Reporting Texas
News and features from UT-Austin's School of Journalism

Central Texas

Construction Funding, New School Board Bring Changes, Optimism to Austin Public Schools

Travis High School was built in 1953, making it the oldest high school in South Austin, and a broken heating system is hardly the first issue to arise in the aging facilities. The school will soon get a major renovation to fix much more than the heating. The Austin Independent School District is set to receive $252 million to construct a modern facility completely replacing the old Travis High. 
The renovation of Travis High is part of $2.44 billion in bonds that Austin voters approved in November, when they also elected five former teachers to the district’s board of trustees. With the district facing stagnant state funding, a teacher shortage and decreased enrollment, AISD leaders see the election results as setting a new course for Austin public schools. 
“The community said they are willing to pay to improve our schools, but simultaneously they said they want new leadership on the board to guide this money,” said Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, the labor union for Austin school employees.

From the Military to the Kitchen, These Veterans Are Choosing a Career That Brings Out Their Passion for Food

The smell of spices and chicken had people lining up at an Austin food festival to get Shirley Newell’s Dominican food. The U.S. Army veteran was rapidly taking orders, flipping her marinated chicken and packing food to-go. “Food is my comfort, my passion and how I express myself,” Newell said. “When I was in the military is when I actually started cooking.”
Now, cooking is her livelihood. She started Phatty Boy food truck nine years after she left the Army as an automated logistics specialist. For some Texas veterans, opening food-service businesses feels like a natural step after their military career.

Award-Winning Chef Edgar Rico’s Taqueria Is Giving Back, One Free Meal at a Time

Edgar Rico, chef and co-owner of the taqueria, hosts the biggest community fridge in East Austin, a project born of the financial struggles of the COVID pandemic.

“Hundreds of people a day were coming to our door to ask for food,” recalled Rico, a second-generation Mexican chef who recently appeared on Time magazine’s “100 Next 2022” list of influential people. 

In June, Rico won a James Beard Award — the so-called “Oscars of the food world” — as best emerging chef, and his restaurant continues to appear on “best of” lists. That success traces to his love of the culture of his parents’ home country and a desire to inspire and help others through food, both through his restaurant and through the community fridge it stocks. 

Congressman joins Austin protest for Iranian human rights

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett joined over 200 protesters outside the Texas Capitol in solidarity for Iranians and to raise awareness of the 22-year-old woman who died last month after being arrested for wearing her headscarf too loosely.
“I admire the courage of Iranians and Iranian-Americans,” Doggett, D-Austin, said after his speech on the south steps of Capitol. “It is vital to stand up for human rights and the horrors that women are facing.”
Though Doggett was appearing for the first time, it was the fourth consecutive week that Austinites have rallied at the Capitol after the death of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman who was arrested by Iran’s morality police for having her hair visible under her hijab. Amini’s death in custody on Sept. 16 triggered protests in Iran and around the world, creating viral videos of women defiantly cutting their hair and throwing their head coverings into fires. 

Oct 14, 2022

Austin City Council Approves $15 Monthly Electricity Bill Increase Starting Nov. 1

The Austin City Council voted to increase the average monthly residential electricity bill by about $15 starting Nov. 1.
In voting for the increase, Council Member Allison Alter said the increases are “primarily driven by external market factors beyond our control.” 
The increase is one of two rate increases proposed by Austin Energy, the city’s nonprofit publicly-owned electric utility company. The $15 increase will cover rising costs from the record-high price of natural gas, increasing energy demand and regulatory changes coming from ERCOT, Texas’ grid operator, according to Austin Energy.

May 31, 2022

Austin Mounted Patrol Making Most of New Home

Like many Central Texas residents, Austin police officer Dawn Leonard has bad memories from Winter Storm Uri in 2021. Not only did she have to keep herself warm, but she had to ensure the survival of the horses of the Austin Police Department’s mounted patrol unit.

 “It was a horrible week,” Leonard said. “So 24/7, every two hours, I got up and scooped poop.”

In the end, the storm turned out to be a blessing for the 16 horses in the mounted patrol unit. Because of a lack of water and sewer issues caused by the storm, the Austin Police Department moved the animals from a stable in Manor to the Austin Equestrian Center in Cedar Creek.

