Watch CBS News

Texas takes control of Houston's public schools, raising questions of racial power grab

TX: State takes over Houston's public schools
TX: State takes over Houston's public schools 02:34

(CNN) -- Leaders of the Houston Independent School District, the largest school district in Texas and one of the biggest in the nation, will be replaced by a new board appointed by the state commissioner of education, the district said Wednesday, raising questions over whether the new leaders will reflect the city's ethnic and racial diversity and its political priorities.

The Texas Education Agency intends to replace the district's superintendent and board trustees "in the next few months," the board said in a statement. The move comes just weeks after the state Supreme Court ruled in the state education commissioner's favor in a yearslong dispute with the district over a law that lets the state remove boards of districts with schools that fail to meet certain state standards.

The intervention reflects yet another recent case of White, Republican-appointed state officials trying to muscle control of key local power in cities with mostly Democratic Black or brown leaders, including in Jackson, Mississippi, and Mason, Tennessee.

Houston Independent School District bus
The leaders of the Houston Independent School District, the largest school district in Texas, will be replaced by a new board appointed by the state Commissioner of Education, the district said on March 15. A Houston Independent School District bus is seen here on March 4.  Aaron M. Sprecher / AP

Texas' education chief was appointed by its White, Republican governor, while Houston schools' students are 62% Hispanic and 22% Black, 10% White, and 4% Asian, district data show, and the city's mayor is a Democrat.

The Houston schools takeover is "troubling, but it's not unexpected," said Mayor Sylvester Turner, whose purview does not include the city's public schools.

The state teacher's union is furious about the Houston schools' decision, it said. The Texas Education Agency "has lost at this point all space to judge or to be a model that any of the rest of us should follow," Texas American Federation of Teachers President Zeph Capo said at a news conference.

"The state and its officials will now be responsible for more than 180,000 students, and 25,000 school employees," Capo said. "For their sake, I have no choice at this point but to wish them well and hope that they succeed. But make no mistake, we will watch every move."

Such takeovers are not unheard of, but they are not common, said Domingo Morel, an associate professor of political science and public service at New York University and the author of "Takeover: Race, Education, and American Democracy."

"We have over 10,000 school districts in this country, and there's only been about 110 or so," Morel told CNN, including in Newark, New Jersey, Detroit, and Philadelphia.

Houston schools' superintendent since 2021 said the move "does not discount the gains we have made districtwide."

"I am confident our educators and staff will continue to do the necessary work to ensure positive student outcomes at every level," Millard House II said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.