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Houston ISD Stands Strong Amidst Allegations

Nine Houston-area representatives sent a letter to Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan on Friday asking for an investigation into possible criminal activity since the state takeover of HISD in March 2023. The letter was written by Rep Christian Morales and cosigned by Reps. Ann Johnson, Jarvis Johnson, Penny Morales Shaw, Mary Ann Perez, Jon Rosenthal, Shawna Theirry, Hubert Vo, and Gen Wu, all Democrats.

The letter said there had been reports of unaccredited teachers in classrooms, plans to fill vacant teacher positions with current community college students, and a lack of resources that at-risk students are legally entitled to receive.

The teacher hiring, if true, would be in direct violation of Texas state law, which requires that teachers have at least a Bachelor’s degree. The letter alleges that HISD is getting around this by having unqualified staff be listed as assistants to properly qualified teachers, even when teaching the actual class.

The complaints against cuts for at-risk services have plagued HISD’s new head, Mike Miles, since he was appointed by the Texas Education Agency. Upon assumption of his duties, he did away with programs specifically used to aid teachers with autistic students. The loss of the small team dedicated to providing resources and guidance for autistic students in classrooms was likened by teachers as “losing a lifeline.”

“As their duly elected State Representatives, we must hold a hearing to learn more about these concerning reports and efforts to subvert state laws and requirements,” the letter states.

The district responded with assertions that it has allowed community oversight throughout the takeover.

“HISD has invited dozens of elected and community leaders into our schools to see the work happening first-hand,” the district told The Houston Chronicle. “We are pleased to share our progress with any other leaders who want to better understand what’s happening in the schools.”

The TEA took over HISD following poor academic outcomes at a single school, Phillis Wheatley High School. There have been numerous accusations of mismanaged funds in the state’s largest school district, which help justify the takeover.

However, many feel that the takeover was more politically motivated than done for concern of the students. Houston, as the state’s largest concentration of Democrats, has become something of a target for the Republican state leadership. Attacking Houston ISD for mismanagement and poor outcomes exactly around the time Governor Greg Abbott was pushing for a school voucher program was extremely convenient timing for his argument that public schools are not properly servicing the population.

Experts and activists called this out at the time.

“The takeover of the largest school district in Texas is a politically motivated, irresponsible experiment that will worsen inequities and disenfranchise Houston voters,” said Ruth Kravetz, co-founder of the Community Voices for Public Education, a local education advocacy group.

So far, there has been no response from Phelan about the letter. With the election season in full swing and the legislature out of session, there is little that could be done unless a special session as recalled. That is unlikely, as it would require Abbott’s approval.

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.

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