KLRU News Briefs: Social and Emotional Learning through Art, Pre-K Debate Mired in Politics

This weekend during PBS NewsHour, we talk to the members of Creative Action, a non-profit arts organization. Plus, The Texas Tribune Roundup highlights the week from the State Capitol.

Creative Action works to use art and creative expression to reinvigorate young people’s love of learning.

“We use the arts to spark and support student’s social and emotional learning,” Sophie Hopkins, Director of Teen Programs at Creative Action, said.

Social and Emotional Learning, often referred to as SEL, is a priority in AISD. In the district SEL teaches “recognizing and managing our emotions, developing caring and concern for others, establishing positive relationships, making responsible decisions, and handling challenging situations constructively and ethically.”

On Sunday we once again air the Texas Political Roundup from Alana Rocha at The Texas Tribune.  This week, tensions over breakfast between Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus regarding Pre-K and ‘school choice’ legislation advances. The bill, by state Senator Larry Taylor (R – Friendswood), would set up an initial $100 million in state tax credits for businesses that donate money to fund scholarships for special-needs and low-income students. The measure now goes to the House.

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour Weekend, every Saturday and Sunday evening at 6:30. Our Saturday story is part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative, which is aimed at increasing awareness around the dropout crisis in Central Texas. Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx. 

KLRU News Briefs: Teaching Language Through Dance, Lawmakers Dive into Shark Fin Debate

This weekend during PBS NewsHour, we talk to the Austin native behind Dance Another World, an English immersion non-profit taught through dance. Plus, The Texas Tribune highlights what happened at the State Capitol this week.

Dance Another World works with non-native English speaking girls from primarily low socio-economic areas. They currently teach dance after school at T.A. Brown Elementary in North Austin, but they recently received their vendor license from AISD, which will allow them to offer the program in more schools next school year.

The program is a mixture of dance, reading, and writing in English. 

“There’s so much research that shows the benefits of growing up bilingual. Language is such a mental thing,” says Dawn Mann, Founder of Dance Another World. “We know a dance is a story, so we will read and write our own stories, and then we’ll portray them in a dance. It lets the girls work on their English but put their energy towards the art and dance.”

You can watch that story in the video above.

This week’s Texas Political Roundup from The Texas Tribune centers around end of life care for pregnant women, the Senate budget, and the debate surrounding the sale of shark fins.

A House bill by Rep. Elliott Naishtat (D-Austin) would remove a line in state law that requires pregnant women remain on life support, regardless of their last wishes. “Marlise’s Law” is in memory of Marlise Muñoz who was declared brain dead at a Fort Worth hospital and kept alive for 62 days despite her family’s wishes.

Also debated in the House this week was a bill by Rep. Eddie Lucio III which would make the practice of purchasing and selling shark fins in Texas illegal. The House passed the measure, which now goes to Senate. You can see the Roundup in the video below.

KLRU News Briefs air locally every Saturday and Sunday evening at 6:30 during PBS NewsHour Weekend. Saturday’s story is part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative, which is aimed at increasing awareness around the dropout crisis in Central Texas. 

Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx. 

Overheard with Evan Smith guests talk 2016


We love politics at Overheard with Evan Smith and a lot of our guests do, too. This season, as always, we’ve interviewed politicians, political operatives, writers, and journalists and one topic always comes up: the 2016 presidential race.

Watch the playlist below to hear from former Congressman Barney Frank, Senator Bernie Sanders, conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, Bob Woodward, political strategist and Obama adviser David Axelrod, and Mary Matalin and James Carville as they analyze the field of potential candidates. Senator Sanders is considering running for president against newly-announced presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

All of our Overheard tapings are free and open to the public. Our next taping is this Friday, April 17 at 5pm with Cokie Roberts. You can sign up here for our email evite which will notify you every time we announce a taping. You watch our full archive of past episodes online anytime here.

News Briefs: McCallum Named GRAMMY Signature School, Taxes and Tuition Debated at State Capitol

“We actually didn’t believe we were number one until later in the evening and we started googling things,” said Carol Nelson, Director of Bands at McCallum High School.

