Now, IDEA is raiding Round Rock ISD for tax dollars

The IDEA charter chain continues to raid public schools for students and tax dollars, and one of the latest districts it has targeted is Round Rock ISD in suburban Austin, one of the better districts in Central Texas. Round Rock got a B for “recognized performance” in the state’s latest accountability ratings.

About three-fourths of its campuses got As for “exemplary performance” or Bs on their report cards, and 29 campuses earned a total of 109 distinction designations. Only a few campuses got Ds or Fs.

You may recall that the reason the Legislature authorized charter schools more than 20 years ago was to create a new class of “public” schools that would be free from some state restrictions. The idea was to give these schools the freedom to be innovative in teaching children who may have more difficultly learning in traditional public schools.

So, if Texas is going to allow a charter chain that claims to perform educational wonders to continue expanding, it would seem that there are other districts that would offer IDEA a greater challenge. I suspect though that IDEA, in preparing to open its Round Rock Tech campus, is more interested in the tax dollars it will take from Round Rock ISD than it is in taking on a more challenging student body.

Round Rock Tech, by the way, doesn’t mean wood shop. It means high tech. The new school will be located very close to Dell’s Round Rock campus. I don’t know if there will be a working relationship between the two institutions, but the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation has been a major donor to IDEA and other charter schools.

One of IDEA’s Round Rock recruiting emails was shared with TSTA. It was addressed to a family with a child at Brushy Creek Elementary School, an A-rated campus with special distinctions for ELA/reading and closing the gaps. It would seem that this particular school doesn’t need much help, and it isn’t located in the Dell-IDEA neighborhood.

So, IDEA may have blanketed the district with its emailed letters, in both English and Spanish, soliciting parents to enter a lottery that will be held this weekend. I wonder though if it solicited students from D and F campuses as aggressively as it did students from A and B schools. The charter is seeking applicants for the 2020-21 school year for most elementary grades with plans to add additional grades later.

In the letter, IDEA all but promises that all of its students will graduate not only from high school but also from college. It also claims, “All IDEA schools are rated either A or B by the TEA (Texas Education Agency).” In fact, there is no way that any school can guarantee that all of its students will graduate from college, and it is NOT true that all IDEA schools have been rated A or B on the state accountability system.

Two of IDEA’s schools, one in San Antonio and one in Austin, got Ds on the 2018-19 TEA report cards, and five in San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley got Cs.

The parents who received the letter that I saw were particularly upset that it referred to their child by name. In an obvious pressure tactic, the letter also urged parents to hurry because “we already have more applicants than seats.”

The existing Round Rock schools in the vicinity of the new IDEA campus include one F-rated elementary school, two D-rated schools (an elementary and a middle school), one C-rated elementary school, a high school and an elementary school with Bs and two A-rated schools (an elementary and a middle school).

The principal of the B-rated elementary, Berkman, was a finalist last year for an HEB Excellence in Education Principal Award.

IDEA will conduct its lottery, exclude those students with disciplinary problems, as is its policy, and prepare to take a bite out of Round Rock ISD’s and the state’s budget, a statewide bite by all charters that is approaching $3 billion a year.

Meanwhile, Round Rock ISD will continue accepting every child who lives in the district and registers, even as it loses tax revenue to IDEA. They will include the children with discipline problems, who IDEA refuses to accept, and eventually some of the special education students who may enroll in IDEA, only to learn that most charters don’t provide the level of services that traditional public schools offer.

Texas needs to stop this transformation into a dual “public education” system, at least until it adequately pays for the underfunded public schools that are being raided.

—Clay Robison

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