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New Republican group wants to register more voters to keep Texas red

DEFENDER NEWS NETWORK — With national Democrats looking to make Texas a battleground, a new Republican group is launching to register hundreds of thousands of new voters here and convince them to help keep the state red in 2020. The group, a super PAC named Engage Texas, is the brainchild of some of the state’s biggest GOP donors, and it is led by a former top staffer at the Republican National Committee. It comes as Texas Republicans look to gain ground in an area where their Democratic counterparts have dominated in recent years: signing up new voters.

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By Texas Tribune

With national Democrats looking to make Texas a battleground, a new Republican group is launching to register hundreds of thousands of new voters here and convince them to help keep the state red in 2020.

The group, a super PAC named Engage Texas, is the brainchild of some of the state’s biggest GOP donors, and it is led by a former top staffer at the Republican National Committee. It comes as Texas Republicans look to gain ground in an area where their Democratic counterparts have dominated in recent years: signing up new voters.

“Educated voters are motivated voters, and Engage Texas is focused on both registering voters and giving them the information they need to get involved and vote for principled Texas conservatives to lead our state,” Mano DeAyala, a Houston lawyer who chairs the Engage Texas board, said in a statement.

The creation of Engage Texas follows an election cycle in which U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, narrowly won re-election as Democrats picked up two U.S. House seats, two in the state Senate and 12 in the Texas House. For Republicans, the challenges are only growing next year in Texas, with national Democrats targeting U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, half a dozen U.S. House seats and the Texas House, where Democrats are nine seats away from the majority.

As a super PAC, Engage Texas can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money as long as it does not coordinate with campaigns. The group, which registered with the Federal Election Commission in April, is not required to reveal its donors until July 15.

But its funding is expected to be substantial, and in addition to DeAyala, its board members include Richard Weekley, the Houston businessman who co-founded and helps lead Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the influential tort reform organization. Other board members are Trey Strake, vice chairman of the real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield in Houston, and Randall Woodruff, executive director of the Strake Foundation.

Engage Texas’ executive director is Chris Young, who served as the RNC’s national field director for the 2016 cycle. More recently, he ran a political nonprofit in Nevada with a similar mission.

In focusing on voter registration, the group believes it is filling a GOP void as Democrats have honed in on signing up new voters across the state in recent years. There are roughly 4.1 million unregistered voters in Texas, according to the secretary of state’s office, with hundreds of thousands of people moving here every year.

In addition to registering voters, Engage Texas will focus on turning them out for the 2020 election. The group says it will carry out the two-pronged strategy with “grassroots, direct mail and digital outreach.”

This article originally appeared in the Defender News Network

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Philadelphia honors Patti LaBelle with a street – but spells her name wrong

DEFENDER NEWS NETWORK — Philadelphia honored singer Patti LaBelle with her very own street earlier this week. Unfortunately, the signs didn’t get her name right. The city’s Streets Department didn’t capitalize the “b″ in the legendary soul singer’s last name on the signs that were put up before Tuesday’s ceremony on Broad Street. A stretch between Locust and Spruce streets was renamed “Patti LaBelle Way” in honor of the Philadelphia native.

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Patti LaBelle (Photo by: The Heart Truth | Wiki Commons)

By Defender News Service

Philadelphia honored singer Patti LaBelle with her very own street earlier this week. Unfortunately, the signs didn’t get her name right.

The city’s Streets Department didn’t capitalize the “b″ in the legendary soul singer’s last name on the signs that were put up before Tuesday’s ceremony on Broad Street. A stretch between Locust and Spruce streets was renamed “Patti LaBelle Way” in honor of the Philadelphia native.

City spokeswoman Deana Gamble tells The Philadelphia Inquirer the city is aware of the error and plans to install signs with the correct capitalization next week.

A sign that LaBelle autographed and held during the ceremony had the correct spelling.

She thanked all the fans who came out to the ceremony and reminisced about her parents walking down that very stretch of Broad Street.

This article originally appeared in the Defender News Network.

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Lee Daniels to briefly resurrect his cancelled ‘Star’ drama series

DEFENDER NEWS NETWORK — Following news that the Fox Network cancelled the music drama Star after three seasons, comes word from producer Lee Daniels that the series will be making a comeback as a televised movie.

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By Defender News Service

Following news that the Fox Network cancelled the music drama Star after three seasons, comes word from producer Lee Daniels that the series will be making a comeback as a televised movie.

“The bad news is that ‘Star’ is not getting picked up for series,” Daniels says in an Instagram video post recently, which he captioned “Get ready for a two-hour gag!!”

In the clip, he calls the circumstances surrounding the cancellation “too long of a story to cry about.”

“The good news is: we’re doing a movie of the week to wrap things up for you all,” he says.

As was previously announced, fans were rocked by the news of the Empire spin-off getting the ax, especially seeing as how the season three finale ended on a jaw-dropping cliffhanger. The last episode aired Wednesday (May 8), just two days before the cancellation announcement.

At the time, Daniels said he was attempting to shop the series to other networks, but his efforts proved fruitless, as noted by TheWrap. Now the Oscar nominee vows to “make something real special for you to scream about with all of our cast members, even the dead ones.”

Daniels did not say when or on which network the two-hour Star movie will air, although it’s being assumed that the tele-film will be on Fox, which is also wrapping up Daniels’ Empire musical drama series next year. Reps for the network have not yet responded to requests for comment about Star’s resurgence.

