Though the temperatures were slightly chilly in Houston on Friday, it was getting hot up in here; or more specifically, in front of the Houston Independent School District’s administration building, as parents, teachers, activists, clergy, labor leaders and elected officials representing the city’s diversity, joined forces to speak out against the Texas Education Agency’s takeover attempt of HISD.
Listed below are comments gathered from attendees and speakers at Friday’s rally, which preceded other similar events that took place around the city.
JACKIE ANDERSON, president, Houston Federation of Teachers
I’m ready to fight. This is clearly an attack on democracy. This is about power. This is about politics. This is not about students. This is a slap in the face to every teacher who has given 110% during the pandemic and do it every day. With collaboration and hard work, they have moved our schools from an F rating on an accountability system put in by TEA, to B and A ratings… HISD has not failed. Our students have not failed. Our teachers have not failed. TEA has failed us. TEA, go away. I stand in support of teachers. I stand in support of our students. I stand to fight for the schools that children in our communities deserve.
STATE REP. RON REYNOLDS
Enough of TEA trying to meddle in the affairs of local communities that know what’s best for our local schools. Governor Abbott and the Republicans in charge in Austin have failed the students of the state of Texas. Texas is near the bottom when it comes to funding for our schools. Texas is near the bottom when it comes to funding for our teachers. We, as the state of Texas, with the record surplus, nearly $33 billion, plus $11 billion in our state’s rainy day fund, should be focusing our attention on teacher pay raises. We should be focused on making sure that our retirees have not just a 13th check, but a full cost of living increase. We should be focusing on Medicaid expansion, so Texas doesn’t continue to lead the nation with the highest number of uninsured. We should be focused to make sure that we have a livable wage at not $7.25 an hour.
Why are we focused on these divisive things like this? There is no reason, absolutely, unequivocally no reason why TEA should be trying to take over HISD. Let’s just end that right there. All of the schools in HISD are meeting the state standards. All of ’em. This bill never should have been filed in the first place. It never should have been filed. I was proud to be on the right side of history voting “No.” All the people who voted for that bill, they’re the ones that need to be answering the questions. Here are the facts. This board has done a great job of turning this district around. Not from the help from the state, but within the community and all the stakeholders that are behind us. The superintendent has done a phenomenal job under his leadership, under his watch.
And you juxtapose that… Have you guys done any research to see what TEA has done when they took over schools? Did you see what they did with North Forests? Did you see what they did when they took over other school districts? They have failed. So, I believe that instead of focusing on taking over HISD, we need to be looking at ending TEA.
Let’s just be unequivocal about the facts. The facts are Governor Abbott and those Republicans in charge, they have been chomping at the bits to take over HISD for decades. That’s the facts. They want to take over Black and Brown communities. They want to replace the elected board members that are duly elected by the people within those districts, with people who believe in vouchers that will take money away from our public schools. They want to “voucherize” and they want to “charterize” HISD. That is really what’s going on. And then they want to put a board of managers that believes in nonsense like [demonizing] critical race theory. Because that is the kind of nonsense that they’re pushing in Austin.
And so they want to take away local control so that they can be able to subvert this district with people who believe in their failed philosophies.
And finally, Governor Abbott is trying to out-MAGA Governor DeSantis. He’s bringing that nonsense to not just Texas, but he’s trying to bring it to HISD. Will we let it happen on our watch? Will we stay silent? We need to look at lawsuits. We need to look at marches. We need to look at peaceful protests. We need to do [actions by] any means necessary to stop this takeover. We cannot let it happen, because they are determined to fail our kids, when our kids are being educated. HISD is one of the largest districts in the country. And you [TEA] want to take it over because you had one previously failing school? Just one. One. Can you imagine that?
So, we are here today to send a message to Governor Abbott, to Lieutenant Governor Patrick, and to anybody who stands in our way, that it will not happen on our watch. We will speak truth to power. We will fight to the end. And we’ll not go quietly in the night. And so I’m proud that the members of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus, and all of those who are on the right side of the issues, will be standing in solidarity with our teachers, with our paraprofessionals, with labor, with our clergy and all those stakeholders, the parents and the students of HISD, to tell TEA “Not on our watch.”
