A bill that would pave the way for state takeovers of school districts faces a harsh critique

Members of the Wheatley High School band perform. A disputed state rating for the school spurred TEA’s attempt to takeover the entire district. (Photo by JP in TX)

HB 3270 would ‘make Education Commissioner Mike Morath investigator, judge, and jury…

Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston), a former Houston ISD administrator who serves on the House Public Education Committee, had a pointed line of questioning today on the committee’s hearing of a bill that would remove legal roadblocks for a state takeover of Houston ISD. “This bill simply gives the state the right to take over education in the state of Texas,” Allen said. “I don’t think that’s the solution.”

Last year, Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced he would remove the elected Houston ISD school board and replace it with a Texas Education Agency board of managers. He claimed authority for the move because the district did not meet state accountability ratings for one school out of some 280 campuses — and even that campus’ rating was in dispute. Houston ISD filed a lawsuit to stop the takeover and won an injunction stopping the action on the grounds that Morath had not followed the law and exceeded his authority. Two state attempts to overturn the injunction failed, and the lawsuit continues.

Rep. Alma Allen

HB 3270 would change state law to give the education commissioner the authority and procedural steps needed to bypass a legal challenge like Houston ISD’s. It would grant enormous power to the commissioner, thus creating a danger of statewide takeovers of democratically elected school boards for school accountability ratings and for questions over local school district operations. “This bill would make Education Commissioner Mike Morath investigator, judge, and jury, not subject to outside review,” said Zeph Capo, Texas AFT president.

Allen said we need to concentrate on giving schools the resources they need and also respect the teaching profession with higher pay. “We need to elevate the teaching profession,” she said. “Treat teachers as if they are professionals. And the state of Texas does not do that. That is my proposal.”

The bill was left pending in committee, and Texas AFT will continue to oppose this assault on democratically elected school boards.

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