How a Houston Arts High School Sold Its Name to a Billionaire Donor

What’s in a name for Houston’s newly dubbed Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts?

By Laura RiceOctober 17, 2016 10:58 am

The McCombs School of Business is more than just a highly regarded business school. It is a brand: for the University of Texas, and, in a sense, for the school’s donor, a billionaire founder of a major automotive group.

But in Houston a renovated public high school will be renamed the Kinder High School for the Performing Arts: one of the conditions for a grant of $7.5 million from local philanthropists Richard and Nancy Kinder. With public schools perpetually struggling for resources, might there be a name change coming to a school near you?

Ericka Mellon, an education reporter for the Houston Chronicle, says the family gave money to the high school’s support group for years, but recently the school came up short on its construction funding.

“They decided to pony up to donate some money,” Mellon says.

The idea of “selling” naming rights on college campuses is common but for a public high school to do so, Mellon says, brings up issues of inequities between campuses.

“It’s very rare in the public elementary and secondary school area,” she says, “but as school districts are strapped for cash, or want some extras for their schools, they’re turning to what colleges and professional sports have done for years.”

After the school board approved the offer, Rich Kinder – half of the donor group that funded the school’s multimillion-dollar grant – said that he hopes this is the beginning of “more public-private partnerships for schools.”

“Now whether districts will go as far as accepting the money and renaming the schools,” Mellon says, “that’s going to be a debate for the school board and others down the road.”

Much of the tension over this issue revolves around wealthy donors getting to choose which schools thrive and which schools don’t. Mellon says the naming deal did not include any special control for the Kinder family over the school’s courses or curriculums.

“As far as we know, it was a donation made in good faith,” she says.

Post by Hannah McBride.