Too Many, Too Fast?: The Texas legislature may be headed for a showdown over the future of charter schools in the Lone Star State.
Pointing to what it sees as a host of problems with the state's 5-year-old charter school program, a three-member panel of the House committee on public education has issued a report recommending that no more of the privately operated public schools be opened for at least two to four years. Specifically, the subcommittee on charter schools calls on the legislature to maintain the present 120-school cap on "open enrollment" charters and prohibit the state board of education from approving any more charter schools for at-risk students.
The panel, which consists of two Democrats and one Republican, cites statistics showing that the passing rate for students in regular public schools on the 1999 Texas Assessment of Academic Skills was more than 24 percent higher than that of students in charter schools.
Texas already boasts one of the nation's largest charter movements, with 193 of the schools operating this academic year. But the subcommittee found the program has been allowed to grow beyond the state government's ability to oversee it properly.
State school board Chairman Chase Untermeyer took issue with the report, arguing that his panel had recently adopted a more rigorous system for overseeing charters. The board meets early next month, he said, and will offer its own recommendations for the future of the alternative schools.
The subcommittee's findings are also at odds with the position of President-elect Bush, the Republican former governor of Texas, who has pointed to his state's charter school program as a successful example of innovation in public education.
And, just one day before the Dec. 28 release of the subcommittee's findings, State Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, also a Republican, released an audit of the state government that included a recommendation to repeal the limit on charter schools altogether.
Rep. Jim Dunnam, the Democrat who chairs the education committee's subcommittee on charter schools, said most lawmakers he has spoken with "agreed we need to better shepherd the system and ensure we have accountability and quality oversight." But he also acknowledged that many legislators want to see the cap lifted, and he predicted a number of bills on either side of the argument would be filed during this legislative session.
—Darcia Harris Bowman firstname.lastname@example.org
Vol. 20, Issue 18, Page 14