Tag Archives: public schools

TEA releases final accountability ratings before A-F

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released the final 2017 academic accountability ratings this week for school districts and campuses. This represents the last time in which districts and campuses will be graded under the “met standard/improvement required” system, which is scheduled to be replaced by the new “A through F” accountability system.

More than 1,200 districts and charters and more than 8,600 campuses were graded. In total, 95.4 percent met standard or met alternative standard, and just 3.5 percent were labeled “improvement required” and subject to potential interventions. A final 1.1 percent of districts and charters were listed as “not rated.”

Just 26 of 1,023 school districts, or 2.5 percent, were labeled “improvement required.” A total of 16 out of 180 charters, or 8.9 percent, were labeled “improvement required.” According to the 2017 numbers, charters were more than three times as likely as districts to fail to meet academic standards.

The new “A through F” accountability rating system is scheduled to go into effect in 2018. Under House Bill (HB) 22, schools will receive grades of A, B, C, D, or F in each of three academic domains, as well as an overall letter grade. Districts and charters will receive their first “A through F” grades beginning with the 2017-18 school year, while campuses will still be graded on the “met standard/improvement required” scale. Individual campuses will begin receiving “A through F” letter grades in the 2018-19 school year.

The agency is still in the process of making rules for the “A through F” system, and ATPE continues to represent educators’ perspectives in discussions with rulemakers regarding the system’s implementation. The full 2017 accountability report for districts, charters and campuses can be found on the TEA website.

SBOE long-range planning process to include regional meetings

SBOE logoThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) and State Board of Education (SBOE) released the following statement this week about upcoming regional meetings to gather input for the purpose of updating the SBOE’s Long-Range Plan for Education:

Oct. 31, 2017

Regional meetings to gather input for Long-Range Plan 

AUSTIN – Regional meetings begin this week to gather input for the new Long-Range Plan for Public Education now being developed by the State Board of Education.

The first of at least eight community meetings will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 2, at the El Paso Community College in El Paso. The meeting will occur in the Administration Building auditorium located at 9050 Viscount Blvd.

Register to attend this free event at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/community-conversation-el-paso-november-2nd-tickets-38839842013 .

Community meetings are also scheduled for 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. on the following dates:

  • Nov. 14 – Region 7 Education Service Center, 1909 North Longview St., Kilgore
  • Dec. 5 – Region 11 Education Service Center, 1451 S. Cherry Lane, White Settlement
  • Dec. 6 – Dallas County Community College, El Centro West – Multi Purpose Room 3330 N. Hampton Rd., Dallas
  • Feb. 8 – Region 4 Education Service Center, 7145 West Tidwell, Houston

Additional community meetings will be scheduled in 2018.

“State Board of Education members are meeting with Texans around the state because we want to hear firsthand what their concerns and hopes for the Texas public schools are going forward. Our goal is to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges. Information gained through these community meetings, a statewide online survey, and the work of the Long-Range Plan for Public Schools Steering Committee will be used to craft a strategic plan for schools through the year 2030, corresponding with the Texas Higher Education 60×30 Strategic Plan,” said SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich.

The 18-member steering committee, made up of educators, parents, state and local board members, business officials, college professors, state agency representatives and a student, will meet at 9 a.m. Nov. 6 to discuss two topics: family empowerment and engagement and equity and access to both funding and advanced courses.

The public meeting will occur at 4700 Mueller Blvd. in Austin at the headquarters of the Texas Comprehensive Center at the American Institutes of Research, which is assisting the board with the development of the long-range plan.

Debbie Ratcliffe, Interim Director
SBOE Support Division, Texas Education Agency

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 29, 2017

Happy Friday from ATPE! Here’s a wrap-up of this week’s education news:


17-18_web_HurricaneHarveySenate committees will soon be convening interim hearings to discuss the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Yesterday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued a series of interim charges related to the hurricane for nine Senate committees, including the Senate Education Committee, to study. Read more about the education-related charges in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann. House committees are similarly studying hurricane-related issues in response to interim charges issued recently by House Speaker Joe Straus. One such hearing of the House Appropriations Committee will take place Monday in Houston.


