Category Archives: charter schools

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 14, 2019

Here’s a look at this week’s education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


This week, Gov. Greg Abbott signed the school finance and property tax reform bill, House Bill (HB) 3, into law. This bill modifies how public schools are funded and attempts to shift some of the burden of paying for public education that has fallen heavily on the shoulders of local property taxpayers closer toward a balance point with the portion financed by the state. The bill also affects teacher compensation. Read a recap of the governor’s signing ceremony, as well as links to our analysis of what HB 3 does, in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

Gov. Abbott also signed Senate Bill (SB) 12 into law on the same day. The bill improves funding for the state’s pension system for educators. As a result of the bill’s signing this week, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) expects a 13th check to be sent to retirees this fall, with a more specific date to be discussed at the TRS board’s next meeting in July.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as this legislation is implemented, and don’t forget to check out ATPE’s full recap of all the education legislation that passed this session.


ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes discussed HB 3 with CBS Austin.

Speaking of HB 3, your ATPE lobbyists have been busy taking to the airwaves over the last two weeks to talk about the bill and its consequences for school finance and teacher pay.

ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes joined state Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock) and Austin education leaders on CBS Austin to take part in an hour-long panel on school finance last week. You can watch the entire panel’s discussion here on the CBS Austin website.

Also discussing HB 3 on TV and radio programs this week was ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. He joined the statewide politics program Capital Tonight on Spectrum News this week to discuss how teacher compensation is affected by the bill. You can watch the segment here on the Spectrum News website.


The State Board of Education (SBOE) met this week in Austin, where a handful of applications for new charter schools came under scrutiny. On Thursday, a board committee voted to exercise the board’s statutory authority to veto four of the five proposed new charters. Members expressed concerns over the fiscal impact, qualifications of the applicants, and accuracy of the applications. On Friday, the full board reversed course and voted to approve the new applications with one notable exception. Members voted 8-5 to reject the application for a new charter by the founder of Harmony Public Schools. Read ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’s recap of Friday’s SBOE meeting here.

Commissioner of Education Mike Morath also updated the board this week on legislation passed by the 86th Texas Legislature that will affect public education, including HB 3 and changes to the STAAR assessment. Several of the education bills that passed this session will also require rulemaking by the commissioner before they can be fully implemented. Read a recap of the commissioner’s comments here.



A group of ATPE state officers and lobbyists were in Washington, DC this week to discuss federal education issues with elected officials and their staffs. ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand and Vice President Tonja Gray were accompanied by ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes and Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter on the fly-in, which was organized by ATPE’s longtime Washington-based lobbyist David Pore.

Issues discussed included education funding and the repeal of Social Security offsets like the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) that negatively impact educators and other public servants throughout the country. Stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog next week for a complete report on these ATPE meetings in the nation’s capital.

If you are an ATPE member who’ll be attending the ATPE Summit in July, make plans to attend our legislative update session where the lobby team will brief members on these federal issues and the results of the recent Texas legislative session.

SBOE rejects application for new charter by Harmony founder

SBOE meeting, June 14, 2019.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met Friday, June 14, 2019, to conclude its nearly week-long meeting. As we reported on ATPE’s Teach the Vote blog yesterday, the most high-profile item on this week’s agenda was the approval or veto of five new charter school applications. All were recommended for approval prior to this SBOE meeting by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

The new charter applications being considered this week were on behalf of Elevate Collegiate Charter School (Houston), Houston Classical Charter School (Houston), Royal Public Schools (Austin, Houston), San Antonio Preparatory Charter School (San Antonio), and The Gathering Place (San Antonio). The full board discussed the applications today, following a similar review by an SBOE committee yesterday. After hours of testimony by educators and administrators universally opposed to each of the new applicants, members of the board’s Committee on School Initiatives voted 3-2 to veto all but one of the applicants on Thursday. Members of that committee voted 4-1 to approve the application from The Gathering Place.

During Friday’s full board meeting, SBOE Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) highlighted the ability of charter holders to expand in an unrestricted manner after their initial approval. He urged the board to vote against the new applicants. Members raised concerns including negative fiscal impacts on nearby school districts, lack of experience and qualifications among top staff of the applicants, and false information included in some applications. SBOE Member Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood) expressed concerns over the negative consequences each charter would have on the funding available to local schools in each district.

The board has the legal authority to veto applications for new charters that have been approved by the commissioner. Members voting to effectively approve the charters contended that it is not the board’s purview to reject new charters on a wholesale basis, and any issue with charters in general should be taken up by the legislature. The full board voted to reverse each of the committee’s veto recommendations and instead effectively approve the remaining applications, with one exception.

The board spent an extensive amount of time this week questioning Soner Tarim, the founder of Harmony Public Schools and principal applicant on behalf of Royal Public Schools. SBOE Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) walked Tarim through six pages of questions ranging from the lack of local and demographically appropriate board members to numbers in the application that indicate its schools would serve lower percentages of English language learners and students in special education than surrounding district campuses. Members ultimately voted 8-5 today to veto the application from Royal Public Schools.

