Tag Archives: charters

SBOE Update: Board seeks more authority over charter expansion, ATPE advances Master Teacher rule fix

The State Board of Education (SBOE) is meeting this week for the last time this calendar year. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has been attending the virtual meetings and reporting on them here on our ATPE advocacy blog. Here are the latest developments:

Wednesday highlights:

On Wednesday, November 18, the board began its day with a presentation by Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. Read more about the discussion between the board members and commissioner in this blog post from yesterday. Also on Wednesday, the board debated its legislative recommendations for 2021, and set the Permanent School Fund (PSF) distribution rate for the next two-year state budget.

The board held a preliminary vote to set a distribution rate of 4.18% from the PSF for the 2022-23 budget biennium, directing $1.17 billion per fiscal year and $3.34 billion for the biennium to fund public schools. Member Tom Maynard (R-Florence), who chairs the board’s Committee on School Finance/PSF, noted that the Legislature will ask the board to contribute as much as possible due to the financial strain on the state caused by the recession. In response to questions about why the board can’t contribute more than it does, Maynard explained that the nature of endowments is that they are limited in how much they can distribute while protecting the corpus and maintaining growth of the fund.

TEA staff updated the board on the results of the SBOE’s legislative recommendations for the previous session in 2019. Among the items included in the board’s recommendations last session were changes to PSF governance to address conflicts between the SBOE and the School Land Board (SLB), which manages the fund’s real estate assets and is housed within the General Land Office (GLO). The 86th Texas Legislature passed legislation in 2019 designed to mitigate those conflicts and requiring the two boards to meet together at least once a year.

SBOE Chair Keven Ellis presides over the November meeting.

The board then considered its legislative recommendations for the upcoming 2021 legislative session, beginning with readopting recommendations that had not been addressed in 2019. The recommendations comprise legislation the board would like to support.

The board approved a legislative recommendation introduced by Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) to expand the SBOE’s authority to approve or reject charter school expansion amendments. The board currently has veto authority over the approval of new charter chains, but no authority over the expansion to additional campuses once a charter chain is approved. The commissioner is the sole authority who decides whether charter chains can open additional campuses; the current commissioner has allowed charter chains, including those with failing accountability ratings, to expand exponentially. The SBOE did not approve a recommendation, however, calling for a moratorium on new charter chains.

Perez also proposed a recommendation on reducing the number of high-stakes tests to only those that are required under federal law, as well as removing A-F grades used in the state’s accountability system for schools. ATPE has advocated for removing harmful labels from the accountability system that oversimplify educational factors and only serve to stigmatize schools and communities. Unfortunately, the SBOE did not adopt this recommendation today.

The board also did not approve a number of recommendations Perez proposed that explicitly expressed support for protecting the health and safety of educators and students by granting local districts the flexibility to make determinations about educational delivery, as well as requiring that local educators and parents have meaningful input into reopening decisions.

Members then resumed discussion on curriculum standards (TEKS) up for final adoption at this month’s meeting. The board will vote on the revised TEKS for health, physical education, and science during their Friday meeting.

Thursday highlights:

The board divided into its three standing committees Thursday morning, with the School Initiatives, Instruction, and School Finance/PSF Committees holding separate hearings.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifies before the SBOE Committee on School Initiatives.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified before the Committee on School Initiatives Thursday morning in support of a new administrative rule that will allow Legacy Master Teachers to retain their certificates without expiration. ATPE’s Governmental Relations team approached Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff in the summer of 2019 with concerns raised by Legacy Master Teachers whose certificates were scheduled to expire as a result of language in House Bill (HB) 3. ATPE worked with agency staff and other stakeholders to develop a solution that would allow Legacy Master Teachers, including Legacy Master Reading Teachers, to continue teaching in their current positions. The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) approved the final rule in October of 2020.

By law, all rules passed by SBEC must be reviewed by SBOE, which holds veto authority that is rarely executed. Wiggins thanked TEA staff, SBEC members, and House Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) for their work to ensure that the expertise of Legacy Master Teachers remains in the classroom. After Wiggins’s testimony, the committee advanced the rule to the full board with a favorable recommendation. The rule will go into effect pending a favorable review by the full SBOE on Friday.

