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

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!

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.

Most students earn a well deserved break this summer while their parents continue to juggle work and family responsibilities. It's easy to let the demands of the school year fade away for a couple of months. Homework, tests, and projects give way to some time outside with friends, and maybe a little too much time with video games and smart phones. Some fortunate students will take a trip away to make summer vacation memories. This year, as in all odd numbered ones, our children aren't the only ones taking a break. Within days of the last school bell ringing, the Texas Legislature also wrapped up their regular session. Lawmakers spent the last 140 days debating thousands of bills impacting almost every aspect of our lives. Unlike school they don't meet every year, and because some work wasn't finished on time, Governor Abbott is calling them back to Austin to consider unfinished business in July. Only the Governor has the power to call this “special session,” and he alone determines what issues lawmakers deal with during the 30-day period.  

Public charter schools made some solid gains at the state Capitol during the regular session this year, with the tremendous support of thousands of parents. Some 18,000 supporters sent more than 12,000 emails and made phone calls and visits to lawmakers. More than 2,000 rallied on the steps of the Capitol and heard politicians pledge support for our most pressing priority: the urgent need for facilities funding. Lawmakers did pass a bill expanding access to the permanent school fund (PSF) bond guarantee program, a move that will make an estimated $3 billon more available to back bonds for school construction and expansion loans. Public charter schools will save hundreds of millions in financing and servicing debt. It's like getting approved for a better credit card with much lower interest rates, but you still need the money to pay for what you charged on the card. Every public charter school student in Texas, and that's about 250,000, deserves facilities funding. If the state provided it, as they do for all other public school students, the 141,000 students on waiting lists to attend a charter school might actually get to enroll and change their lives. 

We all fought every step of the way during the last 140 days to make the case for facilities funding, and because of your work, the debate waged on until the very last hours of lawmaking. As proud as we are of all this work, it still hurts to lose. Especially when we are closer than ever before to achieving our goal. So we fight on. It's time to take our advocacy for public charter schools to the next level. We must grow our support from the incredible 18,000 to thousands more from every charter school in our state. State lawmakers are home now for a few weeks before they head back to the Capitol. We can't rest, they need to hear or voices and then they need to act. If we don’t take action, our lawmakers certainly won’t.

Soon we will begin the work of reaching out to our elected officials to make sure public charter schools are not lost in the shuffle this summer during the special session. To everyone that has helped so far, thank you. Our job is not done, and we are counting on you to help us finish it so that every student can reach his or her potential and every student has an opportunity to attend the school that best fits their needs.  

We are approaching the finish line for the 85th Legislative Session with only days left for our senators and representatives to pass important legislation impacting the state of Texas.

As you all know, the key priority for the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) is centered on providing public charter schools with facilities funding to help accommodate exponential enrollment growth and the number of students on a waiting list.

Thanks to your efforts including telephone calls, about 15,000 emails, and in-person visits from public charter school advocates this legislative session, we have made it further in the legislative process than ever before.

For the first time, a public charter school facilities funding bill has passed one chamber of the Texas Legislature, the Senate, and is now in the House. SB 457 provides $50 million for charter school facilities funding and an equal amount to property poor school districts. The potential impact of this critical funding would mean additional classroom space for students on a waiting list, computer labs, libraries, or an increase in teacher salaries.

However, this is by no means a “done deal.” In fact, there is still work to complete and the time to act is now!

Together, we must contact our state representatives in the House to ensure a facilities funding bill gets to the Governor's desk. It is critical that you email your state representative right now to let them know public charter school children are not worth less than their peers at other public schools. Ask them to support SB 457!

Public charter schools are an integral part of the state’s public education system, held to strict accountability academic and financial standards. However, charter schools are the only public schools that do not receive any direct assistance for facilities funding. It's time to stop short- changing public charter school students!

Act Now

The 85th Legislative Session is in full swing and more than half-way complete.  Several priority bills for the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) have already received a hearing in committee, one of the first steps that a bill must take before moving forward.  This is truly great news as the sooner bills are heard in committee, the more time we have to move them through the legislative process. 

HB 795, by Rep. Jarvis Johnson, was heard on March 21, 2017, in the House Public Education Committee.  This bill allows public schools to appeal a preliminary accountability rating on the basis that the public school made a clerical error.  Currently, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) considers appeals only for errors caused by TEA, the education service center, or the testing agent.  Richard Rickey, Founder/CEO of Orenda Education and John Armbrust, Founder/Executive Director of Austin Achieve, both testified in support of the bill, which was well received by committee members.

