Foundation for the Future

Adrian Garcia’s Plan to Make Education a Priority in County Government in Precinct 2

We all know that education is the foundation for a better future. But Harris County politicians are skipping school when it comes to prioritizing our next generation.

There is no one who relies more on public education to reach the American dream than the residents of Precinct 2.

Many are children of immigrants who came to this country, like Adrian Garcia’s family did, to build a better life based on the hope that hard work and opportunity could be combined to change the trajectory of lives.

But for the politicians, education just hasn’t been a priority. Our county is as strong and vibrant as our people — and Adrian Garcia knows that a key part of empowering our people is making public education a priority of county government in every Precinct 2 neighborhood.

The truth is, we know what works. But politics have gotten in the way.

That’s why Adrian will immediately put a plan in motion to start using community centers and libraries as learning and resource centers to help families reclaim the promise and restore the dream that a good education can provide.  Adrian’s plan has three parts:

  1. Pre-kindergarten
  2. Triple-A support for our K-12 schools
  3. Thriving adult education programs

Houston area residents support, by 67 to 30 percent, providing universal preschool education for all children.

Adrian’s Plan:

I. PRE-K
Access, Funding, and Parental Involvement

High quality pre-kindergarten sets a child on a path to career and personal advancement for a lifetime.

Research shows students who miss pre-school are behind on the day their formal education begins — and they often don’t catch up. Full day, high-quality pre-kindergarten helps narrow the learning gaps for struggling students.

A research study by James J. Heckman, a Nobel prize-winning economist, followed participants in North Carolina from the 1970s well into adulthood. It found that 35 year olds who had attended a high quality early education program as youngsters finished more years of education and earned higher incomes than those who missed out, whether through lower quality programs or by not attending pre-kindergarten at all.

Pre-kindergarten even makes us healthier. Men who had attended high quality pre-school as children were less likely to suffer from high blood pressure and less likely to abuse drugs. The benefits extend through generations. When Head Start students grow up, their children are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.

With such staggering proof of success, how can Harris County afford NOT to provide pre-kindergarten?

Other research identifies the qualities of the best programs; They focus on the whole child. Programs produce the best results when they stress the cognitive, social, emotional and physical development of children and are personally, socially and culturally relevant.

Head Start is a good start, but it’s not enough for Harris County children. The Houston Education Research Consortium at Rice University’s Kinder Institute found students enrolled in Head Start do quantifiably better than those who were not. But the county has only 1,500 seats in Head Start programs. What about the rest of our children? We must offer more.

The people of Harris County are way ahead of the politicians in understanding the importance of pre-k education. The Kinder Institute’s annual survey found two out of three Houstonians support early education even if it means paying higher taxes. Pre-kindergarten has bipartisan support.

Early to Rise was a public-private partnership that would have provided training, assistance and equipment to high-quality preschool programs and parents. We know it attracted strong support because the proposal garnered signatures from nearly 150,000 people.

Yet, the County Judge refused to put funding on the ballot. Valid concerns could easily have been addressed by building transparency into the implementation process.

Instead, political interests used these concerns to kill the program altogether — and our children lost.

Where was the current County Commissioner? He wasn’t there fighting for school children. When it comes to supporting our next generation and their families, his absence is unexcused.

It’s time the families of Precinct 2 had someone on their side who will be committed to providing the early start our kids and families need.

Parents as Partners: Make no mistake about it, early childhood education is a family matter.

These are the years to fully engage parents and help them create lifelong habits of supporting their child’s learning.

That’s why parent engagement is a critical element of Adrian’s plan to ensure the success of all students. Building relationships with parents and families is a proven way to support the academic and social achievements of students.

The first major study on parent engagement, “A New Wave of Evidence,” found that building relationships with families makes a concrete difference for kids regardless of family income level or background.

Students with involved parents are more likely to have higher grades and test scores, attend school regularly, have better social skills, show improved behavior and adapt well to school. And ALL children benefit; having engaged parents at school actually improves the performance of all the children at the school, not just their own.

That’s why Adrian will immediately put a plan in motion to turn community centers and public libraries into education and resource centers. Parents can take computer classes, parenting classes, and even training to get better jobs. They’ll have access to program materials for the children’s education.

