The 85th Legislative Session is in full swing and more than half-way complete. Several priority bills for the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) have already received a hearing in committee, one of the first steps that a bill must take before moving forward. This is truly great news as the sooner bills are heard in committee, the more time we have to move them through the legislative process.
HB 795, by Rep. Jarvis Johnson, was heard on March 21, 2017, in the House Public Education Committee. This bill allows public schools to appeal a preliminary accountability rating on the basis that the public school made a clerical error. Currently, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) considers appeals only for errors caused by TEA, the education service center, or the testing agent. Richard Rickey, Founder/CEO of Orenda Education and John Armbrust, Founder/Executive Director of Austin Achieve, both testified in support of the bill, which was well received by committee members.
That same week, on March 22, 2017, the House Ways and Means Committee heard HB 382/HJR 34, filed by Rep. Jim Murphy. This bill exempts property leased by a public charter school from property taxes. Elizabeth Camarena with Responsive Education Solutions, Peter Wofford, a 12th grade student enrolled in Harmony Science Academy, Tommy Fuller, a charter advocate and David Dunn, Executive Director of TCSA, testified in support of the bill.
Importantly, this week for the first time in TCSA’s history, the House Public Education Committee heard testimony on facilities funding for public charter schools. HB 2337, filed by Rep. Harold Dutton, was heard in committee on March 28, 2017. There was strong testimony in support of the bill from the charter school community: Kathleen Zimmerman, CEO of NYOS, Michelle Bonton, Superintendent of The Rhodes School, Priscilla Cavazos and Michele McCurdy - public charter school parents, Mike Feinberg and Albert Black – TCSA board members, Lalla Morris with Families Empowered, and David Dunn. The committee members asked thoughtful questions and engaged in a robust conversation.
Also heard at this hearing was HB 467, by Rep. Jim Murphy. This bill would increase the capacity of the Permanent School Fund Bond Guarantee Program available to public charter schools. Brent Wilson, Superintendent of Life Schools, Karalei Nunn, Founder/COO of Meridian World School, Tom Sage, a charter advocate, David Dunn, and former SBOE Member Thomas Ratliff all testified in support of the bill.
There was opposition to both HB 2337 and HB 467, with stronger opposition to providing public charter schools facilities funding. Though all bills received a positive reception, we are very far from the finish line. It will take significant effort to get these bills across the finish line.
We will continue to push these important priorities forward, but we need your help. If you haven’t contacted your lawmaker yet and asked for their support, it’s not too late! Find your lawmaker and contact their office, ask them to support these bills. You may also directly send them an email by taking action. Now is the time to get engaged – now is the time to tell lawmakers public charter school students are not worth less!