Too many children on wait lists for charter schools

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Charter schools see big enrollment gains in Central Texas

By Melissa B. Taboada - American-Statesman Staff


Third-grade reading teacher Allison Morgan helps KIPP Austin Obras elementary school students change classrooms on the first day of school. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Charter schools continue their rapid expansion in Central Texas, and likely will enroll 30,000 students in dozens of campuses this school year.
Austin Achieve this week opened its second campus in Northeast Austin, which will allow the school to serve 1,500 additional students within a few years. Valor Public Schools will make its debut in South Austin next week, expecting to enroll 450-500 students its first year. And IDEA Public Schools, with three campuses in Austin, will open two new campuses next week — in Pflugerville and Kyle — adding 1,400 more students to its attendance rolls.


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As demand rises, charters open new schools in San Antonio

July 31, 2018

Source: San Antonio Express-News

Despite the continued growth of charter schools across San Antonio, newly released data shows that demand is so high for seats at several high-profile charter networks that thousands are remaining on wait lists.

The data, released last month by Families Empowered, a Houston-based nonprofit that advocates for school choice, shows that IDEA Public Schools, KIPP Texas-San Antonio and Great Hearts Academies received a collective 39,214 applications in San Antonio for the 2017-18 school year.

IDEA, which operates the most schools in San Antonio, received the most applications by far with 26,532, while Great Hearts had 6,860 and KIPP 5,822, according to the report. Those figures include multiple applications from the same families, who are competing for a limited number of available seats.

The high interest in those charter networks is fueling their continued growth across the city.

IDEA, which opened six new schools at three campuses in San Antonio in the last school year, is opening two new schools this fall, Ingram Hills Academy and Ingram Hills College Prep at a campus on the Northwest side, as part of a comprehensive expansion plan across the city and, more broadly, Texas.

Great Hearts will open its new Western Hills campus this fall for the 2018-19 school year, and KIPP has unspecified plans to open two new schools in San Antonio within the next few years, a spokeswoman said. 

Last year, IDEA received a big nod of support from the U.S. Department of Education in the form of a $67 million grant, money that will be used to continue building schools in San Antonio and Texas and in Louisiana for the first time. The original plan was to build 10 additional schools in Bexar County over the next five years, but that number has since been revised to at least 15 based on strong interest from families, said Rolando Posada, executive director of IDEA San Antonio.

Even in light of those rapid plans for expansion, seats remain limited. For the 2017-18 school year, IDEA had 18,529 applicants for just 3,530 available seats at its San Antonio schools, Posada said.

“It doesn’t take us long when we launch schools for our demand to outstrip seats,” Posada said.

Because of that, new students are admitted through a lottery system, with students who already have siblings at IDEA schools given slight priority, he added.

A similar situation has been playing out at the two other charter networks in the report. KIPP, which operates six schools in San Antonio, had 1,512 students on its wait list during the 2017-18 school year and more than 2,000 students the two previous years. KIPP calculates the wait list numbers following the spring lotteries. The network’s 5,800-plus applications for 2017-18 represent the most KIPP has ever received in San Antonio, according to KIPP spokeswoman Ieesha Collins.

In July, the KIPP schools in San Antonio merged with the other three KIPP charter networks in Texas to form one overarching organization, KIPP Texas Public Schools. The consolidation makes KIPP one of the largest charter networks in the state, second only to IDEA. The move will allow for growth and the ability to provide additional seats to students, Collins said.

The last two school years, KIPP received the most applications at Esperanza Dual Language Academy and Un Mundo Dual Language Academy, located southwest and west of downtown, respectively.

After focusing on opening new schools on the East Side, Posada said IDEA San Antonio plans to shift its energies to north and northwest areas of the city, the fastest-growing portions of San Antonio.

That area is also where Great Hearts is opening its newest campus, Western Hills. Located on the far West Side on Ingram Road, the school is expected to serve around 560 students in kindergarten through fourth grade. It will add grade levels until it serves students up to 12th grade, when it could reach a full enrollment of around 1,400.

