- Texas state officials are weighing a takeover of the Houston Independent School District, with a letter from Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan and Board President Diana Dávila citing an "inability to to address long-standing academic deficiencies" and the elected school board's "breakdown in governance."
- Houston's board and superintendent will be replaced, though the timeline for the takeover is unclear, and the district will have two weeks to request a formal review challenging the decision.
- In his letter, Morath said he hoped the state's decision will "encourage other districts to improve their compliance performance in order to avoid similar action."
The announcement follows on the heels of a Texas Education Agency final report finding the board had violated state open meetings law "to conduct important district business in secret," that members of the board acted individually without consulting others and "exceeding the scope of their authority," and that the board had violated contract procurement rules and attempted to "tamper with contracts."
The report validates many of the initial allegations spelled out in a preliminary August report. The findings, according to HISD Board President Diana Dávila, came as "no surprise" considering "historically TEA final reports don’t change."
"TEA came into HISD with the intent of taking over the district and stripping voters' rights away," Davila said.
If the state follows through on its decision to take over the district, the scale would be unprecedented. Chiefs for Change CEO Mike Magee pointed out districts that have transitioned successfully have done so only "because they have recognized where states actually have the capacity to contribute to restructuring organizations."
"There needs to be an enormous amount of emphasis on the quality of leadership both in the system itself and of leadership at the school level," Magee said. "Where efforts have gone promisingly, it's because highly effective leadership has been in place that is not only prepared to develop smart transformation plans, but to implement them effectively. "
Other factors determining a successful takeover include fiscal viability and sustainability of the district, as well as whether the operation runs smoothly in the eyes of parents.
"Parents don't care only about whether their students are proficient in math and reading," Magee pointed out. "They care about their child's school environment being safe and welcoming, having safe facilities, transportation running smoothly and providing equitable access."
Taking on a district as large and as complex as Houston, he said, will also require "plans for every facet of the district" and timing the transition with the state's strategic plan.
"A state should only consider this type of intervention if they are convinced that the support they are going to provide and the leadership that is going to emerge will do good," Magee said, pointing to smaller neighboring districts that successfully turned around following a system change.
While state takeovers remain controversial, relatively large-scale takeover efforts have led to "meaningful improvements" in New Orleans and multiple districts in New Jersey, as well as Lawrence, Massachusetts. State takeovers in Ohio and Tennessee were also put on pause this year, and, in 2016, Georgia voters shot down a ballot measure that would have given the state new takeover powers.
Still, Magee points out, with its size and unique state policy, "There is no district like Houston."