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Texas Experiment in Charter Schools: Accountability Matters

First established in Minnesota in 1991, there are about 3,000 charter schools in 41 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. By 2004, Texas had awarded charters to 232 schools, though only 188 were still operating.

Proponents of 'school choice' have touted charter schools as a cure-all for public education. They say charter schools will attract more and better teachers by dropping certification requirements and improve traditional public schools through competition.

A Dismal Record in Texas
Since the founding of Texas' first charter schools in 1995, however, the number of gross failures in the system has far outweighed its handful of successes. The charter school system in Texas has been plagued with poor academic performance, a lack of accountability, substandard conditions and irregular financial practices. As a result, the Texas charter-school system has trapped many students in situations that range from dismal to dangerous. It has also wasted huge sums of taxpayer money.

In February 2004, for example, an Austin school became the first charter to declare bankruptcy. The Texas Education Agency had provided at least $7.5 million to the school. Much of that money went to educate students from low-income families. A large chunk of that money, however, paid for luxury hotels, vehicles and entertainment for the school's administrators.

Efforts to Clean Up the System
In the 2001 Texas Legislative Session, Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco sponsored House Bill 6, commonly called the Charter School Reform Bill. H.B. 6 passed into law in May 2001 and was implemented Sept. 1, 2001.

Under this law, charter school operators must perform criminal background checks on employees and volunteers and hire teachers with at least a high school diploma. Operators must also comply with state open meetings, public information, conflict of interest and nepotism laws. In addition, the bill caps the total number of charter schools at 215 and gives the commissioner of education power to shut down the schools that endanger the safety, health or welfare of students. A bill that would have erased some of these accountability measures failed to pass the Legislature in 2003.

Studies Find Deeply Flawed Charter System
State and national studies have called into question the effectiveness of charter schools. A U.S. Department of Education report in 2004 found that charter schools were less likely to meet state performance standards than were traditional public schools. According to the report, 98 percent of Texas public schools met state performance requirements in 2002, while just 66 percent of the state’s charter schools did. The gap between performance by charter and public school remained wide even when researchers adjusted the data for race and poverty. A November 2004 report from the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission said that the Texas Education Agency could not ensure that charter schools effectively educate students or properly use state funds.

The Texas Freedom Network supports efforts to hold charter schools accountable to families and other taxpayers. Until the state cleans up current problems with charter schools, the system should not be expanded.

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TFN Resources

Charter Schools Factsheet

Charter Schools Reports

More Information

U.S. Department of Education Evaluation of Public Charter Schools

TEA Sunset Advisory Commission Report