After its triumphant passage through the Senate, a bill allowing more charter schools in Texas, and making it easier to close low-performing charters, went before a committee of House members Tuesday night.
Other charter school expansion plans from the Senate have died in the House in recent sessions, so charter operators turned out in force to back Senate Bill 2.
The big charter school bill isn’t so big anymore after its author, Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), made major compromises to get the bill passed on the Senate floor. Patrick had hoped to do away with the cap on charter schools, but settled on raising the cap to 305 by 2019. Gone are provisions to give charters money for school buildings, and requiring school districts to lease or sell vacant buildings to charters.
Lawmakers didn’t let on too much of their feelings about the bill—but Killeen Republican Jimmy Don Aycock, chair of the House Public Education Committee, said he didn’t consider the bill watered-down, because it allows the state’s charter network to grow. Charter school officials seemed to agree.
The bill still gives charter schools priority access to unused public school facilities, which Kathleen Zimmerman, executive director of NYOS Charter School, said is the bill’s most important improvement. Zimmerman said she has to give up her office for tutoring sessions because unlike public schools, charters don’t get facilities funding.
Under the Senate version, the education commissioner would revoke charters of schools that performed poorly in three out of five years.
Zimmerman said she didn’t focus on those higher standards because she wanted to highlight the positives. But, she said, “as a charter operator, I don’t want poor performing charters either.”
Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) said she’s concerned that charters may have a hard time getting loans because some banks want them to plan to be open for more than five years.
Charles Pulliam, chief development officer of Life School charter in Dallas, said that prospect would undermine the flexibility charters need to test out innovative education strategies.
“It scares me a little,” Pulliam said. “To have one blanket way of determining if they are successful is a mistake.”
The committee left the bill pending.