Charter schools set sights on northwest Harris County

Image description
Charter schools set sights on northwest Harris County
Image description
Charter schools set sights on northwest Harris County
More parents are transferring their students from public school districts to local charter schools as the alternative public schools continue to open in suburban areas, such as northwest Harris County.

Within Spring and Klein’s nine ZIP code area, there are 19 charter schools with at least one more planning to open next year. In the 2018-19 school year, 1,036 students within Klein ISD’s boundaries transferred out to charter schools, while 2,207 Spring ISD students and 3,477 Cy-Fair ISD students opted to attend charter schools, according to the Texas Education Agency’s student transfer report.

Across the state, the number of charter schools has likewise increased since the Texas Legislature first authorized public charter schools in 1995. In 2018, there were 705 charter schools and 177 active charters serving 296,213 students in Texas, while 141,000 students remained on waiting lists, according to the Texas Charter Schools Association­—a charter school advocacy group.

“People are accustomed to having choices in all facets of their life and for a long time, we didn’t have a broad range of options for schooling—particularly if you were poor,” said Todd Ziebarth, senior vice president of state advocacy and support for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “If you had money, you could send your child to a private school or you [could] move to a wealthy community where you [could] afford the property taxes. But if you [couldn’t] follow those paths, your choices were limited.”

While demographers with Population and Survey Analysts project KISD’s and CFISD’s enrollments to increase over the next decade by 7.21% and 5.32%, respectively, SISD’s enrollment is slated to drop by 4.74% between 2018-19 and 2028-29, according to Templeton Demographics.

District officials said they attribute the decrease in part to charter schools.

“Like other school districts on the outer edge of Harris County, we have seen charter growth over the last several years as charters have pushed out from Houston’s Inner Loop,” SISD Chief Communications Officer Tiffany Dunne-Oldfield said.

While proponents of charter schools tout small class sizes and flexible schedules, those in opposition counter that charter schools take funding away from traditional independent school districts and are not held to the same standards.

A growing presence


Open-enrollment charter schools are privately operated and tuition free. Although they do not receive local property tax revenue like ISDs do, charter schools receive state funding based on the average daily attendance of students.

According to the TEA, charter schools are held accountable academically and fiscally, but  do not have to meet as many state requirements as ISDs to allow for innovation. For example, charter schools can set their own student-to-teacher ratios as they do not have to follow the state class size guidelines set for ISDs, according to the TEA.

Following the passage of House Bill 3 by the Texas Legislature in May—which allocated $11.5 billion toward public education reform—charter schools will receive about $767 more per student in 2020-21 than they did in the previous biennium, according to TCSA. However, TCSA CEO Starlee Coleman said charter schools are still at a funding disadvantage.

“We came into the legislative session with about a $1,700 funding gap for charters overall [per student], and HB 3 is going to make that funding gap a little worse for us,” she said.

Despite these funding challenges, new charter schools are continuing to open in Spring and Klein each year.

In northwest Harris County, some of those charter schools include three Harmony Public Schools, three Schools of Science and Technology, and two Sam Houston State University charter schools.

While SHSU originally planned to open eight Houston area charter schools, Program Superintendent Ronny Knox said the university decided to start small with plans for future growth. He said one of the key tenants of the program is cultivating good relationships with neighboring ISDs.

“We’re very adamant about not putting a new charter school into a district that does not give us permission to put one there because we don’t want any animosity between the university and their local ISD partners,” Knox said.

Allison Serafin, the executive director of IDEA Public Schools’ Greater Houston region, said she believes charter schools such as IDEA offer a rigorous curriculum that prepares students for college—especially those who are economically disadvantaged.

IDEA plans to serve 900 students at four new Houston-area campuses in 2020. One of those campuses will open in ZIP code 77090—located near FM 1960 and I-45—where 21.4% of the population fell below the federal poverty line in 2017, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

In addition to charter schools geared toward college preparation, some, such as Evolution Academy Charter School located in Spring, are focused on  dropout recovery.

