TCSA CEO Starlee Coleman testified Wednesday at the House Public Education Committee hearing at the Texas State Capitol, telling lawmakers that as she begins her new position, she hopes for a new era of cooperation among the TCSA, ISDs and lawmakers as the new school year is set to begin.

Coleman told lawmakers that despite proponents and opponents of public charter schools often casting them at odds with traditional ISDs, in fact, charters are designed to work with existing ISDs to provide more educational opportunities for a district’s children.

“For too long both supporters and opponents of charter schools have talked about them as competitors to district-run schools,” Coleman testified. “But we’re not competition, we’re complements.”

With teachers facing more obstacles than ever, it’s important that charters and ISDs work together, Coleman said.

“With our increasingly diverse student body and their wildly diverse needs, no school can be a perfect fit for every child,” she told lawmakers. “This is the beauty of charters. Across Texas there are charter schools serving students who need something different. Maybe that’s extra time at school, maybe it’s a STEM-focused curriculum; maybe it’s a drop-out recovery program.”

Coleman noted the strong academic gains charters have made at both the national and state level. Given the diversity levels in charters, which have higher rates of African Americans, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students than ISDs, Coleman noted the significant academic gains among those groups, especially the latter two. Though the new STAAR ratings will not be released for another week, Hispanics and economically disadvantaged students outscored their ISD counterparts in the 2016 STAAR test in all but one categories.

Coleman informed the committee about the report from Stanford University that demonstrates a charter student receives the equivalent of about 17 extra instruction days in reading (about a month on a school calendar) more than an ISD student.

To counteract some of the testimony presented Wednesday against charters, Coleman told legislators about the rigorous process a new charter must undergo to earn TEA approval to open. In spite of the process, as well as a mandated process to alert an ISD to a new charter in the district, charter opponents are attempting to use zoning ordinances and other methods in cities like Dallas to prevent TEA-approved charters from opening.

Coleman noted that since 2013, Texas has had the toughest legislation in the nation in regards to a charter that fails either academically or financially for three straight years, a stance that TCSA fully supports.

Coleman said giving parents options between public charters and ISDs allows them to best meet the needs of their children.

“Charter schools are like our public school’s special ops team,” she said. “For children who need something a little different, charters are there to meet their needs. … That does not mean that ISD schools cannot meet many students’ needs — they can and they do. And they will continue to do so for the vast majority of students in Texas. Charter schools do not have to be a replacement for ISDs — we’re simply another path to do what we all agree public education is supposed to do: Get kids prepared for life. And we’re both better together.”

Coleman thanked legislators for approving a $60 million facilities funding bill for charters last session, noting how several of the charters in Texas are using the money to improve student outcomes or address safety concerns.

She reminded lawmakers how crucial state funding is for charters, since they do not receive local revenues, unlike an ISD. That means charter students receive less in funding overall than do their ISD counterparts.

In addition to Coleman’s testimony, others addressed the committee in favor of charters. Dr. Rebecca Good, Superintendent/CEO of the Legacy Preparatory Charter Academy District, explained the work her schools are doing helping special needs students, despite the added burden of several unfunded mandates by the state.

Melissa Chavez, Associate Vice President and Superintendent of The University of Texas Charter School System Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, told lawmakers about the different kinds of charters in Texas and the various populations they serve. The UT charters include residential treatment centers, psychiatric hospitals, a residential home for children who, for a variety of reasons cannot live at home, a shelter housing families escaping domestic violence, a home for girls in crisis pregnancies, a medical facility for children who require specialized services due to brain injury or neuro-behavioral issues and/or who are considered medically fragile, and an elite gymnastic program.

Perhaps the most engaging testimony of the day came from 16-year-old Roshan “Rosie” Khan, who is about to enter the University of Texas with a quadruple major in Plan II Honors, Economics, Government, and International Relations. Khan said she was only able to achieve what she has – including being named a National Merit Scholar and earning top scores in all 11 of her Advanced Placement tests – thanks to the education she received at Harmony Science Academy in Pflugerville.

Khan said school choice is important if Texas students want the best opportunity to fulfill their potential.

“If I had been restricted to my district ISD, I would not be who I am now,” she testified. “Had I gone to a private school I believe I would not have felt as welcome among more privileged demographics, if my family could afford that, which we cannot. I hope you see how charter schools are justified in their existence as they provide the chance for equity in education for disadvantaged students.”