U.S. Rep Sheila Jackson Lee said Thursday she is seeking federal government intervention to halt the Texas Education Agency’s takeover of the Houston Independent School District.
Jackson Lee said she has been in contact with the White House frequently over the past years and is now speaking to President Joe Biden’s assistant secretary and the U.S. Office of Civil Rights
“I truly believe that this is a clearly defined matter of discrimination,” Jackson Lee said, adding that other districts have faired similarly to HISD but are not facing takeovers.
Wheatley High School, which received failing grades from the TEA for seven consecutive years, is at the center of the debate over the HISD takeover. While the TEA takeover remained in legal limbo for over three years due to a lawsuit from the district, Wheatley High School has since earned a C grade.
The TEA has said the performance of Wheatley High School is not the only reason for its decision to take over the district. TEA Director Mike Morath pointed to a corruption scandal in which trustees admitted to accepting kickbacks from district vendors as well as a state conservatorship the TEA had placed over HISD for over two consecutive years.
Lee said she has also been speaking with fellow members of Congress, and has distributed a letter criticizing the takeover.
The story notes that the Chron has not yet seen a copy of the letter; I’d have linked to it if there had been a link in the piece. I have previously suggested that federal intervention is the only possible means of stopping this now, given that passing a new law would take far too long and has at best an uncertain chance of happening. That doesn’t mean I think it has a good chance of success, or that the state would sit idly by if it did happen. My best guess is that the Education Department will review Rep. Jackson Lee’s letter but is unlikely to take action, unless they see a clear justification for it.
On that score, I will note that in a world where we still had a fully functioning Voting Rights Act, the TEA would almost certainly have had to get preclearance to sideline the elected Board of Trustees as they will be doing. (This thought is not original to me, I saw it mentioned somewhere else, maybe on Twitter, but I don’t remember where.) That doesn’t mean the takeover couldn’t have happened, just that it would have required more effort on the TEA’s part, or perhaps that the TEA would have gone about it differently. I will also note that if this is the scandal in question, it involved one Trustee who hasn’t been on the Board since 2020. It’s a thing that happened, but we should acknowledge that no current Trustees – you know, the ones who are going to be replaced – were involved.
UPDATE: The Greater Houston Coalition for Justice has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education regarding the takeover. I’ll post separately about that but wanted to acknowledge it this morning.