Texas IAF organizations pioneered workforce initiatives that bring working people out of poverty level jobs and into living wage careers. By building the political will for investment of public monies in long-term training, local organizations have successfully brought together employers, community college officials and community leaders to create long-term workforce development and education programs for actual jobs in high demand occupations.
Inspired by the success of the oldest of these labor market intermediaries, Project Quest in San Antonio, leaders established an additional nine projects across the West and Southwest: Capital IDEA in Austin, Texas; Project ARRIBA in El Paso, Texas; VIDA in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas; JobPath in Tucson, Arizona; NOVA in Monroe, Louisiana, Skills-Quest in Dallas, Texas; Capital IDEA-Houston in Houston, Texas; Project IOWA and Arizona Career Pathways in Phoenix.
Collectively, Texas IAF workforce development projects in Texas have trained and placed over 11,000 adults in living wage jobs which pay, on average, $40,000 annually plus benefits and a career path.
After IAF-East affiliates designed and passed the nation’s first living wage bill in Baltimore in 1994, Texas IAF organizations soon organized for local living wage ordinances of their own. In 1998, Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS) / Metro Alliance leaders succeeded in getting the City of San Antonio to institute a city-wide tax abatement ordinance requiring companies that benefit from municipal tax incentives to pay a living wage, with benefits. COPS / Metro leaders later fought the building of a hotel in the City that refused to meet the newly instituted living wage standard, effectively shutting the project down.
In 2009, Valley Interfaith in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas likewise leveraged commitments from Cameron County, the City of Brownsville and the Texas Southernmost (community College to raise the starting wages of their employees (including contracted) by over $1 per hour. In a similar vein, Austin Interfaith has made a living wage (plus benefits and a career pathway) part of the public discussion on subsidy deals with the City of Austin, succeeding in ensuring that an incoming orthopedic company would guarantee a minimum wage of $35,000 per year plus benefits. In 2012, Austin Interfaith succeeded in getting the City of Austin to form a Special Committee on Economic Incentives that proposed a wage requirement of $11 per hour for all jobs that emerged from City-funded economic incentive deals.
The Alliance Schools Initiative grew out of relationships between member institutions in the local Texas IAF organizations and the public schools in their neighborhoods. The Texas Network took relational organizing principles into low income communities to engage parents and community in the transformation of their schools to improve student achievement. Texas IAF Network leaders built on the success of the Alliance Schools strategy to create the Investment Capital Fund, a $9 million competitive state grant to support school restructuring in collaboration with community organizations.
This model of school organizing has been replicated by other West and Southwest IAF organizations, and has been widely recognized by both the public and private sector as a successful strategy for community engagement and student achievement. Most recently, a study by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University credits Austin Interfaith’s work with area Alliance Schools for increasing student achievement on standardized tests by an average of 15-19%, as well as for improving professional culture and parent involvement at the campuses. In fact, the Annenberg study found that Austin Interfaith’s work with the schools benefited not only those particular campuses, but resulted in substantial new resources for all high poverty, low-performing schools in the district.
Concerned about high dropout rates, the COPS and Metro Alliance in San Antonio worked with businesses, school districts, the city and area universities to provide scholarships to high school students who graduate with a B average and 95% attendance record. The Education Partnership was designed to agitate the imagination of high school students, provide them with an incentive to stay in school, and guarantee financial assistance to attend college. Since 1989, over $14 million has been invested in more than 2,900 area students who have earned college degrees.
In 1983, the Texas Legislature created a Select Committee on Public Education to lay the groundwork for teacher pay raises and the tax increase required to pay for them. The Texas IAF Network pushed the Select Committee to include school finance reform on its agenda and then played a critical role in the passage of the comprehensive school reform legislation – House Bill 72. HB 72 represented the first attempt by the state at school finance equalization, and included the first statewide accountability system. The Texas IAF Network was credited with doing the pragmatic politics necessary to navigate the bill through the competing interests, and for teaching the state’s political leaders about the importance of school finance.
Following draconian budget cuts to children’s health insurance in 2003, the Network of Texas IAF Organizations spent the next two legislative sessions working to restore full funding for families earning up to 200% of the poverty line. In 2007, the bill to expand coverage languished for seven weeks in the Senate Finance Committee after passing the House chamber. The Texas IAF Network leaders publicly confronted the Lt. Governor at a press conference, calling on him to stop blocking the bill. After negotiating a compromise eligibility provision that allowed for income verification checks for families between 185% and 200% of the federal poverty threshold, the bill passed, with its author crediting the Texas Network leaders for the success. This made an additional 127,000 children eligible for health care in Texas.
In the summer of 1985, the Texas Legislature approved the historic Indigent Health Care legislation that for the first time made clear that the state had a role in financing social programs for low income residents. The Texas IAF Network was at the center of the issue throughout the legislative session. When a filibuster killed the legislation at the end of the session, leaders and their legislative allies confronted Governor Mark White with a call for an immediate special session, lest the momentum be lost. The legislation passed the special session in just three days, and was much broader than originally anticipated by the political leadership.
The Texas IAF organizations on the border (i.e. Valley Interfaith, EPISO and the Border Organization), with the sister organizations of the Texas IAF Network, put the issue of infrastructure for colonias on the public agenda in Texas and the nation in the 1980s and 1990s. Colonias are neighborhoods of homeowners in unincorporated areas that lack infrastructure — especially access to water and wastewater. Texas IAF Network leaders organized over two decades to build the political power to move governors, senators, elected officials and the voters of Texas to invest over $2 billion to bring water and wastewater and other infrastructure improvements to the colonias along the Texas-Mexico border.
As soon as survivors of the Katrina catastrophe began arriving in the Houston Astrodome, and in the suburbs of Dallas and North Texas, leaders and organizers from The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) and Dallas Area Interfaith (DAI) began identifying potential leaders among the evacuees and teaching them to organize their colleagues in coordination with the local community. Survivors Groups involving thousands of families were organized by West and Southwest IAF affiliates throughout Texas and Louisiana, and successfully addressed issues ranging from restoration of cell phone service to extension of FEMA housing deadlines to absentee ballot GOTV work around the New Orleans elections the next spring.