ATPE discusses teacher workforce issues with Senate committee

The Senate Education Committee met Wednesday morning, Oct. 14, in Austin to discuss teacher workforce and adult education topics. Members of the committee met in person and heard testimony from invited witnesses who spoke to the committee virtually. The committee did not hear public testimony.

Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) said each committee member was tested for COVID-19 prior to the meeting. Members on the dais were separated by clear plastic dividers and some wore face coverings. Chairman Taylor said the committee plans to hold one more meeting before the 87th Texas Legislature meets in January.

The committee first discussed the Goodwill Excel Center, which is a public charter school system serving adults between the ages of 18 and 50. There are six Excel Center campuses across the state that provide non-traditional adult students with a flexible school setting so that they can earn high school diplomas or their equivalent, as well as industry certifications. During the 2019 legislative session, ATPE supported House Bill (HB) 1051 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), which made permanent the Goodwill Excel Center and codified its best practices. Because of issues regarding how the current public school accountability system “fits” the Excel Center model, Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff said the agency is developing an alternative evaluation regime that addresses differences in educating adults.

In addition to the Excel Center, there are several independent school districts across the state that serve adults up to age 25, in addition to the state-run Windham School District, which also offers adult education to incarcerated persons up to age 25. Windham staff testified their district serves 27,000 students per year, offering courses that lead to a high school diploma or career and technical certification. Unfortunately, Windham is subject to proposed TEA budget cuts that ATPE advocated against, citing potential harm to at-risk and disadvantaged student populations. The committee additionally heard from the San Antonio College Empowerment Center, which also offers adult education services.

The committee then discussed the recommendations of a working group on teacher workforce issues convened by the lieutenant governor. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter was one of three representatives of the group invited to provide testimony today. The work group pointed out the gradual accumulation of confusing and often duplicative training requirements placed on educators. The requirements found in both Texas statutes and rules have become excessive and repetitive, preventing educators from pursuing training opportunities that best support their individual needs.

Monty Exter testified virtually before the Senate Education committee, Oct. 14, 2020.

The group recommended the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) create a statewide clearinghouse of training requirements that includes recommendations for best practices and frequency of training. The group said the state should empower local school boards to take information from that clearinghouse and adopt those requirements on a an annual basis. ATPE’s  Exter testified that the state should streamline professional development to eliminate duplication and confusion. Exter also pointed out there is a wide variety of requirements for recordkeeping and reporting, and suggested records should be retained locally, with districts allowed to provide them to TEA upon request in order to reduce paperwork.

The work group is preparing to release a 70-page document containing consensus recommendations approved by a large number of education stakeholders, including ATPE. The committee lastly heard from a number of educator preparation providers (EPPs) regarding the importance of preparing teachers for online learning.

ATPE submitted written testimony to the committee that offered a number of recommendations on the broader topic of teacher workforce issues. ATPE recommended the legislature ensure funding is in place to maintain any raises educators received as a result of House Bill (HB) 3 last session and fully fund mentoring and induction programs. ATPE recommended lawmakers also fund continuing professional education initiatives and maintain the freedom of educators to choose the professional development programs best for them. ATPE also recommended the state provide tuition assistance to increase diversity in the teacher workforce and lower the financial burden of attending high-quality undergraduate EPP programs.

TEA gets federal funding to grow charters and approves one controversial charter chain’s expansion

Mike Morath

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath approved the controversial expansion of IDEA, one of the state’s largest charter school chains, to 12 new campuses in 2021.

The commissioner announced his decision last week despite 18 education organizations, including ATPE, calling for a moratorium on the expansion of taxpayer-funded charter school chains while the state faces a $4.6 billion budget deficit caused by the economic recession. This recession threatens the funding of existing public schools, which must contend with both the economic conditions and educating 5.4 million students during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The commissioner denied 15 of the 27 new campuses proposed by IDEA, but approved two new campuses in Odessa, two in La Joya, two in San Antonio, two in El Paso, two in Fort Worth, and two in Lake Houston. This will increase IDEA’s maximum enrollment by 15,000 students. Over the last four years, IDEA has expanded to 62 new campuses. Funded by Texas taxpayers, the charter chain has since doubled its budget, including spending on lavish executive salaries, private jets, and a luxury suite for the San Antonio Spurs.

