Chartering Better Education

For all the talk about education reform, one of the best options can be found in the state’s unsung academic heroes: the charter schools. Correctly utilized, they provide meaningful opportunities for driving improvement by increasing the options available to parents, students and teachers.


Dan Patrick
While highly successful elsewhere in the country, Texas’ experience with charter schools has been limited thanks to poor decisions made two decades ago hamstringing the entities while limiting how many can exist.

Fortunately, that may be about to change. State Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston, the new chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has made expansion of charter schools key to education reform this year. Mr. Patrick is one of our Taxpayer Champions who has long supported substantive reforms in public-ed.

His appointment to the education chairmanship by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was welcome news for the conservative movement, which has been working for a decade to remove the caps so more charter schools can be established. All that work may now be coming to fruition.

Some of the best work on charter schools in the Lone Star State has been done by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute. (There will, of course, be those showing up late to the party — including long-time opponents — trying to get to the front of the parade so they can take credit. That’s cool; the real winners will be Texas’ school children.)

The marketplace for charters has existed for a very long time, with educrats keeping it tied down. Tens of thousands of students in Texas are on waiting lists or otherwise wanting to leave their “zoned” school and attend a charter school.

Critics of charter expansion irrationally point to the occasional bad apple as a reason to shut down the schools altogether. In fact, poorly run charter schools always get shuttered (and it should happen faster), but it only highlights the fact poorly run public schools are not only even harder to shut down but also end up usually getting more money every year to waste even more!

Obviously, there should be better oversight of both “traditional” public schools and charter schools. But no governmental oversight trumps true competition, in which parents are empowered to place their child in the school best suited for their needs.

No public education reform, though, could be as immediately powerful as one making it easier for parents to transform a failing or underperforming traditional school into a charter school. Such “parent trigger” options would make schools far more responsive to the needs of parents, their kids and teachers.

Both of these reforms were included in our legislative priorities for 2013 (issued before the start of the legislative session), and we will be looking forward to scoring votes on legislation accomplishing these goals.

While these commonsense reforms should move easily through the Senate, the Texas House is going to be more problematic. It has been observed that the new House Public Education Committee, appointed by Speaker Joe Straus, could not have been worse for reform-minded initiatives.

The educrat political action committee — the deceptively named “Parent PAC” — opposes charter schools and their expansion. From committe chairman Jimmie Don Aycock to freshman members Ken King and Bennett Ratliff, Mr. Straus’ picks on the committee were definitely in keeping with educrat anti-reform picks.

If Texans truly want our kids to be better educated, charter school expansion should be the top of the reform agenda.

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Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael is president and CEO of Empower Texans. A graduate of Texas A&M, former newspaper reporter, one-time Capitol Hill staffer, think tank vice president, and an Eagle Scout, Sullivan is married with three children. He divides his time between the Metroplex, the rest of Texas, and Austin.

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