Charter Schools

Text says, "Protect Our Public Schools"

One of our union’s perennial priorities is fighting efforts to privatize our public education system, whether through the expansion of charter schools or new voucher schemes.

Key Facts: Charter Schools in Texas

Charter schools cost Texas taxpayers $3.6 billion each year. What that money buys is a publicly funded, privately administered second school system that siphons funds from our public schools.

As charters continue to grow at a rapid rate, it is important to ensure they are transparent and accountable to taxpayers. That transparency includes making sure Texans know the trust cost of this second school system:

  • Charters receive more per-pupil funding than public school districts — as much as $1,000 more per pupil — and are among the fastest-growing part of the state budget, costing the state $3.6 billion per year or $7.2 billion per budget biennium.
  • Charter schools are projected to receive $8.8 billion in public funds over the 2022-2023 biennium.
  • Over the past 10 years, charter school enrollment has increased an average of 11% each year.
  • A single charter chain — IDEA Public Schools — has received $3 billion in state and federal funding since its founding in 2000.
  • Charter schools lack the transparency and oversight of a locally elected board of trustees that oversees and manages a budget and whose operations are open and subject to public scrutiny. That is why we see so many financial scandals among charter schools’ self-appointed boards.
  • The rapid growth of charter schools is alarming because the percentage of charter student enrollment (7%) allows risky, unaccountable charter schools to get 7% of the total backing capacity of the Bond Guarantee Program (BGP) of the Permanent School Fund (PSF), the fund all districts borrow from in order to execute bonds approved by voters. Charter schools now enroll 20% or more of students in the largest urban areas.
  • The cost of charter schools correlates to the rising cost of “recapture” because the state alone funds charter schools. Essentially, the state robs the poor taxpayer to pay rich, scandal-prone charter operators who fly on private jets and enjoy luxury suites at the San Antonio Spurs games.

Stopping rapid charter growth via charter campus expansion in Texas will allow more funding to stay in our neighborhood public schools.

Transparency in Texas Charter Schools

In December 2020, we invited state Reps. Terry Canales, Vikki Goodwin, and Mary González for a discussion on the problems with charter schools and the bills they planned on filing in the 87th Texas Legislature to hold this secondary school system accountable.

Charter Schools Can Be Privately Operated

Unlike traditional public schools, Texas law allows charter schools to outsource school operations to for-profit, private entities. These private operators dictate local policies through their charter. The lack of regulation and oversight has resulted in many instances of fraud and self-dealing among charter operators, with some also serving as vendors of overpriced curriculum, facility leases and building, and even school uniforms. 

When a charter school is operated by a for-profit entity, there is a profit incentive to keep the cost of instruction low. As a result, researchers have found evidence that charter schools discriminate against student populations that require more classroom resources, such as emergent bilingual students and students requiring special education services. 

The Trouble with Charter School Facilities

Unlike public schools, which must seek voter approval for new facilities bonds, charter schools need only apply to TEA to get the backing of the PSF. That’s why you see charters in brand new, modern facilities while real public schools are forced to continue to use dangerous and unhealthy portable buildings despite increasing local tax revenues.

  • The Bond Guarantee Program of the Permanent School Fund guarantees bonds issued by a school district or charter school. The difference for charters and public schools: If a charter defaults, the PSF is on the hook instead of local taxpayers.
  • Public schools typically hold several public meetings and consider traffic and zoning concerns before determining if and where to build a new facility. Charter schools need not conduct any of this thoughtful preparation toward growth when the only goal is growth to sustain the operator.  
  • HB 21 (85th Legislature) allocates $60 million annually to fund payments to eligible charter schools to lease an instructional facility, pay property taxes imposed on an instructional facility, pay debt service on bonds issued to finance an instructional facility, or pay for any other purpose related to the purchase, lease, sale, acquisition, or maintenance of an instructional facility. School districts can discharge the costs of instructional facilities only through local tax revenue after voter approval. 

Case Study: IDEA ‘Public’ Schools

Let’s look at one example that illustrates the broader problem with charter schools: the IDEA Public Schools charter chain, which receives $498 million in state funds each year, despite repeated spending scandals.

IDEA’s charter schools enroll 63,200 students in Texas. In 2020, the chain made its largest expansion request ever and received approval for 12 new campuses — with capacity for 15,000 additional students.

But what have they used that $498 million in public funding on?

Questionable Spending

Private Jets & Hotels

IDEA charter schools execs approved $15 million to lease private jet while under TEA investigation and even defended the action as “a prudent management decision.” 

In late 2021, the IDEA chain filed a lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to block the release of records explaining why the charter school system purchased a hotel in Cameron County valued at over $1 million. 

CEO Scandals

Golden Parachutes

Since 2015, the IDEA charter chain has seen multiple executive-level staffers resign or exit the company following allegations of improper or reckless use of taxpayer dollars. 

Included in this long list is CEO Tom Torkelson, who left IDEA on a taxpayer-funded golden parachute of $900,000 after being accused of improper spending.  

Lack of Transparency

High-Priced Ads

Including filing suit against the Texas attorney general to avoid releasing public information on how IDEA spends public tax dollars, IDEA also has a long record of ignoring open record requests for amounts spent on costly television advertising during the Super Bowl and World Series, as well as ongoing daily television advertising, billboards along IH-35, and on social media and phone apps.  

Action Needed

Stop the hemorrhaging of our public education dollars to more charter school expansion by eliminating the commissioner of education’s sole authority over expansion of additional charter campuses by existing charter holders.

Support the 21+ pro-public education organizations that back a Charter School Transparency Agenda.

Stop attempts to limit local oversight of city councils to protect our neighborhoods and limit the right for the public to have a say over development issues such as traffic control, building height, density, and other neighborhood concerns.

Stop any attempts to give charter schools even more advantages to purchase facilities with no elected or voter oversight.

Join Our Fight: If you’re a Texas school employee (K-12 or higher ed!), we invite you to join our union & our fight to thrive. Join online today.