Education issues like public school board takeovers by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), out-of-state charter dollars pouring into Texas and or the conundrum of whether to remain an independent school district or opt-out into home rule charter strain the Texas education system. Currently, Dallas Independent School District (DISD) is embroiled in the latter. It is a contentious fight between public and charter forces tugging at its children and the community is divided.
On March 20, WFAA-TV reported on that “Support Our Public Schools” was the organization behind the home-rule push. It was circulating a petition that with 25,000 signatures from registered Dallas voters, would force the current members of the DISD board of trustees to form a 15-member commission. That commission would draw up a new charter for DISD. Currently, DISD is governed by its nine local and publicly elected board members.
The politics of the proposed home rule are complex. In a March 31 Advocate Magazine article, secession was described as difficult to accomplish and as a process that could endanger DISD’s bond covenants. Also, there are issues of previously committed property tax revenues, not to mention the varying agenda of the conflicting factions fighting over the district’s direction.
Still, on Monday evening, April 7, the DISD community came out to discuss the pros and cons of public versus charter schools. KERA News reported that advocates were on hand to tout home-rule as crucial to changing and improving schools. Meanwhile, opponents pointed out the other side of the charter story–home rule changes control of a district, its finances, and an elected school board. Long story short, altered school governance is not always what a community understands when bargaining for the perception of better in the name of “choice.”
“Choice” has become the backup battle cry of education reform. It was one of the premises that built House Bill 5; the new pathways to college and/or career readiness held the promise of creating more choice. However, there has always been choice in education–public, private, parochial and home school are more traditional offerings.
Currently, choice has taken on new meanings, rounded out by the kind of schooling realities that only legislation can bring–open enrollment, public school transfers, magnet and alternative schools. In states like California, open enrollment pertains to public schools, not charters. It replaced the old “inter” and “intra” district transfers. Still, all of the aforementioned operate under publicly-funded tax dollars and offer the choice of attending a different public school or public school district than assigned by address.
There are also more controversial choices out there like vouchers, which use public taxpayer dollars to fund private and/or religious school tuition. Critics like education scholar Diane Ravitch and groups like the Texas advocacy organization Coalition for Public Schools and Texas Freedom Network strongly oppose them because they remove taxpayer allocated funds from public education, which many believe is being moved from an already cash-strapped system, and into private institutions.
Then, there’s the charter movement. Most associated with Michelle Rhee, the former Washington D.C. Chancellor of Schools who gained national prominence through 2010’s “Waiting for Superman: How We Can Save America’s Failing Public Schools” that depicted the positive and negative dynamics among Rhee, the unions and the teachers. After resigning from her post, Rhee founded StudentsFirst, a non-profit dedicated to education reform. She familiarized Americans with concepts like the parent trigger law (in states including Texas and California) that set forth the steps that parents in a school can take to opt their school into charter status.
Rhee has been accused of being a reformer “change agent,” that expression referring to education aligned with Fed Led Ed values; this came about because Common Core architect David Coleman sat on the StudentsFirst board of directors through June 2012, serving as treasurer, according to Ravitch, who also noted that two other members of Rhee’s board were employees of Coleman’s non-profit Student Achievement Partners LLC. Coleman, with organization cohorts Jason Zumba and Susan Pimental, are credited with writing the Common Core State Standards.
Additionally, Rhee ranked #10 on Common Core: Education without Representation’s Top Ten Scariest People in Education Reform. Coleman was #9. Rhee began her classroom career as an educator through a five-week training course offered through the controversial Teach for America, notorious for their alternative fast-track teacher accreditation that bypasses traditional channels.
In March, Breitbart Texas reported on Ravitch’s disappointment with the charter movement. She said her hopes of charters “as labs of innovation working to strengthen the public school system never materialized.”
Ravitch, however, opposes the privatization of public schools which is not that different from what the public-private partnership brings to charter schools in corporatizing education. Even public school is not quite public school anymore.
For example, the National Education Association (NEA),who is a proud supporter of Common Core, is also a staunch opponent of this very same privatization, which is oxymoronic since 21st Century learning is the crowded marriage of the U.S. Department of Education, companies like Microsoft, Apple, Dell, Pearson, and Achieve, to name a few.
Likewise, Student Achievement Partners and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are only two in a sea of non-profits directing public education. Other non-profit organizations like the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) hold the copyright for the Common Core.
According to the Texas Charter Schools Association, “Public charter schools were authorized by the Texas Legislature in 1995 to provide more choice and options in public education. Texas has a state cap of 215 open-enrollment charters with multiple campuses per charter. Open enrollment charters serve approximately 154,000 students on approximately 460 campuses across the state. In Texas, charter schools operate under and receive academic accountability ratings from the Texas Education Agency. Both charter and traditional public school students in Texas take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests.
Furthermore, home-rule as DISD contemplates, is a type of charter within the public-charter system, local organization, governance and accountability which are in the Texas Education Code (TEC) Title 2, Subtitle C, Chapter 12, subchapters B , sections 12.002, 12.016, under Subtitle H, Chapter 39, section 39.021, 39.022.
Provisions dictated by Senate Bill 2, which passed during the 83rd legislative session, mean that home-rule charter school districts must ensure that principals and teachers have a minimum of baccalaureate degree, a majority of the school board members are U.S. citizens, and show transparency regarding superintendent salary and school board members on their website.
Additionally, the Texas Attorney General can sue for fiduciary misapplication of public funds, according to the article FYI to Dallas: Home-Rule School Districts are Charters, lists the many requisite TEC charter rules under Section 32, 12.120; Section 33, subchapter D, Chapter 12, 12.1202; Section 34, Subchapter D, Chapter 12, 12.1211; Section 35, Subsection (a), 12.122; 12.129 and 12.136.
Perhaps the most important factor about a home-rule charter is that, like any charter school, the school board may be completely appointed or, in some cases, partially elected. These managed boards of trustees are appointed and they answer to whomever appointed them into the board seat. That might be a state, government, or governance agency; or a private corporation or non-profit or a combination of the public and private partners that put together that charter; but it won’t be the school’s family population or the community to whom this board will answer.
However, on a public school board of trustees, the board members are elected. All details of Texas public school board governance are on the TEA website. Parents and community members elect the board of trustees and these individuals are held to account by the same parents whose children attend that school. It does not get much more transparent or representative of the American election process than that.
Thus, when parents clamor for the TEA to take over public school boards (in unpleasant situations) or consider the charter pathway, they ought to consider the whole picture because they are, in fact, giving up pieces of hard fought for freedoms and liberties in the school governance process.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom