up to the plate the way they have done for projects like Discovery Green?    For this latest idea to be feasible, that’s what it’s going to take.

Houston and Harris County have a rare opportunity with the Astrodome.  It’s one of the most well-known structures in the state of Texas, and has enough historical/sentimental significance to justify virtually any public, or semi-public use we could assign to it. Though true that the Dome is currently in a rough state, there is still great potential to create a site worthy of its stature.  Let’s not waste this opportunity.


Texoblogosphere: Week of August 25th

The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes everyone a Happy Back To School Week as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff has had many things to say about the Perry indictments.

Harold Cook sounded some cautionary notes about the Perry indictments.

Libby Shaw at Texas Kaos notes that a little ol’ indictment is not stopping Rick Perry from a POTUS run in 2016. Swaggering through New Hampshire to kiss the Koch boy ring, Rick Perry plays W., redux. Cowboy Diplomacy Redux: Rick Perry Plays the Fear Card.

From WCNews at Eye on Williamson. The media and the Texas GOP keep trying to make Republicans look reasonable when it comes to expanding Medicaid, don’t fall for it, Texas Is A Wasteland For Public Support.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wants everyone to remember that damn fence is just a monument to racism and fear. What else does it do except cause trouble.

Why can’t Obama be more like LBJ and just get some things done, PDiddie at Brains and Eggs wondered. But just in a facetious way; if we ever had another president half as badass as LBJ, we’d come to regret it.

Neil at All People Have Value went to the Texas City Buc-ee’s. Neil wishes that trendy restaurants in Houston had a sign up like at the Buc-ee’s saying that staff made a wage higher than minimum wage. All People Have Value is one page of many at NeilAquino.com.

With students and teachers going back to school this week, Texas Leftist has an assignment for everyone. Is your school district one of 600 suing Greg Abbott and the Texas GOP-led legislature?Consult the list and map to see. Here’s a hint… It’s not just the schools in blue counties.


And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Beyond Bones has a problem with “Shark Week”.

Lone Star Ma is still writing about National Breastfeeding Month.

The Rivard Report is not writing about gun control.

Grading Texas responds to Bill Hammond about school ratings.

Very Very Urban has a photo that’s worth at least a thousand words.

Newsdesk looks at the effort to kick Eden Foods out of the Wheatsville Co-Op.

The Texas Election Law Blog has a historical analysis of the Voting Rights Act, preclearance, and redistricting.

Lone Star Q notes that some companies that have strong LGBT equality policies nonetheless have no problem contributing financially to candidates that oppose such equality.

‘stina puts the Ice Bucket Challenge into some context.

And finally, kudos to Media Matters For America for recognizing the difference between how the Texas press covered the Rick Perry indictment and how the national press covered it. To help some of those national pundits understand what the indictments are about, Craig McDonald and Andrew Wheat of Texans for Public Justice wrote a piece for Politico explaining why they filed their complaint in the first place.

(Photo credit: El Paso skyline by Virtual Tourist)

No More ‘Daily’ for University of Houston’s Newspaper

Yesterday for the 87th time, the Houston metropolitan area’s largest institution of higher education began a new school year.  Some traditions remained constant, like the sea of students swarming between campus buildings, the long lines snaking around the campus bookstore and the confused look of new, disoriented faces trying to navigate an unfamiliar maze of learning.

But at the university’s main student publication, there is a sign of the times.  The University of Houston’s Daily Cougar has reformed itself into The Cougar, and has fully transitioned to daily digital publication, and will appear weekly in print.  Here’s more from Cara Smith, Editor-In-Chief

In 1928, The Cougar became Houston Junior College’s  student publication, to later become a daily publication. After roughly 50 years of tirelessly serving the UH community, The Daily Cougar is no more, as you’ll notice our masthead is 33 percent smaller and 100 percent different. It’s 2014, and there’s a new tradition to get excited about—the return of The Cougar, and the first year of what this has all been building up to.


The switch from operating as a daily print paper to a print weekly, digital daily publication has been in the pipeline for a couple years now. In large part, it’s a result of changing trends in how readers gather and process news. We’ve completely overhauled both our print and web products, both of which will report on the news as well as the kind of news you care about in creative and compelling formats. Be sure to bookmark thedailycougar.com on your browser, as we’ll still be delivering high-quality content seven days a week.

As the Houston Chronicle points out, this transfiguration of newspapers shouldn’t be a surprise, as it is taking place across the country at all levels of publication.  These are students after all… one has to assume that their experience with news is already more in line with The Cougar than its past predecessor.  If you are reading this, the same can probably be said for you.

Change is always difficult, but as long as there is an outlet to foster good journalism and writing at the University of Houston, the community will soldier forth. I for one will continue to hold The Cougar as a predominant news source for UH, and the Alumni network.

Judge Ed Emmett Pressures Austin Over ACA Expansion

At an estimated population of over 4.3 million people, Harris County is the largest county in the state of Texas, and the third largest in the United States.  In population, Harris County is actually larger than 24 states.

With those big numbers come big challenges, especially regarding healthcare costs.  Thanks to the belligerence of Republicans in the Texas legislature, Harris County continues to shoulder a massive burden in uncompensated healthcare costs, while large counties in other states have access to new funds under the Affordable Care Act. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, himself a Republican, is now speaking out to let Rick Perry and other Texas politicians know that the politics over the ACA cannot continue.  Here’s the story from News92 FM

Harris County taxpayers right now have to bear the entire cost of paying for indigent healthcare.

Judge Ed Emmett said the Affordable Care Act could help provide some relief.

Emmett said while certain people at the state can argue about the “benefits or detriments” of the Affordable Care Act, those are our tax dollars in Washington and state law makers need to find a way to bring them back to Texas.

