Houston ISD takeover: Local leaders react to Texas' largest district being governed

The state will take over the Houston Independent School District, officials confirmed on Wednesday.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath says a board of managers will be selected over the next few months to govern the district. "This action is necessitated because of the conditions of the schools in Houston ISD. Houston has many schools that are outstanding, some of the best schools in the state, and in fact, large numbers of kids in Houston are truly flourishing. But there’s also a number of students in Houston ISD who the district is simply not provided adequate supports for those students to be successful, and in some cases, for extended periods of time," Morath told FOX 26.

HOUSTON ISD TAKEOVER: Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath confirms takeover of Houston ISD

Rumors of a takeover have been swirling for weeks. Reaction to the rumors was mixed, with some Houston area leaders speaking out against the action, while others express support. Now confirmed, here is how local and state leaders and other organizations are responding to the takeover.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner

"This process has been without community engagement or any transparency. It is disheartening that the Texas Education Agency has yet to speak directly to parents or school children. This announcement is happening during their spring break, creating a great deal of disruption, anxiety, and stress.

This does not make good sense. And if the focus is on the kids, then you tell me how this benefits the kids. TEA is selecting the board of managers. So who are they? The state deserves an F on how they have handled the process up to this point. Just a flat-out F.

Houston ISD Superintendent Millard House II

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.

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. Together, with our parents, community members and leaders, we developed the district's first comprehensive five-year strategic plan to build a better HISD.

Today’s announcement does not discount the gains we have made district-wide. 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.  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.

Texas Senator Paul Bettencourt

"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. A highly critical TEA report of nefarious trustees activity and a subsequent FBI investigation with multiple indictments which resulted in a plea deal with a former HISD Trustee, have concerned me greatly. Therefore, I strongly support Commissioner Mike Morath’s decision to install a Board of Managers for the HISD school district," stated Senator Bettencourt. "As the principle author of SB 1365, which restored the A-F accountability system in the 87th Legislative Session, the Commissioner could have closed Wheatley High School or installed a Board of Managers. Commissioner Morath made the right decision by choosing to install a Board of Managers for the future of the students, families, and staff of HISD."

RELATED: Houston ISD TEA takeover: Board of managers to govern Texas’s largest district

Harris County GOP

The Harris County GOP supports the Texas Education Agency (TEA) decision to take over Houston ISD. Chairman Cindy Siegel issued the following statement:

"While this is an unfortunate situation, I fully support the TEA taking over HISD in June. When a student repeatedly fails, they have to face the consequences. For years, HISD has failed. In the face of sharp criticism and a looming takeover, the district made no substantial progress in improving the quality of education for its students. We have to draw the line somewhere; today, the TEA drew that line.

Students must come first, and the TEA stepping in is an important first step to getting the largest school district in Texas back on track."

Texas House Rep. Ron Reynolds

"Our goal with meeting with TEA Commissioner Morath was to find a local solution in good faith to address TEA’s concerns with HISD that do not involve taking away local control of the school district from its elected leadership and keeps our kids’ education in focus, especially as they are in the midst of a testing season. We are disappointed to learn that TEA will be moving forward with taking over HISD, a move that will affect over 194,000 students at 276 campuses across 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? Ultimately, we need to be focusing on the best ways to help serve our students and teachers, and a takeover of the school district, which we know has not worked in the past, is not the way to move forward. Research has shown that districts perform worse with test scores and student performance after the takeover of school districts. I invite my colleagues to support HB 3780 and to restore accountability when it comes to the TEA’s ability to take over school districts, because they deserve better, and frankly, the people deserve better." 

STUDENTS REACT: Houston ISD students prepare for possible state takeover of school district

Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis

"I’m outraged by the state takeover of Houston ISD—the largest and most diverse school district in the state. This is a brazen power grab rooted in a dangerous ideology that threatens public education, local control and democracy in Texas."

