Marlin ISD remained on the state’s “improvement-required” list for the sixth year.

Waco Independent School District may draw statewide attention from parents, lawmakers and public education advocacy groups as it prepares to fashion an unprecedented in-district charter system to prevent closure of several academically struggling campuses. But in the case of nearby Marlin ISD, the spotlight increasingly shifts from school operations to the Texas Education Agency as the latter ponders what to do next about repeated academic failures, even under TEA vigilance.

As Trib education reporter Shelly Conlon reported Saturday, Marlin ISD has been formally notified for the second time since 2016 that it is no longer recognized as a public school system. Yet district failures, even under a governing board assembled through TEA oversight, put state officials in a rare conundrum: What if this small-town school district actually closes? Where do its students go, especially given 98 percent of Marlin ISD’s more than 800 students are economically disadvantaged?

It’s a question TEA officials must be mulling. As Conlon reports, Marlin has made the “improvement-required” list for six long years now because of failures on state academic tests, even though it has shown some improvement. And despite this latest ruling that Marlin ISD is no longer technically a public school system, officials in Austin and Marlin say it will continue to function as such beyond the end of the present school year.

The options appear gloomy, even for lawmakers who bellow there’s no room for failing schools. Closure of Marlin ISD schools might mean transporting students to nearby rural schools, possibly at some cost to taxpayers in those districts. The fact the state’s school finance system remains a complicated and wildly inequitable mess in per-pupil funding doesn’t help. While we don’t underestimate TEA brainpower when it comes to imaginative solutions, some heavy lifting from state leaders might benefit, especially regarding small-town districts that lack the array of resources that, say, Waco ISD has in crafting viable solutions and possibilities.

For the moment, the best move for both Marlin ISD and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s team may be in small, incremental academic improvements, year by year, with no backtracking and plenty of monitoring. Who knows? In a community such as Marlin, a more painstakingly gradual path forward may ensure a more enduring academic environment in the long run.