SBOE takes hard look at new charter school applicants

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met Thursday morning in three separate committees to consider various items. The highest profile item on Thursday’s agenda was a hearing of the Committee on School Initiatives to consider whether to approve five new open-enrollment charter school applications recommended by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

SBOE School Initiatives Committee meeting, June 13, 2019.

SBOE Member Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood) raised a concern that the mission of charter schools has strayed from the initial reason for their creation decades ago, which was to become laboratories of innovation. Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) expressed concern regarding the fiscal impact of the new charters on local independent school districts. Members Robinson and Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) also pointed out discrepancies in the application submitted by Royal Public Schools, in particular that it cited failing public schools as a reason for opening despite the fact that there are no failing schools in the areas in which the schools would be opened. Royal Public Schools is operated by the founder of Harmony Public Schools, one of the state’s largest charter operations.

Dozens of educators and administrators testified against the new charter applicants, raising concerns ranging from fiscal and academic consequences to the lack of educational credentials of the applicants. After several hours of testimony, the committee voted 3-2 to veto all but one of the new charter applicants. Members Robinson, Cortez, and Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-Converse) voted to veto the applicants, while Members Ellis and Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) voted to approve. The committee voted 4-1 to approve The Gathering Place. The committee’s recommendation will go before the entire board on Friday for a formal vote.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as this week’s SBOE meetings continue.

 

House Public Education Committee hears 38 bills on charters, assessment, and discipline

On Tuesday, April 9, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard 38 bills, which were overwhelmingly related to charter schools. A few bills regarding accountability, assessment, and student discipline were also heard. The vast majority of charter schools bills focused on raising the transparency and accountability of charters and on creating parity between traditional districts and charters.

ATPE registered support for the following bills:

  • House Bill (HB) 43 (Hinojosa, et al., D-Austin): Would add “discipline history” to the list of prohibited factors a charter can take into account when accepting students and removes the ability of charters to exclude students with documented history of criminal offense, juvenile court adjudication, or discipline problems. Does allow charters with at least 75% students who are 18 years or older to provide for these exclusions.
  • HB 139 (González, M., D-Clint): Would require charters to provide notice of an expansion amendment to open a new campus just as is required for entirely new charters. The notice must be provided no later than 18 months before the campus opens and include geographic specificity.
  • HB 228 (Krause, R-Fort Worth): Would create new eligibility standards for districts to become a District of Innovation (DOI), including academic performance eligibility and financial eligibility, as determined by the commissioner. Requires that the DOI plan establish performance objectives for the district.
  • HB 570 (Capriglione, R-Southlake): Would require the governing bodies of charter holders and charter schools to hold each open meeting in the geographic area in which the charter served and to be broadcast over the Internet (these changes were made in a committee substitute).
  • HB 636 (White, R-Hillister): Applies to the disclosure of interested parties involved in contracts that require a vote by the governing body of the governmental entities or have a value of at least $1 million. Would include open-enrollment charters as governmental entities, just as public school districts are.
  • HB 1730 (Davis, Y., D-Dallas): Would require that new and expanded charter campuses be more than one mile from another open-enrollment charter campus, unless the other campus has been operating at maximum student enrollment described by their charter for at least the two preceding school years.
  • HB 1853 (Pacheco, D-San Antonio): Would require charters to hire certified educators and protect educator rights, including for principals.
  • HB 1981 (Cole, D-Austin): Would expand notification requirements to apply to charter expansion amendments and would require the notice to identify the closest public school campus to the charter.
  • HB 2487 (Dutton, D-Houston): Would make charters subject to the provision of Government Code chapter 617 regarding collective bargaining and strikes.
  • HB 2510 (Hinojosa, et al., D-Austin): Would require that charters post their code of conduct on their website and require it to include suspension policies. Requires that charter policies and procedures for suspension and expulsion comply with Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code and that suspensions not exceed three days.
  • HB 2621 (Bailes, R-Shepherd): Would create a common admission application form for charters and requires the commissioner to manage a waiting list. Each charter would be required to report to the commissioner information on enrollment and waiting list numbers. Would also require the commissioner to identify which charters are corporate affiliates or substantially related charters holders and aggregate this information, to be posted online with the aggregated enrollment and waiting list numbers reported from the charters.
  • HB 2760 (Allison, R-San Antonio): States that districts can submit a statement to the commissioner regarding the impact a new charter school or charter expansion will have on the district. The commissioner would be required to issue an impact report on the charter application that includes information related to how the charter will affect the community, educational availability and duplication, financial burden on district, cost to state, and the written statement aforementioned. The impact report will be made public on the TEA website and provided to the charter or applicant and the others who are to receive the currently required notice.
  • HB 2776 (Allison, R-San Antonio): Would require charters to prepare and submit to TEA an “informed choice report” that includes academic information, demographic information, their calendar, information on transportation and meals, information on extracurriculars and academic course offerings, parental requirements, rights, and responsibilities, teacher statistics including salary, number on the waiting list, admission criteria, discipline policies, rates of disciplinary action, if the school uses an online program, number of school counselors and nurses, and if students have access to a library.
  • HB 2824 (VanDeaver, R-New Boston): Would extend Rep. VanDeaver’s writing pilot from the 84th session (HB 1164) through 2022-2023. This writing portfolio assessment tests the feasibility of replacing the current 26-line essay requirement. Would require the agency to develop methods to determine the validity of the scoring process. Rep. VanDeaver said that there were 30,000 students participating in Spring of 2018, and only 5-6 staff members in charge of the pilot at TEA.
  • HB 2964 (Davis, Y., D-Dallas): Would prohibit the employment of those who have engaged in misconduct that presents a risk to students, as documented by either a school district or the State Board for Educator Certification.
  • HB 2983 (Huberty, R-Humble): Would reduce the number of state-administered assessments for students who have already demonstrated mastery in certain subjects, potentially reducing tests from 17 to 10.
  • HB 2987 (Ramos, D-Richardson): Would require charters to post for each governing board member their biographical information, business interests, if they are elected or appointed, and the length of their service.
  • HB 3013 (Talarico, et al., D-Round Rock): States that charters are subject to the law regarding the suspension of students and restricts the reasons charters can expel students only to Section 37.007 of the Texas Education Code.
  • HB 3069 (González, M., et al., D-Clint): Would require the commissioner to establish a professional development grant program to encourage teachers to obtain computer science certification and continue professional development in coding, computational thinking, and computer science education.
  • HB 3263 (Allen, D-Houston): Would protect charter school employees under the Whistleblower Act, just as school district employees are.
  • HB 3877 (Ramos, D-Richardson): Would require charter schools to post their financial statements through a clearly identifiable link that appears in a prominent place on their home page.
  • HB 4242 (Bernal, et al., D-San Antonio): Would require that state assessments be evaluated by an independent group of qualified educators with Texas teaching experience for readability. Requires the commissioner to hold a public hearing before determining the readability of the assessments and requires that the readability be released for each questions and passage along with the questions and answer keys (at the appropriate time). Requires the State Board of Education to review assessment instruments and places a one-year pause on accountability and testing until unless the readability standards are met. Requires the commissioner to request a federal waiver if standards are not met.

