It’s Not Just Gerrymandering

Give credit where it’s due–Republicans are so much more strategic than Democrats. Of course, maintaining minority control requires certain…techniques.

Talking Points Memo recently reported on Texas’ state takeover of Houston’s schools , in an update of an academic article that was first published in The Conversation by an NYU political science professor.

School takeovers are supposedly efforts to improve public school performance. (Although thirty years of that pesky thing called evidence says takeovers fail to do so.) In Texas, however, the usual justification for takeover–that the  school district is failing–was absent; the district was actually doing reasonably well.

It seems that in 2015, Texas’ Republican-dominated legislature granted the state authority to take over an entire school district if a single school in that district failed to meet state standards for five or more years.

 Although the state has given the Houston Independent School District a B rating, it plans to take over the Houston schools because one school, Wheatley High School, has not made sufficient progress since 2017.

Houston has 280 schools serving over 200,000 students. It employs roughly 12,000 teachers. Wheatley High School serves some 800 students, and employs 50 teachers. Why take over an entire system based on the performance of fewer than 1% of the district’s student/teacher population?

Good question, and that NYU professor has an answer.

In order to understand the logic of the planned state takeover of the Houston schools, it pays to understand the important role that schools have played in the social, political and economic development of communities of color. Historically, communities of color have relied on school level politics as an entry point to broader political participation. School-level politics may involve issues like ending school segregation, demanding more resources for schools, increasing the numbers of teachers and administrators of color, and participating in school board elections.

The process of gaining political power at the local level – and eventually state level – often begins at the schools, particularly the school board. For instance, before Blacks and Latinos elect members of their communities to the city councils, the mayor’s office and the state legislatures, they often elect members to the school board first.

In virtually all Red states, Republicans are heavily dependent on White rural voters to retain power, and they gerrymander accordingly. But in states like Texas (and even, in some analyses, Indiana) population shifts mean that in a few years, racial districting won’t be sufficient.  Houston is the largest urban center in Texas; it’s at the forefront of the growing demographic challenge to the GOP’s grip on state power.

The nine-member Houston school board is reflective of the community it serves. It has three Latinos, four African Americans and two white school board members. This, in my view, is what has put the Houston public school system and school board at the forefront of a battle that is really about race and political power.

The Houston public school system is not failing. Rather–according to the article– Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, together with Education Commissioner Mike Morath and the Republican state legislature, has manufactured an education crisis to prevent people of color in Houston from gaining the sorts of experience and exposure that could eventually translate into statewide political power. (Immediately after the takeover, Abbott and his gang threw out all the board members.)

Takeovers aren’t as effective as gerrymandering, but ulterior motives are far less visible…..

What makes this scenario seem so improbable is that it requires considerable strategic smarts; from my Indiana vantage point, Gregg Abbott is a lot meaner than he is smart. But then I think about the massive gerrymandering that Republicans managed to pull off  in 2010, extensively detailed in the book “Ratfucked.” There were highly sophisticated–and undoubtedly highly paid–  political consultants who managed that very successful multi-state operation.

Maybe the Texas takeover is just part of the GOP’s unremitting war on public education, but the article makes a pretty compelling case that it’s part of the party’s ongoing effort to retain political control–control that is threatened by demographic shift.


  1. There is getting to be more and more elephant poop to clean up if & when the fever ever breaks and the circus leaves town. This gets depressing. In Indy, we now have a very well funded R running “American Carnage” style ads in his bid for Mayor. Depressing indeed.

  2. Voucher system is a takeover of public, private and religious school systems using one money source to pay for all. The money from public education budgets is withdrawn, leaving no way to provide SAFE, sanitized classrooms, teaching materials and equipment and pay teachers in the public schools a living salary. The withdrawn funds are then sent to private, primarily religious schools, to pay a portion of student’s fees to attend the school but increasing class numbers with no provision for additional school materials or compensate their teachers for increased workloads or adding teachers to their systems. The Pandemic caused a massive economic increase to sanitize entire classrooms, hallways, restrooms and kitchens in schools which provide lunches; this must be done daily, increasing custodial workload and need for materials and equipment to sanitize all areas.

