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Showdown: House to Vote on ‘Community Schools’ that Conflict with Texas Values

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“Community schools” is not a widely-known term, but today representatives in the Texas State House will vote on House Bill 1891, entitled “Relating to Texas Community Schools” – legislation that would, if passed, fundamentally change the role of public education in students’ lives, in ways that conflict with Texas values.

HB 1891, written by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin), defines a “community school” as any K-12 public school that “partners with one or more community-based organizations to coordinate academic, social, and health services.”

Community schools are not the usual workforce-ready education reform. “The vision of a community school must be at the heart of emerging place-based initiatives, including Promise Neighborhoods, Choice Neighborhoods, cradle-to-career programs, and P-20 networks integrating educational opportunities from preschool through college,” according to Achieving Results Through Community School Partnerships, a 2012 report by the Coalition for Community Schools (CCS), in conjunction with the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) and sponsored by the George Soros funded Center for American Progress.

This is not merely an ambitious school reform – it is a life plan for the entire family. In addition to academic, social, emotional, and behavioral health needs, programs for family support, youth development, service learning, wellness, social justice, and even parenting classes are packed into a slew of public-private partnerships to create a community-at-large.

It is a new mindset, says CCS, in which Big Education leads the way in public/private partnerships that integrate social services right into the fabric of the school’s DNA. The community schools promotional video also touts expanded school days for instruction; health, nutrition, and physical education; and even “strong family and community engagement that includes access to crucial family support systems such as housing, language learning, and employment,” all while closing achievement gaps during and after school, on weekends, and over the summer with enrichment programs.

Is there anything that community schools cannot do?

The 2013 report The Growing Convergence of Community Schools and Expanded Learning Opportunities explained, “Community schools have a long history with deep roots in John Dewey’s idea of schools as social centers and Jane Adam’s aspirations to provide social supports to those who most need them.” They are envisioned the “hub” of society and family life.

It was no coincidence that the Texas American Federation of Teachers (AFT) offered up community-based schools as the union’s solution to public charters, as Breitbart Texas reported.

Under HB 1891, a school identified as failing for two years would become a community school to avoid “reconstitution,” thus ending the current system of re-purposing failed institutions into public charter schools, or even closing such campuses entirely. It’s a move that inspired the progressive Austin Chronicle to call HB 1891 “smart political jujitsu, turning the language of parental trigger bills and voucher advocates on its head.”

The community schools bill reflects values completely opposite to those expressed by school choice advocates through legislation such as Senate Bill 14, Somehow this last-minute House bill, spiritually aligned with big teacher unions and the US Department of Education (USDE), will be heard today while SB 14 – the charter school parent trigger law – was ignored by House Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen).

A clear call for more charter schools was sent from the Senate chamber, the people of the state of Texas, and Governor Abbott and Lt. Governor Patrick, who are staunch supporters of school choice. Breitbart Texas reached out to Aycock to discuss SB 14, but he did not return the call.

The inspiration for Community Schools are “Promise Schools,” the vision of American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten, and Reclaiming the Promise, a co-initiative with the Albert Shanker Institute, a proponent of Common Core educational standards.

In March 2014, Breitbart Texas reported on the special interest group Save Texas Schools and its Austin-based advisory committee chairman Allen Weeks, who sat cozily alongside AFT’s Weingarten on a Reclaiming the Promise through Community Schools SXSWedu panel.

Weingarten told the audience that she “had been in Austin since January with Weeks” to work on a “community schools strategy”- the same strategy New York Governor Andrew Cuomo imposed through executive order, aligning public education, health and social services into one convenient hub: the public school.

One month later, in Austin, progressive California Congressman George Miller (D-Concord, ret.) preached “wrap-around services,” the round-the-clock care component prominently featured in community school plans. A community schools coordinator would be hired to manage such services.

Interestingly, HB 1891 is not against all charter schools. It proposes a specialized industry-certified type of charter school as a pilot program. Private partners would be asked to pony up a minimum of $1 million for entities with “a successful history of providing education services, including industry certifications and job placement services, to adults 18 years of age and older whose educational and training opportunities have been limited by educational disadvantages, disabilities, homelessness, criminal history, or similar circumstances.”

The CCS cited a few community school programs and services maintained by public and private funding streams, such as Title I, 21st Century Learning Grants, and United Way. The goal is to bring the programs of community agencies and organizations into schools.

HB 1891 would also allow a Texas community school to accept “gifts, grants, donations, and funds from federal and state agencies and private sources for purposes related to the school’s function.”

Already, the San Antonio Independent School District (ISD), is a full-service USDE Community School 2014 grant winner, obtaining $2,276,179 in funding over five years. Austin-based non-profit Southwest Key Programs was also awarded $2,499,597 in federal cash.

Among many other changes, the bill would amend the Texas Education Code to empower a “campus intervention team” to reallocate resources, change school procedure or operations, get waivers from state statutes or rules, and make other changes the team deems appropriate.

The bill states that if it receives a two-thirds vote of all elected members in the House and Senate today, it will take effect immediately, while passage on a lesser vote would force the bill to take effect on September 1.

HB 1891 would impose the latest far-reaching education reform imprint upon Texas public education and the family unit. The community schools coalition mocked “conventional” public school models, likening them to old corded rotary phones, while comparing community schools to smart phones.

The question is, on which phone will Texas lawmakers make the call today?

Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.


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