TCSA's Christine Nishimura presented the following testimony to the Senate Education Committee at a hearing on September 14, 2016, regarding the Interim Charge: Legislation to require a minimum number of minutes of instruction for each school year.
Dear Chairman Taylor and Members of the Senate Education Committee,
The Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) is the statewide membership organization for effective charter schools of all types, proudly representing nearly 248,000 students at 629 open-enrollment charter school campuses. We appreciate the opportunity to provide testimony in response to the Texas Senate Education Committee’s interim charge regarding legislation to require a minimum number of minutes of instruction for each school year.
House Bill 2610
During the 84th Legislative Session, Representative Ken King introduced House Bill 2610, often referred to as the ‘Minutes Bill.’ The bill was sponsored by Chairman Larry Taylor in the Senate. House Bill 2610 changed section 25.081 of the Texas Education Code which required 180 school days to a total of 75,600 required minutes per year instead. Additionally, section 25.081(e) was added to define a day of instruction as 420 minutes. Senator Taylor and Representative King hoped House Bill 2610 would “promote flexibility in scheduling for traditional public schools.” The bill was meant to allow school districts the flexibility to add minutes to the calendar to compensate for minutes of instruction lost due to inclement weather closures, instead of adding days at the end of the year, or requesting waivers. TCSA fully supports flexibility for all independent school districts and charter schools throughout Texas, as flexibility is crucial in building successful student outcomes. However, unintentionally, the changes made by House Bill 2610 resulted in less flexibility, innovation, and less funding for approximately 18,000 students attending 123 public charter school campuses.
Charter schools were added to the public education system in 1995 in order to increase the choice of learning opportunities for families, improve student learning, and encourage different innovative learning methods. Over the last 20 years, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) approved a variety of open-enrollment charter schools, inlcuding college preparatory schools, drop out recovery schools, residential treatment center charter schools, and dual-credit programs. Each charter approved by TEA outlines the planned school day and provides detailed explanations for why such a program is necessary to meet the needs of its students. For some schools this means providing separate morning and afternoon sessions so students can work and complete high school at the same time. Charter schools also provide morning and afternoon prekindergarten programs in order to serve more eligible students. Others have created a program that increases the number of independent study hours a student completes to better prepare students for the transition from high school to college. While other charter schools dedicate a portion of each week to professional development for teachers to ensure each educator has all the necessary tools to meet the various educational needs of today’s students. Open-enrollment charter schools provide choice for families who are looking for an education experience that matches the needs of their children.
Impact of HB 2610
Unfortunately, for over 18,000 children, the school they chose may no longer be able to offer the TEA approved program. As a result of House Bill 2610 changing the required school year from days to minutes, many charter schools are in a tough position: keep the same program proven to work for the students or change the program in order to maintain full funding?
The Texas Education Code allows charter schools to create unique and flexible schedules for their students. Previously, exemptions from 25.081 gave charter schools the ability to provide extended school years beyond the 180 days minimum requirement, with shorter school days or an increase in the number of professional development days offered to staff. Though charter schools still maintain an exemption from 25.081, for calendar purposes, since 25.081 now defines a day of instruction as 420 minutes, charter schools must sacrifice either flexibility or funding. Section 42.005 of the Texas Education Code must be used to determine the Average Daily Attendance and funding for all schools. Section 42.005 refers to a day of instruction, which is now defined as 420 minutes, in calculating school funding. With this small change, if a charter school chooses to maintain their approved, innovative and flexible schedule, the school’s total funding will be cut. Each charter school that provides a program with less than 75,600 minutes, even if that program was previously approved by the TEA, will receive a funding cut proportionate to the decrease in total minutes.
Approximately 123 campuses throughout Texas are losing the unique characteristics that attracted families to the school in the first place. To maintain funding, drop out recovery schools will be required to extend their school day to the same 7 hour day that failed these students in the first place or significantly extend the school year. Innovative college preparatory models will be required to keep students in study hall, instead of learning critical independent time management and study skills needed for college. And schools dedicated to providing educators with professional development must either cut professional development or extend each school day to meet the minimum number of minutes. Such changes to these programs decrease the flexibility and innovation that is expected from charter schools.
Over the last 20 years, charter schools in Texas have grown from 20 campuses serving 2,500 students at 629 campuses serving nearly 248,000 students. Charter schools provide Texan families choice and opportunity. However, in order to continue to provide true innovative choices, charter schools must be able to keep their flexibility without reduced funding. It is important that charter schools continue to have the ability to create programs, calendars, and curriculums that meet the specific needs of all students. Additionally, by maintaining the previous flexibility and funding in place, both charter schools and school districts are able to provide families with choice and opportunity.
We ask you, Chairman Taylor and the Senate Education Committee to help remedy the unintended impact on the over 18,000 students already attending a unique public school of choice, and keep charter schools fully funded as schools of choice for all families in Texas.