I. School Choice
A. Charter Public Schools
Texas has a robust public school choice program in the form of charter schools. Charter campuses are public schools. They are funded based on daily attendance, just like traditional public schools. They must comply with state and federal laws relating to things like special education and academic accountability. The two main areas in which charter public schools differ from traditional public schools are, first, that they do not receive funds from local tax revenue, and, second, they have considerable leeway in operations and ability to innovate that traditional public schools lack.
1. History and Background of Charter Schools in Texas
The Texas Legislature authorized public charter schools in 1995 with the passage of Senate Bill 1.i SB 1supporters argued that “charter schools allow educators to be more innovative and creative and giveparents and community leaders more input in public education on the local level.”ii Indeed, the charterschool provision in SB 1 was adopted, in part, because the state “recognized that it is important to waivecertain regulations to allow schools to try innovative programs. Charter schools would give teachers and parents who want to try new ideas the maximum flexibility they need without having to request awaiver from the education commissioner.”iii
Charter schools in Texas accept students on a first-come, first-served basis, using lotteries when school capacity is reached. While subject to the same academic and accountability standards as traditional public schools, charter schools have considerable flexibility in terms of operational structure, practices, and personnel. This flexibility provides charter schools with the unique ability to meet the needs of diverse individuals and student bodies in different ways. The charter model allows schools to react to market forces, creating schools that focus specifically on college preparation, high-tech and STEM- focused fields, or create campuses that focus more heavily on the arts, to name a few examples. Above all else, charter schools are important because they bolster the ability of parents to choose the best education for their child. The growing demand for public school choice serves as evidence that the traditional public school inside of district-drawn boundaries is simply not the best option for all of the roughly 5.4 million public school students in Texas.iv
The success story of charter schools in Texas should not be understated. Student enrollment in charter schools was roughly 12,000 students in 1999. That number has increased to over 270,000 students in 2018, for an astounding increase of over 2,100% students enrolled.
Enrollment growth only tells a partial story, however. Over 141,000 students are on waitlists to enroll in charter schools, further highlighting the demand that these alternatives to traditional public schools have created.vii
While charter schools have become exponentially more popular in Texas, the same story has played outon the national level. At the time of SB 1’s adoption in 1995, only eleven states had authorized thecreation of charter schools, making Texas a leading reform state in public education.viii In 2018, 44 states and the District of Columbia now have charter schools.ix
The results of the charter school program in Texas have been encouraging. Fewer than 8% of Texas’s8,759 public school campuses are charter schools, yet sorting overall performance of school district number grades on TXschools.org, 20 of the top 100 performers are charter schools, for a performance rate that far outpaces the proportion of traditional public schools to charter schools. In fact, among the191 school districts and charters that scored an “A” grade (90) or higher, 21 percent were open- enrollment charters.x