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Houston Mayor Wants to Replicate Los Angeles Model to Turn Around Schools

For Turner’s idea to work, he’d likely need help from the Texas Legislature

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner comments during swearing in ceremonies for newly elected Houston ISD trustees, January 14, 2016.

Just weeks after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he wouldn’t officially partner with the Houston school district to fix struggling schools, he’s pitched a new idea that would put him at the forefront.

I will explore a model that takes responsibility for low-performing schools similar to what was done by the mayor in Los Angeles 10 years ago,” Turner announced at the state of the city address Tuesday.

That mayor — Antonio Villaraigosa, who is now running for California’s governorship —  created a partnership with the Los Angeles district to turn around struggling schools. The partnership gives those schools extra training and money, funded by multi-million dollar private donations.

Currently, Houston has more than 20 schools labeled “improvement required” by the state and 10 of those could trigger tough state penalties this year if they don’t improve. Those sanctions range from shuttering schools to a state takeover of the entire district.

Turner told reporters Tuesday that he can’t build a dynamic city with low-performing schools.

“And I think it’s important whether I want it or not — if the need exists — I want to help these kids,” Turner said.

He later added: “The question is what are we going to do to meet the needs of these kids going forward? And for me, I’m all in.”

Turner’s announcement comes as no viable partner has emerged for HISD, which wanted to pursue that avenue to ease pressure on sanctions but abandoned the idea after a raucous HISD meeting last week. Those previous partnership ideas would have followed a law called SB 1882, which allows an outside group, such as a charter or nonprofit, to temporarily take control of low-performing schools.

The deadline for that has passed and there is no extension, according to the Texas Education Agency.

For Turner’s idea to work, he’d likely need help from the Texas Legislature.

DeEtta Culbertson with the TEA said that Commissioner Mike Morath and Mayor Turner have spoken weekly about Houston ISD.

“Those discussions have have included a wide range of potential options, some of which are allowed under current law and some of which would require statutory change,” Culbertson said in an email.  Regarding the Los Angeles model: “We believe that would require statutory change,” Culbertson said.

The Los Angeles model also requires major private money, and Turner told reporters that he’s talked with local philanthropists, such as the Kinders and with the Texas grocery chain H-E-B.

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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