Parents, teachers, NAACP oppose Texas right-wing Gov. Abbott’s ‘hostile takeover’ of Houston schools
Houston school takeover

HOUSTON—Right-wing Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has escalated his war against the people of color in his state’s largest city, Houston. And its Black and brown residents, in this battle led by its teachers union and the NAACP, are fighting back.

Abbott’s not content with his multitude of measures to prevent the city’s adults of color from voting—laws he pushed through the all-white Republican majority in the state legislature.

On March 15, Abbott had his hand-picked Texas Education Administration chief, Mike Morath, seize control of the city’s schools, and their 200,000 students, effective July 1. He’s been trying to do so for four years.

His excuse? The Houston school board and the superintendent are “failing” the students, based on five-year-old data from one majority-minority Wheatley High School. “Prior academic performance issues” district-wide, “continue to require action under state law,” Morath wrote.

Never mind that according to the state’s own standards, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) and that school have since improved from close to a failing grade four years ago—when Abbott started his campaign—to a “B.”

The state’s move, forecast earlier, prompted a March 12 protest of thousands of parents, teachers, and supporters through downtown Houston to that ”failing” high school, and a March 16 press conference, led by the Houston Federation of Teachers and the city’s NAACP chapter.

Abbott and Morath justified their takeover by citing Houston Independent School District (HISD) incompetence and offering parents a “school choice” for kids. The takeover ousts the elected school board, too. Morath’s letter invited applications for his planned oversight board.

“As far as I’m concerned, this is a hostile takeover,” Houston Federation of Teachers President Jackie Anderson retorted at the press conference. “It was done to Houston families, not with them. There was no transparency, no attempt to hear from the Houston community and this is outrageous.”

The Pastors for Texas Children coalition replied by tweeting: “‘Parent choice?’ Tell that to @HoustonISD parents whose neighborhood schools, that THEY own, have just been stolen by the State of Texas…. Stop this madness now.”

That coalition includes Bishop James Dixon, the NAACP president. He too called it “a hostile takeover” and “crime against 200,000 children. It is a crime against public education and it is a crime against the Houston community…We are also calling on the federal Department of Education to investigate the constitutionality of this action.”

HESP President Wretha Thomas declared, “Educators, parents, communities, and voters will hold the state accountable for every penny when it comes to Houston’s schools” | Houston Federation of Teachers via Twitter

The schools superintendent (who will lose his job), union leaders, and Reps. Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee, both D-Texas, led the march, and Green bluntly raised the racial context of the takeover at the press conference. Only 9.9% of Houston’s 200,000 public school students in the state’s largest school district are non-Hispanic whites. Latinos are 61.7%. Blacks are 22.4%.

Houston is the state’s largest city. With 1.7 million people, it’s also a big blue dot in a deep red state. Abbott has made disenfranchising Houston’s voters of color a particular cause.

There’s no racial breakdown for HISD’s faculty and support staff, but Houston Federation of Teachers President Anderson is African-American. So is support staff union President Wretha Thomas, who also spoke. Abbott is white, the Republican-gerrymandered legislature has a white GOP majority, and state schools chief Morath is white, too.

Thomas said parents, teachers, and staffers will hold the takeover officials whom Abbott and state schools chief Morath name “responsible for every penny.”

“The governor is rewarding white flight,” Green told the press conference. “Most of the children in HISD are persons of color…. The governor wants to reward people who take their children out of public schools and put them in private schools. We will not allow a bonus to go to those who send their children to private schools.”

Anderson said the state has chronically underfunded the city’s schools, in pay, pensions, repairs, and supplies. One key item the kids need, she said, is “textbooks written in this century.”

“While we remain resolutely opposed to the decision, we will work night and day to make sure that students have access to specific programs and services that they need and deserve to receive a high-quality public education in Houston schools. #SaveHISD,” Anderson said and later tweeted.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.