TSTA urges more transparency in charter process

My name is Carrie Griffith, and I am a policy specialist for the Texas State Teachers Association. I am here today speaking on agenda item 4, Open-Enrollment Charter School Updates on the Generation 25 and Generation 26 Applications. While TSTA continues to oppose any new open enrollment charters being issued, we are grateful to the State Board of Education for the discussion of the charter application and appreciate the opportunity to weigh in on behalf of the association and its members.

First and foremost, it is important to ensure that the charter application process is fully transparent. In response to recommendations made by TSTA alongside 15 other statewide organizations, there were substantial changes made to the Generation 25 application that did serve to increase transparency. However, we feel that there is ample room for growth because partial transparency in the application process is insufficient in relieving the stress imposed on public schools by charter growth.

We anticipate that we will be providing a more comprehensive list of recommendations for the Generation 26 application, but today I will applaud some of the changes made to Generation 25 and also highlight missed opportunities that should become priorities for Generation 26.

For example, as a result of changes made to the Generation 25 application, charters must now send notice to SBOE members and legislators in affected districts. However, advance notice has yet to be required; verbal instructions at the applicant briefing only make this recommendation.

In addition, superintendents of affected districts are not on the list of interested parties charter operators are required to notify. Without requiring advance notice – and TSTA recommends at least 15 days in advance of public meetings – and without also requiring that superintendents of affected districts be notified, the intent of increasing transparency is completely lost.

The issue of highest priority is that applicants provide the school district, neighborhood and zip code for each new charter in the application. In this way, the board will be better able to determine true need before approving a charter. Currently, applicants are only required to provide the general location of the proposed charter, which could span multiple district boundaries and student demographics.

Although applicants are required to provide an explanation of the ways in which their proposed school would differ from existing options, they are not actually required to reference the existing options with whom they plan to compete. It is curious how a school can at once promise an improvement on area schools and not know where they’re planning to locate.

Thank you for your attention to these issues. Because you will be the ultimate authority in approving new charters, it is critical that the application continue to evolve in a way that is in the best interest of all Texas school children. Affected parties, including superintendents and local neighborhood schools, must have an opportunity to weigh in and plan accordingly; and a charter school seeking permission to syphon state funds, selectively admit students, and arbitrarily cap enrollment should be expected to defend with explicit detail the ways in which it plans to fill a gap before ever being allowed to open.