by Brendan Clarey
The state of Texas intends to take control of the Houston Independent School District, citing poor academic accountability, violations of the law and the expiration of an injunction that had previously prevented the state from acting, state officials said Wednesday.
The Texas Education Agency said it would name a new district superintendent and suspend the district’s board of trustees. This is the latest in a yearslong fight between the state and the district of about 200,000 students over poor academic performance and the behavior of trustees.
The current board of trustees will be replaced by a board of governors appointed by TEA Commissioner Mike Morath. The law also requires Morath to appoint a new superintendent, but until he does, the district’s current superintendent, Millard House, will remain in the position.
The Texas Supreme Court earlier this year lifted the injunction against the state that had prevented the state from intervening in the district through a conservator. Morath said that the takeover was necessary based on district trustees’ actions as well as its failing to improve student achievement.
“In prior years, Houston ISD was governed by a Board of Trustees that did not focus on improving student outcomes,” Morath said in his letter to district officials. “Instead, the Board conducted chaotic board meetings marred by infighting while Board members routinely exceeded their authority, directing staff in violation of the school laws of Texas.
“Houston ISD operates some of the highest performing schools in the state of Texas,” Morath said in the letter. “But district procedures have also allowed it to operate schools where the support provided to students is not adequate.”
Morath said that some new trustees have tried to make progress, but noted that “academic performance issues require action under state law” and that “systemic problems in Houston ISD continue to impact students most in need of our collective support.”
The state first pushed to remove Houston’s school board in 2019, but the district sued.
Morath cited Texas law that allows the state to either close a school campus or appoint a board of managers if a school has continuously low student achievement. Morath said Wheatley High School had received seven “unacceptable academic ratings” between 2011 and 2019.
The district can request an administrative review with the State Office of Administrative Hearings. The state is not scheduled to name a superintendent or appoint a board of managers before June 1.
Democratic lawmakers and union leaders were critical of the state takeover, according to the Texas Tribune
Since 1989, at least 22 states have taken over more than 100 public school districts, according to a book on school takeovers.
Critics of takeovers point out that state takeovers may not improve student achievement performance or management.
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