The Three Way Attack on Texas Public Education; Part Three: Charter Schools and Vouchers
by Dr. Jerry R. Burkett
Originally Published: July 24, 2011
Texas has some of the most generous or liberal laws on charter schools in the country. Quite simply, if you want to open a charter school, you can, and information on how to do so is easily obtained online. The state actually makes it quite simple for applicants. To establish an open-enrollment charter school, all you need is tax exempt status. This could include a government entity (a town or school district, i.e. Westlake, Texas), a non-profit corporation (YMCA), or an institution of higher education (a college or university). This would also include a church that can file a separate exemption with the Internal Revenue Service.
Charter schools are very popular in Texas, even though charter schools are infants compared to Texas public schools. According to the Texas Charter School Association, the largest such association dedicated to charter school advocacy in the nation, there are approximately 120,000 students attending 390 charter schools in Texas. The TCSA also reports that there are around 56,000 students on charter school waiting lists. All of this growth has occurred in a short amount of time; the first charter schools were chartered in 1995.
In April, the Texas Senate voted to expand the cap on the number of charter schools that operate in the state, adding approximately ten additional charters per year. By June, Senate Bill 1 extended the permanent school fund to charter schools, allowing charter schools to maintain a bond rating and guarantee bond payments to charter holders.
However, the track record for charter schools in the state has been mixed, with a small number of schools doing very well academically, but many charter schools have trailed traditional public schools in student test scores. In addition, at least 15 charters have been revoked, rescinded, or denied renewal by the state, mostly for financial reasons.
Charter schools are public schools. They are publicly funded and are held to the same accountability measurements, in the form of state standardized testing, as other Texas public schools. A major difference between the two is that charter schools are not held to the same certification or hiring practices as public schools. In other words, charter school teachers do not have to be certified or college educated to teach in a public charter school, according to state guidelines. Of course, each individual charter school can establish their own requirements, but the state standard is quite low when compared to their public school counterparts.
Why then would the state work so vigorously to take more money from public schools to fund mediocre charter schools? Was the movie, Waiting for “Superman” that impactful? Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston must have thought so, he authored the bill.
Then, there were the school voucher bills that seemed conveniently to escape any of the public education committees to be discussed by the Government Efficiency and Reform Committee. House Bill 33, sponsored by Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, would have diverted $5,281 per student to a private school accepting state vouchers. If the bill had passed this legislative session, it would have been the broadest voucher system in the nation.
Currently, there are 1,299 religiously affiliated private schools in the state of Texas, supporting 246,000 students. Most of these schools are members of TAAPS (Texas Alliance of Accredited Private Schools). When voucher bills were proposed in the Texas State Legislature this session by Miller and Sen.Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, groups including the Texas Home School Coalition, James Leininger’s Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Liberty Institute (the Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family), the Houston Area Pastor Council, and the Americans for Prosperity all supported the bills for voucher programs.
During a time when Texas public education funding was being debated and cut to meet the needs of a shrinking budget, it seems apparent that legislators were working diligently to present ways to increase the numbers of charter schools in the state, protect their funding, and shift public funds to private schools. It would seem, on the surface level, when one examines the legislators and supporters of these bills, that these movements were religiously or culturally motivated. A case in point, of the 246,000 students attending private schools, over 115,000 are Caucasian students. However, one charter school recently came under fire for their connection to Islamic culture.
Harmony Charter Schools, which operates 33 campuses in the state of Texas, recently came under fire by a pro-family organization known as the Texas Eagle Forum, for the school’s ties to the country of Turkey. State Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, requested an investigation of Harmony. He said Harmony teaches Islamic culture, and “you cannot distinguish Islamic culture from their religion. Where there is smoke, you should look into it.”