    “Takeovers aren’t as effective as gerrymandering, but ulterior motives are far less visible…..”

    Aren’t takeovers not a form of gerrymandering the education systems as a divisive action to control the education systems at state level?

  3. “…three Latinos, four African Americans, and two white school board members.”

    I’m not sure how much money was given to the Houston schools, but I can’t imagine white Texas lawmakers were keen on giving big dollars to diverse institutions.

    The same thing occurred in Muncie, Indiana, where the state-orchestrated coup of Muncie Schools handed the schools over to Ball State University. The “orchestrated” crisis was a white financial administrator who used $10 mil from a bond issue to pay operating expenses – including salaries when it was meant for capital investments. Of course, the malfeasance never resulted in criminal charges. The Republican and Democrat Parties worked with the state on the coup.

    The taxpayers got nothing in return for all the land and property. No lawsuits took place. The media (Gannett) interviewed specific community members who were “grateful.” It was all a show – performative.

    Even worse, they made a video with the same community members clamoring about how BSU will make such a huge difference.

    What was the underlying problem with the finances?

    White parents were moving their kiddos from urban to outlying county schools because they were predominantly white—all of them.

    As we discuss in this blog, the policies embraced by the GOP cause problems (segregation of students and dollars), resulting in school system takeovers.

    Compounding all this fuckery five years later, the segregation movement continues causing a decline in urban-center schools. When I sought data to show how things improved under BSU leadership (knowing they didn’t), no data is being collected by inner-city or county schools.

    This is class GOP leadership…they don’t collect the data that can be used against them. The GOP can’t be held accountable if there is no data. They do the same thing with the pollution, which is why Indiana has “water monitors” outside government employment (volunteers).

    All are funded by those who profit from polluting our environment and destroying our public schools. Why aren’t the unions flooding the streets? Where’s the media?

    When you answer the last two questions, you’ll understand why our democracy is dead.

  4. Patmcc: My guess is true Indianapolis voters won’t be falling for such nonsense. But it will play well in the adjoining Republican enclaves not to mention the more rural parts of Indiana.

    Anyway, as a “Real Estate Executive” the candidate hasn’t any credibility on true crimes like murder and mayhem….perhaps vandalism and evictions?

  5. Having taught in Texas public schools for 5 years, I witnessed the self-induced distress of racism from Texas Republicans. It really began when the pathetic George W. Bush governorship tried to introduce “No Child Left Behind” there. Remember that? Well, the Houston superintendent pulled a loophole trick that held back poorly performing students until they were old enough to become seniors where the standardized tests weren’t performed. He then boosted them up to senior status and graduated them, thus making the NCLB numbers look good for the governor.

    Fast-forward to when the minority vote President George W. Bush was elected. Guess who he picked to be his do-nothing Secretary of Education. Yep. The former Houston superintendent who fiddled the numbers. THAT is how Republican politics works in Texas.

    Abbott is truly evil, a flat-out racist and is totally beholden to Redneck Nation’s big oil, big insurance and big real estate lobbies. As long as Republicans control the state legislature, expect nothing but illegitimate governing to continue there.

