PBS NewsHour
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

Texas governor calls Houston school leaders inept, wants state to take over district

Jan. 5, 2019
Gov. Greg Abbott says the state's largest school system has failed its students.

In a sharp rebuke of the state's largest school district, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has castigated Houston Independent School District leaders for "self-centered ineptitude" and urged state education officials to take over the district's school board.

The Texas Tribune reports that the social media post came after more than a year of upheaval in the Houston public school system. Hurricane Harvey's floods caused major financial problems, and the district's superintendent left to become New York City schools chancellor soon after. The district has not had a permanent superintendent since March.

"HISD leadership is a disaster," the governor tweeted. "Their self-centered ineptitude has failed the children they are supposed to educate. If ever there was a school board that needs to be taken over and reformed it's HISD." 

In 2015, Texas passed a strict law that allowed the state to impose sanctions on districts with schools that consistently failed to meet academic standards. Now, Houston must boost the performance of four of its chronically low-performing schools in 2019, or the system will be taken over by the state or be forced to shut down those schools.

As several school districts panicked at the prospect of a state takeover last year, Texas lawmakers gave them a lifeline: a law allowing them to partner with outside organizations to turn low-performing schools around and get an extension from harsh state penalties.

But the Houston board has decided not to enter into any of these partnerships. Board members opposed to such partnerships argued that it was a step toward privatizing public schools.

Abbott is not the only politician critical of the district’s leaders. Last month, state Sen. Paul Bettencourt of Houston said he is moving to overhaul the structure of the Houston school board to tamp down infighting and dysfunction.

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