The Atlanta-based Star follows the journey of three young women who form a musical group and navigate the ruthless business on their way to success. The cast features Jude Demorest, Ryan Destiny. Brittany O’Grady, Queen Latifah and Benjamin Bratt.

The sitcom averaged 3.5 million viewers for Season 3, compared to Season 2’s 4.1 mill, and hit a series low as recently as May 1, according to TVLine.

This article originally appeared in the Defender News Network.

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With conflicting budget estimates, will Texas teachers get the pay raises they anticipated?

DEFENDER NEWS NETWORK — When state lawmakers passed their landmark $11.6 billion school finance law in late May, school employees were eager to see how mandatory raises would affect their paychecks. A month later, they’re scratching their heads, struggling to decipher complicated changes and conflicting financial estimates that might not net teachers as much money as they expected.

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By Defender News Service

When state lawmakers passed their landmark $11.6 billion school finance law in late May, school employees were eager to see how mandatory raises would affect their paychecks.

A month later, they’re scratching their heads, struggling to decipher complicated changes and conflicting financial estimates that might not net teachers as much money as they expected.

Before lawmakers voted nearly unanimously to approve House Bill 3, which drastically overhauled Texas’ outdated school funding system, they received estimates from the state on how much additional money each of their school districts would likely receive over the next two years. But the estimates came with a warning: They could change significantly once the calculations were performed using local data.

Ahead of the upcoming school year, districts are now redoing those calculations themselves — and some are coming up short. That could pose a problem for teachers, nurses, counselors and librarians, since under HB 3, school districts are supposed to use a portion of the new money on those employees’ raises and benefits. (School boards must approve their budgets by either a June 30 or an Aug. 31 deadline.)

Georgetown ISD, for example, is projecting $5.9 million in new money in the upcoming school year, much less than the $10.3 million state estimate. And it will shell out about $9 million in recapture payments, which the state takes from wealthier districts to subsidize poorer ones — not the $3.5 million the state estimated in May.

Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, a large suburban district in the Houston area, should’ve expected $30 million more in the upcoming school year, according to the state estimates. But school board members approved a budget in late June that projected just $14 million more, according to Karen Smith, the district’s chief financial officer.

To remain competitive as employers, both districts are going beyond the state’s requirement to use 30% of the new money to increase salaries and benefits. Georgetown ISD is including $3,000 raises for teachers, counselors, librarians and nurses with more than five years of experience. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD approved a budget millions of dollars in the red that includes $25.4 million in raises for classroom teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses and $10.8 million in raises for all other employees.

Teacher pay raises quickly became a bipartisan rallying cry during the 2019 legislative session that finished up in May. But instead of the statewide $5,000 raise many teachers advocated for from the get-go, lawmakers approved a set of guidelines for salary bumps that would end up leaving the dollar amounts largely up to district leaders.

There is not yet an official statewide summary on what compensation packages look like across school districts, but eventually districts will be required to report that information to the Legislature. Meanwhile, the state has been providing guidance on how to interpret the new law through videos and PowerPoint presentations.

Without an across-the-board pay raise mandate from the state, teachers and other school employees have been looking left and right at neighboring school districts to judge how they’re going to fare. Some report having heard nothing from their school districts so far this summer, as they anxiously monitor the news from across the state.

Sunnyvale ISD Superintendent Doug Williams found that the state’s calculation for how much more his tiny school district would receive was pretty accurate: just under $600,000. But school districts in the vicinity, which include large, urban Dallas ISD, are getting millions more, meaning they’ll be required to offer bigger raises.

To stay competitive, Sunnyvale ISD’s school board approved larger pay raises than required by law, ranging from $1,800 for beginning teachers to $2,700 for the most experienced. “We have been blessed to be able to attract and retain great teachers,” Williams said. “We just want to make sure we are able to continue.”

In some school districts, local teachers’ unions and associations are butting heads with administrators as they advocate for higher raises and larger employer contributions to health insurance. After adopting a budget with 5% raises, Laredo ISD’s officials told frustrated teachers they are waiting for more guidance from the state before they consider raising salaries further.

In Houston ISD, the teachers union successfully threatened a no-confidence vote against the superintendent if trustees didn’t pass a budget with pay raises by later this month, arguing the delay would make them less competitive for hiring. After a contentious meeting, the board ultimately approved a deficit budget containing raises of 3.5% to 8%, depending on school employees’ experience levels. The budget also increased the minimum wage for school employees by $2 an hour.

For third grade writing teacher Huyenchau Vu, who watched the Legislature’s initial proposal for $5,000 raises dissolve, a 3.5% raise means a boost of less than $2,000 a year and less than $100 per paycheck. “It goes back into paying for everything, not necessarily into a savings account,” said Vu, who just finished teaching summer school at Houston ISD and will start her third year teaching in August.

She and her colleagues have been taking notes about the higher starting salaries and raises for Houston-area districts such as Aldine ISD and Alief ISD, but not necessarily because they’re trying to jump ship. While Vu would appreciate more money, she is also worried about the sustainability of the Legislature’s funding increase and is glad Houston ISD appears to be more “realistic” in its budgeting decisions than its neighbors.

“They’re paying their teachers a lot more knowing it’s just over the next two years that we’re receiving money from the state of Texas to put into these teacher salaries,” she said. “After that, no one’s sure what’s going to happen.”

This article originally appeared in the Defender News Network

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