Outlook: Opinion Editorial by David Dunn in the Houston Chronicle

Outlook: Opinion Editorial by David Dunn in the Houston Chronicle

Texas school facilities funding leaves some kids behind

“You left my child behind.” No parent ever wants to say those words. I’m fairly certain no teacher, principal, superintendent or trustee wants to hear those words, either. However, the method in which public schools are financed in Texas causes this very thing to happen. Take Houston, for example. Last week, board trustees voted to put the Houston Independent School District Facilities Capital Program bond package, which covers more than 200,000 enrolled students, on the November ballot. We are pleased that HISD has these avenues to provide for facilities for their students, and we support the district’s right to petition the public for additional local financial support through bond elections. However, at the same time, because of how charter schools are funded, more than 36,000 Houston public school students are excluded from this discussion. Not only are these public school students treated as invisible, but the parents of these public charter school students may have to pay increased taxes for a school that their child does not attend. There are 111 public charter schools in Houston educating more than 36,000 students whose parents are among the taxpayers who would be funding these proposed bonds. These charter school parents and students are very much a part of the public school system, but when it comes to the provision of public school facilities for their education, they are left behind.

Charter school parents exercise their options to choose the right public school for their children to be successful. Many of these students attend charter schools with a track record of graduating first generation college-goers; others attend charters that help students get back on track – kids who were falling through the cracks of their neighborhood schools. Despite receiving not one penny in facilities funding, these charter schools strive for and many times excel in helping to achieve academic excellence for their students. As plaintiffs in the charter school finance lawsuit to test the constitutionality of the current school finance system, parents of charter school students have asked the courts to correct the inequity resulting from a lack of facility funding for charter schools. While a court-ordered remedy appears to be required, that fix might be years away.

In the meantime, public charter school students suffer, just like many educators and parents pointed out at theHISD board meeting about the HISD students. But unlike the HISD schools, taxpayers and parents have no recourse.

The Texas Charter Schools Association has looked at the needs of public school students whose parents have chosen the option of public charter schools for them, and we know that these Houston students deserve the same consideration as students in HISD. With at least 56,000 students on waiting lists to attend charter schools in Texas, and perhaps as many as a third of those waiting-list students in Houston, this is not a trivial matter. In a state that values local control in school matters, charter school parents and taxpayers have none when it comes to funding for their public charter schools. The Legislature could act to correct this funding inequity, but they haven’t in the past. Charter schools have been part of the public education landscape in Texas for more than 16 years, and it is long past time for the Texas Legislature to address this issue.

So now that HISD trustees have put this proposal for capital improvement bonds before the voters, we ask Houstonians to take a moment and remember the public school students who do not have this option. Houston ISD has funding opportunities for their students that Houston public charter schools do not. This goes to show again the violation of the Constitution for public charter school students because they have the right to the same funding and facilities as other students in Houston, but not the means.