'Nothing to do with politics': Politicians on both sides being vocal about what HISD takeover means

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Wednesday, March 15, 2023
Was the state takeover of Houston ISD a political move?
While almost all Democrats disagree with the takeover and loss of local control, one state representative says he has no regrets about doing what he believes is right.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- At the Harris County Commission this week, Algenita Scott Davis spoke her mind. She is a graduate of Wheatley High School, as were her brother and her mother. She said the state is wrong to take over Houston ISD in an effort she called misguided.

"It's really, really important that Wheatley be recognized for the improvement it has made over the last seven or eight years," Davis told ABC13. "The legislature needs to issue an immediate remedy and halt this massive, improper action that is occurring."

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo thanked her for speaking and said the takeover harms children and our democracy.

SEE PREVIOUS REPORT: 'Ultimately, this intervention is necessary': State announces official TEA takeover of Houston ISD

"I've been very clear," Hidalgo said, "and I'll continue to be very clear about how this is part of a pattern of the state taking over the duties and the duly elected leadership in Harris County simply because the voters didn't vote in the way that the state likes it."

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R- Houston, co-authored legislation in 2021 that gave the state two options. He disagreed with any assessment that the decision was political in nature.

"It has absolutely nothing to do with politics - of the way Harris County votes," Bettencourt said.

"That's an absolute bold-faced lie, and I'll challenge anybody else. This is about the performance of the HIV Board of Trustees that, in 2019, had such a terrible report card from the TEA that the takeover was going to be triggered. Commissioner Morath had two choices: close Wheatley High School and bring in a board of managers. And bringing in a board of managers is the best long-term decision because Wheatley High School is a symptom of the problem. It's not the problem itself."

SEE 2019 REPORT: 21 HISD schools receive "F" in annual Texas Education Agency report

Davis disagrees there is a problem now at all. "This is a mistake for Texas to do that, for the Texas Education Agency to do so," she said.

But State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, a Wheatley graduate, said it was the right move. He also helped author the legislation that set the takeover in motion.

"In 2015, I recognized that we had a problem," Dutton said. "And the problem we had is in northeast Houston, where the schools were failing almost just without any recognition of that failure at all. I passed a bill and passed an amendment onto a bill that said if one campus in your school district is failing for five consecutive school years, TEA could close the school, I mean, could close the school, or they could take over the district. But if they close the school, they had to get the parents' permission from that school. So essentially, what that does is leave them with one option, that is, to actually take over the school."

RELATED: 'The state deserves an F': Mayor Sylvester Turner, other leaders react to TEA takeover of HISD

Dutton is the former chair of the House education committee. The current chair of the Senate education committee is Brandon Creighton, and he also supported the takeover, which he said was not a snap decision.

"Time and time again," Creighton said, "there are just some serious concerns with performance in Houston ISD. And look, I'm not for the institution as much as I am for the kids. And all of our kids deserve the best education possible. I believe that if performance fails over a period of years, that we owe the kids a better chance and a better opportunity than what's being provided."

While almost all Democrats disagree with the takeover and a loss of local control, and some say it was all about politics, Dutton said he has no regrets about doing what he believes is right.

"My mom always told me if I see a crowd going one way, go the other way," he said. "Because they're probably wrong."

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SEE ALSO: Texas Education Agency ready to find new leaders for Houston ISD, now-deleted documents show