That same week, on March 22, 2017, the House Ways and Means Committee heard HB 382/HJR 34, filed by Rep. Jim Murphy.  This bill exempts property leased by a public charter school from property taxes.  Elizabeth Camarena with Responsive Education Solutions, Peter Wofford, a 12th grade student enrolled in Harmony Science Academy, Tommy Fuller, a charter advocate and David Dunn, Executive Director of TCSA, testified in support of the bill. 

Importantly, this week for the first time in TCSA’s history, the House Public Education Committee heard testimony on facilities funding for public charter schools.  HB 2337, filed by Rep. Harold Dutton, was heard in committee on March 28, 2017.  There was strong testimony in support of the bill from the charter school community:  Kathleen Zimmerman, CEO of NYOS, Michelle Bonton, Superintendent of The Rhodes School, Priscilla Cavazos and Michele McCurdy - public charter school parents, Mike Feinberg and Albert Black – TCSA board members, Lalla Morris with Families Empowered, and David Dunn.  The committee members asked thoughtful questions and engaged in a robust conversation. 

Also heard at this hearing was HB 467, by Rep. Jim Murphy.  This bill would increase the capacity of the Permanent School Fund Bond Guarantee Program available to public charter schools.  Brent Wilson, Superintendent of Life Schools, Karalei Nunn, Founder/COO of Meridian World School, Tom Sage, a charter advocate, David Dunn, and former SBOE Member Thomas Ratliff all testified in support of the bill. 

There was opposition to both HB 2337 and HB 467, with stronger opposition to providing public charter schools facilities funding.  Though all bills received a positive reception, we are very far from the finish line.  It will take significant effort to get these bills across the finish line. 

We will continue to push these important priorities forward, but we need your help.  If you haven’t contacted your lawmaker yet and asked for their support, it’s not too late!  Find your lawmaker and contact their office, ask them to support these bills.   You may also directly send them an email by taking action.  Now is the time to get engaged – now is the time to tell lawmakers public charter school students are not worth less!

By Michelle McCurdy, Mother of a Charter School Student at Altamira Academy

 AMA_Crest (2)

When considering Kindergarten for my daughter, Meredith, I researched every option to find the best school to meet her needs. I eventually selected Altamira Academy, one of three elementary campuses in the Wayside Schools. I chose a public charter school, and more specifically Altamira Academy, for various reasons including the year-round schedule, an international baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, an unwavering commitment to small class sizes, a generally smaller student population, and a required uniform.

 Meredith is now a first-grader, and she’s thriving in her classes. I couldn't be happier with our choice of a public charter school.

A few weeks ago, I had an amazing opportunity to join other parents in meeting with state legislators about our experiences with our children attending public charter schools. We discussed exercising our option within public education.

It was one of those roller coaster kind of days. I was filled with sorrow as I recounted the struggle and anxiety that surrounded our efforts to find the best school fit for my child as an individual, and for all of us as a family. I was filled with gratitude and pride as I told the legislators about our joy at finding a school that met so many of our needs.

But I was also filled with anger as I talked about the sacrifices our campus makes every day--the things we give up or trade off. I asked someone to explain to me why my child deserved about $1400 less than my neighbor’s child, simply because I didn’t believe the traditional school in my zip code was a good fit for my daughter. I implored them to come to our charter campus and see the amazing things that are happening. At the end of the day, I felt galvanized. I feel compelled to advocate, not just for my own children, but for every filled-with-potential face I see at my daughter’s public charter school.

I hope you’ll feel compelled, too. We are at a historical crossroads, with companion bills, SB 457 and HB 2337, in the state House and Senate and bipartisan support. I want to thank the legislators who sponsored these bills, but I’m also asking for others at the Capitol to support it. Now is the time to stand up for our students and demand equity in funding. Call, write, visit your elected officials and let them know that choice shouldn’t mean compromise.

There is significant momentum for charter school facilities funding this legislative session. Earlier this week, Senator Donna Campbell held an event at the Texas Capitol to highlight joint efforts to narrow the funding gap between students at public charter schools and traditional school districts.

Sen. Campbell was joined by state Reps. Harold Dutton, Dwayne Bohac, and Ron Simmons to discuss the importance of providing charter schools with facilities funding through their companion legislation, SB 457 and HB 2337.

Also participating in this event were parents, charter leaders, and advocates from Austin area charters including Harmony Public Schools, IDEA Public Schools, KIPP Public Schools, Not Your Ordinary School (NYOS), Orenda Education, and Rapoport Academy (Waco). These schools, among others from across the state, coordinated a letter writing campaign beginning last fall to encourage families to reach out to their elected officials regarding the need for facilities funding.

