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.

The following op-ed originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on Tuesday, May 24, 2016.

Commentary: Texas students deserve transformational funding reform

The Texas Supreme Court’s opinion on school finance got one thing right: Students deserve “transformational, top-to-bottom reforms” for the school funding system. Such reform is especially necessary to address students attending a public charter school. The Court rightly acknowledged that charter school students are public school students subject to constitutional protections. However, they altogether dismissed the undisputed fact presented during the litigation that public charter schools receive on average $1000 less per student than traditional school districts. Public charter school students are not worth less.

The Court simply chose not to address this fact but instead determined that public charter schools “receive a better bargain” since they do not have a tax base.

Respectfully, we disagree. It is no bargain that public charter schools receive zero in facilities funds while other public schools receive about $5.5 billion annually. It is no bargain that many teachers who teach in a public charter school are paid less than their school district counterparts because of the funding gap.

It is no bargain that public charter schools must use operational funds, intended for classroom instruction, to cover their facility needs. It is no bargain to create a two-tiered funding system with public charter school students on the losing end. And most certainly, it is no bargain that nearly 130,000 students are forced on waiting lists because there are not seats in the classroom.

We call now upon the Texas Legislature to right the wrongs the Court chose to ignore. We ask that they not penalize families who want to exercise their freedom in selecting the best school within the public education system to meet the needs of their child. The more than 227,000 students attending a public charter school deserve better, particularly when we consider the student populations public charter schools serve.

There are higher proportions of underserved students including those who are economically disadvantaged, African-American, Hispanic, and Limited English Proficient. In fact, the most recent Texas Academic Performance Report Data indicates these underserved subgroups are outperforming their peers at school districts in reading, writing, and math, demonstrating that public charter schools are working.

Additionally, the public charter school community has also taken its responsibility seriously in providing a quality education to students. The Texas Charter Schools Association worked with the legislature in supporting SB 2, which closes poor performing public charter schools after three years for not meeting academic and financial accountability standards. We have done our part to ensure that charter schools provide a quality education within the public school system to meet the needs of students.

Texas Legislature, it is now your turn. The Court has made this much clear, it is up to you to overhaul the school finance system.

To Governor Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Patrick, Speaker Straus, and the entire Texas Legislature, on behalf of the students, parents, and more than 600 public charter school campuses in Texas, we implore you to say public charter school students are not worth less by passing legislation that closes the funding gap for public charter school students.

Paige is the former U.S. Secretary of Education and David L. Dunn is executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association.

Update: Archived video of the oral arguments can be viewed here.

Former Texas Solicitor General James Ho made the case for equitable funding for public charter school students and TCSA General Counsel Denise Pierce drove the point home at the school finance trial before the Supreme Court of Texas on Tuesday.

“We want you to send a clear message to the state legislature. Tell them they can’t discriminate against public charter school parents and students. Tell them they can’t require charters to take money away from teacher salaries and computers,” Pierce concluded in her remarks to the Chief Justice and eight Justices of the court.

Charter schools are different from traditional public schools, but the Texas Charter Schools Association was there on Tuesday because of the similarities, Pierce said.

Denise SCOTX 2

State law states that charters are a part of the public school system and have to follow the same academic and financial standards, she said.

“It’s undisputed that charters receive $1,000 less per WADA, per student. It’s undisputed that charters receive no facilities funding,” said Ho.

Several times he reminded the court that public charter schools are forced to “cannibalize their education budgets” to pay for facilities.

More than 600 school districts were appellants in the case before the Supreme Court of Texas arguing that the state’s public schools are constitutionally underfunded.

Charter schools agreed and added that public charter school students face additional discrimination, because they receive no facilities funding.

“We ask the Court to tell the state not to discriminate against charters….They cannot discriminate against charters by giving facilities funding to everyone except us,” Ho said.

Pierce pointed out that it is the same as saying that the Supreme Court of Texas has to fulfill its mandated duties and pay for its own courthouses.

The state argued that charters signed a contract with the state for a certain amount of funding, and now can’t ask for more than the contractually approved amount.

Ho countered: “There’s no immunity, because there’s a constitution.”

“Charter parents and students didn’t sign a contract for less funding,” he said.

The Supreme Court of Texas adjourned just after noon on Tuesday and will likely take several months to publish its decision.

Read more about the school finance trial at School Finance Lawsuit: Three Things to Know.