Editorial Roundup: Texas

Houston Chronicle. Feb. 4, 2021.
Editorial: Cancel the in-person STAAR test. Schools get a pass. Kids should too
After nearly a year of an educational environment pulled apart by a pandemic, many are at the breaking point. Now the state of Texas is adding to the load.
We struggle to understand the trade-off in priorities — accountability over safety — that has prompted the Texas Education Agency to insist that all students report for in-person STAAR testing and that high school students pass end-of-course exams to graduate. Our questions to the agency went unanswered but TEA owes Texas families an explanation.
Even in an ordinary school year, the merits of the STAAR as an accurate measure of learning are debatable. When instruction has been fractured and uneven, a standardized test cannot be a fair barometer. How can it pinpoint learning gaps without taking into account the wildly different levels of instruction children are receiving or the impact of compound traumas on scores?
It is foolhardy to proceed with the STAAR, especially since this year the test will not count toward school accountability. School administrators get a pass — but kids don’t?
Forcing students to take the test in-person, adding to their stress and potentially exposing them and their teachers to a deadly virus seems counter to the priorities of safety, flexibility and parental discretion that have thus far guided state policies. The stakes for high school seniors — those in virtual classes who don’t show up for the exams may not be able to graduate — seems needlessly callous.
Miguel Cardona, President Biden’s pick for Secretary of Education, alluded to that during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday: “If the conditions under COVID-19 prevent a student from being in school in person, I don’t think we need to be bringing students in just to test them.”
Fact is, the blanket testing mandate on public schools across Texas doesn’t take into account the varying degrees to which districts and schools are adhering to safety protocols or the fact that one exposure is enough to contract the virus. There are vigilant parents who haven’t sent their children back to in-person classes because they distrust, often for good reason, the commitment of local school officials to take COVID-19 seriously.
The state is allowing districts to set up satellite centers that will “accommodate testing while maintaining strong public health practices.” Districts can also apply for waivers so students not scheduled to take the STAAR could learn remotely, freeing up space for test-takers to social distance.
But so far, TEA has not specified any coronavirus prevention measures during testing. And what about the time and resources needed to set up alternate testing sites or the impact on districts whose budgets are already tight?
“We’re in the middle of a life-threatening pandemic,” state Rep. Alma Allen, D-Dallas, said Wednesday at a press conference where Texas House Democratic Caucus members called for the cancellation of the in-person STAAR. “We also cannot ask our teachers or our school personnel, students and families to put themselves at risk for an unnecessary test. Let me emphasize unnecessary.”
Educators don’t need a test to tell them what is known: Many Texas students, grappling with cascading pandemic stresses and disruptions, are struggling. Failure rates are up. Attendance is spotty. Kids are experiencing high levels of depression and anxiety.
Those considerations are why state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, has filed a bill to cancel this year’s STAAR and why a growing number of states are requesting federal waivers to cancel their own standardized tests. The Biden administration extended the deadline for waivers but needs to act decisively by granting states permission to forgo the tests, as the Trump administration did last spring.
Last March, Gov. Greg Abbott made the wise choice of canceling STAAR tests, noting then: “Your health and safety are top priorities, and the state of Texas will give school districts flexibility to protect and ensure the health of students, faculty and their families.”
At the time, Texas had only recorded one death from COVID-19, compared with the current toll of 2.4 million cases and more than 37,000 deaths.
While it’s true that Texas, and the world, has learned a great deal about the coronavirus in the past year, including how to prevent it, its continued spread and worrisome mutations show we still have a lot to learn. Abbott should keep “health and safety” as top priorities — far above a faulty barometer of statewide student performance, made even less effective by erratic variations in instruction this past year.
Great risk + questionable benefit = one responsible choice: cancel the in-person STAAR.
Dallas Morning News. Feb. 5, 2021.
Editorial: Dallas has plenty of strip malls. Give us more ‘mini Klyde Warren’ parks. We urge cities to reexamine their parking requirements
Perhaps you’ve never been to the strip mall near the corner of Hillcrest and Arapaho roads in Far North Dallas. Still, the old Hillcrest Village would be familiar.
The dull 1980s retail strip — with its beige, rectangular cookie-cutter buildings and an ocean of mostly empty parking spots — is a staple of the American suburban landscape. You might care to go to one only when you’re craving a drink from Starbucks.
But the new Hillcrest Village makes an impression. A moribund mall just a few years ago, now the development has been nicknamed “a mini Klyde Warren Park,” as our colleague Sarah Blaskovich reported in December. That’s because the city of Dallas partnered with retail developer Shop Cos. to revive the mall with snazzy restaurants and to strip out the central parking lot and a two-story building to create a 1.5-acre park with a playground.