ATPE submitted  written, neutral testimony on Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Humble) HB 3904. HB 3904, in general, is a “clean-up” bill for last session’s HB 22, and aims to clarify and specify the law to match the original intent of the policy. The bill clarifies the treatment of dual credit as an accountability measure and adds in complete coherent industry certification course sequences, students who participate in extracurriculars, and ninth graders who are on track to graduate with their cohort. For K-8, the bill adds indicators accounting for students who participate in full-day pre-K, students who participate in math and literacy academies, and students who participate in extracurriculars. Importantly, the bill limits the domain performance ratings to be no more than 50% reliant on test scores. For the student achievement domain, 40% would be attributed assessments, 20% from high school graduation, and 40% from CCMR. The bill also makes changes to accountability for dropout recovery schools. Individual graduation committees are also continued in this bill.

ATPE did not support the provision in the original bill that allowed the commissioner to order reconstitution of a below-standard campus and implement “strategic staffing”, which was largely based on test performance-based measures of teachers. The Chairman has changed the bill in a committee substitute to eliminate this provision, which is great!

The following bills were also heard in committee:

  • HB 769 (Davis, S., et al., R-West University Place): Would require the board of trustees to receive approval from the commissioner for any severance payment to a superintendent who has been terminated based on malfeasance. Further requires that Foundation School Program funds may not be used to pay the severance and that no severance may be paid to a superintendent who has completed less than 51% of their contract. The committee substitute for the bill clarifies the definition of malfeasance and removes retroactive reporting.
  • HB 1003 (Collier, D-Fort Worth): Would create an admission preference for students who reside in the attendance zone of the school district within which the charter is located. Allows for a separate lottery for these students.
  • HB 1301 (Davis, S., R-West University Place): Would require school districts with enrollment of 10,000 or more to publish monthly web reports on board minutes, plans, and objectives, and quarterly reports on academic achievement and district finances. This bill is aimed at only affecting Houston ISD.
  • HB 2190 (Hunter, R-Corpus Christi): This bill only applies to a charter with an enrollment greater than 200 located in a county with less than 400,000 that contains a municipality of least 300,000 (aimed specifically at a Corpus Christi area school). Allows the charter to admit a child of a school employee. Testimony on the bill was positive and Hunter said that he would entertain the bill being statewide. Chairman Huberty said they could change the bill to impact the entire state as an amendment on the House floor.
  • HB 2406 (Geren, R-Fort Worth): States that a charter may not spend public funds for political advertising or for communications describing measures that are false or could influence voters. Brings parity to charters, as school districts are already subject to this law.
  • HB 2488 (Dutton, D-Houston): States that if a charter school has 5,000 or more students in average daily attendance, it is considered to be a state agency for purposes of Chapter 2161 of the Government Code regarding Historically Underutilized Business (HUB). Just as school districts do, charters would have to comply with provisions regarding HUBs, which would include a commitment to increasing contracting opportunities with these businesses.
  • HB 2991 (Talarico, D-Round Rock): Would require, rather than allow, districts and charters to develop and implement a positive behavior and restorative justice program. Through the program, the district or school can provide an alternative to suspension. Creates, in Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code, a restorative justice coordinating council to assist the agency and school districts in developing restorative justice programs and training.
  • HB 3012 (Talarico, et al., D-Round Rock): Would require that school districts provide students an alternative means of instruction for the classes the student misses while in in-school suspension (ISS) or out-of-school suspension (OSS), and that at least one option should not require the use of the internet. The committee substitute for this bill reduces this requirement to only apply to core courses and states that the instruction doesn’t have to be in-person.
  • HB 3155 (Deshotel, D-Beaumont): Would require municipalities to regard charters as school districts for purposes of zoning, permitting, code compliance, and development. Also applies land development standards to charters. Would prohibit municipalities, counties, or political subdivisions from enacting or enforcing an ordinance that prohibits a charter school from operation.
  • HB 3219 (Allison, R-San Antonio): Would allow campus behavior coordinators to create behavior contracts for students who violate the code of conduct and require their parent to sign the contract as a condition of not taking immediate action against the student.
