Looming HISD state takeover raises concerns about impact on communities of color

Rosie Nguyen Image
Wednesday, March 15, 2023
Officials worry about minority representation if state takes over HISD
The Texas Education Agency's possible takeover of Houston ISD raises concerns about the representation of communities of color.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- With the decision on a state takeover of Houston ISD coming any day now, opponents continue to voice concerns about the impact it could have, particularly on the district's diverse student population. Approximately 90% are students of color, and some fear that they may soon lose representation.

RELATED: 'Uncertainty looms': Houston ISD braces for possible state takeover

This all started in 2019 when the state raised concerns about alleged mismanagement and low academic performance at Wheatley High School. According to data obtained by ABC13, there have been 15 other cases of takeovers with one lasting as long as six years. Currently, there are two active cases in Shepherd ISD and Marlin ISD.

But last year, Wheatley High School received its first passing grade from the state in eight years. During Superintendent Millard House II's State of Schools addresses on March 3, he said the number of HISD schools with grades D and F has dropped from 50 to 10. Houston community leaders and public officials argued the district had made tremendous improvements in the last three years.

"Why is a district with a B+ rating and triple-A bond rating on the list to be closed by TEA (Texas Education Agency)? We find it to be discriminatory," said NAACP Houston President Bishop James Dixon II during a march on Saturday.

"The state wants to silence the voices of Black and Hispanic students, parents, and families and leaders. HISD serves a diverse and growing student population, and the state leaders in Austin cannot fully understand our community. How does the commissioner know what our kids need here in Houston?" Rep. Christina Morales of Houston said during a press conference back on March 3.

RELATED: Local leaders argue that issues TEA had with Houston ISD in 2019 no longer apply this year

HISD's mostly-diverse Board of Trustees represents a student population that is 62.01% Hispanic and Latino, 22.19% African American, and 4.45% Asian. But that diverse representation of voices could be compromised under a state takeover, according to Prof. Domingo Morel of New York University's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. He authored a book called "Takeover: Race, Education, and American Democracy" in 2017 that partially looks at the impact of state takeovers on communities of color.

If a state takeover happens, the entire HISD board and superintendent will be replaced. Morel explained that means the people elected by communities of color would no longer be able to represent them and advocate for what they want.

"The other part to this that I think is really problematic for Houston Independent Schools is that the state coming in is led at the state legislative level and at the governorship. It's led by elected officials that are not accountable to the residents of Houston," Morel said. "My research shows that when states come in, they often impose policies on communities that they do not want, like the firing of teachers, like getting rid of programs that are popular for the students in their communities. What this leads to is further separation from the community to their schools."

RELATED: Potential HISD takeover by Texas Education Agency comes with much precedent, warning

Dr. Sergio Lira, president of Greater Houston LULAC, said he's concerned about what a state takeover would mean for bilingual programs, ethnic studies, and others that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.

"These are programs that directly affect the Latino community. The bilingual teaching staff, the ESL teachers. You're just going to really make things more difficult for minority communities," Lira said. "Your voice will be diluted and minimized because you no longer have an elected official or representative of your community to be your advocate for the Latino community. Someone that perhaps knows the culture and the language."

A request for comment from the Texas Education Agency has not been returned.

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