WRETHA THOMAS, president, Houston Education Support Personnel Union, HISD
The state takeover, they need to come up with a different kind of plan. Because of state takeover, it’s not gonna do anything but hurt the city of Houston. And also, it is going to derail our kids from the education that they need. It needs to be some more enhancements on the Black and Brown schools, but I think they’ve got a superintendent and a board that’s getting the job done. So, we need to at least get enough time to make this plan come together. We like Wheatley off of the bad list and onto the good list. If something is fixed, don’t break it.
REV. DR. JAMES DIXON, president, NAACP Houston Branch
This day in Houston, Texas is a sad day. And I say it’s a sad day because in Houston, Texas in 2023, we are standing in front of the Houston Independent School District’s administration building named after Hattie White, a Black woman whose legacy in education warranted her name being on this building. And we are standing here today defending the very things that blood, sweat and tears paid for. And that is equal access to public education at the highest level. The Houston NAACP has a 100-plus-year history of fighting for equal access and equity to education and economic opportunity. We stand in the state of Texas where even today the attack on DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) is connected to what we are doing here right now. Our governor and TEA have decided that HISD needs to be taken over by TEA as Rep. Reynolds indicated, through a board of managers who have no good thoughts or intent for the diverse student population of HISD.
This is a hostile takeover that is all about several things. One is politics. This is not about children. This is not about students. It’s not about education. It’s about perverted politics. It’s about perverted politics because it’s using political power in order to advance an agenda that’s about money. It’s about money control and power. It’s about property. It’s about real estate. It’s about the fact that there is a move afoot in this state and in other states to take over precious real estate, as they’re doing in North Forest. When you go there now and look at the plans for the real estate, you see that multi-millionaires and billionaires are building development where there were once schools. It’s about affecting neighborhoods in such a way that if you disinvest in public schools, then the neighborhood value crashes, people leave and other people come in and buy. This is to advance the agenda of gentrification to eliminate the Fifth Ward and Third Ward and Sunnyside and Acres Homes, the kind of demographics in terms of citizenship that is historically known. We understand the end game. We are not naive. We are not blind. We are not uninformed. This is not about students in education. It’s about privatization. It’s about turning public schools into private businesses that profit people who don’t come from our community.
Let me say it again. It’s about privatization. Ask the question to the governor. Ask the question to Morath: Are you against privatizing schools? Yes. Are you against turning public schools into charter systems that are owned and controlled by people who’ve invested money? That’s what this is really about. It’s shameful that TEA has given the district a B+ rating and Wheatley is at a C and you want to take over it and shut it down while we are doing well.
It simply says that excellence is never good enough if it doesn’t meet the ends of those who are in power. I’m amazed that we don’t have more public outcry… We are going to extend an invitation to faith leaders who don’t look like me to say “Where do you stand on the hostile takeover of HISD?” We’re gonna ask Democrats and Republican elected officials, “Where do you stand on the takeover of HISD?” We’re gonna ask business leaders, “Where do you stand on the takeover of HISD?” Because those who cannot sign on the right side of history don’t deserve our shopping, don’t deserve our worship, don’t deserve our tithes and offerings. If you can’t stand up for public schools as a public education, you don’t deserve our support financially, you don’t deserve our votes and you do not deserve our respect.
I’ll close with this, my little sermon, brothers and sisters, it is incumbent upon all of us today to understand what this means. This is about the death knell to the empowerment of minority students. HISD is majority-minority. This would not be happening if HISD was not majority-minority. Let me say it again. If HISD was 80% majority in terms of student population, we would not be holding this press because TEA would not be moving to take over a school district if it was not majority-minority. These are people who simply don’t want to see excellence looking like us. Let’s give an applause to Superintendent Millard House II. Let’s applause to the HISD board of directors and the teachers and the parents and the students who are making a B+ rating.
