Last month, the Superintendent of Northside ISD took to the pages of the Houston Chronicle to launch a new attack on the parent demand for seats at public charter schools in Texas. In “Unfair Advantage Goes to Charter Schools,” Brian Woods creates an unclear picture of the situation, by misquoting the number of actual seats available to the 125,000 students on charter school waitlists.

Let’s stop playing numbers tricks with the public. The numbers that Mr. Woods quoted in his op-ed were not open seats; they are the state-approved capacity for each charter. They are the maximum number of students a public charter school is approved to serve, if they could snap their fingers today and have access to the facilities needed to serve so many children.

In a world like that, no student would be left waiting.

To turn that maximum capacity into available seats, the same dollars available to school districts should flow to the public charter schools. Equalizing the facilities funding would allow public charter schools with long waiting lists to grow with demand, and create enough seats to match their state-approved capacity. With no current funding for school facilities, public charter schools are forced to find the money needed to grow somewhere else in the budget – even taking money out of the classroom.

Everyone agrees that school finance is a complicated issue. However, there’s no clarity to be gained in comparing apples and oranges. Whatever the maximum capacity is set at, it’s not equivalent to the number of seats available for real parents, who are waiting today.

I founded Families Empowered to support the tens of thousands of families on charter school waitlists. Our mission is to help these parents navigate the marketplace of schools. After all, parents don’t care if the right school for their child is a traditional public school or public charter school or private school. We parents navigate all of their options, in-district and out-to find the best fit.

Families Empowered serves parents in Houston and San Antonio, where the waitlist totals a combined 19,882 families. There’s no number games here; these are households unique by physical address who waiting for a spot in at a KIPP, Harmony, YES Prep, or Great Hearts public charter school. We make our best effort to give clarity to complicated numbers by using a conservative metric.

However, this represents only a small portion of the public charter schools with long waitlists, in just two cities. All across Texas even more families are waiting.

Yes, some public charter schools have longer waiting lists than others. You can say the same thing about the highest performing magnet schools and the best school district campuses in wealthy areas. It’s no critique to point out that parents are seeking quality, and are navigating the system to find it. Simply put, the fact that the waiting list is not evenly spread across every public charter school in Texas does not eradicate the existence of long waitlists.

As Families Empowered’s Founder and Executive Director, I can tell you this: these are real parents, looking for quality educational opportunity for their children. These families are stuck on a list because the school they chose, a public charter school, does not have seats for their children.

Instead of playing games with numbers, we should come up with real solutions to address the needs of these families. To meet the demand, the State should provide equal facilities funding to all public schools. This will get children off the waitlists and into a school of their choice. It will help schools with high demand grow to meet these families’ needs, and allow public charter schools to keep their state funds intended for the classroom, in the classroom.

The views and opinions expressed in guest blog posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Texas Charter Schools Association.

By Dorothy Gentry, 4th Grade Teacher, A.W. Brown Leadership Fellowship Academy

Note: A.W. Brown charter leaders will be presenting at the 2015 Texas Charter Schools Conference during the Principals Workshop on Wednesday, October 28, to discuss hiring and retaining high-quality teachers.

Angela Brown is a true example of a success story in teaching. The long-time employee of A.W. Brown Fellowship Leadership Academy in Dallas, a successful Texas charter school, is passionate about the field of education and about teaching at the two-campus academy.

Brown began at A.W. Brown as a substitute teacher in January of 2005 and was officially hired as a teacher’s assistant in March 2008. Ten years at the school and she said, “I’ve loved every moment.”

As the special education teacher for the past three years at A.W. Brown’s Early Childhood Campus she said the school’s vision is key to why she stays.

“First off, what made me get on board with this school was the vision that it has for its students and the community,” Brown said. “They want to make the world a better place one student at a time and it has been an amazing privilege to see it unfolding and steadily coming to fruition right before my eyes.”

Brown said the school supported her in efforts to gain additional education.

“[They] allowed so many doors to open up for me once I was ready to move up. They continue to support and nurture my growth by presenting multiple opportunities to get involved,” she said.

The school feels like a family, where she can speak openly with others about any concerns, Brown said.

An A.W. Brown teacher who has been with the school nearly since it began in 1998.

An A.W. Brown teacher who has been with the school nearly since it began in 1998.

“Words cannot express the joy I have of being able to watch these children grow from babies to teenagers, and then they come back to visit as adults,” Brown said. “They thank us for all we instilled in them and taught them. My own daughter was 3-years-old when she started here, and now she is in the 7th grade.”

Brown said she feels “secure and comfortable” at A.W. Brown and plans to stay as long as possible.

“With the constant growth and success at this school I feel like the sky is the limit and I have no reason not to continue to be loyal to them as they have been to me,” Brown said. “This is one district that I truly feel secure in. They make me feel appreciated in everything I do.”

Other schools can adopt those practices by starting with the board and administrators, she said.

“Ours is awesome. They do a great job letting us know how much we are appreciated and acknowledge that none of this would be possible without us,” she said.

Brown believes the regular evaluations and continuous positive feedback is crucial to the success of the school. Also important is having a good vision of what you are trying to accomplish and then determining what steps are necessary to achieve it.

“They do a good job making sure new teachers are aware of the vision and the steps and why we are all here. For veterans they never let us get complaisant. They find new exciting ways to break down the vision and mission and those steps we need to complete in order to accomplish them,” Brown said.

The vision of A.W. Brown-Fellowship Leadership Academy is to provide a learning environment in which children are trained, prepared and equipped for life leadership and academic excellence. The mission of A.W. Brown-Fellowship Leadership Academy is to produce smart, effective, efficient, disciplined students by creating an environment in which teachers feel safe and free to teach and students feel safe and motivated to learn.

A.W. Brown serves more than 2,000 students on two campuses in grades PK thru 8th grade and has more than 200 full- and part-time staff. A.W. Brown has been in existence since 1998.

By: Martha Fernandez, TCSA Director of Advocacy

Martha Fernandez, TCSA Director of Advocacy

Martha Fernandez, TCSA Director of Advocacy

The beginning of the school year is a busy time for families, educators and students. There are supplies to purchase, lessons to plan and a new routine to learn. But don't let that excitement and stress distract you from an important piece of being in the public charter school movement: ADVOCACY!

Public charter schools have changed the lives of thousands of students and families in Texas since 1995 thanks to dedicated educators and families. But the work is far from over and your voice is needed to continue to grow effective schools and support student achievement.

Here are three easy steps to add advocacy to your school year:

1. Invite local and state elected officials to tour your campus or attend a school event, such as a fall carnival or student performance.

2. Visit your lawmaker's office with parents, students and teachers and tell them about your school.

3. Sign up to join the Texas Charter Revolution and learn all about the issues facing public charter school students!

Our students are being shortchanged about $1,000 just because they attend a public charter school. We have 18 months to show our lawmakers how important public charter schools are to Texas families.

Let's start advocating NOW and erase that funding gap!

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