The wake of Hurricane Harvey has been devastating to Texans in the Gulf Coast Region over the last week, and we continue to monitor the full effects of this storm.

As you know, Houston, Corpus Christi, Beaumont, Port Arthur, and the surrounding areas are home to a large number of public charter schools serving thousands of students. We understand that students and families have been displaced while many campuses are not currently in operation. We have received offers from across the country to help students and schools, and we continue to gather this information and will provide you with updates as they become available.

On behalf of the Texas Charter Schools Association, I want to assure you that we are here and our thoughts and prayers are with all those impacted by the disaster. 

We have compiled some information on our webpage, Hurricane Harvey Resources, and will continue to update this with new information as it becomes available.

Additionally, we have learned of a volunteer effort led by teachers in the Gulf Coast Region.  Please click here to learn more. 

Please contact us by email or at 512-584-8272 with your questions or concerns, we’re ready to help.

Immigration and Your Charter School: Protecting Rights of Schools and Students in an Age of Immigration Enforcement

This webinar will highlight best practices on matters pertaining to federal and state law enforcement agencies in light of new and anticipated rulings and interpretations of immigration enforcement practices.

Presented by Joseph Hoffer from Shulman, Lopez, Hoffer and Adelstein LLP
Wednesday, September 20th from 12 noon to 1 p.m.
Register

Are you in? Online Tools to Engage Advocates

Public Charter Schools in Texas had a great victory in the 2017 Special Legislative Session. We attribute this victory to the thousands of advocates who spoke up and contacted their lawmakers this year, and in prior years. TCSA has been able to make significant gains for students as a result of these grassroots advocacy campaigns. Our fight is not over and we need you to join our efforts! Join us on this webinar to learn about the digital tools that TCSA has created to make sure all of our advocates are part of our advocacy efforts. Are you in? Text “countmein” to 52886* to get a sneak peek of our new tools and learn how you can make a difference!

Presented by Martha Fernandez from the Texas Charter Schools Association
Wednesday, October 18th from 12 noon to 1 p.m.
Register

Fostering Success for Students in Foster Care

All of your students are special, but particularly those who are in the temporary or permanent custody of the State of Texas. Spend an hour learning Texas law and best practices for fostering the success of students in foster care. Charter school attorney and former TCSA General Counsel Denise Pierce will lead a rich discussion on issues pertaining to the admission, enrollment, and services for foster care students. Pierce will also touch on the thorny issues of confidentiality, special education, discipline, and on-campus access to these students by third parties such CPS case workers and police officers. Board members, central office administrators, special program directors, and campus administrators who attend this webinar will leave with information, insights and resources to make them better equipped for fostering success for students in foster care.

Presented by Denise Nance Pierce from The Law Office of Denise Pierce, P.C.
Wednesday, October 25th from noon to 1 p.m.
Register

Update Your Personnel Handbook: Changes are needed due to new legislation

When was the last time you updated your Personnel Handbook? Chances are it has been too long! This webinar will help charter leaders understand the policy changes required as a result of Senate Bill 7, regarding electronic communication policies and impacts on TRS annuities. The webinar will address common charter school human resources questions, such as state leave days, and exempt and nonexempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act, to name a few.

Presented by Lindsey Gordon from the Texas Charter Schools Association
Wednesday, November 8th from 12 noon to 1 p.m.
Register

HB 22: Preparing for Changes in 2018 Accountability System

Are you aware of all of the accountability changes that are coming in August of 2018? Join Dr. Paula Moeller as she discusses what will be measured within each of the three domains and how the Texas Education Agency will roll out the new accountability system with charter districts and campuses.

Presented by Paula Moeller from the Texas Charter Schools Association
Wednesday, November 29th from 12 noon to 1 p.m.
Register 

Student Code of Conduct, 3rd Edition

The Student Code of Conduct, 3rd Edition is now available for purchase in the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) Quality Portal. The 3rd Edition incorporates changes from the 85th Legislative Session, including David’s Law (SB 179, the anti-bullying bill). Schools interested in the Student Code of Conduct can order it in the Quality Portal, under the Products and Services tab. Previous purchasers will receive a discount on the 3rd Edition.

