By Jim Rice
FBISD Board of Trustees
Recently there have been many public comments made concerning the pending 83rd Texas Legislative Session and how legislators will expand the “School Choice” options available in Texas. Some state business organizations are already floating trial balloons to tout an agenda of allowing an unlimited number of open enrollment charter schools in the State, granting vouchers for students who wish to attend private schools and allowing these same students to attend public schools part-time, among other initiatives.
Before we expand the number of charter schools allowed in Texas or issue vouchers to attend private schools, we should examine why the Texas Legislature enabled charter schools to be created in the first place and then examine how well those charter schools have performed, both academically and cost-effectively. The Honorable Thomas Ratliff, State Board of Education District 9, recently issued a news release in which he said, “If a charter isn’t improving student learning, why isn’t it shut down? There are too many examples of charter schools NOT enhancing student performance. This seems to be in direct conflict with state law. The Legislature needs to give the Texas Education Agency and/or the State Board of Education [SBOE] more authority to close these charters and protect kids. And we [the SBOE] should be held accountable for the use of that authority.”
The Texas Education Agency’s 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 Snapshot data for open-enrollment charter schools and traditional public schools in Texas reveals that Charter schools have lower attendance rates and higher dropout rates than traditional public schools. Over the five school years analyzed, fewer charter school students passed each of the TAKS tests, especially the math and science TAKS, than students in traditional public schools, except on the 2011 Writing TAKS where the results were parallel. In addition, fewer students in charter schools met the state’s standards for college readiness, as measured by the percentage of students who took the SAT and ACT exams and the average scores on each of those exams. In short, scrutiny of charter school effectiveness seems to be in order before granting unlimited Charters.
Another scheme to cut funding for public schools being touted by some business groups is “Scholarships for Excellence,” simply another term for private school vouchers. Vouchers would help the wealthy at the expense of the poor. Under most plans, the voucher would not completely fund tuition at a good private school. So, only parents who can afford the rest of the tuition could take advantage of such programs; and since most private schools don’t provide transportation for students, only parents who can drive their children to and from the private school would benefit from the so-called “School Choice” voucher program. Public funds belong to all of us as they are contributed by all taxpayers for the purpose of educating all of the five million children enrolled in Texas public schools for the collective good and future of our great state.
Allowing students enrolled full-time in open enrollment charter schools to attend public schools part-time acknowledges the fact that charter schools do not have a complete curriculum to round out a student’s overall education. It will place an unfair burden on public schools to provide these students with classes in fine arts, sports and other enrichment programs that charter schools cannot provide.
Vouchers will hurt, not support, the state’s public schools and will jeopardize the quality of education available to most students. The legislature has a constitutional duty to support and maintain a system of public schools in this state (Texas Constitution Article 7, Section 1). State statute imposes a further duty upon the legislature: The mission of the public education system of this state is to ensure that all Texas children have access to a quality education that enables them to achieve their potential and fully participate now and in the future in the social, economic and educational opportunities of our state and nation (Texas Education Code §4.001).
Just as we hold our school districts accountable for student achievement, we should also hold the State Legislature accountable for supporting a public school system that provides a quality education for all students as the state constitution requires.
School Choice is a broad term that in itself sounds laudable: empowering parents with greater choice over which school their child attends. However, allowing an unlimited number of charter schools that are not held to the same standards as other public schools and providing publicly funded vouchers to subsidize private school tuition for middle class students will be detrimental to our public schools, and thus to most of our students and families, our communities and for the State of Texas.
The Legislature needs to uphold its constitutional duty to support and maintain a system of public schools in Texas, and fund it adequately and equitably. Let’s not squander the next legislative session with arguments over school choice to benefit a few; rather let’s focus our efforts on improving our public schools which do and always will educate the majority of our students. If you agree, let your legislators know.
Editors note: These comments are his alone and he is not speaking on behalf of the FBISD Board.