AUSTIN (KXAN) — At an exhibit hall, students, parents, and friends cheered, waiting for IDEA Public Schools first set of graduating seniors in Austin to announce where they’d be attending college.
There are 83 seniors in IDEA Montopolis’ graduating class, the first group to graduate from the IDEA schools in Austin. All of those seniors attending this Austin charter school have been accepted to college.
Some of the students have accepted offers to schools locally like Austin Community College, University of Texas, and Texas State University. Others have plans to head out of state to institutions like Howard University and the University of Chicago.
IDEA explains that of these graduating seniors, 95 percent will be the first in their family to attend college. At the college signing day, students cheered, family members cried, and seniors revealed their college choices.
“I’m excited that one I got accepted to UT nursing school, so I’m overly excited, I did get to follow my dream to become a nurse practitioner– that’s all I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl was to become a nurse,” said IDEA Montopolis student Jacquelynn Walker. Walker will be the first in her family to attend college.
At the ceremony school leaders implored the students to complete their degree once they get to college.
Tom Torkelson, the founder of IDEA Public Schools said: “College signing day is amazing, it’s when the whole community comes and they bear witness to two things: one that our seniors have applied to college and gotten in, secondly that they are committing to attending a four year school in the fall.”
Torkelson explained that while all of IDEA’s graduating students have been accepted into college, only two out of every four graduate college. He said that number is higher than the rate in Austin, where he says around 1 in 13 kids from low-income schools graduate college.
Torkelson said IDEA’s goal is to get kids to a high paying job within three months of graduating from a college or university.
IDEA Montopolis gets support from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, which offered scholarships to four of the graduating seniors.
How does it work?
IDEA says they help students get accepted to college by focusing on college preparedness and having teachers partner with students’ families.
The Montopolis seniors are the 13th graduating class from IDEA Public Schools, which started in 2000.
In total, IDEA has 79 tuition-free public schools that serve more than 45,000 students in Texas and Louisiana. Their point of pride is that since their first graduating class in 2007, all of their seniors have been accepted to college and universities.
By 2022, IDEA is hoping to grow their schools significantly. They plan to operate 173 schools in 10 regions, educating 100,000 students. In the Austin area, IDEA has 10 schools and plans to expand to 26 schools by 2022.
Out of all the IDEA schools, more than 85 percent of their students are low income and more than 33 percent are English Language Learners
To get into these schools, students and their families apply.
“We invite any interested family to apply to our lottery, where students are randomly selected and accepted through a random lottery that is transparent and open to the public,” IDEA Public Schools said.
There are no entrance exams, so anyone can apply and all students are eligible. As a charter school, IDEA does not charge tuition.
There are plenty of other charter schools in the Austin area and across Texas. Austin Independent School District says that they don’t get information that would allow them to track the number of students that go to AISD after previously attending a charter school. But according to AISD’s numbers from the past couple of years, roughly 1,500 AISD students left each school year to go to charter schools.
Charter schools get permission from the state to operate or work with local school districts. They offer a different format and flexibility relative to public school districts and are asked to remain accountable to the public.
But some criticize charter schools, saying there aren’t enough checks on how the schools are operating.
There have been efforts statewide to shift how Texas funds public schools, leading to a handful of state bills calling for possible changes to requirements for charter schools. Some of the bills would tighten requirements of public charter schools, for example requiring local students to make up the bulk of a charter school’s enrollment.