Houston ISD has announced an initiative, with support from the Houston Endowment, to improve the district’s school choice process and to “develop a plan to make it more family-friendly, efficient and equitable.”
The district also is putting a hold on its plans to change the magnet program and will be receiving millions in federal pandemic relief funding through an allocation by the state.
Critics of HISD's school choice process say underserved populations do not get the full benefit of the school choice options because they are unaware of the options or how to apply for schools. Others have complained about the complexity of applying for schools online.
HISD says it will gather feedback from families, students, district administration and campus staff to better understand what is working well regarding school choice and to identify areas of improvement.
“HISD is one of the most committed districts to school choice in the nation, offering our students and families a plethora of programs and opportunities available to them across the district,” HISD interim superintendent Grenita Lathan said in a news release. “However, we know that the process can be complex at times for families and students. This project represents a big step to address that, and we are grateful to Houston Endowment and our research partners for their support towards making school choice easier for our families to navigate.”
A final report that summarizes the findings and outlines a plan for improvement is expected to be available this summer. This will enable the district to begin implementing changes to improve the school choice process for the 2021-22 application cycle.
Changes to magnet plan on hold
HISD recently announced a pause to plans to implement changes to its magnet program for the coming year.
“Based on input from principals, the Board of Education and various stakeholders, HISD has decided to change our timeline on implementing the magnet program proposal,” the administration said in a statement. “The 2021-22 school year will be utilized as a planning year in preparation for phased changes that would take place during the 2022-23 school year, if approved.”
A district-led committee suggested changes in 2019 that included adding magnet programs to neighborhood middle and high schools currently lacking one, giving all schools in a feeder pattern the same magnet, and eliminating magnet funding for elementary schools.
Lathan’s departure at the end of this school year was one of the reasons some trustees were hesitant to move forward for the coming school year.
Texas schools to get federal stimulus
HISD is about to get an influx of funds, thanks to the release of $11.2 billion out of nearly $18 billion available in federal pandemic relief funding earmarked for the state’s public schools.
"The State of Texas is ensuring that our public schools have the necessary resources to help Texas students recover from learning loss related to COVID-19," Gov. Greg Abbott said in a news release.
Democrat lawmakers have been pushing for the funds in recent weeks.
HISD will receive $804,456,215, with an initial allocation of $536,304,136.
"This will give district administrators and the HISD Board of Trustees an opportunity to build a robust budget for the upcoming school year that will address our priorities," HISD said in a statement.