Personnel Handbook, 2nd Edition

TCSA also updated the Personnel Handbook, which is now available for purchase in the TCSA Quality Portal. The 2nd Edition includes required policies from SB 7, regarding electronic communication policies and impacts on annuities with the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS). We also updated the Personnel Handbook to address common charter school human resources questions, such as state leave days, and exempt and nonexempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act,  to name a few. The Personnel Handbook is available to all current Model Policy Subscribers at no additional cost. Non-Model Policy Subscribers can purchase the Personnel Handbook separately in the Quality Portal. Similar to the Student Code of Conduct, previous purchasers of the Personnel Handbook will receive a discount on the 2nd  Edition.

Updated Model Policies

TCSA Legal is working quickly to update the TCSA Model Policies as a result of the changes in law made by the Regular and Special Sessions of the 85th Texas Legislature. The first round of updates will be available in the Quality Portal on Tuesday, September 5th. These updates will include all required policies related to SB 7 (inappropriate relationships); SB 179 (David’s Law;) SB 1398 (special education video and audio surveillance cameras); and SB 1153 (required multi-tiered intervention notices and PEIMS reporting).

As always, do not hesitate to contact Christine Nishimura with questions or for more information regarding the TCSA Model Policy Series.

There is much to celebrate with the latest Texas Education Agency (TEA) academic accountability ratings that were released last week. More charter campuses than ever, 538 in all, achieved Met Standard or Alternative Standard accountability, while the number of charter holders meeting standard increased to 85 percent, a 4.8 percent increase over the years from 2013-2017.

The gap between the performance of ISDs and charters is closing rapidly as well. Using an “apples to apples” comparison that removes “not rated” campuses from the denominator for ISDs and charters, 91.4 percent of all charter campuses achieved Met Standard in 2017 while 95.7 percent of ISD campuses did the same, a 4.3 percent difference. That’s a great deal of improvement since the year 2013 when, using this same methodology, the Met Standard difference between charter and ISD campuses was 11.8 percent. The same improvement is seen comparing charter holders to ISDs, with a 6.7 percent difference in Met Standard ratings between the two groups in 2017, compared to an 11.2 percent difference in 2013.

The recently released Stanford University Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) study confirms this improvement in performance indicators. The 2017 CREDO analysis of Texas charter school academic data reveals that Texas charter students gained about 17 extra days in reading each year compared to students in ISDs, with math performance about the same. This is significant as the 2013 CREDO study found that Texas charter school students were losing about 17 days of instruction in reading and 23 days in math compared to their ISD counterparts. Also noted in the most recent CREDO study is the fact that Texas charter schools educate more economically disadvantaged students (72 percent to 60 percent) as well as higher percentages of traditionally underperforming populations, including Hispanic and African American students.

Achievement at the highest levels is particularly noteworthy, as 40 charter campuses received all available academic distinctions this year, up from 32 campuses in 2016. This amazing accomplishment represents six percent of the 675 charter campuses evaluated and mirrors the performance of ISD campuses where 427 out of 6,904 campuses (6.1 percent) received all available distinctions.

So what’s in store for the future of Texas academic accountability? Most importantly, the implementation of HB 22 mandates that beginning in August 2018, all Texas ISDs and charter holders will be evaluated on three domains: Student Achievement, School Progress, and Closing the Gaps. Based on performance in those domains, a rating of A, B, C, D or F will be assigned to each domain as well as an overall letter grade for the ISD or charter holder. Campuses will begin to be evaluated on the A-F system beginning in 2019. In the meantime, Commissioner rules will need to be written to provide guidance on how the new accountability system will roll out. As we receive more information, we will keep you informed and provide the training and support you need to understand and successfully navigate this new system.

As each of you begin your new school year, please know that the Texas Charter Schools Association is here to support you in every way to provide you, your students, staff, and parents with the highest level of quality support and advocacy. Please let us know how we can help you to accomplish your mission for success as we all work together every day to provide a quality public school choice option to the students of Texas!

Over the past several weeks, I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from parents across our state regarding the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) Report Card.

The report card contrasts dramatically from what had been shared with parents in previous years. The revamped report presents information in a more colorful, understandable and parent-friendly way. Student information includes how a child performed on a specific STAAR assessment, how the student is progressing from the previous school year, and the level of reading difficulty a student can successfully accomplish.

