“I really appreciate you giving me the opportunity, but I don’t think I would be the best fit for the position.”  

Humiliated, I tapped the text to my friend who’d convinced me to interview with one of the few charter schools in East Texas, UT Tyler University Academy, a STEM academy, known for its Project-Based Learning instructional model. I’d just attempted to complete a task that had overwhelmed me as I tried to make my very first Skype call in order to speak to the school’s administrators. I connected, though it was faint and flickering, but could not hear the three women who spoke to me. After pressing an array of buttons on my computer in attempts to solve this deeply confounding problem, I did precisely the opposite of what I had advised countless students to do: I panicked and quit.

Fortunately, that text I sent fell on deaf ears; they wouldn’t let me quit the interview process due to a technical failure. It didn’t take me long to realize that would be a recurrent theme. I was offered a teaching position and became part of the University Academy (UA) family.  

 I quickly learned that at UA, you never give up. This was a culture where I was pushed to be a better teacher than I thought I could be. That push came in the form of constructive feedback from the highest levels of administration and from my students. It came from working closely with my colleagues, people with vastly different life experiences from my own. It came in the form of the obstacles we ran into as we “constructed an airplane while it was flying”.

That first year at UA, I tried to give up again. I agreed to teach fifth and sixth grades. I’d only ever taught high school, so the shift from talking with students about their driver's licenses and after school jobs to Minecraft and the lunch their mom had packed was startling, as was the way they required my constant attention. It wasn’t long until I found myself, overwhelmed and exhausted, in the office of my Campus Director, intending to quit. For the first time in years, I lacked confidence in my ability to teach and manage a classroom effectively and wanted to run back to the safety of a familiar environment. She read my letter of resignation and, over the next hour, patiently talked me down off the ledge. She predicted that this painful period of growth would yield to a time of success and fulfillment. She put the letter in her filing cabinet and asked me to stay at least another month, then reassess if needed. Fortunately, I persisted despite my defeat, and continued to teach.

In the past five years at UA, I have grown into the teacher I never thought I could be. Not only have I mastered the art of the Skype call, I have integrated a variety of other digital technologies into my lessons and evolved my pedagogy. I’ve presented my own research at educational conferences and visited both Austin and Washington, D.C. to meet with legislators about education policy. I have gained the courage and fortitude to venture out, beyond the confines of my comfort zone.

I’ve worked with the same students – my kids – the absolute highlight of each of my days, for all five years. Certainly, they have taught me more than I could ever hope to teach them. I have become better. I have achieved more than I ever thought possible because I was surrounded by a community who encouraged me to keep going and never give up.

And that is why I teach at a charter school.

 

By Heather Richmond, M.A., English
Master Teacher/Dual Credit Coordinator,
UT Tyler University Academy at Palestine

When I was in middle school, I was inspired by my math teacher, Mrs. Heinz. She noticed a special talent in me that she wanted to cultivate. I was good at calculations, so Mrs. Heinz scheduled time during the school day for me and a few others to work on advanced math. I loved it. Looking back, the thing that I loved even more was how an adult noticed something about me and took the time to invest in me. It makes me tear up just writing this because just a year prior, in 5th grade, I felt like I wasn't worth the investment after my parents got divorced and my dad moved away.

In high school, I was inspired again by my math teacher, Mr. Southworth in Precalculus. He picked up where Mrs. Heinz left off and filled in where my dad couldn't. He challenged me, encouraged me, and set high expectations that he helped me meet. Mr. Southworth always kept his promises, so I knew I could depend on him. Both he and Mrs. Heinz made the biggest impact on me.

My teachers helped me realize my calling to be an educator. I wanted to give back to students what I had received at a very important time in my life. Answering the call was not easy though. I was the first in my family to go to college. During my senior year, I was convinced to explore other fields first for the money. After college, I went into IT, selling and configuring computer servers. Finally, in 2012, despite many barriers, I obtained my teaching certificate in the state of Illinois. I got a job right away teaching Calculus, Precalculus and Geometry. Three years later, I moved to Austin, Texas where I accepted a Calculus teaching job at a local ISD. Things seemed great, but I as I entered my fourth year of teaching, I nearly quit. I was overloaded with prep and had over 160 students, 100 of those in Calculus alone. The workload was intense and I barely made it to Thanksgiving break.

