Reactions are mixed as Houstonians discuss the possibility of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) taking over the state’s largest school district.
The TEA has been actively pursuing running the Houston Independent School District since 2019, due to several consecutive years of low academic performance at Phyllis Wheatley High School, which is historically Black.
Janice Thomas is a class of 1986 graduate of Wheatley. Up until two months ago, she was the president of the school’s alumni association. She currently runs a non-profit that focuses on education in low-performing schools.
Thomas said she doesn’t love the idea of the TEA stepping in but the schools need help.
“I really don’t have a stance as [to] whether I’m for the TEA or not. My stance is, what can we do to improve the outcome of our students? We have a lot of students that are being left out. They are falling behind,” she said. “This is not something that should be the responsibility of one group of people or an agency. This is something that’s gonna take all of us to do together.”
Jackie Anderson is the president of the Houston Federation of Teachers and says a state takeover is not ideal because the voters already made the decision of who they wanted at the helm of the district.
“When you have a board of managers that’s been placed by a Commissioner that was also appointed, then where do we go but to our state legislators when we have questions about what’s going on in the district?” she asked. “You make that type of move, democracy has no place in our society.”
Anderson said she anticipates a significant loss of teachers should a TEA takeover be imminent.
“Well, what I actually think is going to happen, [is] we’re gonna have a mass exodus of teachers. They are not going to hang around in HISD. They’re going to leave and we’ve always had a shortage of teachers. I think we’ll have an even bigger shortage of teachers next year,” Thomas said.
Kourtney Revels is the parent of a second grader at B.C Elmore Elementary in the Northforest neighborhood. Revels says her community is still feeling the impact of the 2014 state takeover of North Forest ISD.
“They closed a lot of schools that were underperforming. We went from having two high schools to one high school. I noticed a lot of people leaving the district.,” Revels said. “I would like us to keep some of our neighborhood schools open not have all these different charter schools.”
Ruth Kravetz with Community Voices for Public Education said the takeover is less about student achievement as it is about profits and politics.
“If the governor really cares about our kids he’d make sure we’d have more funding for public schools,” Kravetz said. “Right now, we’re 42nd in the nation. In addition to being a political move. It’s a racist move because 93 of 107 takeovers in this country have been in communities serving Black and brown students.
Revels said if a district takeover is imminent, she doesn’t want history repeating itself.
“This time, I’d like to see the board members or the people that come in, if they do replace the board, it be people that care about our community that have done the research or that are from the community,” she said.
Leaders held a rally in downtown Houston Friday afternoon following HISD’s state of school address to defend the district against a proposed takeover.
“HISD has a B+ rating. They are the highest-rated ISD in all of the large schools in all of the state of Texas. and the governor said it needs to be taken over?” said State. Representative Jarvis Johnson, (D) District 139. Johnson, who said he’s not ruling out taking legal action, claims the state’s push to move in on HISD was designed by Governor Greg Abbott as an attempt to privatize public education.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also spoke at the rally. He said students in HISD deserve certainty and stability. “This is not a small school district. You just can’t sweep in and take it over without there being major consequences,” Turner said.
On March 6, a parent community meeting is being held at 6:30 p.m. at the North Main Church of God in Christ.
City, state, and community leaders are calling on the governor and the TEA to attend.
“Don’t embarrass HISD as if they are failing. you ought to be celebrating the progress because in 19 months we’ve lifted 40 schools of the IR list and we are still getting better,” said Bishop James Dixon.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo released the following statement:
More on the TEA takeover: