Naked City

Off the Desk

Unable to persuade the Lege to pass a voucher bill in 1999, Christian conservative James Leininger put up $45 million for a private voucher program in San Antonio's Edgewood I.S.D. The San Antonio millionaire provides tuition for students to attend parochial schools competing with Edgewood. There's no transfer of tax dollars from public to private schools, but as students withdraw, the public school loses state funding. (Edgewood lost $4 million last year.)

"Edgewood parents got slick direct mail pieces and were targeted by radio ads" advertising the voucher program, said Samantha Smoot of the Texas Freedom Network -- an Austin-based nonprofit that monitors the Christian right. Leininger might have picked the wrong district. For 40 years Edgewood has fought in federal and state courts for funding equity. After they won at the Texas Supreme Court, academic performance improved. Where there were nine low-performing schools 10 years ago, today there are none, and the Texas Education Agency rates the district "recommended." Edgewood parents have gone door to door to defend their schools. On Wednesday, five busloads of Edgewood parents (up from two last session) showed up at the Capitol to oppose voucher bills that would move tax dollars to private schools.

The Freedom Network, which is working with Edgewood parents, turns six this month. Smoot -- following charismatic founder Cecile Richards (daughter of Gov. Ann Richards), who left two years ago -- continues to build the nonprofit, which now has a staff of seven.

Thanks in part to the embarrassing bankruptcy of a Waco charter school and a similar Austin shutdown, Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, filed HB6, which would more precisely define the administrative standards under which charters operate -- and declare a two-year moratorium on new charters until current problems are addressed. Gov. Rick Perry has strongly supported more charters, so Dunnam may have an uphill fight.

Working with the public schools, Austin Rep. Dawnna Dukes has filed HB1387 to prevent students at magnet schools housed on minority campuses from competing with host school students for the top 10% slots that guarantee admission to state colleges. Using a complex calculus, Dukes has drafted a bill that affects only the top 10%, does not alter class rankings, yet rewards the top 10% of students from the magnet and from the host school. Dukes' bill would provide a more just system at AISD's Johnston and LBJ High schools, which host the district's two magnet high schools.

Dukes is also promoting her second annual African-American Community Heritage Festival -- which raises funds for Borders Learning Center, Lisa's H.O.P.E. Chest, and the W.H. Passon Historical Society. There's a big bash on the Huston-Tillotson Campus, 900 Chicon, Saturday, Feb. 24 from 1-4pm. Food, carnival games, clowns, and entertainment -- a jazz and gospel lineup headlined by local rapper NOOK (who appeared in this space last week, as a plaintiff who sued when allegedly denied service at a local Taco Cabana). For more info about the festival, call Rodneh Ahart at 463-0506.

Not expected to be quite so festive is the Pacifica Foundation's national board meeting, scheduled for Houston, March 2-4. The Foundation, fearful of protests against the ongoing corporatization of the Pacifica Radio Network, hasn't announced a location. Embattled Democracy Now! programmers Juan González (who resigned in protest) and Amy Goodman (under increasing network pressure) are expected to take part in Houston demos. Organizers will meet Sunday afternoon, Feb. 25 at the UH University Center. For more info: Sheila Harris: freehoustonradio@yahoo.com.

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