  6. like florida using schools by desatin to further his ambitions,making a nationwide/global spoutoff. keeping kids as pawns in a game of thrones for the republicans. gee wizz,instant news media,social media ratoffs,and just showing the educated world how to distroy this generation of school age citizens and more of being cited to play the game. gerrymandering is a focal point,but using kids to undermine minds is unacceptable. the recent rant by one asswipe parent in a christian school,in florida to call art porn says the parent is a aclosed minded wind bag who just bought down a school over one voice. the director barney bishop seems to believe public schools teach crap, his words, while sucking up public tax dollars thru hillsdale to pad his self rightious ass. again,costing this gen of kids another kick in the mind for someones belief its a school failing. if houstons schools fail,its because of budget constraints that have undermind the teachers need for resources and better state involvement to further the schools need to teach. its obvious to the world now,if anyones listening, that florida and texas has become a educational battle ground for two govenors who seek their own political needs over entire state education systems. free thinking is how the country makes its global/industrial maket tick. seems the authortarian style of goverment is on full display for the world to see how two American states can ruin todays generations of young minds for political gain..

  7. The single most important part of suing to stop these abuses is STANDING! Here in the graveyard of intellect and decency, the parents who sued to stop “don’t say gay” are appealing a federal court ruling that dismissed because they failed to cite enough harm to give them standing. Maybe they need to see more suicide among LGBTQ kids? Oh, I’m sorry! Dead kids don’t move any needles for the right, or we’d have more gun safety laws.

  8. I’m not convinced that Republicans are really more strategic than Democrats because the R’s are trying to destroy the system of government under which they have flourished even as the D’s are trying to preserve it. This may give them a short term advantage but as a strategy it is fatally flawed. Hence, the stinking corpse of the Republican Party. They are not more strategic, just more ruthless and dishonest.

  9. Letter in today’s Tampa Bay Times – just had to share..,.

    “There is a book found in many public school libraries containing graphic descriptions of violence, sex and incest. In one passage, the eldest daughter of one of the key protagonists conspires to get her father drunk, then sleeps with him! In another passage, a father is instructed to murder his only son. Worse yet, the book is full of “woke ideology,” instructing readers to act justly, walk humbly and love mercy in response to injustice. I believe this book should be banned from public schools. We can’t have our children exposed to this kind of thing. The book is titled “the Bible.” Please contact your local school boards and demand this harmful book be removed from school libraries and classrooms.”

  10. Morton – Two immediate problems in giving Texas back to Mexico > (1) How much would we have to pay Mexico to accept such gift, and (2) How do we persuade Wall Street and Texas-type Abbotts to go along with such national largesse when they are (literally) making a killing with the status quo? There are, of course, thorny sub-problems to be solved in such a proposed transaction such as peso exchange, gringo tax rates, the drug cartel vote, etc., but these can be worked out via hiring Kushner to visit MBS to pick up some petrodollars to grease the palms of the politicians charged with such gift-giving. Meanwhile, and during such negotiations, Abbott can continue to ignore schoolhouse murders while taking over schoolhouse administration if local school boards are of non-white hue or if Republican politicians, like in Florida, find some of the curricula “offensive,” and guess who defines “offensive?”

    The foregoing is my feeble attempt to describe a reality that doesn’t exist – or could it? Whoever thought a 1/6 could happen? Or an ex-president’s promise of “death and destruction” if we enforce the rule of law? Or that an ignorant libertine (MTG) would gavel the House to order? I rest my case.

  11. My husband and I were having this discussion–the Republican Party doesn’t want to have to do anything regarding the ‘public good’. Its not like you can make a profit off of education–I am waiting for them to start attacking fire departments and police departments.

    They are tearing down public education brick by brick so that they can convince the public that gov’t should have nothing to do with education–thus privatize it to the highest bidder. I think that is why they are okay with school shootings. The more school shootings at public schools may scare parents into home schooling or private schools–getting them out of providing for the public.

    However, the shooting in my new hometown of Nashville was at a private, Christian school–must be throwing them for a loop on that one.

    Glad I bought my 14 year old a bullet proof backpack–we are now thinking of Kevlar clothing to add to the backpack

  12. Bravo Gerald!
    im going to make a bumper sticker on the Mexico taking back texas and how much texas would have to pay em,,,

  13. Elaine,
    many red states/counties require a yearly payment by home owners to get fireservice. mainly low income,by design southern states. no pay,watch it burn..

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