Texas has finalized its state plan for compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). After considering input from ATPE and other stakeholders on a draft ESSA plan released this summer, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) filed its final plan this week with the federal government. Read more about the plan in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.


Comic Speech Bubble, Congrats, Vector illustrationMore than two dozen Texas public schools have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as Blue Ribbon schools for 2017. The elementary, middle, and high schools receiving the honors were nominated by TEA officials in recognition of their performance on student assessments, and all of the recognized schools have a student population that is at least 25 percent economically disadvantaged. ATPE congratulates the students and staffs of these 26 Blue Ribbon schools located in Texas:

  • Amarillo ISD – Whittier Elementary School
  • Banquete ISD – Banquete Elementary School
  • Birdville ISD – Smithfield Elementary School
  • Dallas ISD – Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy
  • Dallas ISD – Dallas Environmental Science Academy
  • Dallas ISD – Irma Lerma Rangel Women’s Leadership School
  • Edinburg CISD – Austin Elementary School
  • Edinburg CISD – Jefferson Elementary School
  • El Paso ISD – Green Elementary School
  • El Paso ISD – Silva Health Magnet
  • Galveston ISD – Austin Middle School
  • Gunter ISD – Gunter Elementary School
  • Houston ISD – Eastwood Academy
  • Houston ISD – Lyons Elementary School
  • Jim Ned CISD – Lawn Elementary School
  • Judson ISD – Crestview Elementary School
  • KIPP Houston – KIPP Shine Prep
  • La Porte ISD – Jennie Reid Elementary School
  • Laredo ISD – Hector J. Garcia Early College High School
  • Los Fresnos ISD – Rancho Verde Elementary School
  • Montgomery ISD – Montgomery Intermediate School
  • Oakwood ISD – Oakwood Elementary School
  • San Antonio ISD – Travis Early College High School
  • Whitehouse ISD – Stanton-Smith Elementary School
  • Wylie ISD (Wylie) – RF Hartman Elementary School
  • Ysleta ISD – Valle Verde Early College High School



Updates from the Texas Education Agency

Several news reports and announcements came out this week from the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Here’s a rundown:


The big news concerning TEA this week continues to be the agency’s arbitrary cap on students receiving special education services; a story first reported by the Houston Chronicle’s Brian Rosenthal. In response to attention from the U.S. Department of Education, TEA sent a letter to the department insisting the agency “has never set a cap, limit or policy on the number or percent of students that school districts can, or should, serve in special education.” The agency argued schools had simply misunderstood policy relating to the state’s reporting system for special education services.

“The allegation that the special education representation indicator is designed to reduce special education enrollment in order to reduce the amount of money the state has to spend on special education is clearly false,” an agency staffer wrote to federal regulators. “Allegations that TEA issued fines, conducted on-site monitoring visits, required the hiring of consultants, etc. when districts provided special education services to more than 8.5 percent of their students are entirely false.”

“The Education Department will carefully review the state’s response and, after the review is concluded, determine appropriate next steps,” a department spokesperson told the Texas Tribune Wednesday.

The agency has nonetheless vowed to stop enforcing the 8.5 percent “target.” The decision comes after Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) wrote TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, expressing the concerns of the Texas House of Representatives over school districts excluding eligible children from special education services in order to comply.


Superintendents and school board members from eleven districts have been ordered to attend a class on how to fix their problematic schools. The districts include Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth, all of which contained several campuses designated as “improvement required” in the 2016 TEA accountability ratings.

Districts are required to submit turnaround plans for schools that fail to meet minimum standards for two consecutive years. It’s up to the education commissioner whether to approve those plans, and in the event they’re disapproved, the commissioner can replace the entire board or shut down the school.

