Probably not. I mean, I really appreciate the engagement and the passion, but we’re at the end of the road here, a road that started almost six years ago. Sometimes you just run out of things to do.
With time seemingly running out, Houston politicians vowed on Friday to file lawsuits and legislation — whatever it takes — to stave off a possible state takeover of Houston ISD that has been in the works for four years.
Mayor Sylvester Turner and state Rep. Alma Allen announced earlier this week that they’d heard reports that the takeover could happen as early as March 6. The Texas Supreme Court gave the Texas Education Agency final authority to assume control of the school system in January but has yet to take formal action to do so.
“We as a body, as state legislators, are standing before you to say ‘We are not asleep at the wheel,’ ” state Rep. Jarvis Johnson, said Friday during a protest at Discovery Green, one of a series of events held to highlight the urgency of the situation. “We are in the process of rewriting legislation. We are looking at every lawsuit we can bring to the doorstep of the governor, and the TEA, to thwart the efforts of the TEA.”
Turner called on TEA Commissioner Mike Morath and state legislators at the protest and earlier this week to amend the law so the state doesn’t appoint a board of managers.
During their conversations, Morath did not confirm nor deny takeover plans, but cited a provision in state code that he says requires the TEA to take over a district or close a school that has failed five consecutive years.
Turner is advocating a different option. “If there is something that is not in the best interest of the kids, you can go to the Legislature now, and make any modification that is needed and we can move further down the road,” the mayor said.
Friday started with a few dozen protesters in front of the district’s central office, also wondering why HISD should be taken over by the state instead of other lower-performing districts. They pointed to HISD schools’ current ratings, which show that 94 percent of schools earn a grade of A, B or C.
“Those who cannot stand on the right side of history, don’t deserve our shopping, don’t deserve our worship, they don’t deserve our tithes and offerings,” James Dixon, president of the Houston NAACP, said. “If you can’t stand up for public schools and for education, you don’t deserve our support financially, you don’t deserve our votes and you do not deserve our respect.”
Speaking via the phone from the U.S. Capitol, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, said she could not attend the protest in person but fully supported its mission.
“I’ve said to the Department of Education and to the president United States … this is a test case and we must win this case,” Jackson Lee said.
See here and here for the background. We’re where we are now because of a Supreme Court ruling, so a state lawsuit seems extremely unlikely to bear fruit. A federal lawsuit could be possible, and maybe there’s some way for the US Department of Education to intervene, but that all feels vague and undefined. Better odds than a state lawsuit, but nothing I’d want to bet on. And as far as legislation goes, we’re barely even into the committee-hearings part of the legislative session. Any bill to stop this takeover, assuming it had majority support in both chambers and wasn’t opposed by Speaker Phelan or Dan Patrick or Greg Abbott, would be at least a month away from getting signed. And even then, unless it passed with a two-thirds majority in both chambers, it would be another 90 days before it went into effect. This just cannot happen in time.
The one possibility I can see is someone convincing Mike Morath that the Supreme Court ruling just means that the TEA “may” take over HISD, not that it “shall” take it over. I don’t know what provision he’s citing, I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t know what’s in his head or what legal advice he’s receiving, but at least this is a plausible path. If Morath believes he has discretion, then we just have to persuade him to do something less drastic. How good are the odds of that? We’ll find out soon.