School board elections happening amidst uncertainty in Houston, Texas

Four out of nine seats on the Houston Independent School District (HISD) board of education are up for general election on November 5, 2019. Heading into the election, the HISD school board faces the possibility of being replaced by a state-appointed board of managers. If the state appoints a board of managers, elected school board members would not have any power until the elected board was reinstated, although they could participate as non-voting representatives.
The state’s commissioner of education, Mike Morath, could decide to replace the HISD school board for either of two reasons: either as a result of a Texas Education Agency (TEA) investigation into the board’s governance or as a result of poor academic performance ratings at a high school in the district.
TEA Special Investigations Unit Director Jason Hewitt recommended in August 2019 that the state appoint a board of managers for the district. He cited the elected board’s “inability to appropriately govern, inability to operate within the scope of their authority, circumventing the authority of the superintendent, and inability to ensure proper contract procurement laws are followed.” HISD lawyers filed a lawsuit against the TEA on August 16 which claimed that school board members’ rights were violated and that allegations were not fully investigated. The lawsuit also said that a state-appointed board would violate the Civil Rights Act, since a majority of voters in the district are people of color.
According to preliminary ratings for the 2018-2019 school year, one HISD high school received a failing grade for the seventh year in a row. Texas House Bill 1842 requires that the commissioner of education either close a school that receives more than five consecutive failing grades or replace the district’s board of education. HISD received a waiver from state ratings for the 2017-2018 school year due to Hurricane Harvey. School board members voted to appeal the failing grade on September 5, which could delay a potential state takeover of the board.
As of the 2018-2019 school year, HISD was the largest school district in Texas and the seventh-largest school district in the United States, serving 209,772 students in 280 schools with a budget of $2.04 billion.
The last day to register to vote in this election is October 7. Early voting will run October 21 through November 1. The general election will be held November 5.