Texas AFT opposes proposed state rules favoring charter takeovers; AND Deadline approaching for union scholarship

Texas AFT opposes proposed state rules favoring charter takeover of public schools:  The commissioner of education is trying to use state rulemaking to tilt the playing field more than ever in favor of contracting out the operation of public schools to privately run charter management organizations.  Texas AFT stands resolutely opposed to such maneuvers, and today we forced a hearing to be held by the Texas Education Agency to air our concerns.

The matter at hand is implementation of a new state law granting incentives to school districts to partner with outside entities to operate individual district campuses. The new law (Texas Education Code Section 11.174) was promoted in the Legislature as a vehicle for innovative educational programs run not just with charter operators but also with other kinds of partners—a non-profit organization with a history of success in school turnarounds, for instance, or a high-performing neighboring school district, or a university-based provider.

Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro said that Commissioner Mike Morath’s proposed implementing rules improperly imply that the outside contractor must be a state-approved open-enrollment charter, operating with near-total exemption from important Education Code standards that safeguard students, educators, and parents—or must behave like one. He also noted the draft rules set up an obstacle-strewn procedure for non-charter entities to become eligible for these partnerships, while allowing automatic eligibility for charter operators.

As a result, Malfaro said, valuable options could be thwarted, including the Johns Hopkins University model used effectively to turn around a troubled Austin ISD high school and the community-school model used successfully at several other Austin ISD campuses.  His testimony was strongly reinforced by the president of our local affiliate in Austin ISD, Ken Zarifis of Education Austin, and by state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin).

Martha Owen, Texas AFT general counsel, also faulted the proposed rules for failing to follow parts of the statute that uphold employee rights and protections at a partnership campus and that require consultation with employees about the specific provisions of the partnership contract.

Testimony from a number of parents, school districts, and other educator groups sounded the same themes—with these draft rules, the commissioner is overstepping his authority and attempting to smuggle into state policy his own ideological preference for charter operators and privatized management of public schools. Whether and how Commissioner Morath will respond to the hearing is unclear, but it certainly served notice that his draft rules will be contested if they don’t change substantially.

Scholarship deadline is January 31: The deadline for the annual Texas AFL-CIO Scholarship Program is Wednesday, January 31, for high school seniors from affiliated union families to apply for a one-time grant that has been raised by 50 percent this year to $1,500. The application is available at www.texasaflcio.org/scholarship​.
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