Monday, December 7th, the Senate Education Committee held an interim hearing to consider testimony on the implementation of SB 2 from the 83rd Legislative Session, the disposition of state property, and charter school facility funding. Interim hearings are held during a legislative interim for legislative committees to hear testimony on specific issues identified by either the Lieutenant Governor or Speaker of the House. There are no specific bills or proposals that are considered during this time; it is more of a research period for the legislative committees with the goal of the committee developing policy recommendations to take into the legislative session.
Those present to testify at the hearing on behalf of the charter school movement included: TCSA’s Executive Director, David Dunn, Jennifer Goodman, Superintendent of Odyssey Academy, John Murphy, CFO for KIPP Houston, Kathleen Zimmerman, Executive Director of NYOS, and Kalese Whitehurst, Chief of Staff with Responsive Education Solutions. Russ Simnick with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools also attended to present testimony as to how other states fund charter school facilities. One of two topics that day, the charter school issues took longer than one may have guessed for an interim hearing – about five hours! The length of time it took was a good sign as it showed that the members of the Senate Education Committee were actively engaged in our issues, listening to testimony and asking many insightful questions.
Testimony during the hearing spoke to how SB 2 has fundamentally changed the way Texas approves, expands, and revokes charters. TCSA pointed out that we continue to strongly support SB 2, however while the state has moved to implement SB 2 in regards to revocations, the state has not moved with equal vigor to implement the other provisions in SB 2 which allow for the expedited expansion of effective existing charter schools as well as the ability to grant new charters to proven models. Effort needs to be made to speed the expansion of charter schools to meet the large student waiting lists.
Those that testified to the disposition of state property issue all agreed that the issue is complex as there are several interests at play when a charter holder ceases to exist. All agreed that the critical issue must be studied carefully or else we jeopardize the ability of all charter schools to secure affordable financing for facilities.
And speaking of financing facilities, the testimony addressed the fact that charter schools receive no state funding for facilities and state funds meant for instruction are diverted to facility needs. Last Legislative Session the Committee passed SB 1900 by Senator Donna Campbell, a bill that would have aided with charter school facility funding. Different policy options discussed during testimony included a per-pupil facilities allowance, charter school facility grant program, charter school facility loan program, access to existing state facilities programs, and access to local property tax dollars generated for facilities. Of course, some options would be more controversial than others, but that is what the legislative interim is for – for all stakeholders to come together to formulate solutions that most can agree to.
The interim hearing was a window into the next legislative session. There will be much work to do and much ground to cover. We have strong support, but we also have the challenge of strong detractors. With everyone organized and speaking with one voice we will meet the challenge of passing sound and effective public policy that supports the charter school movement in Texas. TCSA looks forward to continuing to work with our membership, legislators, and other stakeholders to meet the needs of charter school students in Texas.