Texas Legislative Black Caucus

On March 15th, members of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus’ Houston delegation met with the Texas Education Agency’s Commissioner Mike Morath to address concerns about the imminent takeover of the Houston Independent School District (HISD) and to find a way to prevent this hostile action from TEA from taking place. In this meeting, the Texas Legislative Black Caucus laid out our opposition to the TEA’s pending takeover of the largest school district in the state of Texas, a school district that has continuously been showing signs of improvement over the past few years and whose students and faculty would be adversely affected by a takeover. Unfortunately, we have been told that TEA will be proceeding with its planned takeover of HISD. We are incredibly disappointed with this outcome despite all the evidence showing HISD’s improvement in performance. With that being said, we want to ensure the people that we will not give up so easily and that we will continue to pursue all options at this time, including legislation. HB 3780 by Rep. Alma Allen will aim to prevent TEA from being able to so quickly move to take over a school district in the future, and we urge the Texas Legislature to quickly pass this bill to bring accountability to the agency.

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa

"For a party that claims to exemplify ‘small government,’ these Republican politicians sure have a strange way of respecting local control — shoving their agendas down the throats of every local community and every family in their sights. This bad-faith ‘takeover’ of a local school district is state overreach – plain and simple.

Republicans claim they’re swooping in and rescuing poorly-performing schools, but that’s a lie – the schools in question have been improving at a rapid pace over the past several years. Houston ISD now has a B+ rating in every category. 40 of the 50 schools flagged in 2019 as ‘underperforming’ are now performing leaps and bounds better, just 4 years later.

So let’s be honest about Republicans’ true intentions here: they want to demonize public schools, manufacturing a crisis to make them look weak and incompetent, using Houston kids’ education and families’ stability as pawns in their sick game. It’s no coincidence that Houston ISD is among the most diverse school districts in Texas, or that it’s located in one of the biggest Democratic strongholds in the state – and it’s also no coincidence that Republicans are pulling this shameful stunt right as they’re trying to kneecap support for public education to rally folks around their school vouchers agenda.

This takeover will cause enormous disruption in the education and lives of Houston kids. Hardworking Houston families – who already have so much on their plates – will be left to navigate through the chaos this takeover will impose on their day-to-day lives.

We as Texas Democrats, echoing what the Texas Legislative Black Caucus members stated this morning, strongly urge the state to reconsider this boondoggle of a politician stunt – and we urge the Texas Legislature to quickly pass Rep. Alma Allen’s H.B. 3780 to prevent the TEA from being able to so quickly move to take over a school district in the future and bring accountability to the agency."

Orlando Sanchez, Founder of Texas Latino Conservatives

The TEA announced it is indeed taking over HISD, removing its Board and replacing it with a governance team. Finally, the children of Houston will be placed first, ahead of petty politics, bickering and secret deals. "I am thrilled the State has come to this decision. It’s high time we put the business of HISD back to educating our children.  We have great schools, historic schools.  We have great teachers and great parents.  What we need is a great Board to do their job and administer the District’s business with integrity and transparency,  all the while, keeping our future, Houston’s children, first in their priorities", stated Sanchez.

Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation 

"The takeover of the largest school district in Texas is an attempt to disenfranchise, demonize, and delegitimize the people of Houston," said Hany Khalil, Executive Director of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation. "Making matters worse, it is only one part of a broader state strategy to block the people of Houston and Harris County from being able to exercise their basic right of self-governance. The truth is that our schools are improving and teachers, students and parents are overwhelmingly opposed to this takeover.  This isn’t about helping students, it’s about taking power from the voters in the largest and most diverse municipality in Texas and blocking successful programs and policies that make the lives of working families in Texas better. We call upon Gov. Abbott and elected officials from both parties to reject these attacks on our schools, our communities, and our democracy."

