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).

On May 6, 2016, Rapoport Academy held its Generation Texas Decision Day, a college signing event for high school seniors. The entire high school including teachers, staff, parents and all 161 students celebrated with the Class of 2016 seniors. Each of the 32 senior students applied and were admitted to one or more colleges or universities. This day was set aside for the students to commit to their final selection in postsecondary education.

Collectively the class earned more than 550 hours of college credit and were awarded more than $1,040,000 in scholarships and academic awards.

Rapoport seniors were accepted into the following colleges and universities: Baylor, Texas Tech University, Abilene Christian University, Southern Methodists University, Texas State University, Stephen F. Austin University, Tyler Junior College, Tarleton State, Sam Houston State, the University of North Texas, McLennan Community College, Lamar University, Texas State Technical College, University of Mary Hardin Baylor, and Rollins College (FL). Additionally seniors were accepted at the University of Texas campuses in Austin, Arlington, and Tyler. Students were also admitted to the Texas A&M University campuses at College Station, Commerce, Corpus, and Prairie View.

There was another reason for Rapoport Academy to mark the occasion: Paul Shattschneider was the first Early College High School (ECHS) dual graduate. Rapoport Academy has participated in the Early College High School Program since 2007 and has partnerships with Texas State Technical College and McLennan County Junior College.

As a freshman, Paul was determined to achieve this designation and diligently worked towards his goal. Paul is also McLennan County Junior College's first ECHS dual graduate and earned his Associates degree on May 10 and his high school diploma on May 28 from Rapoport. While Paul was accepted to several colleges and earned several scholarships, he decided to attend Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida with $240,000 in scholarships and awards.

Paul is the first dual graduate and many rising seniors are on track to earn this distinction in the next academic year.

TCSA congratulates Rapoport Academy, the Class of 2016 and their families for a job well done!

On March 29, 2016, the Senate Education Committee met jointly with the Senate Higher Education Committee to consider interim charges, which include studying the teacher shortage and retention issues in Texas and evaluate educator preparation programs to determine if these programs are preparing educators for the rigors of the 21st century classroom. In particular, examine the shortages of ELL, special education, and STEM educators across the state and identify the issues creating a shortage.  

Dr. Alexis Neumann, Superintendent of Rapoport Academy, appeared before the joint committees and testified at the public hearing.  The following is her testimony.  

Thank you for the opportunity to share our story and struggles with each of you.  My name is Dr. Alexis Neumann.   I come today on behalf of the students, parents, and staff of Rapoport Academy in Waco, Texas as their Superintendent.  We are a pre-K through 12th grade public charter school and were the first in Texas dual-designated as T-STEM and Early College High School.  Our 800 students are majority minority and majority low-income.  Also you will find in the school’s most current report card that we received 6 out of 7 academic distinctions, only missing the 7th because our students took college-level chemistry as sophomores and, as such, were not included.  Our mission is to help students from low-income families overcome the educational gaps and be prepared academically to successfully complete college coursework by 9th grade.  As you can imagine, not an easy task when you consider that less than five of our students start pre-K with an understanding of the most simple academic concepts.  Today, I will focus on challenges we encounter in securing qualified teachers for our Early College High School (“ECHS”) and T-STEM areas. 

Before joining Rapoport Academy, I was an administrator at the Texas State Technical College (“TSTC”) in Waco and was fortunate to experience the creation of Rapoport’s high school and the budding ECHS partnership.  We have continued to develop that partnership with TSTC and have recently begun to finalize an agreement with McLennan Community College.  Through these partnerships, we have created multiple pathways for our students to obtain a Level 1 Certificate or full Associate’s degree before they graduate from high school.  Our pathways address each of the endorsement areas of HB5 and aid in consolidating the offerings for students to ensure that maximal application of coursework occurs should they continue their education elsewhere. This also allows our students to take foundational coursework in their respective areas of interest without tying them to a specific career path.  As an ECHS, it is also our commitment to provide this opportunity at zero cost to the students or their families in order to create more access for students who otherwise would not be able to afford this type of opportunity.    This means we cover the costs for all transportation, books, fees, tuition, etc. These costs total approximately $75,000 and are expected to triple in the next five years.  TSTC currently waives tuition and McLennan waives that for those who qualify based on income.  I am sure that you are all familiar with the discussion related to funding for education, particularly smaller charter schools.  I’ll come back to this in a moment.

Preparing these students to be college ready cannot start in 8th grade.  It does not start in middle school.  We begin with a college mindset at pre-K.  Our STEM curriculum is targeted and begins in kindergarten with focused efforts on the engineering design process at developmentally appropriate levels as students progress through the district.  What we have discovered with our students is that academic preparedness, though difficult, can be achieved.  However, finding staff who can bridge the gap of a 15 year old’s social maturity while teaching English 1301 or psychology is challenging.  Experiences with professor/student interactions, high school/traditional college student interactions, and parent/professor interactions,  both on and off of the college campus, have led us to the practice of hosting most 9th and 10th grade college courses on our own campus, either through online courses or visiting college adjuncts.  This is where one of the most significant issues we face comes to a head.  We find it seemingly impossible to find a magical combination of teachers who are qualified to teach for college credit, want to interact with still-maturing teenagers, and do this for a salary considerably lower than larger districts around us.  We can compound this problem even more when we try to seek a candidate that can and will do what I just mentioned and has real-world experience in any of the STEM fields.  Why would one leave a $70,000 engineering job to come to our little charter school and make exactly half of that salary?  For those that do, the rewards are priceless.  However, priceless does not pay student loans and grocery bills.  Currently, we could add a core teacher in each of the four areas if they were eligible to teach dual-credit, possibly serving an additional 100 students and enabling more students to complete an Associate’s degree before graduating high school.

I want to be clear that the teachers we have – from pre-K through 12th grade are mission-driven, focused on student outcomes, passionate about making a difference for these children, and committed to the Rapoport way of education.  However, when every dollar Rapoport receives is split to pay the light bills, building maintenance, intervention materials, classroom supplies, and a host of other necessities, what is left in the end does not allow for salaries that can even compete with larger districts, and especially not with professorships or industry.  Though we have participated in college job fairs, community job fairs, Region Service Center job fairs, maintained relationships with the city, four area chambers of commerce, and advertised in local print media, we have continued to see little increase in the number of qualified teaching applicants with industry experience or qualifications to teach dual-credit.

I appreciate the Senate Education and Senate Higher Education Committees addressing this issue today.  Thank you for working towards crafting solutions that will help us find those people who are willing to put their real-world experience to use in expanding and nurturing the minds of our future workforce.

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.