McCallum has been named the 2015 National GRAMMY Signature School by the GRAMMY Foundation, a distinction given to the school considered to have the best high school music education program in the U.S.  The award comes with a $5,000 gift. The GRAMMY Foundation creates opportunities for high school students to work with music professionals to get real-world experience and advice about how to make a career in music.

We attended the orchestra and band rehearsal this week at McCallum. You can see our story about their award in the video above and on Saturday during PBS NewsHour Weekend.

On Sunday during NewsHour, we’ll bring you the Political Roundup from The Texas Tribune. This week Multimedia Reporter Alana Rocha highlights a tax debate in the Texas House, and testimony in a Senate committee over whether or not to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students. You can see that story in the video below.

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour Weekend, every Saturday and Sunday evening at 6:30pm. Our Saturday story is part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative, which is aimed at increasing awareness around the dropout crisis in Central Texas. 

Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx. 

KLRU News Briefs: Truancy Starts Many on Pipeline to Prison, Texas Tribune Highlights House Budget Debate

Research shows young people who are involved in the court system are more likely to dropout and eventually enter the justice system. This is what people call the School-to-Prison Pipeline, and that is what our Saturday News Briefs examines. This story is part two of a story we brought you last weekend about the push to decriminalize truancy in Texas.

We spoke again to Mary Mergler, Director of Texas Appleseed’s School-to-Prison Pipeline Project about their findings on this issue. She told us the pipeline’s most common victims are minority students.

“African-American and Latino students are sent to court disproportionate to their representation in the student body,” Mergler said. “And what we know about African-American and Latino students is that they are already at a greater risk for being pushed out of school by harsh disciplinary policies. So, our same groups of students who are already at risk, are also the ones being disproportionately sent to court for truancy which we know leads them down that school-to-prison pipeline.”

Special Education students are also over-represented at truancy court. Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston), who chairs the Senate’s Criminal Justice committee, authored one of many truancy bills this legislative session and has been working on this issue for years.

“From a financial standpoint you’re going to pay now or you’re going to pay later,” Senator Whitmire said. “We spend a lot of money on criminal justice. If we would spent a fraction of that on early intervention [and] mental health? I can’t emphasize that enough.”

Once the students are ordered to court for missing school, they and/or their parents face fines up to $500. Texas Appleseed reports 80% of students sent to court for truancy are low income and therefore often unable to pay those fines. In Travis County, Justice of the Peace Judge Yvonne Williams sees some of the poorest families in our region in her courtroom.

“On this side of town, though it’s changing, the average person I see is not able to afford these fines. So to say that I’m going to make you pay a fine is like saying, Okay, fine the blood in me. I’m a turnip. What are you going to do? So you still have that problem,” Williams said.  ”You can’t pay the fine, so you go to jail. So that’s that whole pipeline. I start at school, they get me accustomed to going to court, and then now, I’m an adult, and what the heck? I’m going to prison because I did this or this. I didn’t finish school. So I’m in this underbelly, and it’s okay.”

Judge Williams tells families to plead No Contest, which enters the parent and child into an intervention program and the Class C Misdemeanor is removed from the child’s record.

“I am not going to be part of the clog that makes that happen. My court is never going to be part of that system that makes that happen. I refuse to cooperate,” Williams said.

Our Sunday piece comes from our partners at The Texas Tribune. Every Sunday from now until Sine Die on June 1, we’ll bring you legislative stories from the Tribune. This week’s Political Roundup from Multimedia Reporter Alana Rocha looks at the Texas House’s all-nighter spent debating their budget bill. Plus, a look at the early stages of Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign.

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour Weekend, every Saturday and Sunday evening at 6:30pm. Our Saturday story is part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative, which is aimed at increasing awareness around the dropout crisis in Central Texas. Lydia De La Garza, who is featured in the piece, is a member of our American Graduate Advisory Group.

Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx. 