Every parent needs to know how their child is doing in school, but they also want to be in position to provide greater support for their son or daughter. The STAAR Report Card goes beyond providing a student’s information from the previous school year. It also gives every parent access to resources that can help their child as they move from grade level to grade level.

Beyond the report card itself, I’m pleased to see parents taking the extra step to “Log In & Learn More” at a newly-revamped website (www.texasassessment.com). With a student-specific access code (provided in the STAAR Report Card), parents see a variety of resources and assessment components, including STAAR assessment questions for grades 3 through 8 – along with their child’s answers.

The ability for each parent to view the actual STAAR questions posed to their child, along with the answers their child provided, gives greater insight into the expectations at every grade level. This website also makes available resources designed to help parents prepare their child as they progress from grade level to grade level. Resources include tools to support a child’s ability to read and write, as well as tips and questions to help prepare for parent-teacher conferences in the new school year.

I continue to encourage all parents to not only review their child’s STAAR Report Card, but also take that extra step to Log In & Learn More. The overall success of our Texas public education system can only be accomplished school by school, classroom by classroom and student by student. Parents play a huge role toward ensuring that success.

It gives me great pleasure to share news of the historic passage of HB 21 by the Texas Legislature. As you know, securing facilities funding has been the primary legislative priority for the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) since our inception in 2008, and this win has been a long time coming.

Under HB 21, students at public charter schools will receive $60 million in direct support from the state for facilities funding. Governor Greg Abbott signed HB 21 on Wednesday and charter facilities funding goes into effect for the 2018-19 academic year.

Only charters with an acceptable overall rating are eligible to access facilities funds under HB 21, though residential treatment charters are exempt from this performance criteria. This requirement coupled with SB 2 (83rd Legislative Session) make for stricter accountability for charters as compared to other public schools. SB 2 mandates the automatic closure of a charter school after three consecutive years of failing to meet academic or financial standards. I know you share our commitment to providing students with an excellent public education and support legislative efforts to ensure greater student outcomes.

Facilities funds provided by HB 21 will help provide relief to public charter schools by keeping instructional funds in the classroom for students and fewer operational dollars going towards the rent or mortgage.

TCSA appreciates Governor Abbott adding school finance to the call for special session allowing for this momentous victory. We also thank Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Chairman Larry Taylor, and Chairman Dan Huberty for their leadership ensuring that Texans have more options within public education.

I want to personally thank my team--the TCSA staff--for their hard work and long hours contributing to the passage of this bill. TCSA's Elected Advocacy Committee also deserves special recognition for their efforts.

Most importantly, thank you for providing students with an innovative, excellent public education and advocating for your students with your legislators. Together, we can celebrate this great win for students!

Charter schools and school districts alike provide many opportunities for students to participate in prekindergarten, extracurricular activities, field trips, and after school programs. In order to assist with the costs of these additional programs, charter schools and school districts may charge some optional fees or charge tuition for the program, but only if they are authorized to do so in the Texas Education Code.

Tuition

Generally, an open-enrollment charter school may not charge tuition for a student who is eligible through the admissions process, with two exceptions. A charter school may charge tuition for students who are not eligible for a free, prekindergarten program, as defined under Section 29.153 of the Texas Education Code; or may charge tuition if a student is required to pay tuition to an open-enrollment school as a condition of their United States student visa under Section 25.0031 of the Texas Education Code.

Open-enrollment charter schools may not charge tuition for a half-day prekindergarten program for students who are eligible for free, prekindergarten. Students who are eligible for a free, half-day program include those that are at least 3 years old and:

  • Unable to speak or understand English
  • Educationally disadvantaged
  • Homeless
  • A child of a member of the military
  • Under the conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services
  • A child of a first responder eligible for the Star of Texas Award (added by HB 357, during the 85th Regular Legislative Session)

A charter may offer a tuition supported prekindergarten program for students not eligible for prekindergarten, or the school may offer an additional tuition based half-day prekindergarten program to eligible students. If an open-enrollment charter school is going to offer a tuition supported prekindergarten program, the school must submit the tuition rate to TEA for approval and the tuition rate may not exceed to cost of providing the program.

If an open-enrollment charter school must charge tuition as a condition of a student’s visa, the charter school must accept tuition from the student at a rate equal to the full unsubsidized per capita cost of providing a student’s education, as determined by the commissioner. The tuition rate cannot exceed the tuition limits established by TEA.

