Houston leaders condemn HISD takeover

Houston leaders condemn HISD takeover
Houston leaders condemn HISD takeover

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee has called for a federal investigation into the Texas Education Agency (TEA) after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Wednesday that the State Department could take over the Houston Independent School District as early as next week.

In a statement Wednesday, Lee called the TEA takeover “unnecessary, unfair and discriminatory” and said she has had a conversation with the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

Her statement came after Turner announced the news at a Houston City Council meeting alongside council members who agreed the takeover would be an overreach by local government. According to Turner, the state is ready to replace the HISD Board of Trustees and Superintendent Millard House II with state-appointed officials who do not have a disclosed term limit.

The incoming takeover has drawn mixed reviews from the Houston community, with some seeing it as an overreaction while others see the move as inevitable. In February, local organizations, including Community Voices for Public Education, (CVPE) rallied against a Texas Supreme Court ruling in January that opened the door for TEA to take over HISD.

At the rally, Houston community members, including HISD teachers, educators and parents, said they believe the district is moving in the right direction and needs funding more than anything else.

In addition to organizing, CVPE also said it plans to deliver a petition to state lawmakers in the legislative session.

“This is about profit and politics and not about children,” said Ruth Kravetz, founder of Community Voices for Public Education. “I know HISD has made some missteps, but it happens to be B-rated, triple bond-rated, and even though I don’t love every member of the board, they’re elected and you can vote them out.”

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Kravetz also said she sees the TEA takeover as a political move because state officials are basing the move on an older reputation that doesn’t reflect the current state of operations.

“If the governor really cared about our kids, he would fund our schools more and support them,” Kravetz added.

On the other hand, other local groups such as Good Reason Houston, an organization focused on improving education for students, said according to their website that they do not have a position on the takeover but will work with whoever leads the board.

“Our organization exists to support Houston-area public school districts, including the current administration of HISD — and whoever that may ultimately be — especially given that there are 70,000 students attending schools in HISD that are not improving fast enough to to prepare them to thrive in HISD. Houston tomorrow.”

Houston education advocate Gerry Monroe, a staunch critic of House’s leadership of HISD, called the takeover “karma” for a school district he believes has failed Houston students for years — though he’s not bullish on the TEA’s ability to improve the district’s performance.

“HISD is just too big for someone to just walk through the door and think they can handle this,” Monroe said.

Monroe believes the TEA’s intervention is deserved punishment for past mistakes at HISD and has given Republican lawmakers a convenient pretext to advance private school voucher proposals in the state’s largest public school system.

“Greg Abbott wasn’t indicted by the FBI, Greg Abbott wasn’t the one who fought in open board meetings, Dan Patrick wasn’t the one who had the dysfunction,” Monroe added. “I don’t feel it’s political. I believe that HISD has been failing these kids for 30 to 40 years. And now it has backfired on them.”

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The legal battle between the local school district and the state dates back to 2019 when Education Commissioner Mike Morath cited poor accountability ratings at a number of district schools and allegations of misconduct by trustees as a key factor in the local district’s inability to govern itself. TEA and HISD did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

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