From highway funding to protecting hunting and fishing, Texas voters will have a say in whether the state Constitution should be amended in seven very different ways. Alana Rocha, with our reporting partner The Texas Tribune, breaks down what you’ll see on the ballot. Early voting ends Friday. Election day is Tuesday, November 3rd.
The fifth annual Texas Tribune Festival took place on the University of Texas campus last weekend, bringing with it hundreds of lawmakers, policy experts, and civically-minded Texans for in-depth conversations and panels about issues facing our state. KLRU’s Public Affairs team attended the Fest, and while we wish we could have cloned ourselves and seen even more, there are a few panels we keep thinking about almost a week later.
How to Turn a School Around
After spending January-August reporting on Eastside Memorial High School’s struggles to make state accountability, we knew we couldn’t miss this panel. Austin ISD Superintendent Dr. Paul Cruz spoke, along with Donna Bahorich, Chairwoman of the SBOE, David Anthony of Raise Your Hand Texas, Superintendent Juan Cabrera of El Paso ISD, and Steven Tallant of Texas A&M University-Kingsville.
When asked how AISD turned Eastside around after more than a decade of failing scores, Dr. Cruz explained the process was complex because of the low-income community the school serves.
“It was a very methodical process,” Dr. Cruz said, explaining that TEA gave Eastside and AISD more time than usual in the reconstitution plan. Cruz stressed the importance of understanding the home lives of at-risk students, and the need for a “community schools approach.”
An audience member who serves on a school board in another Texas district asked Dr. Cruz if AISD would be releasing a white paper about the methods used at Eastside. Dr. Cruz said yes, a report will be compiled so other districts can see what worked.
One-on-One with Nancy Pelosi
Another high point for us during the Texas Tribune Festival was the National Keynote with U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi sat down with Tribune Washington Bureau Chief Abby Livingston in front of a packed audience in Hogg Memorial Auditorium.
Seemingly no topic was off limits – Pelosi discussed the House Speaker race, Hillary Clinton’s run for office, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Iran nuclear deal, immigration reform, gun control, and even Ann Richards.
Pelosi said she is confident Democrats will regain control of the U.S. House by 2018, though she was noncommittal when asked if she would hold the Speaker’s gavel again. “I think the Democrats can have the gavel in 18 months,” she said.
When asked how to ensure more women run for office and are elected, Pelosi blamed campaign finance. Repeatedly during her keynote conversation she stressed the need to limit the amount of money that can be contributed to campaigns and Super PACs. She said if the money could be reigned in, more women and more minorities would run for office and be successful getting elected.
You can see video from Leader Pelosi’s conversation in the video below, courtesy of The Texas Tribune. All of the keynote events were recorded and can be seen here.
Six Republican presidential hopefuls were in North Texas last weekend to speak to Evangelical Christians at one of the nation’s largest mega-churches. Alana Rocha from our political reporting partner The Texas Tribune was there, and explains why events like this are key for this critical voting bloc.
About 4 years ago UT revamped its online course offerings with Psychology 101. But this isn’t your average online class. Taught in a state-of-the-art TV studio, the professors have become celebrities, and students who might otherwise have struggled in large core classes are excelling.
Everyone knows Austin is growing, and we do a lot of reporting at KLRU about that growth – who is being impacted, how is the city prepared to handle new residents, where are the new residents coming from? For the last few months we partnered with KUT 90.5, Austin’s NPR Station, and the Austin Monitor, to report on how Austin’s growth is seeping into a small, nearby city: Manor, Texas.
Today, we unveil a new digital reporting project called Austin’s Eastern Frontier. KLRU, KUT, and the Monitor sent reporters to Manor to find out how their population boom is changing life for the residents there.
The population of the city of Manor has grown more than 500% in the past decade. Like many suburbs in Central Texas, many of the newcomers moved from Austin — pushed out by rising housing costs. Some of them are very low income, some are middle income or former renters who are looking to trade a rent payment for a mortgage.
