The Rev. Sen. Dan Patrick, self-styled education “evangelist,” has said variously that either 100,000 Texas students, families or parents are on waiting lists for charter schools. The Austin American-Statesman’s fact-checkers at PolitiFact Texas rated the claim as “mostly true.”
We still don’t know for sure, though, because state regulators don’t keep those figures. Instead, they came from the Texas Charter Schools Association, which surveyed its members, and is a strong supporter of Patrick’s SB2 to lift the state’s cap on charters. As PolitiFact Texas pointed out, federal law prohibits the association from collecting students’ names and addresses. So, we don’t know if numbers were inflated or how many would-be charter enrollees were duplicated, showing up on more than one school’s waiting list.
A much more critical figure, in any event, is 5 million. That is the number of students enrolled in Texas’ public schools. And, there is absolutely no debate over how long the public schools’ waiting lists are. There aren’t any because, unlike charters, most public schools don’t cherry pick. They take all comers in their districts, regardless of academic or behavioral record, family income, special needs or ability to speak English.
Public schools don’t keep waiting lists. They just keep moving in more portable classrooms. And, public schools are where the vast majority of Texas children will continue to be educated, including the low-income children that Sen. Patrick professes to want to help the most.
Those low-income children – who account for more than half of all public school students in Texas – also took the brunt of the $5.4 billion in school budget cuts that Patrick voted for two years ago. As Senate Education Chairman, Patrick needs to rearrange his priorities and lead a campaign to restore the funding cuts to public schools before he tries to expand the number of charters or siphon away more public education money for private school vouchers, which he also has made a priority.