Last week, I shared with you the pointed discussion between Rep. Donna Howard (D: Dist. 48) and Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D: Dist. 75) on the night the House abruptly ended the special session. This discussion occurred prior to the House’s vote on HB 21, drastically changed by the Senate, and focused on the Texas Legislature’s failure to properly fund Texas public schools and the two representatives’ anger over the Senate’s decision to add a $60 million appropriation to Texas charter schools for what is often referred to as ‘brick and mortar.’
There is often confusion about this, but charter schools in Texas are public schools. People often refer to “charter schools and public schools,” which, technically, is redundant. It is more correct to say “charter schools and traditional public schools.”
Although charter schools are public schools, they are funded differently than the state’s traditional public schools. Charter schools get most of their state funding from the Foundation School Program (FSP), and that funding is based on the weighted average daily attendance (WADA). WADA is figured using a complicated formula that takes the average daily attendance (ADA: the number of students in attendance each day throughout the year divided by the number of days school is in session) and adjusting that number based on the number of students in special education, career and technology programs, bilingual/ESL, state compensatory education, and gifted and talented programs. Traditional public schools get some of this funding from the state and some from our property taxes. However, because charter schools are not allowed to tax Texas residents or to get a piece of the property-tax pie, the state fully funds the charter schools for WADA. Charter schools are also allowed to receive additional state funding if they choose to provide transportation for their students and if they provide health insurance (TRS ActiveCare) for their employees. However, until this legislative session, charter schools were not entitled to the state’s Instructional Facilities Allotment program, which provides funding for building school facilities.
Howard and Gonzalez were not alone in their acrimony toward the Senate’s $60 million appropriation. Rep. Larry Phillips (R: Dist. 62) expressed his during the pre-vote debate. “We are setting a precedent when we fund charters,” Phillips said. “They said when they came to us that they could do it ‘leaner’ and ‘neater’ without all this help.”
This leaves me, and I’m sure countless others, with several questions:
1. If the state recognizes charter schools as public schools, should they have the same access to the Instructional Facilities Allotment program?
2. Again, because they are recognized as public schools, should charter schools get a percentage of our property taxes?
3. If yes to number two, should the state base that percentage on the number of students attending each traditional school district or charter school system?
4. Should traditional public schools and charter schools have the same state accountability?
5. Because many traditional public schools in the state have become Districts of Innovation in an attempt to function more like charter schools, should they now be funded the way charter schools are?
One of Gov. Abbott’s priorities during this legislative session was to reduce our property taxes. Valley Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa spoke indignantly about this at the end of the special session. Hinojosa spoke before his fellow senators, reminding them that Texas is currently providing only 38 percent of the funding for public schools in our state, whereas the state used to provide 52 percent of the funding.
“Let’s not ignore the responsibility the state has to fund our public school system,” Hinojosa said. “…Property taxes are too high because we don’t properly fund our public school system.”
As I listened to Sen. Hinojosa speak that evening about the state’s failure to fund our public school system, one word froze in my mind. Shameful. From 52 to 38 percent is nothing, if not shameful.
Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at email@example.com. (Photo by Sarina Manahan)