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Guest Blog: The Impact of Turning School Days into Minutes

April 20, 2017

UME Preparatory Academy Background
UME Preparatory Academy (UME Prep) is a public charter school in the Dallas area proudly serving 629 students grades K-12 at two campuses, with another 580 students on a waiting list. UME Prep utilizes a university-method of class scheduling, as well as a strong school-family partnership approach to educate our scholars. The Texas State Board of Education unanimously approved UME Prep to operate its charter and we have been academically and financially successful all five years of operation. Our charter contract was recently extended by the TEA for another 10 years.

HB 2610 in the 84th Legislative Session
In 2015, Representative Ken King passed House Bill 2610, often referred to as the ‘Minutes Bill.’ HB 2610 changed the Texas Education Code’s required 180 school days to a required total of 75,600 minutes per year instead. Additionally, a day of instruction is defined as 420 minutes. 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.

Impact of Legislation to UME Prep
Because of the systemic approach of the University Method of Education, increasing the number of operational minutes to meet the new requirements is not an option, because it would undermine the very basis on which the UME charter was written. UME intentionally designed its program to operate for a 5 hour 20 minute school day (320 minutes) and not a 7 hour school day (420 minutes).

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has worked with us and granted waivers for the last two years, but unless a legislative fix is made this legislative session, UME Prep would lose approximately $1.7 million of a $6 million budget, a 28 percent loss of funding.

The Texas Education Code allows charter schools to create unique and flexible schedules for their students. 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 state, will receive a funding cut proportionate to the decrease in total minutes.

I think of the precious children we serve each day and the incredible parents that have chosen to partner with UME Prep these last five years. I think of the gifted and hardworking faculty and staff who have developed this excellent public educational option that values family, character, a strong work ethic, and postsecondary success. We cannot let this unintended consequence hurt these children, families, and faculty. We cannot simply trim down $1.7 million in a $6 million budget; this would mean closure for our school.

Call to Action
If legislation is not passed for public charter schools to continue to receive full funding, UME Prep could close for what they have already been approved to do these past five years. I, along with others representing UME Prep, have traveled from Dallas to Austin to make legislative visits and testify at hearings so that our legislators know just how important this matter is to our school and other charters.

I want to thank these parents, teachers and advocates for their commitment to serving our students and our charter school by going to the Capitol and meeting with legislators and their staff.

• Susy Brommers, Parent and High School Teacher
• Sarah Milem, Parent Board Representative
• Sarah Ndjerareou, Parent and Family Connector
• Rachel Simmons, Parent and President of Parent Leadership Team
• Mike Spurlock, Superintendent
• James Tweedy, College Prep Advisor and At-Risk Coordinator

We’re grateful to Chairman Larry Taylor of the Senate Education Committee for authoring SB 1660, which adopts the language in Senator Don Huffines’ SB 1280, and provides a solution to all charter schools impacted by the unintended consequences of HB 2610. We are counting on our legislators so we may continue serving students and families.

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