Mouths to Feed
KLRU’s first story is about The Bannockburn Baptist Church in Manor. They opened a food pantry a few years ago and in the last year and a half, have seen demand spike. Once a week they offer free vegetables, meats, cereal – you name it – free of charge to anyone. Clients get to stroll the aisles and pick out what they like. “All it takes is to have a hungry belly and come in and fill out a couple forms, and you’re good,” Pastor Luis Holguin says.
Longer Arm of the Law
As Manor grows, so does the city’s police force. In the past year Manor PD has added 8 new officers. Most of the calls come from one place: Walmart. But, as the once-small town deals with city problems like traffic and crime, Manorites say it’s not the “rough little town” it once was.
On the Market
Pete Dwyer has been buying up pieces of Manor since the 1990s. He’s watched the land become more valuable and has sold pieces of it to home developers and builders. In recent years he donated some of his land to Manor ISD, which has seen a 92% increase in students in the past decade. The first school built on his land, ShadowGlen Elementary, opened in August 2015. The second elementary school built on his land will open next summer.
We’ll be airing the KLRU stories during PBS NewsHour Weekend on Sunday October 11, Saturday October 17 and Sunday October 18. You can find the entire series by visiting austinseasternfrontier.org.
The 9th Street BMX Park has been a community project since it was first built over 20 years ago. What started as a single dirt jump constructed by local riders has grown into a whole series of jumps maintained entirely by volunteers.
“This was all flat, and there was one jump in the middle, that’s what we started with,” recalls Steven Tyler, one of the BMX riders to help construct the first jumps. “You think, what happened, did these sprout out of the ground? No. That’s a lot of time spent digging out here, and a lot of credit needs to be given to a lot of people to have a place like this. People put a lot of work into a place like this.”
That group effort mentality is something Ty Bement instills in his students. Bement teaches BMX lessons to those interested in taking up the sport.
“We talk about safety gear, how to push through jumps,” Bement says. “Before we start any of that, we talk about how to use a broom and a water hose.”
The dirt jumps are constantly being torn down and reconstructed, but on Memorial Day, every jump was destroyed in a wall of water.
“Everything was underwater. You could swim down here,” Bement recalls. “That was a trail apocalypse for Austin.”
“It was racing through my mind, are they gonna rebuild it?” says Dakin Drewitz, a student of Bement’s. “Is it going to be the same as it used to be?”
After nearly four months and a lot of work by volunteers and community members, the answer is yes. Most of the jumps have been reconstructed in the wake of May’s devastating flood, but this labor of love never quite wraps up.
“The dirt jumps are really never done,” Bement says. “They’re ongoing work.”
This story was written by KLRU and PBS NewsHour intern Kennedy Huff. Kennedy is an alumna of the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs program. Kennedy’s story aired during PBS NewsHour on Tuesday, September 8, 2015. You can see it in the video below.
Gardner-Betts Juvenile Justice Center serves as a probation facility for the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. While in detention, the residents continue working toward their high school diploma, get exposure to trades, and learn a variety of arts.
Five years ago, Gardner-Betts partnered with Austin Classical Guitar Society to teach classical guitar to residents, allowing them to earn a fine art credit necessary for graduation.
“It started with the recommendation from one of our members,” Director of Education and Outreach for Austin Classical Guitar, Travis Marcum, said. “He set up a meeting between us and Gardner-Betts. [He was] just thinking that these kids might have a specific need, that they’re not getting really any arts education while they’re incarcerated, so this might be a good fit for us.”
Last winter, Jeremy Osborne began teaching the guitar class at Gardner-Betts. Osborne held many fears about handling the program, but one stood above the rest.
“When I took over I knew what to expect but [I had] a lot of trepidation actually,” Osborne said. “You know there’s a lock on every door, you have to memorize a handful of codes to get through all the different security blocks and everything and it’s really disorienting. Starting with this project brought out a lot of personal anxieties and fear. It wasn’t about getting attacked by a student, or whatever, it was literally like ‘I’m not gonna do a good job for these kids.’”
However, Osborne’s assumptions proved to be wrong. The students in the program think highly of him and are grateful for the class. Demetrius, Israel, and Peter have all been at Gardner-Betts for over a year.
