Feels too late to me, but it can’t hurt to try.
State senators have filed the first bill to soften the law that triggers school district takeovers.
State Sens. Carol Alvarado, Borris Miles and John Whitmire filed Senate Bill 1662 in response to the threat of a possible takeover of Houston Independent School District by the Texas Education Agency. State Rep/ Alma Allen has filed companion legislation in the Texas House.
The bill modifies the current state law to provide TEA additional tools to address low performance ratings such as hearings before the commissioner, academic achievement plans, appointing agency to monitor, but not replace trustees, among other items. Under SB 1662, the TEA commissioner will have broader discretion to choose an alternative that does not require a school closure or the appointment of a board of managers.
Given Phyllis Wheatley High School improvement to a C and the district’s overall B rating, the TEA’s reason for initiating a takeover bid in 2019 is no longer valid, Alvarado said.
“It is unjust and unwarranted for TEA to move forward with a takeover,” Alvarado said in a statement. “S.B. 1662 offers the agency options to work collaboratively with HISD to address any current deficiencies instead of subjecting nearly 200,000 students and 27,000 teachers and employees to a takeover.”
Other leaders also made promises to get answers. NAACP president Bishop James Dixon said he plans to call a meeting with TEA commissioner Mike Morath. U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said she intends to bring the issue to the Biden administration and the U.S. Department of Education.
HISD Trustee Patricia Allen said the trustees, administrators and other HISD representatives will let their grievances be known when they go to the legislator March 20.
“We have been in this fight before we even came in office,” Trustee Patricia Allen said at a community meeting at North Main Church of God in Christ in the Heights. “The board has been working since we were elected. We have a lone star governors coach, a TEA program — we have tried our best, hired the best superintendent.”
See here for the previous update, and here for my discussion of things that could be done to stave this off. As I said then, even if these bills have the support to pass and are allowed to come to the floor, it would be at least weeks and more likely months before they would take effect. Thus, unless Mike Morath is agreeable to wait it out, the legislative process is just too damn slow. I appreciate the effort, but let’s not put our hope in something that can’t work unless Morath and the TEA are willing to let it work.
Now having said that, it’s Tuesday afternoon and the TEA hasn’t taken over HISD yet, so maybe Morath is waiting until something happens to take him off the hook. Stranger things and all that. I would encourage Trustee Allen and Bishop Dixon and whoever else can get a meeting with Morath to ask him nicely if he’d at least talk to these legislators before he does anything. As with the bills themselves, it can’t hurt. Getting the feds involved has a chance of achieving something, and it could be done quickly, but it would also be super antagonistic, so let’s try the “ask very nicely for a delay” option first, since it surely won’t work if we do it the other way around. Throw everything at the wall, but do so in the proper order.
Oh, and why wasn’t a bill like this filed in the last Lege? Well, maybe there was one – I’d have to look, I don’t know offhand. That would have solved the timing issue, but only if it was allowed to pass, as with this one, and we didn’t know we’d need it because of the then-ongoing litigation. I think it’s at best a tossup whether these bills get even a committee hearing now, and I’d say that was never in the cards in 2021. That’s easy to say, and if we give credit for trying now we do have to ask what we tried then. We’re in this situation now regardless, so let’s not waste too much energy on what could have been. What it is now is what matters.