My final close: TEA, governor, explained to the children who earned that B+ rating. You are saying that children who earned a B+ rating, “You are still a failure to your state.” You are saying to children, because these were not teachers taking the tests, these were not elected officials taking the tests, these were children taking the tests that earned a B+ rating. So, you’re gonna say to the children, “You’ve earned a B+ rating, but to your governor, to your state, you are still a failure.” On the basis of what? The grade said B+. What says you’re a failure? Governor, TEA, you must explain that to the 200,000-plus children in HISD.
KENDRA YARBROUGH CAMARENA, Parent
We [HISD] have a B rating, AAA bond rated. 94% of our schools are at an A, B or C. And then ultimately, I do not want my voice to be taken away. I want the people who run HISD to be accountable to me as a parent. A board of directors that is not accountable to me, you’re taking away my rights. So, we cannot have that. I wanna be able to elect my board members and be able to speak to my board members so that they have to be accountable to me.
RUTH KRAVETZ, Teacher/Parent
I am a proud 35-year teacher in HISD and a parent of two children who graduated from HISD. I retired and I returned to teach in HISD a month ago because I know our children need us. So, I teach one class a day and I wanna speak on behalf of the students. Takeovers fail and neglect our students. Whether it is Philadelphia or Detroit or Tennessee or New Orleans, takeovers harm our children. The governor’s and the commissioners’ unholy fixation with STAAR-based accountability and privatization is a pox on them and their parents should be ashamed of them. The reality is this, we are here because public education is the cornerstone of a thriving democracy. And in that vein, we are here to teach every child. The ones who need us the most are the ones that the governor and the commissioners are going to abandon if they take over our school district… What the governor has done is he has moved the goalpost in the middle of the game over and over again.
REGINA GARDNER, executive director, Reclaim the Village Project
Well, I am in agreement with the piece where they’re talking about the takeover of the land and the gentrification piece. But we, as an education advocate, we’ve literally been engaging with HISD and other districts around, and they have not been engaging with the community in a positive way. The districts have been failing our kids for a number of decades. And so, I don’t care if they get taken over. I really don’t. I know they need a shake-up, because they’re not listening to the electorate. Who knows; maybe if they get a shake up or get a wake-up call, maybe they’ll change. I’ve heard that recently because they were trying to defend against the takeover, they’ve given teachers raises and they’ve done some things for the teachers. So, I hate that at the threat of a takeover motivates that type of behavior because these teachers are the engine of the functionality of the school system. They have a lot of overhead with a lot of administrators who are making a lot of money and they don’t really have a function. The teachers is where all of the focus needs to be. The teachers and the students. And so, I’m not taking up for HISD because we’ve been fighting HISD and a lot of these other districts around. They need a wake-up call.
I am being educated at the moment. So I’ll be honest, I’m really surprised to learn about a lot of the issues that were happening within HISD. But, I don’t feel a takeover from TEA is going to be effective in resolving any of those issues. In fact, I agree with what some of the speakers here said that it’s more of a political or a privatization issue. And I’m not in support of it at all.
CESAR ESPINOSA, FIEL (Familias Immigrantes y Estudiantes an la Lucha) president
We believe in public education. We believe in a public education system led for by the public in a publicly-elected place where we need to put the public’s interest first. Yes. Not government interest, but the public’s interest first. In the last 24 hours, we have received so many calls from concerned parents asking two things. Number one is “What is going on?” Because they don’t know what’s going on. And number two is, “Why are we not involved?” So, this is actually a call out to them to say, this is your chance to be involved. We cannot do this by ourselves, and we must not do this by ourselves. This has to be an effort led by teachers, by students and by parents. I don’t know about y’all, but I know the Mama Bears need to come out right here and right now. And as a parent of a child in pre-K, I will tell you that I am in the best interest of my child and I know a lot of parents are out there. So, this is an invitation to parents to… come wherever or to organize your own rally or protest at your school and tell HISD and tell TEA that we do not need TEA here.