May 15, 2022

Kirk Watson, Running Again for Mayor, Wants Austinites to Look Forward

Watson, who was mayor from 1997-2001, says Austin needs a mayor with long-term, forward-looking direction —  not someone simply reacting to the day-to-day issues facing one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. 

May 04, 2022

Protesters Rally in Austin Against U.S. Supreme Court Threat to Roe v. Wade

Several hundred protesters marched from the Texas Capitol to the United States Federal Courthouse in Austin in protest.

Apr 24, 2022

With White Tablecloths and a Storied History, Headliners Club Seeks to Maintain Relevance in Changing Austin

Founded in 1954, the Headliners Club has remained a powerful institution in Austin for almost 70 years despite the many changes in the city’s demographics, and its leadership is confident it can sustain that relevance as Austin experiences rapid growth led by the tech industry. 

Members include the state’s most prominent leaders in government, business, higher education and journalism. While critics say such organizations can reinforce class privilege and in practice often exclude people of color, the Headliners Club has maintained its reputation as an exclusive stronghold of the elite in Texas’ politically progressive state capital.

Mar 25, 2022

Central Texas Mycology Spawns a Network of Mushroom Enthusiasts 

In a distinctly similar way to mycelia, the small, savvy team behind Central Texas Mycology Society has built a vast and growing network of enthusiastic volunteers to help distribute the mushroom blocks across Central Texas. Their distribution points stretch from Georgetown to New Braunfels and Bastrop to Cedar Park.  

“We want people to realize that we would not be here unless fungi did all the work helping us become a networked planet,” said one of the society’s leaders.

Mar 16, 2022

Invasive Aquatic Species Are Threatening Texas Waterways

Across the street from Sewell Park, while most people tried to get a suntan or go tubing on a cloudy day, a group of researchers worked to capture suckermouth armored catfish, an invasive species in the San Marcos River.

Invasive aquatic species such as the suckermouth armored catfish compete with native species for food, cause erosion and wreck ecological damage, experts say.

Feb 28, 2022

After Statements From Texas Leaders, Protesters Take to the Streets for Transgender Rights

A student-led march for transgender rights briefly turned violent Sunday when an Austin police officer slammed a protester to the ground.

Feb 10, 2022

During Rally in Austin, O’Rourke Denounces Abbott Over Jan. 6 and Electric Power Grid

O’Rourke is traveling around the state and hosting a series of rallies dubbed the Keeping the Lights On: A Statewide Drive for a Brighter Texas campaign.

Dec 15, 2021

Advocates Say Electric Cooperatives Adopting ‘Unfriendly’ Solar Policies

Liberty Hill resident Richard Hrabik has debated installing solar panels on his home since he moved in 38 years ago.  “I’ve always been interested, but it was never really affordable,” said Hrabik, a retired computer software engineer. “Now panels have gotten to where you can afford them. So, I decided to go for it.”
Not long after Hrabik had his panels installed, the Pedernales Electric Cooperative’s board of directors in December 2020 proposed a significant rate increase for its customers who have solar panels — a 20-25% increase, according to some estimates.

Kaiba White, an energy policy and outreach specialist with Public Citizen Texas, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, said PEC didn’t explain these moves adequately to customers. She’s been helping Hrabik and dozens of other PEC solar customers challenge the increases since the summer.

“When members started to find out about this, especially those with solar or who were considering solar, there was an outcry,” White said. 

Dec 13, 2021

Austin Amps Up Communication to Answer Concerns About Feared Return of Deadly Winter Storm

No one could have seen it coming. In a state like Texas, bitter cold temperatures are common during the short winter months, but what happened on Valentine’s Day of 2021 was almost as likely as hell freezing over. The storm, that has come to be known as Winter Storm Uri, brought unprecedented low temperatures to […]

Dec 08, 2021

Climate Change Impacting Austin Real Estate Not So Hard to Fathom

After graduating from the University of Texas in May 2021, Sami Sparber ran into the same issue many Austin residents are facing – too few places available for rent or sale. “If you found a place to live, you had to apply right away because within hours or days that unit could be gone,” Sparber […]

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