  • HB 3322 (Burns, R-Cleburne): Would require school districts to post who is responsible for discipline on their website. According to testimony, the bill arose out of a town hall by Senator Kolkhorst.
  • HB 3398 (Johnson, Jarvis, D-Houston): Would require the TEA committee responsible for reviewing accountability appeals to review the challenges by school districts or charters. Requires that the commissioner not limit the challenge if the school district or charter created the inaccuracy and requires that the commissioner correct the rating if the rating assigned was too low.
  • HB 3861 (Bohac, R-Houston): Would allow districts who have been granted program charters by their board and who have contracted with a charter to jointly operate the campus and receive district-charter funding under last session’s SB 1882. Rep. Bohac said that this would only affect Spring Branch ISD and Aldine ISD in the Houston area, as these districts already have such program charters.
  • HB 3941 (Deshotel, D-Beaumont): Would require TEA to develop a process for providers to apply for the authority to operate an online adult high school diploma from for eligible students. Student must reside in Texas, be 19 or older, have been unable to satisfy high school graduation requirements at the normal time, have been unable to meet the graduation requirements of any other program, and meet any other requirements as set out by the commissioner.
  • HB 4209 (Davis, Y., D-Dallas): Would require that charter governing board members are elected and that their terms do not exceed four years. Parents of students enrolled would be able to vote. Rep. Davis said that the bill will be revised.

The Committee will meet again this Thursday for a formal meeting just to vote out bills that have been heard by the Committee so far. Chairman Huberty stated at the end of the hearing that most of the controversial bills have been heard now, but that nearly 600 bills have been referred to them. There are still several weeks of session to go and many more important bill topics to cover! Stay tuned.

Senate Education committee discusses dual credit

Senate Education Committee meeting, April 2, 2019

The Senate Education Committee met Tuesday, April 2, 2019, to consider a handful of bills largely focused on dual credit programs. The committee also voted to advance the following pending bills to the full Senate:

  • SB 1306, which would strengthen the requirement that a school district post the contact information of the campus behavior coordinator.
  • SB 424, which would clarify the criteria for determining the appropriate disciplinary action to be taken against a public school student who is in foster care or is homeless.
  • SB 926, which relates to the operation of a public school transportation system. Sens. Lucio and West opposed the bill, which passed by a 7-2 vote.
  • SB 1001, which relates to the suspension of a student who is homeless from public school.
  • SB 1679, which would ensure that a three-year old who is eligible for pre-K remains eligible when they turn four.
  • SB 1707, which would clarify that a school board is allowed to enter into a memorandum of understanding with a local law enforcement agency for the provision of school resource officers.
  • SB 1451, which would protect teachers from adverse employment consequences for simply reporting student behavior. ATPE supports this bill.
  • SB 2432, which would add harassment to the list of offenses for which a student may be removed from class. ATPE supports this bill.

The committee heard testimony and considered the following items:

SB 591 by Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) would permanently renew an adult education charter school program that provides adults with the ability to earn their high school diploma. This program has already been running as a pilot, and Sen. Watson’s bill would remove the pilot status. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 676 by Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway) would clarify residency qualifications for the purposes of public school enrollment as they pertain to the children of military personnel.

SB 1276 by Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) would provide for better alignment of dual credit courses between the local school district and partnering institution of higher education. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1323 by Sen. Taylor would require certain students who are awarded dual credit to complete and submit a free application for federal student aid (FAFSA).

SB 1731 by Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney) would expand the degree requirements for teacher certification to include education majors. This bill was developed jointly by the deans of several state colleges of education.

SB 2073 by Sen. Taylor would clarify that for districts that provide fewer than 180 days of instruction, the number of work days required of teachers can be reduced proportionately without a reduction in pay. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 251 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) would expand the provisions for a public school to enter into an agreement to provide courses jointly with a junior college.

