Dear Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo: here's your chance to do something nice for thousands of people who could use a break.
A few months from now, hundreds of graduating seniors from Madison High School and Milby High School will walk across the stage at NRG Stadium and NRG Arena for their diplomas. Madison High School is 99 percent minority students, and 75 percent of them come from economically disadvantage families. Milby also is 99 percent minority students and 85 percent of them come from economically disadvantaged families. Many of these seniors will be the first to graduate in their families.
The price to walk
Madison and Milby students and their families will have to pay $12 per vehicle to park at graduation. Yes, poor students in Houston have to pay to park at their own graduation from public high school. “Preferably in cash,” as the Houston Independent School District website advises.
Meanwhile, only 40 minutes north on I-45, seniors at Woodlands High School will receive their diplomas at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. Woodlands High School students are mostly white and from middle, upper-middle, and wealthy class families. Only three percent of Woodlands High students are considered economically disadvantaged. Nearly all of these seniors will be off to college in the fall, just like their parents a generation ago.
Woodlands High School students and their families will park for free at graduation. Three more high schools in Conroe ISD will hold graduation at the Pavilion, and those students and their families will park for free, too. Does this make sense to you, Judge Hidalgo? Does it seem fair?
In total, eight HISD high schools will hold graduation at NRG Park and everybody who attends those ceremonies will pay $12 per vehicle to park. Meanwhile, other HISD schools will hold graduation at Barnett Field House, Butler Field House, Delmar Field House, and Texas Southern University. Those sites will charge only $5 per vehicle to park. Only NRG Park is putting the $12 squeeze on students and their families. It’s vulgar and unnecessary.
Chavez High School is 99 percent minority and 81 percent of its students are considered economically disadvantaged. Several years ago, the Associated Press called Chavez High a “dropout factory,” with 40 percent of freshmen failing to graduate as seniors. The numbers have improved lately, but the dropout rate is still troubling. We encourage Chavez students to stay in school and graduate. It’s a big deal for many of their families to attend graduation. Everybody and their uncle looks forward to watching these kids pick up diplomas.
Is this fair?
Then, we soak them for $12, which is a considerable sum for economically disadvantaged families. If several carloads of family attend, it could be the difference between graduation parking and graduation party.
Other HISD high schools holding graduation exercises at NRG Park: Lamar, Westside, Bellaire, Heights, and Houston MSTC. It’s not just HISD high schools getting clipped for parking at graduation at NRG Park. Alvin ISD, Klein ISD, Humble ISD, Galena Park ISD, Pasadena ISD, and Pearland ISD also hold graduation at NRG Park. So do UH Clearlake, UH Downtown, and Houston Community College.
College students could use a break, too. Two-thirds of HCC students are considered economically disadvantaged. Nearly half of HCC students are the first in their families to attend college.
Thousands of students will graduate at NRG Park in May and June. Many more thousands of family members will attend graduations. NRG Park is making a large fortune on graduation parking. NRG Park hosts about 750 commercial events each year. They can’t waive the parking fees for public school graduation? It’s greedy and insensitive.
NRG Park is owned by Harris County. That's us. NRG Stadium was paid for in large part with our tax dollars. The facility is operated by SMG World. I once asked an SMG official why it can’t waive the parking fee at graduation. The response: it’s our policy to charge for parking. Thanks for nothing.
Now’s the time
This is not the first time I’ve called on NRG Park and SMG World to drop parking fees at public school graduation. But something’s changed.
Judge Hidalgo, you are from an immigrant family. You were born in Colombia and raised in Peru and Mexico. You attended public high school in Houston and were the first in your family to attend a U.S. college. Today you at the most powerful elected official in Harris County. I’m hoping you can relate. You can get NRG Park to waive the graduation parking fee with a wave of your hand.
Judge Hidalgo, you know what to do.