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The charter schools make their case

Specifically, David Dunn, the executive director of the Texas Charter School Association, makes the case for public funds for charter school facilities in this op-ed from the weekend.

One of the major obstacles to critical education reform in Texas is the lack of facilities for the thriving charter school movement here. Even though charter schools are subject to the same state accountability standards and oversight, they receive no money for their facilities. We are making do with our current circumstances, but charter school students deserve better than portable trailers, transformed grocery stores or vacated churches.

Our membership believes that the State Board of Education should carefully analyze the fiscal impact to the state and release specific charter lease agreement details. Policymakers, editorial boards and various stakeholders across the state have been mixed on their assessment of the SBOE idea. However, the opposition to investing in charter facilities seems to be based on outdated perceptions of charter schools.

Since charters were created by the Texas Legislature in 1995, they have considerably improved their operations and academic performance. Internally, the charter movement holds high expectations to deliver on our contracts with the state. We educate kids or we get out of education. Every member of our association signs a quality pledge and completes a rigorous self-assessment to continually improve their schools.

I have no idea what that “quality pledge” is all about, but the fact remains that there are plenty of lousy charter schools out there. I’d be more inclined to buy what Dunn is selling if he’d be more honest about that.

Our membership is encouraged that the State Board of Education and Texas lawmakers are looking for ways to help. TCSA is optimistic about the idea, but we have additional ideas to assist charter schools with facilities. The Texas Legislature should provide charter schools with greater access to existing public school facilities, particularly in school districts with vacant schools or unused property. Charter schools should have the same access to bond guarantees through the Permanent School Fund as traditional public schools. Extending this privilege to charters would have no cost to the state, and provide immense savings to charters by reducing the cost of issuance and lowering interest rates. Charter facilities leased by a private owner to a public, open-enrollment charter school should become exempt from real property taxes for the duration of the lease agreement, with the savings passed onto the school. Without a doubt, we will keep pressing on all fronts.

Look, I’m not necessarily opposed to any of these suggestions, but it would be nice if Dunn or someone like him would address the criticisms of the SBOE’s decision to allocate money for charter schools from the Permanent School Fund. Why shouldn’t these funds be allocated by the Legislature, instead of having the SBOE make a questionable end run around the state constitution? Answer me that, and then we can talk about the other stuff.

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