Charter school chains differ from traditional public schools in the way they are funded and governed. While charter chains are run by private, unelected boards and are often tied to for-profit, out-of-state charter management organizations (CMO), they are funded almost entirely by state tax dollars. Independent school districts (ISD) are funded in part by the state and in part by local taxes. This means that charter chains cost the state more money per student than ISDs, to the tune of millions of dollars, depending on the size of the chain.

Under U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a longtime proponent of school privatization, the U.S. Department of Education has placed an increasing focus on diverting federal tax dollars to charter chains. On Friday, the department announced it had designated more than $131 million in federal funding to expand charter chains nationwide, $33 million of which will go to expanding charter chains in Texas. The largest tranche of this federal funding went to the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The department awarded more than $23 million to the TEA for charter expansions and $10 million to the Texas Public Finance Authority, which allows charter chains to obtain public financing through taxpayer-backed bonds.

ATPE and other education organizations have pointed out that it is irresponsible to pour scarce tax dollars into expanding these privately run business ventures while the state faces a $4.6 billion budget shortfall that could result in less state funding for local schools — potentially leading to layoffs or other negative consequences to the public education system.

In September, the State Board of Education (SBOE) vetoed three of the eight new charter school chains TEA proposed to establish in Texas. The elected SBOE has the authority to determine whether a new chain is allowed to open for businesses in Texas. However once a new chain is established, the unelected commissioner has sole discretion over future expansions. The Texas Legislature could make charter chains more accountable to voters and taxpayers by expanding the SBOE’s veto authority to charter chain expansions as well.

 

SBOE vetoes three proposed charter chains

The State Board of Education (SBOE) formally vetoed three applications to operate new charter school chains in Texas on Friday. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) had recommended eight new charter chains for approval at this week’s SBOE meeting.

The board has veto authority over new charter school operators. Members voted to veto Heritage Classical Academy in Houston and Rocketship Public Schools in Fort Worth. The board tentatively approved CLEAR Public Charter School in San Marcos at Thursday’s meeting, but reversed course and voted to formally veto the application Friday morning.

The board narrowly approved five of the eight charter chains recommended by TEA: Brillante Academy in McAllen, Doral Academy of Texas in Buda, Learn4Life Austin, Prelude Preparatory Charter School in San Antonio, and Royal Public Schools in San Antonio.

ATPE joined with numerous public education organizations this week in asking the board to veto all of the proposed new charter chains while Texas faces a $4.6 billion budget shortfall due to the economic recession driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and the volatile oil and gas market. This echoes a request ATPE and public education organizations made earlier this year to the commissioner of education to place a moratorium on charter chain expansions, which do not have to be approved by the SBOE.

SBOE hosts April meeting via videoconference

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) met virtually Thursday for its scheduled April meeting. In compliance with the governor’s social distancing executive order, the 15 members of the board met via Zoom videoconference to consider an abbreviated agenda spread over Thursday and Friday of this week.

The SBOE’s April 16, 2020, Zoom meeting was livestreamed to the public.

The board began Thursday by consolidating career and technology education courses as required by the legislature, which includes aligning graduation requirements and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards.

Members then turned their attention to second reading and final adoption of TEKS for a new African American studies ethnic studies course. The board has been working on this course over the last few meetings and has expressed great interest in this project. Several witnesses offered written and video testimony with suggestions for this course, such as including authors James Baldwin and Toni Morrison as additional examples of important figures. This led to a debate over the appropriate balance of providing enough examples versus being overly prescriptive, as well as the process through which the currently proposed standards were developed. After spending several hours debating and amending the TEKS, the board voted to tentatively approve the course with an effective date of August 1, 2020.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff updated the board on federal Perkins funding, which the U.S. Department of Education has allowed the state to extend during the COVID-19 outbreak. The state’s application will be submitted by April 29.