We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. For example, The Integra Institute recognizes the dramatic difference it can make to children when their parents are provided help along the path of a student’s academic career. Integra has created educational orientation modules to promote educational opportunities targeting the Latino community—which is 64% of HISD’s population. Integra provides leadership and educational workshops to parents on childhood development, civic participation, and college education. It helps parents to develop a better interaction with their children and their schools to improve their education.

All parents need support to get their children through school, and Adrian Garcia is going to make sure they have someone on their side on Commissioner’s Court.

ACTION ITEMS

  • Begin a pilot program offering high quality pre-kindergarten and convene a credentialed work group to bring the pilot program to scale
  • Create a pre-kindergarten funding measure and move for commissioners to put on the ballot — to let the people of Harris County decide
  • Advocate with state and federal representatives on behalf of Harris County residents to increase funding of sustainable, high quality pre-k programs
  • Use community centers and libraries as learning and resource centers to help families access public school programs and supportive resources

II. K-12
Triple-A support for our K-12 schools: Access,
Awareness, and Afterschool

Nowhere in the United States is the public school population growing faster than in Texas. Projected enrollment growth between 2014 and 2026 is a whopping 14 percent and Houston/Harris County will educate nearly a third of these students.

The county’s Department of Education provides critical services to 25 Harris County school districts. But Republicans in the state legislature have systematically decreased funding of our neighborhood schools for decades.

At a time when school districts are being held to the highest standards of achievement through the current accountability system, schools have fewer resources and students are coming in with greater needs.

1. Access

Schools need to ensure that all children, no matter their circumstances, have access to an education that helps them achieve their potential.

The hard reality right now is that less than 30 percent of HISD’s students graduate ready for college in writing and math. We can and must do better.

But according to the Houston Chronicle, Texas has turned its back on public education, severely cutting budgets even in good economic times. Without the necessary resources, schools are having a tough time — especially considering that the students are coming to the school house gate with greater needs than ever before.

Research shows that two thirds of student success has to do with what happens outside the classroom.

Circumstances like family wealth, parental education level, access to healthcare, and neighborhood conditions all play a significant part in whether our children do well in school. At one struggling high school, it was found that one out of three freshmen needed eye glasses. How can we expect students to do well academically if they can’t even see the chalkboard?

The answer is, we can’t. That’s why we must do more to identify the barriers to educational achievement and to give children of families who struggle equal access to the American dream. That means some schools need additional support.

HISD has proven that extra support works. Achieve 180 schools, which have increased wrap around services, have demonstrated increased student achievement. Programs like Achieve 180 need to expand.

That’s why Adrian supports the community school model, in which wrap around services for students and their families are provided at school. The county can play a big role in helping to coordinate these services that help students learn.

2. Awareness

Currently, parents—and some principals—do not even know the resources exist; they’re scattered in different agencies.

Adrian will provide a Family Resource Guide and will host an annual Resource Fair for the community. He’ll also promote programs that do exist by making available program materials and applications at all County offices and community centers.

For example, HISD’s magnet programs have proven results — for the students who know about them, but too few families take advantage of the opportunity.

We need to recognize the special role of the school in a family’s life. For many families living in Precinct 2, the school is a central part of the community. It’s where families forge relationships with other families, where parents gain experience advocating for their children, and it’s where families can access all kinds of services that can make a difference in their children’s lives.

Helping their children learn and stay healthy is the goal. That’s why schools should be the access point to many programs for families, regardless of which department or agency provides them.

We heard this over and over again as we talked to parents and educators. It’s time to put an end to service silos. Parents should be able to access all programs through their children’s school and through public libraries and community centers.

Organizations like the Integra Institute work because they coordinate services across agencies and they help school communities build relationships with supportive partners.

Carlos Salazar, a teacher at Sam Houston High School and a previously undocumented immigrant, understands the importance of providing students with more supports. He wrote the book on it!

After seeing the lack of materials available to help students navigate immigration issues as well as the current anti-immigrant sentiment, he developed a supplemental text book that’s being taught at Sam Houston and other HISD schools.

Not all schools have such partners, and some need help forging new partnerships with local businesses.

Austin ISD recognizes that when businesses and the community engage with schools, through tutoring, mentoring, or providing needed resources and support, they enrich the quality of education in the community and ensure students have the means to be even more successful in reaching their educational goals.

By facilitating partnerships with Harris County schools, local businesses could strengthen the workforce of the future and truly make a difference for students, teachers, and the Precinct 2 community.

