HOUSTON — Texas officials announced Wednesday a state takeover of Houston public school district of nearly 200,000 students, the eighth largest in the country, acting on years of threats and angering Democrats who attacked the measure as policy.
The announcement, made by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s education commissioner, amounts to one of the largest school takeovers in the US.
It also deepens a high-stakes rift between Texas’ largest city, where Democrats wield control at the local level, and state Republican leaders have sought increasing authority in the wake of electoral errors and pandemic restrictions.
Other large cities, including Philadelphia, New Orleans The US and Detroit in recent decades have gone through state buyouts, which are generally seen as a last resort for underperforming schools and are often met with backlash from the community. Critics argue that past results show little improvement after state interventions.
The state began moving to take control of the Houston Independent School District in 2019, following allegations of misconduct by school administrators, including the inappropriate influence of vendor contracts and chronically low academic scores at one of its about 50 high schools.
The district sued to block a takeover, but the GOP-controlled state Legislature subsequently passed new education laws and a January ruling by the Texas Supreme Court paved the way for the state to take over.
Schools in Houston are not under the control of the mayor, unlike cities like New York or Chicago, but as expectations of an inauguration mounted, the city’s Democratic leaders rallied in opposition.
Most of Houston’s school board members have been replaced since 2019. District officials also say the state is ignoring academic gains made in city schools.
Race is also an issue because the vast majority of students in Houston schools are Hispanic or black. Domingo Morel, a professor of political science and public service at New York University, has studied school takeovers across the country and said the political dynamics in Texas are similar to those in states that have intervened elsewhere.
The demographics in Houston, Morel said, are also similar.
“If we only focus on taking over school districts because they are underperforming, we would have a lot more takeovers,” Morel said. «But that’s not what happens.»