Axios Houston

Newsletter branding image

🍎 It's Monday, marking the start of Teacher and Nurse Appreciation Week.

  • Take a moment to express your gratitude.

☁️ Today's weather: Storms until 10am, then cloudy with a high of 85.

☕️ Sounds like: "Espresso" by Sabrina Carpenter.

🗳️ Situational awareness: Emergency room nurse and organizer Molly Cook won a special election to represent Texas Senate District 15, which was previously held by new Mayor John Whitmire for decades.

Today's newsletter is 934 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Texas' low per-student funding

Choropleth map of U.S. states showing the amount states spent per public school student in 2022. Overall, states spent $15,633 per student. Utah spent the least, at $9,552, while New York spent the most, at $29,873. States in the Northeast and West Coast spent more than states in the South and Mountain West.
Data: Census Bureau; Map: Axios Visuals

More than 9 in 10 Texas students attend inadequately funded schools, per a report that analyzes public school funding nationwide.

Why it matters: The state Legislature last increased per-student funding in 2019, leaving cash-strapped school districts eying deep budget cuts to make ends meet.

  • Texas ranks in the bottom 10 states in the country for education spending by several measures, including the report, by the Albert Shanker Institute, the University of Miami and Rutgers University.

How it works: Per-student funding is set by the Legislature using a formula. If the funding went into a glass, the glass would have to hold at least $6,160, called the basic allotment. That allocation can increase based on characteristics of the district, including family income and the number of students who need accessible education.

  • Once the size of the glass is set with the formula, local property taxes pour into the glass, and the state tops off any shortfall.
  • If the local property taxes fill the whole glass, the state provides no money. Any local taxes that overflow the glass go to state coffers to be distributed to districts that can't reach the rim through local revenue.

Zoom in: Houston ISD is facing a $250 million budget deficit and has been conducting staff layoffs, most recently of specialists who support students dealing with poverty-related issues like hunger and homelessness, per the Houston Landing.

State of play: This year could be the perfect storm of struggle for school districts with compounding financial woes.

  • District spending has increased for maintenance, health care, food services, custodial work and utilities, among other things.
  • Texas schools received $19.2 billion of federal COVID funding, which ends in September.

Flashback: The focus of several legislative sessions last year was a plan to provide public funding for private school tuition, which public school advocates said would further pinch school budgets.

  • Republican leaders say it would give families more choices in where to send their kids to school.

What's next: Gov. Greg Abbott said he needs only two more Republican votes in the Texas House to pass a voucher bill next year. Those votes could come later this month if his voucher supporters win runoff elections.

  • The GOP-dominated state Senate is already on board.

Go deeper

2. Human smuggling method's high death toll

A Red Cross site in Chiapas, Mexico, tends to injured migrants who were on a cargo truck that crashed, killing 56 people, in December 2021. Photo: Mau Aquino/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Smugglers in Mexico are increasingly using overloaded semitrailers to transport people trying to enter the U.S., often with deadly consequences, an investigation from Noticias Telemundo found.

The big picture: The situation lays bare the human toll of modern migration amid the growing and increasingly dangerous human smuggling industry.

State of play: Noticias Telemundo and the Latin American journalism consortium CLIP, working with local news outlets, reconstructed the journeys and routes taken by 170 cargo trucks involved in either crashes or other incidents in Mexico in the past six years.

  • They found that almost 19,000 people — 3,000 of them minors — were transported in the trucks involved in the incidents and that 111 died.
  • Only 35 people have been convicted of smuggling and endangering people with the use of trailers — a rate of impunity that immigrant advocates say has fostered the problem.

What they're saying: Smugglers could choose to occasionally open doors to semitractor-trailers, "but they don't care," says Yanira Chávez, who was smuggled through Mexico in a trailer in 2019.

  • Chávez is currently trying to get asylum while living in Long Island, New York.
  • "They just want the money and think of us as packages, not people."

Share this story

3. Bayou Buzz

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

🚨 Evacuations and water rescues continued along the San Jacinto River as heavy rains pummeled communities north of Houston. (Houston Landing)

✋ The Metropolitan Transit Authority is quietly pumping the brakes on several planned projects, including bus rapid transit and a new bike share service. (Houston Public Media)

📻 Longtime Houston DJ Sarah Pepper is leaving the Bayou City after 16 years on the radio. (Chron)

4. Social Calendar

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

🎭 Enjoy "The Father," a play about an aging man that questions the nature of identity, memory and the human experience, at the 4th Wall Theatre tonight.

  • The 7:30pm screening is pay-what-you-will, $5 at the door.

🍻 Play bingo at Karbach Brewing on Wednesday.

  • 6pm-8pm. Free.

🎨 Make a collage at the Glassell School of Art Collage & Cabernet event Thursday. The class is taught by artist Tay Butler, whose work is featured in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston exhibit "Multiplicity."

  • 6:30pm-8pm. $75.

🍿 Watch "Crazy Rich Asians" at Market Square Park on Thursday.

  • Movie begins at 8pm. Free.

🎵 Buy last-minute Nicki Minaj tickets. Her Pink Friday 2 World Tour is at Toyota Center on Thursday.

  • Doors open at 7pm.

🎬 Mingle with other film fans at Axelrad's HAAPI Hour in celebration of Asian Heritage Month on Thursday.

  • Free. Event begins at 8pm.

Empower our community

Illustration: Andrew Caress/Axios

Become an Axios Houston member and fuel our mission to make readers smarter and faster on the news unfolding here.

Why it's important: The generosity of our members supports our newsroom as we work on the daily newsletter.

What's in it for you: Insider notes from the local reporters and other perks.

Thank you for trusting us.

5. ⛽ One Buc-ee's ode to go

The Buc-ee's fandom keeps getting larger. Photos: Linh "Our Bud-dee" Ta/Axios

👋 Linh here from Axios Des Moines!

  • I spent a few weeks in Texas, and the memories that keep bringing me joy were my visits to Buc-ee's.

Driving the news: Granted, I have daily reminders of the smiling beaver, including sweatshirts, magnets and a bedazzled wine glass (only $25!).

  • But the Buc-ee's experience was always fun, like pointing out the abundant billboards or laughing at the ridiculous merch.

Between the lines: As an Iowan, I'm a gas station snob, especially coming from the home state of Casey's and Kum & Go.

  • Breakfast pizza still reigns supreme in my heart, but this gargantuan gas station gives my local spots a run for their money.

Reality check: I know I'm playing into a clichéd, capitalist marketing strategy that may make native Texans roll their eyes.

  • But sometimes it's just fun to be excited about things! (Especially a cheap brisket sandwich.)

Thanks to Chloe Gonzales for editing and Khalid Adad and Yasmeen Altaji for copy editing this newsletter.

🧀 Shafaq is enjoying her friend's handmade tequeños.

❤️ Jay is falling in love with Reese's No Bake Bars.