Day: <span>June 3, 2024</span>

A triple whammy for public education in Texas

Like hundreds of school districts around the state, Manor ISD in Austin is struggling with its budget after Gov. Greg Abbott shut the door on additional state education funding last year in his misguided campaign for private school vouchers.

Manor, now struggling to address a $6 million deficit, has lost more than $115 million in tax revenue over the past five years to charter schools moving into the district and poaching its students, taking funds that Manor could have used to improve programs and meet other student needs. This is another bad idea that should be against the law but, unfortunately, is legal and championed by Abbott’s appointed education commissioner, Mike Morath.

One of the last things Manor ISD needs right now – in addition to the enactment of a voucher law – is another charter school in the neighborhood. The district certainly doesn’t need the Unparalleled Preparatory Academy. Unparalleled in what I am not sure, but Commissioner Morath and the Texas Education Agency have advanced its charter application to the State Board of Education for consideration and possible approval later this month. The charter school proposes to serve students from grades 6-12 with a maximum enrollment of 800, all from Manor ISD.

In their application, organizers of the proposed Unparalleled Preparatory Academy claimed there is little charter enrollment in Manor ISD. In truth, Texas Education Agency data show that Manor lost 36 percent of its student enrollment, more than one-third, to charter transfers last year. This was one of the highest percentages of charter transfers from any school district in the state.

If approved by the state board, Unparalleled Prep would be part of the Building Excellent Schools (BES) charter chain, which has been plagued by poor academic performance and low enrollment.

Eleven BES charter schools have been approved in Texas since 2016, and only one has come close to meeting its enrollment projections. Seven are underenrolled by more than 50 percent. Five of the six BES charter campuses that were rated by the state in 2022 received an F for student achievement. The sixth received a C. Five campuses were not rated because they did not serve tested grades.

The proposed Unparalleled Prep plans to offer a Career and Technical Education (CTE) component that supposedly will focus on developing an “entrepreneurial mindset” among students. Manor ISD already has 16 strong CTE programs that offer students opportunities for well-developed course sequences in careers such as finance, biomedical science, graphic arts and applied agricultural science.

The school district also has established business partnerships with such companies as Dell, Tesla and Samsung.

Unparalleled Prep, if granted a charter by the State Board of Education, would quickly begin raiding Manor for students and tax dollars from these established CTE programs, worsening the school district’s financial troubles.

Should Manor ISD and its students and educators suffer from program cuts and maybe lose jobs because some charter operators with a poor record want to tap into the district’s tax revenue?

Pro-public education advocates don’t think so, and that is why TSTA is opposing this application and four other deficient charter proposals, scattered across the state, that soon will be before the board.

The Texas Education Agency gave preliminary approval to all five applicants. Even worse, if the board grants the charters, Commissioner Morath and TEA will soon be able to amend the charters to allow the operators to open additional campuses, whether they are needed or not. And most aren’t.

That’s been Morath’s practice. Keep adding charter campuses, while school district budgets grow tighter and tighter.

Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott, Morath’s boss, stiffs public schools of additional state funding, while promoting a multi-billion-dollar tax giveaway for private school vouchers to speed up the destruction of the Texas public school system. It is a triple whammy, and it is deliberate.

Clay Robison