Pricilla Cavazos, a parent whose child attends NYOS, shared her personal story on finding a school to best meet the needs of her child and her experience on a waiting list for a charter school. Additionally, Ms. Cavazos told legislators the need for facilities funding and what it would mean for her child to have access to a school library and large hallways in a brick and mortar building (as opposed to a portable classroom).

Larkin Tackett of IDEA Public Schools also delivered remarks describing their student success and tragically, the number of students on a waiting list to attend one of their campuses.

TCSA wants to thank these legislators for hearing the demand of Texas families and responding with filing SB 457 and HB 2337. This is the first time a House bill for charter school facilities funding has been filed by a set of joint authors representing both bipartisan and geographic diversity. This effort is led by legislators representing Dallas-Ft. Worth, San Antonio, Houston, and the Rio Grande Valley, where a majority of charter schools educate students.

We also want to thank the families from across the state who wrote letters to their elected officials advocating for public charter schools. Many of these letters were delivered to legislative offices later in the afternoon.

Click here to watch the full event in its entirety. (not compatible with Chrome).

State Representatives Harold Dutton, Dwayne Bohac, Jodie Laubenberg, Eddie Lucio, III, and Ron Simmons have joined Senator Donna Campbell in taking the lead to narrow the funding gap for students attending a public charter school and those at traditional school districts. These joint authors filed HB 2337 as companion legislation to Senator Campbell’s SB 457 for charter schools facilities funding.

This is the first time in state history that companion legislation specific to facilities funding for public charter schools has been filed in both chambers of the Texas Legislature. The Texas Charter Schools Association and its member schools are elated at potential aid for the 250,000 students currently enrolled at a public charter school and the additional 141,000 students on a waiting list to attend one.

Both HB 2337 and SB 457 propose providing charter schools with $700 per student, which would put them on par with low-wealth school districts.

As a result of the lack of facilities funding, charter schools currently receive on average $1400 less per pupil as compared to other public schools. Charters must use their operational funds meant for student instruction, materials, and teacher salaries to also pay the rent or mortgage for classrooms.

Adding to the momentum, Governor Greg Abbot has specifically identified facilities funding for public charter schools in his budget proposal, which is also a first for a sitting governor of Texas.

Texas Charter Schools Association thanks Representatives Dutton, Bohac, Laubenberg, Lucio, and Simmons, as well as Senator Donna Campbell for their leadership in the Legislature and their commitment to ensuring that all Texas children have access to a high quality, free public education.

For the first time ever there is a bill filed in each chamber of the Texas Capitol that would provide much needed additional funding to public charter schools and their students. We previously reported Senator Donna Campbell filing SB 457. We now also have HB 1269 filed by Representative Jason Villalba.

Public charter schools are the fastest growing public school system in the state with student enrollment at 247,236, increasing at more than six times the rate of school districts per year. The demand from Texas families for a charter school seat is also growing with more than 141,000 students on a waiting list. Since charter schools receive zero in facilities funding they cannot meet families’ demand for a public charter school seat and they must use classroom dollars for bricks and mortar. Charter schools receive $1400 less per student on average than other public schools. Much of this gap can be attributed to the lack of facilities funding.

Rep. Villalba’s HB 1269 works to close the funding gap between public schools by providing all public charter schools with an additional, estimated $280 per student. Further, if the school achieves a certain academic performance level, it is eligible to receive further supplemental funding. Should the public charter school choose the supplemental funding, the public charter school may only expel a student for a reason expressly allowed in law and must provide a disciplinary alternative education program or juvenile justice alternative education program, as applicable.

HB 1269 also proposes to amend the law regarding the notification of a new charter school campus. It limits the required notification to a three-mile radius of the address or intersection at which the proposed charter school is likely to be located. Further, it would implement a second notification requirement: by the 30th day after the date on which property is acquired that is intended to serve as a public charter school, notice of the property’s address must be provided to the aforementioned three parties.

A final important highlight of HB 1269 is that it includes language geared towards facilitating public charter schools and school district partnerships. Such partnerships are not only wins for public charter schools and schools districts, but most importantly, for public school students.

With a funding bill in each chamber of the Texas Capitol, the momentum continues to grow to end the wait list as well as provide equal funding for public charter school students. The Texas Charter Schools Association appreciates Representative Jason Villalba for his support for public charter schools and we look forward to working with him to ensure all students have access to a quality public education!