KLRU News Briefs: The fight over decriminalizing truancy in Texas

“Texas prosecutes more than twice the number of truancy cases prosecuted in all other states combined.” That’s according to Texas Appleseed, a legal advocacy group which released a report this month entitled Class, Not Court,  outlining why they support decriminalizing truancy in Texas. This weekend and part of next weekend, we look at the different sides of this issue, and try to find out why these students are missing school.

The law currently states that when a child has unexcused absences for 3 days or parts of days within a four-week period, the school can refer the child to court for truancy. If the child racks up unexcused absences for 10 days or parts of days within 6 months, the school “must file a complaint in juvenile or adult criminal court regardless of any ongoing intervention,” according to Texas Appleseed. Truancy is a Class C Misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $500.

State Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) has filed yet another bill this session to decriminalize truancy. Whitmire’s Senate Bill 106 would make truancy a civil, rather than criminal, offense and would set up early intervention programs to work with the child before they get to court. He authored a similar bill last session. It passed both chambers but was vetoed by Governor Perry. SB106 is scheduled for public hearing this Tuesday, March 31.

“To criminalize [truancy] I think is nuts,” Senator Whitmire said. “I don’t think it helps the family, it certainly profiles the family [and] the student, and I think there’s a better way. We need to get involved in the root cause of the truancy.”

“In most cases truancy is a problem that can be best addressed in the school setting with school officials and the family working together to resolve the underlying issues, bringing in or referring a student to non-profit organizations or other groups when appropriate, but court referral can be, or should be, a very last resort,” Mary Mergler, Director of Appleseed’s School-to-Prison Pipeline Project said.

Many of the people we spoke to mentioned that some districts use an automated system to track absences. We spoke to Lydia De La Garza, Truancy Specialist at Manor ISD. She told us that isn’t the case in Manor.

“At one point when I first moved to Manor, truancy filings were up to 300-400 a year. And so since I came, we cut it in half. Altogether it’s because of my position and providing those interventions and making sure we’re filing on the correct students. It was a computer generated system and it was probably like how other school districts in other areas are probably doing right now,” De La Garza said.

For her, filing for truancy is always the last resort, but sometimes a necessary one.

“So finally when I get to court, then it’s like ‘okay all of these efforts have been done. I need you to help me either make them understand that school is important and that they need to follow through with certain programs.’ Because sometimes they won’t follow through with a certain program of getting involved. Yes, me administering the programs to them is one thing. But then them actually enrolling it, I need more support of a judge to say ‘no, you need to come to these parent workshops.’ And also, working with the student to get enrolled. So we have to investigate that,” De La Garza said.

Manor’s cases end up in the Travis County Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 courtroom in front of Judge Yvonne Williams. Judge Williams sees some of the most economically disadvantaged kids in our region and on two Wednesdays per month her courtroom handles truancy cases.

“We know the big picture is we want you to be good citizens. It’s been shown if you don’t graduate you’re less likely to be employed. So, we know that’s a good goal. Now, how do we make that happen? And that’s what I grapple with in my courtroom on a regular basis,” Judge Williams said. “What I’m trying to do is get behind those issues. I am in favor of decriminalizing.  Do I have an answer to what does that mean in terms of how to enforce? Not yet, but I think good people and good minds are working on it, and one of the things we have to do is make school someplace where children want to go, number 1.  We have to recognize the reason people don’t go to school is lots of reasons. There could be issues at home, issues with the child.”

Some of those issues are highlighted in Texas Appleseed’s report: 1 out of every 8 truancy filings is a student with special education needs.

“Many times what we see is students who have never been identified in the school system as having a disability, even though they have a long standing diagnosis, even though schools are informally aware of their disability, they’re not actually labelled as special education,” Meredith Shytles Parekh, an attorney with Disability Right Texas said. “What we’re seeing is courts getting these cases where the students have the disability, but the school isn’t providing any resources, and the courts are saying, ‘My hands are tied, all I can do is enter a plea for you, find you guilty or no contest,’ or whatever the student is pleading, and assess fines or community service or some other penalty, but it’s nothing that’s going to address the underlying root of what is causing the student’s absences.”

