Some big cities did take White’s lead on dropout pro­gram

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO&STATE - By Meghan Ash­ford-Grooms

State Sen. Leti­cia Van de Putte praised gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date Bill White, a fel­low Demo­crat, for his ef­forts to get dropouts back into class­rooms dur­ing a speech last month to her party’s con­ven­tion in Cor­pus Christi.

He “went door to door in Hous­ton lur­ing and ask­ing those dropouts to come back to school,” she said June 25. “Those pro­grams were so suc­cess­ful that al­most ev­ery city in our state has repli­cated what Bill White started.”

We won­dered whether the for­mer Hous­ton mayor’s ed­u­ca­tion ini­tia­tive had re­ally be­come so wide­spread.

In re­sponse to our in­quiry, Van de Putte’s of­fice pointed us to the web­site for Ex­pec­ta­tion Grad­u­a­tion, a pro­gram that White and his wife, An­drea, helped cre­ate in 2004, his first year as Hous­ton mayor, to re­duce dropout rates. Part of the pro­gram’s strat­egy is an

Con­tin­ued from B an­nual Reach Out to Dropouts walk, dur­ing which vol­un­teers visit the homes of stu­dents who have not come back to school and en­cour­age them to re­turn.

Linda Clarke, who served as White’s di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion and spe­cial projects when he was mayor, said one goal of the walk is to help kids deal with the is­sues that keep them out of school, such as find­ing child care for teen moth­ers.

The first walk was held in the Hous­ton school district in 2004, and Clarke said Bill White has par­tic­i­pated in each one.

Mark Cueva, as­sis­tant to the deputy chief of staff in the of­fice of Hous­ton Mayor An­nise Parker, said the walks first went statewide in 2008, when other cities in Texas — Cor­pus Christi, Dal­las, El Paso, Fort Worth and San An­to­nio, but not Austin — and their re­spec­tive school dis­tricts held their own ver­sions:

Five smaller cities in the Hous­ton area also par­tic­i­pated: Bay­town, Galena Park, Rich­mond, Rosen­berg and Stafford. Last year, Mid­land joined the group, as did eight ad­di­tional small cities near Hous­ton. That brings the to­tal num­ber of Texas cities to 20.

Ac­cord­ing to the Texas Almanac on­line, which is main­tained by the Texas State His­tor­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, the state has about 1,200 in­cor­po­rated cities. So, less than 2 per­cent of the state’s cities have repli­cated the White-founded out­reach pro­gram.

Last week, the White cam­paign re­leased a Web video high­light­ing White’s in­volve­ment with the Reach Out to Dropouts walk and its spread to big cities across the state.

The cam­paign video also says that the Reach Out to Dropouts walk has brought more than 8,000 stu­dents back to school in Hous­ton. Clarke said that num­ber is a cu­mu­la­tive to­tal based on re­ports by par­tic­i­pat­ing Hous­ton-area school dis­tricts.

When we asked Clarke, who is on the board of the non­profit group that runs Ex­pec­ta­tion Grad­u­a­tion, about Van de Putte’s state­ment that “al­most ev­ery city in our state” has repli­cated the Reach Out pro­gram, she ques­tioned the broad sweep of that as­ser­tion and said her or­ga­ni­za­tion has al­ways been clear about the num­ber of cities par­tic­i­pat­ing.

Van de Putte’s press sec­re­tary, Kathryn Free­man, told us that the sen­a­tor had gone off her pre­pared re­marks dur­ing that part of the speech, which “sim­ply stated that the pro­gram was so suc­cess­ful it was repli­cated across Texas.” How­ever, based on the ex­pan­sion of the walk in the past two years, Free­man ar­gued that the sen­a­tor’s “larger point is true, that Bill White be­gan a pro­gram to try and ad­dress the dropout cri­sis in Hous­ton that was suc­cess­ful and there­fore repli­cated.”

We agree. Van de Putte clearly over­stated the ex­pan­sion of the Reach Out to Dropouts walk, but she was right that it has been du­pli­cated in most of the biggest cities in the state. We rate her claim Half True.

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