Under pressure from the Texas Education Agency to contract out struggling campuses to a charter-school operator, Houston ISD trustees nonetheless have decided not to proceed with a proposed charter contract—after hearing from parents and educators who question whether the forced charterization would benefit the children affected.
Houston Federation of Teachers President Zeph Capo said many questions and concerns have been raised about the particular charter entity that would have taken over 10 district campuses under the stalled proposal, leaving him with “no confidence that this is in the best interest of children.” Among the issues brought up by HFT at a press conference earlier in the week were concerns about the financial dealings of the Energized for STEM charter operator and the track record of its existing charter schools relating to administrator salaries, academic quality, treatment of teachers, and responsiveness to parental concerns. At a tumultuous board meeting this week, some parents raised still more concerns, including issues regarding special-needs students.
By mid-week, HISD trustees announced they would not move forward with contracting out the 10 campuses at issue. If any of those schools receive an unacceptable (“improvement required”) this August, based primarily on standardized test scores, state law gives the commissioner of education authority to suspend the powers of the democratically elected school board and hand the district over to his own appointed board of managers. He also could choose to close any persistently low-rated campus. There is some leeway to close and reopen a school with new staff, serving new grade levels in a substantially different program—but that too is at the commissioner’s discretion.
Many members of the Houston community, which is still striving to overcome the harm caused by Hurricane Harvey, are holding out hope that TEA will suspend school rankings and sanctions this year because of the educational disruption caused by the storm and ensuing flooding. However, TEA has said no decision on such waivers for disaster areas will be announced until June.