“I’m 18, never thought I’d see the light, never thought I’d see the day that I’d be graduating,” Demetrius said. “I really like the feeling, because everybody in my family graduated high school, went to college at least one year, maybe two, and dropped out, got locked up, or died. It showed me a different path. Instead of going down the wrong road I can go down the right one.”
“I used to actually have a real bad anger problem,” Israel said. “So when I would get real angry, or I could be like sad, I guess you could say, or withdrawn I get on my guitar. It’s just really given me something to do when I’m bored or thinking about something, I guess, that’s not in my best interest.”
Prior to joining the program, Peter was a high school dropout. With the help of Osborne, he is set to attend San Jacinto College this fall, in the pursuit of a music production degree.
“My mom is excited,” Peter said. “Usually if she heard something about me it was always bad and it feels good to have something good like graduating high school, learning how to play the guitar, going to school. Now every time she sees me she just smiles. I’m sure her cheeks hurt by now.”
A recent study from the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University found that 75% of juveniles released from a juvenile probation facility in Texas are rearrested up to 5 years after their release. Jeremy Osborne hopes the skills students have learned in his class will keep them from reentering the criminal justice system.
“If you talk to a lot of the staff here they’ll say it’s pretty common that statistically a lot of these kids will re-offend and wind up back here,” Osborne said. “I would like to think that at least a handful of them can kinda keep [on a good] path when they get out of here. They always have a guitar there to come to when they’re stressed out. My ultimate hope for them is that they come out of here and don’t come back.”
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, thousands of evacuees traveled to Texas. More than 7,000 came to Austin, where many slept in the Austin Convention Center. To mark 10 years since the storm KLRU spoke with 7 New Orleanians about their experiences during Hurricane Katrina and why they chose to stay in Austin to create a new life.
One of those individuals is Jese Webb. Jese stayed in New Orleans during the storm. He didn’t leave his home until he was forced to do so by rising water after the levees broke. He then spent up to 5 days in the New Orleans Convention Center. He arrived by plane to Austin and spent another 6 days at the Austin Convention Center. Now he’s a preacher and a hair stylist.
Aquita “Q” Gaddis-Gray was a young single mom when she drove out of New Orleans before the storm hit. She evacuated with her three year old daughter and a hundred dollars to her name. Now, she’s a cosmetologist, is married, and has 4 children. Q says she stayed in Austin to experience a different life than the one she had in New Orleans and 10 years later she calls herself blessed.
You can find all of our interviews marking the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina here.
Many of the laws passed during the recent legislative session go into effect September 1st. This weekend during PBS NewsHour, our partners at The Texas Tribune look at two of those new laws. The stories, reported by Multimedia Reporter Alana Rocha, are part of the Tribune’s 31 Days, 31 Ways series.
You may not have known that up until the passage of House Bill 104 it was illegal for professional hair stylists to do their work “on location,” outside of a traditional salon. The clients who usually ask for that type of service are brides on their wedding day.
“Some [wedding venues] have gone to the extreme, they’ve got great lit mirrors and multi-plugs every so many feet. That makes it easier for me to come and service their brides,” Lecia Harkins of Beauty on the Go says.
But even with all of those accommodations, Harkins and other beauticians and cosmetologists were actually breaking the law. House Bill 104, a bill by state Rep. James White, spells out in statute the ability for those professionals to beautify bridal parties wherever is convenient for them and work other special events.
Another new law is meant to prevent patients with health insurance from suffering sticker shock when the bill comes from a hospital visit. Senate Bill 481 minimizes the impact of so-called “balance billing” on policyholders.
Currently, if the balance bill patients get stuck with is below $1,000, they have to cover the cost. In most cases if a bill is over that amount doctors and insurers will negotiate a deal, if patients request mediation. Starting September 1st, that threshold will be lowered to $500.
The Texas Association of Business supported the new law, and the group hopes to eliminate balance billing all together next session.
“We think that for those who have insurance, the insurance company should be able to go to bat and negotiate a rate for the entire difference between the contracted rate and what the doctors are billing them for,” says Bill Hammond, President and CEO of the Texas Association of Business.
Doctors’ groups worry that eliminating balance billing will force them to spend more time in mediation with insurers and less time with patients.
KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour Weekend, every Saturday and Sunday evening at 6:30pm.