Texas Senate panel set to vote on school reforms

Mar 25, 2013 by

Sen. Dan Patrick

Sen. Dan Patrick

The Senate Education Committee is set to vote Tuesday on a wide-reaching overhaul of the state’s charter school regulations.

A bill authored by the panel’s chairman, Dan Patrick, R-Houston, would loosen the state’s cap on the number of charters that can be authorized at any one time and create an independent state commission to approve new charters and regulate existing ones.

As originally filed, Senate Bill 2 also would have provided facilities funding for charter schools, but Patrick said he scratched that provision in an attempt to make the bill more palatable to House members.

The revised bill also dropped a provision to require traditional public school districts to sell or lease unused buildings to charter schools for a nominal price. Patrick told committee members Thursday that he would like charter schools to have the first right of refusal on such buildings as they become available but would no longer stipulate that school districts must turn them over.

He told panel members he “knew it was a lot to ask” to eliminate the charter cap – now set at 215 – and the bill now would just relax it by a set amount each year. It would also allow unlimited approval of out-of-state charters with proven track records.

KIPP charter co-founder Mike Feinberg said the bill would be a big win for charter schools across Texas.

“SB 2 is groundbreaking legislation,” Feinberg said. “After 18 years of charter schools in Texas, the Legislature finally understands that charter schools are more than an experiment. This is not just a bright flash in the night, but a movement that is here to stay.”

The facility funding and access to public school buildings would solve one of the largest problems plaguing charter operators, who currently receive about $900 less per student in state funding, Feinberg said.

100,000 on waiting lists

Despite the state-mandated cap, charter school enrollment in Texas continues to swell, with 150,000 children currently enrolled and another 100,000 on waiting lists.

But during testimony last month, representatives from teacher and principal associations spoke against the bill, saying the Legislature should restore last session’s $5.4 billion in cuts to public education before expanding the charter system.

Patrick said he hoped the toned-down version would win favor with lawmakers in both chambers. In the past, he has secured widespread support from fellow senators for legislation that died in the House.

The bill also includes strong language to make it easier to shut down poor-performing charter schools, Patrick said.

The state revokes only about three or four charters per year, said David Anderson, an attorney for the Texas Education Agency.

“There is an incentive (on the part of charter operators) to play it out and to get to the beginning of the next school year,” Anderson told committee members. “That makes it harder to close down that charter.”

But Patrick said he also wants to make sure charters that successfully educate former high school dropouts are not caught up in a tougher closure process just because their test scores do not pass muster. He teared up during the committee meeting when students testifying on a separate bill spoke about how their charter schools helped them get back on track after they left traditional high schools.

“You have inspired me that I’m going to fight for the two of you and the thousands like you,” he told the students. “We’re not going to lose.”

State Senate panel set to vote on school reforms – Houston Chronicle.

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