MISSION, RGV – Lorena Garcia, assistant superintendent for human resources and support services at Mission CISD, sparked a lively debate over the level of support state lawmakers are providing charter schools.
Garcia brought up the subject of charters in a Q&A about public school finance at a luncheon held at the Cimarron Club in Mission.
“There does not seem to be much support for public education by the legislature. In addition to that there is a lot of talk about support for vouchers and private schools,” Garcia said, after hearing a presentation on public school finance.
“The accountability that these charter entities have is a lot lower than the high standards that public schools have to achieve. So, that is going to cut into that pie of funding that is available to public schools.”
Chandra Kring Villanueva, program director for economic opportunity at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, was one of the speakers at the luncheon. She welcomed Garcia’s comments.
“Charter schools and how they are funded is a huge concern for us because it really is inefficient to be running two parallel education systems,” Villanueva said.
“One of the things that we are seeing is that the growth in recaptured funding is almost the exact amount as we are spending for the charter system. So, a lot of us education advocates are really monitoring how the things are trending together. Recapture and charter are tied in a lot of different ways.”
Recaptured money is funding that a public school returns to the State of Texas. Those that have to do this, as part of the so-called Robin Hood equalized funding system, are deemed property-rich.
“Recapture is based on your wealth per student. So, if you are losing students to a charter school, it makes your wealth per student grow. That is one of the only reasons why Houston ISD fell into recapture. Because of their extremely high charter population. If those charter students were actually enrolled in Houston ISD, they would have gotten twice as much money from the state as their recapture payment was,” Villanueva said.
“So, there is a lot of concern that the legislature is basically using recapture to fuel the growth of charter schools without having to put any more dollars into it. Which in essence means our property tax dollars are going to these charter schools.”
Villanueva made the case that, in essence, local property tax dollars are going to charter schools. However, she said, local taxpayers are unable to vote for a charter’s board of directors, have no say on where they are located, nor when and where they build their campuses.
“So, there are some huge concerns around how charters are funded and the impact on schools.”
Villanueva claimed that when charters are taken out of the equation, the level of state funding for public education drops from 38 percent to 32 percent, noting that charter schools are 100 percent state-funded.
Felipe Salinas is director of development for corporate and foundation relations at UT-Rio Grande Valley. Salinas entered into the debate about charter schools.
“I hope I do not upset the applecart too much but what I see is that there are some funder foundations that have a very clear and strong preference for charters. Some of them may be members of TEGAC. Some of them have multiple approaches. But that is a challenge that we see,” Salinas said.
“This is why efforts like these today are important, because those large foundations that have a lot of interest in those (charter) systems, they have a very strong voice. We need to counter that by this public, local public school base voice including our businesses. That is key.”
TEGAC is the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium and it co-sponsored the luncheon and discussion.
Villanueva responded to Salinas’ comments.
“The funding dollars are outside the formula as well so it is not captured in the big picture. Charters have an unfair funding advantage over ISDs to begin with, and now the legislature is talking about facilities funding for them that is based on a per student distribution, not on the actual needs of the charter. You could have one (charter school) that is in portables and one that has a brand new facility built by philanthropy. Yet, they get the same amount of money from the state. There are a lot of inefficiencies with charter schools.”
Jennifer Esterline, executive director of TEGAC, said: “We do have foundations involved that fund charter schools. But, they understand it was for innovation and research and development and that it should be scaled. A lot of the foundations you are talking about may be national.”
The event was hosted by the Greater Mission Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the InvestED TX campaign. In addition to Villanueva and Esterline the speakers included Sagar Desai, chief operating officer for The Commit Partnership in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, Mission CISD Superintendent Carol G. Perez and Missy Bender, president of Plano ISD school board.
Interviewed by the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM, Mission CISD’s Garcia said: “There is an inequity in the funding mechanism that the state provides for public schools and charter schools. Charter schools, since they do not collect local tax revenue, the state kicks in additional funding for them and then some. In addition to that they have funding from private sources that is not part of the formula. They are not required to report that to the state.”
The consequence of this, Garcia said, is charter schools have “a lot more dollars to work with per student.” She said this allows them “to be a lot more innovative while we have to be very conservative with the dollars that we get.”
It becomes a downward spiral for public schools, Garcia argued.
“The state is then saying, you can rely on your local tax dollars to fund your programs because your wealth per student is higher. So, it works against us. In addition to that the charters recently got funding support from the state to help them with their capital improvement projects,” Garcia said.
“We are all for property tax reform and absolutely, we want our taxpayers to get some relief on the tax burden but some of the talk with the Legislature, they are talking about making it harder for public schools to raise money for capital improvement projects. When that happens you are going to see schools taking money from their day to day operations to make those very large expenses. So, our facilities are going to fall behind if we are not able to get that support from the state.”
Asked what local residents can do about this, Garcia said: “We need our people to advocate for public education, to speak to their legislators and learn where their taxpayer dollars are going.”
Editor’s Note: The above story is the second in a Three Part series on public school finance. Click here for Part One. Part Three will be posted on Dec. 17, 2018.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows a forum on public school finance held at the Cimarron Club in Mission.