Day: <span>February 19, 2020</span>

Share the blame for Austin school closures with private charter operators

The Austin ISD school board took a lot of heat from parents and other members of the public when it recently voted to close four elementary schools – Brooke, Metz, Pease and Sims – in East and Central Austin.

Much of the anger centered around the fact that the minority community in East Austin, which has suffered through a history of racial discrimination, was being targeted again. But William J. Gumbert writes that another factor was at play in the district’s decision – raids by charter schools that have taken millions of taxpayer dollars from AISD while giving minority parents dreams of academic success for their children that don’t always come true.

Gumbert, a former school financial adviser, decries the damage that privately operated charters are doing to the Texas public school system, and he has zeroed in on the damage to Austin ISD alone in an article published on Last year, he wrote, state-approved charters took about $110 million in tax funds from an underfunded AISD and are expected to take more than $1 billion from the district over the next 10 years.

A full copy of his article is linked at the bottom of this post, but here are some highlights, which the author said he cleaned from the Texas Education Agency’s website:

  • With little or no input from parents and other taxpayers, the state has approved more than 50 charter campuses that intend to recruit students (some already are) from existing AISD schools. The more students they recruit, the more tax dollars they take from AISD. These are not district-operated charters. These charters are run by privately operated charter companies and private boards of directors.
  • Thirty-one of these campuses are within a five-mile radius of Sims Elementary, one of the East Austin schools scheduled for closure.
  • Despite promises to improve student outcomes, only two of the 16 charter holders (some have multi-campuses) that operate in AISD have a higher academic rating on the state’s accountability system than the school district.
  • Three of the 16 have the same rating as AISD.
  • Eleven have a LOWER rating than AISD.
  • The average academic rating of the 16 charters is 80.3, or almost 10 percent LOWER than AISD’s rating of 89.

The quality of teachers and stability of the teaching force obviously have something to do with this, and here are some reasons why:

  • AISD employs more experienced teachers, with an average experience of 10.5 years. Average teacher experience at the charter schools in AISD is 4.4 years.
  • AISD’s teacher turnover rate is 15.6 percent. The charter teacher turnover rate is 35.8 percent.
  • AISD employs certified teachers. The charters in Austin have, on average, 58.5 percent certified teachers in their schools.

Gumbert also writes that Austin ISD spends more per-student on instruction and less per-student on administration than the charters.

“The state’s unilateral efforts to deploy a separate system of privately operated charter schools is to blame for AISD’s school closures. AISD is only delivering the consequences of the Legislature’s orchestrated efforts to privatize and take over the public education system in local communities,” he says.

“The frustrations and concerns regarding AISD’s school closures are valid, but the root cause is in the Capitol, not in AISD.”

Clay Robison