There’s something conspicuously absent from State Board of Education member Aicha Davis’s warmed-over critique of charter schools—the voices of the thousands of Texas families who are on waiting lists to get into them. Throughout this summer, families throughout the state will desperately await phone calls and emails informing them that a seat has opened up, and their child now has a chance at a brighter future.
The fact is that 69.5% of charter schools have a waitlist; according to a March 2022 Texas Education Agency report, 58,588 students are on those lists.
Ignoring those parents and their very real concerns, Davis signals to teachers’ unions in Texas that she’s going to bat for them—not for families.
She writes in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “…I’m joining a growing call to limit charter expansion and to open up the process to make it more democratic for parents and the public. The full impact of a new charter school on all students, public school districts and taxpayers should be calculated, disclosed to the public and formally considered in the process.”
Agreed! Let’s talk about the “full impact” of charter schools. We can start with quality. Though charters serve only 6% of Texas students, they compose 20% of A-rated districts in the state. They serve a more disadvantaged student body. They close persistent achievement gaps. In other words, they offer opportunity and hope to students who, for whatever reason, are not thriving at their regular neighborhood school—a placement determined by where they live, not by their unique needs.
Charter schools not only succeed in providing a better education for their own students, they’re also associated with increased academic performance in surrounding schools. In fact, the closer a charter is located, the greater the increase in performance of the nearby traditional public schools.
None of that seems to matter to Davis; instead the focus of her op-ed is on a supposed lack of accountability.
“Unlike public school districts, which must win voter approval to incur debt for new facilities, charter schools are private organizations with self-selected boards (including non-Texans) and can borrow money with a simple majority vote of their small boards,” she writes. “This private control and disengagement from the public takes power and decision-making away from local parents, who have little voice in the process.”
In reality, charter schools are far more accountable than traditional public schools, because parents can vote with their feet (and funding). An underperforming charter school is closed; an underperforming traditional public school is generally just given more money.
Five charter school applicants made it through the rigorous gauntlet of agency approval this year; according to preliminary State Board of Education votes this week, four of those five are projected to be vetoed by Davis and her colleagues on Friday. Davis has preliminarily voted against all five.
Let’s look at some of the schools that Davis opposes. Heritage Classical Academy is proposed for Houston, where some 2,053 students are on waitlists for nearby charters. HCA has twice before achieved agency approval, only to twice be denied approval to serve students by the SBOE.
Another school that Davis wants to “limit” is the proposed Academy of Visual and Performing Arts middle school, which would be located in a Fort Worth neighborhood where most schools are rated D or F. It has won the support of Fort Worth City Councilmember Chris Nettles and Mayor Mattie Parker.
“This school is important because if you look at our districts and our education, a majority of schools in my district are not A/B schools,” Nettles told the media. “And so, however we can bridge that gap to get them into a better educational system, I support it 100%.”
Parents deserve more choices, not fewer. We know the demand is there for new charter school offerings—because 60,000 kids are on waitlists. Every child deserves a chance to succeed—and charter schools can help chart that pathway.