By Austin American-Statesman
Charter schools are one of the best reforms to happen to public education because they provide competition and quality alternatives to regular public schools without charging tuition. Charter schools are detrimental to public education because they siphon money and higher-performing students from traditional public schools in an unfair competition that exempts them from costly state regulations governing their public school peers.
Those opposing views – as well as several inconclusive studies comparing and contrasting charter schools with traditional public schools – illustrate the strong divisions over the best ways to improve public education. Last week the Texas Senate – led by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, chairman of the Senate Education Committee – found consensus in a compromise that permits some expansion of charter campuses while bolstering the state’s ability to weed out bad actors.
It’s an impressive accomplishment, passing 30-1 in the Senate.
The compromise expands charter licenses gradually, from its current limit of 215 to 305 by 2019.
As a group, performance of charter schools has been a mixed bag since 1995, when the Legislature established them, despite the greater flexibility to operate more freely from state regulations.
Some charters have outperformed public schools.
But public schools had a far lower failure rate than charter schools, with 4.9 percent failing to meet standards. By contrast, 17.6 percent of charter schools – more than triple the failure rate of public schools – failed to meet state standards in 2011.
Patrick’s willingness to compromise with Democratic colleagues yielded a better bill that addresses serious flaws in current law. And by slowing down the expansion of charter schools, it gives the state time to improve oversight and do a better job in overseeing current charters as new ones come on board.