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Patrick files his “school choice” bill

From the Trib:

The State Board of Education currently oversees applications for charter school contracts, which state law caps at 215. Patrick’s Senate Bill 2 would create a new state entity to authorize the contracts and lift that cap, allowing for an unlimited number of charter school operators in the state.

“There is no one answer to transforming schools but lifting the cap to add high quality public charters will give Texas parents, including the nearly 100,000 currently on a charter school waiting list, more choices to find the best education for their child,” Patrick said in a statement.

The legislation also includes language that makes it easier for local school boards to vote to become “home rule districts” and convert into charter schools. It follows Gov. Rick Perry’s call for more charter schools in his State of the State address, where the governor praised the innovation they bring to the public education system.

The charter school measure is one of a comprehensive set of proposals expected from Patrick to expand school choice in the state this session. Patrick has said those will also include fostering open enrollment across school districts and creating a private school scholarship fund through offering a state business tax savings credit to corporations.

Here’s SB2. The Observer summarizes what’s in it:

– Scraps the cap on state-approved charters, which currently stands at 215. Charter holders can already open multiple campuses (big chains like Harmony or KIPP), but charter advocates say there’s huge unmet demand, with long waiting lists at many charters across Texas.

– Creates a seven-member “Charter School Authorizing Authority.” Currently, charters are approved by the elected State Board of Education, but Patrick’s bill would put the power in the hands of seven appointees: four picked by the Governor and one each appointed by the lieutenant governor, education commissioner, and the State Board of Education chair. The governor would get to name the board’s presiding member.

– Give charters money for school buildings and other facilities—something charter schools in Texas have always done without.

– Requires school districts to make any empty or “underutilized” facilities available to charter schools that want them for the low, low price of $1.

– Makes it easier to close low-performing charters. Under Patrick’s proposal, the new charter authority must close charter schools that get poor academic or financial ratings from the state in three of the last five years.

– Gives more freedom to “home-rule districts.” Any school district can already become a home-rule district with approval from its local school board and the state, freeing itself of many rules imposed by the state. It’s a favorite cause of free-market groups like the Texas Public Policy Foundation, but in 17 years, no district has even tried to make the switch. Patrick’s bill would give “home-rule” districts almost all the freedom charter schools enjoy, and let districts make the change with a majority vote of the school board, not the two-thirds vote required today.

But the Texas Charter Schools Association is delighted with what’s in here. But there’s plenty here to rile advocates of traditional neighborhood schools—from the extra facilities money in a time when the Legislature is otherwise tight-fisted with money for schools—to the requirement that school districts hand over their empty buildings to charters.

Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville) raised some of those concerns Monday afternoon in a Senate Finance Committee working group. ”I don’t want to take away from what has to be done for charter schools, but we don’t want to leave the public school facility needs out at the time,” he told Patrick.

“These are public schools, and we’re not funding them,” Patrick said.

Lot of that going around, isn’t there? I’ve said before, I favor broadening school choice within and across school districts, I’m open to increasing the number of charters, and I absolutely oppose the use of public funds for private school “scholarships”, which is to say vouchers. As I have done before, I will once again point out that the percentage of charter schools rated Academically Unacceptable by the Texas Education Agency is nearly double that of traditional public schools, and it’s currently very difficult to shut down a failing charter school. If SB2 does make it easier to close a failing charter then that’s all to the good, because charter schools are not a panacea. They’re a piece of the puzzle, and a relatively small one at that. Expecting them to be more is asking for trouble.

UPDATE: I received the following in my mailbox this morning from Raise Your Hand Texas:

Texas Needs to Clean Up Existing Charters Before Issuing New Ones

(AUSTIN, TEXAS) Raise Your Hand Texas released the following statement from CEO Dr. David Anthony regarding the introduction of charter schools legislation (SB 2) today by Senate Education Committee Chair Dan Patrick (R-Houston):

On proposal to remove the charter cap:

“Unlimited expansion of charters as proposed in SB 2 will result in more charters, but not necessarily better ones. With 17.9% of charters rated academically unacceptable under the accountability system in 2011, let’s show that we can effectively oversee the charter schools that we have before authorizing the creation of a bunch of new ones.”

On facilities funding for charter schools:

“According to the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, Texas expended $938 million on charters in 2011-2012 to serve 3% of Texas students. We simply can’t fathom providing facilities funding for charter schools in addition to the funding that they already receive when Texas public schools are still suffering from $5.3 billion in funding cuts.”

I think these are both valid points.

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  1. […] that Sen. Dan Patrick has filed his school choice bill, I thought this would be a good time to review some recent stories about charter schools. There […]

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