AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Education Agency sent an enforcement letter to the Houston Independent School District on Wednesday, informing school leaders the state plans to take over the school district, after years of low student performance at several campuses.

The letter informs district leaders the state will send out applications to get a superintendent and a new board of managers, appointing them no earlier than June 1. The board of managers will consist of Houston-area appointees, functioning essentially as a school board.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath met with a group of lawmakers behind closed doors Wednesday morning to detail why his agency has to intervene by law and what the next steps look like.

Democratic lawmakers representing legislative districts that have Houston ISD campuses immediately criticized the state’s move.

“We’re extremely disappointed. We’re outraged. It’s a dark day for HISD,” said Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City. “We’re going to continue to fight and press forward with the bills that we have.”

Last week, four lawmakers filed bills that would change Texas law in order to give the TEA additional options other than replacing the school board and school closure to address performance issues within a district.

Timeline of the takeover

Houston ISD first received notice in 2019 the TEA planned to replace its elected school board for at least two years with an appointed board of managers. The decision was in response to alleged education code violations, such as misconduct by trustees, and years of low performance at Phillis Wheatley High School.

The TEA has an accountability grading system to rate how schools are performing academically on an A-F scale. In 2019, Phillis Wheatley High School received an F grade for performance. Outcomes have improved since then, as the TEA gave the high school a C. The school district as a whole, which is home to nearly 200,000 students, got a B grade overall.

The slideshow notes Wheatley received five consecutive “unacceptable performance ratings,” and 15 Houston ISD campuses received unacceptable ratings for three years or more.

But lawsuits from Texas’ largest public school district stalled the state’s effort to seize control of HISD. A January ruling from the Texas Supreme Court made way for the state to officially begin intervention.

How does the takeover work?

According to the website, the agency will host a community meeting and open applications for manager roles. Commissioner Morath will give the final review and approval of the managers.

A takeover of a school district, under Texas law, can last a minimum of two years. The education commissioner can extend the intervention for another two years if that person determines insufficient progress has been made in improving the academic or financial performance of the district.  

Several school districts across Texas are experiencing different types, or tiers, of intervention currently, according to TEA officials.

People who apply to be on the board of managers must be eligible voters living within HISD boundaries.