HOUSTON – Hundreds of teachers from across the state rallied near the state capitol on Monday as the possibility of the state taking over its largest school district looms.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said talks of the Texas Education Agency taking over Houston ISD ramped up nearly two weeks ago, but still, the state agency hasn’t announced any formal decisions.
Texas AFT organized Monday’s rally focused on its Respect Agenda, but the day was overshadowed by the possible TEA takeover, Texas AFT Communications Director Nicole Hill said.
“We don’t need a TEA takeover. We need funding for our schools,” Hill said. “Any solution other than the State of Texas coming in to take over a democratically-elected school board is a better solution.”
The TEA attempted to take over HISD in 2019 after seven consecutive years of failing accountability ratings at HISD’s Phillis Wheatley High School, but HISD sued to stop that from happening. It wasn’t until earlier this year when the Supreme Court of Texas struck down a lower court’s temporary injunction, clearing the way for TEA to move forward with a takeover.
Current state law indicates the TEA commissioner shall appoint a board of managers or close a campus if it has unacceptable performance ratings for more than five school years.
Houston-area state lawmakers filed Senate Bill 1662, which would allow the TEA alternative remedies, including issuing a public notice of the deficiency to the board of trustees, ordering the preparation of a student achievement improvement plan that addresses each academic achievement indicator, or appointing an agency monitor to participate in and report to the agency on the activities of the board of trustees of the district or superintendent, and more.
“The agency’s reason for initiating a takeover bid in 2019 is no longer valid. After years of hard work by the students, teachers, parents and community, Phyllis Wheatley High School joined 94% of HISD schools that earned an A, B or C in 2022, with the district receiving a B grade overall. Consequently, it is unjust and unwarranted for TEA to move forward with a takeover. S.B. 1662 offers the agency options to work collaboratively with HISD to address any current deficiencies instead of subjecting nearly 200,000 students and 27,000 teachers and employees to a takeover,” one of the bill authors, State Sen. Carol Alvarado, wrote in a statement.
The unknown is worrisome for teachers and students alike, Hill said.
“We have such uncertainty about what it will end up meaning,” she said.
Mayor Turner has called on the TEA to discuss plans publicly and involve parents.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee has asked for the federal government to step in to avert a possible takeover, writing a letter to President Joe Biden and the U.S. Department of Education.
As of Monday night, the TEA has not announced any decision about what comes next.
“TEA remains committed to ensuring students in Houston receive a high-quality education that prepares them for success and will pursue a path forward that accomplishes that objective. Until the Agency makes any formal decision, I’m confident Superintendent House and the Board will continue their work to help the students of Houston,” TEA Commissioner Mike Morath wrote in a statement.
See KPRC 2′s full coverage of the Houston ISD takeover: