SBOE Uses Veto to Stop Controversial Royal “Public” Schools Charter Applicant
The founder of controversial Harmony Public Schools, which is one of the largest charter school chains in Texas, recently applied to open several new charter schools in Austin and the Alief area of Houston by August 2020 under the name of Royal Public Schools. The Commissioner of Education approved this application despite a poor track record and many outstanding concerns. Fortunately, the elected State Board of Education (SBOE) has the ability to veto a charter applicant.
The Royal application stated the “public” school’s total enrollment of students with special needs would be only 7%- while nearby schools serve up to 17%. Royal would serve a total of only 25% English Language Learners – while nearby schools serve up to 93% ELL! Most alarming was Royal’s plan to NOT enroll any student with a discipline history, even for minor issues. It would cost real public schools and taxpayers $30 million per year for this charter to serve only its selected students.
Although this applicant claimed it wanted to serve students in “failing” schools, none were located in the proposed locations the charter would serve. At the SBOE Committee on School Initiatives meeting, which preceded the full board meeting, over 24 witnesses appeared to testify against this charter operator. Along with Texas AFT were a series of parents and other concerned citizens, including two parents who had experience with this controversial applicant in Alabama. Austin and Alief ISD officials were also present to counter misinformation about their successful districts that the charter included in its application. After hearing from this long and diverse group of opponents, the committee voted to reject the application on a 3-2 vote. The full board would have a chance to veto the charter the next day.
At the full board meeting, the entire board was able to ask questions of the Royal Public Schools CEO. However, many of the answers provided by this CEO actually raised more questions about the level of preparation and the true motivation behind this charter operator. After many questions and a long debate, the board voted to veto this controversial operator by a vote of 8-5. This experience demonstrates how important it is to have elected oversight by the SBOE of charter applicants. It also serves to show exactly why the pro-charter lobby has and will continue to fight to strip these elected officials of this important oversight function.