Is a state takeover of Fort Worth ISD possible?

The Texas Education Agency’s takeover of Houston ISD, the largest school district in the state, has some Fort Worth residents asking that question. The simple answer is yes — but only under extreme circumstances outlined in state law

Here’s what you need to know about how the state can intervene in school districts:

How does a takeover happen? 

Low academic performance pushed the state to take control of Houston ISD, specifically one failing campus. 

The state grades districts and individual campuses annually. Each receives an A-F grade.

A state takeover is triggered when a school district has a campus with a failing grade for five consecutive years. 

At that point, the education commissioner may appoint a board of managers — superseding the elected school board — or close the campus.

Who is the Texas education commissioner?

Mike Morath has served as the state’s education commissioner since Gov. Greg Abbott appointed him in 2016.

Morath oversees K-12 education in traditional independent school districts and public charter schools.

Before his appointment, Morath was a Dallas ISD school board member for four years.

Erin Baumgartner is the director of the Houston Education Research Consortium at Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research. She emphasized takeovers are few and far between in Texas and across the nation. In the past three decades, fewer than 200 takeovers have happened, she said.

“When you think about the number of school districts that exist, it’s not too surprising that this is still a relatively rare event,” Baumgartner said.

Since 2000, the state has taken over seven school districts, according to TEA.

The move is controversial because the state is stripping away local control, said Wesley Edwards, an education professor at the University of North Texas. On the flip side, though, a takeover means increased pressure from a higher level of government to ensure outcomes for students and families are heading in the right direction, he said.

“Usually, though, it’s not something that you would welcome because it means that there’s going to be more intense scrutiny on what’s going on in your district, which might pull energy and resources away from other programs,” Edwards said.

Where does Fort Worth ISD stand?

Fort Worth ISD is nowhere near that point, according to a Fort Worth Report analysis of accountability rating data from 2013 to 2022.

Jacquet Middle School and Leonard Middle School are the only campuses that have the potential to trigger the takeover law. Both campuses have had failing grades since 2018.

Schools were not rated in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Both middle schools were not rated in 2022, when the state resumed its grading system. However, each earned a 59 out of 100.

Both campuses have a third-party running day-to-day operations. Texas Wesleyan University runs Leonard Middle School. Phalen Leadership Academies is operating Jacquet Middle School until the end of June, when the district ends its contract.

Context matters around school district takeovers, Baumgartner said. The takeover of Houston ISD is different from those that happened in El Paso ISD and Marlin ISD, a small rural district in Central Texas.

“Comparing one takeover to another is so hard because the contexts are so different,” Baumgartner said. “Why they’re happening, who the students that are being served in these different places varies widely.”

What does research say?

Academic research into the effectiveness of takeovers shows that state intervention does not seem to have a positive impact on student achievement, Baumgartner said.

Edwards echoed Baumgartner. 

“I would say it’s still inconclusive, but, for the most part, research finds that there is not much effectiveness or variation,” he said.

The UNT professor also highlighted another issue that research has found with takeovers, which vary from state to state.

“Research also shows that takeovers disproportionately affect students of color and, a lot of time, teachers of color because sometimes jobs are displaced or people are moved around,” Edwards said. 

Is there anything that happens before a takeover?

The final year of the state’s five-year takeover timeline generates headlines, but another year is important, too.

If a school fails for three years, the district has to put in place a campus turnaround plan that must receive the education commissioner’s approval.

The plan allows the commissioner to find alternative management, appoint a board of managers or close the school if the district does not submit a strategy that results in a C rating or better within two years.

Can the state intervene for other reasons?

Academics have been the main driver behind takeovers. Other reasons can lead to it.

Financial mismanagement in Beaumont ISD and a cheating scandal in El Paso ISD led to both school boards being stripped of their powers. A pair of San Antonio-area school districts were taken over because of governance failures, according to TEA.

Before TEA intervenes, the agency will conduct a special investigation into a school district. 

State outlines 17 reasons for why a special investigation can be called. They include too many absences, complaints, finances and graduation rates. 

One reason, though, stands out above the rest: The education commissioner can launch a special investigation when necessary. 

After the investigation, the education commissioner can appoint a conservator to oversee the district. The education commissioner will review the need for a conservator every 90 days.

A conservator’s duties may include:

  • Monitor the activities of the school board or superintendent.
  • Oversee district operations and direct the action of a principal, superintendent or school board.
  • A management team directs district operations in areas of insufficient performance.
  • Board of managers exercise the powers and duties of the school board.

This process recently happened to Austin ISD. TEA announced it would appoint a conservator for the Central Texas school system after an investigation into the district’s special education department

What are the reasons for launching a special investigation into a school district?

State law outlines 17 reasons for a special investigation into a school district. They are:

  • Excessive numbers of absences of students eligible to be tested on the state assessment.
  • Excessive allowable exemptions from the state standardized test.
  • Complaints to TEA about alleged civil rights violations under state and federal laws.
  • In response to compliance reviews of the district’s financial accounting practices.
  • Number of students in disciplinary alternative education programs.
  • An allegation involving a conflict between school board members or between the board and district if a violation of their roles and duties.
  • Too many students in special education programs.
  • Cheating on the state standardized test.
  • Pattern of decreased academic performance as a result of the promotion of students for two school years.
  • High failure rates in Algebra II or any other advanced course.
  • Not allocating resources in a way that contributes to high academic achievement and cost-effective operations.
  • Disproportionate number of students of a particular demographic group graduate with a certain endorsement.
  • Too many students graduate with a certain endorsement.
  • Complaints to TEA about inaccurate data submitted to the state.
  • When 10% or more of students graduating in a year from a high school are awarded a diploma because of an individual graduation committee.
  • A district fails to cooperate with TEA in a State Board for Educator Certification investigation into a teacher.
  • As the commissioner determines necessary.

What about charter schools?

Like independent school districts, charter schools have high-stakes accountability.

If a charter earns a D or an F for three years in a row, TEA could end its agreement. Those three strikes can be either for academics or finances. 

However, a charter school would be put on probation first before the state forced it to close.

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University....