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.
By Martha Fernandez, TCSA Director of Advocacy
Since the end of the 84th Legislative Session, I’ve been meeting with several of our charter school leaders to discuss their advocacy plans for the next 15 months. And while they’ve been busy getting their schools up and running for the 2015-16 school year, everyone has been positive and passionate about activating a grassroots network among teachers and parents. Join the TX Charter Revolution!
This spring, we had several priority bills pass into law and we had more parents and teachers than ever before at our rally at the Capitol. But we can and should do more.
My goal is to continue to build TCSA’s grassroots advocacy offerings to support our schools. I understand that every campus is unique in its mission and in the community that it serves, which is why the TCSA advocacy team hit the road on a listening tour. I want to know our members' grassroots needs in order for TCSA to provide targeted and useful support to its members.
So far, I've had the chance to meet with members from International Leadership of Texas, Uplift Education, Life School, Austin Achieve, Montessori for All, KIPP Austin, IDEA Austin and Harmony Public Schools. I will continue meeting and working with you and hope that you will reach out to me if you are interested in hearing more. I am happy to visit as many campuses as possible to support the great work happening on the ground and to connect you to your area lawmakers.
Email Martha Fernandez