According to the agency, the eleven districts in question submitted plans the commissioner deemed insufficient to fix their problems. The order for district officers to attend a two-day training session marks a clear crackdown, and appears in keeping with Commissioner Morath’s initial promise to get tough on failing schools.

Read more in this article from The Texas Tribune republished on our blog this week.


Earlier this week, the agency identified 300 “Title I Reward Schools” as part of the conditions for the state’s waiver from the U.S. Department of Education for certain provisions under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), otherwise known as No Child Left Behind. Title I campuses are those which serve at least 40 percent low-income students, and the rewards are broken down by “High-Performing” and “High-Progress” schools.

The agency defines a high-performance reward school as “a Title I school with distinctions based on reading and math performance. In addition, at the high school level, a reward school is a Title I school with the highest graduation rates.” A high-progress school is defined as “a Title I school in the top 25 percent in annual improvement; and/or a school in the top 25 percent of those demonstrating ability to close performance gaps based on system safeguards.”

The distinction is given to both public schools and charter schools. The full 2015-16 list is available here.



The agency released preliminary 2015-16 Texas Academic Performance Reports (TAPR) on Thursday. Part of TEA’s statutory reporting responsibility, TAPR “combine academic performance, financial reports, and information about students, staff, and programs for each campus and district in Texas.”

The preliminary statewide numbers indicate 62 percent of STAAR takers in all grades “met or exceeded progress” in all subjects, while 17 percent “exceeded progress.” Students posted a 95.7 percent attendance rate and 2.1 percent high school dropout rate for the 2014-15 school year. The Class of 2015 graduated 89 percent of students, up from 88 percent graduated by the Class of 2014. Roughly 68 percent of 2015 graduates took the SAT or ACT, and scored an average of 1394 and 20.6, respectively. Of students who graduated with the Class of 2014, 57.5 percent enrolled in a Texas institutional of higher education.

Broken down by demographics, Texas’ 5.3 million students are 52.2 percent Hispanic, 28.5 percent White, 12.6 percent African American and 4 percent Asian. A total of 59 percent are economically disadvantaged, 18.5 percent are English language learners (ELL) and 50.1 percent are considered “at risk.”

Texas schools employ around 347,000 teachers, with an average of 10.9 years of experience. The average teacher’s salary is $51.891, with the average beginning teacher earning $45,507 and teachers with more than 20 years earning just over $60,000.

Statewide, regional, district and campus-level reports are available via the TEA website. Districts are allowed to appeal their preliminary ratings, and final ratings are scheduled to be released by December 2, 2016.

ATPE joins effort to encourage school districts to facilitate primary voting

Vote imageDays away from the start of early voting for the primary elections in Texas, education groups are spreading the word about the importance of voting through an unprecedented joint effort. ATPE has teamed up with nearly a dozen other groups in support of a new initiative called TexasEducatorsVote.com.

The new website features election-related guides, links to candidate resources, and an oath that educators can take to pledge to support public education by voting in 2016. The new initiative launched by the Texas Association of Community Schools (TACS) complements ATPE’s existing TeachtheVote.org website, where voters can view profiles of candidates for the legislature and State Board of Education, read their responses to ATPE’s candidate survey, study incumbents’ voting records on education issues, and find additional resources.


Brock Gregg

“We’re coming together for the first time in an unprecedented way,” ATPE Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg said in a press release issued yesterday. “Our goal is to implore educators and the public to take action. There are about one million active and retired public school educators in Texas. If they all go out and vote, this could have a tremendous positive impact on public education.”

The partners in the Texas Educators Vote initiative are also reaching out to school administrators across the state and encouraging them to do what they can to facilitate voting by school employees. The message to administrators highlights specific ways school leaders can promote high voter turnout and engagement within their school districts and campuses without endorsing particular candidates. Suggested actions include the following:

  • Setting a campus-wide voter turnout goal during the early voting period.
  • Encouraging employees to utilize election resources such as TeachtheVote.org and TexasEducatorsVote.com to learn more about the candidates and voting details.
  • Facilitating time off for school employees to go vote, including coordinating with volunteers to help cover classrooms as needed.
  • Coordinating ride-sharing or providing transportation to the polls.

