TSTA testimony re: charter expansion, more

January 16, 2020

TSTA testifies against proposed rules that would make it easier for charters to expand

The rules, proposed by Education Commissioner Mike Morath, would significantly increase opportunities for charter school chains to expand in Texas, at a potential cost of hundreds of millions of additional dollars to taxpayers and public school districts.

Among other things, the proposed rules would give charter chains that the commissioner considers “high-performing” — those that score 80 percent or more — under a new “performance framework” almost carte blanche freedom to open new campuses without regard for the academic need for the new schools or the negative financial impact on the school districts in which the new campuses are located.

Charters already are receiving almost $3 billion in state revenue a year, and much of that goes to charters operated by for-profit management organizations. Every tax dollar they receive is a state tax dollar taken away from an under-funded, neighborhood public school.

TSTA policy specialist Carrie Griffith and representatives of other public education groups testified against the proposed regulations in a Texas Education Agency hearing this week.

“The education commissioner is supposed to be the state’s regulator of charters, not an advocate for charter chains,” TSTA President Noel Candelaria said. “The commissioner is supposed to act in the best interests of all Texas public school students and taxpayers, not give special breaks to charter operators. We believe these proposed rules violate the standards for charter expansion required by state law.”

Candelaria added: “Texas’ public schools have been historically underfunded, and the focus should be on improving our traditional neighborhood schools, where the vast majority of our students are educated. Taxpayers cannot afford to fund an unproven parallel school system at the expense of those neighborhood schools and their students.”

Griffith testified that a charter chain could violate the law and employ teachers who don’t have college degrees and still be rated “high-performing” because it would lose only one point under the commissioner’s new performance framework.

Also, under the framework, a charter chain could be labeled “high-performing” and allowed to expand in Texas without meeting all the expectations or providing all the services, such as special education, required of public schools.

Here are links to the proposed rules:

Published in Texas Register Nov. 22

Published in Texas Register Nov. 29

Performance framework changes

TSTA opposes relaxation of charter expansion rules

Charter school growth could put “enormous pressure” on Austin ISD’s budget

TSTA also opposes another set of proposed rules that could increase the authority of charters in SB1882 partnerships

Senate Bill 1882 is a 2017 law that encourages school districts to partner with outside entities, including charters, in the operation of struggling campuses. These partnerships are growing in Texas because districts that participate in them receive extra state funding. TSTA is concerned because, as allowed by the state education commissioner, these partnerships can sacrifice important educational standards for students and endanger contractual rights of school employees.

In late December, the Texas Education Agency released two rule proposals related to SB1882 partnerships. If adopted as proposed, these rules would likely be used to further facilitate SB1882 partnerships with open-enrollment charter schools. These rules, which TSTA government relations specialist Laura Atlas Kravitz testified against, would increase opportunities for charters to expand in Texas, while limiting their accountability and granting them authority over the use of state and federal funds.

Among other things, one proposed rule change would seemingly prohibit districts from making any SB1882 contract with a charter contingent on the accountability ratings the affected campus receives throughout the duration of the contract. As partnership contracts can have terms as long as 10 years, low accountability ratings without repercussions could cause severe harm not only to the campus receiving them, but also to the district as a whole. TSTA is hopeful that TEA will change the rule’s language to make it clear that districts will be able to hold charters accountable for performance in SB1882 partnerships.

Additionally, the proposed rules would require districts in a partnership to grant a charter partner’s request to reassign any district employee within 15 working days. This means a district would have three weeks to move teachers and other personnel out of the campus as opposed to a presumption of changes taking place at the end of the year. This proposed requirement, coupled with the statutory requirement for districts to honor pre-existing contracts, would cause disruptions for students and cause staffing and placement issues.

Here is one proposed SB1882 rule.

Here is another.

Help us fight the science deniers

The State Board of Education (SBOE) this year will overhaul curriculum standards that guide what Texas public school students are taught in their science classrooms. Science deniers don’t want to teach the truth about climate change, one of the most serious challenges facing our world today. It is critical that the new science standards ensure that students understand climate change is a serious problem, that human activity is causing it and that we must address it effectively.

