EPISD lobbyist: Bill to aid students affected in district cheating scandal serves no purpose

EL PASO, Texas - When the Texas House Public Education committee considered a bill that would recover and educate students affected by El Paso Independent School District cheating scandal on Tuesday, members had already been informed the bill served no purpose by a lobbyist for EPISD, according to state Rep. Marisa Márquez.

Authored by state Sen. José Rodríguez and Márquez, Senate Bill 119 would require EPISD to help graduate the students who were forced out in a scheme orchestrated by former superintendent Dr. Lorenzo Garcia, to inflate standardized test results within the district.

In an email Márquez wrote, "A few hours before the Public Education hearing yesterday, I was informed that David Anderson of Hillco Partners sent out an email to the committee expressing that there was no need for SB 119, which creates a special student recovery program...Anderson's argument was based on his knowledge of the Alpha Program, that aims to do the same thing that the bill does."

Márquez said she personally called lobbyist David Anderson to ask why she did not receive an email regarding the bill she helped author. Within a few hours, Marquez said, she was notified that EPISD would not oppose the bill.

President of the newly sworn in EPISD Board of Managers, former state Rep. Dee Margo, said Anderson's stance on SB 119 was the recommendation of the previous school board. "My position is (SB 119) enhances El Paso School District's Alpha Initiative, which helps dropouts return to school," insisted Margo over the phone, "It's my impression the old board thought it was redundant."

EPISD spokeswoman Reneé de Santos sent a statement on behalf of the district, "EPISD welcomes the assistance of our Legislative Delegation in helping us move forward. We are pleased this legislation reinforces the district's efforts already in place through the Alpha Initiative."

The mission of the Alpha Initiative is to recover all students who have left school for any reason and wish to return, including students who may have been pushed out of school during the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years at every high school in the district, according to the EPISD website. The Alpha Team began working specifically with former Bowie High students last summer.

In the same EPISD statement, Interim Superintendent Vernon Butler applauds the work of the Alpha Initiative, "The District's Alpha Team has worked tirelessly since last summer to reach out to former students who left Bowie High School and other District high schools to ensure that each and every one of them knows what options and opportunities they have to complete their education if they have not done so already. The specific wording of the legislation does not accurately reflect the incredible amount of work that this group has done to recover former students."

According to Márquez her office and the office of Sen. Rodríguez have contacted the Alpha Initiative program director multiple times to obtain solid data about how many students were given educational services through the Alpha Initiative. She said, "To this date, he has not provided that information."

ABC-7's phone calls to Anderson have yet to be returned.

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