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FEATURE Test Tube Kids Why is The University ofTexas Pushing a Charter School in East Austin? BY DAVID PETERSON AND FORREST WILDER the form of anew charter school, to be located at 6th Street and Robert Martinez, about a mile east of downtown. University officials have promised this won’t be another land grab, but not everyone is accepting UT’s claim of benevolence at face value. Aside from the university’s troubled history in East Austin, the move also puts UT squarely in the middle of the controversy over the state’s charter school program, which allows non-profits to start their own schools with public funds. The list of names associated with UT’s effort, moreover, ensures that this will be no ordinary charter school. The plan came to life on May 9, 2002, when the University ofTexas Board of Regents voted unanimously to approve the charter school proposal. In response to a report about the Austin Independent School District’s poor record with low-income students, the charter school would be placed in East Austin, the regents decided. “We can do it better,” Board of Regents Chairman Charles Miller tri umphantly announced after the vote. The charter school is to be the centerpiece of a new system-wide initiative in UT’s college of education, known as Every Child, Every Advantage. The initiative closely follows the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush’s controversial education reform passed last year. That’s not surprising, since Bush’s education guru, Sandy Kress, was hired by UT as a consultant on the program. Bush’s favorite reading consultant, Sharon Vaughn, has also been brought on board, to develop the reading cur riculum for the charter school. The vote sent up red flags for AISD superintendent Pat Forgione, who says he found out about the proposal an hour and a half before the regents voted on it. At a public meeting about the charter school held by UT in September, some East Austin community leaders expressed optimism about an alternative to AISD, but others, including educators and parents, voiced their objections to UT officials. They were worried about the school’s location, the lack of community involvement in the process, and the potential drain on AISD’s funds. UT brushed off criticism and proceeded as planned. On November 15th, the State Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the charter school. It is slated to open in the fall of 2003. The story of the UT East Austin Elementary Charter School is actually two stories: one about a predominantly white university moving into a low-income community of color, and another about an activist Board of Regents appointed by for their right-wing “education reform” agenda through a public university. 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 12/20/02 The University ofTexas at Austin is crossing 1-35 again. Last time UT made a foray into East Austin, in the 1980s, it tried to annex Blackland, a low-income, predominantly African American neighborhood just across the highway from the main campus. The university’s thwarted attempt to buy up all the homes in the area enraged a generation of East Austinites. This time around, the university is moving into a Hispanic neighborhood to combat, in the words of UT officials, “overcrowding” and “low performance” in area schools. This olive branch comes in ‘0