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.