NACSA’s One Million Lives campaign emphasizes growth and accountability: we need both if we are to provide one million children with a better education. In a huge victory, the Texas legislature passed landmark legislation over the weekend that makes progress on both fronts.
If Texas Governor Perry signs the legislation, it will gradually increase the cap on charter schools over the next six years to 305 from the current 215. For years, the only mechanism for growth in Texas was for existing charter schools to open new campuses. Now, brand new quality schools can open.
The legislation also contains a number of important elements that strengthen school quality and accountability. First, it improves the application process by requiring that the application evaluation consider the likelihood that the proposed school will succeed. While this seems common sense, it was missing from Texas law.
Second, the legislation requires charter schools to enter into performance-based contracts that define objective, measurable renewal criteria for academic, financial, and operational performance. NACSA worked closely with legislators, staff, and stakeholders to get this language right.
Third, and perhaps most significant, the legislation establishes a default closure mechanism in statute. Any school that fails minimum state academic or financial requirements for three consecutive years will automatically close.
On the flip side, schools that perform in the top two performance levels will benefit from an expedited renewal and replication process. If they are meeting the performance criteria defined in their contracts, high-performing schools should not endure lengthy, labor-intensive renewal processes.
Fourth, the Texas Education Agency—the state’s largest authorizer—will now produce an annual report on the academic performance of its schools. This is one of NACSA’s authorizer accountability policy recommendations.
Finally, in terms of accountability, the legislation requires disclosure of management services and also requires all schools to post their financial statements on their web site.
What’s the bottom line? The Texas legislature, led by Senator Dan Patrick, has passed ground-breaking legislation that will increase the number of quality charter schools while decreasing the number of failing charter schools.