State takeover of Houston public schools sets off Democrats who cry it's a political move

State takeover of Houston public schools sets off Democrats who cry it's a political move
AP Photo/Eric Gay

Texas officials announced a state takeover of Houston Independent School District’s (HISD) schools on Wednesday. HISD has almost 200,000 students in public schools. It is the country’s eighth-largest school district. It’s a big deal.

Frankly, this has been a long time coming. There have been threats for years of the state coming in and taking charge of the school district. Naturally, now that the time has come and state officials made their move, cries of politics have come to the forefront. Houston, like other large urban cities, is Democrat-led. Governor Abbott and every statewide elected official are Republicans. It’s a high-stakes disagreement because the education of so many students is at risk. This is one of the largest school takeovers in U.S. history.

To whom do you point a finger but school administrators, teacher unions, and local officials, right? They are Democrats. That’s just a fact. Let them cry politics all they want. It doesn’t change what is going on. Education Commissioner Mike Morath made the announcement.

In a letter to the Houston Independent School District, Morath said the Texas Education Agency will replace Superintendent Millard House II and the district’s elected board of trustees with a new superintendent and an appointed board of managers made of residents from within the district’s boundaries.

Morath said the board has failed to improve student outcomes while conducting “chaotic board meetings marred by infighting” and violating open meetings act and procurement laws. He accused the district of failing to provide proper special education services and of violating state and federal laws with its approach to supporting students with disabilities.

He cited the seven-year record of poor academic performance at one of the district’s roughly 50 high schools, Wheatley High, as well as the poor performance of several other campuses.

“The governing body of a school system bears ultimate responsibility for the outcomes of all students. While the current Board of Trustees has made progress, systemic problems in Houston ISD continue to impact district students,” Morath wrote in his six-page letter.

Seven years. How long is the state supposed to give a failing school district to get its act together? Superintendent House was elected unanimously by the Board of Education in June 2021. With this takeover, he’s out. Fair or not, the person at the top of the chain of command is held responsible. He came into the job as the battle between HISD and the State of Texas raged on. He created a five-year plan to improve the district. He focused on community engagement, accountability, and learning improvements. He responded to the takeover with a statement touting the success he has had as superintendent.

House issued a statement Wednesday morning touting achievements his administration made under his tenure, including lifting 40 out of 50 district schools out of the TEA’s D and F accountability list. He said he would work to ensure a smooth transition.

“Today’s announcement does not discount the gains we have made district-wide. I am confident our educators and staff will continue to do the necessary work to ensure positive student outcomes at every level,” House wrote.

HISD dropped its lawsuit against the TEA March 10, ending an extended legal battle with the TEA over the district’s fate.

House and current school board members will remain in place until a new board of managers is chosen after June 1. The new board will be appointed for at least two years. Most of HISD’s board members have been replaced since the state began making serious moves toward a takeover in 2019. House pledged to work toward “a smooth transition without disruption to our core mission of providing an exceptional educational experience for all students.”

What was the reaction to the takeover by the teachers union and the ACLU? The first thing out of their mouths was a plea for more money for schools and teachers.

The Texas State Teachers Association and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas condemned the takeover. At a news conference in Austin, state Democratic leaders called for the Legislature to increase funding for education and raise teacher pay.

“We acknowledge that there’s been underperformance in the past, mainly due to that severe underfunding in our public schools,” state Rep. Armando Walle, who represents parts of north Houston, said.

We can talk about teacher salaries but it makes no sense for Democrats to demand that more money be thrown at a system that is not working for the students it serves. That’s the definition of insanity – continuing to do the same thing while expecting different results. As mentioned above, it’s been seven years since some schools that are failing. This takeover didn’t just happen out of the blue.

While Democrats cry politics, they ignore the fact that it was a Houston Democrat state rep that proposed the law in 2015 that allows the state to take over a school district that fails for more than five consecutive years. State Rep. Harold Dutton, Jr. has no regrets. “We’re hearing voices of opposition, people who say that HISD shouldn’t have to face consequences for allowing a campus to fail for more than five consecutive years. Those critics’ concern is misplaced,” Dutton wrote.

The state takeover is a last-resort measure. There have been allegations of misconduct by school trustees, corruption in vendor contracts, and low academic scores.

Governor Abbott said it is time to reinvent HISD.

“All of us Texans have an obligation and should come together to reinvent HISD in a way that will ensure that we’re going to be providing the best quality education for those kids,” Abbott said Wednesday.

He’s right. The children HISD serves deserve better. Taxpayers deserve better use of their tax money, too.

Democrats united to say the takeover is all about politics, though Houston schools are not under the control of the city’s mayor, a Democrat. Race has come into the picture, too, because, of course, it has.

Race is also an issue because the overwhelming majority of students in Houston schools are Hispanic or Black. Domingo Morel, a professor of political science and public services at New York University, said the political and racial dynamics in the Houston case are similar to instances where states have intervened elsewhere.

“If we just focus on taking over school districts because they underperform, we would have a lot more takeovers,” Morel said. “But that’s not what happens.”

Democrats think that all school districts are the same and one size fits all. That’s not how it works for cities across the country. Houston isn’t New York City where Mr. Morel lives. It’s time to do something else in HISD. We’ll know soon enough if the state has solutions that work.

Trending on HotAir Video