Last year, Great Hearts officials said it had a wait list of 4,000 students.

Several Bexar County districts, including North East, South San Antonio and San Antonio ISDs, have reported significant enrollment drops that have partially been attributed to competition from charter schools.



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Charter schools continue to grow in Texas, and districts shouldn't treat them as enemies

Written by: Dallas Morning News editorial board

If there were any lingering doubts about the growing strength of charter schools in our state, KIPP Texas' move to consolidate its individual networks into one school district should dispel them.

By merging networks in Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, Houston and Austin, KIPP becomes one of the largest charter school networks in Texas, with over 25,000 students in 50 schools this past academic year.

It's clear that charters aren't going away. And though this newspaper supports traditional public schools as a pillar of this country's foundation, we also support effective organizations like KIPP that give parents choices for their kids.

There's no question charters, which started in Texas in 1995 as an experiment to foster public-school innovation, have become the first-choice option for a growing number of parents. IDEA Public Schools and International Leadership of Texas are among those recently expanding their North Texas networks. 

The Texas Education Agency reports there are more than 700 charter schools across the state. Advocates say over 130,000 Texas children are on charter waiting lists.

Successful charters and traditional schools can and should co-exist. We've supported expansion efforts of Uplift Education in southwest Dallas. And we've pushed for districts to collaborate more with charters by sharing facilities, as Grand Prairie is doing with great success.

A graduate adorned his mortarboard with a message to his mother during a commencement ceremony for Uplift Peak Preparatory graduates at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas on May 25, 2018. (Rose Baca/Staff Photographer)

A graduate adorned his mortarboard with a message to his mother during a commencement ceremony for Uplift Peak Preparatory graduates at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas on May 25, 2018.  (Rose Baca/Staff Photographer)

That makes it critical for Texas public schools, which the vast majority of children attend, to figure out ways to offer more choices to keep their students — and the state funding that comes with them. It's the reason districts like Dallas ISD have smartly invested so heavily in innovative programs such as collegiate academies and single-gender schools that are moving the needle on achievement.

Last year, 34,632 students lived in DISD attendance zones but attended charter schools.

We realize losing students is particularly tough for DISD because a combination of rising property taxes and declining enrollment means it will have to send millions back to the state next year through "recapture."

But it falls to legislators to do more to help districts like DISD — which must relinquish tax dollars even though 90 percent of its students are poor — by finally fixing Texas' convoluted funding system. They've left districts to fend for themselves, which is why so much rides on DISD trustees' decision on whether to call a vote to raise taxes to keep successful programs alive.

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa is right to place a priority on beefing up his own offerings to  hold on to students. But he told our editorial board this week that there's so much political animosity over charters that he's reluctant to collaborate with them, even though the state gives financial incentives for working together.

That's too bad. 

Parents, of course, need to do their homework to find the best-quality schools for their kids. Not all charters are good. But it's time for charters and traditional schools to end their long-standing fight and learn from each other. 

There's room for both. 



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4 KIPP Texas Regional Networks Announce Merger Into Single Statewide Nonprofit to Leverage Growth, Share Expertise


Updated July 11


By: Bekah McNeel

KIPP Public Charter Schools, one of the country’s most established and prolific charter networks, has embarked on a new phase in its institutional growth.

On Wednesday, the four regional KIPP networks in Texas announced their merger to form KIPP Texas Public Schools, a single statewide nonprofit that will serve 27,700 students — 25 percent of KIPP’s national student population — across 52 campuses in Austin, Dallas–Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio.

The statewide network will be led by CEO Sehba Ali, former superintendent of KIPP Houston. She anticipates new opportunities for growth and innovation but said that major initiatives weren’t necessarily imminent.

While “we can’t do everything at once,” Ali said, aligning curriculum, professional development, and teaching practice is a top priority.