State Representative Gene Wu

"I am deeply disappointed in the Texas Education Agency’s decision to move forward with the takeover of the Houston Independent School District, in spite of the improvements made by Superintendent Millard House II, our elected school board members, and the HISD administration.

Despite the fact that the students in my community are overwhelmingly economically disadvantaged, and despite the fact that the majority of these students come from non-English speaking and immigrant backgrounds, the schools in my district have largely received A and B ratings by the TEA, with not one school in my district receiving a failed rating.

The decision to take over the largest school district in the state of Texas, one with an overall B rating, and to replace our local elected officials with state appointees, is not only deeply disappointing but is an incredibly blatant and shameful political attack by Governor Abbott and Commissioner Morath on Houston parents, educators, and all supporters of public education. Houston residents should strictly hold Governor Abbott responsible if any of our schools should stop improving or regress under TEA’s watch."

Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher

"I am deeply disappointed by what we have seen from the TEA—both in its process and in its decision. Educating our children is vital for their futures, and for the future of our city, our state, and our country. With past and present challenges in mind, Houstonians—as teachers, staff, students, parents, and voters—have worked to improve HISD for all students and have addressed the specific ratings issues at Wheatley High School. Indeed, the Commissioner’s letter acknowledges the gains the district has made and the student-focused commitment of its recently appointed superintendent, who is widely respected in the community.

It is anti-democratic for an appointed commissioner to take over an elected school board, and it is an affront to Houston voters. To do so based on a set of facts that has entirely changed raises several issues that must be addressed to protect our children, our communities, and our schools. The seventh-largest school district in the United States, HISD serves more than 190,000 students at 276 campuses—37 of them in Texas’ Seventh Congressional District. I will work with my colleagues and community leaders to protect our students and our schools and to put Houstonians back in charge of HISD."

Texas Senator Borris L. Miles

"TEA Commissioner Mike Morath announced today that the State of Texas would be taking over Houston ISD, and would be appointing a board of managers and a new superintendent.

This is a terrible day for our public education system. I have been voicing my unwavering opposition to a state takeover of Houston ISD for years. The fact of the matter is that state takeovers of school districts do not work. After a state takes over a school district, the schools do not improve. In fact, they get worse as test scores drop and don’t return to pre-takeover levels until five years later. How many generations of students in the largest school district in Texas will suffer under this disastrous takeover?

State takeovers of school districts do more harm than good and they come with a hefty price tag in terms of money, resources and staffing. How does our state’s leadership plan to pay for this incredibly expensive takeover? Is this part of the governor’s presidential campaign to turn our public schools into charter schools, paid for by vouchers?

This is not over. I will continue fighting for our kids, our hard-working teachers and support staff and the families who will be impacted by this radical change."

Texas Representative Jarvis Johnson

Representative Jarvis Johnson’s statement on the TEA takeover of that shows that when States takeover districts, they actually improve and thrive. Those entrusted to lead our State now are gambling with the livelihood and education of more than 200,000 students. It’s no surprise the takeover of the 7th largest school district in the country is happening during an orchestrated push for vouchers led by Republican leaders. We have way bigger issues weighing on our State that could use the Governor’s attention.

Harris County Democratic Party

On March 15, 2023, Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath announced the state takeover of Houston Independent School District (HISD). In a letter delivered to the HISD Board of Trustees, Commissioner Morath laid out the intent and timeline for the takeover. After a years-long legal battle, the state is moving to take over HISD despite progress being made in schools. Beginning in June, TEA will replace the current superintendent and will appoint a board of managers in place of the current school board.

"This is a blatant attack on the democratic process we have in Texas public education," said McNaught. "Instead of listening to the experts who have been warning of the consequences of this takeover for years, TEA is steamrolling the will of HISD parents, teachers, and administrators. This takeover is not about the children of Houston, it is about furthering the agenda of Governor Abbott.

The Texas GOP has shown for years that they care more about diminishing local control and undermining the value of public education. This is exactly what the TEA takeover is about."