Things were gloomy until I met a parent whose children attended a new classical charter school operated by Responsived Ed. This parent listened to my story and later shared a job posting for a math teacher. Given I was discouraged in my current role, I applied. I got the job, kept teaching, and I haven’t looked back. Over the past three years, I have been able to answer my calling as an educator more than ever before. Now that I am at a public charter school I am able to manage my workload, support all of my students and be present with my family.

Now I get to live out my lifelong dream of teaching. Like Mrs. Heinz, I get to identify various talents in students and cultivate them. Like Mr. Southworth, I have the opportunity to challenge and encourage students. Like many of my teachers in the past, I get to show up each day and inspire students to learn new things, to nerd out in math, and to become outstanding citizens.

By Cameron Starc, High School Math Teacher, Responsive Ed

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This week, the U.S. News & World Report released their annual rankings of the best public high schools in the nation for 2019. This year’s rankings again recognized many open-enrollment charter schools in Texas. In addition to the national list, US News also puts out a Top 100 Texas Public High Schools. Public charter schools took 35 of the Top 100 spots! A great accomplishment when you consider that we only make up 6 percent of public schools in Texas.

In determining its rankings, U.S. News and World Report considers many factors, including college readiness, math and reading proficiency, math and reading performance, underserved student performance, college curriculum breadth, and graduation rates.

Open-enrollment public charter schools continue to make great progress in preparing Texas students for life. The Texas Charter Schools Association is incredibly proud of the 35 public charter schools that have earned their spot in the Top 100 Public High Schools in the Lone Star State. Way to go!

Public charter schools in the Top 100 Texas Public High Schools 2019 Rankings (state ranking, national ranking):

• Imagine Academy of North Texas #11 in TX, #104 Nationally
• Uplift Education-North Hills Prep High School #12 in TX, #114 Nationally
• Westlake Academy #13 in TX, #116 Nationally
• IDEA Frontier College Preparatory #15, #119 Nationally
• IDEA Quest College Preparatory #16 in Texas, #112 Nationally
• IDEA College Preparatory San Juan #24 in Texas, #160 Nationally
• YES Prep – Southeast #25 in Texas, #163 Nationally
• KIPP Austin Collegiate #31 in Texas, #198 Nationally
• Uplift Summit International High #38 in Texas, #242 Nationally
• Meridian World School #39 in Texas, #249 Nationally
• YES Prep – East End #42 in Texas, #254 Nationally
• Harmony School of Innovation – Katy #44 in Texas, #259 Nationally
• YES Prep – North Central #46 in Texas, #270 Nationally
• YES Prep – West #48 in Texas, #291 Nationally
• Vanguard Academy #49 in Texas, #293 Nationally
• YES Prep – Southwest #51 in Texas, #297 Nationally
• IDEA College Preparatory Mission #54 in Texas #312 Nationally
• Harmony Science Academy (El Paso) #57 in Texas, #347 Nationally
• IDEA College Prep #59 in Texas, #359 Nationally
• KIPP Houston High School #60 in Texas, #363 Nationally
• Uplift Williams Preparatory HS #65 in Texas, #438 Nationally
• Harmony School of Science – Houston High #68 in Texas, #460 Nationally
• YES Prep – Gulfton #78 in Texas, #568 Nationally
• IDEA College Preparatory San Benito #79 in Texas, #590 Nationally
• Harmony School of Discovery – Houston #80 in Texas #591 Nationally
• International Leadership of Texas – Garland High School #81 in Texas, #640 Nationally
• Chaparral Star Academy #83 in Texas, #662 Nationally
• Harmony School of Innovation – Fort Worth #84 in Texas, #665 Nationally
• Founders Classical Academy #88 in Texas, #716 Nationally
• NYOS Charter School #91 in Texas, #776 Nationally
• Gateway College Preparatory School #94 in Texas, #797 Nationally
• Harmony Science Academy North Austin #95 in Texas, #827 Nationally
• Uplift Heights Preparatory High School #97 in Texas, #886 Nationally
• YES Prep – Brays Oaks #98 in Texas #904 Nationally
• Harmony School of Advancement – High #100 in Texas, #920 Nationally

For a complete list of the rankings, visit: https://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/search?ranked=true&state-urlname=texas

On February 27, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (the highest court in Texas for criminal matters), issued a ruling invalidating Section 551.143 of the Texas Open Meetings Act.  That section had created a misdemeanor offence if members of the governing body “knowingly conspired to circumvent this chapter by meeting in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations.” 

