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

Posted on July 18, 2018
Written by: Dallas Morning News editorial board
Source: https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/editorials/2018/07/18/charter-schools-continue-grow-texas-districts-shouldnt-treat-enemies

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.