After Surprise Attack, Resistance Mounts to Charter Conversion of Neighborhood Schools

On Saturday Rep. Mike Villarreal, Democrat of San Antonio, thought he could bypass resistance to his proposal to convert neighborhood campuses into charter schools.  Just one day after assuring Texas AFT and others that he would not offer such an amendment to SB 738, on Saturday afternoon he did exactly that, without notice of his change of heart. By Monday afternoon, however, under mounting pressure from his colleagues in the Bexar County (San Antonio) legislative delegation and in the House Democratic Caucus, Villarreal pulled back and retooled his proposal to make it apply only to school districts in Bexar County, on his home turf.  But that inflamed his hometown colleagues even more, and the House session on Monday night ended with a point of order against Villarreal’s version of SB 738 awaiting a ruling from House Speaker Joe Straus.

Though scaled back to affect only one county, Villarreal’s slightly revised plan still would establish a beachhead in state law for a truly bad idea. His SB 738 is offered in the guise of parental empowerment, but it would really only empower charter operators eager to take over neighborhood campuses.

Once established as the operator of a local campus that has been rated “unacceptable” academically for two years in a row, the charter holder would have a three-year contract to run the school as it sees fit, regardless of the performance ratings the school earns under the charter regime. Faculty at the school would have no contract protections; Villarreal’s language entitles them to no more than an interview with the private charter operator to seek to regain their jobs after the charter takeover. By the way, though invariably described by Villarreal in floor debate as either “recognized” or “exemplary” or “high-performing,” charter holders under his bill actually could have a merely “acceptable” academic record and still be eligible to take over up to five neighborhood schools in Bexar County.

As Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, Democrat of San Antonio, told Villarreal in debate on Monday, his proposal invites charter operators to “prey on the desperation of these parents to make sure that their children are properly educated.” In fact, under a similar law in California, unscrupulous charter operators have run high-priced campaigns to secure parents’ signatures on a petition “to improve their neighborhood school”—a petition whose fine print actually called for the takeover of the local school by a specific charter operator. On Tuesday the resistance to Villarreal’s plan will continue in the House, unless the Speaker rules in favor of the pending point of order and lets this misbegotten bill die.