ATPE encourages educators to check out the candidate profiles available through our 2016 Races search page and take the voting oath on TexasEducatorsVote.com. Click here to view a brochure with more information on Texas Educators Vote and its participating partners.

For even more information, be sure to follow @TeachtheVote and @TXEducatorsVote on Twitter for the latest updates.

School finance case: ATPE attends Supreme Court hearing

$50,000 more per classroom.

That is how much more the top quarter of school districts have available to spend compared to the bottom quarter of districts. If it is broken down further, it can be shown where the top 10 percent of districts have over $100,000 more to spend per classroom than the lowest 10 percent. This is a glaring disparity, and the children in these classrooms are being presented very different educational experiences. If each school district had access to these funds, it would be money that could be spent on computers, supplies, increasing salaries, or even reducing the exorbitant health insurance premiums school employees are required to pay – all supporting the recruitment and retention of quality educators. Without question, these money-related factors would give schoolchildren greater educational opportunity.

Enter stage right: On Sept. 1, 2015, the Supreme Court of Texas (SCoT) met to hear arguments from parties involved in the four-year-old lawsuit. ATPE attended yesterday’s long-awaited hearing. Six separate parties, as well as the state, presented their arguments before the court. The six parties include four that represent school districts: The Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition; the Texas School Coalition; Fort Bend ISD et al; and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). The other parties include the Texas Charter School Association, which is arguing largely for increased facilities funding, and a group composed of voucher and privatization proponents known as Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education (often referred to as the “efficiency intervenors”). The attorney for the efficiency group argued that additional funding is unneeded, and that instead the court should require lawmakers to evaluate teachers based on student test scores, implement mandatory merit pay (almost certainly based on test scores), and allow public tax dollars to be used for private school vouchers (even though private schools, strangely, are not required by the state to test students at all).

On the other side of the dispute, the school districts won in the lower district court based on their argument that the current school finance system devised by the Texas legislature violates the Texas Constitution on three issues: efficiency, adequacy, and local discretion in setting property taxes. Further, the districts pointed out that during the same time that the STAAR test was being implemented and standards were increasing, legislators made nearly $5.4 billion in budget cuts to public education. Four years later, over 30 percent of districts are still operating on less funding per student than they were in 2011.

There is no timeline for when the SCoT will issue its ruling, and there are a number of possible outcomes, such as affirming the district court decision, overruling the district court, or affirming only some portions of the lower court’s ruling, which has been the case in recent school finance lawsuits. Depending on the timing of the ruling, lawmakers could be forced to return to Austin for a special session or be allowed to address possible judicial orders in 2017 when the Texas legislature is scheduled to meet next.

It may sound a bit dramatic, but the truth of the matter is that the outcome of this court case will determine what the Texas public education system looks like in the foreseeable future. Every child who enters a classroom in our state will be affected by this decision, and we believe that the SCoT justices are acutely aware of this fact.

Also yesterday, Pastors for Texas Children (PTC) filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in the school finance appeal. Like ATPE, the PTC has been a member of the anti-voucher Coalition for Public Schools and a longtime advocate for fully funding Texas public education. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter assisted in the crafting of the PTC brief, through which the Texas pastors argue that a state-funded voucher system benefiting private, religious schools would not be more efficient than the current public education system. PTC filed its brief in response to another amicus brief recently filed by the U.S. Pastor Council advocating a private school voucher system as a means of solving the constitutional challenge to the state’s funding system. ATPE appreciates PTC’s efforts to weigh in on behalf of public schools that need greater support from the state. Read a copy of the full PTC brief here.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and follow us on Twitter for updates on the school finance case.

