Texas Supreme Court Hears Arguments in HISD Takeover Case

This Thursday, the Texas Supreme Court heard arguments on the Texas Education Agency’s attempted takeover of the Houston ISD school board. The case centers around the questions of whether the appointed commissioner of education and TEA have the legal authority to remove the elected Houston ISD school board and replace it with an appointed board. 

In November 2019, the commissioner initially announced plans to take over the HISD board and replace it with a board of managers, arguing that state law allows him to replace an elected school board in districts that had a single, chronically low-performing campus. 

A year later, in December 2020, Texas’ 3rd District Court of Appeals sided with HISD, upholding the injunction preventing a state takeover. Without the injunction, the HISD board of trustees would have been replaced.

Despite the fact that this case started nearly three years ago, TEA’s attorney argued that Senate Bill 1365, which passed just last year, would “greatly simplify” the case. 

Previous state law allowed for TEA to take over a school district if an entire school district was placed under a conservatorship, but HISD only had a single campus, Kashmere High School, placed under a conservatorship. SB 1365 removed the distinction between campus-level and district-level conservatorships, so TEA argues that the new law retroactively triggers the takeover due to the campus-level conservatorship. 

Attorneys for both TEA and HISD expressed the desire for the yearslong case to be resolved expeditiously, but HISD’s attorney argued the district had not been given adequate time to prepare arguments based on new state law. Notably, lawmakers said during debate on the House floor that SB 1365 would have no bearing on the HISD case. 

All previous decisions, including the 3rd District Court of Appeals decision in 2020, and pleadings before the Texas Supreme Court were argued before the passage of SB 1365. HISD attorneys argued it was unfair for TEA to try to apply new state law in this yearslong case without properly informing HISD beforehand and giving them the opportunity to argue new facts under the new law or to modify the injunction based on the change in law.