Several controversial charter schools will continue to operate through the Houston Independent School District, as the board narrowly renewed their contracts Thursday night despite some questionable financial dealings.

Three of those charters — Energized for Excellence, Energized for STEM and Inspired for Excellence Academy, Inc. — received extra scrutiny because of their finances. Trustees questioned why some of them had loaned the founder Lois Bullock’s for-profit company millions of dollars and paid excessive salaries to leadership. 

“The liabilities exceed the assets of this organization by a couple million dollars, and the auditor says there’s a going concern,” said Trustee Anne Sung, questioning the financials of Inspired for Excellence Academy.

Still, the Houston school board renewed the contracts with the caveat that the administration strengthen the financial and academic standards, though it’s not clear if that will bar conflicts of interest. The charter schools are considered “in-district” charters, meaning that HISD has authority over them, not the Texas Education Agency.

Several trustees expressed concerns about what would happen to the students enrolled in the schools.

“If they’re not meeting our expectations, we are pulling the rug out from under children, in, at this point, April — even March is too late,” said Trustee Sue Deigaard. “Where are these children going to go to school? Some of the campuses that they’re zoned to are already overcrowded.”

In all, eight charter schools will continue serving 11,000 students and receive about $60 million in public funds next year.

Several dozen parents and students from the charter schools attended the meeting, pleading with the board not to shut them down. The vote to renew the contracts triggered cheers and applause.

In March, the Houston school board decided to delay renewing the contracts, due to financial concerns. Then and Thursday, several parent advocates opposed the deal, saying children deserve better and calling on the administration to do more of their own due diligence. 

“Children are not cash cows and should not be viewed as such. In my research, I also found that the majority of teachers at these schools are not state certified,” said Karina Quesada in March.

HISD administrators said that if the district doesn’t renew the schools and they close, then it could suffer a financial hit. They estimated that the drop in student enrollment could make HISD’s bill to the state under Robin Hood jump by $63 million. Administrators also said that it could also affect its free meal program.