March 21, 2023 12:21 pm

The Network for Public Education Objects to the Hostile Takeover of the Houston School District by the Texas Education Agency

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The Network for Public Education strongly objects to the takeover of the Houston Independent Public School District (HISD) by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). We believe this is a cynical political move to disenfranchise the residents of Houston by yanking control of the governance of their schools from their elected board and giving governing power to political appointees.

Network for Public Education Executive Director Carol Burris states, “This decision is clearly a calculated move to put Houston schools under the Governor’s thumb. In the past few years, the elected Board, Superintendent, educators, and students of HISD have made great strides in school improvement. Houston is a B-rated district—even though the vast majority of its students come from low-income households and one in three students is not proficient in English. Given that the appointed board will have the power to close schools, control the budget, collaborate with charter networks, make curriculum decisions, and hire the superintendent, it is clear that this is a power grab by Greg Abbott channeled through his appointee commissioner, Michael Morath.” Morath, a software developer, served a short stint on a school board. He has no teaching or school administrative credentials. As a school board member, he tried to convert the public school district to a home-rule charter system.

NPE President Diane Ravitch, who was born and raised in the city of Houston, commented, “As a graduate of HISD, I am outraged that the state of Texas is taking control of the Houston public schools, based on the low-test scores of one high school, which has disproportionate numbers of the neediest students. The state’s Department of Education is not competent to appoint a board to run the district better than its elected school board. Governor Abbott is wreaking vengeance on a blue district and will impose his reactionary ideas. Furthermore, he is betraying the principle of local control and choosing big government instead.”

Research on state takeovers has consistently shown that state takeovers nearly always occur in majority-minority districts and rarely improve student achievement. Student results in takeover districts, with only a few exceptions, have remained the same or decreased. Despite their repeated use, this intervention does not work to help students.

NPE also notes that even as this punishment is imposed on a public school district, the governor presses the legislature to pass school voucher bills.  Proposed bills would give up to $10,000 yearly to students to attend private schools and homeschools. There will be no penalty for the school or the provider if the student does not learn.  In addition, in 2021, Commissioner Morath permitted the International Leadership charter chain to open a new charter campus even though 28% of its existing campuses had a grade of D or F.

Burris concludes, “Governor Abbott and his political appointee Commissioner Mike Morath send a clear and hypocritical message. If you are a public school, you are punished, but if you are a private or charter school, you are privileged.”