Charter School Cap Lifted in Texas

AUSTIN, Texas — A charter school reform bill that would increase the cap of charter schools has passed the Texas state legislator and is poised for Governor Rick Perry’s signature into law.

Senate Bill 2, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Senator Dan Patrick, R-Houston, will boost the Texas charter school cap from its current 215 to 305 schools by fall 2019. Patrick had initially campaigned to eliminate the charter school cap entirely but later opted for a gradual increase of about 15 charters per year. The Senate approved the bill in a 28-3 vote, and was approved by the House with a 105-41 vote.

While proponents laud the bill’s strengthening support and increased flexibility, some organizations are concerned with the lax language of the bill.

"SB 2 is a critical and needed update to the Texas charter law and will allow effective charters to grow and serve more students,” said David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association, in a statement.

The cap had been in place for years due to the amount of charter schools in the state that had performed below expectations or have incurred financial difficulties. But the new bill allows the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to take on a renewed authority in order for the department to regulate low-performing charters and streamline granting new charters.

"We believe this is the most significant strengthening of the charter law since 1995," Dunn said. "The lifting of the cap and streamlined renewal and replication will continue to allow public charters to grow to meet the demand, and to improve the education of students in Texas.”

Under the proposed law, the TEA will also be required to provide an annual performance report of the authorized charter schools and close schools that have a three consecutive years of low performance.

Organizations such as the Association of Texas Professional Educators, Texas Classroom Teachers Association, Texas State Teachers Association and the Texas American Federation of Teachers have spoken out against the bill.

Among their concerns include the provision that would allow school boards to convert traditional campuses into charter schools. This change would eliminate state protections such as teacher contracts, legal rights, certification requirements, class-size caps and minimum salaries, according to the Texas Classroom Teachers Association.
Statewide, Texas currently hosts more than 445 charter schools with more than 135,000 students. Waiting lists for open enrollment charter schools jumped from about 56,000 in 2011 to more than 101,000 in 2013, according to the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

“There is no one answer to transforming schools, but lifting the cap to add high quality public charters will give Texas parents, including the nearly 100,000 currently on a charter school waiting list, more choices to find the best education for their child,” Patrick said in a statement.