Within the last week, the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) submitted two different sets of public comments for consideration by the Commissioner of Education Mike Morath on his proposed rules.  Below are highlights from the TCSA comments:

The first set are in response to the proposed 19 TAC Chapter 102, Educational Programs, Subchapter AA, Commissioner's Rules Concerning Early Childhood Education Programs, §102.1003, High-Quality Prekindergarten Grant Program.

While the proposed new rules largely reflect the changes made by HB 4 passed by the 84th Texas Legislature, there is one specific requirement in the proposed rules we address with this comment submission. Under proposed rule §102.1003(e), eligibility to receive grant funding under the program requires certification under Chapter 21 of the Texas Education Code for each teacher of the program, in addition to one other requirement articulated in §102.1003(e)(1) – (e)(5).

Generally, unless a teacher is providing bilingual education or special education services, Chapter 21 certification is not a requirement of teachers employed by an open-enrollment charter school. This flexibility removes the barrier of a state-licensing exam and affords open-enrollment charter schools the opportunity to employ teachers with a wide-breath of experience that they then bring to the classroom. Such allowance is at the heart of a charter school’s ability to innovate. As is stated in statute, and in the current proposed rule, the Chapter 21 certification condition to eligibility for the grant funds automatically precludes certain high performing prekindergarten charter schools from receiving sorely needed funding for their prekindergarten programs.

We respectfully request the Commissioner of Education use his authority to allow for the greatest flexibility, while still ensuring quality, in the teacher requirements for open-enrollment charter schools. One method of granting such a request is to provide for a waiver from the teacher certification requirement thus providing open-enrollment charter schools with the opportunity to access the grant funds. Such an opportunity would help to promote and increase the number of quality public charter school prekindergarten programs, thereby increasing school choice for the families of Texas.

The second set of comments TCSA submitted are in response to the proposed 2015-2016 Student Attendance Accounting Handbook (the “2015-2016 SAAH”).

The amendments proposed largely reflect the changes made by House Bill 2610 passed by the 84th Texas Legislature which amended Texas Education Code (TEC) §25.081, by removing language requiring 180 days of instruction for school districts and replacing it with language requiring school districts to provide at least 75,600 minutes of instruction, including intermissions and recesses. House Bill 2610 did not amend TEC §25.081 or any other section of Chapter 25 of the Texas Education Code to make Chapter 25 applicable to open-enrollment charter schools.

The proposed changes to the 2015-2016 SAAH, however, appear to seek to apply TEC §25.081 and TEC §25.082 by rule to open-enrollment charters that are not supported by law. Our comments today address this concern.

If these proposed changes to the 2015-2016 SAAH are adopted, it would prohibit the ability of an open-enrollment charter school to have flexibility in setting their school calendar and length of the school day. Public charter schools were created to increase the choice of learning opportunity in the public school system and to encourage different and innovative learning methods for the students of Texas. Providing public charter schools with flexibility in the school calendar and length of instructional day is essential for public charters to provide innovation and choice for the public school students of Texas.

3.8 Calendar

Section 3.8 Calendar of the proposed 2015-2016 SAAH states that a “charter school must operate so that it provides for at least 75,600 minutes of instruction, including intermissions and recesses (school days) for students (minus any minutes waived by the TEA in writing [see 3.8.2 Makeup Days and Waivers]).” This proposed language inappropriately attaches TEC §25.081’s calendar requirements to open-enrollment charter schools and should be removed. It also directly conflicts with Section 10.3 School Calendar Requirements and Waivers of These Requirements of the proposed 2015-2016 SAAH, which states that “Charter schools are not subject to the 75,600 minute requirement; however, most charter schools typically offer 75,600 minutes of instruction.”

Chapter 12 of the Texas Education Code outlines the applicability of other titles to open-enrollment charter schools. Specifically, §12.103 indicates that open-enrollment charter schools are “subject to this code and rules adopted under this code only to the extent the applicability to an open-enrollment charter school of a provision of this code or a rule adopted under this code is specifically provided.” Section 12.104 of the TEC identifies titles that apply to open-enrollment charter schools. Of the enumerated education titles found under § 12.104, no portion of Chapter 25 of the Texas Education Code is listed. Therefore for calendar purposes, §25.081 does not apply to open-enrollment charter schools. As such, we respectfully request that the proposed Section 3.8 be revised to make clear that a charter school is free to create a school calendar with less than 75,600 minutes without requesting a waiver.