SBOE Chair Keven Ellis speaks during the April 16, 2020, Zoom meeting

Members concluded the morning session with an update on current TEKS standards under review. The brunt of testimony focused on health education standards. The board’s discussion of health and physical education TEKS scheduled for this week has been postponed to May due to logistical hurdles presented by COVID-19 social distancing requirements. Board Chairman Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) said the agency is tentatively targeting the end of the second full week of May (May 14-15) or the beginning of the third week (May 18-19) for discussion, but acknowledged that it’s difficult to predict when the agency will have the educator feedback necessary to present to the board. The review of high school biology, chemistry, IPC, and physics TEKS scheduled for March and April has also been postponed. This will in turn delay the review of the remaining high school science courses, as well as K-5 and CTE courses for science credit. Agency staff acknowledged that the transition to having TEKS review work groups meet virtually has posed a significant challenge and further delayed the process.

The board separated into its three standing committees for the remainder of the day. The Committee on School Initiatives discussed updates on the Generation 25 application for charter schools. A total of 96 entities showed up for this year’s initial informational meetings. Of those, 22 submitted applications by the January 21 deadline, which is 11 fewer than the previous year. TEA advanced 16 applications to the review stage. The commissioner will propose applications to the SBOE in August for the board to either approve to disapprove in September.

Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) questioned the need for creating additional charter schools — which are funded 100% by the state and reduce the money available to local independent school districts — at a time when the state faces significant funding challenges as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Cortez asked TEA staff if the commissioner had yet to respond to a letter from education organizations including ATPE calling for a moratorium on new charter schools. TEA staff indicated they would follow up and share the commissioner’s response with the board.

The committee also reviewed board rules determining the criteria for the board’s veto of new applications and its ability to revoke a charter or place it on probation. Members discussed whether to amend its rules to place additional requirements on new charter applications, and whether it could do so without handcuffing its authority.

Members of the Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund (PSF) discussed the health of the PSF in the wake of market disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The PSF is the state’s investment account that helps fund public education and is managed by TEA under the oversight of the SBOE. The fund lost $2.7 billion in March, dropping to $31.7 billion from $34.4 billion. Despite this loss, agency staff reassured the board that the fund will be able to recover due to the long-term nature of its investment strategy. The agency said it will likely be another month before numbers will be available to compare the performance of the PSF to that of other peer funds.

The full board will gather virtually at 9:00 a.m. Friday to conclude its April agenda.

ATPE joins call for moratorium on charter expansions

The Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE) has joined with 17 other education organizations in sending a letter urging Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to place a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools across the state during the coronavirus pandemic.

A broad group of education organizations including ATPE emphasized the critical need to sustain state funding for public schools under House Bill (HB) 3 passed during the last legislative session, and pointed out that increasing charter school enrollment, which is funded 100% by the state, would place an additional and unnecessary burden on state funds that will be desperately needed to sustain public education during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

There are currently 94 charter expansion amendments on file with the Texas Education Agency (TEA), which could cost the state an additional $90 million per year if approved. Charter school enrollment is still well below the current maximum capacity approved by TEA of 558,728. If charter schools were to reach the maximum capacity allowed by TEA, the cost to the state would be estimated as an additional $250 million per year.

In asking Morath to deny or significantly limit the approval of charter expansion amendments in 2020, education organizations are requesting the commissioner consider the following:

  • Charter schools should serve special needs students in at least the same proportion as the state average;
  • special education and English language learner (ELL) students in charters should be served by appropriately certified educators;
  • charter schools should show compelling need and public support for new campuses;
  • charter saturation in a given district should not negatively impact the fiscal health of the district;
  • the track record of charter expansion applicants should be successful;
  • charters should not send Texas taxpayers’ money to an out-of-state charter management organization (CMO); and
  • charter expansions that would open in 2020 should be denied in the absence of a compelling reason otherwise.

The authority to approve or deny charter expansions rests solely with the Texas commissioner of education. You can read the full text of the letter signed by 18 education organizations including ATPE here.