AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Lawmakers on the House Public Education Committee had a list of more than two dozen bills to get through Tuesday, most addressing possible changes to requirements of public charter schools.
This comes as part of the effort to reshape how Texas funds public schools could lead to both traditional school districts and public charter schools gaining more dollars per student.
“Some of those bills would protect the flexibility and autonomy that public charter schools have to be innovative and respond to their students and families,” Starlee Coleman, CEO of the Texas Charter Schools Association, said.
The open-enrollment public charter schools must get permission from the state to open and operate or work within a local school district. They also get state funding and have limited spots. Public charter school leaders say their schools and traditional schools are meant to be different. Austin Achieve, for example, opened around seven years ago.
“We wanted to be a public school option for kids who don’t have the resources to go to a private school or move to a different neighborhood,” Austin Achieve Founder and CEO John Armbrust said.
“The trade that charter schools make is that we get more flexibility under the law in exchange for being accountable to taxpayers and the public,” Coleman said.
Those who criticize charter schools, however, say more restrictions are needed and say there currently isn’t enough accountability.
“If they’re going to take public money, they need to adhere to the same restrictions, the same public scrutiny that public schools do,” Ken Zarifis with Education Austin said.
“We’re very encouraged that the pushback on charter schools is taking more of the narrative this session than previous sessions,” he added.
Several bills could tighten requirements of public charter schools and some could help them with their model. One of the bills addressed by lawmakers would require that students who live in the local school district must make up the bulk of any charter school’s enrollment.
“If a student’s there and they want to go in, they should be able to accept them,” Zarifis said.
Discrimination is prohibited in the admissions policy for all charter schools and in most cases, there must also be a description of a lottery process, according to the Texas Education Agency. The lottery process must be used when there are more applicants than there are spaces.
Another bill, which is supported by charter schools, would change the current setup for city zoning and permitting processes for charter school developments.
“Right now, there are different rules that govern charter schools and sometimes they’re more restrictive,” Armbrust explained. “Just treat charters as you would ISDs.”
There is also legislation that would require school districts and public charter schools to develop a program where there may be an alternative to suspension.
Both sides have different visions on what it means to level the playing field, but ultimately want a fair system for students. Lawmakers earlier this year also planted their efforts in overall school finance and property tax reform, rather than prioritizing ‘school choice.’