When Houston ISD students arrive Monday at schools led by state-appointed officials, it will mark the latest step in a drawn-out battle for control over Texas’ largest school district.
Eight years after Texas legislators laid the groundwork for ousting Houston ISD’s school board and superintendent, a school board and superintendent chosen by Education Commissioner Mike Morath will be responsible for what happens inside district classrooms.
The new superintendent, Mike Miles, is ushering in a long list of dramatic changes. Many of Miles’ plans have drawn stern opposition from community members, while his supporters have argued they’re needed to raise student achievement in HISD. The backlash made for a summer of headlines about teacher pay, heated board meetings and protests.
But how did the state’s largest district get to this point of such a massive shake-up? Where did the story begin?
Let us walk you through the long journey, one that spans from the halls of the state Capitol, to the boardroom of Houston ISD’s headquarters, to the Texas’ Supreme Court’s chambers.
The foundation is laid
June 2015 – With support from about 80 percent of state legislators, Texas enacts a law known as HB 1842. The law says Texas’ education commissioner must take one of two actions in any district with a school that receives five straight failing grades for academic performance: close the campus or replace the elected school board and superintendent. There’s a phase-in period that gives struggling schools a few years to meet state standards before triggering the law.
September 2016 – Morath appoints Doris Delaney as a conservator over Kashmere High School to help address its low accountability scores. Under state law, Morath can close a campus or replace the district’s school board and superintendent if a conservator remains in place for more than two years.
August 2016 – Wheatley High School receives its fifth consecutive failing rating. If it gets two more failing grades, Wheatley will trigger sanctions under HB 1842.
June 2017 – State legislators enact another piece of legislation, known as SB 1882. The law states that districts surrendering control of a struggling school to a charter network, university or nonprofit get a two-year exemption from HB 1842 sanctions.
August 2017 – Wheatley receives a sixth straight failing grade.
HISD stares down the state
April 2018 – With 10 long-struggling schools on the brink of triggering HB 1842 sanctions in August, HISD debates whether to get a reprieve by giving control of the campuses to Energized For Stem Academy, a charter network. The proposal faces public backlash, largely due to charter school opposition and the network’s history of self-dealing real estate agreements. HISD trustees never vote on the proposal following a board meeting at which two people are arrested in a scuffle with police.
August 2018 – Six of the long-struggling schools meet state standards, while four others — including Wheatley — are not rated due to Hurricane Harvey. The remaining four need to get a passing grade the following year.
October 2018 – Five HISD board members unexpectedly vote to replace the district’s interim superintendent, Grenita Lathan. After widespread criticism, the board reverses course and reinstates Lathan.
January 2019 – The Texas Education Agency opens an investigation into HISD after receiving multiple complaints about trustee behavior, including allegations that the five board members violated the Open Meetings Act by coordinating to replace Lathan.
July 2019 – HISD trustees preemptively sue the TEA, seeking to stop Morath from replacing them and the district’s superintendent.
August 2019 – Wheatley fails to meet state standards for a seventh straight year, triggering state sanctions. The other three struggling schools get passing grades.
A long legal fight
November 2019 – Morath officially notifies HISD of his plans to replace the board. He cites Wheatley’s failing grades, TEA investigators’ findings of board misconduct and the length of Delaney’s conservatorship.
January 2020 – A Travis County judge temporarily blocks the TEA’s move to assume control of HISD. She doesn’t elaborate on her reasons why.
December 2020 – A state appellate court upholds the Travis County judge’s ruling. The judges find that the TEA, largely on some technicalities, didn’t properly apply the law on all three reasons given for replacing HISD’s board. State officials appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.
June 2021 – Texas legislators enact a law that aims to clean up technicalities identified by the appellate judges, helping state officials pursue their takeover of HISD.
January 2023 – More than two years after the appellate ruling, the Texas Supreme Court sides with the TEA, throwing out the injunction. The justices rule that the TEA applied the law correctly and cite the new legislation.
March 2023 – HISD trustees withdraw their lawsuit, saying they see no viable path forward to blocking the TEA’s moves. The TEA notifies HISD that it will oust the elected board and superintendent.
June 2023 – Morath appoints Miles and a nine-member replacement board. The elected trustees continue to hold their seats, but they are stripped of all power.