HISD takeover Mike Morath

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath

The state of Texas’ largest school district is now going to be under the state’s control.

On Wednesday, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath announced that the state will be taking over Houston ISD, putting an end to a battle that has waged on for four years.

The efforts to enforce a takeover began in 2019, when TEA Commissioner Mike Morath began efforts to replace the HISD board amidst allegations of board misconduct as well as nearly a decade of low academic performance at Wheatley High School. The district sued the TEA in 2020, and was granted an injunction by a Travis County judge – which was later upheld by an appeals court. However, this past January, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the agency and threw out the injunction – clearing the way for the takeover.

Rumblings of the takeover began about two weeks ago, when Houston mayor Sylvester Turner dropped the bombshell during a city council meeting. And Wednesday, the TEA said it has made its final decision.

“I have carefully reviewed the Texas Supreme Court’s opinion. I have also considered the information presented by the district during the previously granted formal review,” Morath said in a letter sent to the HISD board of trustees on Wednesday morning. “As a result of those deliberations, and to best support the students, teachers, parents, and school community of Houston ISD, I am appointing a Board of Managers to the district as an intervention action required by law.”

In the letter, Morath said the board and superintendent Millard House II will be replaced with a state-appointed board on two grounds. He cited one of the district’s campuses – Wheatley High School – receiving “unacceptable” academic performance from 2011-2019, which he says requires the TEA to either close the campus or appoint a board  of managers if it happens for at least five consecutive years. He also cited that the district has had a conservator assigned for more than two consecutive school years.

HISD Superintendent Millard House II issued a statement in response to the announcement Wednesday.

“I stepped into my role understanding the obstacles we faced as a district including a looming TEA intervention. My team and I remained focused on building a framework that prioritized a high quality educational experience supported by world class talent for all students,” he said. “I am proud to say, in the last 19 months, we have already seen vast improvements. Because of the hard work of our students, teachers, and staff, we have lifted 40 of 50 schools off the D or F TEA accountability ratings list.”

And Wednesday’s announcement, House said, does not take away from the progress officials say the district has made over the last several years.

“I am confident our educators and staff will continue to do the necessary work to ensure positive student outcomes at every level.  For our students and families, it is education as usual, and the school year continues as normal,” he said.

In the letter Morath, cited the initial reasons for the initiation of efforts for a takeover under the previous board, which he said “did not focus on improving student outcomes.” And while several new board members have since been elected, he said that does not change the reasons the TEA believes a takeover is necessary.

 “I recognize that several members of the Board of Trustees have been newly elected since 2019 and that current Board members, individually and as a team, have tried to make progress since then,” he wrote. “I certainly commend the current board for voting last week to end its lawsuit against TEA, yet another indication that the current members of the Board of Trustees are trying to move forward for students. But prior academic performance issues continue to require action under state law.”

Morath said in the letter that the state-appointed Board of Managers and superintendent will be named later this year, and that they will keep the state apprised of the district’s status and performance.

“It is my sincere desire that the agency, the district, the Board of Trustees, the Board of Managers, and the community work together in a cooperative and productive manner for the best interest of Houston ISD students during the current period of transition and throughout the period of the Board of Managers appointment,” he wrote.

And for House II, he said his only desire is to do what is in the best interests for the nearly 200,000 students and their families who are part of HISD’s 173 schools.

“As we wrap up this school year, my focus will be on working with our Board of Trustees and the TEA to ensure a smooth transition without disruption to our core mission of providing an exceptional educational experience for all students,” he said.

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