The following op-ed originally appeared in the Quorum Report on May 5, 2016.
During May 1-7, we celebrate National Charter Schools Week which is designated to raise awareness of public charter schools and the benefit they provide to students and communities. How appropriate that Texas also commemorates the 20 year anniversary of operating public charter schools in the Lone Star State.
In 1995, the Texas Legislature authorized the establishment of public charter schools and 20 public charter schools began operating in fall 1996. There has been tremendous success and growth in the number of charter holders, campuses, and students in the last 20 years in Texas. For example, public charter schools in Texas have increased student enrollment by 14 percent on average each year since 2010, and today, there are approximately 228,000 students at 613 open-enrollment charter school campuses across the state. It bears mentioning that public charter schools serve higher proportions of students who are economically disadvantaged, African-American, Hispanic, and have limited English proficiency as compared to traditional school districts.
The growth in the number of charter schools and student enrollment can largely be attributed to student outcomes since public charter schools have the flexibility to try innovative ways of learning, and are held accountable for improved student achievement. In fact, the most recent Texas Academic Performance Report indicates that economically disadvantaged, African-American, and/or Hispanic students outperformed their peers attending traditional public schools in reading, writing, and math.
Charter schools give parents a quality option within the public school system and bring new ideas to education. This is evident by the various models of public charter schools including college preparatory, specialized mission, pre-K/elementary, dropout recovery, and residential treatment centers/juvenile detention centers.
Like traditional public schools, open-enrollment charter schools are tuition-free, receive federal and state funding, and are subject to the same educational and financial accountability requirements as traditional public schools. Moreover, Texas’ accountability system is actually more rigorous for charter schools than their traditional school district counterparts, shutting down charter schools that fail to meet state standards for three consecutive years. This is a result of legislation passed in 2013, which the Texas Charter Schools Association supported because Texas students deserve a quality public school education.
However, public charter schools in Texas do not receive any facilities funding, where their traditional counterparts receive $5.5 billion annually. Public charter schools must utilize instructional and operational funds, which are intended for academic instruction. Students should not be penalized for seeking a quality public education.
Public charter schools are the fastest growing sector of America’s public education system, and parental demand continues to far outpace supply of public charter schools, with nearly 130,000 children currently on waiting lists in Texas. While we celebrate the success of the charter school movement in Texas and across the nation, let’s continue the good work by going further and providing the necessary funding to meet the demand for seats in the classroom.
Copyright May 05, 2016, Harvey Kronberg, www.quorumreport.com, All rights are reserved. Reprinted with permission.