Education Focus 2018: Charter schools in Texas

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Local charter schools’ faculty experience and wages
There are currently 736 public charter schools operating in Texas, according to figures from the Texas Education Agency. The Texas Legislature passed a law authorizing the establishment of public charter schools in 1995. One year later, in the fall of 1996, the first charter schools opened their doors.

Charter schools across the state educate children from pre-K to 12th grade, and some schools specialize in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM; fine arts; environmental sciences; and more.

In order to find out more about charter schools, Community Impact Newspaper reached out to its readers to gather questions about Texas’ charter schools. Starlee Coleman, chief executive officer for the Texas Charter School Association, helped answer some of the most common questions that were submitted.

Correction: It was originally reported that 736 public or private charter schools operate in Texas. There are no private charter schools operating across the state.

What is the average classroom size?
“It totally varies by school. Some schools put two teachers in a classroom,” Coleman said. “We know that’s a typical practice in a handful of schools that people think of as college prep schools.”

How are charter schools funded in Texas?
Per Coleman, public charter schools — like ISDs — cannot charge for tuition. According to the TEA website, charter schools may only charge fees that independent school districts can charge.

Charter schools do not receive local tax revenue, though they do receive funding from the state based on enrollment numbers. According to TEA figures, charter schools received $2.25 billion in state funds during the 2016-17 school year.

What qualifications do teachers need to work at charter schools?
“Every school gets to select their own teacher certification requirements. It varies by school,” Coleman answered. “Most charter schools hire certified teachers just like most ISDs hire certified teachers.”

Do charter schools participate in the University Interscholastic League?
“They certainly can,” said Bruce Marchand, interim vice principal of operations at TCSA. “Some schools opt instead to participate in the Texas Charter School Academic and Athletic League—a few less rules, but still a good choice.”

Are charter schools affiliated with any religion or church?
“No charter school can be affiliated with a church. They are definitely not religiously affiliated. Some of them might be located in a church, but they are not affiliated with that church,” Coleman said.

What special education or special needs students do they have to accept and adequately serve?
“We have the same obligation as district schools to meet special needs students,” Coleman said. “That said there are some charter schools that specialize in serving students with particular special needs. If there are children on the [austism] spectrum, there may be teachers who are trained specifically to meet their unique needs.”

By Iain Oldman
Iain Oldman joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2017 after spending two years in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he covered Pittsburgh City Council. His byline has appeared in PublicSource, WESA-FM and Scranton-Times Tribune. Iain worked as the reporter for Community Impact Newspaper's flagship Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition and is now working as the editor for the Northwest Austin edition.