Legislative update, part 2
Three weeks ago, I presented a report to the board focusing on the educational topics that are expected to be governed during the 83rd Texas Legislative Session. Educational issues that will be on the table this year are allowing private schools into the UIL, revisions to the Teacher Retirement System, school finance and testing and accountability concerns.
Today’s article will focus on two items that were discussed by interim committees over the past month: adding more charter schools and introducing vouchers for public school students to attend private schools.
Charter school expansion will be a major focus. Charter schools are public schools without all of the regulatory strings attached. Charter school students are accountable to the state testing requirements, but they are held less accountable in other educational areas and they receive more dollars per student than ours in RISD.
The state has a cap on the number of charter schools that can operate in Texas, even though several legislators would like to remove the cap and allow more charter schools to operate in the state. Charter schools on the average are small, with only a few hundred or less students. The irony is that many of the legislators that are in favor of charter schools question the efficiency of small school districts and have suggested school district consolidation based on a district’s size.
Vouchers are scholarships from local and state tax dollars provided to students to attend a private school. “The more money you siphon away for these various profiteering schemes, the less money you have for the public schools,” Texas State Teachers Association spokesman Clay Robison said. There is another criticism of school choice: private schools, like charter schools, can pick the students they want and send the ones they don’t want, students who cost more to educate and the ones who present more challenges to the school system, back to traditional public schools. In a voucher program, there’s even less accountability for that money than with charter schools.
Senator Dan Patrick of Houston, who makes his living as a talk show host and was the Vice-Chair of the Senate Education Committee in the last session, is heading the push for additional charter schools, money for charters to build facilities and student vouchers. He was appointed this past week to chair the Senate Education Committee by Lt. Governor David Dewhurst.
The session begins Jan. 8, 2013 and it should be interesting. Following the November elections, I trust that you will provide our new state Senator and Representative with your thoughts.