By BRIAN LOPEZ
The Texas Tribune
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Wednesday morning that he has been told that the Texas Education Agency plans to take over the Houston Independent School District as early as next week.
The biggest school district in Texas and the agency that oversees it have been locked in a legal fight for years, with the TEA raising concerns over Houston ISD’s school board management and low scores in one high school.
“I’m talking to legislators, and what they’re saying to me is that the state intends to take over the district, replacing the entire board, replacing the superintendent,” Turner said at a City Council meeting. “I find that totally alarming.”
The Texas Education Agency and Houston ISD did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
News of Turner’s expectation was first reported by The Houston Chronicle.
This comes after a House Committee on Public Education meeting Tuesday where state Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, told TEA Commissioner Mike Morath that she heard that the agency would announce the takeover on March 6.
“We have not made any final decision and not announced any final action,” Morath told Allen.
Morath and the TEA first moved to force out the district’s school board in 2019 in response to allegations of misconduct by trustees and years of low performance at Phillis Wheatley High School. The high school received a C accountability grade last year, an improvement from the F it received in 2019. Houston ISD overall received a B grade.
Houston ISD sued, and in 2020, a Travis County district judge halted Morath’s plan by granting a temporary injunction. The case eventually reached the Texas Supreme Court, where the agency’s lawyers argued last year that a 2021 law – which went into effect after the case was first taken to court – allows for a state takeover. The law permits the TEA commissioner to replace a school board and its superintendent if one of its schools receives consecutive years of failing grades.
The Texas Supreme Court threw out the injunction in January, clearing the path for the TEA to put in place new school board members, who could then vote to end the lawsuit. The court formalized its decision Wednesday afternoon. Morath had previously said the agency would not make a decision on whether to take over Houston ISD until the court did so.
“What we’re going to do is going to be a mandatory action under state law, not a discretionary action,” Morath said during the House committee meeting.
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