Selected readings on US charter schools
Senate Bill 2, widely considered a victory by charter school advocates for raising the state-imposed cap by 90 charters over the next six years, also made sweeping changes to the authorization process – taking approval power away from the 15-member elected State Board of Education and handing it to Commissioner Michael Williams. The board now has veto power but faces a quick turnaround this year for speaking its mind.
“These are big changes,” said David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association.
While the authorization process under the board was highly transparent, Dunn said he sees the benefits of putting the commissioner over all charter school decisions.
“Everything else from compliance to analysis to revocation and renewal was up to the commissioner,” he said.
Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who sponsored the bill, said the Legislature agreed that it didn’t make sense for the state board to be in charge of just authorizing charter schools – tuition-free campuses that first opened in Texas in 1995 to offer families more choices in public education.
The state board has few resources and meets infrequently, making it harder for its members to manage such a fast-growing sector, he said. Criticism of turning all the functions over to the commissioner is unfounded, he said.
“Most of what I’ve seen is a few people wanting to protect their turf and not doing what is best for the children of Texas,” he said.
The new law raises the cap to 305 charters by 2019 and will allow for the expansion of high-performing charters and dropout-prevention schools. State board members will maintain a voice in the process, via veto power, Patrick added.
David Bradley, a Republican board member from Beaumont, worries that authorization will be less transparent and more political under a single appointed official.
The state board drew criticism for initially approving dozens of schools that ended up plagued with financial and academic problems. The application process has been refined in the last 15 years and the previous cap of 215 made it increasingly competitive, Bradley said.
“If you look at charters that have been issued in the past 13-14 years, they’re relatively good programs,” Bradley said.
Interviews for the 12 open spots – under the existing cap of 215 – are being conducted Wednesday and Thursday in Austin. Texas Education Agency staff members are expected to make recommendations to the commissioner the following Monday and Williams would inform the board of his decision no later than that Thursday. The board would likely need to make its veto decision the next day at its Sept. 20 meeting, said agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe.
The timeline will likely be revised in future years, she said.
Despite the cap, the Texas charter school movement has grown by nearly 15 percent annually. About 178,000 Texas school children – roughly 4 percent of students – attend one of the state’s 550 charter schools. (Charter holders can operate multiple campuses.)
Revocation of poorly performing charters has proven nearly impossible under the previous laws.
A Sharpstown-area school, Alphonso Crutch, for example, opened in 1999. The state started revocation in 2002 for fiscal mismanagement, but the charter has yet to be returned.
Mike Feinberg, co-founder of the Houston-based KIPP charter network, said he has high hopes for the legislation, but worries that the education agency may not have been well prepared to take over authorization so quickly.
“I hope they realize charter authorizing is both a science and an art and takes a great deal of planning, training and execution to do well,” he said.
Senate Bill 2 increases the cap for the number of charter schools in Texas to:
1 225 in September 2014
1 240 in September 2015
1 255 in September 2016
1 270 in September 2017
1 285 in September 2018
1 305 in September 2019
Source: Houston Chronicle – by Jennifer Radcliffe