People hold up protest signs at a news conference
FILE - People hold up signs at a news conference, Friday, March 3, 2023, in Houston while protesting the proposed takeover of the city's school district by the Texas Education Agency. Texas officials on Wednesday, March 15, announced a state takeover of Houston's nearly 200,000-student public school district, the eighth-largest in the country, acting on years of threats and angering Democrats who assailed the move as political. (AP Photo/Juan A. Lozano)

Now that the Texas Education Agency has announced it’s taking over the Houston Independent School District, many are left wondering, what happens now. In short, nothing.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath said there will be no immediate changes, though Superintendent Millard House II and the current trustees of HISD’s board will eventually be replaced with an appointed Board of Managers.

“Even with recent improvements and despite good intentions from many, Houston ISD as a system continues to allow chronically low achievement in multiple schools,” Morath said.

The state will appoint a nine-member board of managers to replace the current board of trustees by June 1. Morath said the board will be a diverse group who live and work within the HISD district lines.

The application process for that board is open now.

A necessary intervention?

The move comes after years of what the state considers dysfunction and a failure to properly educate all children. In 2019, HISD had 21 schools that received an F grade. Though that ranking has since improved, Morath says intervention was still necessary.

“Ultimately, this intervention is necessary to shore up support for students in those schools. This was extraordinarily difficult. We live in a democracy, and one of the elements of that democracy is locally-elected school boards,” Morath said. “What that law requires is if that threshold is ever met, that the commissioner of education is required, it’s not discretionary, is required to either order a closure of that school or order a board of managers for the whole district.”

Morath then went into further detail regarding the coming board that will oversee HISD for at least the next two years.

What we’re doing under this intervention is we are choosing nine individuals who are Houstonians who will be the Board of Managers, and they will assume all the powers and duties of the elected school board,” said Morath. “So it’s essentially a shift in local control from the current locally elected board to an appointed board of nine.

“They then have all of the duties and obligations to govern the school system like any governing body in the State of Texas, so they’ll oversee the superintendent. They’ll set strategic direction. They’ll set budget. Their job as a team is to be focused like a laser on the needs of students above all else.”

Decision draws ire

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was among the many local leaders who blasted the move, emphasizing that failings reported in the district in 2019 have significantly improved.

“They keep going back to 2019. But the status of HISD in 2019 is different than what it is four years later in 2023. Under this superintendent and this pretty much new board, significant progress has been made,” Turner said. “Forty of your 50 schools that were in that D or F category are no more. Forty of the 50 are now in a much better status; the schools they keep referring to.”

In 2019, HISD had 21 schools that received an F grade. This past August, for the first time in eight years, Wheatley High School, which was one of those F schools, had a passing grade.

“We asked them to do better and they have done better,” Turner said. “You don’t reward success by penalizing not just that school, but you’re taking over 275 other schools as well.”

HISD is now the 16th school district to be taken over by the TEA since 1991, and Houston Federation of Teachers president Jackie Anderson believes the move spells trouble for all impacted.

“Parents should be very concerned and the reason why is because one man basically told them that their vote doesn’t mean anything. It was nullified,” Anderson said. “Those trustees were elected by the citizens of this community. We’re disappointed because we believe in democracy and there is no reason other than what they keep calling a law that is allowing them to do that.”

Anderson said takeovers are not in the best interest of the children.

“You have 30 years of history and research that shows that takeovers do not work. One thing we know is that Texas AFT and Houston Federation of Teachers are going to be here no matter what. We’re not going anywhere. Our advocacy for our students and teachers will remain the same.”

Anderson urged parents to be vocal about the decision.

“(Parents) should write to the governor. They should continue to write to their leadership. They should let them know that they are disappointed The laws can be changed. They are in session right now. (Legislators) can do something if they want to,” she added.

TEA Takover: What’s next?

What happens now?

New board members apply and will be selected.

Who does the Board of Managers consist of?

Those who serve on the Board of Managers don’t have to have a background in education. Morath says the TEA’s goal is to find a diverse set of backgrounds.

What happens to the current board?

Superintendent Millard House II and the nine board members will be replaced. (No date determined)

Who decides the new superintendent and board members?

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath gets the final say.

What rights will the new board have?

Appointed board members have the same power as elected board members.

Will any HISD schools close with the takeover?

No, at least for now. Morath said the takeover is not about closing schools but restructuring their support.

What will happen to Wheatley High School?

Morath says the consistent academic failures at Wheatley High School, as well as alleged misconduct by previous board members, is what led to the takeover. Wheatley has since improved to a C. However, Morath says no HISD schools are closing… for now.

Is this takeover permanent?

This is a temporary intervention and that at some point, HISD will return to democratically-elected board members. It’s unclear how long the takeover will last. However, by law, the takeover will last at least two years.

What must the district do to get local control back?

No schools can have any more multiple years of D-F ratings. They have to have special education in compliance and the procedure of the board needs to be focused on student outcomes.

What people are saying

“You cannot run school districts, cities and counties from Austin, Texas. You tell me how this benefits the kids? Instead of grading the students and the teachers, the Texas Education Agency needs to grade themselves on how they are handling this matter. I give them an F.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner

“The District’s top priority is, and will continue to be, student outcomes. The Board hopes that TEA has a clear and transparent process for this announced transition that is communicated to the community and the District.”

HISD Board

“I stepped into my role understanding the obstacles we faced as a district, including a looming TEA intervention. My team and I remained focused on building a framework that prioritized a high-quality educational experience supported by world-class talent for all students. I am proud to say, in the last 19 months, we have already seen vast improvements. Because of the hard work of our students, teachers and staff, we have lifted 40 of 50 schools off the D or F TEA accountability ratings list. Together, with our parents, community members and leaders, we developed the district’s first comprehensive five-year strategic plan to build a better HISD.”

HISD Superintendent Millard House II

“What the governing body is there to do is to set a strategic direction, to create focus to make sure the tone at the top is one of innovation and service toward students above all else, to make sure they can make decisions related to resource allocation within the school system so kids at every school in Houston, not just some schools in Houston, have access to rigorous extracurricular activities, advance coursework, that we can help improve the lives of kids regardless of where they are geographically in Houston. It just takes focused leadership.”

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath

“I’ve been talking with the Department of Education and hope to speak with them today. I believe this is a discriminatory action and that this impacts the [constitutional] Equal Protection of the Law and Due Process, and asking for the Department of Education to intervene and investigate. They are in the midst of having their department look at all aspects; they told me that last week that they were reviewing all the information I have given them.”

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee

“The Hostile Takeover of HISD is a crime against 200,000 children, against public education and against the Houston community”

Dr. James Dixon, Houston NAACP President
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Laura Onyeneho

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...