Suicide prevention training in schools

There is no better way to show the magnitude of a problem than to put a face to it, to show how the problem could affect anyone at any time. We regularly discuss the many issues that students and educators face every day in our schools while attempting to succeed, although too seldom do we have conversations about a problem that is tragic, irreversible, and growing.

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in high-school-age students.

Since 1960 teen suicide rates have tripled in the United States.

20 percent of all teenagers in the United States Contemplate Suicide every year.

The most important of these statistics is this:

4 out of 5 who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.

And, 90 percent of all teen suicides have been linked to diagnosable and treatable psychiatric disorders.

These numbers clearly show that we have a serious problem that affects too many lives, too many families every year. The good news is that as educators and advocates we have the ability to do something about it. We have the ability to address this plague in a way it has never been taken on before in Texas; through a coordinated approach that brings educators and numerous health-related organizations together to tackle the issue head-on.

In 2015, ATPE worked alongside Coach Kevin Childers – a long-time educator and ATPE member – to pass legislation that would require periodic training in suicide prevention for educators. The result is the Jason Flatt Act, in memory of Jonathan Childers (HB 2186), a monumental step forward at preventing the senseless loss of young lives. HB 2186 requires suicide prevention training for all new school district and open-enrollment charter school educators annually and for existing school district and charter school educators on a schedule to be determined by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

This week the TEA issued guidance on how this new requirement would be implemented, as it required coordination with the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) in identifying and making available best practice information to school districts. A link to the best practice-based programs and guidance for independent review can be found at the TEA Coordinated School Health Website at Coordinated School Health Requirements and Approved Programs.

The official schedule for training will not be adopted until later this fall; school districts and open-enrollment charter schools may begin training new and existing educators as soon as a training program has been selected by the district or school. The sooner training begins, the sooner these proven tools can be used by educators to save precious lives.

From the Texas Tribune: New Truancy Law Set to Put Pressure on Schools, Parents

by Terri Langford, The Texas Tribune
August 8, 2015

When the state’s new truancy law takes effect Sept. 1, students will no longer face criminal sanctions — penalties that could include jail time — for skipping school. But there is likely to be more pressure on schools — and on parents, who could face more cases if their kids fail to show up for class.

“I anticipate an increase in prosecutions of parents under this new statute,” said Ryan Kellus Turner, general counsel and director of education for the Texas Municipal Courts Education Center in Austin, which helps provide training on municipal court procedures.

Both the education center and Texas Education Agency officials have spent the summer trying to chop the bulky House Bill 2398 into serviceable bites for educators and judges who face a dramatic shift this fall in the way they deal with chronic school skippers. That shift includes a new requirement for all public schools to implement truancy prevention programs and new directives on how the courts can penalize school skippers.

For years, Texas was one of two states that made truancy a criminal violation. Public school students who had at least 10 unexcused absences in a six-month period found their truancy cases heard by justices of the peace or municipal judges. Schools also had the option of sending students with three unexcused absences within a four-week period to the adult courts.

Under the old law, students could see fines as punishment. But those 17 and older who failed to pay those fines could be charged with contempt and, in some cases, wound up in adult jails. For example, 21,576 truancy cases were filed so far this year in Dallas County. Of those, three students were jailed for failing to comply with the judge’s orders.

Under the new law crafted this year by state Rep. James White, R-Woodville, and state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, schools can no longer send students with three unexcused absences within the four-week period to truancy courts. Instead, school officials will notify parents of the absences and warn them of the consequences, which could be a fine or a loss of driving privileges if the student racks up more absences or a criminal complaint against the parents. In addition, a face-to-face meeting between the school officials and the parents will be set up, and the student must be enrolled in a truancy prevention program.

Starting Sept. 1, schools will have some kind of truancy prevention program in place that will probably come in the form of mentoring and counseling.

If a student age 12 or older has 10 unexcused absences in a six-month period, school officials must first must determine if the absences are because the student is homeless, pregnant, in foster care or is a primary earner for the family. If the student’s situation matches any of those categories, then the school is to offer counseling support.

