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The charter industry is turning its lobbyists loose in Texas. Despite the large number of charters in the state (more than 800), the lobbyists want more. More. More. $$$. The Legislature is now debating changes in state law to remove obstacles to charter entrepreneurs and corporations that want more locations. Texas doesn’t need more charters: Charters in Texas are regularly outperformed by public schools.
The Houston Chronicle reports:
Companion bills filed in the Texas House and Senate, seeking to do away with hurdles facing charter schools that try to open or expand, have bipartisan support but will move the sharp debate over their rapid growth into the legislative arena.
Supporters of Senate Bill 28, called the Charter School Equity Act, say it would level the playing field for new and existing charter schools across the state by preventing local governments from treating them differently from traditional public schools and by relaxing state controls.Advocates for traditional public school districts say the playing field is tilted in favor of charter schools and the way to level it would require more state oversight and local input, not less.
Among other changes, Senate Bill 28 and its accompanying House Bill 3279 would require open-enrollment charter schools to be considered public school districts for the purposes of “zoning, permitting, (subdivision) plat approvals, fees or other assessments, construction or site development work, code compliance, development” and any other type of local government approval.
This would reduce the “red tape” that charter schools face from local authorities after being approved to operate by state officials, the bills’ sponsors say.
It also would make it impossible for cities to act in ways that were advocated by the superintendents of the two largest school districts in Bexar County in 2018, when they suggested San Antonio could use its zoning authority to geographically restrict charter expansion to prevent financial damage to traditional public schools.
“We think charter schools, and open-enrollment charter schools, are good for the state of Texas. That’s the bottom line here,” said the Senate bill’s sponsor, Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, in a recent online news conference. “We are simply putting charter schools on the equity they should have. No city should treat charter schools differently than how they treat somebody else…”
“Right now communities have almost no say on whether a charter school comes in or not,” said Kevin Brown, executive director of the Texas Association of School Administrators.
Brown, who led Alamo Heights ISD as superintendent for 10 years, said leveling the playing field should include requiring charter schools to seek voter approval for funding their expansion and to elect their boards.“Anytime a charter school is being considered in a local community, that local community should have a large amount of input,” Brown said. “And right now they just don’t have that. So I think there should be much more transparency at the local level.”If anything, the SBOE should have more input, not less, on any expansion that would result in public school districts sharing taxpayer funds to educate students, Brown added.
Woods, the Northside ISD superintendent, said the bills, in their current form, ignore the public process that all public school districts must go through to fund and build a new campus. Planning takes years, and voters decide if they want to fund it, Woods said. School districts then have to work with cities and counties to assess the impact of construction in certain areas and get the project approved.
“We elect school board members, city council members and county judges to make decisions locally because they know the community,” Woods said. “And this (legislation) is just another example, in a long line of examples, where local control seems not to be prioritized in the Texas Legislature.”