Today, the SBOE finally approved six of the eight new charter schools approved by the commissioner of education. The Board vetoed three of the applicants—a new record for this Board—which has only vetoed three charter applicants in the past several years. The vetoed charter operators are Clear, Heritage Academy, and Rocketship.
We have champions like Gina Perez, Ruben Cortez, and Aicha Davis to thank for consistently choosing to fight for our public schools by voting against all of the charter applicants. They listened to community members, including 20 education advocacy organizations that sent a letter to the SBOE asking the board to veto all eight new charters, which would cost the state an estimated $88 million more than if students enrolled in school districts, and at a time when Texas faces a major budget deficit.
The vote came after about two-thirds of the nearly 100 registered witnesses were cut out of the process when testimony was limited to only three hours on Thursday. This silenced many opponents of these new charters, including parents and community members who had a petition with over 700 signatures asking the SBOE to reject a San Antonio-targeted charter to be located near already highly-rated schools. The Board never heard from this group, public school officials, or many other parents and community members who signed up to oppose these charters being built in their communities.
This result highlights the continued need to significantly improve the charter application review process and reign in the power currently wielded by the governor’s appointed commissioner of education—Mike Morath. Charters with checkered financial and ethical histories were still approved in the middle of a major budget shortfall. There is no other example in Texas state government where an unelected appointee has the ability to encumber Texas taxpayers and future legislators to the tune of millions and millions of dollars with limited public input. As it stands now, Texas spends $3.1 billion per year on unaccountable charter schools. As SBOE board member Gina Perez put it, “It is NEVER a good time to divert taxpayer funds from public schools that serve ALL students, but it’s shameful to do so during a pandemic/recession.”
The SBOE also spent a lot of time this week listening to witness testimony and discussing the health education TEKS for Texas. Despite days of testimony from many witnesses and advocacy organizations like our friends at the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), the SBOE ultimately rejected proposals to teach students in public school health classes that everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. The rejection of these proposals is especially tragic because research shows six in ten LGBT students say they don’t feel safe at school because of harassment and bullying they face simply because of who they are. This additional misstep by the SBOE is another example of why we need to elect more SBOE members that will fight for the rights of all Texas children and fight to support real public schools.