If the student does not fall into any of those categories and the anti-truancy programs have not worked, the school can refer the child to truancy court, where the student can face a $100 fine, a loss of driving privileges and perhaps a referral to the juvenile court system.

Like the old law, the new one allows schools to file a criminal complaint against a parent, but only if school can prove the absences were the result of the parent’s negligence. Negligence in Texas is defined as deviating from the “normal standard of care.” In such cases, parents will face a maximum fine of $500.

Turner says parents could see more criminal complaints if courts believe that a student’s legal guardian is not helping get that child to school.

“Even under this new law, the parent contributing to nonattendance is still a misdemeanor,” Turner said.

But the Texas Education Agency notes that a court now can dismiss a charge against a parent of contributing to the truancy if a judge finds that the dismissal “would be in the best interest of justice” and the student is unlikely to continue skipping school or has a good reason justifying the absence.

White, the original bill sponsor, said parents need to take school attendance seriously. School attendance is mandatory in Texas, and that does not change under this new law.

The only thing that does change is a shift from court referral to earlier intervention by schools.

“This piece of legislation marks a serious paradigm shift by lawmakers,” Turner explained. “Under the old law, the message from the Legislature was we want these cases prosecuted and we want these kids in court.”



This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2015/08/08/new-truancy-law-puts-pressure-schools/The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

ATPE Blog Guest Post: 14 vs 86—Are Texas Public Schools Failing?

By Mary Ann Whiteker

The Senate Education Committee recently invited testimony from former US Senator Phil Gramm in favor of vouchers. Gramm said, “I am worried about an education system that doesn’t work. We know our system of public education is failing.”

Senator Donna Campbell, a member of the Senate Education Committee and a strong supporter of vouchers, has publicly stated, “Today we have a monstrosity, a monopoly. It’s called public schools.”

My good friend Scott Milder, founder & CEO of Friends of Texas Public Schools, recently wrote a letter to the Texas Senate. The following quote from Scott’s letter reflects the mindset of some of our Texas state senators: “It is unfortunate that you (a few Texas senators) feel the need to vilify our Texas public schools because your top campaign contributions come from folks who are determined to see vouchers finally pass. Condemning our public schools and casting harsh accusations of widespread failure is not only disrespectful and counterproductive, it is just flat inaccurate.”

Are Texas public schools failing, or is there more to the story?

Consider this: There are 24 hours in one day, 365 days in one year (8,760 hours per year). Students are required to attend school 180 days each year, seven instructional hours per day (1,260 hours per year). To determine how much time a student spends in school, divide 1,260 by 8,760. You’ll get .143, or 14 percent.

Public schools have control/influence over only 14 percent of a student’s time throughout the year, leaving 86 percent of a student’s year controlled/influenced by factors outside our public schools.

Texas public schools are achieving extraordinary success, contrary to the rhetoric and lack of support from several of our state legislators:

  • In 2013, 88 percent of ninth graders completed high school in four years (another 4.6 percent continued high school).
  • Graduation rates from 2007-2013 reflect increases for the following:
    • African American students rose from 70.7 to 84 percent.
    • White students rose from 88 to 93 percent.
    • Hispanic students rose from 66 to 85 percent.
  • Graduation rates in Texas compared to the nation:
    • Asian students rank first. o Hispanic students rank second.
    • Economically disadvantaged students rank first.
  • Texas students rank eighth in the world in math and 11th in science, surpassing countries such as Finland, England, Germany, and France.
  • The new Texas accountability ratings revealed that 92.59 percent of Texas school districts achieved the rating of “met standard” based on a new assessment system and curriculum standards that are “a mile wide and an inch deep.”
  • US students rank No. 1 internationally in reading.

Although public education falls short of rescuing every child, factors beyond the school, such as lack of community support or communities strained by poverty and social dysfunction, must be recognized and acknowledged as powerful deterrents. It is time for the state to focus efforts and resources on helping students overcome these deterrents in the classroom, rather than creating systems that mislabel students, schools, and communities.

