In 2025, Texas passed a ridiculous law stating that if a school district had even one school that was deemed to be “failing,” the state could take over the entire school district. Houston has one high school, Wheatley High School, that has persistently low test scores (and also unusually high percentages of students with special needs and other groups of high-needs students).

The State Department of Education has been trying for years to seize control of the Houston public schools. The state superintendent, appointed by callous Governor Gregg Abbott is software engineer Mike Morath, whose sole claim to educational “experience” is having served on the Dallas school board.

These Republicans do not believe in local control of schools. They believe the state should take away local control, the easier to erode democracy and advance privatization.

Ruth Kravetz, a former teacher and administrator in the Houston Independent School District, now leads an organization called Community Voices for Public Schools. She wrote an editorial in The Texas Observer (where I published my first article) denouncing the threatened takeover as “unfair, racist, and wasteful.”

As a 1956 graduate of HISD, I take this personally.

After years of wrangling and legal battles, the state took control of HISD a few days ago.

Kravetz writes:

I am a parent and teacher with Community Voices for Public Education, a Houston-based nonprofit rooted in the belief that our community schools are a public good, not a commodity to be sold off to the highest bidder. That is why we, along with many other Houstonians, have protested the attempted state takeover of Houston ISD for years—a dramatic assault on local control that may take place this week.

At a February protest, HISD student Elizabeth Rodriguez stated, “Instead of punishing us with a takeover, our schools should be better funded to make sure students have all the support we need and the facilities we deserve. We are not just test scores.”

Contrary to what you may hear from some Republican leaders, Houston Independent School District (HISD) is not a failing district. HISD received a B grade in the most recent state school ratings and is AAA bond-rated.

Why, then, is Houston ISD even under threat of a takeover?

In 2015, Texas passed a law that allows the state to take over an entire school district if even one campus is rated F in standardized test performance for five years. The state says the rationale for the takeover is Wheatley High School’s low 2019 accountability rating and problems with the HISD school board. Since 2019, when the takeover bid began, Houston ISD had successfully delayed Texas’ efforts, but the GOP-controlled state Supreme Court cleared the state’s legal path in January.

In the past few years, HISD already proved that local control works: Since 2019, voters elected an almost entirely new school board, and students and teachers worked to bring Wheatley’s state score up to a C in 2022. Since 2015, HISD reduced its number of low-performing schools from 58 to nine, which is fewer than are found in Dallas ISD. Even using the state’s deeply flawed accountability system to rate schools, Houston ISD comes out fine.

Nevertheless, the state’s takeover efforts persist. If successful, a state-appointed board of managers will make all policy decisions with Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath pulling the strings behind the scenes. HISD’s democratically elected board will only have a ceremonial role with no voting authority. And the kicker is that the unelected Morath, who’s appointed by Governor Greg Abbott, has full discretion to expand the takeover. The superintendent could also be replaced, and individual schools could be parceled off to charter school operators—such as YES, KIPP, IDEA, and churches—with the usual consequences as seen around the country.

Charter schools often purposefully underenroll students with disabilities and other at-risk children, inflating their state accountability ratings. Should this occur in Houston following a takeover, the state will likely take the credit in its accountability shell game.

A takeover may also lead to teachers leaving the district, creating more classroom vacancies. The chances for a bond to replace older elementary schools will go out the window. If other takeovers are any indication, we can also expect more of our taxpayer dollars to go to costly consultants than to the needs of children.

If all this doesn’t make you mad, how about this? Over and over again, the governor and the TEA commissioner have moved the goalposts in the middle of the game.

In 2019, Wheatley High initially received a passing grade from the TEA, but the agency later changed its scoring criteria and applied them retroactively. And in January, TEA publicly announced more rule changes that will be implemented immediately and applied retroactively to last year’s seniors, whose data is counted in this year’s accountability rating. At the high school level, schools that were projecting a B rating are now projecting a D. School districts around the state are raising the alarm about the change.

We tell our children they have to be honest and to play by the rules; we should expect the governor and TEA commissioner to do the same.

Unfortunately, the state takeover of Houston ISDhas nothing to do with student needs. It is about power, profits, and a willful disregard for children living in poverty.

As I ponder the district’s future, I am reminded of a student I once taught. When I went to his house to help him think about college, he had no electricity and the only furniture in the house was a bed, an engine block, and a chair. He did his homework by a street lamp outside. The last thing he needed was more pressure to meet arbitrary standardized testing goals or for the state to punish his school for serving low-income students like himself.

From Beaumont to New Orleans to Detroit, takeovers—which disproportionately target districts with high Black and Brown political participation—do not improve student achievement and experiences.

Please open the link to finish this excellent article.

Governor Abbott and Mike Morath don’t have any idea how to improve schools or districts. They do know how to loot them and privatize them for the benefit of their cronies and campaign donors.

Shame on you, Governor Abbott and Mike Morath!