The Senate Education Committee will meet again Thursday, April 4, to consider a number of bill pertaining to virtual schools. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 15, 2019

It’s been another busy week in the Texas capital. Here’s a wrap-up of this week’s education news highlights from ATPE Governmental Relations:


School finance reform continues to dominate the conversations taking place within multiple committees during this 86th session of the Texas Legislature.

On Monday, Feb. 11, the Senate Finance Committee met to continue its review of state budget proposals. The committee heard from the leaders of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Teacher Retirement System (TRS) before inviting stakeholders to weigh in on the topic of education funding. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified about the need to prioritize funding for teacher compensation, healthcare, and the TRS pension fund. Read more about Monday’s hearing in this blog post.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 12-13, the House Public Education Committee heard two days’ worth of invited testimony from stakeholders about school finance. Witnesses included former chairs of the committee, school superintendents, and representatives of education groups, who shared input on the recommendations of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance that lawmakers are considering whether or not to adopt this session. Again, ATPE’s Monty Exter provided invited testimony, focusing his remarks on proposed changes to the state’s funding formulas, teacher quality considerations, the need for across-the-board salary increases, and concerns about outcomes-based funding. For a detailed summary of the hearings, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

 


ATPE has joined with 14 other groups in releasing a joint policy agenda for charter schools. The coalition that has spent several months looking at current laws and regulations on charter schools includes associations representing educators, school board members, school districts, and community partners. The groups agreed on seven major findings and recommendations for ways to increase the transparency and efficiency of charter schools. Read more about the effort and download a copy of the joint policy agenda in this blog post.

 


SPECIAL ELECTION UPDATE: Voters in San Antonio’s Texas House District 125 went to the polls this week for a special election on Tuesday to fill the unexpired term of former Rep. Justin Rodriguez. Because none of the five candidates vying for the seat received a majority of the votes needed for an outright win, a runoff will be necessary to fill the seat. Those advancing to the runoff will be Republican businessman Fred Rangel, who garnered 38% of the vote, and Democratic former city council member Ray Lopez, who earned 19% of the vote. A third-place finisher trailed by only 22 votes in the close race.

The San Antonio district is one of two whose voters are currently unrepresented in the Texas House of Representatives due to vacancies. Another special election is pending in Houston’s House District 145, where two Democratic candidates, Melissa Noriega and Christina Morales, are awaiting a runoff election on March 5, 2019. Early voting for that runoff election will begin Feb. 25.

 


 

Major Texas education groups agree on charter school policy agenda

This month, 15 major education groups in Texas agreed on a policy agenda for charter schools.

The groups include the Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE), the Texas State Teachers Association, the Texas Association of School Administrators, the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, the Texas American Federation of Teachers, the Texas Association of School Boards, the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association, the Coalition for Education Funding, Pastors for Texas Children, Raise Your Hand Texas, the Fast Growth School Coalition, the Texas Association of Community Schools, the Texas Association of Midsize Schools, the Texas School Alliance, and the Intercultural Development and Research Association.

In Texas, 5.5% of students attend charter schools yet they receive 10% of state funding for education. Because charters cannot levy taxes, charter schools are 100% funded by the state. Each charter school student generates the sum of the statewide average adjusted allotment (basic allotment adjusted using various weights for special populations and circumstances) and the statewide average property tax revenue across school districts. Last session, charters gained access for the first time to $60 million in facilities funding, or about $200 per student.

While charters are subject to the same accountability as traditional school districts, there are many differences in how charters operate. Texas law allows charters to accept and expel students based on academics and discipline, to employ non-certified teachers, and to choose whether or not to employ any counselors or school nurses. Additionally, the majority of charter expansion is under the charter amendment process, which allows for uninhibited growth of charter schools.

The joint policy agenda of the groups listed above focuses on increasing the transparency and efficiency of charter schools through seven recommendations for lawmakers:

  1. Allow for public transparency and input before any new charter amendments are approved in a certain community.
  2. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) should consider creating a standard charter application process and maintain an accurate charter school wait list to correctly document the number of unique students desiring charter admission.
  3. Charters should not be able to admit and expel students based on academics and discipline, as this creates inequality between charters and traditional school districts despite the fact that both receive public funds and are expected to educate all students.
  4. The Commissioner of Education should adopt procedures to analyze and report on the expected fiscal, academic, and program impact of each new charter school in order to maintain efficiency of the entire public school system.
  5. Since charters receive nearly $3 billion in public funds each year, they should publicly disclose their financial dealings, including leases, mortgages, contracts, and bond debt.
  6. Parents need to make informed decisions about where to enroll their children and should therefore have access to information on each charter school’s website such as student rates of expulsion, teacher certification and attrition rates, and the percentage of special education students.
  7. Charters received an estimated $882 million more than the school districts in which they reside during the last biennium. It is important to equalize this funding and require charters to pay into the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) just as districts do in order to create parity.

