One of our union’s perennial priorities is fighting efforts to privatize our public education system, whether through the expansion of charter schools or new voucher schemes.
Send a Letter: House Bill 1348, SB487, HB3610, and SB28 in the Texas Legislature are bad bills. If passed, HB 1348 would transfer all power from our elected officials to out-of-state charter school chains in deciding where charters can be located in our communities. HB 3610 would even give charters new tax breaks!
Charter Schools in Texas
Charter schools cost Texas taxpayers $3.6 billion each year. What that money buys is a publicly funded, privately administered second school system that siphons funds from our public schools.
Behind the marketing messages from these largely out-of-state charter chains are some startling realities:
- Charter schools drain money from public school districts. Not only do charter schools eat up $3.6 billion state funding, they draw students from independent school districts. These districts — with plenty of fixed costs —cannot reduce their expenses to the same degree as lost revenue. That means cuts to academics, programs, and staff.
- Charter schools are unaccountable. Recent charter school scandals have shown taxpayer money being used for CEO perks like luxury sports lounges and private jets. (Just check out the #AnotherDayAnotherCharterScandal hashtag on Twitter.)
- Charter schools aren’t held to the same standards. Charters are often exempt from the same academic standards, health and safety rules, and civil rights requirements as our public schools.
- Charter schools cherry-pick students. Despite their vaunted success metrics, charter schools use loopholes and arbitrary “discipline” requirements to leave students with special needs and other vulnerable students out in the cold — or send them back to the public school system.
- Charter schools lack elected oversight. Charters unaccountable largely because they operate with less oversight than our public schools — and even less if House Bill 1348 passes. Charters are governed by self-selected boards, members of which often reside outside of Texas. Charter expansions, meanwhile, are approved by the appointed commissioner of education.
Town Hall: Transparency in Texas Charter Schools
In December 2020, we invited State Reps. Terry Canales, Vikki Goodwin, and Mary González for a discussion on the problems with charter schools and the bills they planned on filing in the 87th Texas Legislature to hold this secondary school system accountable.
Fact vs. Fiction: Texas Charter Schools
Charter school proponents and industry insiders tend to use the same talking points about the benefits of charters. At best, these tend to be half-truths. At worst, they’re outright lies and distortions of data. If you’re talking about charter schools, you’re likely to hear at least one of the following myths.
Myth: Texas charter schools get better academic results than public schools
Public school districts routinely outperform charters on state STAAR tests in all subjects, which you can see in Texas Education Agency data. More meaningfully, the four-year graduation rate for district high school students is higher than charters, while the dropout rate for charter schools is nearly three times higher than public school districts.
Myth: Texas charter schools promote educational equity for students
Despite their claims, charter schools do not serve all students. Texas state law (Texas Education Code 12.111 (a)(5)(A)) allows charters to exclude from enrollment students who have any discipline history, no matter how minor the offense. Charters also serve an average of 27% fewer students with special needs compared to public school districts.
Those students who are accepted by charter schools may actually be getting less personalized attention. Many charters have larger class sizes than school districts.
Myth: Texas charter schools are ‘more accountable’ than public schools
Public school districts are governed by a board of trustees elected by the community in which they live. Charter schools are governed by self-selected boards of directors that are not accountable to local taxpayers or voters — with many of those board members living outside the community or even the state.
Because charters are privately administered, taxpayers have much less insight and oversight of how their public dollars are spent. Despite claiming to have “waitlists” of students wanting to enroll, charters spend significant amounts on marketing and advertising; if you’ve watched the World Series, Super Bowl, or prime-time programming recently, you may have seen ads for IDEA Public Schools.
Myth: Texas charter schools are more innovative than public schools
Charter schools have been sold to parents and communities as incubators for innovation. As mentioned above, the results for our students do not bear out.
Teachers with bold ideas to engage students are not likely to stay long at charter schools that pay an average of $4,582 less per year than school districts. In fact, teachers at charters have almost double the turnover rate of districts.
Myth: Texas charter schools have a “waitlist” of students ready to enroll
Charter schools have long claimed to have a “waitlist” of hundreds of thousands of students, and they have used that claim to argue for additional state funding. But those self-reported numbers are unverified by any neutral third party. And even those self-reported numbers are much lower than previously stated, according to the TEA.
Case Study: IDEA ‘Public’ Schools
Let’s look at one example that illustrates the broader problem with charter schools: the IDEA Public Schools charter chain, which receives $498 million in state funds each year, despite repeated spending scandals.
IDEA’s charter schools enroll 63,200 students in Texas. In 2020, the chain made its largest expansion request ever and received approval for 12 new campuses — with capacity for 15,000 additional students.
But what have they used that $498 million in public funding on?