HOUSTON – KPRC 2 Investigates has been researching why a law meant to better safeguard children walking home from school has never been used.
The law was passed after the murder of 11-year-old Josue Flores. Josue was stabbed to death walking home from Houston Independent School District’s Marshall Middle School in 2016 and his case was recently featured on our true crime docu-series The Evidence Room. While researching the episode, KPRC 2 followed up on the implementation of this law.
The law was written by then-state senator Sylvia Garcia, who is now a U.S. Representative. The law gives school districts access to extra transportation funds for students who to walk to school through high-crime areas. The law passed in 2017 and, to date, not a single district in Texas has applied for this money, according to the Texas Education Agency.
Every day, dozens of students on Houston’s near northside walk home from school. Stella Mireles and other community leaders want to make sure they’re safe.
“I pray every time because I do not want them to be victims of crime,” said Mireles.
Mireles founded Safe Walk Home Northside after Josue’s murder.
“We started working with local police, local schools, local house of worship, local elected leaders,” Mireles said.
Mireles explained the purpose was to create a network of people watching over children as they went to and from school and to report crime in the neighborhood.
“Let me say that it’s not if crime is going to affect your family, it will affect your family at some time or other,” said Mireles.
To help with this grassroots effort, Texas passed Senate Bill 195. The law gives up to an additional 10% of a school district’s transportation allotment to help children who don’t qualify for bus service and live in areas of higher crime. It’s up to school districts to provide the TEA with an explanation of why a specific area presents a higher risk of violent crime and back it up with crime data.
“We approached HISD. We asked for meetings, a meeting was never granted to us,” said Mireles.
Mireles said she wanted to know why HISD never applied for these funds, as did other community leaders.
“A lot of the homeless people are at the bus stops and so the students are having to navigate that. And with homelessness, you don’t know what condition, mind-wise, that they are in, so it makes it hard for kids to be going back and forth and can be dangerous for them,” said Monique Howard with the Ryon Civic Club.
KPRC 2 Investigates looked at Houston Police Department crime data for two “police beats” that cover the neighborhoods around where Josue was killed in 2016. In 2016, HPD recorded 423 reports of aggravated assault, rape and robbery. While HPD’s reporting system has changed since 2016 to include more categories of crime, the data shows 553 reports of violent crime through the end of September 2023.
When KPRC 2 asked HISD in February 2022 why it had not applied for these funds, we were told that the district was taking “an exhaustive look at all areas” to see which students qualified for these funds. We asked the same question In October of this year after the Texas Education Agency took over HISD, and were told more district officials were working “to create the new routes following the transition, but is considering applying for additional funding.”
“Let’s not let this legislation, you know, get cold like it is. Let’s let’s get it warmed up. Let’s get it back into the hands of the community,” said Mireles.
As for the author of the law, Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia sent us the following statement:
“It’s a total disappointment that The Texas Education Agency is not pushing hard enough for school districts to apply for these crucial state funds. It’s disheartening that HISD – the school district that Josue Flores attended hasn’t been able to obtain these funds. I’m hopeful school districts will do everything possible to access these funds to create a safe environment for our children. The highest priority is to ensure no other family experiences the trauma and suffering experienced by Josue Flores’ family.”
When we asked the TEA about Garcia’s statement, we were directed to a letter the TEA sent to all school districts as soon as the bill became law. The law is also posted on the Texas School Safety Center’s website as part of its School Safety Law Toolkit.
KPRC 2 asked several other school districts in the Houston area why administrators had not applied for these funds. Fort Bend, Katy, Spring Branch, Cy-Fair, Humble, Galveston and Aldine school districts all replied they did not have any students who qualify for the extra funds due to areas of higher crime. However, the districts reported receiving extra transportation funding for students in areas of hazardous traffic patterns.
Alief ISD sent the most detailed response:
“This is directly from the School Transportation Allotment Handbook from TEA: ‘For students in a high risk of violence area, the policy must include a process for consulting with local law enforcement agencies to identify walking areas within two miles with a high incidence of violent crimes and to obtain consolidated supporting documentation that can be provided to TEA. Additionally, if the district will be establishing community walking transportation programs, the policy must indicate that an adult will supervise children as they walk to school.’ These allotments are filed for in arrears (after the fact) at the end of the year. Thus, there is no guarantee that whatever documentation that is identified will be sufficient to satisfy the layout of rules by TEA. To provide adult walkers to supervise, they would need to be paid as employees and go through background checks etc. This is similar to Crossing Guards now in the field helping walkers navigate intersections. If the intent was to pay for the transportation costs, then why only 10% of the allotment? The regular transportation allotment of $1 per mile is woefully inadequate to fund the cost of transportation already. The funding mechanism is far from actual costs in either method (walking supervisor or buses) and far from being fungible based on TEA rulemaking laid out in the Transportation Allotment Handbook.”