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The prospects for increasing charter schools

According to the Trib, it’s trickier than it might look.

Senate Bill 2, the centerpiece of Patrick’s plans for the session, is the most ambitious attempt to expand the state’s charter school system since it was established in 1995. To succeed, it will have to pass a Legislature that defeated more modest proposals just two years ago.

The graveyard for such measures has typically been the House, whose 150 members represent much smaller districts than the 31 state senators. That means the influence of local power players can override party politics — particularly in rural areas where those players are often school boards and superintendents, two groups that have traditionally had a tense relationship with charters, which are publicly funded but privately operated.

“In Texas, it’s often the interests of rural, the interests of urban, the interests of suburban. In other states, it might be two factions instead of three,” said former state Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, a former House Public Education Committee chairman who is now working as a lobbyist. “The Legislature has a strong hand, but that that hand could be tied when you have seemingly similar but different goals.”

It is a dynamic that threatens to materialize again. The chairman of the House’s education committee, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, has said he favors a more limited approach than Patrick’s legislation.

“Senator Patrick and I have had conversations about it, and he knows I’m not comfortable with that large a jump,” Aycock said. “That reflects the nature of the committee, if I am reading the committee right, and I think the House as a whole as well.”


The legislation has also drawn objections from superintendents and school board members, who argue that in a time of limited resources, charter schools that serve only 3 percent of the public school population should not received additional state funding — and that before looking to expand charters, the state should move to shut down the poor-performing schools.

In 2011, a bill from Patrick that would have increased the charter contracts the state could offer by 10 a year, as well as measures addressing the facilities shortage, were part of a slate of charter school legislation that failed.

But despite past difficulties, there may be room for compromise this time around. Aycock said that he would support a “reasonable” increase in the number of charter school contracts available with proper oversight.

We’ll see what that means. Patrick is supposed to introduce a committee substitute for SB2 today for a hearing on it, so we’ll have a better idea of where this is headed and what its prospects may be then. One thing to note is that even if no bills pass this session, or in the upcoming special session to deal with school finance, don’t count this out for the future. Vouchers were supposed to be dead after Kent Gruesendorf got successfully primaried by Diane Patrick and the Texas ParentPAC, but they have made a zombie-like return this session. Any idea with enough money behind it never truly goes away (*cough* *cough* expanded gambling *cough* *cough*), and the charters have a lot of money behind them.

One more thing:

In the past decade, charter school enrollment has increased steadily to about 155,000 students at about 500 different campuses. After the latest round of approvals in 2012, only six charter contracts remain of the 215 available. An estimated 101,000 students are on waiting lists for the schools, though there are questions about whether that number adequately accounts for students on waiting lists for multiple schools.

I’m glad to see someone question the pedigree of that “hundred thousand student waiting list” statistic, which has been thrown around like a Frisbee at an Ultimate game. As often as I’ve seen that number quoted, I’ve yet to see a source or an explanation for it. Is there an official Charter School Waiting List out there somewhere, or is this just somebody’s best guess? If it’s the latter, whose guess is it and how did he or she arrive at it? This would be a useful topic for some intrepid reporter to investigate.

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One Comment

  1. Cathy Wightman says:

    I’ve yet to see a source or an explanation for it. Is there an official Charter School Waiting List out there somewhere, or is this just somebody’s best guess? —->

    I, too, wondered each time I saw the 100,000 number. I was pleased to see the article addressing it. I am still skeptical. If the students’ parents saw an honest summary of what performance was likely based on past history from the open-enrollment charter schools, the list might shrink considerably!

    You have to remember that ‘successful’ charters are able to open an unlimited number of campuses. Harmony has 40 campuses listed on their website. Most are K-12 campuses.

    Harmony holds multiple charters within the 215 count. Maybe 14? Some originally granted may have closed.