Fees

Open-enrollment charter schools may only charge the same fees that a school district can, as outlined in Section 11.158 of the Texas Education Code. However, a charter school, just like a school district, may not charge a school wide activity fee or any other blanket fee and cannot require a parent to pay a fee for a program or activity that the student is not participating in.

A charter school may charge for the following programs or activities, but must do so on an individual basis for each:

  • Fees for materials used for a program beyond the minimum requirements, and the materials will become the personal property of the student;
  • Membership dues to an organization, club, or extracurricular activity, so long as the program is voluntary;
  • A security deposit for the return of materials, supplies, or equipment;
  • Fee for personal P.E. equipment or apparel;
  • Fees for items that will be the personal property of the student, such as class rings;
  • A reasonable fee for the use or rental of musical equipment and uniforms;
  • Fee for a course offered during the summer (if the course is required for graduation, it must also be offered for free during the school year);
  • A reasonable fee not to exceed $50 for a school program offered outside of the regular school hours, where a student receives instruction voluntarily for purpose of making up missed instruction and meeting attendance requirements.

Fees may not be charged for any course or activity that is required for a student to attend, including fieldtrips or a prerequisite for graduation. Schools may require students to furnish their own pencils, paper, pens, erasers, notebooks, and school uniforms, but may not charge fees for instructional materials, workbooks, or supplies necessary to participate in an instructional course. Additionally, schools must adopt reasonable procedures for waiving a deposit or a fee if a parent is unable to pay. Finally, schools may not charge a fee for late pick-up or early drop-off of a student.  

Charter schools must be careful in structuring what fees they are charging their students. Review the authorized fees under § 11.158, make sure that the school is not charging a school wide activity fee, ensure that parents are aware of what fees are charged for each individual program, and that the programs are voluntary.

As always, if you have any questions, please contact Christine Nishimura, TCSA Deputy General Counsel at cnishimura@txcharterschools.org or by calling 512.584.TCSA (8272), ext. 306.

Last week, the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) held its quarterly Member Council Meeting (MCM) with about 40 participants representing member charter schools from across the Lone Star State.

TCSA’s Executive Director David Dunn opened the meeting with brief remarks and was followed by MCM Chair, Kathleen Zimmermann, who welcomed members to Austin.  Dunn shared some great news for the charter section with the release of the newest CREDO study, Charter School Performance in Texas, which found that student at charters are outperforming their peers at school districts. Most notably, students are gaining an additional 17 days of learning in reading and have closed the gap in math.  Additionally, Hispanic student in poverty at charters are also faring better in both reading and math as compared to their school district counterparts. TCSA issued a press release featuring these findings, which has resulted in news stories by the Houston Chronicle, the San Antonio Express-News, El Paso Inc., and ED Week.

Following Dunn’s welcome remarks, TCSA Board Member Lori Fey addressed members and provided an update on the Executive Director Search. Fey is the Chair of the Search Committee and is working with Bellwether Education Partners to identify TCSA’s next leader. Fey is committed to a transparent process and has been meeting with various stakeholders within the charter school sector and education community gathering information. She welcomes input on this search and looks forward to finding the right person to represent students from all public charter schools across the state!

TCSA’s Veronica Garcia, Martha Fernandez, and Christine Nishimura gave an overview to members on the 85th Legislative Session and a federal update. This presentation featured TCSA’s grassroots efforts, legislative wins, and the bills impacting charter schools.

Next on the meeting agenda was Jo Ann Simmons of UT Tyler Innovation Academy who gave a presentation focused on academic rigor. Simmons candidly revealed her experience on what works to improve student outcomes and led a meaningful discussion among members about best practices. We hope this conversation continues, allowing for charter leaders to share information to strengthen student achievement at every campus!

Last, but not least was Michele Stahl of the Texas Education Agency.  Stahl provided information on the new A-F Accountability standards. We appreciate Stahl and others at TEA for continuously working with public charter schools, ensuring that these campuses have information to effectively meet state requirements.

TCSA thanks all the member schools who attended both in-person and online and we look forward to our next meeting at the Texas Charter Schools Conference in Grapevine. 

Coming soon to a region near you: the 2017-18 version of Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) Executive Leader Meetings. 