“I don’t see us as hurting district schools—I see us as helping those big schools that miss that person who falls through the cracks,” Principal Julia Askew said. “There was very much a need here because before … there was nothing else for [failing students] to do but drop out.”

Staying competitive


As the number of student transfers to charter schools has increased since 2014-15  by 47.9%, 28.5% and 57.6% in SISD, KISD and CFISD, respectively, the districts are striving to stay competitive.

The Texas Legislature established districts of innovation in 2015—a program that gives traditional ISDs many of the flexibilities offered to open-enrollment charter schools. As districts of innovation, KISD and SISD both launched plans in 2016 and 2017, respectively, to obtain more local control and support innovation.

In August, SISD opened Springwoods Village Middle School with International Baccalaureate programming as well as Spring Leadership Academy, which offers a smaller learning environment focused on developing leadership qualities in students.

“We recognize that the smaller, sometimes more personalized charter school environments are attracting families away from their neighborhood schools,” Dunne-Oldfield said. “That’s precisely why over the last 10 years, SISD has established several smaller, specialized schools.”

At the high school level, SISD also has Carl Wunsche Senior High School, which integrates academics with career pathway exploration, and Spring Early College Academy, which allows students the opportunity to graduate with an associate degree. The district also offers a dual-language program at three elementary campuses.

KISD also offers an International Baccalaureate Program, dual-language, dual credit and more than 40 industry certifications and licensures.

Students at KISD can also participate in Vistas, which district officials said allow students to work through curriculum at their own pace, and pathways in advanced nursing, geospatial engineering and land surveying, which give students the opportunity to earn associate degrees.

Also boasting high-quality Career and Technical Education, fine arts and athletic programs, and The Leonard Brautigam Center—formerly called Windfern School of Choice—­CFISD Superintendent Mark Henry said ISDs are more inclusive than charter schools.

While open-enrollment charter schools can cap enrollment and hold lotteries when there are more applicants than available seats, Henry said public schools must accept and make room for all students.

“They take who they want; we take all students,” he said.

School choice 


While traditional ISDs and charter schools may have differences, public education officials agree they both aim to cultivate successful students.

Irma Sanchez, a mother of three whose home is zoned to Hancock Elementary in CFISD, said her first two children attended private schools. However, when it came to her third child, Sanchez said private school tuition was no longer feasible so she considered charter schools.

“We endured one semester of chaos, poor management, [a] rundown building and subpar staff,” Sanchez said.

After one semester, Sanchez said she withdrew her daughter from the charter school and enrolled her at Hancock Elementary.

“Luckily, our experience was very good,” she said. “It quickly became obvious that when compared to the charter school, … the issues were due [to] a lack of funds.”

On the flip side, Coleman, an Austinite, said her daughter is zoned to a failing ISD school by TEA standards. While she does not want to send her daughter to a failing ISD school,  Coleman said she also does not want to send her to a private school.

However, as her community is not home to any charter schools, Coleman said she does not know what other choice she has.

“I deserve some options within the public school setting, and there are not currently any in our little pocket of Austin. So I don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said.

Danica Smithwick contributed to this report.
By Hannah Zedaker
Born and raised in Cypress, Texas, Hannah Zedaker graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in mass communication and a minor in political science. She began as an intern with Community Impact Newspaper in 2015 and was hired upon graduation as a reporter for The Woodlands edition in May 2016. In January 2019, she was promoted to serve as the editor of the Spring/Klein edition where she covers Spring ISD and Harris County Commissioners Court, in addition to business, development and transportation news.


MOST RECENT

Demonstrators gathered at the Texas Capitol on May 31 to protest police brutality. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Protests throughout Houston and more: Popular stories from this week

Read the latest news from the Greater Houston area on Community Impact Newspaper’s website.