Drawing on relationships from a lifetime of public service in Harris County, Adrian will facilitate such partnerships on behalf of our schools by immediately setting up a website where local businesses and local schools can access each other.

Schools can provide wish lists for donations, and can outline mentorship programs for professionals in local businesses to volunteer their time, expertise and mentorship to support a local school.

3. Afterschool

The third piece of Adrian’s K-12 education plan is enhancing afterschool programs to keep children safe and engaged, and to enrich their academic experience.

The Texas Afterschool Centers on Education program, or Texas ACE© programs aim to improve student attendance, behavior, and academics, while providing safe supplemental learning space for students who otherwise would not have such opportunities. These grant-funded programs provide high quality supplemental enrichment activities that align with the regular academic program; and programs are encouraged to deliver those activities in creative, hands-on, and exploratory ways.

Finally, Adrian recognizes that school leaders play a singular role in the community. That’s why he will immediately reconvene regular meetings with school principals and community education leaders that Sylvia Garcia once conducted, but were stopped when the current commissioner took over.

Action Items:

  1. Create a program to encourage the adoption of the community schools model in Precinct 2 schools
  2. Set up a website for local businesses to support local schools with donations, volunteers, mentorship, and other partnershipsPublish a Family Resource Guide and host an annual Resource Fair to promote school programs for the families of Harris County
  3. Restore after school programs like the Texas ACE program that keep children safe and enrich their academics
  4. Reconvene regular meetings with school principals and hold quarterly education town halls in Precinct 2

III. ADULT EDUCATION
Parent Engagement, Job Training,
and Second Chance

Whether parents need classes to help them help their children with homework, or adults seek additional training to get a better paying job, or older youth need a second chance, adult education can change the lives of many Harris County residents. 

Adrian will implement a plan to coordinate existing programs of Career, Technical, and Adult Education to improve program quality, implementation, and accountability.

Adult Education and Literacy enables adults to acquire the basic skills necessary to function in today’s society so that they can benefit from the completion of secondary school, enhanced family life, attain citizenship and participate in job training and retraining programs.

We must enhance the quality of adult education to help all Harris County students acquire challenging academic and technical skills to prepare for high-skill, high-wage, or high-demand jobs in the 21st century global economy.

Community colleges can and should be centers of innovation and expanded access to postsecondary education and workforce development for youth and adults—and be affordable and accessible to all Harris County residents. Working with community colleges and certification programs, Adrian will coordinate with county school districts to help them implement rigorous career and technical education programs.

Community colleges are well equipped for the role and can provide a linkage from high school to higher education for students who never imagined that college was attainable for them. Experiencing success in this transitional environment can help students gain the confidence necessary to move onto traditional university, or seek better paying jobs after training.

Action Items:

  • Coordinate community colleges and certification programs with county school districts to help them implement rigorous career and technical education programs
  • Build an adult education program that provides basic and supplemental learning opportunities such as adult literacy, English language learning, and Civics classes.

IV. CONCLUSION

The residents of Harris County can count on Adrian Garcia not to let politics get in the way of helping them reach the American dream, like he did.

Adrian’s plan of expanded pre-kindergarten, triple-A support for our k-12 schools, and a thriving adult education program will provide families with more and better access to a stronger public education system — and a better life for themselves and their families.

RESOURCES

National Center for Education Statistics:
https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cga.asp

A Billionaire’s Push to Bolster One of the Biggest K-12 Systems in America, Inside Philanthropy:
https://www.insidephilanthropy.com/home/2017/7/24/charles-butt-k-12-grants-teacher-training

HISD’s Achieve 180:
https://www.houstonisd.org/Page/166340

Kinder Institute:
https://kinder.rice.edu/houstonsurvey2018

Austin Partners in Education:
https://austinpartners.org/partner

Integra Institute:
http://www.integrainstitute.org

New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement, National Policy forum for Family, School & Community Engagement:
http://www.sedl.org/connections/engagement_forum/resources.cgi?item=29

Carlos Salazar:
https://cw39.com/2018/03/21/dreamer-hisd-teacher-creates-supplemental-text-book-for-stressed-students/

Adult Education and Career and Technical training, U.S. Department of Education:
https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ovae/index.html

Who benefits from Head Start? Kids who attend — and their kids, too, Chalkbeat:
https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2017/09/19/who-benefits-from-head-start-kids-who-attend-and-their-kids-too/