By Scott Van Beck Ed.D., Executive Director, Houston A+ Challenge
“I’d like to address two points connected to Senate Bill 2 [relating to charter schools and home-rule charter school districts, including establishment of the Charter School Authorizing Authority], but first I’d like to tell you a quick story. As many of you know, Houston A+ Challenge runs a middle school network filled with principals and teachers. The goal is to improve the overall student achievement, not of a school, not of a school district, but the Houston region. In this network, we have both charter schools and traditional middle schools working on leadership, literacy, numeracy, college access, and family involvement.
“These are the research-based post-secondary success indicators that are important to getting middle school kids in a position to be successful in high school, post-secondary education, and beyond. Currently, KIPP and YES College Prep work side by side ISD middle schools in a very collaborative fashion. It would be a great thing if we could attract additional high-performing charter management organizations, not currently in Texas, to join our current charters and ISDs in the middle school work.
“This week I read with interest Senator Patrick’s op-ed on innovation and creating a better schooling design here in Texas. As I read it, though, I was thinking about the 350,000 kids who are currently in low-performing public schools in this state. Add this number to the number of dropouts and the number of families wait-listed to enter charters and it’s clear to me that we need to widen the field of public education in Texas.
“To create this ‘greenfield landscape’, we need to lift the cap for state charters and we need to quickly close down those charters who are under-performing.
“Who performs this function?
“Is it the State Board of Education and the Texas Education Agency, or is it a new authority – one that can concentrate on innovate on and creativity?
“We are very interested in the quality seat language in Senate Bill 2. To Senator West’s earlier point, I can understand the ebb and flow of neighborhood school enrollments, but many schools in Houston have been under-enrolled for many years. If the local authority is unwilling to either consolidate or make those seats available to high-performing school operators, then the role of the state might be to step in (like other state have done) to encourage available seats being used – especially when a capital funding conversation is occurring for charters. A great school is a filled school.
“Finally, a few points about the charter application process. Houston A+ Challenge is going through the Generation 18 state charter application process. We have concerns about timing and governance issues, but time prevents me from going into detail now regarding those concerns. We’ll be in touch with the committee. And, as always, Houston A+ Challenge stands ready to educate and inform this committee about public education issues important to this state. Thanks for the time.
A full video of public commentary can be found at the Texas Senate Committee on Education website: http://www.senate.state.tx.us/avarchive/?yr=2013&lim=0