SBOE assigns committee chairs

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met in committees Thursday, marking the first time in committee for many newly-elected board members. Each of the three standing committees — Instruction, School Finance/Permanent School Fund, and Initiatives — elected a chair.

Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund

  • Chair Tom Maynard (R-Florence)
  • Vice-chair Lawrence Allen (D-Houston)
  • Pat Hardy (R-Fort Worth)
  • Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio)
  • Donna Bahorich (R-Houston)

Committee on Instruction

  • Chair Sue Melton-Malone (R-Robinson)
  • Vice-chair Pam Little (R-Fairview)
  • Georgina Perez (D-El Paso)
  • Aicha Davis (D-Dallas)
  • Marty Rowley (R-Amarillo)

Committee on School Initiatives

  • Chair Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands)
  • Vice-chair Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-Converse)
  • Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin)
  • Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood)
  • Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville)

The School Initiatives Committee heard testimony on revisions to the application to become a charter school. Committee members heard testimony asking for increased clarity with regard to placement and notification of new charter schools, most of which come as a result of amendments to existing charter arrangements.

Witnesses asked to require charter holders to provide information to school boards in the communities they will impact, hold hearings to gather public input, post information in the Texas Registry, and require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to provide written responses to school district impact statements regarding the negative local impacts of charters, such as increasing recapture.

Committee members acknowledged the negative impact of charters on school district funding, and listened to testimony to the massive impact charters have had on local recapture. . The board has the authority to review and reject new charter applications, but the board’s authority is less clear with regard to revisions and amendments — which TEA staff suggested are the sole purview of the education commissioner. Member Ellis asked for suggestions for providing additional information to the public through the charter application process through a single online location that would not require members of the public to dig through multiple databases. Member Cortez suggested requiring additional notifications be made to local legislators.

The board will return Friday morning to conclude its week-long meeting.

From the Texas Tribune: Are charter schools private? In Texas courts, it depends why you’re asking.

Texas charter schools are sometimes private and sometimes governmental — a legal framework that has helped them avoid costly lawsuits.

by Emma Platoff, The Texas Tribune

May 7, 2018

istock.com

In 2006, in Dallas, a construction company sued a charter school, alleging that the school stiffed workers on a building contract to the tune of a couple hundred thousand dollars.

Eight years later, in Houston, a third grade teacher sued the charter school where she worked, alleging that it had falsified test scores, that it failed to properly provide for students with disabilities and that mold in her classroom had made her sick.

Their claims did not make it very far.

The teacher couldn’t sue the charter because, the Texas Supreme Court said, it’s not a government entity. The construction company couldn’t sue, the same court said years earlier, because it was.

Questions about the legal status of charter schools — which receive taxpayer money but are privately run, usually by nonprofit corporations — are broad, existential ones in Texas, where disputes over school funding are among the Legislature’s most contentious. But those categories take on intense practical significance in the courtroom, where the rules that govern private- and public-sector employers vary widely. In two significant Texas Supreme Court cases over the last decade, charter schools and their lawyers have sidestepped lawsuits over employment and contract issues by playing both sides of that fence. In some cases, charter schools can’t be sued because they’re government entities; in others, they’re immune because they’re private.

That difference is intentional. Charter schools were designed, as former Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett wrote in the construction company opinion, to “operate with greater flexibility than traditional public schools, in hopes of spurring innovation and improving student achievement.”

Because of that aim, charter schools are not subject to all the same laws as their traditional counterparts. That legal structure helps charter schools retain their “freedom and flexibility,” said Joseph Hoffer, who argued successfully for the charter school in the Houston case.

But some advocates point out that the rules for charter schools seem to target the wrong things.

The Whistleblower Act — which did not allow the teacher to sue — is perhaps the best example.

“How is it innovative to ensure that your employees are silenced if you are doing something inappropriate?” questioned Monty Exter, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators. “I would think that you would want to have those internal watchdogs looking out for kids.”

“When do the rules apply to you?”

There are a lot of unresolved legal issues surrounding charter schools, which are still relatively young educational institutions. Most of them center, as former State Board of Education Vice Chair Thomas Ratliff puts it, on the question, “Is a charter school a public school or a private entity?”

“It’s not that easy,” Ratliff said. “The answer, in a lot of cases, is both.”

In 2015, lawmakers said that for the purposes of the law, charter schools should be considered government entities when the lawmakers say so — and only then.

Some of those “when”s are common sense. Charter schools are subject to the Texas Public Information Act and the Open Meetings Act. Their teachers can be covered by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. And they enjoy, for the most part, the same protections and immunities from lawsuits that traditional public school districts have, said David Anderson, who worked as the Texas Education Agency’s general counsel for two decades.

In other instances, charter schools are considered private; in many cases, they’re protected from suit. That’s a good thing, Hoffer said.

“Remember,” he said, “since they’re publicly funded, we want to protect the public funds from being attacked.”

But traditional public schools subject to whistleblower claims are also publicly funded. Employees who claim retaliation under the law can win monetary damages or even get their jobs back. That’s not the case with charter schools, and advocates say it’s unfair that those schools are given essentially all the protections of a school district while also enjoying some benefits of private employers.

