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Dogan Elementary is one of 10 schools in the Houston district whose academic struggles may trigger a state takeover of the district

Houston district backs away from plan to turn over struggling schools to charter operator

The decision not to cede control of 10 failing schools means the Texas Education Agency could assume control of the Houston district.

With the threat of state takeover looming, the Houston school district says it will not turn over control of 10 struggling schools to outside organizations.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the district's decision means that it could be forced to close some schools or a submit to a takeover of district operations by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

For Houston to avoid those sanctions, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath would need to issue a reprieve from state accountability measures called for in a 2015 law.

Morath has said many districts and schools affected by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 will receive accountability waivers, but he is not expected to announce a decision on any reprieves until June.

District administrators had announced a proposal last week to cede control over the 10 schools to a charter school operator, Energized For STEM Academy Inc. But they retreated from that recommendation on Wednesday, a day after a school board meeting that ended without a vote by the school board.

During the meeting, two people were arrested and about 100 members of the public, nearly all of whom opposed the proposal, were temporarily ejected from the administration building. 

Had the board voted to surrender control over the schools, all of which serve predominately black and Hispanic student populations in high-poverty neighborhoods, the district could have received a two-year reprieve from state sanctions. 

In a statement Wednesday, district officials did not explain why they no longer will seek a partner to operate the 10 schools. 

The selection of Energized For STEM Academy was met with an immediate backlash after last week's announcement. The organization, which runs four in-district charters, drew scrutiny over its academic history, staffing levels and connection to an unusual real estate deal.

Several board members expressed skepticism about the organization's ability to turn around schools or voiced opposition to partnering with a charter group.

By rejecting any partnerships, Houston risks triggering a 2015 law that requires the TEA to close schools or replace the school board if any of a district's schools receive five straight "improvement required" ratings for poor academic performance.

The 10 schools that had been under consideration for partnerships all risk triggering the law when accountability ratings are released in August. Administrators are optimistic that some of those schools will emerge from "improvement required" status, but they do not expect the 10 to meet the state standards.

The 10 campuses: Blackshear, Dogan, Highland Heights, Mading and Wesley elementary schools; Henry Middle School; Woodson PK-8; and Kashmere, Wheatley and Worthing high schools.

 

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