These regional meetings provide a place for charter leaders to come together to learn from legal experts and share best practices among each other on charter-specific topics.  TCSA plans to offer leaders in each region two meeting opportunities, one during the fall semester and another in the spring semester. Charter leaders in each region are invited to attend this free event, even if your charter system is not a current member of TCSA.  You MUST register in order to attend these meetings!

Topics for the September meeting:

  1. Characteristics and skill set needed from the next TCSA Executive Director;
  2. Student Discipline changes needed in your policies and procedures as a result of the 85th Legislative Session;
  3. Professional Boundaries: A review of the legal requirements impacting educator and student relations and duty to report misconduct; and
  4. Other arising charter issues.

Presenters for this meeting:

  • Lori Fey, TCSA Board Member and Chair of the Executive Search Committee currently leading efforts to identify the next Executive Director of TCSA
  • Christine Nishimura, Lindsey Gordon and Paula Moeller from the Texas Charter Schools Association.
  • Legal staff from Shulman, Lopez, Hoffer and Adelstein, LLP

Regional Meeting Dates:

  • Rio Grande Valley, September 6 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at IDEA Headquarters Register
  • San Antonio, September 7 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Braination Central Office Register
  • Austin, September 11 from 12:30-3:30 p.m. at TCSA Offices Register
  • Metroplex, September 12 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at Manara Academy Register
  • El Paso, September 13 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. MST at ESC 19 Register
  • Houston, September 19 from 1-4:30 pm at YES Prep Central Office Register
  • West Texas, September 21 from 1-4 p.m. at RMA Odessa Register
  • East Texas, September 22 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Cumberland Academy Register

 

The 30-day Special Legislative Session began last week at lightning speed with bill filings, committee hearings, and floor votes. The Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) team has been at the state Capitol working on behalf of students at public charter schools.

During a special legislative session, only the governor has the authority to determine the agenda for the legislature. To that end, before the special session began we delivered more than 3,100 signatures from Texas families in a petition to Governor Greg Abbott requesting the addition of facilities funding to the agenda. Thankfully, Governor Abbott added the issue of school finance to the agenda giving us a second bite at the apple at getting our number one priority, facilities funding, across the finish line.

As a result of the demand from Texans for more seats at a public charter school and TCSA’s advocacy efforts, we have seen legislation that includes additional funding for public charter schools:

SB 2 (L. Taylor, Friendswood) and HB 253 (Simmons, Carrollton)—TCSA Supports
SB 2 is the Senate’s bill that addresses school finance. The bill establishes a tax credit scholarship and educational expense assistance program for students with disabilities, a "financial hardship transition program" for ISDs losing ASATR, $60 million in additional funding for open-enrollment charter schools, and $60 million in additional funding for the existing debt allotment program.

Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Senator Larry Taylor, filed SB 2 which was heard and voted out of committee by a vote of 9-2 last week and this week the Senate passed the bill on a vote of 19-12. The bill now sits in the House waiting referral to the House Public Education Committee.

Representative Ron Simmons has filed the companion to SB 2, HB 253. This bill has not yet received a hearing by House Public Education Committee.

HB 21 (Huberty, Houston)—TCSA Supports
Chairman Dan Huberty filed HB 21, the House’s school finance proposal. This bill increases the basic allotment, increases the bilingual/ESL allotment, expands the grades that may receive the CTE allotment from 9-12th grades to 8-12th grades, creates an allotment for students with dyslexia, creates a “financial hardship grant” for ISDs and charter schools to defray financial hardships resulting from the changes made by this bill, provides $25 million in additional funding for open-enrollment charter schools, and provides $75 million in additional funding to the existing debt allotment program.

HB 21 was favorably voted out of committee this week and may be debated before the full House as soon as Monday, July 31st.

It is important to note that another item added on the agenda by Governor Abbott is a proposal to increase teacher pay. In response, several legislators have filed bills that would accomplish this goal. Not all of these bills impact charter schools, but HB 198 filed by Rep. Travis Clardy (Nacogdoches) impacts all public schools. Amongst other provisions, this bill requires all public schools to increase teacher pay by an average of $1,000. There is no additional funding appropriated by the state for this funding increase. This bill has not yet received a hearing.

We ask you to stay engaged through the special legislative session. As these and other bills move through the process we will ask that you contact your lawmaker to express to them the impact of certain legislation on your schools and students.

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