3.8.1 Length of School Day

Section 3.8.1 of the proposed 2015-2016 SAAH states that “a school day must be at least 420 minutes each day, including intermissions and recesses.2 School districts and open-enrollment charter schools are subject to this requirement.” The proposed Section 3.8.1 cites TEC §25.082(a) to apply this length of day requirement to open-enrollment charter schools but as discussed above, Section 25.082(a) of the TEC (requiring districts to provide a school day that is at least seven hours long) is not applicable to open-enrollment charter schools. As recognized in Section 3.8.1 of the 2014-2015 Student Attendance Accounting Handbook (and in Section

3.8.1 of prior Attendance Accounting Handbooks), “Open-enrollment charter schools are not subject to this requirement and may have a shorter school day if their charter so provides.” As such, we request that the Commissioner remove any provision of the proposed 2015-2016 SAAH that applies TEC §25.082(a) to open-enrollment charter schools by rule.

By Lindsey Gordon, TCSA Director of Policy and Legal Services

TEA released a change document that indicates certain changes that will be made to the forthcoming 2015-2016 Student Attendance Accounting Handbook based on House Bill 2610 (Rep. Ken King), the new law that changes the number of days a school district must operate from 180 days to 75,600 minutes.

Lindsey Gordon

Lindsey Gordon

House Bill 2610 does not apply to open-enrollment charters. However, based on the changes proposed to the 2015-2016 SAAH and conversations with TEA, TCSA member schools and charter hopefuls have concerns as to how FSP funding for charter schools with shortened or flexible school days might be impacted under the new minute based attendance accounting system.

TCSA received confirmation from TEA that for the 2015-2016 school year, charter schools that offer flexible school days may continue to do so and their full day funding will not be impacted. There is less clarity as to how charter funding may be impacted in the future. In the SAAH change document, TEA sets forth the following: ”Charter schools are not subject to the 75,600 minute requirement, however most charter schools typically offer 75,600 minutes of instruction.”

TCSA will continue to work with TEA staff to gain clarity on this issue and to ensure Texas charter schools’ missions and unique operational models remain uncompromised.

For questions or concerns please contact Lindsey Gordon or Laura Kelly.

By Denise Pierce, TCSA General Counsel

Denise Pierce

Denise Pierce

An appellate court in Austin on Thursday, September 24, heard arguments from three open-enrollment charter schools on the constitutionality of Texas Education Code Section 12.115(c-1), an automatic revocation provision in Senate Bill 2 passed by the Legislature in 2013. Even though Senate Bill 2 did not become effective until September 1, 2013, Section 12.115(c-1) directed the Commissioner of Education to revoke open-enrollment charter schools based on their academic and financial performance in prior school years.

Before the appellate panel of justices Jeff Rose, Bob Pemberton, and Scott Field were American Youthworks Charter School, Honors Academy Charter School, and Azleway Charter School.

They pressed arguments that Section 12.115(c-1) is unconstitutionally retroactive, that the Texas Education Agency denied procedural due process in its implementation of the new law, and that the TEA improperly considered the performance of Honors Academy high school for the 2011-2012 school year.

All three schools had persuaded a Travis County District Court to enjoin the agency’s revocation process against them, but the State of Texas appealed the district court’s ruling in June 2014, setting up for yesterday’s oral arguments before the Third Court of Appeals.

Representing American Youthworks Charter School, attorney Robert Schulman urged the three-judge panel to declare Section 12.115(c-1) unenforceable, and in the alternative, to remand the case for an actual trial in Travis County District Court.

Attorney Kevin O’Hanlon represented Honors Academy Charter School. O'Hanlon said, “The Court was prepared and understood the matters at issue in the case. They appeared to be receptive to consideration of all constitutional as well as the statutory interpretation issues.”

The outcome of the case is uncertain, but all of the attorneys representing the charter schools were optimistic after the argument.

Attorney Susan Morrison, who represents Azleway Charter School, said she was most surprised by the admission of the State’s attorney: "TEA would treat the three former charter schools as non-revoked if they win this appeal, as long as they are otherwise eligible to hold a charter."

The attorneys anticipate a ruling between 90-120 days - likely in early January - but the court is not beholden to a particular deadline.

Notwithstanding this pending litigation, all three charter charters were formally revoked by TEA in 2014 when the agency exercised its lawful authority as a government agency to supersede the district court’s injunction. Consequently, none of the affected charter holders are currently operating a charter school.

All briefing filed in the case can be found on the court’s website, including the amicus curiae brief filed by the Texas Charter Schools Association.

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Now is your chance to comment on Commissioner of Education rules, but your window of opportunity is short. Below is the deadline for comment submission and the associated rule:

  • July 13 – Regional Education Service Centers (19 TAC Chapter 53), includes board of directors, charter school representation on the board of directions and ESC performance standards and indicators.
  • August 3 – Educational Programs (19 TAC Chapter 102), includes SENSR Grant Program, early childhood educational grant programs, master teacher grant programs, coordinated health programs, early college high schools, designation of STEM Academies, Texas High Performance Schools Consortium, pilot programs and educator award programs.

If you'd like to join the conversation, review the rules and submit a comment on whether the reason for adopting or readopting the rule continues to exist.

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