Texas officials on Wednesday confirmed earlier rumors of the state’s takeover of Houston Independent School District.
Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced the takeover in a letter to Houston ISD Superintendent Millard House II and the district’s nine school board members (pdf). Republican Gov. Greg Abbott appointed Morath in 2015.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) spoke out against the rumors earlier this month during a City Council meeting. Turner pointed out that several lawmakers had informed him of the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA’s) plan to take control of the district.
In January, the Texas Supreme Court reversed a temporary injunction blocking the agency from replacing school board members with state managers.
“I have carefully reviewed the Texas Supreme Court’s opinion. I have also considered the information presented by the district during the previously granted formal review,” Morath wrote in the letter.
“As a result of those deliberations, and to best support the students, teachers, and school community of Houston ISD, I am appointing a Board of Managers to the district as an intervention action required by law,” the letter continued.
HISD is the largest public school district in Texas and the eighth-largest district in the country, with nearly 195,000 students attending its 274 schools.
The TEA first attempted to oversee the district in 2019 following allegations of misconduct by school trustees, which included inappropriate influencing of vendor contracts, and years of low academic scores at Phillis Wheatley High School.
The majority of the district’s school board members have since been replaced.
HISD sued to block the TEA from taking over the district. The following year, Texas lawmakers approved SB 1365, which lawyers for the TEA argued provided the agency authority to proceed with its plans.
Superintendent Millard House, hired in 2021, developed a five-year plan to address the issues within HISD.
“I stepped into my role understanding the obstacles we faced as a district, including a looming TEA intervention. Today’s announcement does not discount the gains we have made district-wide,” House wrote on Twitter following the announcement.
Since House’s taking over as superintendent, Wheatley’s rating improved from “unacceptable” to a “C” during the 2021-2022 school year.
“I am proud to say, in the last 19 months, we have already seen vast improvements,” House said in a statement. “Because of the hard work of our students, teachers, and staff, we have lifted 40 of 50 schools off the D or F TEAs accountability ratings list.”
The superintendent said he would focus on working with school board members and the TEA to “ensure a smooth transition without disruption to our core mission of providing an exceptional educational experience for all students.”
Since 1991, the state has taken control of 15 districts, including North Forest ISD, Shepherd ISD, La Marque ISD, and Kendleton ISD, all of which are in the Houston area, KHOU reported.