HOUSTON – Texas officials on Wednesday announced a state takeover of Houston’s nearly 200,000-student public school district, the eighth largest in the country, acting on years of threats and angering Democrats who have rejected the move. Called the move political.
The announcement, made by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s education commissioner, is one of the largest school closures ever in the US
It also deepens a high-stakes rift between Texas’ largest city, where Democrats control locally, and state Republican leaders who have sought growing authority in the wake of election missteps and pandemic restrictions.
Other large cities including Philadelphia, New Orleans and Detroit have gone through state takeovers in recent decades, which are generally seen as a last resort for poorly performing schools and are often met with community backlash. Critics argue that past results show little improvement after state intervention.
The state began making moves toward a takeover of the Houston Independent School District in 2019 after allegations of misconduct by school trustees, improperly influencing vendor contracts, and chronicling one of its nearly 50 high schools low academic scores.
The district sued to block a takeover, but subsequent new education laws passed by the GOP-controlled state legislature and a January ruling by the Texas Supreme Court cleared the way for the state to seize control.
Unlike cities such as New York or Chicago, schools in Houston are not under the control of the mayor, but as a takeover was expected, the city’s Democratic leaders unified in protest.
Most of Houston’s school board members have been replaced since 2019. District officials also say the state is ignoring the academic progress made in the city’s schools.
Race is also an issue as the majority of students in Houston’s schools are Hispanic or Black. Domingo Morel, professor of political science and public services at New York University, has studied school takeovers across the country and says the political dynamics in Texas are similar to where states have intervened elsewhere.
Morrell said the demographics in Houston are also similar.
“If we focused on taking over school districts because they performed poorly, we would have a lot more acquisitions,” Morrell said. “But it doesn’t happen.”