SBOE Preview: New Charter Schools up for Consideration

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The State Board of Education (SBOE) will begin its regular meeting in Austin on Tuesday, June 28. The packed agenda is dominated by an issue that Texas AFT monitors very closely: the review and approval of new charter school campuses. We want to preview this topic for you now, as it is a major focal point in stopping the expansion of education privatization in Texas.  

Texas AFT is opposed to privatization in all its forms, and this includes the approval of new charter schools and the expansion of existing charter operators. Texas is 30 years into a charter experiment that promised to drive innovation that then would be carried back to the primary education system to improve all schools. So far, none of this has happened; instead, what we have is an inefficient shadow system of schools with less transparency and public accountability than traditional public school districts. 

While individual parents and students feel their needs might be better met in a charter school versus their neighborhood campus, there are some distressing facts about the overall system that must be pointed out when considering new campuses. 

State funds to charter schools have almost quadrupled since fiscal year (FY) 2011 to over $4 billion in FY 2023 — about 20% of all state aid for public education — and are projected to receive almost $8.5 billion in state funds over the 2024-2025 biennium. This is shocking on its face but even more so when you consider that charters enroll only about 8% of all students. This is a steep rise in costs for one subset of campuses when the schools that educate 92% of all Texas children have seen a decline in state spending, and new funding has been held hostage by the governor for voucher schemes.  

While the SBOE has the authority to approve new charter operators, charter school growth is effectively unlimited because the commissioner of education may approve new campuses via expansion without notice or consideration of the public or a vote by any elected representatives. For example, in 2022, the SBOE approved only one new charter operator while Commissioner Mike Morath approved 67 new charter campuses through the charter amendment process. In total, 953 new charter campuses have been approved via expansion between 2010 and 2022.  

This is a wholly undemocratic process that subverts the right of a community to govern the direction of education for its students, and these new campuses siphon students and funds away from local public schools (only for many of those same students to return to the public school system within a few years). 

While the statewide funding implications are massive, we also look at how teachers are impacted on these campuses. Teachers at charter schools are not required by law to be certified, except for special education and bilingual teachers. The 2023-2024 school year saw the largest increase in the number of uncertified teachers entering the classroom; this category of new teachers now eclipses all other pathways. Some quick statistics for you: 

  • A staggering 59% of new hires in charter schools were uncertified compared to 31% in school districts over this period.  
  • The average percentage of teachers at charter schools with five or fewer years of teaching experience is almost double that of district teachers (32.8% for charters and 63.2% for districts).  
  • The teacher turnover rate for charters is 40% higher than that of districts.  

Our teachers’ working conditions are our students’ learning conditions. The compounding result of these conditions means poorer student learning outcomes. Looking at the most recent statewide A-F accountability ratings in 2022, approximately 10.8% of charters (20/185) were rated “Not Rated: Senate Bill 1365” indicating a D or F rating, while only 2.1% of public school districts (21/1022) were rated “Not Rated: Senate Bill 1365.”  SB 1365 was enacted during the pandemic to allow the commissioner of education to assign a “Not Rated” designation to a district or campus under certain conditions, including if the district or campus is subject to a disaster declaration. 

There are certainly more reasons to object to the charter system, such as lack of transportation options and services for students with special education needs, but these points alone articulate a need to slow or halt this rampant expansion of charter campuses until the system that serves the majority of Texas students is adequately funded and supported.  

Nevertheless, the state marches forward with new charters. 

Each year, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) considers applications from proposed new operators throughout the state. These applications, due in the fall, are externally vetted by contract reviewers. If the applicant meets a certain quality threshold, the applicant is granted a capacity interview in April. This is a public webinar in which SBOE members and TEA staff can ask clarifying questions regarding the applications. Based on the applications and these interviews, the commissioner will recommend finalists to be considered by the SBOE for approval at its June meeting.  

The five applications slated to go before the board for consideration next Wednesday are: 

Each applicant will have an opportunity to present themselves to the SBOE and the board members will ask questions. A preliminary vote will be taken on Wednesday and the final vote will be on Friday.  

The board will also consider–  

  • a schedule for future instructional materials quality rubric development 
  • advanced mathematics pathways 
  • career and technical education course development 
  • continuing education for school board members 
  • English language proficiency standards 
  • new and expiring innovative courses, and  
  • a public hearing on the current instructional materials review. 

Hotline readers can look forward to a full recap of this heavy agenda in next week’s edition. 

Below, please find detailed analyses on the fiscal impact that each one of these new charter schools would have on the public schools near them:

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