Section 551.143 was designed to prevent “walking quorums.”  Walking quorums happen when members of a board would meet in small groups outside of the official meeting and discuss public business. 

The Court reasoned the language used in statute was unconstitutionally vague because a reasonable person should be able to know what conduct was prohibited in order to avoid it.  Specifically, the Court explained, “[t]o pass constitutional muster, a law that imposes criminal liability must be sufficiently clear (1) to give a person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited and (2) to establish determinate guidelines for law enforcement.”  To emphasize this point, the Court created a few scenarios that would meet the legal requirements to punish someone for a violation of the law, but were not a violation of the spirit of the law.  Because they could determine scenarios which fell outside of their requirements, the Court determined the statute was unconstitutional. 

This ruling does not mean that a quorum is no longer necessary to conduct public business, merely that a violation is not a criminal offense.  The legislature has already filed bills to address this ruling and reinstate a criminal offense, but with more definite language.  In the House, HB2965, HB 3697, and HB 3402 have been filed.  In the Senate, SB 1640 has been filed as a companion to HB 3402.  TCSA is monitoring these bills to see if they pass.  While we wait to see what the legislature passes, best practices would be to ensure you are still maintaining quorums when discussing public business. 

Teachers union advances agenda to keep waiting students from attending a charter school

Texas Charter Schools Association CEO Starlee Coleman issued the following response to the Texas Federation of Teachers’ misguided and factually inaccurate call for a charter school moratorium:

“We strongly oppose a ban on new public charter schools. At last count, there were more than 141,000 student names on public charter school waiting lists statewide. Rather than slow down on building new public charter schools, we should speed up.”

In addition to TFT’s anti-student policy agenda that would keep Texas students on waiting lists, their arguments include numerous inaccuracies, which are addressed individually below.

“TCSA welcomes a debate about the right direction for public education in Texas, but let’s have it based on facts,” said Coleman.  

On Funding

What TFT forgets to share about funding is that while charters schools are public schools and subject to the same outcomes requirements as district schools, they do not have access to any local property tax money. Their only funding comes from the state and they get an average of $1,700 less per student when you add the state and local funding that district schools receive. It’s disingenuous and dishonest to only talk about state funding and ignore the significant local dollars that fund ISDs.

Statewide, charter schools are serving 6 percent of the public school students. If ISDs serve 94 percent of the kids and get funding for those students from the state AND local property taxes and they can’t make the math work, that says something about their ability to be accountable to taxpayers.

More on charter school funding can be found here.

On Academic Performance

When it comes to charter school performance, we recognize that not all charter schools are high performing. But poorly performing charter schools don’t linger in Texas. Texas has the strongest charter school law in the country for accountability and schools that do not meet academic standards are closed within three years.

For charter schools that are doing well, the data is indisputable. Over 20 percent of Texas’ A-rated school districts are charter school districts, despite educating only 6 percent of students. Charter schools send more English Learners to college, and twice as many of them get advanced or dual-course credit in high school. More students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds at charter schools are enrolling in college (65 percent vs. 47 percent of ISD students). Hispanic students attending Texas charter schools outscored all statewide averages in 8th grade math for Hispanic students in all states across the country on the most recent Nation’s Report Card.

On Discipline Issues

District schools remove students with disciplinary issues from the classroom every day. The difference is that ISDs have the funding and legal authority to put those students in an alternative setting that is better for them. Some charter schools have worked to find resources within their budgets to create innovative solutions to accommodate students whose disciplinary challenges make them unable to be in a traditional classroom with their peers, and we are proud of their efforts. But many charter schools do not have the resources to create these special programs; and no charters have the legal authority to pool resources for facilities that would allow them to collaborate with one another to serve these students.

On Charter Notification

Perhaps TFT hasn’t seen the state law that spells out the charter approval or expansion notification policy. Districts are notified four times before a new charter application is approved in their boundaries; and have the opportunity to weigh in directly with the state on the financial impact the approval would have on the district before the application is approved.

Here is the process charter schools and the state must follow for approving new schools and notifying districts.