“You have a charter school that can, in one breath, say, ‘Hey, we’re a public school, don’t sue us,’ and in the next say, ‘Hey, we’re not a public school, don’t sue us,’” said Lorna McMillion, who defended the would-be whistleblower in Houston. “If you’re a charter school who wants to get funding like a public school and wants to be treated like a public school, when do the rules apply to you and when do they not?”

The public-private dance has saved charter schools, in several cases, from lawsuits — like those filed by the third-grade teacher (the charter school’s lawyer dismissed her as a “serial litigator” — the TEA looked into a “testing security” complaint but determined it did not merit a full investigation) and by the construction company (the charter school’s lawyer in that case said the school followed its written contract). In the case of the few charter schools not run by nonprofit corporations, the legal waters are even murkier.

Lindsey Gordon, general counsel for the Texas Charter Schools Association, said the organization supports the Legislature’s current framework and protested that charter schools are not harder to sue than school districts. Every lawsuit, she argued, succeeds on its individual merits.

But would-be litigators have at least some options for suing a traditional public school that they can’t use to sue charter schools. McMillion said the Texas Supreme Court has made it impossible to sue charter schools using the most common legal avenues.

Meanwhile, charter schools have to follow some of the laws that many educators argue most directly impede schools’ ability to innovate. Charter schools are subject to the same test-based accountability system as school districts.

The legal exemptions, advocates said, seem not to foster creativity but rather to help the non-traditional schools avoid costly litigation.

“Charter schools are straddling the fence, on both sides, to make sure they have an advantageous legal position where it is harder to get them,” sad Evan Lange, a Dallas workers’ rights attorney who recently lost a case to an area charter school. “They take the benefits of being private and the benefits of being government. They’re choosing both.”

The Legislature has, in the past, added legal restrictions to charter schools when the need presented itself. In 2013, the Legislature brought nepotism laws for charter schools in line with those for other public schools. The change came after the Texas Education Agency investigated several potential abuses where charter school board members hired family members and paid them generous salaries.

The Whistleblower Act might very well go that way, said Thomas Fuller, a North Texas lawyer who works mostly with charter schools. While the law continues to develop on the relatively new species of school, there may be some “curious outcomes,” he said.

“It left a lot of us scratching our heads, too,” Fuller said. “I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see a number of those [bills] filed in the next session making charter schools subject to the Whistleblower’s Act.”

But in the meantime, advocates warn, the ruling could deter other charter school teachers from reporting abuse they see at work. Just this year, Michael Feinberg, the founder of one of the country’s most successful networks of charter schools, was dismissed following claims that he sexually abused a student in Houston in the 1990s. Cases like Feinberg’s make clear why it’s important for school personnel to feel safe bringing forward such allegations, advocates said.

And while the Legislature can go back and correct oversights that arise, it will be difficult for lawmakers to predict every possible legal fight that could ensnare a charter school — meaning more oversights are near-unavoidable.

“Not a good place to be an employee”

The peculiar legal status of charter schools has a particular impact on employees.

Teachers in traditional public schools enjoy a suite of protections that is not mandated for charter school teachers — including, for the most part, year-long contracts that grant teachers due process rights, Exter said. Texas charter school teachers don’t all have to be certified teachers, meaning they’re more easily replaced. They’re easier to fire in the middle of the year. And if they’re fired, they have even less recourse for challenging the decision.

And unlike teachers at private schools, charter school teachers don’t get the shield of the National Labor Relations Act, which contains some of the nation’s strongest protections against unfair labor practices. Texas charter schools — unlike other states’ equivalents — are not included in that protection because they are considered arms of the government. Texas is, so far, the only state whose charter school teachers are not protected by that act.

That’s thanks to a ruling that came down in March. The case made a difficult scenario worse for teachers in a state that’s already “not a good place to be an employee,” said Lange, the Dallas workers’ attorney.

Charter school supporters might argue that more freedom for the schools allows them to get rid of bad teachers and bring in better ones.

But in a sector of public education with far less oversight than traditional school districts, it’s easy to see how a teacher could find herself fired and out of options. A public school teacher who speaks out against a school practice she disagrees with — STAAR testing, say — is protected from government retaliation by the First Amendment.

But, Lange said, a charter school employee, who enjoys no such protection, could be fired more easily. Their schools, meanwhile, can in one breath claim the privileges of being public and in the next enjoy the freedom of the private sector.

“They literally want to have their cake and eat it too. That’s all charter schools do,” Lange said.

Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/04/20/texas-teachers-employee-benefits-dead-last-retirement-funding/.

 

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Public Education committee looks at A-F implementation

The House Public Education Committee met Wednesday for an interim hearing on the implementation of school finance, accountability, and bullying legislation, in addition to an update on the impact of Hurricane Harvey on the public school system.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez kicked off testimony with an update on money given out as part of a two-year hardship grant program under House Bill (HB) 21, as well as additional facilities funding for charter schools. Associate Commissioner Monica Martinez provided a briefing on new autism and dyslexia grant programs under the bill. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) noted that the hardship grants as well as the autism and dyslexia grant programs will expire without additional legislation. Additionally, the bill contained a one-time payment into the Teacher Retirement System (TRS).

