Education News

Why Voting Rights Matter When Closing A School District

Earlier this year, the Texas Education Commissioner ordered the North Forest Independent School District to be shut down and merge with Houston ISD. The reasons were a history of poor academic performance and financial mismanagement. Lawyers for North Forest argued this week in federal court for a temporary restraining order — based on an entirely different issue.

Update: Tuesday morning the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act that requires pre-clearance from the Justice Department in order for the district to be closed. 

In public education, voters elect their local school board members.

The Voting Rights Act requires the U.S. Department of Justice to review any voting changes in states like Texas.

That’s why voting rights became the central issue at a hearing in federal court for North Forest.

Here’s how Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee sums up the issue.

“The crux of the case is about the voters who will be denied. In this instance, voters will be denied power, empowerment, right to vote. But they also will be denied representation, and they also will be denied the right for their children to be educated in the way that they would like them to be educated.”

Right now in North Forest 71 percent of eligible voters are black. They’ve elected a school board with all black members.

Lawyers say abolishing North Forest — and its school board and its voting districts — will dilute that vote.  Resident Roy Grant agrees.

“We won’t stand a chance against HISD. They got two districts that they set aside for us. One’s going to be a black district.”

The other would be a district with a majority of Hispanic voters.

“But voting power won’t be there.”

Lawyers for the Texas Education Agency asked the judge to dismiss the case altogether. They say North Forest has turned to the Voting Rights Act out of desperation after exhausting other legal options.

Judge David Hittner says he’ll have a decision before Monday.

That’s the day North Forest is supposed to shut down.


A previous version of this story cited the incorrect law. The correct law involved is the Voting Rights Act.

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