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Teachers Groups Raise Concerns About Charter School Bill

Allan Elementary school will be the first campus to host the IDEA charter school program starting in the 2012-13 school year.
Nathan Bernier/KUT News
Allan Elementary school will be the first campus to host the IDEA charter school program starting in the 2012-13 school year.

Some teachers organizations are lobbying Texas House members to stop the progress of Senate Bill 2, a bill that would expand the number of charter school licenses in Texas.  

SB-2 would gradually add 90 charter school licenses in Texas by the year 2019.  

Last week, the Senate approved the bill 30-1. State Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) was the only senator to vote against it. 

"In my district, most public schools receive less funding per student than charter schools statewide. Additionally, public schools have more rules and state regulations than charters. Unfortunately, SB 2 does not adequately address those two important issues. Until the playing field is leveled and school funding is addressed, I cannot support further charter expansion," Senator Nichols said in a statement.

Some teachers associations are also expressing concerns – specifically with a provision allowing school boards to create district charter schools to serve up to 15 percent of an entire district’s student population. In Austin, that would be as many as 13,000 students.

State Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) sponsored the bill. He says some school district superintendents told him they want the same flexibility as open-enrollment charter schools.

“I’m giving them that flexibility," Patrick said.  "That if they want to establish a charter campus which gives them more flexibility than they have under education code, they can do so.”

Under the bill, campus charters would have the same rules as open-enrollment charters. Those campuses wouldn’t be required to abide by the majority of provisions in the Texas Education Code.

“We think that’s is just a way to allow campuses to not have to have class size limits, not require certified teachers and other quality standards that we think are important to a child’s education," Brock Gregg with the Association of Texas Professional Educators said.

ATPE is one of four state teachers groups that wrote a letter urging lawmakers to block the bill.

“What happens to the rights and benefits that are in the education code for that teacher? There’s no requirement for a contract, no salary schedule...Our concern is the teachers could find themselves totally without rights and benefits,” Lonnie Hollingsworth with the Texas Classroom Teachers Association said.

The bill would also allow school districts to make at least one feeder pattern system. That means students could go to an in-district charter school from elementary through middle and high school. It also allows any campus that receives the lowest performance rating to be made a charter.

David Dunn with the Texas Charter Schools Association agrees with Sen. Patrick. He says local school districts should have the same flexibility as open-enrollment charters.

“In terms of teacher contracts, class size, school year, some of those things are some of the very flexibility that school districts are using to better meet the needs of parents," Dunn said. "And if local school districts want to use some of that same flexibility to better meet the needs of parents and students then we’re all better for it.” 

Currently, school districts can create a campus charter if parents and teachers petition the school board, or if the charter school is opened on a new campus. 

“This new creature that is called a district charter – which looks just like a campus charter – can be decided and imposed upon a campus simply by the designation of the school board. So there’s no choice for educators or for parents," Hollingsworth said.

Sen. Patrick says many specifics regarding teacher contracts or student enrollment should be decided on a local level. 

Note: This story has been updated to include Senator Nichols' statement regarding his no vote for SB 2.

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