Judge Williams does explain all of the plea offerings to every person in her courtroom, in English and in Spanish through a translator. For special needs cases she says she can usually tell and is careful not to embarrass the student in front of everyone else in the courtroom.

“If it looks like a child has special needs, then I’m going to assign them to my juvenile case manager’s caseload. That person is then going to say ‘Maybe we need to put you with some housing specialists,’ or if the child is pregnant, “Maybe we should send you to any number of the teen pregnancy programs,’ or if it’s just a matter of ‘I’m not learning the way others learn, and I’m embarrassed so no, I don’t go to school, I show up and walk the halls,’ then we need to find what it means to put that person with tutoring, and maybe some other programs that deal with self-esteem,” Judge Williams said.

 Another concern when it comes to criminalized truancy is the so-called school-to-prison pipeline. We’ll take a look at that side of the issue next weekend during PBS NewsHour.

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour weekend, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 6:30. This story is part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative, which is aimed at increasing awareness around the dropout crisis in Central Texas. Lydia De La Garza is a member of our American Graduate Advisory Group.

Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx. 

KLRU News Briefs: EdTech in Spotlight at SXSWedu, Senate and House Pass Key Bills

SXSWedu is turned 5 this year, and at this year’s conference everyone was buzzing about education technology. One session, hosted by EdTech Action Founder and CEO Scott Lipton and Manor ISD Chief Academic Officer Debbie Hester, brought together educators, developers, and people from education businesses, to figure out how to put more “ed” into EdTech. We take you inside the room on Saturday during PBS NewsHour Weekend – and in the video above.

Hester told us Manor ISD is proud to have a 1:1 student-to-iPad ratio in its schools. But, she said, there are different levels of implementation depending on the class and the teacher, which is something she’d like to see improved upon.

“There are sometimes things that are purchased for teachers and then we’re saying ‘Here you go, go and implement it.’ And if we don’t give the professional development, the opportunities to be able to say this is how it’s going to impact your [teaching] then there is a little bit of frustration,” Hester said. “That’s why today was so important to me because I learned ways to break down those barriers.”

Lipton’s group hosts the third largest EdTech meetup in the world here in Austin. The session at SXSWedu allowed more networking among people from across the country.

“There is no good technology without good implementation and good teachers,” Lipton said. “The outcome of this is for everyone to stop talking and take action around it. We all made commitments to take these things out into the world, to stay in touch with each other, and try to make some of these things happen.”

Our Sunday story comes from our partners at The Texas Tribune. In their weekly political Roundup, Multimedia Reporter Alana Rocha looks back at key measures which passed in the Senate and in the House this week – including a “Campus Carry” bill and a border security measure. You can find that story here.

 KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour Weekend, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 6:30. 


KLRU News Brief: ‘Dreamers’ and Lawmakers Await Decision on Pres. Obama’s Immigration Action

On Saturday during PBS NewsHour Weekend, our KLRU News Brief looks at the recent court injunction of President Obama’s two immigration programs: an expansion of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and the implementation of DAPA, which allows parents of lawful resident children to be free of deportation and to obtain work permits. On Monday, the Obama Administration appealed the injunction.

Denise Gilman, UT Law Professor and Director of the school’s Immigration Clinic, told us the final decision about the legality of the program probably won’t be made for months or even years. For now it’s on hold, but Gilman believes we’ll know in the next few weeks if the DACA expansion and DAPA can be implemented in the meantime.

Governor Greg Abbott filed the lawsuit while he was Texas Attorney General. He accuses President Obama of ignoring the law.

“We have in the President’s executive order, an action in utter violation of the Constitution – of the President trying to circumvent around Congress and impose his own dictatorial mandates concerning immigration laws in this nation.” Governor Abbott said on February 18th. “The decision by Judge Hanen was far more than a victory for Texas and the other 25 states who joined us. This was a victory for America, and for the rule of law, and a victory for the Constitution. I am confident that as this case works its way up through the appellate process we will continue to win.”

