The following op-ed originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on Tuesday, May 24, 2016.
Commentary: Texas students deserve transformational funding reform
The Texas Supreme Court’s opinion on school finance got one thing right: Students deserve “transformational, top-to-bottom reforms” for the school funding system. Such reform is especially necessary to address students attending a public charter school. The Court rightly acknowledged that charter school students are public school students subject to constitutional protections. However, they altogether dismissed the undisputed fact presented during the litigation that public charter schools receive on average $1000 less per student than traditional school districts. Public charter school students are not worth less.
The Court simply chose not to address this fact but instead determined that public charter schools “receive a better bargain” since they do not have a tax base.
Respectfully, we disagree. It is no bargain that public charter schools receive zero in facilities funds while other public schools receive about $5.5 billion annually. It is no bargain that many teachers who teach in a public charter school are paid less than their school district counterparts because of the funding gap.
It is no bargain that public charter schools must use operational funds, intended for classroom instruction, to cover their facility needs. It is no bargain to create a two-tiered funding system with public charter school students on the losing end. And most certainly, it is no bargain that nearly 130,000 students are forced on waiting lists because there are not seats in the classroom.
We call now upon the Texas Legislature to right the wrongs the Court chose to ignore. We ask that they not penalize families who want to exercise their freedom in selecting the best school within the public education system to meet the needs of their child. The more than 227,000 students attending a public charter school deserve better, particularly when we consider the student populations public charter schools serve.
There are higher proportions of underserved students including those who are economically disadvantaged, African-American, Hispanic, and Limited English Proficient. In fact, the most recent Texas Academic Performance Report Data indicates these underserved subgroups are outperforming their peers at school districts in reading, writing, and math, demonstrating that public charter schools are working.
Additionally, the public charter school community has also taken its responsibility seriously in providing a quality education to students. The Texas Charter Schools Association worked with the legislature in supporting SB 2, which closes poor performing public charter schools after three years for not meeting academic and financial accountability standards. We have done our part to ensure that charter schools provide a quality education within the public school system to meet the needs of students.
Texas Legislature, it is now your turn. The Court has made this much clear, it is up to you to overhaul the school finance system.
To Governor Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Patrick, Speaker Straus, and the entire Texas Legislature, on behalf of the students, parents, and more than 600 public charter school campuses in Texas, we implore you to say public charter school students are not worth less by passing legislation that closes the funding gap for public charter school students.
Paige is the former U.S. Secretary of Education and David L. Dunn is executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association.