Democracy under siege in Houston as School Board faces possible state takeover

As we reported two weeks ago in the Hotline, Houston ISD has been under the threat of a state takeover for accountability sanctions and that threat was just amplified this week by a TEA report examining the School Board’s governance and recommending that it be replaced by a board of managers appointed by the state.

Houston ISD has until August 15 to respond to the report, at which point Education Commissioner Mike Morath could decide whether a takeover will happen. Coincidentally, August 15 is also the date the district will learn whether a handful of schools met accountability requirements in the controversial A-F system and if they will face a decision by Morath for mandatory closure of these campuses or, again, an appointment of a board of managers for the district.

Texas AFT and its members have strongly criticized the unfair system of A-F ratings, an accountability system based on flawed STAAR testing, as well as unproductive laws aimed at campus closures and state takeovers of elected school boards. (See Texas AFT President Zeph Capo’s op-ed in the Houston Chronicle outlining why governance of districts by the state doesn’t work.)

We also are adamant that local school boards, regardless of possible missteps and flaws from some elected members, are strong foundations of local democracy. Our local communities elect their School Board members and should be able to hold them accountable without interference from state officials, who use high-stakes standardized testing to further an agenda to privatize public schools.

As Capo noted in his editorial: “Takeovers remove local control, make a mockery of democracy, disproportionately harm Hispanic and African American communities, and leave districts worse off….Rather than removing local control through state takeover, public schools need more resources and wraparound services, more after-school programs and fine arts, more culturally relevant curriculum, and smaller class sizes.”