On Accountability

TFT would have everyone believe it is the wild west when it comes to the regulation of charter schools. Charter schools are required to follow the same open records law, the same conflict of interest laws, and the same generally accepted accounting principles as ISD schools. Furthermore, the Charter First accountability system run by TEA rates finances for charter schools. If a school receive three strikes, they are shut down, regardless of academic performance.

For more information about charter schools in Texas, click here.

 

Two weeks ago, the 86th Texas Legislature convened, so we are officially in session! On day one, The Texas House unanimously elected Representative Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) as Speaker of the House. In his acceptance speech, the Speaker highlighted school finance reform, which the Governor and Lt. Governor have also emphasized, as a top priority for this session. With multi-billion dollar education spending increases in both the House and Senate budgets, as well as significant increases to the state’s General Fund and Rainy Day Fund, there is sure to be major legislation on that topic.

While over 1200 bills have already been filed, the big news from the Capitol so far has been changes to committees in both chambers. The House added two members to both the Public Education and Higher Education committees. The House announced committee memberships on Wednesday the 23rd, with 8 returning and 5 new members in the Public Education committee.

Returning members:

  • Chair Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood)
  • Vice Chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio)
  • Alma Allen (D-Houston)
  • Harold Dutton, Jr. (D-Houston)
  • Ken King (R-Canadian)
  • Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas)
  • Mary González (D-San Elizario) (Rep. González was not a member of the committee in the 85th session, but was in the 84th)
  • Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston)

Newcomers:

  • Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin)
  • Steve Allison (R-San Antonio)
  • Keith Bell (R-Forney)
  • Scott Sanford (R-McKinney)
  • James Talarico (D-Round Rock)

The Senate committee memberships were announced on Friday the 18th, with the Senate Education committee remaining at 11 members – 7 returning members and 4 new faces.

Returning:

  • Chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood)
  • Vice Chair Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville)
  • Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola)
  • Bob Hall (R-Rockwall)
  • Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston)
  • Royce West (D-Dallas)
  • Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels)

Newcomers:

  • Angela Paxton (R-McKinney)
  • Beverly Powell (D-Burleson)
  • Pat Fallon (R-Prosper)
  • Kirk Watson (D-Austin)

Chairman Huberty’s strong leadership on the House Public Education Committee for a second term shows his commitment to Texas public schools. As a reminder Rep. Harold Dutton, the longest serving member of the Public Education Committee, authored pro-public charter school legislation HB 2337 last session. The 2018 Charter Champion, Chairman Larry Taylor retains his leadership position on the Senate Education Committee. Senator Donna Campbell, a strong public charter school supporter, previously authored numerous pro-charter school bills including SB 457 last legislative session. We look forward to working with all members of the Senate Education and House Public Education Committees this session.

Bookending the winter holidays were reports by the School Finance Commission and the House Public Education Committee. The School Finance Commission’s report is the conclusion of a year of meetings of a group of legislators, educators, public officials, and education policy experts on the best steps to reform the Texas school finance system. Though there are 35 individual recommendations, overall the Committee recommends balancing state and local funding for schools, restructuring and adding funding to target high-need student groups, and reducing property taxes and recapture.

Similarly, the House Committee’s Interim Report followed a year of research and testimony, including TCSA’s testimony on the issues of school safety, Hurricane Harvey relief, and charter schools. On the topic of charter schools, the committee recommends expanding ISD partnerships, helping charters fulfill their role in education children with disabilities, reducing funding disparities, and reconsidering some of the statutory disciplinary admissions policies that charters currently hold.

TCSA welcomes many of the recommendations from both reports and will track which recommendations move forward, how they work with other policy changes, and how they will all affect charter schools. We’re excited to see how the next few months unfold and to work with legislators ensure all Texas students have access to a high quality education.

 

TCSA received helpful feedback from member schools earlier this year in regards to scheduling Member Council meetings. Many of our member schools indicated that traveling to Austin for a meeting was often challenging for school leaders with their busy schedules and the difficulty of being away from their organization for a day or two.

Based on that feedback, TCSA has scheduled webinars for Wednesday, May 8 and Wednesday, August 28. Participants will be able to participate via phone (like a conference call) but will also be able to view meeting content on their computer screen. We anticipate that these webinars will last 60 to 90 minutes.