This dense corner of Dallas bordering Richardson is short on open space, and it has been difficult for the city to buy parkland there because land is scarce and valuable, Dallas Park Board President Calvert Collins-Bratton said. Shop Cos. bought the mall in 2018, razed one of the buildings and flipped that land and the central parking lot to the city for $1.4 million.
The city-owned park, called Hillcrest Village Green, cost another $4.2 million to build and debuted Saturday to a lot of buzz. This open space should be a template for others in the commercial real estate game, and we hope more developers will take note.
We recognize that getting this park built took a confluence of favorable factors. Shop Cos. co-founder David Sacher has an emotional connection to the mall because he grew up in the area. He and Shop’s lead developer, Daniel Fuller, approached the city with their idea for the mall. The city paid for the green space with money from a $262 million bond package for parks that voters passed in 2017. Dallas also kicked in $1.5 million in economic development funds to give the shopping center a facelift. Wide patios, trees and benches have replaced pavement and old, narrow walkways.
“It’s like a unicorn,” Collins-Bratton told us. “It took a private developer who saw the value of park space working with the city to make that happen.”
Sacher said he and his colleagues drew inspiration from Malibu Country Mart in California, a Mediterranean-style outdoor mall with trendy stores and restaurants lining manicured lawns, inviting picnic areas and a colorful playground. He told us that the reason we don’t see more projects like the Hillcrest Village renovation is that developers aren’t typically willing to tear down revenue-generating buildings to replace them with open space. He said eliminating parking lots can also put developers at odds with municipal parking requirements.
The pandemic has been catastrophic for retailers and restaurants, but spaces like Hillcrest Village Green should be good for business, spurring families and friends to dine and spend time outdoors. Shop Cos. has signed nearly 30 leases.
We urge cities to reexamine their parking requirements, and we encourage developers to be better neighbors. Even a small playground or a pocket park can make a world of difference to families.
Abilene Reporter-News. Feb. 3, 2021.
Editorial: Memo to commissioners: Don’t mess with Texas … A&M Club’s fries
Local Aggies are creating a bit of hullabaloo.
But they’re only wanting to connect connect with Taylor County commissioners about their booth at the West Texas Fair & Rodeo.
They don’t have one anymore.
A couple of Aggies brought before commissioners Tuesday a couple of solutions.
To recap, a fair feature for decades was the food booth row than stood east-west, between exhibition halls and show barns. These were permanent buildings. Not fancy but functional.
The local Texas A&M Club and other groups, such as Elmwood West UMC and Little Mexico, for years set up their operations each September. For the nonprofits, it was a way to make money for scholarships or to fund projects. It’s a lot of work but over the course of the fair, they made good money.
Plus, it provided a way to work together as a team.
Back in the day, before the pandemic, that was encouraged. What do you call 20 Aggies squeezed into a metal building frying while frying in the heat?
A good time.
Aggies were known to invite others to experience the thrill. Forever Texas Longhorn and now retired Reporter-News staffer Roy Jones ventured into Aggieland and exited one tater short of going all maroon.
But plans to update the Taylor County Expo Center layout with 2016 bond funds included demolition of the aging food booths. Aggies have been frying since 1952.
You understand that a relationship also is at stake here.
The midway now occupies the space, and a food area elsewhere was designated. It was where new booths were built but when construction costs soared past expectations, those were cut. It was reasoned, and correctly so, that spending $2.5 million on buildings basically used once a year was not worth it.
The Expo Center was trying to get as much as it could out of the $55 million approved by voters.
With the popularity of food trucks seen here, why not go that route? Circle ’em up like wagons around a campfire and offer a chow down.
The Aggies apparently tried that in 2020. It just wasn’t the same.
So, they’ve offered to build their own site or invest in a portable building that could be brought to the fair and then stored. They cannot do both.
Both ideas have merit and don’t require as much investment by the Expo Center. The building idea is new territory, so that should require thought. Others may want to do the same — what standards would be set?
The court put off serious French fry discussion for later, saying other items were on the, ahem, front burner. Fair enough, but Aggies said it would help knowing more sooner than later what they were facing.
They emphasized that money raised provides scholarship funds to go to A&M.
Granted, there are plenty of important things facing commissioners and other local government bodies. COVID-19, for one.
But this is a great public relations opportunity, and it looks past the pandemic to when, we hope, things return closer to what they were. Such as tens of thousands of people going out to the fair, working up an appetite and buying a bucket of Aggie Fries.
So, help out an Aggie.
According to the lyrics to the A&M War Hymn, you don’t want to get them fired, or fried, up:
“So let’s fight for dear old Texas A&M
We’re going to beat you all to
Like most Longhorns and Raiders, we don’t know what that means. But the fair and Aggie Fries are a tradition. Like Aggie jokes.
Why did the local A&M club pick French fries?
Because they could charge more than the ones from Idaho.