EducationStatewide NewsTexas Education Agency to Take Over Houston Independent School District

Education Commissioner Morath will replace Houston’s elected board of trustees with appointed managers no earlier than June 1.
March 15, 2023
Following years of litigation and controversy, Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath announced Wednesday that the state would move forward with a takeover of the troubled Houston Independent School District (HISD) later this year.

According to a letter to HISD Superintendent Millard House II and the elected board of trustees, Morath will appoint a board of managers and a new superintendent no earlier than June 1.

Morath had initially announced state intervention plans in 2019 following consecutive years of unacceptable academic ratings at Kashmere and Wheatley High School, “D” and “F” ratings at nearly 50 other schools, and an investigative report into illegal conduct on the part of the elected HISD board of trustees.

HISD responded by filing suit in both federal and state court and succeeded in obtaining an injunction from a state district court judge that was only lifted by the Supreme Court of Texas in January 2023.

Floundering academic achievement at HISD prompted bipartisan legislation in 2015, which Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) has touted as his idea to help motivate the district to improve outcomes.

The Texan Tumbler

After HISD attorneys argued there were ambiguities in the original legislation, Dutton and state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) both introduced clarifying legislation in 2021, with Bettencourt’s Senate Bill (SB) 1365 receiving final approval from both chambers.

Following a Wednesday morning meeting with Morath and other members of the Harris County legislative delegation, Dutton told The Texan he supported the intervention.

“This is important for Houston students and families, particularly those families where we’ve had consistently failing public schools,” said Dutton.

“I’m not sure it’s going to be better, but what I’m sure of is that if we keep doing what we’ve been doing we’re simply going to get more of what we’ve been getting.”

“I am tired of seeing failing schools and I’m tired of looking at kids who have a broken future simply because we failed to educate them,” he added.

Bettencourt also praised Morath’s announcement in a statement and said, “I’ve watched, at best, an ineffective HISD Board of Trustee Governance for 8 years as the second-longest serving member on the Senate Education Committee.”

At a recent press conference, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and other state legislators from Harris County expressed opposition to TEA intervention, noting that Wheatley High School had earned an academically acceptable rating last year and that 40 of the 50 failing schools had also improved.

The Harris County Commissioners Court passed a resolution in opposition to TEA intervention in HISD earlier this week. The Texas Legislative Black Caucus (TLBC) called the move a “dark day” for the district.

“If TEA can take over the 7th largest school district in the nation as a result of one underperforming school, who is to say other districts within the state of Texas won’t be next?” TLBC Chair Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City) said in a statement.

Prior to 2020, HISD’s student enrollment surpassed 200,000, but a post-COVID-19 drop in enrollment combined with a declining City of Houston population has left the district with just over 188,000 students this school year.

Opponents of the TEA takeover also note that some of the HISD trustees cited in the TEA’s 2019 investigation were replaced in the 2021 election.

Among those elected in 2021, Trustee Bridget Wade for HISD District 7 told The Texan that while she supports democratically elected officials, she is in favor of the TEA intervention in HISD.

“The children are doing the best under the scenario they have, but I do question whether there has been enough progress,” said Wade. “I don’t see enough transformation to get us out of the hole we’ve been in.”

“I don’t see any other way forward. This should have happened years ago,” added Wade.

In his letter to HISD, Morath also notes a Special Accreditation Investigation found the district had not complied with special education requirements and that while Wheatley High School had improved academic outcomes, Kashmere High School had again failed to meet standards last year and Highland Heights Elementary School had not earned an acceptable performance rating since 2011.

The TEA has restarted the application process for appointments to the board of managers for HISD and will consider input from the Houston legislative delegation. Current trustees are not eligible for appointment but will continue to retain titles without decision-making powers.

Morath says he encourages current HISD trustees to remain engaged as advisors to the appointed board of managers.

After two years, the TEA will re-evaluate HISD and at that time may begin to transition elected trustees back in. Despite the takeover, HISD will be allowed to hold trustee elections in fall 2023.

TEA has previously taken over 15 school districts, and has either annexed troubled school districts into neighboring districts or returned them to the control of elected trustees.


Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you’d like to become one of the people we’re financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.

Get “KB's Hot Take”

A free bi-weekly commentary on current events by Konni Burton.

Holly Hansen

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.