Charter schools have popped up all over the state and are often shown as an alternative for parents that don’t want to send their kids to a traditional public school.

According to Texas law, traditional public schools have an affirmative duty to educate allchildren within their districts. Charter schools, however, are by law allowed to pick and choose which students they accept, both during the processes of admission and expulsion. Charter schools are funded almost entirely by state money, yet they may not actually be a choice for Texas children with the highest needs and challenges.

State Rep. Gina Hinojosa of Austin, Texas.

In charter schools, students can be excluded for a wide range past disciplinary problems, even including an informal removal to the principal’s office for disrupting class. As a result, many charters are educating a different demographic than our neighborhood public schools. In too many instances, charters are picking and choosing the students they want, rather than allowing families to choose the charter.

The state provides charters with a disproportionate amount of money due to the way they are funded. Charter students make up about six percent of the total student population, but charter schools will receive approximately 17 percent of all Foundation School Program state aid this year. For reference, the districts listed below would receive this much more per student if they were funded like charter schools:

Houston ISD: $1,806

Dallas ISD: $1,895

Austin ISD: $1,740

Brownsville ISD: $1,207

Not only are charter schools able to exclude certain students during the admissions process, but during the expulsion process as well. Unlike traditional public schools, which can only expel students for specific reasons listed under state statute, charter schools can expel students for any reason described in their own code of conduct. Despite the fact that charter school students only make up approximately six percent of students, 43 percent of all students–public and charter–expelled in the 2016-2017 school year were charter school students.

Even though a new law passed in 2017 prohibits most out-of-school suspensions for students in second grade or younger, IDEA Public Schools suspended 179 students in this age range during the 2017-2018 school year. They rank 7th highest in out-of-school suspensions during the school year for students in Pre-K to 2ndgrade, according to a 2019 Texas Appleseed report.

Picking and choosing students based on disciplinary history allows charter schools to exclude certain populations who have disproportionately been subject to discipline: minorities and children with disabilities. A 2016 Texas Appleseed and Texans Care for Children report found that these populations are subject to disciplinary actions in schools more often, even for committing the same infractions as their peers. The Texas Education Agency’s data for the 2016-2017 school year shows that traditional public schools provide special education services to 8.9 percent of students, while charter schools do so for only 6.7 percent of students.

Figures like these are troubling because they ultimately leave it up to neighborhood schools to educate a higher percentage of children that are more challenging—and more expensive—to educate.

Ultimately, these exclusive schools funded almost entirely with public money are often a false promise that result in less access and less funding for many of our kids. It is time for charter schools to do their part in helping educate all of our kids.

Editor’s Note: The above op-ed by state Rep. Gina Hinojosa of Austin is one of a series of guest columns provided by members of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus during the 86th Legislature. Click here for an earlier op-ed from state Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas. Click here for an earlier op-ed from state Rep. Celia Israel of Austin. Click here for an earlier op-ed from state Rep. Mary Gonzalez of Clint. All are members of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows charter school students attending the state legislature in Austin, Texas. The photos from the Texas Charter School Association website.