Privatizing education is not the answer!

Mary Ann Whiteker is the superintendent of Hudson ISD. She can be reached at mwhiteker@hudsonisd.org.

This post originally appeared on the ATPE Blog on April 20. Views and opinions expressed in guest posts are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of ATPE.

What makes public schools public?

ATPE does not have and has never had a position opposing the concept of charter schools. However, ATPE has long been involved in the discussion surrounding this relatively new type of school, so I watched with interest when the House Congressional Committee on Education and the Workforce met March 12 for a hearing entitled “Raising the Bar: The Role of Charter Schools in K-12 Education.”

The hearing was essentially a show-and-tell session: Every panelist was a charter operator or proponent, and the majority of the hearing gave them a forum to extol their own virtues. Although there’s nothing wrong with giving advocates an opportunity to talk about themselves, the usefulness of a one-sided conversation is limited. (Watch the hearing here.)

One refrain both lawmakers and panelists repeated several times during the hearing was an assertion of the “public-ness” of charter schools. Over the years, I’ve noticed this is a common occurrence at almost every charter school hearing. It’s repeated so often that it seems people are trying to convince the audience, and maybe themselves, that the statement is true. This constant refrain has left me asking myself the question: What makes public schools public?

Are public schools public because they are publicly funded? Are they public because they are subject to state and federal regulations? Are schools public because they are governed by duly, locally and regularly elected boards? Or are they public for some other reason?

Defining “public”

The Texas Constitution states: “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”

I recently attended a conference where it was pointed out that all 50 states have similar language in their constitutions.

Does funding make schools public?

The language references a requirement for public free schools. This indicates that the price of education to the student is at least a prerequisite to an education system being “public.” Of course, public education isn’t actually free, but there’s no user fee (tuition) because public education is publicly financed.

Charter schools also do not charge user fees and are publicly financed. Therefore, if method of finance determines whether a school is public, then charter schools, like traditional public schools, clearly are.

But how does that logic apply to other areas of “school choice”?

Vouchers also provide public financing. Theoretically, you could open a school in a state with a voucher program that accepts only voucher students and charges no tuition. Would that school also be public? It would be subject to no standards of any kind. It would be subject to no public accountability or oversight. Such a school could potentially teach a curriculum rooted in Christianity, Islam, paganism or any other religion. Traditionally, schools that have been the recipients of publicly funded vouchers have been considered private, even by voucher proponents.

Do regulations make a school public?

Assuming method of finance does not make a school “public,” does being subject to state and federal education regulations make schools public? Although charter schools do have some flexibility that their traditional counterparts do not, both traditional public schools and charter schools are highly regulated at both the state and federal levels. However, districts and charter systems are far from unique in requiring authorization from the state or federal government to exist. Licensure is a requirement to operate many private businesses. Additionally, many endeavors—everything from farming to distributing alcohol and tobacco to waste disposal—are also highly regulated, despite being entirely private.

Does oversight from locally elected officials make a school public?

If state and federal regulations don’t make schools “public,” perhaps oversight from locally elected officials does. Although many private entities exist under state and or federal regulatory schemes (often extensive), they still have private owners or boards of directors. School districts, on the other hand, are governed by local officials elected by the citizenry on a regular basis. These officials must satisfy the wishes of the public within their district boundaries, at least to some extent, or risk being replaced during the next election. These locally elected boards have enormous power over the schools they govern. They implement and enforce much of the state and federal regulation that’s handed down, as well as make local regulatory and business decisions. It is hard to overestimate the potential impact a board of trustees can have on the culture, success or failure of the districts they oversee. But here’s the rub: Although charter systems do have boards, they are not necessarily local, and none of them are publicly elected. If it is this level of publicly elected officials that makes public schools public, are charters something else, and if so, what?

What do you think? Tell us in the comments.