TSTA is helping the Texas Freedom Network make sure that the SBOE understands that science can’t be denied or ignored, and here is what you can do.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is taking applications from individuals who want to serve on work groups revising science standards. These work groups are open to anyone to apply, although preference is given to educators.

These work groups will hash out the actual language of the standards that will be proposed to the board. It is critical that people who want sound science to be taught in our classrooms serve on these groups. If you would like to participate, click here for information about the groups and how to apply.

There is another option for science educators. TEA is surveying science educators about the current standards (called the TEKS, or Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). The results of the survey will inform the recommendations of the science TEKS work groups. Filling out this survey also will let SBOE members know that educators think that teaching students the facts about climate change is critically important. You can find the survey and related information here.

Deadline for School Bell entries is approaching

TSTA’s annual School Bell Awards recognize and honor members of the news media for their reporting of issues important to public schools and educators. If you read or watched any news stories during 2019 that you think merit a School Bell, please find a link or email Clay Robison in Public Affairs with a description of the story and which media outlet — newspaper or TV or radio station — carried it.

Or, you can email this entry form to Clay at clayr@tsta.org. The deadline for entries covering 2019 is Jan. 31.

Keep informed about the presidential candidates’ views on public schools and educators

With the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses approaching, it’s a good time to remind everyone how you can educate yourselves on the presidential candidates’ views on public education. It has never been more important to elect a candidate for president who believes in public education and respects public school educators.

NEA has created the Strong Public Schools Candidate Comparison tool so you can see where each of the presidential candidates stand on core public education issues. Also, you can find it helpful to watch NEA’s interviews with the candidates.

The Texas presidential primaries will be March 3, and if you haven’t registered to vote yet, that deadline is Feb. 3, the same day voters in Iowa are making their presidential choices. Here is how to register.

Tell your students it’s time for the Texas Citizen Bee academic competition

The Texas Citizen Bee is part of a statewide civic education program open to any student in grades 9-12. The competition includes both an oral and written component and includes questions from the following categories: documents and landmark Supreme Court cases; U.S. Constitution; people in history.

Regional bees will occur between Feb. 26 and April 6, and winners will convene for state competition at the Texas Law Center and state Capitol on April 25. Study materials, registration contacts, and frequently asked questions are available here.

An easier way to study the Constitution

The Library of Congress just launched a new website that assists with the teaching and learning of U.S. constitutional law. With advanced search tools and modern, user-friendly interface, the website makes the 3,000 pages of the Constitution Annotated fully searchable and accessible for the first time to online audiences, including teachers and students.

New report: Restorative justice is working, but be smart in how you use it

Schools across the country are using Restorative Justice in Education (RJE) initiatives, often to reduce out-of-school suspensions or to reduce gender and racial disparities in discipline and increase access to equitable and supportive environments for students from marginalized groups.

The National Education Policy Center has released a new policy brief that summarizes the research on restorative initiatives, with a focus on implementation and outcomes in U.S. schools. The authors — Professors Anne Gregory of Rutgers University and Katherine R. Evans of Eastern Mennonite University — present evidence that restorative approaches can reduce the use of exclusionary discipline. They describe promising evidence that such approaches can narrow racial disparities in discipline.

They also offer recommendations for comprehensive RJE models and strategic plans for producing more consistently positive outcomes. The brief is entitled, “The Starts and Stumbles of Restorative Justice in Education: Where Do We Go from Here,” and you can read more here.

Encourage your students and children to enter TSTA’s Young Artist Contest; new deadline: Feb. 12

The 2020 theme is “Celebrating Diversity in My Public School,” and the contest is open to all students in kindergarten through 12th grade attending Texas public schools. Entries may be mailed to TSTA headquarters in Austin and postmarked no later than Feb. 12. Winners will be selected by the delegates to the TSTA House of Delegates meeting next spring in El Paso.

First- through fifth-place winners will receive gift cards ranging in value from $200 to $50, a certificate from TSTA and their artwork will be displayed at TSTA headquarters in Austin for a year and published in TSTA publications/website.

Here are the contest rules and entry forms. Each entry must have two entry forms.


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