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This morning, the Hoplite Council at Founders Classical Academy of Schertz hosted me for a session of Charters 101: Being a Charter School Parent Advocate. They asked such great questions and we had a really lively discussion. This blog post gathers up resources that I presented at the meeting so the attendees can go further with it, and also so that parents who couldn’t attend can still benefit from the presentation.
I tend to give two kinds of talks: first, how to find the right school for your child, and then, once you find it, how to be an advocate for that school. My talk today at Founders Schertz was the second type. The main topics are understanding what is a charter school, including an overview of school finance, and how to be a parent advocate for your child’s school.
What Is a Charter School?
Charter school parents tend to get questions from curious family members, friends, and neighbors. Being a effective charter school parent advocate means being armed with facts about charter schools, including this basic truth: charter schools are public schools.
Charter schools are tuition free and paid for by the state. They accept all kinds of students, including special education and English-language learners. There are no selective entrance exams. There is no “creaming” or “cherry picking” of the best students. If more students apply than there are spaces available, the students are selected by random lottery, and the remaining students go on a waiting list. According to Families Empowered, as of 2017, there are over 13,000 students on charter school waiting lists in San Antonio; according to the Texas Charter Schools Association, in 2016–17, there are over 140,000 students on charter school waiting lists in Texas.
Charter schools are subject to the same accountability system as traditional public schools. Charter school students take the same standardized tests, including the STAAR test and end-of-course exams. Applications to found a charter school are scrutinized by the State Board of Education and are authorized by the Commissioner of Education. Charter schools that do not meet standards for test scores or financial stability are subject to having their charters revoked and being shut down.
Charter schools have more autonomy and flexibility than traditional public schools. They often hire teachers who are alternatively certified, but have specialized subject-matter expertise. Teachers are often employed at-will, rather than having longer contracts.
School Finance for Charter Schools
A key issue where charter school parent advocates can make a difference is public school finance. It’s a complicated subject, but here is an overview. Independent school districts have the authority to collect property taxes, but charter schools do not. Some districts that are property-wealthy have to pay money back to the state; that money is redistributed to property-poor districts. Charter school funding comes from a variety of state revenue sources, including sales taxes and the lottery. Before 2017, charter schools received no funding for facilities, and had to either take money out of operations to pay for facilities or try to raise money from charities; now, charter schools get about $200 per student for facilities funding. But charter schools still get, on average, less funding per student than traditional public schools. As this flyer from the Texas Charter Schools Association shows, the estimated funding gap between traditional public schools and public charter schools of approximately $1,400 per student.
For more news coverage and viewpoints about Texas public school finance, see the Texas Tribune.
To make a difference as a charter school parent advocate, it’s important to discover who represents you in government and to learn how to connect with them through social media and other means.
This worksheet will help you discover who represents you. A good starting place is wrm.capitol.texas.gov; just enter your home address, and you’ll get a report listing your elected officials. If you need more precise information, visit your county’s websites such as the elections office, e.g., Bexar County precinct finder, or appraisal district, e.g., Bexar County Appraisal District.
Once you know who represents you, these links will help you contact them:
- United States Senate
- United States House of Representatives
- Texas Senate
- Texas House of Representatives
- Texas State Board of Education
Here is a list of steps that charter school parent advocates can take to connect with your representatives:
- Follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.
- Sign up to receive their email newsletters
- Go to a neighborhood meeting or town hall
- Invite your elected officials to local events—coordinate this with your school leaders
- Make sure you are registered to vote
Now that you know who represents you and how to find them online, you are ready to boost your social media skills and organize fellow parents to be charter school parent advocates. This worksheet offers practical steps, including a Twitter skills challenge—elected officials are surprisingly accessible on Twitter. Also, signing up to get alerts from the Texas Charter Schools Association will ensure you have timely information, which is especially important when the legislature is in session. Look for another opportunity to attend a rally at the Texas State Capitol; here is an earlier post about the 2015 rally for National School Choice Week.
If you want to learn more about being a charter school parent advocate, these sites will help:
- Texas Charter Schools Association—txcharterschools.org
- George W. Brackenridge Foundation—brackenridgefoundation.org
- Choose to Succeed—choosetosucceed.org
- Families Empowered—familiesempowered.org
- National Alliance for Public Charter Schools—publiccharters.org
- Texas Education Agency Charter Schools—tea.texas.gov
Have more questions? Leave a comment on this post or join the San Antonio Charter Moms Discussion Group on Facebook.