Juan and Mizraim Belman are young immigration activists and members of the University Leadership Initiative. They crossed the border in 2003 from Mexico. Juan is a student at UT, Mizraim is a Junior at Crockett High School. They have two younger brothers who were born in the U.S., so if DAPA is implemented their parents will qualify to obtain legal status. In 2011, their father was detained and began deportation proceedings.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen, if he was going to get deported. In my mind I didn’t know if we were going to have to go back or if I was going to have to stay here by myself,” Juan said. “It was my first year at UT, my first semester, and all these things were going on and I didn’t know what to do.”

The family hired a lawyer and paid a $5,000 fine. In 2013 their father’s case was administratively closed because the court had too many other cases and he wasn’t seen as a priority for deportation. Both men are hopeful the courts will uphold President Obama’s action.

“I was crying out of happiness when Obama announced the expansion of DACA and DAPA because I knew all the hard work and organizing had paid off,” Juan said. “And I knew my parents would have the opportunity to receive a work permit and stay in the U.S. But now, with this injunction, it’s kind of heartbreaking.”

We followed the brothers at the State Capitol earlier this week where they lobbied lawmakers to continue providing in-state tuition for undocumented students who graduate from Texas high schools. Our partners at The Texas Tribune released a poll today showing Texans are split on that issue. You can find the poll results and analysis from the Tribune’s Ross Ramsey here.

You can see this story in the video above.

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour Weekend on Saturday and Sunday evenings at 6:30. We won’t have News Briefs for the next two weeks due to our pledge drive. But, you can find our previous local and state stories here and our American Graduate stories here

American Graduate: Dual Language Students Celebrate Tet New Year

The Austin ISD school board voted to expand its Spanish dual language program to two middle schools starting next school year. But Spanish isn’t the only language in the district’s dual language classrooms – Summitt Elementary is the district’s only Vietnamese dual language program. On Saturday during PBS NewsHour Weekend our KLRU News Brief goes inside that program, as students celebrate Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, and the Year of the Goat.

Olivia Hernandez, AISD’s Director of Bilingual Education says learning a second language fosters “academic and cognitive development” and that the goal for these students is for them to graduate “bilingual, bicultural and biliterate.”

Two teachers are assigned to each classroom. One is ESL certified and will teach the children language arts and social sciences in English.  She’s paired with a teacher who is bilingually certified in Vietnamese and will teach math and science in Vietnamese.

“We’re adding a second language, and we’re not eradicating their native language,” said Hernandez. “Language is the most important item or piece in identity of a person. If you lose your native language, you’re losing part of your identity.”

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour weekend, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 6:30. This story is part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative, which is aimed at increasing awareness around the dropout crisis in Central Texas. Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx. 

KLRU News Brief: Huston-Tillotson Clinic to Increase Access to Mental Health Care in East Austin

On Sunday during PBS NewsHour Weekend our KLRU News Brief takes a look at a partnership between The University of Texas’ Dell Medical School and Huston-Tillotson University which aims to expand mental health care to under-served residents in East Austin.

A clinic inside the Sandra Joy Anderson Community Health and Wellness Center at Huston-Tillotson, which was funded by a major gift from Austin Civil Rights pioneer Ada Anderson, will open this summer. It will also offer an opportunity for medical student training. Austin Travis County Integral Care will act as the health provider for mental and behavioral health services. CommUnity Care will operate the facility.

There is currently a shortage in mental health care providers and funding for mental health services in East Austin. Partners involved in the clinic also talk about a stigma surrounding mental health in Austin’s under-served communities.

“I think that there are certain cultural issues related to even acknowledging that issues exist. And part of our effort here is to break down that barrier,” said Dr. Larry L. Earvin, President and CEO of Huston-Tillotson University.

“It only makes sense to treat the whole person, and not have the community mental health center be on one side of town, and have the clinic services operating in another location,” Austin Travis County Integral Care CEO David Evans said. “We’re working diligently with the medical school to make sure that the providers will be able to relate to the community.”

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour Weekend, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 6:30.