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Texas Regulators Plan Takeover of Houston Independent School District

Public education advocates say the move is racist, as white-majority districts with lower ratings are being left alone.

A school bus is seen outside Condit Elementary School in Bellaire, outside Houston, Texas, on December 16, 2020.

Texas state officials are planning to transfer control of the Houston Independent School District (HISD) from democratically elected leaders to a commission appointed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

Officials will transfer management of the district — the largest in the state and the eighth-largest in the nation — to the commission starting on June 1. HISD previously blocked TEA efforts to take over its operations in 2019, but a state Supreme Court ruling earlier this year lifted the injunction that had been in place.

TEA had sought a district takeover in 2019 ostensibly due to the performance of a single school in the district. That school, Wheatley High School, received seven straight years of poor ratings. However, the school has improved its ratings since 2019, and is no longer deemed failing by the state’s standards.

Nevertheless, state Education Commissioner Mike Morath, an appointee of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, claims the improvements seen at Wheatley don’t “abrogate [his] prior legal requirement to intervene,” in spite of Houston schools receiving a “B” rating overall — much better than other districts throughout the state that have not been threatened with takeovers by TEA administrators.

A takeover by the state agency could last indefinitely, as a district or school must have at least two consecutive years of passing grades, by state standards, in order for the TEA to begin determining a time frame and process for restoring power to local leaders.

Education advocates have condemned the planned takeover as racist, noting that TEA is targeting a majority Brown and Black school district that is by every current measure abiding by state standards.

“The state takeover of HISD is not about public education — it’s about political control of a 90 percent Black and brown student body in one of the country’s most diverse cities,” said the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “And it’s not what our students and teachers need.”

The TEA takeover “will remove the democratically elected school board and its superintendent. This decision is a betrayal of parents’ rights to elect their governing board,” Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) said in a tweet.

State Rep. Gene Wu (D), who represents the district where HISD is located, said in a statement that, although many students in his community are “overwhelmingly economically disadvantaged” and come from “non-English speaking and immigrant backgrounds,” the schools are receiving passing grades, with most of them receiving “A” or “B” ratings. The decision to move forward with the takeover is “an incredibly blatant and shameful political attack by Governor Abbott and Commissioner Morath on Houston parents, educators, and all supporters of public education,” Wu said.

“There are 154 other Texas school districts that are rated C or below, yet the TEA has targeted HISD for a takeover. This is big government at its worse,” public education advocate Lauren Rocco Dougherty said.

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