Only Charter Schools Sitting at Negotiating Table? No Educators?

Charters that take everyone’s tax dollars but are no longer subject to all stakeholder input = taxpayers are no longer stakeholders. In Texas, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has been re-drafting its charter application process and requirements and included only pro-charter organizations in “stakeholder” meetings.
This communication came from a source in Texas:
TEA is moving quickly on approving a new charter application for 2019 (Generation 24) applicants.

The required briefings for new charter applicants are scheduled for October 5 and 12.  There has been no public notice regarding input into the revised application, although TEA has consulted with many charter organizations.

We know that some of the application changes TEA is making will streamline completion of the application itself and may not be of concern, but it is a concern that there was not a process to gather input from all stakeholders.

In response to my inquiry about what organizations TEA had consulted with regarding the new application, TEA told me that it had conducted “Third party analysis in June involving Gov/Legislative Leadership offices, SBOE chair, TCSA, ExcelinEd, NACSA, current operators, recent applicants, and past applicants as well as looking at other state applications.”

It appears that TEA did not consult with ISDs or education/teacher organizations.

TEA also told me that it did not issue a public notice requesting public input into the application changes because the changes do not necessarily require a change in rules.

The process is especially important this year given the report issued by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (and ExcelinEd, Texas Aspires, and Texas Business Leadership Council) that calls for weakening the charter application review process in order to increase the number of approved charter applications:

TEA staff stated that they submitted recommendations to the Commissioner last week.

They have scheduled the required charter applicant briefings on October 5 and 12 –so this new application is on a fast track.
Yes, school choice supporters feign like it’s a community-based, inclusive movement, but they typically act otherwise. So, AFT teachers in Texas have suggested a list of recommendations that they would have made if they had been invited to the table with the charters. They are:

Maintain a rigorous charter application review process:

  • Continue to conduct a rigorous charter application process that includes external review to ensure that new charter applicants have the capacity and experience to deliver high quality education to students and to maintain fiscal responsibility and accountability over state funds.Note that a report issued in June 2018 by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, ExcelinEd, Texas Aspires, and the Texas Business Leadership Council recommends a less rigorous charter application process, elimination of the veto authority of the State Board of Education, and no external application reviewers.

Provide additional transparency and public notice:

  • Provide school districts in areas within the geographic boundary of each new charter school with at least 18 months advance notice before the opening of a new charter school after the State Board of Education has given its final approval.
  • Post notices on the TEA web site about all public meetings held by charter applicants as part of the charter application process at least 15 working days before the hearing is conducted in order to ensure that the public has an opportunity to attend.

Currently, the only required public notice is placement of an advertisement in one newspaper of general distribution within the geographic boundary of the proposed charter, which can include dozens of different counties.  

  • Notify each school district Superintendent, School Board, and legislative elected official within the geographic boundary proposed by the charter applicant about any public hearing conducted by the applicant as part of the charter application process at least 15 days prior to the hearing.
    Currently, no notification is required except for one ad in one newspaper.
  • Notify the Superintendent in the affected district when the actual location of the new charter school is determined.
    Currently, no notification is required.

Provide additional accountability:

  • Require the new charter applicant to identify the specific school district where each new charter school will be located, the general neighborhood where the charter will be located, and all ISD and charter schools already located within that neighborhood with enrollment and academic ratings for each.
  • The specific siting information is critical so that school districts can provide the Commissioner with accurate information about the impact of new charter schools on the district as required by state law; so that that charter applicants can provide more relevant data about the need for a new charter school; and so that the Commissioner can consider whether it is an efficient use of state funds to locate an additional charter school in that neighborhood considering schools that are already operating in close proximity to the proposed new charter school.

Presently, charter applicants are allowed to identify large multi-county geographic boundaries for the location/attendance zone of new schools.  As a result, data provided about need may not be specifically relevant to the final site of the school. The applicant must provide a smaller list of districts in the “primary attendance boundary”, but that may also include multiple school districts. It is difficult for districts to determine the impact of the new charter when completing the “statement of impact” form because the charter applicant is not required to identify the actual district or neighborhood where the new charter will be located.

  • Include all budget documents in the version of the charter application that is posted on the TEA web site.

Detailed budget items by year are no longer included in the charter application.  Only a one-page financial plan financial summary is included in the budget section.  However, narratives regarding the expenses for the start-up year and sources of funding and budget assumptions are included.

  • Provide a complete resume in the application for each Board member of the charter sponsoring organization and proposed paid staff members.

Currently, the application only includes a “biographical affidavit” for Board members which provides little information about professional and educational background by year. The affidavit is primarily focused on the Board members perspective regarding service on a charter board.  Examples of questions include: What is your understanding of the appropriate role of a public charter school board member? Describe any previous experience you have that is relevant to serving on the charter school’s board. What is your understanding of the school’s mission and guiding beliefs?

Ultimately transparency and accountability is in the best interest of charter schools, because if they don’t get their fiscal and academic house in order it will eventually lead to their demise sooner than they think. I say this as a former charter board member, donor, instructor and parent.

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