AFP-Texas Supports CSSB 2

April 23, 2013

by Peggy Venable, Texas Director
House Public Education Hearing – April 23, 2013

“There are some children whose names we probably don’t even know, whose faces we never will see.  But they are depending on us nonetheless to do something that changes their future.  And their future in most cases begins with whether they get an education or not.  And if they don’t get an education, they will have no future.  And if they don’t have a future, it’s our fault.” – Rep. Harold Dutton

Americans for Prosperity-Texas enthusiastically supports CSSB 2 by Chairman Dan Patrick.

In Texas today, we have 315,000 students in over 500 failing schools.  Kids’ futures ride on one five-digit code, which they have no control over:  their zip code.

Public schools assign kids to schools based on their zip codes.  We believe these students should have choices.  Charter schools provide choices.  Charter schools are public schools and have around 150,000 students enrolled.

Unfortunately, there are over 101,000 students on charter school waiting lists in Texas.  More would likely sign up, but know that they have little chance of getting into a charter school.

This is simply unacceptable.

Current law caps the number of open-enrollment charter schools at 215.  The cap deters innovation and creation of new charter schools.  We need to lift the cap on charter schools to provide more choices for parents.  CSSB 2 provides for that.

Current law also doesn’t provide a mechanism to rapidly close poor performing charter schools (or other public schools.) CSSB 2 provides a mechanism for closing bad charter schools.

The legislation also provide a mechanism for a local school district to convert to a home-rule charter school by majority vote of the local school board.

One of the most significant aspects of CSSB 2 is to direct school districts offer open-enrollment charter schools with first option for facilities the ISD intends to sell, lease or allow for another purpose.  These are facilities that taxpayers both have paid for and are still paying for.  (According to the Texas Bond Review Board, Texas school districts are an alarming $107 billion in debt, primarily for facilities.)

This provision makes good sense.  However, you may be surprised to hear that school district representatives were adamantly opposed to providing unused facilities to charter schools.  These education bureaucrats seem to think those facilities belong to them.  Public facilities actually belong to the public who pays for them.

Today, charter schools get 90 cents for every dollar public schools get per pupil.  And they get no facilities funding.

SB 2 originally provided for limited facilities funding.  We believe providing the opportunity to utilize mothballed public schools will help.  But charter schools are still at a distinct disadvantage regarding facilities funding.

CSSB 2 also provides for a Charter School Authorizing Authority to both facilitate approving, monitoring and revoking charters.  The composition would be 4 members appointed by the governor, one by the lieutenant governor, one by the chair of the State Board of Education and one appointed by the commissioner.  They would serve staggered 4-year terms.

Here are the highlights of CSSB 2:

  • lifts – but does not eliminate — the cap on charter schools (starting with 225 cap in 2014 and going to 330 charters for 2020) – there is no cap on charter campuses created by current charter holders with good student performance, and universities and ISD’s can create charters that do not count against the cap;
  • gives authority to the commissioner of education rather than the SBOE to grant charters (providing some SBOE oversight – 2/3 vote of the SBOE could reject a proposed charter award);
  • provides for enhanced accountability for charter schools and more transparency and makes it easier to close low performing charter schools (modifies the procedures for charter revocation);
  • the parent trigger provides an opportunity for schools to convert to home rule charter schools; and
  • underutilized or unused schools should be offered first for sell or rent to charter schools.

Charter schools provide a form of school choice, empowering parents to select the school, which best serves their children’s needs.  We need more choices and opportunities for the 100,000-plus kids currently on charter school wait lists to have educational choice.

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