“The best way to end speculation or rumor would be for TEA, for the state to say ‘we have no intentions to take over HISD’ and the issue would be over, resolved,” said Turner.
He explained that he had been in communication with TEA Commissioner Mike Morath since last Saturday. According to Turner, Morath said while some of the state law was “discretionary,” some was “mandatory” and indicated that he could either take over the district or close chronically failing schools.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Texas ruled that TEA could proceed with taking over the district after legislators clarified state law governing public school districts during the 2021 legislative session.
In 2019, a TEA investigation concluded that several HISD board members had violated the Open Meetings Act and state laws related to contracting, all while district schools struggled to meet student achievement standards. Wheatley High School in particular had incurred “F” ratings every year between 2013 and 2019 but had not been rated in 2018 due to the impact of Hurricane Harvey.
“In 2019 there were fifty schools in the D-F category,” said Turner. “In 2023, 40 of those 50 schools are no longer in that category. HISD is a B+ school system and in every single category HISD outperforms the Dallas Independent School District.”
With approximately 194,000 students, HISD is the state’s largest public school district. For the 2021-22 school year, HISD earned an overall “B” rating, with a “C” in student achievement. Wheatley High School received its first passing grade in nearly a decade, but troubled Kashmere High School and nine others did not meet minimum standards.
Saying that students need certainty and stability, Turner added, “Leave HISD alone.”
Earlier this week, HISD Superintendent Millard House II said he had not received official notice from TEA regarding the proposed intervention.
State Rep. Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston) called the proposed takeover “disingenuous” and said, “HISD is doing a phenomenal job.”
“We know that this is not by chance, not by happenstance, but this is designed by the governor because we know that there is a move afoot to create vouchers in this city,” said Jarvis.
While Jarvis and others, including Rep. Christina Morales (D-Houston), both blamed Gov. Greg Abbott, Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) told The Texan last month that the plan to have the state takeover HISD had been his idea.
In 2015, Dutton co-authored House Bill (HB) 1842, which passed on a bipartisan vote of 125-18, including with support from then Rep. Sylvester Turner. Other state representatives who voted for HB 1842 but opposed a state takeover this week include lawmakers Reps. Alma Allen (D-Houston), Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), and Gene Wu (D-Houston), and Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston).
After the TEA determined HISD was eligible for state takeover in 2019, the district filed a lawsuit blocking state action and the courts issued a restraining order. The Supreme Court of Texas lifted the restraint in January 2023.
In an interview with FOX 26 News earlier this week in Houston, Turner said the state takeover was not a “fait accompli” and compared the situation to rumors regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year.
In response to Friday’s press conference, a TEA spokesperson told The Texan that the agency “continues to review the Supreme Court’s decision in order to determine next steps that best support the students, teachers, parents, and school community of the Houston Independent School District.”
Should TEA proceed with a takeover, Morath will replace HISD’s elected board of trustees with an appointed board of managers selected from applications by members of the Houston community.
Although Abbott has not publicly remarked on the HISD controversy, last month, he listed school choice in the form of Educational Savings Accounts as priority legislation for this session. While many Houston-area Democratic legislators have voiced opposition to such programs, a recent University of Houston survey found strong support for educational vouchers in Texas, especially among black and Latino respondents.
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Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.