Lax application standards and weak oversight of charter schools authorized to operate by the state have left Texas with charter campuses that on the whole have a track record of academic performance inferior to that of traditional public schools. Last year the legislature enacted a partial corrective. Senate Bill 2, while authorizing continued charter expansion, called at the same time for more rigorous standards to be applied when charters are initially approved and for quicker revocation of charters that are consistently substandard. But the legislature left it largely to the commissioner of education to enforce the new regime and flesh out the new requirements in his administrative rules.
Now he has proposed those new rules, with public comments invited through August 18. Texas AFT has submitted suggestions for strengthening the rules, while representatives of the charter-school industry have been lobbying to weaken them. You can help level the playing field between taxpayer-funded charter schools and traditional public schools by sending in to the Texas Education Agency comments of your own on the rules, reinforcing the Texas AFT message that if anything these rules need to be toughened in accordance with legislative intent, not softened at the behest of charter interests.
You can submit 14 recommendations regarding the commissioner’s proposed charter rules here. For your convenience, here’s the text of the comments–which you can edit or add to–prepared for you to submit in support of Texas AFT’s recommendations:
Transparency and Integrity
1. These proposed rules regarding academic criteria and financial criteria for charters are incomplete, and their rigor cannot be fully evaluated, because there is a missing link—the still-“pending” Charter School Performance Frameworks referenced in Section 100.1010 on page 12 of these proposed rules. The frameworks should have been available to view alongside the proposed rules in order to see a complete picture of the proposed regulatory scheme.
2. One improvement in the application and selection process would be the commissioner’s own attendance at charter interviews, which should be required in these rules. These decisions are important and should not be treated as matters for mere paper review by the commissioner.
3. The ethics requirements articulated in Section 100.1002(d) on page 7 for persons serving as external application review panel members are commendable and should be maintained.
4. Section 100.1002 (h) on page 8, regarding selection criteria, states the commissioner “may” consider the listed criteria. The word “may” should be changed to “shall,” so that the enumerated criteria must be used by the commissioner in determining whether to grant a charter.
5. On page 28, in Section 100.1022, subsection (b)(2)(F), for grade levels in a charter school where most students are not given a state assessment, the commissioner would be empowered simply to “evaluate the performance of the charter holder” without reference to any specific criteria. The rule should be revised to say the commissioner may “evaluate the performance of the charter holder using meaningful, research-based criteria.”
6. Proposed Section 100.1002 (j) on page 9 states that “priority” should be given to a school proposed in an attendance zone of a school district campus assigned an “academically unacceptable” performance rating. However, this section needs elaboration. Surely the intent here should be to give “priority” not to just any applicant making such a proposal but rather to a genuinely high-performing applicant with a track record of demonstrated success in schools with student enrollment having similar socioeconomic characteristics. Language to this effect should be added to the provision. Section 100.1002 should also give priority to those genuinely high-performing applicants that seek to serve the fastest-growing student demographic in Texas–low-income, English language learners.
7. Item (25) in Section 100.1001 on page 6 provides a definition for “high-performing charter.” This designation should be reserved for entities that have actually fully complied with the “high-performing” criterion stated in the Texas Education Code (e.g., in Section 12.1011), excluding those entities that have been exempted from full compliance with this criterion by commissioner waiver. The commissioner may have the power to confer waivers of this statutory criterion but should not dilute the legislatively intended meaning of genuine “high performance” in the process. An entity that has received a waiver from this criterion should be identified as such.
Parental communication and involvement
8. Charter board members are not elected by or responsible to local voters. Unlike regular school districts that hold periodic public meetings, charter school boards are likely to meet by phone or internet. Hence charter schools should have a communication plan to relay information easily to and from parents. Parents should be informed by multiple avenues, including publication and website.
9. Sec. 12.130 of the Ed Code states each open-enrollment charter school shall provide to the parent or guardian of each student enrolled in the school written notice of the qualifications of each teacher employed by the school. The statute was written in 2001 and does not specify when or how often this notice must be provided. The proposed charter school rules should require teacher qualifications and experience to be posted on the school’s website and at an accessible physical location for parents with no access to computers.
10. The proposed deletion of Section 100.1021, subsection (c), on page 25 would eliminate a requirement that charter holders notify parents and guardians of students in a school subject to adverse action that such action is pending. Such notice is important and the requirement should be reinstated at the appropriate points in the proposed new sections of these rules relating to adverse actions.
11. In Section 100.1002, subsection (h), criterion (4) on page 8 now makes “evidence of parental and community support for the proposed charter school” a criterion for determining whether to grant a charter. That criterion should be amended to say “evidence of parental and community support for or opposition to the proposed charter school.”
12. On page 19, changes in Section 100.1015(b)(1)(C) appear to loosen current standards in place for the determination of financial viability of charter applicants. The rules for financial viability should if anything be strengthened, not weakened, and I question whether this change conforms to legislative intent to raise standards for charter applicants.
13. The term “proprietary material” is left undefined in Section 100.1002, subsection (f), on page 8. It should be defined as narrowly as possible to prevent indiscriminate withholding of information essential for the evaluation of a charter application on the mere say-so of the applicant.
14. On page 21, in Section 100.1015, subsection (b)(3)(F), the requirement that charter applicants commit to hiring teachers who must have baccalaureate degrees, regardless of subject matter taught, is sound and should be retained.