HARLINGEN, Texas – The future of charter schools in Texas came up at a recent series of candidate forums hosted by Raise Your Hand Texas.
This nonprofit was set up by HEB’s Charles Butt to support public education in Texas.
One of the forums featured candidates running for Texas Senate District 27. The incumbent in SD 27, state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., said that if re-elected, he would file legislation next session to make charter schools more accountable.
The question posed to the four candidates was:
The increase in the number of charter campuses is drawing more attention across the state. There is concern that the state is now running parallel school systems when it comes to facilities, student funding levels and enrollment policies. What is your opinion on charter schools. And are any state policy changes needed?
Here are the answers they gave:
Vanessa S. Tijerina, a Republican from Raymondville
“Any kind of system that is competing with public education and is for profit. I don’t think we should be focusing on those industries above water. So, if we are trying to allocate resources in order to make our students and our teachers more comfortable in public education, we cannot focus or deviate or divert any funds to a private business.
“When you privatize education, the quality does not always translate. Many times you have these great things said about these charter schools but we never talk about the students that don’t make it. A lot of times they could have made it in our public education system.”
Ruben Cortez, a Democrat from Brownsville
“The problem is the legislature has made it so easy for the expansion of charter schools in the state of Texas. We at this point have an over-proliferation of charters. I will give you a perfect example.
“If the Harlingen school district wants to build a new facility, what do they do? They have to go to the taxpayers and pass a bond. Every citizen in the city has to approve that bond. Everybody that lives in the HCISD boundary has a vote. If a charter school wants a bond because of what the legislature has done, all they have to do is write a letter to Commissioner Mike Morath and say, hey, we want to build ten new schools and it is going to cost a quarter of a billion dollars. Can we have your authorization? This charter-happy commissioner, appointed by the governor, is going to most likely say yes and all of a sudden you have ten new schools popping up.
“Where that hurts traditional public schools is that of all the funds that public schools take from the state legislature, from your tax base, your school tax dollars, 50 percent of it today covers the cost of educating your kids in your local community. Eight years ago it used to be 38 percent. They continue to shift the burden of how they fund public education to the taxpayer. But, a student in a charter school, the burden is 100 percent on the state of Texas because they do not have a tax base or a local elected board. You guys bear the brunt of this expense.
“The legislature has gone as far as taking authority from us to only give us view authority when before we had complete authority to approve or reject charters. I have fought to reject them any time they have come in. What we have here in the state now is, they are here. We have a mechanism to stop this over-proliferation of charters but we need to stop the commissioner’s unfettered access. The legislature has made this commissioner of education the most powerful commissioner in modern history. That is what we have to stop. We have to rein him in to stop this.”
Sara Stapleton Barrera, a Democrat from San Benito
“I think we can all agree that as parents we can choose where we want to send our kids. But, if I decide to send my child to a Catholic school, I can’t expect you, or you, to pay for it. If I am going to send my kid to a Catholic school, then I have got got pay for it. We cannot rely on our friends and our neighbors who are not sending their kids to Catholic school to pay for it. It is likely asking you to pay for my groceries. It is a backward way of thinking. It does not work. It has got to stop and it is not stopping.
“They are not being vetoed, they are not being stopped, there is not a moratorium. Why not? We have got these people in high positions of power and they have the means to get it done. And they are not. Why? Because if you have an investment in charter schools, as a consultant or some sort of position they pay for, then you are going to keep those charter schools alive and driving well. There is our kink in our chain.”
State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., of Brownsville
“I have taken a position of opposing any funds that would go for infrastructure at charter schools. Learn more about this issue. Access our website and Senate website. A quarter of the students I represent are enrolled in charter schools. We need to make sure charters are on a level playing field with traditional public schools. They are not. Including funding and accountability and teacher quality. They are not.
“I have filed bills in past legislative sessions that attempt to put public and charter schools on even voting, including, last session, Senate Bill 1706. Look at it. It would have applied teacher certification and class size standards to all kinds of schools, equally. I also plan to introduce legislation next session that increases charter school accountability to the public to the state. We want to make sure that when public funds are expended that are for the benefit of our children.”