Although the May 8 and August 28 Member Council meetings will be presented in this webinar format, the October 29 Member Council will be an in-person meeting held at the 2019 TCSA Conference in San Antonio.

Member Councils are a great way to get the latest updates on legislative action, TEA requirements, and other issues that impact the public charter school movement. Be sure to register now for one or both of our TCSA Member Council webinars!

We are excited about our new event format for our Regional Meetings! Join us for one of four TCSA Regional Meetings and Charter Supporter Receptions scheduled for this Spring in San Antonio (January 28-29), Houston (February 25-26), Austin (March 5-6), and Dallas (March 25-26). All of the locations will feature a Monday 5:30 p.m. -7:00 p.m. charter supporter reception and a Tuesday 9:00 a.m – 1:00 p.m. meeting.

The Monday receptions will give a chance for charter school leaders, local political officials, TCSA staff, community partners, and other charter supporters to mix and mingle and celebrate the public charter school movement. The Tuesday meetings will allow charter school leaders, charter supporters, and TCSA staff an opportunity to cover a wide range of topics including legislative updates, local successes and challenges, charter advocacy, legal updates, and the latest TEA initiatives. The meeting will include a panel discussion with local charter leaders. Lunch is provided at each location. Attendees will receive 120 minutes of 19 TAC Chapter 100 Commissioner's Credit.

So many important things are happening this spring in the legislature that will have a profound effect on the public charter school movement in Texas. Don’t be left out of the discussion – sign up for one of TCSA’s regional events today!

Did you know that nearly half of all charter districts in Texas were in danger of losing out on $200 per student this year? We did, and we fought for our schools.

In December, TCSA was successful in helping protect facilities funding for 72 Texas charter districts. Last year, TEA decided not to issue letter grades to districts impacted by Harvey (17 districts) and single-campus charter districts (55 districts). This is problematic because good academic performance under the new A-F letter grade accountability system is a requirement to receive facilities funds that were set aside in a new law that passed in 2017.

On behalf of our member schools, we worked with TEA to correct this oversight and were the only voice advocating for 72 charter districts that could have lost out on an additional $200 per student. We’re thrilled that we helped deliver this win for Texas charter schools. In total, TCSA helped put more than $17 million back into charter school classrooms this school year. Seventeen Harvey-waiver charters received a total of $11,239,502 in facilities funding, and 55 single-campus charters received a total of $5,896,222 in facilities funding.

We’re proud to advocate for charter schools – not just at the state Capitol, but at TEA, and the local level as well. We’ll continue to fight so that charter schools have the funding, freedom, and flexibility to accomplish their missions and grow to serve the 140,000 names on charter waitlists in Texas.

You can read about our 2019 Policy Priorities here. Have questions about common charter myths? Help debunk them with this information.

Starlee Coleman

Texas Court of Appeals for the Third District Delivers Opinion Regarding City of Austin’s Sick Leave Ordinance

The City of Austin enacted an ordinance in February of 2018 that would require private employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees. The ordinance included civil and criminal penalties for employers who violated it. A number of private parties sued the city to prevent the city from enforcing the ordinance. The state intervened in the case, also asking for an injunction to prevent enforcement of the ordinance. The ordinance was scheduled to take effect October 1, 2018, but the Texas Court of Appeals for the Third District granted a temporary stay to prevent the law from going into effect pending the outcome of the case.

The Court delivered its opinion in which it declared the City of Austin’s sick leave ordinance violated the Texas Constitution because it was preempted by the Texas Minimum Wage Act (TMWA). The TMWA prevents municipalities from regulating wages that are subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act. The issue in this case turned on whether the sick leave requirement was a wage. The Court reasoned that because the way the ordinance worked it increased the pay of employees that used the paid sick leave, thus increasing their wages. Therefore, the City of Austin’s ordinance is preempted by the TMWA. The ordinance further violates the Texas Constitution because of Article XI, Section 5 states cities may not pass ordinances that are “inconsistent with the Constitution of the State, or of the general laws enacted by the Legislature of this State.”

San Antonio passed a similar sick leave ordinance in August of this year, which has not yet been challenged in the courts. San Antonio sits in the Fourth District, so while the recent ruling regarding Austin’s sick leave is persuasive, the Fourth District is not bound by the decision. Additionally, at least one bill has already been filed for the 86th Legislative Session preventing any municipality from passing a sick leave ordinance.

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