The idea came up over dinner 18 months ago, Ali said, when the regional CEOs were discussing how economies of scale benefit large school districts. They also noted the variety of success and innovation in each KIPP network. It became clear, she said, that each one had something to gain from joining forces.

“As an organization, we wanted the exact same thing for our kids,” Ali said.

In addition to administrative efficiency, every campus will gain access to stronger curriculum, teacher training, and professional development. Any money saved by streamlining administrative costs will be pumped back into campuses, KIPP spokesperson Ieesha Collins said.

As an example of improvements to come, Mark Larson, founder of KIPP San Antonio and now chief growth officer of KIPP Texas, said he anticipates enhanced offerings in English and math for students at KIPP San Antonio.

“In both of those there is a more robust and more rigorous approach to those than what KIPP San Antonio could provide on our own,” Larson said.

KIPP Through College, the advising and support program that helps KIPP graduates get to and through college, also stands to benefit greatly by consolidating into a statewide network, Larson said. Most Texas students stay in-state for college, so the centralized service will feel more consistent across high school and college.

Outside of inevitable logistical hiccups, Larson and Ali anticipate minimal hurdles as they streamline curriculum, professional development, and services like KIPP Through College. The culture and mission of the four regions are already congruent. Each region will have a superintendent with a long history in the network.

As KIPP Texas, Ali and Larson anticipate even more cohesion — and more growth. Each region has its own expansion plan, but more rural regions of the vast state are untouched by KIPP, with fewer charter schools in general.

“We certainly anticipated that in a few years. we’ll be able to consider new markets,” Ali said.

Growth, even in charter-friendly Texas, is a political battle. At the heart of the conflict is funding. In Texas, as well as most other states, public schools are stretching every dollar and constantly fighting for state and federal funds. Charters compete for the same funds and are lobbying for a larger share of the budget as they expand to serve more students.

Representing more students and more campuses, KIPP Texas will have a stronger presence in those discussions, said Collins, the Texas spokesperson.

Charter networks confront these tensions in different ways. Some networks have entered “third way” partnerships with school districts, sometimes coming under city and state governance to create a portfolio of options for families. Ali and Larson hope that KIPP Texas will represent another option for charter networks to grow, stabilize, and improve student outcomes.

KIPP networks serve a much higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students than the state average. Low-income students typically take the ACT at lower rates than their middle- and high-income peers. They also tend to have lower scores, according to ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning. However, KIPP students in the Austin, Houston, and San Antonio networks take ACTs at a rate far above the state average of 45 percent, with Houston and San Antonio closing in on 100 percent, and Austin at 89 percent. KIPP Dallas–Fort Worth does not have a high school. KIPP’s average ACT scores are just below the state’s, according to state education data.

When it comes to state testing, data show that KIPP San Antonio and KIPP Houston performed better than San Antonio ISD and Houston ISD in 2017, while KIPP Austin and KIPP Dallas–Fort Worth performed slightly worse than their district counterparts.

The goal of the merger, KIPP leaders explained, is to capture the best of a large system without getting bogged down in the type of district bureaucracy for which charters were meant to be an antidote.

Most of the change is happening at the top and will barely be noticed at the campus level, Ali said. Decisions that affect students directly will continue to be made by the leadership closest to them — principals. Campus autonomy is part of the KIPP philosophy, she said, and a crucial factor in the network’s success.

Ali and Larson are not concerned that the larger network will lose its grip on the Knowledge Is Power Program brand.

Although principals are empowered to make decisions, Ali and Larson have never seen one “go rogue.” Training and support, along with a shared language and culture, have a lot to do with the network’s growth across 20 states and the District of Columbia, he explained. While charter laws and political climate differ from state to state, KIPP’s philosophy is consistent.

“Once we have folks there, we move much, much faster, together,” Larson said.

Since the first KIPP campus opened in Houston in 1994, the network has always tried to keep an eye to the future, looking for ways to lead and improve the charter movement so that students reap the benefits, Larson said.

“This feels like a very natural and smooth next step in the evolution of who KIPP is here in Texas.”


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