Harris County adopts budget with focus on public safety
Harris County Commissioners Court. Photo by Andrew Schneider/Houston Public Media.

Harris County Commissioners Court increased a fund from $200,000 to $2.5 million for community colleges and school districts to conduct a multi-jurisdictional disparity study to eliminate economic and racial disparities that create barriers to contracting opportunities for Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs).

According to a briefing from Commissioner Rodney Ellis’ office, the $2.5 million could cover nearly all of the cost of the study as long as participating districts and colleges agree to implement a high-quality MWBE program if the study demonstrates a need.

“School districts and community colleges do not have MWBE procurement data and they are the largest government entities in Harris County that do not have current disparity studies,” Ellis said.

“With over 1.2 million children ages 5 through 18 in Harris County, school districts are responsible for the education of our next business and government leaders. The districts as well as community colleges should ensure that the students they teach have the opportunity to become successful business owners through expanded economic opportunities for MWBEs.

“They should lead by example and demonstrate an equitable use of public dollars in procurement by joining the Disparity Study Fund to ensure that MWBEs have the opportunity to meet district contract needs,” Ellis said.

“After all, these entities ask voters to approve billions of dollars in bonds for facility and technology upgrades. They should steward these resources equitably to not only improve education in the community but also create a bridge for economic opportunity.”

Five letters of intent have been received by the Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity to expand MWBE vendors across Harris County. Letters were received from:

  1. Houston ISD
  2. Alief ISD
  3. Spring ISD
  4. Houston Community College
  5. Lone Star College

Racial and gender inequalities still exist in the private sector as well. One Houston Together racial equity and inclusion assessment determined that out of 120 public and private organizations, only 30% of them tracked MWBE data. The average amount of spending amounts to only 2% of their total procurement budgets.

County MWBE utilization data

Harris Country awarded 824 contracts resulting in more than $9 million in construction, professional services, and goods and services contracts.

At one point, the county fell short in hiring minority-and-women-owned contractors according to a two-year-long disparity study in June 2020.

The study found that 9.1% of the county’s contracts were with minority-and-women-owned businesses, compared to a 28.4% market share. 0.5% of the county’s contract dollars went to Black-owned businesses.

“We cannot close disparities across health, income, and educational outcomes if economic opportunities are not equally available to everyone,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner in a letter to county school districts and community colleges. “I believe that local government entities have an obligation to steward public tax dollars in a way that reduces economic inequity to make progress toward closing the racial and gender wealth gap.”

Laura Onyeneho

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...