One week after the approval of Spring ISD's revised 2020-21 instructional calendar, which includes intersessional breaks and extends into late June, Superintendent Rodney Watson said he stands by the district's decision to adopt a revised calendar without seeking community feedback. (Courtesy Spring ISD)
Watson: Spring ISD 2020-21 calendar change is 'what's best' for students, staff

One week after the approval of Spring ISD's revised 2020-21 instructional calendar, which includes intersessional breaks and extends into late June, Superintendent Rodney Watson said he stands by the district's decision to adopt a revised calendar without seeking community feedback.

Raveneaux Country Club was one of thousands of properties that flooded during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. (Courtesy Harris County Flood Control District)
Houston Office of Emergency Management shares hurricane prep tips as Gulf storm nears landfall

With a storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico and expected to make landfall in Louisiana by Sunday and with a global pandemic still spreading, officials and residents are changing how they prepare for a more active hurricane season.

Nearly three years after Hurricane Harvey flooded the Cypress Creek Christian Church and Community Center campus with more than 3 feet of water, church officials are hoping to reopen its final campus component, The Centrum, this Christmas with help from a community fundraiser planned for June 25. (Hannah Zedaker/Community Impact Newspaper)
Cypress Creek Christian Church and Community Center to host fundraiser in hopes of reopening The Centrum by Christmas

To raise the remaining $500,000 needed to reopen the venue, church officials will host a Christmas in June community fundraiser June 25 from 4-6 p.m.

SNAP, a federal program overseen in Texas by the HHSC, assists around 1.4 million eligible low-income individuals and families statewide. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Emergency SNAP food benefits extended in Texas during COVID-19 pandemic

SNAP assists around 1.4 million eligible low-income individuals and families in Texas.

As of June 4, 14 COVID-19 deaths have been confirmed and 56 residents and staff are being monitored at the center. (Community Impact staff)
Harris County coronavirus count: Outbreak reported at Humble rehab facility

As of June 4, 14 COVID-19 deaths have been confirmed and 56 residents and staff are being monitored at the center.

CMS also unveiled an interactive map that lets users search any nursing home in the U.S. to see its COVID-19 cases. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
CMS reports 321 coronavirus deaths in Texas nursing homes, nearly 32,000 nationwide

CMS also unveiled an interactive map that lets users search any nursing home in the U.S. to its COVID-19 cases.

The Transportation and Global Logistics Technology Center opened June 1, with a grand opening ceremony held via video conference on June 4. (Courtesy Lone Star College System)
Lone Star College System announces Transportation and Global Logistics Technology Center opening

The Lone Star College Transportation and Global Logistics Technology Center officially opened June 1.

While the Texas Supreme Court's 15th Emergency Order issued May 14 allowed residential eviction proceedings to resume statewide beginning May 19 following a two-month hiatus, the order does not require those proceedings to resume. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Hidalgo, Turner request eviction moratorium be extended through Aug. 24

In hopes of avoiding a new wave of homelessness plaguing Harris County, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo have requested all justices of the peace countywide to postpone eviction hearings until late August.

Spring ISD will continue to offer its curbside meal service, which began in mid-March when campuses closed due to COVID-19, through its Summer Feeding Program, which launched June 3. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Spring ISD to offer summer meals at 7 locations

Through the program, children in the SISD area who are age 18 and younger can pick up snacks and lunches for Monday through Tuesday on Mondays and for Wednesday through Friday on Wednesdays.

In preparation for the 2020-21 school year, Klein ISD launched an online survey June 3 to gather input from employees, parents, students and KISD community members on how to proceed with reopening the district. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Klein ISD launches online survey to gather input on 2020-21 school year

The deadline to fill out the three-question survey is June 9 at 5 p.m.

Star Cinema Grill has several locations throughout the Houston area. (Courtesy Star Cinema Grill)
Houston-based Star Cinema Grill prepares to reopen all locations

The Houston-based theater chain plans to open all locations by mid-July.