“The tax dollars in Washington, those belong to people here too,” Emmett said. “And so those need to come back to the state of Texas to help us off set some of these property taxes.”

Emmett and other urban county judges from across the state, both Republicans and Democrats, have written to Texas lawmakers urging them to find a solution.

Emmett says during the last legislative session, Harris County missed out being reimbursed hundreds of millions of dollars.

$900 million over a two-year period would have come back to Harris County, of that less than $100 million would have gone to the Harris County Hospital District,” Emmett said.

Ask any property owner in Harris County… their taxes have shot up in the recent years, mostly thanks to a booming economy which increases property values.  But what hasn’t improved are the amount of funds available to appropriately combat a growing burden of uncompensated care.

This is a point on which Judge Emmett agrees with Leticia Van de Putte and Wendy Davis… if elected, they have already promised to make Medicaid Expansion a priority for the upcoming legislative session.  Outside of Austin, a bi-partisan coalition is forming to end senseless opposition to the Affordable Care Act.  Texas cannot afford to play any more political games, and the politicians that choose to continue do so at their own electoral risk.

Music Musings: The 8 Best Jessie J Songs That You Don’t Know

British pop icon Jessie J is back on US airwaves with the smash hit Bang Bang. But for many stateside, the girl-power trio is essentially a re-introduction for fans that have either never heard or don’t recognize her. The singer-songwriter just released information about her upcoming third album, entitled Sweet Talker, which is set to hit the US market this fall. But if you are so one who is unfamiliar with Jessie J, here is a post to help you play “catch up” with some of her other pop hits.

8.  Excuse My Rude 

How or why this song was never made into a single is a puzzling question.  Off of her 2nd album Alive (which is yet to be released in the United States), this track is full of attitude-laced fun, and somewhat reminiscent of Jessie J’s first single Do It Like A Dude… only this song is better.  Besides the original track above, be sure to check out the EPIC jazz-infused acoustic version she did on BBC Radio 1…

7. Abracadabra

This is a song from the singer’s first album Who You Are, and one listen reveals that it had some definite potential in the states.  With an infectious beat and soaring vocal, it’s a great track that would’ve seemingly been fit for R&B radio.

6. Keep Us Together

Now confirmed for Jessie J’s latest effort Sweet Talker, the classic R&B track is destined to become an immediate favorite. It’s hard-driving beat and nice sing-along feel suggest high single potential for US urban markets.  The above clip is of Jessie singing the song live over the summer.

5. Mamma Knows Best

This Who You Are  track is impressive enough on the recording, but when Jessie J sings it live, it literally knocks your socks off. Music stars across the globe praise Jessie J for her incredible live performance skills, and ‘Mamma’ proves a great vehicle to show them off.

4. Nobody’s Perfect

This song was one of 7 singles released for the UK from Who You Are, but never made it to the US airwaves. An edgy rock tune, once again Jessie’s powerful message and lyrics shine through.

3. Thunder

For some reason, this song take as a major single in Europe, but that fact shouldn’t diminish the power within this 80s-infused track. It’s a great song that reveal lots of personal growth and reflection that the singer chose to share with the world.  Jessie J herself has described Thunder as a prayer to God.

2. Big White Room

Big White Room is a very special song to the people that know it. It was written when Jessie J reflected on being hospitalized for stroke, and in her room, had to deal with the death of child staying in the same hospital room. For such a heavy subject matter, the power of Jessie’s vocals carries the listener through what was a very intense journey.  Yet another testament to This singer’s talent for live performance, the album track on Who You Are is from an acoustic concert… just live vocals and acoustic guitar.

1.  Who You Are

The title of the singer’s first album has also become very special to her fans. It’s a positive message that speaks to people when they are going through a rough time, or struggling with trying to be someone they are not. Another example of how the performer’s incredible voice and songwriting skills merge to form an epic result.


Crane Insane: Downtown Houston Construction Update

By now, most Houstonians are used to seeing the occasional crane in downtown, and even more so in the Texas Medical Center. There is always something being built anew in the Bayou City these days.

But as we enter the latter part of 2014, Downtown construction is about to go from a small group of projects to insane with cranes. This rapid growth, the largest growth spurt seen in Houston since the 1980s, will also have it’s fair share of growing pains. As Swamplot reports, traffic can get tricky…

IF YOU’RE wondering what the late-night traffic holdup is in and around Main St. and Texas Ave. over the weekend, here’s your explainer: 180 mixing trucks are going to be lining up to pour a continuous stream of concrete onto this site surrounded by Main, Texas, Fannin, and Capitol streets downtown, where D.E. Harvey builders is putting together a little office building — now slated to rise 48 stories — for the Hines CalPERS Green development fund. The action starts at 7 pm on Saturday and should finish up around 3 in the afternoon the next day.

Weekend street closures are just the beginning. If you are a frequent visitor to downtown, start planning some alternate routes now. By the fourth quarter of 2014, downtown should see 15 simultaneous projects (possibly more) entering the high construction phase. That translates to a lot of blocked streets!

The motivation behind the copious construction is in part due to the business community’s self-imposed deadline of having a new and different downtown by the 2017 Super Bowl. Hopefully everything can get done by then, but for the meantime, Houstonians are definitely going to notice the changes.

Here are some pictures of the 609 Main construction this weekend, along with a preview of the coming rail stations…


Here is the crane base for 609 Main 


A view of the assembly crane (needed to construct the primary cranes) with a second project crane in the background.


Some projects will be completed this year, like the Houston MetroRail expansion. Here is a view of Central Station for the Green and Purple Line. 


Here is the Main Street portion of Central Station. Houston’s new rail transit services should start in December 2014