House Public Education Committee interim hearing April 18, 2018.

A representative from Houston ISD testified that the district faces a $150 budget deficit this year and a projected $320 million deficit in the next fiscal year due to the district entering recapture. The district submitted a number of recommendations, including increasing funding weights for bilingual, English as a second language (ESL), and special education students, restoring the state’s share of funding to 50 percent, increasing transportation funding, and doing away with the recapture system.

A number of witnesses testified with respect to the hardship grants, warning that some small districts could face closure without further action to extend the grants or create an alternative source of revenue.

Lopez next updated the committee on the implementation of Senate Bill (SB) 179, or “David’s Law,” which addresses bullying and cyberbullying. The law requires TEA to work with the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to develop a website with resources for school districts. Huberty noted that more work must be done to inform districts, students, and parents of the various provisions of the new law.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath provided another update on the impact of Hurricane Harvey on the public school system. A total of 60 counties fell under the governor’s disaster proclamation, and 1.5 million students were in an affected school district. Morath noted that while the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been an important source of long-term recovery funds, the agency has been slow in making funds available.

The agency has launched a variety of mental health services, and provided accountability flexibility to affected districts. This includes waivers from 5th and 8th grade math and reading exams for all students affected by the storm. At the school and district level, the agency collected information regarding full and partial facility closures or relocations, student displacement, and staff displacement. According to Morath, at least 112,000 students were displaced statewide. Those three sets of data will be used to develop a rule to determine whether an accountability rating is issued to a particular school. Morath indicated a proposed rule will be published in the Texas Register sometime in early June, and the number of exempt schools could number over a thousand.

Morath suggested the final rule for Harvey-affected schools will be “substantially more generous” than the rule developed following Hurricane Ike in 2008. State Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) told Morath she would like to see a rule that provides for entire districts to be exempt from accountability ratings as well, though Morath offered no indication whether the agency is inclined to move in that direction. Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) asked TEA to help develop recommendations for additional revenue sources for public education. Chairman Huberty warned TEA to leave that work to legislators.

The storm caused some $970 million worth of damage to public schools. Morath estimated lawmakers would be faced with the need to pass a supplemental appropriation to cover an associated decline in maintenance and operations (M&O) property values of roughly $500 million to $1 billion.

Houston ISD Board of Trustees President Rhonda Skillern-Jones testified about the storm’s devastating impact on the state’s largest school district, and the associated financial difficulties. The district asked for a one-year accountability pause, such as was provided after Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, for all schools in a county that fell under the governor’s disaster declaration. State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) asked how the district’s ten worst-performing schools were impacted, all of which are labeled “improvement required” under the current state accountability system and face imminent sanctions. The district indicated those schools sustained damage as well, and contended that a pause would not prevent those schools from being subject to potential TEA takeover, since a decision on each of those schools is required by April 24.

Finally, the committee heard testimony on HB 22, which made changes to the forthcoming “A through F” accountability system. TEA released a framework of the new system last week. Morath summarized that framework, and testified that cut points are being based upon last year’s performance and will be set for the next five years. District A-F ratings will be released in August, while individual campuses will continue to be labeled “met standard” or “improvement required.” Campus A-F ratings will be released in August 2019.

Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers testified that the local accountability system provided by HB 22 could be promising. Under the first domain, Chambers suggested changing the weights for STAAR; college, career, and military readiness (CCMR); and graduation rates from 40/40/20 under the current framework to a more even 33/33/33 or 35/35/30. Chambers also lamented the lack of indicators other than STAAR for grades three through eight under the new system, which represents a regression from the previous system.

Chambers asked that a greater weight under the CCMR indicator be given to students who complete a concurrent sequence of career and technical education (CTE) courses. Critically, Chambers cautioned that policymakers will be disappointed with the results of any accountability system until resources are aligned with what is asked of students and schools.

Spring Branch ISD Executive Director of Accountability and Research Keith Haffey similarly testified to the complete reliance on STAAR at the elementary level, and suggested considering additional metrics. One such metric could credit schools that fully transition English language learners (ELLs) to English. Additionally, one of the flaws of the new system is that the scoring limits credit given to students who take college pathway assessments such as the PSAT, SAT, or ACT, which acts as a disincentive for districts to offer these valuable exams. Huberty engaged Morath and Chambers in a conversation regarding the feasibility of providing a state appropriation to cover the cost of providing these assessments.

Dee Carney, an associate with school finance firm Moak, Casey and Associates, introduced model runs under the new accountability system. According to the models, most schools are unlikely to earn an “A” rating under the first domain. Carney testified that the additional of non-test indicators helps raise scores. The remainder of the day’s testimony largely focused on the system’s heavy reliance on the STAAR test.